FAIRLAWN, Ohio—Sometimes a company has to look inward to move forward.
In the wake of the 2008-09 recession, Cooper Standard Holdings Inc. turned its focus to its research and development program. It didn't like what it found—the firm's focus on innovation wasn't as strong as it thought. So it carved out a team fully dedicated to new ideas, and so far the move has paid off.
“When we started to emerge from the (recession), most companies experienced a dramatic reduction in business, and we were no exception,” Lyle J. Otremba, vice president, innovation and advanced product strategy, said in a presentation at the recent Hose Manufacturers Conference in Fairlawn, Ohio. “But we knew that to emerge properly, we had to do something differently. One of the most important things we decided we needed to do was refocus how we were going to grow.”
Otremba benchmarked innovative companies, estimating he talked to at least 15 and spent a great deal of time trying to understand how their process of innovation worked for them.
He discovered that the best companies shared three traits:
• There is a strong, simple, well-known understood process in terms of how innovation happens and how projects are managed as part of the innovation process;
• They all separated their functional organization and put a group together strictly focused on the future—not just pure scientists, but a practical team that did not have to worry about everyday problems. Otremba said that was the biggest issue Cooper Standard had because its product development teams previously had day-to-day projects to worry about; and
• They create a culture of innovation within the company that everybody knew, could touch and be part of.
“The most innovative companies were also the most willing to share their process,” Otremba said. “They weren't willing to share their technologies, which is understandable. But they were very willing to share how they did it. I thought that was a very interesting characteristic because their culture was so ingrained with innovation that they were willing to spread the gospel.”