Before explaining how vital creativity and innovation are for product development companies, it is necessary to define what we are speaking about with creativity and innovation. C.M. Chang (2016, p.353) states that creativity precedes innovation. Essentially, creative ideas can lead to innovative solutions. Some creative ideas are certainly fresh; however, they are not necessarily an innovation.
A product or idea is CREATIVE to the extent that it is both a novel and appropriate response to an open-ended task. [An open-ended task is one that does not have a clear and straightforward path to a solution]. (Hayes, 2005, p.6) (Amabile, 1988, p. 147)
INNOVATION is the successful implementation of creative ideas about products or processes within an organization.…The products and processes can range from management ideas to manufacturing methods. (emphasis added)
The above definitions are incredibly valuable to product development companies. A creative engineer is surely valuable, but without implementation, the solutions can only live as ideas. Innovation is where the rubber meets the road. On the other side of the fence, someone who has mastered any technical skill set is also valuable, but without the creative ideas to get the process moving, there is no jumping off point.
The take away from this is that in the product engineering consulting realm it is all about people. You must have the correct people, working on the correct projects, for the correct clients. A product development engineer must be a DREAMER and a DOER.
Product Development Companies do more than just Brainstorming
Marion Hayes, now a director of research data at the International Technological University in San Jose, California, discusses some important ideas that might help define a successful product engineer. We need to understand that innovative design solutions start with a less technical, “soft” idea. Engineers use technical knowledge, design, testing, and iteration to bring that soft idea to a hard reality. Today’s product development companies, in general, must combine the artistic aspects of a lofty idea with technical realities to develop an innovative solution. Product engineering is not just brainstorming on the “soft side” and creating drawings on the “hard side”. It is the process that bridges the gap.
However, there remains a very important piece of the puzzle that needs to be explored. We know the what (result, desired situation), we know the how (creativity and innovation applied with technical knowledge), and we know the who (well-rounded engineers), but we still haven’t answered the why.
Why would any individual or company choose outside product development companies to tackle the challenges of innovating a new product or process? The answer to that question is not straightforward and it varies widely from project to project.
To help answer the question the following quote is useful from the white paper by Bessiere, et. al. (2008, p18.) on engineering consultancy and innovation.
“In reality, the engineering consultancy industry, in the activity of design and achievement of a product or work, consists in relying on known concepts and adapting or improving them and integrating them in an, often original, configuration to best satisfy the requirements of the subject. It is, therefore “APPLIED RESEARCH”.” (emphasis added)
The concept of “Applied Research” is extremely important and useful. Product design engineers are well positioned to conduct research and apply the findings on behalf of a client. Therein lies the answer to why one might bring in an outside agency to help solve a product or process problem. An external product engineering firm can bring a host of tools to the table to conduct the necessary research to create an innovative solution.
Product Development Companies Advantages vs. Internal Teams
- Fresh Perspective
- Broad Knowledge and Experience Base
- Risk tolerance
There is, however, a common enemy of creativity and innovation for any person or company needing to develop a product or process. That enemy is a shortage of time and money. This is well explained by Bessiere, et. al. (2008, p19.).
“The problem today is as follows:
A certain reluctance within companies to innovate. There are two reasons for this:
Requirements, usually formulated in terms of deadlines, leave little or no time to innovate: when a project must be finished by a final date, the search for innovation appears as an overload of work; (emphasis added)
The difficulty of imputing the innovation budget into the total project cost often proves a prohibitive obstacle”
Deadlines and resource shortages cannot be avoided, only mitigated. There is a time constraint on every project, but some timelines are more conducive to creative solution finding. The reality is that sometimes an innovative solution cannot be implemented in the time and money budgeted to get the product or process to market. Under these circumstances, it is the responsibility of the product development company to find the best solution that meets the needs of the client within the time and development budget available.
The more resource restricted a project becomes, the more it must be defined, initially. (It becomes less and less open-ended). As stated above, one of the best tools that outside product designers have is the ability to apply research. When the available time and money are short, the research opportunities decrease accordingly.