Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pulp Innovation Chapter Sixty Eight

Three weeks, four days and two hours into our project, we finally started doing innovation work. Forming, norming and finally storming, we'd built the team, addressed their concerns and were finally at a place where we could do some real innovation work, rather than build the team, assess the participants, address their (realistic) concerns and define a project plan. We were finally going to do some scenario planning. There was just one problem.

We were meeting in the innovation team room, formally known as Conference room 2A, on a cloudy Tuesday morning. Susan was facilitating the meeting, our first effort to start looking further into the future of the aerospace business. It was at this point we realized that no one on the team knew exactly what the future looked like, or understood any of the trends that might shape that future. The parable of the blind men and the elephant from Kipling was top of mind.

"We've never really paid a significant amount of attention to trends, especially over a three or four year time horizon" said Sally McKay. Sally had joined the team to provide market analysis for our work. "We typically buy information from industry analysts and compile yearly forecast of market conditions, but we've never looked at bigger trends that would shape the industry over a several year time horizon."

"OK. Let's break this down and make it simple. We want to know what the significant trends are that will influence and shape the market for aerospace production and parts in five to seven years. Typically, when we at Marlowe do this work, we look at trends in four categories: demographic, technological, governmental and social. Who can help us understand the unfolding trends in those four buckets?"

James Davidson chimed in. "We have a chief economist who works with our CFO. He could probably provide some economic forecasts to help us understand some governmental and economic trends."

Susan nodded. "Accipiter also has relationships with several lobbyist firms that can provide insights and trends on federal government regulations and governmental actions, at least within the US. We'd need to find firms or analysts that can provide insights into foreign governments and their actions, since our parts can be used in a number of countries."

I looked at James and Sally. "Surely you have relationships with industry analysts who can provide forecasts and trends as pertains to technologies in the aerospace industry?"

"Yes, and we can go talk with the guys in R&D. They are constantly experimenting with new technologies and capabilities, and they attend a number of engineering conferences. I think we can get them to give us their insights."

"OK, that covers economic, governmental and technology. Our team can put together trends that encompass social and demographic changes over the next five to seven years that will impact the aerospace industry. Let's look at the flying population and how that will increase or decrease. Let's look at the green movement to see how that will impact recycling, or reductions in waste, or fuel consumption in the airline industry. There are a number of social and demographic factors that may influence how planes are used and built. Remember the massive Airbus plane? The one that was forcing international terminals to build new jetways for, because it is so large? The demand for that plane has fallen as the economy has dipped, and the price of fuel has increased. We need to think about that plane and consider all the factors that will influence the future."

So, with a few assignments everyone went off to gather insights from their respective sources. Susan and I had a few minutes to reconnect and plan for the next meeting.

"How frequently will we need to gather these trends? This is going to be a fair amount of work, and some of the team will run into resistance since the people they'll be talking to won't understand how we'll use the data."

"Ideally, trend spotting and trend gathering would be an ongoing, sustaining process, not a discrete activity. In this case I know we won't continue the effort, but we need to demonstrate the importance of gathering this information and assessing it regularly."

"That's a lot of work, and a lot of data."

"Yes. But if Accipiter can do it well, you'll have the ability to assess your future opportunities and challenges and a much longer runway to decide what you want to do. It's not that difficult, and not that expensive, and can create really valuable opportunities."

Susan shook her head. She agreed, but I think she realized how big the change would be for Accipiter. When you have a small army, you have to pick which battles you want to fight. Was this a time to dig in and fight, or a place to retreat and reserve our forces?

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