Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Scales of Innovation

It is interesting to look at how innovation has developed in different industrial sectors, especially in those related to, or comparable with the Building Industry.  The car, aircraft, train and yacht building industries all have similarities to the building industry:  Their products include shelter and protection, and provide environments to sustain human life, but each product is produced in a very different way.  This is the result of economies of scale, market competition, and the flexibility of governing business structures to adapt and meet market challenges.  This set of videos below suggests a set of parameters with which innovation can be measured on a set of sliding scales.  These might be:

Measuring levels of innovation

In the car industry, humans are mainly need to check that the automated work has been carried out correctly.  Plant, logistics, sequencing and timing etc., is all set out to handle the specific components which make up the product. 

Boeing has the world's largest assembly line building. This Air Bus video shows plant, production facilities and lifting machinery are all set up to ensure the rapid assembly of the aircraft, with the most efficient human interaction. 

Trains come together in more traditional engineering workshops with lifting systems which can be used for a variety of tasks depending upon the order.  This video shows less automation than the others, with engineers in control of their work and responsible for their own programme.

Yacht building is even more of a manual operation.  The assembly here takes place in a workshop using a combination of computerised design and analysis, digitised pre-production followed by skilled and unskilled labour.  Working with composites can be a messy business despite the clean and elegant product it can create.

This video expresses how prefabrication and off site construction can assist with the speed and quality of a house build, but the constructional tolerances are not as tight as the other examples and there is a lot more physical labour and man-handling of materials and components to get them in to place.  Innovations in this example have shortened the number of site processes, but the shape and form of the product has not changed significantly.  It could be argued that much of the innovation is hidden in the end.

Innovation in the building industry might not be as progressive as these other industrial sectors but it is making advances.  It is noticeable though, that while the more actively innovative sectors let performance dictate form, as if capturing the industrial zeitgeist, the building industry seems to value aesthetics and often traditional forms and materials.  It's worth an investigation to see how much this leads the development of the industry, or if it happens as a consequence.   

Friday, 5 September 2014

How to Innovate

Innovation is something of a buzz-word in the architectural press, but there is not much out there to define what innovation is or how to achieve it.  The Architectural profession and Building Industry do not innovate as much as they could, or should.  Development guidance for Architectural practices often follows an approach based on establishing and marketing a vision for the practice which places it in the hierarchy of the competition, within an established sector framework.  The result is that everyone is largely pitching for a place in the same pool where difference is limited by specialist design areas and size of projects, and that's what we base our USPs on.  This pool is defined by the professional structures of the Building Industry, the very structures which often act as boundaries and negate innovation.  But what if we were able to move these boundaries?

Many business plan development strategies are focused on how to operate within the professional structures of the existing industrial sector.  When you are working within the same set of conventions as everyone else, it is difficult to establish a distinction within the market.  

Phil McKinney's book Beyond the Obvious is an inspirational resource.  It describes the methods for establishing a business innovation strategy and how to manage it.  The practices it teaches are not bound to conforming to the established patterns of an industrial sector.  Instead they seek to challenge them.  They are not limited to seeing how one practice can raise its position in the pecking order of other practices.  Instead they challenge you to think how to stand apart from the rest, not just above.  Beyond the Obvious combines many techniques such as brainstorming and lateral thinking, with Killer Questions to encourage organisations to have the bravest ideas - ideas which could be game-changing, not just to the business but to the industry itself.

Phil McKinney's methods challenge conventions by asking Killer Questions about the Who (your Client), What (your business) and How (your working practices).  Workshops can uncover some very daring and challenging ideas.  FIRE is an acronym for the management stages for developing innovative ideas and making them real.

It's a must read for any practice wanting to innovate, grow, develop, economise, or even play with creative ideas (because that's what Architects like to do - right?).  The book describes very precisely the methodology for establishing an innovative culture in to your business practice, and road mapping a way forward to a more creative, dynamic and profitable future.  I'd recommend bolting it into your (streamlined, efficient, engaging and user friendly) QA system, to ensure it is integrated in to the heart of your business practice.

Thanks Phil!