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Using design principles to spur innovation May 10, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Innovation, Workforce.
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One of our new links, Silicon Gulf, referenced the Stanford Institute of Design's concept of infusing design thinking into innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship…both commercial and community-oriented. I'm oft-distracted by bright, shiny objects, so the following diagram that they put together to achieve "design innovation" caught my eye (click on the graphic to see it at full size):

What an intriguing, holistic description of the innovation process!  And it's relevant, too, even in the world of advanced manufacturing.

My research into in northeast Indiana manufacturing revealed that our largely auto industry-dependent manufacturers will have a stronger chance of survival by diversifying into other industries (no big surprise) and by becoming smaller-scale, smarter "design/build shops". In this business model, the design and engineering component is more important than the production component. The ability to create rapid prototypes and small-volume (dare I say "boutique"?) product runs could differentiate the successful businesses from the less fortunate.

This model presumes that high-volume manufacturing generally is less expensive to produce offshore. We can leverage our design know-how, though, to stabilize and grow our manufacturing base. This notion was well-stated in Automation Alley's "Technology Industry Report" and warrants attention far beyond the boundaries of southeast Michigan.

From a workforce point of view, the challenge we face is to take our manufacturing skills and retool for skills generally required more in a "knowledge economy" model. Perhaps elements of the Stanford design innovation concept may help us smooth the transition.

[Side Note: If you notice, Silicon Gulf is an economic development project in the Phillipines. From what I can gather from their site, this concept is not too far along (they're leveraging a call-center model to grow a commercial IT infrastructure)…but a philosophical foundation like the one they're laying could portend a new level of Pacific Rim competition in the global knowledge economy.]

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