Manufacturers should adopt moonshot thinking

Posted on 24 Mar 2014 by The Manufacturer

The Manufacturer's digital expert Hayden Richards explores the exciting and perhaps uncomfortable idea of stretching outside the innovation box and embracing the concept of moonshot thinking.

Google describes moonshot thinkers as thought leaders who live in the grey area between audacious technology and pure science fiction. Someone who is willing to start with the bare nuts and bolts of an idea and plan for it to take them to the moon. But should manufacturers adopt such thinking?

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The Manufacturer’s digital expert, Hayden Richards.

As a community, manufacturers have been traditionally slow to adopt technologies except where it impacts on the factory floor. moonshot thinking by definition implies a large goal that might be considered impossible and usually requires the efforts of the entire group to make it happen.

Today’s manufacturers are beset by several transformational forces. These include connectivity, servitization and digitisation. Within the next three years, leaders and manufacturers expect the industry to explode by 123%. This includes widespread usage of 3D printing technologies as well as the development of new types of additive manufacturing technologies. Given these challenges, today’s manufacturers are seriously challenged to keep pace with an industry that is rapidly advancing with technology that is of itself the result of original moonshot thinking.

Who else is promoting this new, somewhat brave way of thinking? Google for one. With the 2012  launch of its forum, Solve for X, the technology giant touted the forum’s mandate as, “To take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen.” According to Google “moonshots can come from anywhere – people of all ages and places, companies, academia, inspired experts, enthusiastic newcomers, and often from accidental discoveries.”

Manufacturing is an industry that is currently challenged by a lack of STEM skills, and while there are many initiatives to motivate apprentices going forward, it seems that there will be a shortage of moonshot thinking within the next ten years. I am sure that within the United Kingdom, if you put ten of the best thinkers in a room, they would surely be able to formulate business models that can adapt to any paradigm shift. We have already seen glimpses of this during brainstorming ‘games’ session at our manufacturing events.

The problem is that practising thought leaders are often siloed within their own organisations, focused on individual survival. Not only that but many manufacturers themselves do not invest in critical technology or practices whilst in the middle of disruption.

Time is running out and the recent technological advances may soon be likened to a raging torrent. Can Manufacturers cope with the onslaught of technology solutions? Recent statistics by PTC show that well over two-thirds of manufacturing leaders will apply voice of the customer initiatives in order to better understand their customer base. One would assume these same manufacturers will deploy a range of social and digital strategies in order to effect same. But here is the scary bit, in a recent Forbes article PTC tells us that “the customer is only half the story”.

Picture this, with the advent of the internet of things, simple products are now complex beasts embedded with sensors and processors, and capable of communicating with the manufacturer. Forget the voice of the customer, manufacturers have to struggle understanding concept of voice of the product. PTC tells that the new victors will be those that can comprehend, plan and leverage on the data that manufactured products can now offer the manufacturer.

These individuals will definitely be among the current generation of moonshot thinkers.

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