Tag Archives: Engineering

Understanding the ingenuity process

Vector set of conceptual flat line illustrations on following themes - creativity and inspiration, idea and imagination, innovation and discovery, think outside the box

David Falzani, SMF President and honorary professor of entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) takes us through NUBS’ ingenuity process which is at the heart of its entrepreneurship module.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, originality – all these are at the heart of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs, after all, are fundamentally problem solvers that offer creative, innovative solutions and responses to problems – gaps – in organisational or market-oriented thinking.

However, creative solutions don’t just materialise out of thin air. They emerge from lateral thinking processes and problem-solving approaches which attempt to grapple with not just the problem itself, but the factors leading to the problem, the consequences of the various solutions potentially available to us, and the possibility of new, unique ideas which can be mobilised into a concrete plan of action. In other words, ingenuity is not innate. Whether we’re talking about products that fill a particular gap in the market or internal changes to a business, ingenuity is a problem-solving process that taps into a natural human capacity for creative solutions.

They say that quick decisions are not always the best decisions. That’s why the ingenuity process demands organisational time and respect to get the best results – that is, after all, why we talk about it as a ‘process’. It represents a progressive working-through of the obstacles and issues in question. So, what might this process look like?

Defining the problem
If you’re looking for creative solutions, you must already be aware that there is a problem or obstacle. The ingenuity process firstly seeks to understand the problem in its entirety by asking questions such as, but not limited to:

      • Whose problem is this?
      • How urgent is the problem?
      • How might we break the problem down into manageable parts?

In other words, ingenuity first requires a comprehensive, concrete analysis and explanation of the issue at hand—as this will form the basis of the next step, ie your strategy. Knowing the component parts of the problem should give you a clearer idea of the various objectives required to solve each element of the issue individually.

It will also allow you to test your potential strategy against the problem itself by making clear the various implications and impacts of your solution on the different factors leading to the problem in the first place. Defining the problem in this way may even solve the problem immediately by making clear the various blind spots in the organisation’s relationship with the issue thus far. To come up with an original, ingenious solution, however, requires you to document the problem – and your strategy – in its entirety. There is no single answer to a problem, and that’s why all possible avenues must be explored before action is taken.

Documenting the ingenuity process
Documentation is vital in any organisational context, as it will form the basis of any concrete, problem-solving proposal to your colleagues, shareholders, or fellow management team. It enables you to communicate the gravity of the problem and all its complexities in a way that creates a case for taking action and moving forward.

You’ve hopefully thought about the problem in depth, measuring its impacts, causes, and implications of your proposed strategy. You need to communicate this creative thinking in clear, concise terms – not only to justify your strategy but also to hit the nail on the head, so to speak. So, write a statement describing the predicament which addresses:

      • The processes involved
      • The facts as they are and why they demand action
      • The consequences of not solving the problem

This should form the basis of a concise justification as to why your strategy is not only a good potential course of action but an imperative one too. Supplementing this statement with a comprehensive analysis of root causes, a map of the different processes leading to and from the issue, and arranging different considerations according to priority, will provide a solid basis for moving forward and generating real solutions and ideas with your colleagues.

Discovering creative solutions
So, you’ve analysed the problem in its entirety, demonstrated the importance of solving the problem, and hopefully proposed a basic strategy for moving past the issue. Everyone agrees creative solutions are needed, and there are clear ideas about where the problems lie and where action needs to be taken.

If these steps represent an objective, concrete approach to a problem, one that attempts to quantify the issues at hand, then it is from here that real creativity comes into play. You need to designate a time and a place for non-judgmental idea generation.

Exercises such as looking for analogies in other markets or previous experience can be helpful in illustrating where other solutions have fallen short and what needs to be done differently. Take an example from another company, perhaps, and try to generate a set of hypothetical solutions for the problems they faced – it will give you a much-needed detached perspective while providing a focal point for new ideas. Get to the root of your current problem-solving processes. What organisational assumptions are underlying them? How might you change those assumptions to move beyond paradigmatic thinking?

Brainstorm, argue, debate, deconstruct – and ultimately, generate as many ideas as possible in response to the problem at hand. Many of these ideas might not solve the problem in its entirety, but they might solve it partially – and if not, the point is that they open up new space for alternative, lateral solutions. This is the most important element of creative idea generation – allowing yourself to be wrong, questioning your assumptions, and making the box small enough that thinking outside of it becomes second nature.

Determine your course of action
This is the hardest part of the ingenuity process, and the part most burdened with the kind of risks entrepreneurs must take on. Firstly, you need to step back from the idea generation stage. Getting sucked into individual ideas and potential responses can mean losing sight of the bigger picture. You now need to consider all your ideas in their entirety and as a collective whole, asking yourself:

      • What kind of underlying logic characterises the different groups of ideas generated?
      • What solution does this logic point towards? Does it sufficiently address the problem?
      • Have all derivative ideas or combinations of ideas been seriously considered?

It’s time to collate your ideas and think hard about the nature of the problems they’re speaking to. The ingenuity process is then not so much about idea generation as it is about critical self-reflection on the logic and norms governing ‘business as usual’. It’s only by questioning your assumptions and considering your ideas in relation to these assumptions that a truly original, creative solution can emerge. Here, the ingenuity process transforms: it is no longer just about thinking outside of the box; it is about questioning how you ended up inside it in the first place.

Image: vasabii

Marketing an Engineering Business

b9-1106 Bedfordshire Businesswoman awards held at Woburn Sculpture Gallery. Overall winner Andrea Rodney of Hone-All Precision Ltd

Andrea Rodney is a dynamic, self-taught, self-motivated businesswoman who helped Hone-All Precision in Bedfordshire to extraordinary success, part of which can be attributed to the transformation of the company’s marketing strategy. Andrea joined the company at the age of 21 and 18 years later is a director of the company. Here Andrea tells us why manufacturing businesses should not shy away from marketing themselves.

For many years, Engineering and Manufacturing has suffered from a poor image. It seems that the media insist on continuously showing images of the old guy in overalls standing at his bench with a file in his hand whose length of service was judged by the length of the fingers he had left.

But the question is: how do we help ourselves in this?
Few companies within our industry ever covet press coverage or publish press releases or case studies shouting about the technological or process advancements they’ve made, the efficiencies achieved or even something as simple as a new machine being delivered.

Even fewer have a strong corporate image with memorable company logos which create an overall brand resulting in facilities with a themed colour scheme, matching corporate work wear, uniform documentation combined with an effective website to ensure the brand is seen externally by a national or international audience.

Within smaller companies in our industry, many are owner-managed or are run by excellent engineers who have never been involved in sales and marketing activity – they know how to make the parts, but not how to play the game!

As companies, regardless of size or speciality, we need to show just what we do and how well we do it. We need to look as good as we are. And we need to let people know about it. We are always told to focus on the 4 Ps – people, place, process and product – but without the 5th P – profile – it’s irrelevant as nobody knows just how good we are.

And so as an industry, we need to look to the brands we remember and ask ourselves what made them memorable? Then we apply that to our own businesses, however small and with whatever budget we have available to us.

It costs nothing to come up with an eye catching logo, to ensure this brand continues across all levels and throughout all functions of the business; and to ensure that when the telephone is answered, it is always in the same, bright, professional, bubbly and courteous manner. It costs nothing to ensure the facilities are clean, tidy and create a great first impression. And to ask people what they thought during their visit and act upon their feedback.

For those potential customers that cannot come for a visit there may be a small investment required to ensure that you can create a website that follows the same principles as your people, place, product and processes.

Once this is in place, it costs nothing to ensure your website is listed on all the free listings pages available, of which there are hundreds. Each entry moves your site up the rankings of search engines such as Google.

Advertising within trade magazines Services & Capacity listings is usually exceedingly cost-effective – less than a few hundred pounds for the entire year. But having a consistent presence raises awareness of your company and reinforces the brand each time it is seen.

Also, once these entries are placed, the magazines are usually much happier to include press releases and case studies from you which are placed free of charge and yet again tell your story, reinforce your brand and raise confidence in the continuity of your company and the services you provide.

The press releases can then be forwarded to your customers on a regular basis keeping them informed of your successes, investments and developments. Again, this costs nothing but offers a massive boost to reinforcing your image and keeping you at the forefront of your customers’ minds.

The benefits of these simple steps are that your company – which may well be exceptionally professional – is also perceived to be so. Not just by those that know you, but more importantly, by those that don’t.

You can build a brand and a profile for the minimum of investment and simply by playing the game you can tell the world about your fantastic people, about your safe and efficient facility, about the quality of your product and the effectiveness of your processes – all through one simple profile.

The greater hope with this is if more of us get this right, the less companies there will be for the media to use in order to portray manufacturing as an antiquated, outdated industry with little technology or progression for the youth of today. We have more chance of showing CNC machinery, sharing stories of technological advancements, highlighting companies consistently investing in continuous improvement and reinforcing the fact that manufacturing is the best and safest way of balancing our economy and therefore deserves the recognition and support of everyone – the media, the Government, the country and those within it that don’t shout loudly enough about their contribution to the most exciting and innovative industry in the world.

Recruiting Trends in Engineering

Mike Astell 2

SMF Mike Astell has both engineering and business qualifications, the latter he gained through his MBA study thanks to a hefty bursary from Sainsbury Management Fellows which champions the idea of having engineers in board positions because they bring a multiplicity of skills to these roles.

Mikes’ MBA enabled him to transition into senior management posts where his is responsible for hiring a diversity of staff including engineers.  Mike’s view on current recruitment is that “Engineering recruitment is at a turning point.  A major shift is taking place within  graduate recruitment as many more are seeing engineering as an exciting long term career choice.

“Our industry has long lamented the fact that large numbers of talented engineering graduates have not seen their careers in engineering roles and have been lured by City employers which offer big incentives and salaries to attract people with strategic, analytical and project management skills.

“The failure of so many financial institutions has led to the restructuring of the economy  (eg headcount reductions, divestments) and engineering graduates are starting to look at things differently.  They are exploring engineering roles more carefully and beginning to appreciate the potential for challenging careers with long term prospects for advancement.

“This shift in perspective has increased the pool of graduate talent from which to select the very best engineering graduates, creating a very competitive market – many graduates are having to do work placements or part time work to improve their competitiveness.  Now  we are recruiting some amazing graduates; not only in terms of their academic achievements, but their energy and enthusiasm to contribute to industry.

“And it’s not just engineering graduates. The upheaval in the job market has resulted in a large churn and highly experience engineers who may have stayed at one firm for a long time, becoming frustrated at not progressing, have joined the candidate market, creating even more opportunities for employers to access the best engineers. This diversion of talent into industry will most definitely help to rebuild the British economy.”



President’s Letter

annual dinner 2010

SMF Ernest Poku
Each time I look through the profile book it impresses me how unique a group the Fellows are. Although we work in a wide variety of industries and roles, we all share a common perspective and experience. We have also all participated in the vision of Lord Sainsbury.

The Society has in essence two broad aims. Firstly to add value to the UK and international economy by supporting the aims and vision that Lord Sainsbury expressed in setting up and supporting the scheme and associated bursaries that we have all benefited from. Secondly, to add value to each individual Fellow by organising and encouraging interaction, and otherwise supporting our careers.

We are entering a period where the future form and role of the society may well be decided. There are now almost 300 Fellows, representing a considerable network of talent covering all major sectors and functions, and many countries. The debate on what makes us unique, what aims we should have and how we can realise them is coming to a head.

Recently, a strategic review was initiated to better understand what role the Society should or could fulfil. To further understand the Fellows’ profiles and their current views on the scheme we have asked Hall Associates to undertake a telephone review. You will therefore be contacted over the next few weeks and asked a range of questions. At one end of the spectrum we can be a mere alumni association, at the other, we can seek to positively influence views and attitudes across commerce. We are interested in your views on the Society’s future role and how you would like to be involved.

Re-Engineering the Board
You will have found enclosed our publication Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, or “HR Pack”, targeted at key HR decision makers. This pack was designed by our Communications Group to challenge the view that accountancy and legal training are the best qualifications for effective boardroom directors, and to highlight the strengths of the engineering mindset. Most of our outward communications to date have been via Public Relations. The HR Pack is a deliberate break from this approach and provides a more direct channel. If the evaluation of this new approach is positive then we intend to look at additional opportunities for new publications and forums for challenging views and arguing for wider adoption of our values. Please give us your feedback on this pack.

Website & Improved Engagement

We will shortly be launching a new website and interaction platform. Many of you will already be members of the SMF group on LinkedIn but this new website has vastly increased functionality and a new social engine to allow for private communications between Fellows.

As Fellows are geographically dispersed, the website is also intended to provide a material forum for useful interaction on a variety of initiatives irrespective of geographic location.

How we support each other and add value as a community will no doubt dictate the future success of the Society. We hope that the website will enable a higher degree of interaction and engagement by delivering value to every Fellow that uses it.
As you know, the SMF bursaries are funded by Lord Sainsbury via his Gatsby Charitable Foundation. However, the Society itself has been funded to date almost entirely by Lord Sainsbury’s private funds. Whilst we have been informed that the future of the scheme continues to be assured, and all recent feedback on our performance has been most positive, we have also been asked to take a hard look at whether there is a point at which the scheme becomes self funding.

We are currently reviewing whether to incorporate the Society and establish a registered charity to further pursue this question. A key benefit of this incorporation would be a tax efficient vehicle for those Fellows who have expressed an interest in investing back in to the scheme.

We also collect annual subscriptions from the Fellows. These subscriptions go directly to supporting the Society’s aims. They are not a ‘social fee’ but, rather, they underline the identity and activities of the Society and point to the responsibilities of the individual recipient of the award. We continue to ask for your support in collecting these fees.

Mentoring and Other Activities
An outstanding success of last year was the launch of the mentoring scheme. Fellows have been partnered with mentors at the very highest levels of UK PLC. We intend to look not only at how we can extend the scheme in size, but also how to access new key sectors of Fellow involvement such as Finance and Entrepreneurship.

We also launched the successful Energy Roundtable. This is a forum – currently physical but soon also to be online too – to exchange latest ideas between those with a role or interest in the Energy arena. We would like to have additional roundtables in areas of key importance to the economy such as Finance and Manufacturing. Please let Cathy know if you would like to be involved in this.

Other activities where our involvement continues include supporting the next generation through the RAEng’s BEST Programme and the Engineering Leadership Award scheme. If you feel you now have the time and would like to become further involved please do not hesitate to contact Cathy or myself.

There is no easy way to measure the sphere of influence that the Fellows have. However, by rising to the challenges we are set, and increasing our ability to collaborate, we can exert a positive influence of a disproportionate magnitude to our size.

Lastly, I would like to warmly thank outgoing President Ernie Poku for all of his hard work, initiatives, and achievements during his term of office.