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Future Innovation

I can predict the future. It is a lesson I learned from my mentor, Mr. Jim Rohn. Once while giving a talk as a successful business person his audience asked him to share his wisdom on what the future would bring. His response was that “the future will be much like the past: opportunity mixed with difficulty.”  Well no kidding. We can typically feel fairly astute and intelligent when we examine or become aware of past events and how the future affected the outcome.  Here is a list of some historical (hysterical?) comments which may have seemed rational at the time but time has proven differently.

  • “The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most”- IBM to the eventual founders of Xerox saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959
  • “The ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”- Western Union, internal memo, 1876
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM 1943
  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” – Ken Olson founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in a 1977 talk to the World Future Society
  • “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer British Post Office in 1878
  • “When the Paris Exhibition (of 1878) closes, electric light with close with it and no more will be heard of it.” Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson
  • “We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.” Decca Recording Company on declining to sign the Beatles, 1962
  • “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty- a fad.” The president of Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co. 1903
  • “Television won’t last because people will get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Darryl Zanuck Movie producer 20 Century Fox  1946
  • “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” -New York Times, 1936

Of course accurate hindsight can make us feel pretty smart and smug. But how do we get ahead of the curve so that we are prescient if not clairvoyant? One way to predict the future is to invent it ourselves. What would the list of future inventions look like today that would have us scoff as those ideas from the past centuries were castigated? According to Wikipedia, “innovation is a new idea, device or process and can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, processes, services, technologies or ideas that are readily available to markets, government and society.  As we are mostly entrepreneurs who continuously look for better ways to satisfy our consumer base with improved quality, durability, service and price which come to fruition in innovation with advanced technologies and organizational strategies.” Peter Drucker wrote that “Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution or a new venture started by a lone individual in the family kitchen. It is the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.” I think this point of view fairly describes what we in the uniform business strive to create and the basis for the implementation of strategies for growth and profit. What are the available resources can we access?

 

Being intelligently selfish I like to take advantage of what is available and cost effective. Yes, in larger, forward-thinking companies, 3M and Google come to mind, employee creativity is encouraged, supported and financed. In smaller companies, we can take advantage of our trade association utilizing pooled or shared resources. Staring this year, I have been honored to accept the chair of the NAUMD’s Image Apparel Institute Innovation Committee. The purpose of this committee will be to identify, track and disseminate information on the latest technologies in fabrics, business processes, and garments along with other products supplied by our members.

Much can be learned from accessing the resources and experiences of our members and their direct contacts including but not limited to other related organizations, researchers like TC2, trade show exhibitors, news articles, the internet, social media, university studies, etc.  The committee will strive to focus on current and future needs of the market and alert and educate our members with ideas to enable achievement of their potential for continuous growth and profitability.

The good news is that all of us are smarter than one of us. With the NAUMD we have members representing the supply of billions of dollars of uniforms and corporate wear globally. From servicing both the public and private sectors we are continually challenged to utilize results of innovative thinking.  A seminar is planned during the NAUMD annual convention in Orlando April 13th to 15th so we can share the ideas and solicit input directly. Here are some seemingly crazy ideas (innovations) that don’t seem so crazy at this date. Half-jokingly I said to Richard Lerman, CEO of the NAUMD that an ideal solution to some uniform delivery and fit challenges would be to have a 3D printer available on site of the customer and then custom make the required uniforms instantly and to order. We both smirked.

 

Two days later I came across an article from February of 2014, from Innovation in Textiles .com that this concept is already under way with Zensah Compression Apparel. CEO and founder Ze-ev Feig insists “Our focus is on product not just experimentation. We see applications for 3D printing which will combine textiles with wearable technologies. Today competition is stiffer, so we have to keep on innovating and are looking for new ways to create seamless product.”

 

From the public safety sector, in this case the military, is an article published on Product Design and Development website (www.pddnet.com) reporting  the headline that “ Soldier Uniforms May Detect, Neutralize Biological Threats “Scientists at the Army Research Laboratory have developed and are producing in small batches synthetic peptides they believe will serve as a great replacements for animal-grown antibodies currently used to detect biological hazards. ”

Working together to identify and contribute to innovation for our industry will be rewarding on a number of fronts. We will be keeping our customers and society at large happy with benefits such as helping the greening of the environment, reducing disease and improving safety. Our stockholders will appreciate enhanced competitive advantages with innovation to effectively and continually lower costs while increasing efficiency and profits. What advances can be attained that may seem silly now but by our innovating that if we can read about them fifty or a hundred years from now will sound extremely practical? I predict it will be fun to read those quotes.

 

By Joseph B. Greco MSOD  

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