【英语财经】企业创新需要诚意 Having the time and resources to explore ideas

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2014-6-4 07:18

小艾摘要: One of the drawbacks of an otherwise fulfilling career with a business and financial news organisation is the paucity of stories one has with which to impress schoolchildren. On the Financial Times, w ...
Having the time and resources to explore ideas
One of the drawbacks of an otherwise fulfilling career with a business and financial news organisation is the paucity of stories one has with which to impress schoolchildren. On the Financial Times, we do not often get to interview Beyoncé, Justin Bieber or Zac Efron.

When I speak at schools, I know that students will not be much taken with the chief executives and finance directors I could mention. I usually tell them that I have interviewed Sir Richard Branson, which elicits mild interest, and Lord Alan Sugar, once a computer entrepreneur but now known for The Apprentice television series.

In future talks I should mention Arthur Fry, though. Students may not have heard of him, but they will know what he invented. I interviewed Fry nearly three decades ago at the St Paul, Minnesota, headquarters of 3M, one of the world’s most innovative companies. Fry had been puzzling about what 3M could do with a weak adhesive a colleague had devised. Few could see the point of a glue that, while it kept its stickiness, did not really stick. Singing in his church choir, frustrated at how the paper bookmarks in his hymn book kept fluttering to the floor, Fry suddenly saw what he could do with that weak adhesive – and the Post-it note was born.

Fry, I observed, could make a fortune talking about the Post-it. He seemed unimpressed. He had a yellow car with a personalised Post-it number plate, and that appeared to be it.

His attitude was typical of 3M. The company, which makes everything from dental implants to carpark software, is quiet and understated. Many who use its products have probably never heard of 3M. But it is inventive.

How does 3M do it? As Vijay Govindarajan of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and Srikanth Srinivas of healthcare consultancy Medecision explained in a Harvard Business Review blog post last year, 3M employees are allowed to spend 15 per cent of their time researching their own projects.

Every company, every country has its own culture. In Israel, the country with the second highest level of innovation after the US – as measured by the value of its start-ups – state institutions play a central role. Many tech entrepreneurs develop skills and pick up contacts in Israeli army intelligence’s Unit 8200. The state also plays a role in lending money to promising, but risky, new ventures.

Other countries have had less success. Many of the UK government’s attempts in the pre-Thatcher years to support technology winners were disasters, a notable exception being Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine maker.

There is no one remedy that every company or country can apply. But there are two general principles. The HBR post on 3M said the company spent time identifying customers’ “pain points”. These are problems the customers have – things that could be done better. But customers do not always know what they need. It was only when 3M sent out packs of Post-it notes that customers realised they wanted them. The second key point is allowing staff, particularly those that deal directly with customers, to develop their products.

Many modern companies distance themselves from their customers, through outsourced call centres and websites with no contact telephone numbers other than those call centres. And many companies appear reluctant to allow employees to think and act for themselves.

Overcoming both those obstacles is today’s business and creativity challenge.

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Michael Skapinker is the editor of FT Special Reports

在财经新闻机构工作很能带来成就感,但美中不足之处在于,这份工作很少能带给你能吸引学龄儿童的故事。在英国《金融时报》,我们不是常有机会采访碧昂斯(Beyoncé)、贾斯汀?比伯(Justin Bieber)或者扎克?埃夫隆(Zac Efron)。

当我去学校演讲时,我知道学生可能不会被我能提到的首席执行官或者财务主管迷住。我通常告诉他们,我采访了理查德?布兰森爵士(Sir Richard Branson),这会让他们略微产生一点兴趣;我还会提到艾伦?休格勋爵(Lord Alan Sugar),他曾是电脑行业的企业家,现在则因《学徒》(The Apprentice)系列电视节目而闻名。

不过在未来的演讲中,我应该提一提亚瑟?弗赖伊(Arthur Fry)。学生们或许没有听过他的名字,但是一定知道他所发明的产品。大约30年前,我在明尼苏达州圣保罗(St Paul)的3M公司总部采访过弗赖伊,那是全球最具创造力的公司之一。

曾有一位同事发明了一种弱粘力粘合剂,弗赖伊不断琢磨,3M公司可以这一发明设计点什么产品。当时几乎没有人认为这种粘胶有什么用处,虽然它能长久保持粘度,但粘力并不是很强。在教堂唱诗班唱歌时,弗赖伊的圣歌本中的纸质书签总是掉到地上,让他烦不胜烦,这时他突然意识到了自己可以用这种弱粘力粘合剂做什么——便利贴就此问世。

据我当时的观察,弗赖伊仅靠谈论便利贴就能发一笔大财。但他似乎不为所动。他有一辆黄色的汽车,以及一块个性化的便利贴车牌,而这似乎就是全部了。

他的态度在3M公司颇为典型。这是一家低调而朴素的公司,生产从牙齿填充物到停车软件的各种东西。许多使用该公司产品的人,或许从未听说过3M。但这确实是一家很有创造力的企业。

3M是如何做到这一点的呢?达特茅斯学院(Dartmouth College)塔克商学院(Tuck School of Business)的教授维贾伊?戈文达拉扬(Vijay Govindarajan)和医疗保健咨询公司Medecision的斯里坎特?斯里尼瓦(Srikanth Srinivas),去年在《哈佛商业评论》(Harvard Business Review)博客上发表文章称,3M允许员工将15%的时间用于研究自己的项目。

每家公司、每个国家都有自己的文化。按照初创企业的市值衡量,以色列的创新水平位居全球第二,仅次于美国。在以色列,政府机构在创新领域发挥了核心作用。很多科技企业家在以色列军方情报部门8200部队中提高了自己的技能,并开拓了人脉。该国政府还发挥了向有前途、但风险较高的新项目提供融资的作用。

其他国家就没有以色列这么成功了。在前撒切尔时代,英国政府支持科技行业优势企业的很多尝试都以彻底失败收场。一个值得一提的例外是飞机引擎生产商罗尔斯?罗伊斯(Rolls-Royce)。

不存在一种普遍适用于任一公司或者国家的药方。但存在两个总体原则。《哈佛商业评论》有关3M的博客文章指出,该公司花了不少时间分辨消费者的“痛点”。痛点是消费者面临在的问题——即存在改进空间的地方。但消费者并不总是知道自己需要什么。只有当3M将便利贴推向市场的时候,消费者才意识到他们需要这种商品。第二个关键点在于,允许员工,特别是那些直接与顾客打交道的员工,开发自己的产品。

很多现代企业让自己与顾客拉开距离,公司主页上除了呼叫中心的号码没有其他联系电话,而呼叫中心是被外包出去的。很多公司似乎还不愿让员工按照自己的方式思考或行动。

克服以上两大障碍是当今商业和创新所面临的挑战。

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迈克尔?斯卡平克(Michael Skapinker)是英国《金融时报》的特别报道编辑

译者/马拉

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