Dear Colleagues

Thank you for your vigorous and at times feisty feedback. I do try and answer each and every one of your comments. This has become a little tricky with the number of responses, but if you go to the trouble of writing, then the least I can do is to respond. So if you don’t get a response within a few days; send me a reminder.

I simply delight in the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid). Probably because I end up doing everything in a rather convoluted way (just ask one of my colleagues how I put up a hi-tech tent one night with the rain pouring down; much to the accelerating chagrin of my dearly beloved shivering in the howling elements) and am always pleasurably surprised when there is a simpler, quicker approach. Steve Jobs of Apple Corporation offers some seeds of wisdom - always worth taking and ploughing into your firm’s (hopefully) fertile fields when talking engineering innovation. Bear in mind that engineering innovation doesn’t mean massive groundbreaking designs; but often simple improvements such as a better way to solder or weld or handle a cable loom or deal with a vexing issue of safety. Tiny improvements perhaps, but overall enormously important to a business, especially when everyone is thinking innovation and incrementally improving things.

There are four lessons for innovating in your job or firm:
1. Focus on the user not on the technology when designing the product. Simplicity and ease of use and some elegant styling are the name of the game; not super clever, whizzbang electronics which we often love to engage in as engineers. Apply the KISS principle. The very simple and easy to use Skype was distilled from complex and arcane internet telephony.  I believe this is often the most important lesson.

2. Innovation must be encouraged from both within and without your firm. The trick is to align your ideas with technologies that exist outside. The phenomenally successful iPod was invented by an outside consultant for Apple Corporation and was quickly and effectively linked in with in-house technologies and talent. This is often referred to as "network innovation". Engineers must not think something invented internally is better because of its familiarity. Grab safety ideas that you read about and apply them to your firm’s applications. A new technique of wiring a switchboard -that you noticed at a neighbouring firm - which saves 30% of the time can be customised to your processes with enormous success, provided it is idiotproof and easy for the users.

3. Ignore the cacophony of the market when your instinct insists otherwise. Sometimes the market guffaws with horror at some designs; but one should persist with one’s instinct if there is another untapped and quiet market which you are targetting with this new product. Nintendo invented the motion-controlled video game console called the Wii which targetted non-gamers which were a far greater market. We developed a data communications course 15 years ago which was of no interest to the traditional telecomms market ( as they had all been there, done that"); but when fieldbus and Ethernet arrived in the industrial market we ended up with 150,000 attending this course.

4. Fail, but persist. When an idea fails because of a lack of interest from the market; think through the issues carefully and perhaps redesign and relaunch a modified version. The Macintosh computer originated from the ashes of the failed Lisa computer. And was ferociously successful.

Steve Jobs remarked a decade ago - before his phenomenal innovativeness turned Apple's fortunes - "Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you ‘get it’”. So true and inspirational.

Thanks to the inimitable Economist and Apple for their thoughts.

Yours in engineering learning

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.