Robert Tucker, keynote speaker at the Arkansas Innovation Manufacturing Summit on Wednesday, began his part-pep talk, part-lecture with a funny story about losing his bearings one night while on a camping trip.
The point of the opening monologue to attendees at the two-day manufacturing summit was that he was actually only a few feet away from his tent, but was unable to know where he was because he forgot to keep his flashlight with him.
Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource, then likened his “flashlight experience” to a company that doesn’t have innovation as part of its business strategy.
“Being close to my shelter did me absolutely no good without my (flashlight) when conditions had changed so dramatically,” said Tucker, whose consulting and executive development firm focuses on strategic innovation.
Known widely as one of the nation’s top corporate innovation gurus, Tucker is the author of “Driving Growth Through Innovation” and several other books aimed at helping individuals, companies and nonprofits improve products, processes and strategy by forward thinking.
Tucker said in his years of consulting with some of the top Fortune 500 and international companies across the globe, he has found three major challenges that cause companies of all sizes to fail – growth, differentiation and disruption.
By example, his presentation included a slide with a long list of companies with familiar names, including Kodak, Nokia, Blockbuster, CompUSA and Radio Shack. The point, he said, was that all of the companies listed were now either defunct or struggling to stay afloat.
He said many of these companies have either failed to grow, did not differentiate themselves from their competitors, or their way of doing business was disrupted by outside influences.
“If the rate of change outside your company is faster than the rate of change inside your company – then disruption lies ahead,” he warned.
Tucker then spun several interesting stories about his consulting experiences with top companies that were seeking to learn how to innovate. He said he was hired to consult with former phone giant Nokia nearly a decade ago when it was the top smartphone seller in the world.
However, Tucker said, there were signs at Nokia internally that they had grown too big and inflexible to respond to the fast changes that were happening in the wireless marketplace.
“At this time, they were all over the cover of all the (business) magazines,” he said. “But what I saw … is that the company behind the scenes had already developed cirrhosis and the kind of bureaucracy that set in on a path to (fail).”
He offered that once Apple introduced the iPhone in January 2007, Nokia’s epitaph was already written. Following several years of struggles to regain its footing, Nokia was purchased by Microsoft in 2014, and is now a subsidiary of the Silicon Valley tech giant.
By contrast, Tucker also told a similar story about Procter & Gamble, the Ohio-based multinational consumer food giant that has annual sales exceeding $80 billion. He credited P&G Chairman and CEO A.G. Legley with leading the company out of the tough period after coming out of retirement to rejoin the company in 2013.
Under Legley’s leadership, Tucker said P&G has become a model of innovation by leaving an empty seat for the consumer at every company meeting. “That is symbolic, but it tells every P&G employee not to forget the customer,” he said. “But the most important thing he did was say that innovation is going to be the most important part of (P&G’s) culture.”
Tucker also told the story of how former Tyson Foods Chairman and CEO Don Tyson helped McDonald’s launch Chicken McNuggets in the early 1980s, which in turn helped the Springdale-based company start on a path to being the largest meat and chicken producer in the world. “Don Tyson was an amazing innovator,” he said.
In closing, Tucker told the roomful of manufacturing executives and other attendees at the conference to take time to get away from their mobile phones, emails and multitasking to simply think about new ideas and ways to innovate their companies.
“The process of innovation is different for each company,” he said.