Innovation in Logistics, Part 2: The Self

Now, let’s talk about you!

This is the 2nd part of our “Innovation in Logistics” series and we’re going to do a deep-dive of the most important part of the process: the self…or, YOU!
LWL024 Innovation in Logistics Process SELF

“YOU” are the foundation of developing innovative and creative ideas, especially related to improvements in logistics.

But before you can add value to any discussion on how to improve a specific issue or create an innovation, you need to really understand your field of expertise.

That’s knowledge.

Your sources of knowledge are wide. They include your formal education, industry newsletters, blogs, seminars, case studies, on-the-job training, etc.

But it is not just knowledge and degrees that are important; you also need to know how to apply that knowledge to your world and your business environment.

Lee Iacocca, the outspoken Chairman of Chrysler Corporation during the 1980s criticized all of the highly educated employees that were entering the workforce at the time; he said “MBAs know everything but understand nothing”.

His point was that although they were very smart individuals, they were not able to connect their intelligence to the practical good of the company. They lacked “street smarts”.

Don’t be “that guy”.

You need to have job-specific knowledge and know how to use that knowledge to solve problems in the real world.

Now, let’s talk about your experiences, because they also provide you with practical knowledge.

While you may complete your formal studies with your undergrad degree or an MBA, you have to keep learning and one of the best ways to keep learning is through experiences related to your field.

These experiences range from job-related trips to your company’s plants, warehouses and distribution centers or visits to your logistics service providers’ facilities, such as consolidation centers, ports, their warehouses, etc.

I find that visits to my logistics service providers gives me an opportunity to see and ask how my “competition” or similar companies are moving material from point A to B.

We can always learn from how others are doing it and bring that knowledge home to our company.

Joining or participating in activities sponsored by your local logistics or transportation association will also provide you with insight into the latest trends and innovations in the industry. You may not be able to duplicate a process, but you can modify it based on your company’s constraints and implement it for the same effect.

Though this list is not exhaustive, some great professional associations include:

Get involved with groups like these and expand your horizons. If you are in high tech, then you may learn about the latest innovations in pharmaceutical logistics, if you are in FMCG, then see if automotive logistics is doing something cutting edge that you can use.

You can gain valuable experiences by mixing with a variety of people within your company. Expose yourself to other functions and disciplines, such as Purchasing and Engineering. These informal meetings and conversations could serve as inspiration for improvements or innovations related to logistics.

When was the last time that you passed the Shipping & Receiving area of your company? There is a treasure trove of information you can find there: what shipments were delivered today? Which trucking company brought them in? What boxes or materials are being used? What overnight service levels?

There may be things that are being done in the small parcel world that could work in the production world.

Get out an about in your company!

There is a famous story of how Steve Jobs went about the design of the headquarters for Pixar. Apparently, he obsessed over how the atrium should be structured. Jobs was very particular about where the bathrooms were placed in Pixar’s office because he wanted “serendipitous personal encounters” to occur.*

In fact, the legend goes that he only wanted a SINGLE restroom (one men’s and one women’s) in the whole building, “until a revolt ensued…and Jobs reluctantly sprinkled in some additional bathrooms.”**

Pixar HQ

The key point is that many influential companies, from Apple to Yahoo to Bell Labs, realized that bringing different types of people together on a daily basis, especially those with various skill sets, is important for growth and fostering of innovation and creativity.

For those who may have never thought about it, you can broaden your logistics-related experiences simply by going shopping! Walmart has always been a standard benchmark for logistics, but you don’t have to visit their distribution centers to pick up on some ideas.

A walk down the Costco aisles can tell you a lot about how they keep transportation costs low: very standard 45x48x45 inch pallets that fit perfectly into a 53’ trailer. If you are not doing that today with the material that you control, Costco is a great place to see it in action and how it can be implemented.

Ikea is another great place to benchmark packaging concepts and see what could work for you. For more on Ikea, read our article “Logistics Learning can Happen Anywhere…even at Ikea!

It may not be your idea, but if you can implement in your company for your benefit, then it’s an innovation for you and your company!

The final attribute that you’ll need if you are going to find and identify new ideas and innovations is curiosity.

Curiosity is the desire to know and having an interest in something that leads to inquiry.

LWL024 Curious Child2

While some think you need to be born with this gift of curiosity, others believe that if you are not “naturally” curious, you can work on this by simply being more alert to the world around you.

But “being more alert” won’t suffice if you’re tasked with identifying new and unique ways to improve your business and cut costs. My bonus isn’t based on “being more alert”!

You’ll need to be curious AND maintain a good dose of skepticism in order to actually uncover opportunities that could lead to that innovation.

Knowledge, experiences and curiosity are the key areas YOU will need to excel at in order to create the best foundation for being creative. Refining and using these attributes will help you to “see” 2 (or more) unassociated objects or ideas and be able to “connect-the-dots” to create that NEW idea and innovation.

In our next article, we’ll talk about some of the methods out there that help us “see” the connection that sparks a new idea, innovation or improvement.

Let’s keep moving forward!

Click the following link for a PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION of this article: LWL024 Innovation in Logistics Part 2
Sources for this article:
* Business Insider article by Lisa Eadicicco, “Here’s Why Office Layout Was So Important To Steve Jobs”,
**”Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights“, by Gary Klein


About Lenny

Many years of experience in a Fortune 1000 companies, especially in the logistics and I.T. areas of manufacturing companies. Through process improvements and the use of many of the tools mentioned here, I have been able to identify and implement savings opportunities worth up to $10 million. I hope that some of these real-life stories, suggestions and tools can help you!
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