I really enjoyed the BBC programme this week profiling Gordon Murray and his career (www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01f11hp/How_to_Go_Faster_and_Influence_People_The_Gordon_Murray_F1_Story/).  It described his several radical innovations in Formula One, his development of the F1, arguably the finest road-going sports car ever built, and his new city car project.  If you can’t get the programme, here’s a good article from The Engineer on his ideas (www.theengineer.co.uk/in-depth/interviews/automotive-engineer-gordon-murray/1010726.article)

 

A few things struck me as I watched the programme:

  • He benchmarks thoroughly – but doesn’t get trapped into the same mindset as those he’s benchmarking.
  • He works in a way that is very team-based.  I was interested to see his use of full-size drawings and meetings to develop designs by working on the drawings – avoiding the single designer approach of a CAD screen.  (When I visited Jaguar Land Rover last year I saw an entire design team working in their virtual reality cave (www.automotivecouncil.co.uk/2010/11/jaguar-land-rovers-virtual-cave/)) resolving the complexities of under-bonnet packaging working with greater than full-size models)
  • Lots of prototyping and quick and cheap experiments – and fast development
  • A very clear grasp of the underlying economics of what he’s doing in each aspect (design, component cost, platforms, manufacturing, and through-life cost)
  • He seeks radical improvement in every aspect  – and it will be interesting to see which ones have the most impact – so will it be his new car or his new approach to car manufacture that has the most impact over the next decade?

Thoroughly impressive.

 

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Using ‘open innovation’ to get all those contributions to your innovation efforts is great – but how do you maintain some coherence and avoid getting blown about by the latest stunning insight or unmissable new technology?  There’s the danger of losing your way and ending up with a product portfolio that’s not a portfolio at all.  How do you keep the scope and direction of your major project under control when the stakeholders are all advising something different?  If you’re using ‘open innovation’ as part of your culture change programme – how do you filter the influences?  Or does anarchy rule OK?

This is where ‘pole star’ leadership comes in (see my post of 21 Dec 09).  ‘Pole Star’ leadership is the capacity to create a vision of where a project is going while leaving open enough ambiguity to enrol new inputs and stay open to new discoveries.

The equivalent for a product portfolio is to be very clear what are the ‘rules’ by which the portfolio is structured and what are the key attributes that both unite and differentiate the products in the portfolio.  Open Innovation really tests the integrity, robustness and clarity of your product strategy.

And for organisational change the equivalent is to be very clear what is the guiding philosophy that underpins the culture and practices – to define what is and what is not negotiable.

So next time you head off on an open innovation initiative – be clear who is guardian of the vision, the strategy, the rules and the philosophy.  And give them a voice and some power.  Otherwise the ‘opportunities’ from open innovation might derail your project, your portfolio, or your change initiative.

When is a wheel not a wheel?  When it is an autonomous power subsystem.  I saw Michelin’s Active Wheel system at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last week.  A compact piece of kit, it combines a motor, active suspension and controller within the dimensions of a conventional wheel.  The rep on the stand tells me it’s available to be used by would-be manufacturers of electric vehicles.

A quick look on the web tells me it’s been around since 2008.  And it’s not the only one (www.ev-info.com/en/electric-wheel-motors-manufacturers.html).

 

So why hasn’t it or its competitors caught on?  Is it about achieving reliable operation at high power density, managing the suspension dynamics, or controlling the wheel motors as a unified set?

 

Or is it because a car is a system composed of component sub-systems and the OEM decides the architecture and chooses the systems that will be central to their car and systems that will be peripheral or subcontracted.  But the wheel motor, especially with integrated suspension, just crosses too many boundaries between the core and the periphery?

 

So it would need a manufacturer with a very different view of the architecture of a car to adopt the technology.  Back to the days when a car maker built a chassis and a coachbuilder clothed it?  Maybe we’re waiting for the car builder who focuses on ‘occupant accommodation, protection and entertainment’ as their core module and regards a drive-train as just a sub-system to move the core.