Yes, it is not a typo. Clayton Christensen famous book written in 1995 discussed the Innovator’s Dilemma when new technologies cause great firms to fail. This was the challenge two decades ago. Existing prominent companies could become obsolete quickly as they were bypassed by new technologies.

The examples are well known. To mention a few: DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), Kodak, and Nokia.

Why the innovation dilemma?

This decade the challenge has become different. All companies are forced to become more sustainable in the next ten years. Either pushed by global regulations or because of their customer demands. The challenge is this time different. Besides the priority of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is also the need to transform our society from a linear, continuous growth economy into a circular doughnut economy.

The circular economy makes the creation, the usage and the reuse of our products more complex as the challenge is to reduce the need for raw materials and avoid landfills.

The circular economy concept – the regular product lifecycle in the middle

The doughnut economy makes the values of an economy more complex as it is not only about money and growth, human and environmental factors should also be considered.

Doughnut Economics: Trying to stay within the green boundaries

To manage this complexity, I wrote SYSTEMS THINKING – a must-have skill in the 21st century, focusing on the logical part of the brain. In my follow-up post, Systems Thinking: a second thought, I looked at the human challenge. Our brain is not rational and wants to think fast to solve direct threats. Therefore, we have to overcome our old brains to make progress.

An interesting and thought-provoking was shared by Nina Dar in this discussion, sharing the video below. The 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) describe what needs to be done. However, we also need the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) and the human side to connect. Watch the movie:

Our society needs to change and innovate; however, we cannot. The Innovation Dilemma.

The future is data-driven and digital.

What is clear to me is that companies developing products and services have only one way to move forward: becoming data-driven and digital.

Why data-driven and digital?

Let’s look at something companies might already practice, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals). This European directive, introduced in 2007, had the aim to protect human health and protect the environment by communicating information on chemicals up and down the supply chain. This would ensure that manufacturers, importers, and their customers are aware of information relating to the health and safety of the products supplied.

The regulation is currently still suffering in execution as most of the reporting and evaluation of chemicals is done manually. Suppliers report their chemicals in documents, and companies report the total of chemicals in their summary reports. Then, finally, authorities have to go through these reports.

Where the scale of REACH is limited, the manual effort to have end-to-end reporting is relatively high. In addition, skilled workers are needed to do the job because reporting is done in a document-based manner.

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)

Where you might think REACH is relatively simple, the real new challenges for companies are the need to perform Life Cycle Assessments for their products. In a Life Cycle Assessment. The Wiki definition of LCA says:

Life cycle assessment or LCA (also known as life cycle analysis) is a methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process, or service. For instance, in the case of a manufactured product, environmental impacts are assessed from raw material extraction and processing (cradle), through the product’s manufacture, distribution and use, to the recycling or final disposal of the materials composing it (grave)

This will be a shift in the way companies need to define products. Much more thinking and analysis are required in the early design phases. Before committing to a physical solution, engineers and manufacturing engineers need to simulate and calculate the impact of their design decisions in the virtual world.

This is where the digital twin of the design and the digital twin of the manufacturing process becomes relevant. And remember: Digital Twins do not run on documents – you need connected data and various types of models to calculate and estimate the environmental impact.

LCA done in a document-based manner will make your company too slow and expensive.

I described this needed transformation in my series from last year: The road to model-based and connected PLM – nine posts exploring the technology and concept of a model-based, data-driven PLM infrastructure.

Digital Product Passport (DPP)

The European Commission has published an action plan for the circular economy, one of the most important building blocks of the European Green Deal. One of the defined measures is the gradual introduction of a Digital Product Passport (DPP). As the quality of an LCA depends on the quality and trustworthy information about products and materials, the DPP is targeting to ensure circular economy metrics become reliable.

This will be a long journey. If you want to catch a glimpse of the complexity, read this Medium article: The digital product passport and its technical implementation related to the DPP for batteries.

The innovation dilemma

Suppose you agree with my conclusion that companies need to change their current product or service development into a data-driven and model-based manner. In that case, the question will come up: where to start?

Becoming data-driven and model-based, of course, is not the business driver. However, this change is needed to be able to perform Life Cycle Assessments and comply with current and future regulations by remaining competitive.

A document-driven approach is a dead-end.

Now let’s look at the real dilemmas by comparing a startup (clean sheet / no legacy) and an existing enterprise (experience with the past/legacy). Is there a winning approach?

The Startup

Having lived in Israel – the nation where almost everyone is a startup – and working with startups afterward in the past 10 years, I always get inspired by these people’s energy in startup companies. They have a unique value proposition most of the time, and they want to be visible on the market as soon as possible.

This approach is the opposite of systems thinking. It is often a very linear process to deliver this value proposition without exploring the side effects of such an approach.

For example, the new “green” transportation hype. Many cities now have been flooded with “green” scooters and electric bikes to promote transportation as a service. The idea behind this concept is that citizens do not require to own polluting motorbikes or cars anymore, and transportation means will be shared. Therefore, the city will be cleaner and greener.

However, these “green” vehicles are often designed in the traditional linear way. Is there a repair plan or a plan to recycle the batteries? Reuse of materials used.? Most of the time, not. Please, if you have examples contradicting my observations, let me know. I like to hear good news.

When startup companies start to scale, they need experts to help them grow the company. Often these experts are seasoned people, perhaps close to retirement. They will share their experience and what they know best from the past:  traditional linear thinking.

As a result, even though startup companies can start with a clean sheet, their focus on delivering the product or service blocks further thinking. Instead, the seasoned experts will drive the company towards ways of working they know from the past.

Out of curiosity: Do you know or work in a startup that has started with a data-driven and model-based vision from scratch?  Please add the name of this company in the comments, and let’s learn how they did it.

The Existing company

Working in an established company is like being on board a big tanker. Changing its direction takes a clear eye on the target and navigation skills to come there. Unfortunately, most of the time, these changes take years as it is impossible to switch the PLM infrastructure and the people skills within a short time.

From the bimodal approach in 2015 to the hybrid approach for companies, inspired by this 2017 McKinsey article: Toward an integrated technology operating model, I discovered that this is probably the best approach to ensure a change will happen. In this approach – see image – the organization keeps running on its document-driven PLM infrastructure. This type of infrastructure becomes the system of record. Nothing different from what PLM currently is in most companies.

In parallel, you have to start with small groups of people who independently focus on a new product, a new service. Using the model-based approach, they work completely independently from the big enterprise in a data-driven approach. Their environment can be considered the future system of engagement.

The data-driven approach allows all disciplines to work in a connected, real-time manner. Mastering the new ways of working is usually the task of younger employees that are digital natives. These teams can be completed by experienced workers who behave as coaches. However, they will not work in the new environment; these coaches bring business knowledge to the team.

People cannot work in two modes, but organizations can. As you can see from the McKinsey chart, the digital teams will get bigger and more important for the core business over time. In parallel, when their data usage grows, more and more data integration will occur between the two operation modes. Therefore, the old PLM infrastructure can remain a System of Record and serve as a support backbone for the new systems of engagement.

The Innovation Dilemma conclusion

The upcoming ten years will push organizations to innovate their ways of working to become sustainable and competitive. As discussed before, they must learn to work in a data-driven, connected manner. Both startups and existing enterprises have challenges – they need to overcome the “thinking fast and acting slow” mindset. Do you see the change in your company?


Note: Before publishing this post, I read this interesting and complementary post from Jan Bosch Boost your digitalization: instrumentation.

It is in the air – grab it.