Six Lessons I Learned About Innovation

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By Terrence Hahn

In today’s society, it is hard to conceptualise innovation without the context of technology. It is imperative to understand the technological shift that can impact one’s managerial strategy greatly. In this article, the author highlights key lessons regarding innovation that centre on time, risk taking, identification of innovators, value propositions, customer-centric approach, and alignment of internal teams.

Much of today’s conversation about innovation is captivated by new technology – and with good reason: technology is responsible for many of the step-change transformations that have taken place in business in recent years. Across industries, it is necessary for leaders to stay contemporary with emerging technologies and also to deploy them appropriately across their organisations and end markets.

Across industries, it is necessary for leaders to stay contemporary with emerging technologies and also to deploy them appropriately across their organizations and end markets.

Yet, as important as it is for executives to stay current with relevant technological advancements, it is equally as important for us to remember that those advancements do not occur in a vacuum: in any sector, the speed with which companies develop and deploy new technologies will be a key determinant in the success of their innovation efforts.

In my 30-year career championing and delivering growth in industrial companies around the world, I have been fortunate to have led teams that have successfully competed at the cutting edge of innovation. For me, consistently delivering double-digit income growth across eight different industries in six different countries and managing workforces as large as 40,000 and annual budgets that topped $10 billion would not have been possible without generating organisational passion about innovation. While working for Air Products (APD), an international industrial gases and chemicals company, and later Honeywell (HON), I oversaw teams that made remarkable achievements – like the development of new-to-world molecules for improved environmental performance, and clean fuel technologies that help to make the world a safer, better place to live, just to name a few.

Amidst all of this progress, I have also seen companies struggle to maintain their competitive edge because they were unable to innovate more rapidly than their peers. Though some leaders talk about their commitment to innovation, executing on that vision requires a distinctive set of skills that ultimately can be mastered by every business leader.

Experience has taught me that establishing a robust operating system for how organisations work efficiently together allows leaders to build agile teams that are ready and motivated to drive growth through innovation. In particular, I have found that facilitating innovation in any industry depends upon six critical inputs, centered around time, risk, talent, value proposition, customer-centric thinking, and aligning internal teams around innovation.

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About the Author

Over the past three decades, Terrence Hahn has worked across eight different industries in six countries, with a dozen years spent at Honeywell, including as CEO of its Home and Buildings Technologies business and CEO of Transportation Systems, along with nearly twenty years at Air Products & Chemicals driving growth across multiple end markets. Terrence is an innovator of software, services, new materials and operating systems that drive business success. He has recently started a new role as the CEO of API Technologies, a Massachusetts-based technology company that also has European operations.


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