From Reaction to Invention
January 7, 2017
FROM “ME-TOO” TO “FOLLOW ME”
Proof positive that it pays to listen.
One of the things that brought me to AstenJohnson, after years of working in the paper industry and with other suppliers, was the stream of innovations flowing out of the company. As an “outsider” at the time, I would look at a new solution from AJ and say, “Gee, why didn’t we think of that?”
Then, after joining AJ in 2015, I learned the inside story. AstenJohnson, over its 225+ year history, has had a philosophy of “solve problems, earn business.” But, there are two ways to solve problems: 1) wait for the problem to appear and then develop a solution; and 2) anticipate and pre-empt before bad things happen.
Not only is there a time-lag with the wait-and-see approach, it often leads to different suppliers arriving at similar solutions. There was a time when AJ was in this “me-too” mindset. Product development was focused on line extensions, improvements, and product modifications to maintain the customer base.
FROM REACTION TO INVENTION
At the turn of the millennium, there was a strong management commitment to change AJ’s mindset from reaction to invention. This was supported by a method called the Value Innovation Process (VIP), which we still use today. VIP is a disciplined way of listening to the “voice of the customer” – learning what is most critical for them in creating value and charting this feedback on a “value curve” that guides our development.
By focusing on creating customer value, rather than just solving technical problems, we stay ahead of the curve. A good and recent example of this is our QuickLink seam. The immediate value of QuickLink to a papermaker is quicker and safer seaming of dryer fabrics, which would have been fine in the old “me-too” approach. Our “follow me” strategy not only addresses seaming efficiency in an innovative way, but also anticipates and solves the issues of strength, durability, and cost before they surface. So, QuickLink is more valuable as a seaming solution.
AJ LABS highlights many such innovations that our competitors are now scrambling to follow. Listening intently has brought us to a leadership position. Innovating intently will keep us there.
President and CEO