In our line of work at Technifold USA we get plenty of print finishing questions. It happens, for example, when someone is new to a finishing process such as inline creasing or micro perforating on a folding machine. The question frequently starts with, “How do other printers do such-and-such a job?”
It’s only natural to learn about something by finding out how others are doing it in a similar situation. We were taught that way in school. But there is a dark side to learning this way. When we restrict our searches to within our industry, it can actually prevent us from discovering breakthroughs.
On the bright side, questions do indeed lead to learning. If you don’t understand how the industry does things, you are always a step behind your competitors. When something is missing in your operations and you find it within the industry, it brings you up to speed. So it’s important that we look within to stay competitive.
But when you decide to stop learning at this point you put yourself at a permanent disadvantage. Copying and learning from within makes you less distinctive and less competitive. You become the average. It makes you the same as those you copy when what you really want is the breakthrough. To be truly competitive you need those little things that make you better, special, and different. Learning from within should be the starting point, not the goal.
Gina Palko, our resident sales and customer service manager here at Technifold USA, has a knack for looking outward for inspiration. Many good ideas have come from her jaunts to such varied places as the nail salon, shoe stores, the grocery, church, and the gym. Inspiration and answers to all kinds of problems can be found anywhere.
Studies show that it pays to look outside your industry. Researchers from three business schools did a study about why workers are reluctant to use safety gear. They recruited roofers, carpenters, and inline skaters to contribute ideas. Writing in the Harvard Business Review they said, “Each group was significantly better at thinking of novel solutions for the other fields than for its own.”
They found the “novel” solutions to be less immediately useful than the ideas that came from within the industry. That’s to be expected. Looking long-term, the novel, external solutions offered the promise of real breakthroughs that would make a bigger difference than the internal solutions.
Authors Poetz, Franke, and Schreier continue, "There are some great examples in industry of creative solutions that arose out of analogous fields. More than a decade ago, 3M developed a breakthrough concept for preventing infections associated with surgery after getting input from a theatrical-makeup specialist who was knowledgeable about preventing facial skin infections. Other examples from our own industry experience include…an escalator company that borrowed a solution from the mining industry in figuring out how to install escalators in shopping malls."
Specialization helps us hone our craft, which is, in our cases, print finishing and printing in general. It helps us to solve bindery problems. We have to focus on something to become good at doing it. Yet to become good at learning in order to create something new, we have to step outside our narrow specialty. That’s where the breakthroughs are.
Aldous Huxley in The Divine Within, talks about this problem as it relates to our education.
”This is one of the great problems in education: Everything takes place in a pigeonhole… The pigeonholes must be there because we cannot avoid specialization; but what we do need in academic institutions now is a few people who run about on the woodwork between the pigeonholes, and peep into all of them and see what can be done, and who are not closed to disciplines which do not happen to fit into any of the categories considered as valid by the present educational system!”
We’re trained to specialize. The reflex to look within the industry and to conform is ingrained. It’s only by stepping away and looking outward that we get to the breakthrough.
Graham Harris, inventor of our very own Tri-Creaser®, is a good example of a breakthrough idea. At the time, everyone in the printing industry was using the channel score concept to make a crease. They all used steel and other hard materials. No one was using soft rubber material as part of the mechanism. Graham, feeling no need to limit his experiments, decided to try a soft material. Lo and behold…a breakthrough.
Next week we’ll talk about some easy ways we can break free from our own limitations and start our search outward.