Heritage can breed innovation

Redwood Comment
Published:  11 May, 2016
Mike Redwood

Vibram, the clever company that makes soles for footwear is well known as a very innovative business. Right back to its founding 80 years ago, when it responded to a tragic accident in the Italian Alps that was largely caused by inadequate footwear, Vibram's blend of knowledge and technology has allowed it to continue to produce advanced new concepts and new products.

Research by Professor Alfredo De Massis, Chair of Entrepreneurship at the University of Lancaster, and highlighted in Outdoor Gear Coach (a technological resource the leather industry would do well to watch), suggests that great innovative ideas often come from looking at the past.

While many tanneries use their heritage as a marketing tool, to leverage a long history as evidence of proven skills at making leathers of a high quality, few think of it as the source and foundation of a new innovative streak through the business. More often than not, the innovation race is about getting rid of the past and searching only among new business and technical ideas.

Yet, according to De Massis "there is a trend emerging that suggests embracing the old might actually be the ‘new’." He and his team looked in depth at six family businesses, including Vibram, and found that they were clever at leveraging their "distinctive in-depth knowledge" built up over many decades to "innovate, connect more closely with customers, and achieve a superior competitive advantage".

This should be great news for our industry as we have many longstanding tanneries that have developed huge amounts of both tacit and explicit knowledge, and which should fight off what is now being called a "recency bias", created so often when innovation management is told to clear out the past to free up space for supposedly new thinking.

Top innovators not only unearth new ideas but also know-how to pick out the potential of old knowledge and leverage it along with new elements into something cutting edge and exquisite. Just think what some of the best traditional luxury goods and watch companies do.

Their loyal customers love to see these links to the past, trust the brand and are much more willing to buy into their innovations. We just need more tanners willing to retain past records, dig into them and reinterpret them for today.

Mike Redwood

11th May 2016

Read more here.

And about Outdoor Gear Coach at http://www.outdoorgearcoach.co.uk

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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