Focusing on strategic areas and finding good innovative partners

Innovation is important to organizations because it fosters new ideas for products and services, encourages teamwork and allows organizations to find competitive advantages in the marketplace.

A decade ago, when Bridgestone tasked its employees with innovating, it was “‘Go innovate!’ almost like ‘Be free!’’ recalls Technical Fellow Jamie McNutt. “Everybody ran off, and we were doing this thing where everybody was allowed to spend 10 percent of their time in research and development doing whatever they thought was a good idea. It wasn’t a bad thing, and a lot of our R&D people really miss it, but the problem was it really wasn’t focused. We didn’t give them a mission to go innovate around. We really needed to put a little bit more framework around it.”

Since then, the company has worked to find the right balance of core, adjacent and transformational initiatives.

“One of the big learnings for Bridgestone in the last 10 years for innovation is innovation isn’t just coming up with ideas. Innovation and research are not the same thing. Innovation is turning knowledge into value. It’s how can we make money off whatever it is we’re working on versus just coming up with a new idea,” McNutt told Eastman team members during the Global Innovation Summit. “New ideas are good too, but really innovation is about where can we go to get value — value to the customer, value to Bridgestone.”

Core innovation covers incremental changes to existing products and incremental inroads in new markets. Adjacent innovation involves leveraging something the company does well in a new market space. Transformational innovation focuses on creating new offerings to serve new markets.

“When we started thinking of it in terms of ‘Where are we innovating today? Are we innovating in the core? Are we innovating adjacent? What is transformational for us and where are we going?’ it really started to help us,” she says. “We’re committed to innovation in a way now, over the last three years, that’s different than the way we used to commit to innovation.”

Jamie Mcnutt

Collaboration is a key competitive advantage, she says. “I really see Eastman as a true partner for Bridgestone and our journey of where we’re headed. We need partners in every area — core, adjacent, transformational. … One of the things that one of our leaders says all the time is, ‘You don’t want to drown in opportunities.’ It’s easy to come up with another idea while you're working on this idea and jump to that idea. And really, it takes discipline to not drown in the opportunities, because there's so many opportunities for us in the innovation space. So this is what we've been working through. And I feel like right now we're in a good flow with our innovation in a lot of different areas.”

Bridgestone looked at hundreds of trends and condensed that list to the top opportunities, McNutt explains. “The electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, sharing economy, and smart materials, those are really important, as well as connected services. That's really where we believe that we're going to be needing to push the boundaries for Bridgestone.”

How is Bridgestone handling these potential changes? “One of the things that we're doing is we're really reaching out to our suppliers differently. So again, collaboration is the new competitive advantage,” she says. “Basically, what we did is we went through a process where we identified key technology suppliers. So who in the next three to five years is going to have a technology breakthrough that's going to allow us to go to the next generation for what we need to do? We assess all our vendors for this — over 300 — and Eastman was identified for us as one of the seven key suppliers that we need to have a different type of relationship with. And again, that's one of the reasons that I'm here, because we started sharing with Eastman where we need to go. … We've never really been this open with what we're trying to do or where we're trying to go before.”

McNutt encourages companies to focus on a strategic area and find good innovation partners.

“What is your North Star? So right now, ours is the future of mobility. Whenever we're working on core, adjacent and transformational, you're really thinking, ‘Does this fit into the future strategy of the future of mobility?’ … What makes a good innovation partner? Clearly identified synergies that are aligned to focus areas. That's something that, as I look at our 24 to 27 different partners right now, that's true for sure and a fit with both companies for innovation and business strategies.”