Manufacturers must innovate to survive, and real inspiration comes not from internal think tanks, but from the outside world, an executive of Bayer MaterialScience LLC said at Antec 2007 in Cincinnati.
``We are in a copycat economy. Whatever we do well, in either the product or the service area, someone will be sure to copy it. And then you are in commodity hell,'' said Rainer Schorr, senior vice president and head of Bayer's North American polycarbonate business in Pittsburgh.
Schorr gave the keynote speech to kick off a forum May 8 during Antec, the annual technical conference of the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Schorr said many Europeans and Americans still cling to the romantic myth of the solitary inventor creating a masterpiece. But real innovation comes from teamwork at companies willing to foster free thinking and innovation. He urged business leaders to remove fear from their workplaces, so employees are more willing to think.
``Teach people to scan the environment for new trends and new technologies, and changes in how customers think,'' Schorr said.
Bayer MaterialScience's parent, Bayer AG of Leverkusen, Germany, employs about 2,000 people directly focused on innovation. The firm averages a patent a day.
Open-minded thinking, coupled with the infrastructure to commercialize good ideas, is the key, he said.
``The process of innovation is not what we can produce. It's about what our customers need,'' Schorr said.