Managing the Risks that Accompany Innovation

ILC Dover executives discuss how success depends on calculating the balance between innovation and risk.

If successful innovation were easy and risk-free, every company would be doing it. To help our customers in the pharmaceutical, packaging and processing, personal protection, flood protection and aerospace industries improve safety and productivity, we at ILC Dover take chances with design and engineering and push Beyond Boundaries of what is possible; there’s simply no choice if we are dedicated to developing the best, most innovative products.

But consistently coming up with revolutionary ideas – and accepting the risks involved in making those ideas a reality – requires a special team guided by bold leadership. That’s exactly the kind of management and leadership we have at ILC Dover. It’s important to take risks in decision-making, but it must be done wisely.

As Fran DiNuzzo, ILC Dover President and CEO, says: “A lack of innovation might be riskier than the innovation itself. This philosophy puts us in the right place to discuss the appropriate risks to take. We talk often about core markets and core competencies, and we try to position our innovation risks in areas where we have strength and where we have a good understanding of customer need, market trends and return on investment.”

Innovate to Survive

Without innovation, companies can’t move forward. But a company must decide on the type of innovation that’s right for them and calculate the chances of success while balancing potential risks. One wrong move can tank a business. Those who succeed balance the tension that exists where innovation and risk merge and continue to search for breakthrough ideas.

All divisions at ILC Dover are part of ever-changing industries – food packaging, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure protection and aerospace. Consequently, our customers’ needs to push efficiency and safety to the highest levels evolve as well.

“In 1994, Eli Lilly Corporation was looking for the impossible,” says Curtis Gingles, Vice President and Division Manager of Pharmaceuticals and Biopharma. “They wanted a way to contain a potentially poisonous material to give employees better safety, and they wanted it to be easier to use than the rigid stainless-steel systems they were using. So innovative individuals at ILC Dover started a revolution in our industry by coming up with a plastic film formulation that was safe for pharmaceutical contact, our ArmorFlex solution.”

Vice President and Division Manager of Packaging & Personal Safety Glenn LeBlanc says the company assumes a high financial risk in doing business. “If one of our bulk liquid liners used with a patent-pending liquid extraction system fails, it could cause a financial loss of thousands of dollars of bulk product. But when it’s incorporated into a customer’s production process, it delivers them high financial rewards.”

Technology Is Key

Innovative companies look to incorporate the latest technologies into their organizations quickly and seamlessly, and for good reason – smart managers know that if they’re not implementing technology, they’ll be left behind.

“We continue to push technology to help us overcome technical risks and logistical barriers in creating advanced solutions,” says Patty Stoll, Division Manager, Space Systems. “ILC Dover’s core business is protecting humans and products from harsh environments, and to do that, we must assume the risk of innovation.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, there is a way to reduce risk – being informed: “If the riskiness of an innovation depends on the choices people make, it follows that the more informed and conscious their choices are, the lower the risk will be.”

Understanding Customers

Brad Walters, Vice President and General Manager of the Engineered Solutions Division, believes that an important way to mitigate risk is to understand customer needs. “The company works with customers to understand their needs and desires, as well as the issues that keep them up at night,” says Walters. “ILC Dover collaborates with customers on innovations in the initial concept stage to address key requirements that will help them make more money, save more money and reduce their own risk.”

The Harvard Business Review sums up our approach to risk well – it’s not just about the risk, it’s about approaching it the right way: “New products and services are created to enable people to do tasks better than they previously could, or to do things that they couldn’t before. But innovations also carry risks. Just how risky an innovation proves to be depends in great measure on the choices people make in using it.”

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