I was recently at the excellent Smithers Pira event – Digital Print for Packaging in London in December - when I was reminded by the ubiquitous bearded speaker from a creative agency of the expression ‘Fail fast’ and how important this is in an innovative environment
It made me consider whether, in the rapidly changing world of Industrial Print, are we following the mantra of Fail fast, fail often, fail cheap ? Or are we merely evolving existing technologies?
Let’s just reconsider this approach. The story goes that technologies that James Dyson failed in 5,126 prototypes before perfecting his revolutionary vacuum cleaner. Thomas Edison performed 9,000 experiments before coming up with a successful version of the light bulb.
That the ever present WD-40 lubricant got its name because the first 39 experiments failed. WD-40 literally stands for "Water Displacement—40th Attempt." If they gave up early on like most of us do, we'd sure have a lot more squeaky hinges in the world!
Failing quickly in order to learn fast—or what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs commonly call failing forward—is at the heart of many innovative businesses.
The idea is to push ahead with a product as soon as possible to gather feedback and learn about opportunities and constraints so that you can take the next step.
But there is no point in failing fast if you fail to learn from your mistakes. Companies are trying hard to get better at this. India's Tata group awards an annual prize for the best failed idea.
The advice is ‘don't cave into our mistakes, embrace them’. In fact, mistakes are simply to the portals of discovery. There's an old saying that 'every bull’s-eye is the result of a hundred misses.'
So what do we see in our own industrial print marketplace? Interestingly, I believe the interesting innovative technological developments seem to come from the more ‘risk taking’ economies such as the UK, Benelux and Italy.
Companies like Xaar, Xennia, FFEI, Cyantec, Agfa, Global Inkjet systems, Industrial Inkjet, Tonejet, Alchemie, are the ones tinkering with existing technologies to test new applications driven by R&D cultures from places like the Cambridge Science Park. In fact, Mike Willis of IMI is quoted as saying that ‘the ideas are not new ( they were being asked to do these things in the 80’s ), it is just our ability to do it that has changed’. The culture of testing and trying is innate in the thinking of these companies.
In Italy, strong Textile and Ceramics heritage means digital machines are being developed for traditional applications through trial and error, but the technology is improving all the time and I believe you will continue to see exciting developments from Italy, particularly focused on inkjet applications.
Germany and to a degree Japan both seem to deliver the highly technical 'know how' but as culturally, they are arguably more cautious with regards to failure. Much of the inkjet technology originates in Japan – Ricoh, Kyocera, Canon, Roland, Epson… but the innovative use of the technology has come from the European Inkjet teams and from an increasing number of ‘Developers’ and customisers working with other partners to combine high quality technology with creative innovation.
The industrial Print environment is one where cultures have combined to get the best from ‘failing fast and failing forward’. 2015 will continue to see this development as long as people keep testing and trying!
Remember ‘You can’t know what something is like, how you will feel about it, or what will result from it until you actually are doing it’!