How Ingersoll Rand Hires, Trains, Tests and Prioritizes Innovation

June 11, 2014

Wynblatt’s team does run some projects on its own, “but the purpose of those is not to move the needle for this $12 billion company by ourselves, but to demonstrate the methodologies and the tools and the processes that we use. Our role is to build innovation capabilities across the whole broad enterprise, working with all of our different businesses. It is not primarily a centralized model.”

Michael Wynblatt, VP of Innovation & Emerging Technology at Ingersoll Rand

Wynblatt describes innovation as “a cross-functional sport” that should involve marketing, engineering, IT, finance, and other functions. He discussed how simulation-based training can help people get better at innovation. In learning a musical instrument or getting better at tennis, for instance, “you should spend more time practicing than you do performing.” But “in business, we spend 99.9 percent of our time performing, and hardly any time at all practicing.”

Wynblatt talked about how Ingersoll Rand designs scenarios for developing particular projects, or managing an innovation portfolio to “try to get the most good ideas into the marketplace.” Teams compete to see who can do best. “Always reserve a little bit of the budget for counter-strategy projects… You want to make sure your projects are fulfilling your strategy, but just because it’s your strategy doesn’t mean its the right one. So reserve some small piece of your investment for projects going counter to the strategy.”

“Your initial idea of what is going to be a great new innovation for your business is probably not right, and certainly not exactly right. Thomas Edison said he had 3000 theories about the electric light, and only two of them turned out to be true. Sometimes we get hung up on pride of ownership, and trying to prove that our ideas are right. Rather than proving ideas, what we really want to strive for is improving our ideas. Through testing and refinement, we can hit upon some things that could be great for the business, but maybe weren’t exactly what we thought of at the beginning.”

“Metrics are a great way to drive change. What is the change that you’re trying to accomplish? If you’re in a company that is having trouble doing any innovation at all, then I like the metric of successfully moving projects through the phase gates. If you’re hitting on all cylinders and you’ve got lots of projects going through, but they’re not having a big enough impact, then you can start to look at the net present value of your portfolio that is passing through those gates. ‘This year, we pushed so many millions of dollars of potential new revenues through Gate 1, or Gate 2.’ That starts to change the emphasis to saying that the projects are actually impactful and significant. Ideally, you’re also tracking the final impact in the marketplace: how much revenue is the company making as a result? But the important thing to remember is that for any product, it takes a little while to ramp sales up. For more innovative things, they tend to ramp a little bit more slowly sometimes.”