Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020!

man with fireworks
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

A new year is a great time for a shift in direction. This blog tries to be different each time. I cover topics ranging from innovation to technical leadership. I’m always looking for fresh ways of doing things in our industry, in process engineering and business development. And I look for new ways to convey these ideas to the marketplace. 

In 2019, I talked about clarification technologies, types of engineers, innovation risk, and the creativity of the octopus. In 2020, look for blogs on orangutans, moonshots, and agile methodology and engineering. But for right now, as we look forward to celebrating a new year, here are some ideas to help you try a new highway in 2020. 

We have a chance for the next decade to be a new roaring ‘20s. Don’t get stuck taking the same routes you’ve always been traveling. Try these approaches for a novel approach to 2020 and beyond:

  • Adopt a positive mindset and see the opportunities

Its easy to get bogged down when a process is not working or a project is going sideways. Learn to accept – everything from setbacks through to challenges. Turn these diversions from your plan or expectations into opportunities.  

  • Be brave and stick to your guns

Maybe you are the innovator with a new idea of how things should be done. If you are sure about the design or process change, then go ahead and make the change.  Remember, to test first and to have all of your facts in place to show technical leadership.

  • Make room for your own creative projects

No matter your work focus, set aside time for your own projects.  Take one hour each morning (for me after yoga) and before you check your e-mails for your personal projects; this will pay off greatly in the long term, on many levels.

  • Don’t let the pressure or threat of failure or competition hold you back 

Be confident in your work and don’t be afraid to try something different. We always learn from our mistakes, and from getting out there and gathering more information. With greater knowledge comes greater confidence.

  • Be authentic and believe in yourself

Use more of your judgement and less of other’s opinions. As I have written in the past,    learning never ends. And if you try to be what other people want of you, instead of being authentic, it can have negative impacts both on your professional life and personal well-being.

  • Don’t ignore your gut but tread carefully

Decision making is never easy. Read more about troubleshooting and how to make better decisions in my 2017 blog.

  • Accept that personal progress can take time but perseverance counts

Any goal takes time.  As loyal readers already know, I sometimes mention my yoga practice, which includes headstands, shoulder stands, tripod stands, etc. These did not happen overnight. But by persevering and keeping an eye on small moments of personal progress along the way, I was able to stick with it and see greater success long-term.

Let’s get ready for 2020. I’ll continue working on this blog and providing new BHS and AVA technical and innovative insights on, Perlmutter & Idea Development.  As you start anew in this fresh decade, I hope you’ll keep reading my blog and my LinkedIn posts. And don’t hesitate to let me know your ideas about technical leadership and other areas of interest for this blog!

Innovation Risks & Two Success Stories    

innovation risks
Image source: Business Week

One key element of innovation success is taking risks. I’ve recently read two articles where major breakthroughs in human health started with innovation risks. The two stories are a great reminder that we need to step up to challenges and look at the world anew to innovate!

In our first case, from Business Week, a chemical engineer named David Whitlock became interested in biology after a tubby date asked him why her horse rolls in the dirt, even in the cool springtime months before the biting insects have even hatched. Whitlock was curious too. So he started reading scientific papers and came across a “bacteria, found in soil and other natural environments, that derives energy from ammonia rather than organic matter.”

Whitlock’s took risks for his research. In 2009, he moved into his white Dodge Grand Caravan to study the bacteria culled from soil that he theorized could improve skin disorders, hypertension, and other health problems. And even he’ll admit there were some times he really smelled while experimenting with his soil-based concoctions on himself.  

Still, his innovation risks led to the ground-breaking discovery that these ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) can transform sweat into something more useful. His company now generates almost $2.6 million revenue in cosmetic sprays, shampoos and moisturizers. Microbiomes, “commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space” are now the focus of many new products. The third annual Skin Microbiome Congress, for instance, welcomed established brands such as BASF, Bayer, Coty, Merck, Nestlé, L’Occitane, L’Oréal, and Unilever.

The article is a great example of a single researcher’s drive and creativity. He didn’t shy away from the tough stuff in pursuit of innovation.

An Eye-Opening Innovation Risk 

A second recent Business Week article is further evidence that it pays to swing for the fences. The article is about manufacturer W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., best known for the waterproof membrane Gore-Tex, and how its willingness to “take more chances” has led to its polymers being used in corneal implants.  

An obsession with a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE, led William Gore to his discovery of the lighter and yet stronger expanded ePTFE. The polymer is now not only used in waterproof wear, but also in air purifiers, dental floss, high-tension ropes, and stents and surgical patches.

Yet the company was stagnating as competitors introduced alternatives. Gore needed to get ambitious again. When Anuraag Singh encountered Gopalan Balaji in a lunch line at a corporate event, the two natives of India, where corneal blindness is a major issue, asked whether they couldn’t do more with their company’s polymer.

Innovation risks
Image source

Enlisting others, their team sought to modify the polymer to be transparent and light bending in the same way that the human cornea tissue is in our eyes. Their first attempts fizzled and were shelved until a new CEO came to Gore and encouraged innovation risks anew.

With new seed funding to learn more from ophthalmologists, rethink the design, and reconsider their material choices, their team came up with a new prototype. As a sidebar, I have to applaud the hands-on discovery involved along the way: 

“We love putting prototypes and materials on the table,” Singh told Business Week.  “A typical meeting would involve the surgeon and the engineers ‘all kind of hunched over: feeling, touching, poking at things.’”

The result? An artificial cornea that may help to solve a pressing human health problem in developing countries. The plan is for continued research and testing the first implant in humans in 2020 with the goal of bringing it to market in 2026. With cornea tissue damage the 5th leading cause of blindness this innovation risk could have a happy ending.

Ultimately, these two examples are reminders that we need to look around, ask questions, and listen to our communities to come up with ideas. Then we need to take those necessary innovation risks!