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“Innovation could be one of the most important factors you haven’t thought of.”

Innovation could be one of the most important factors you haven’t thought of. The image of innovation is often the inventor in the garden shed, waiting for a lightbulb of inspiration. This kind of innovation, design and manufacturing, is hugely important, and Britain has an enviable track record in inspiring and developing innovative products – just look at James Dyson’s awards.

But innovation doesn’t just mean dreaming up new products, or making a better mousetrap. It takes place in a million incremental ways every day in offices, factories, and workplaces of all kinds. Innovation in job design, process improvement, and other ways of working better are just as important – some may say more so – than new product design. How we do is as important as what we do.

Our UK Futures Programme invests in projects that test out new approaches to improving skills at work. We have run several competitions before, targeted at skills problems in specific sectors. Our latest competition looks at innovation in the manufacturing sector, and aims to try to develop the skills and business practices needed to maximise innovation in a company.

As an analogy, the British cycling team in the 2012 Olympics worked at what they called ‘one per cent improvements’.

The idea of Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director, was not just to improve his team’s cycling per se, but to improve every single task that made up a successful performance. Even with small incremental improvements, the sum of these “marginal gains”, he explained, added to great overall performance gains.

Improving productivity is what we hope to inspire and support through this competition. After all, while productivity isn’t everything, as Paul Krugman wrote, “in the long run it’s nearly everything.”

Paul McKelvie is a Commissioner at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. This post originally appeared on the UCKES blog.

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Related pages:

Why we have to stop trying to ‘girlify’ engineering

Mott MacDonald and Cambridge Knowledge Exchange

NCUB Engineering and Manufacturing Task Force