Friday, October 23, 2015

Innovation By Problem Solving

It’s easy to make the innovation process out to be something far more complicated than it needs to be. Case in point:  Almon Strowger, who patented the automatic telephone exchange in 1891. His idea came about in order to solve a problem:  he was losing business due to his small-town telephone operator.

During its infancy, telephone calls were routed to an operator, a live person who after asking callers who they wanted to talk with, connected the caller’s line physically to the line of the person to whom they wished to speak. Here’s where Strowger’s rub came to play. He was an undertaker. It turns out the operator was the wife of his town’s other undertaker. Strowger was convinced that she was sending callers asking for “the undertaker” to her husband, Strowger’s competitor.

He enlisted the help of his brother and others with a background in electrical products to develop an automated phone connection switch. They formed the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange Company in 1892. Eventually Strowger’s company became part of GTE, the switch forming the basis for GTE’s long-time successful competition with the much larger AT&T.

If an undertaker can innovate, so can you and your company. Innovations can be groundbreaking like Strowger’s switch, or they can be smaller steps that give real meaning to the words continuous improvement. Ask yourself, “What is keeping me or my company from doing better?”

Take the First Step
The first step towards innovation is identifying potential problems and challenges. Don’t worry if you can’t solve the problem yourself; in most cases if you could, someone would have already done it! Solving the problem is almost always better done with a team than by yourself. Most companies are born to solve a particular problem.

Chances are, no matter how hard Almon Strowger worked he couldn’t have developed an automated telephone switch on his own. But, he was smart enough to build a team of experts who could. The important thing is Strowger was the champion, cheerleader and motivator to executing his idea because he wasn’t going to allow his competitor to win. The single innovation they created was enough to form a company.

Creativity and innovation are crucial to the national and Michigan manufacturing economy. If you want to jump start innovation at your company, contact MMTC today at 888.414.6682 or visit www.mmtc.org. We’ll help you build a team, knock down the hurdles and rocket your company to the next level.


Since 1991, MMTC has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses compete and grow. Through personalized services fitted to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.mmtc.org.

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