Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

GE startup will test ideas that could lead to a radical restructuring of its manufacturing business

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 13, 2016

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General Electric (GE), the largest industrial company in the US, says it has developed processes that more than double the speed of innovation and which have the potential to completely restructure its own business.

GE will next week launch its first business venture, called Fuse that will test a hugely ambitious and radical approach to creating new companies through processes and technologies designed to harness the work of global crowds of experts. 

The GE startup “will usher in what we believe is the future of work,” said Dyan Finkhousen, Director of GE’s Open Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing group.

She was speaking at Brightidea’s Synthesize user conference in San Francisco. Brightidea is an enterprise software platform that helps organizations generate innovative ideas. Finkhousen said the Brightidea platform was important to GE because it supported internal and external teams of people.

It’s the first details of GE’s ambition to be at the forefront of the future of work and a strong measure of its conviction that it already knows what the future of work looks like.

Her organization has been working on solving a tough problem. Why are there so many great ideas but so few succeed and become useful? 

GE says it can cut the time from idea to product by 50% through automation of best practices and a collaborative technology platform that collectivizes and engages expert talent where ever it is. The startup teams can focus on developing the business ideas.

Crowd-power is the most important factor.  Finkhousen said GE had collected overwhelming numbers of proof points in multiple use cases across many industries showing more than a 50% acceleration in the process of innovation,  from idea to line of business.

It has taken her group nearly four years to develop the processes, business services, and the technology to support a dramatically different type of business organization, one that completely relies on groups of internal and external “crowds of experts.”

In the GE approach, crowd-power not only sources the ideas but is also used to develop the business model and the business plan.

GE sees a future role where it becomes the business services platform that connects innovators and helps them build successful businesses.

“We are not the innovators. We have a lot of brilliant people here at GE and so do our customers and suppliers. We want to make it easy for brilliant people to access other brilliant people and to generate amazing outcomes.” 

“We asked ourselves how can we make the biggest impact? How do we collapse the chasm between idea and product? The shift to crowd gets us into markets at lightning speed.”

GE’s processes and its supporting technology platform was developed in close collaboration with GE’s lawyers, which are credited as co-developers.

“We started by going to the lawyers first. It’s very comforting to innovators that they know all the regulatory issues are taken care of and they can focus on developing their innovative ideas,” said Finkhousen.

Next week GE will launch Fuse, described as a 3D printing and microfabrication factory enabling rapid product prototyping. Fuse will be crowd powered in both its business model and business plan, engaging internal teams with external experts and partners, to develop a viable business.

Fuse will test GE’s crowd powered innovation ideas and collaborative technologies. However, Finkhousen admitted that no one knows about the experiment.

Foremski’s Take: From manufacturing jet engines to manufacturing innovative companies — GE has an incredibly ambitious plan.

If it can deliver on the promise of accelerated innovation it means that the future arrives more quickly. And it means that solutions to some very hard problems will be developed faster. We’ll need to innovate faster just to keep up with environmental changes. 

GE wants nothing less than to harness the human potential of the entire planet, into collaborative organizations that will completely remake our notion of a commercial enterprise. It has the scale. I’ll be writing more on this subject.

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