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In business, the best companies manage to add little innovations in their process, supply chain, design, or distribution which gives them significant advantages over long periods of time. In many cases, these advantages stay true as long-term competitive advantages which enable them to grow their market share. In a previous article, we wrote about why we want generalists at Itus to be working on research –

In this article, we look at some of the best companies that have evolved their ideas through a cross-pollination of ideas across industries.

One of the best examples of innovation across design comes from studying the history of Dyson. The biggest pain point in the evolution of vacuum cleaners was the dust bags used, which were cumbersome to buy each time and more importantly, clean and dispose of. When James Dyson, the founder of Dyson, set out to solve this, he drew inspiration from the industrial cyclones which sucked up dust. This was a typical case study of design ideas traversing through products because of an obsessive founder who wanted to solve a problem. Today, Dyson continues to be the leader in dustless bags (for vacuum cleaners) and has developed a product suite around this.

Nike, which continues to be one of the biggest and largest innovators in running shoes, owes its first design to a waffle iron. One of the co-founders of Nike was looking for a design which would make running shoes light and fast and wanted a sole that could grip well across surfaces. It was around breakfast that he compared the design he wanted to the mould of a waffle iron which could give him what he wanted. The first Nike Shoes – ‘The Waffle Trainer’, was a brainchild of this idea and continues to be made even today, as an inspiration to the founder.

One of the best stories of cross-industry synergies comes from the case study between GSK and McLaren (a pharma company and a racing car). McLaren’s affiliation with GSK began in 2011, and today takes the company into areas ranging from pharmaceutical research to advanced manufacturing. This partnership has taken into Mclaren’s core competencies in the field of data management, predictive analysis, and simulation in design. One such interesting case study of the synergies in the partnership came about in the manufacturing and assembly line of GSK’s high-speed toothpaste production (For their brands Sensodyne and Acquafresh). The use-case that the management of GSK wanted to solve was to reduce the time from making one product to another while maintaining efficiency across the shop floor. The problem had parallels to how pitstops were executed and using the same methodology, GSK was able to make the changeover from 39 to 15 minutes. This resulted in a 40% efficiency turnaround and significant cost savings for the company.

In today’s world where there is an obsession to have specialists work in research, we believe that it would miss the broader objective of how good research is done with a view and proximity across industries. When innovation across business has parallels to study from, it only makes logical sense for research to be done through the lens of a generalist, with a keen focus on studying history. This is how Itus is structured as an asset management firm, and we believe that there are significant advantages to this in the longer term.

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