Friday, 29 October 2010

West Midlands silverware manufacturing company takes a strategic view

Post by Navin Sood

Stephen Millington is the archetypal SME md - so involved with the day-to-day running of his business, he rarely gets a chance to step back and take a strategic view of the company.

Stephen runs LJ Millington, designers and manufacturers of fine English silverware in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. A family business since 1966, it continues to employ traditional hand skills and processes. Their client list is testament to the quality of their products and includes John Lewis & Asprey.

Silver Candlestick by LJ Millington

Stephen joined the Interiors & Lifestyle Futures project and enrolled onto the Discovery process in May. Stage 1 of Discovery includes the Big Picture Map process, whereby two experienced facilitators find out what makes a business tick through a structured mapping process. Stephen and two of his staff participated in the day, and they really valued having a fresh pair of eyes to look at the business.

Facilitator, Paula Wardle said “This process has value for all companies, big or small, I’m really pleased that we’ve given Stephen fresh impetus.”

Freshly motivated, the Discovery process has offered Stephen the chance to enter into a collaborative group with three jewellery and giftware companies. The group plan to establish a consumer facing exhibition showcasing their products in the run up to Christmas.

Stephen added, “If I don’t get anymore from the process, I‘ll be happy for the experience of Stage 1 and what it gave my company.”

Stage 1 Discovery process is open to all West Midlands manufacturing companies that are involved in the interiors or lifestyles sectors.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Low Carbon Interiors West Midlands Event 2010

Post by Christine Foss

Would you like to help define low carbon opportunities for the West Midlands interiors industry?

On 9th November 2010, Interiors & Lifestyle Futures and Birmingham City University are bringing together like-minded businesses to engage with the low carbon agenda. Sustainability experts Martin Hunt, John Christophers and John Barraclough will describe recent experiences of low carbon design and innovation. Through the workshop, you’ll drive action for enterprising low carbon projects.

Audience: West Midlands interiors industry, including designers, architects, manufacturing companies and service providers. Energy and environmental consultants, sustainability experts and academics.

Location: Birmingham

This networking event is sponsored by Forum for the Future and Sustainability West Midlands. For further details and to book online, click here.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Into the Dragon’s lair...

During the Discovery Stage 2 business networking event, we like to get companies who have a novel idea or business opportunity to tell the rest of the group about it. Our very own tribute to the Dragons' Den. Companies are then free to discuss/collaborate/network after the session.

Here, Peter Wright, Technical Director at window & conservatories manufacturing comapny Strata Group demonstrates his nano coating technology to audible gasps of amazement!

Dragons Den at Discovery Stage 2 - Peter Wright from IL Futures on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Glass Collaborations win sales for West Midlands designer-makers

Post by Adrian Burns

Throughout 2010, Interiors & Lifestyle Futures has worked closely with West Midlands’ designer-makers. A key partner is Glass Collaborations, whose aims include one of pursuing ‘new business opportunities for regional makers through networking and transnational collaborations.’

Made In Glass, with financial support from Interiors & Lifestyle Futures, was an initiative to create successful partnerships between glass makers and designers in the West Midlands with others in the UK and in the European Union and America.

Vase collaboration by Denise Hunt, Erwin Eisch and Verity Jasmin Burley
Denise Hunt, one of the driving forces of Glass Collaborations, partnered North East based Verity Jasmin Burley and German glass art pioneer Erwin Eisch. “This is an experimental, shared risk, which allowed artists to think in an unfamiliar way and achieve unexpected results. More often than not artistically liberating, on occasions, frustratingly crippling. Without doubt though, it is a unique experience.”

Nineteen artists planned their collaborations, in detail, via email and a web-based forum. They then spent week-long residences at Stourbridge’s Red House Glass Cone, solving logistical and artistic issues for the new pieces. “Equipment limitations actually forced us to innovate,” says Stourbridge-based glass artist Charlotte Hughes- Martin who teamed up with Lachezar Dochev from Bulgaria. “We developed a technique that no one has used before, we’re really excited.”

Table by Charlotte Hughes- Martin & Lachezar Dochev
Finished work was shown at the Made In Glass exhibition together with individual pieces by The Next Big Thing group of artists. Together, their work also formed part of the International Festival of Glass 2010, exhibited at venues in the Stourbridge area from July until the end of September 2010.

As of late September, the West Midlands artists and those from the Next Big Thing had achieved sales of over £9,000, attracting buyers and art collectors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, and Canada.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Has your business discovered the power of Serendipitous Collaboration?

Guest post by Ken Thompson

The most common approach to business collaboration (Planned Collaboration) involves prior analysis of the participants to try to identify shared interests in collaboration (e.g. as complementary players in a collaborative supply network). Another more radical approach (Serendipitous Collaboration) involves putting a random mix of companies in a room and seeing what develops. Guess what - Serendipitous Collaboration works really well provided you have a good process for uncovering synergies!

West Midlands companies discover the power of collaboration

The Network Synergy Discovery Technique

To discover the critical synergies in a Network right at the start of a potential collaboration, in a way which is much more effective than "creeping death" disclosure. The objectives are to find if real collaboration opportunities exist within a potential Network and:
- Identify any critical gaps that could derail the Network
- Create new and effective win-win partnerships within a Network.

The conventional approach to working with a new Network is to first build some trust, exchange relevant information, and then start exploring collaboration possibilities. The problem is that this approach does not really work.

The first problem is that it usually takes far too long; never gains enough momentum or continuity; and eventually the participants lose interest and move on to "something productive." The second major problem is: Let's imagine you have invested in building "enough trust" with the group, and then you find that after all this effort and time, you don't actually have the right people in the Network. By then it is too late.

How to use Network Synergy Discovery
The main objective of Network Synergy Discovery is to find out if there are enough potential synergies within the group to make the Network work. The other objective that is just as important, is to do this very quickly in a way that is highly interactive, engaging, and develops new relationships. Each participant should go away with at least one new useful relationship, even if he or she never comes to another Network meeting.

Step1: Everyone identifies their core business offer, and puts it on a YELLOW card with their name, and sticks it up on a large whiteboard. These YELLOW cards represent Core Product Providers.

Step2: Everyone reads all the cards, and must fill out at least one BLUE card and stick it beside any Core Product card (YELLOW), that they believe they might be able to produce for a new customer. These are called BLUE cards, Channels.

Step3: Everyone also fills out at least one PURPLE card for any YELLOW card that they believe they have some knowledge of, or a product that could make a core product more valuable. They stick these up beside the YELLOW Core Product cards. These are called PURPLE cards, Innovators.

Step4: Then the whiteboard is examined to see how many natural sub-clusters are made up of Core Product Providers, one or more Channels and one or more Innovators.

Step5: Participants are then asked to look for opportunities to merge these sub-clusters with the objective of having not more than three merged clusters. Also, each merged cluster should have at least four players, one of whom should be a channel.

Step6: Participants are then asked to go back to work on these merged clusters, to explore the possibilities and requirements for three further roles, and they stick more cards into the clusters on the whiteboard for:
• RED - Supporting Service Provider: provides a critical supporting service for the collaborative product.
• ORANGE - Integrator: plays a key design or integration role in the new collaborative product.
• GREY - Investor: can provide finance or resources needed to make the collective supply chain viable, and attractive to the market.

Step7: Then it's time to do a quick "tidy up," to name and assess scope for each of the merged clusters as "collaborative product offers." Then at close-out time, feedback from each of the participants is gathered to see if they are intrigued enough to want to collaborate further and to develop each of the merged clusters.

See also The Collaboration Dartboard for another great way to get inter-company collaboration started quickly.

For more details on this and other techniques for building successful inter-company collaboration see The Networked Enterprise Book.