Kirk Thompson, the associate R&D director at Dow Solar, will be a presenter in the "One Great Idea" series at IF11. Innovation and new ideas alone won't help a company develop strong products, Thompson says. Success comes from putting customer needs first, he says, and using that premise as a starting point for innovation.
Today, Thompson provides a preview of his "One Great Idea" presentation in this Q&A, conducted via email, and talks about how the company's innovation and sustainability strategies helped Dow Solar bring a fresh approach to two existing technologies: photovoltaic solar and roofing systems.
Leslie Guevarra: How does Dow Solar approach innovation?
Kirk Thompson: Like all business units within Dow, innovation is the bedrock of our culture and an integral part of our growth strategy ... The way we approach innovation is by thinking about it in terms of solutions. To focus on innovation simply because it is a good idea, doesn't always guarantee a winning product in the marketplace, so we take a customer-focused approach. Our first line of thinking is to discover what a customer would want, and what unmet need isn't currently being addressed. Finding a solution that delivers value for the customer is at the heart of our approach towards innovation.
LG: How does this strategy differ from the company's approach to innovation in earlier years or in other lines of business?
KT: This strategy to look at innovation through lens of the market has been part of Dow's approach for over a decade, when the company first recognized that the traditional business base was facing commoditization. At the same time, market, societal and cultural megatrends were driving significant changes around the world which demanded technology responses.
Dow saw these emerging trends and set a path to transform the company into a high-performance science and technology company, putting into motion a mission to "passionately innovate what is essential to human progress by providing sustainable solutions to our customers." Since then, there has been no going back, and the result is a drive to use our resources and global expertise to innovate by understanding and meeting the needs of the customer and society.
LG: What are the biggest challenge facing manufacturers in the solar industry today?
KT: Although solar energy makes up only .007 percent of energy use in the U.S. today, it is viable across most regions of the country. The biggest challenge to driving growth and adoption is to achieve a cost that competes with conventional energy sources. That, along with a need to concentrate on product differentiation in an industry that is rapidly becoming commoditized, will unlock the true potential of solar power.
Next Page: Dow's new look for rooftop solar