In July I joined the European Adhesive Tape Association (Afera) for a fascinating conversation on new innovation paradigms during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The panel discussion was Afera’s 6th webinar in a series that was designed to help their members stay connected and benefit from each other’s experiences during this period of rapid disruptive change in the industry. As the guest panelist representing Uncountable in a line-up of Afera members from Novacel, H. B. Fuller and Nitto, I was inspired by the active engagement of the audience and by the frankness with which my fellow panelists discussed the challenges and unexpected advantages to the sudden change of pace in their own organizations.
I also shared some of my own experiences with our European customers over the last six months. What I’ve seen is that this difficult year has only emphasized and accelerated pre-existing trends in R&D, which include a move toward greater collaboration between regions, leveraging the value of digitalization and good data structure with tools like electronic lab notebooks and lab management systems, and having a materials informatics strategy that allows you to achieve the most for customers with highly constrained resources. Our customers who had invested in these tools and workflows in previous years had a smoother transition into and out of lockdown.
Uncountable, for many reasons, takes a data-focused approach to materials R&D. It was a good reminder for me to hear from the rest of the panel how valuable many scientists and executives found the change in their daily routines earlier this year—in some ways a forced step away from the normal structure of things—and the positive results that came from having a space to brainstorm in new ways or to chase down lines of thinking that “business as usual” doesn’t usually allow.
My favorite part of our conversation was exploring the ways that these two principles—a data-driven approach to innovation and the freedom (or imperative) to think outside the box—are not diametrically opposed. When done well, an investment in the right data structure and to build a positive data culture within R&D organizations actually helps to channel blue sky creativity in the most fruitful directions. That is maybe the ultimate goal: to free up a company’s best minds to find new ways to tackle the most important unsolved challenges. And this is when the magic happens.
Thank you again to Afera for inviting me into the European adhesive tape community for this valuable knowledge exchange.