Untold Innovation: A few minutes with Ben Savage
By: Catherine O’Shea & Dani Clark
This year at Untold Content, we’re focusing on stories of Untold Innovation. As a firm committed to innovation storytelling from thought leaders across organizations and sectors, we have embarked on a journey to uncover stories of innovative thinking that are galvanizing change and growth in four main industries: tech, medical, science and human impact. We’ve asked you to nominate thought leaders in your field who are driving innovation, and you continue to deliver!
Our next innovation story comes from Ben Savage, Chief Innovation Officer at Apex Supply Chain Technologies. In our interview, Ben shares his perspective on innovation as something that can be found in unexpected places. He believes that if we take a step back and look outside of our particular industry, we can find similarities between industries, consider what challenges exist in other industries, and learn from how they approach them. Then, we can tackle problems with new perspective. He is also part of the team that helped create the Little Caesar’s Pizza Portal. So,read on to learn more about Ben and his innovation work.
P.S. Keep sending in those nominations of others for us to highlight in our Untold Innovation series. You can complete our nomination form online email uswith their information.
Ben Savage’s Innovation Story
Ben Savage is the Chief Innovation Officer at Apex Supply Chain Technologies. His current focus is on solutions for the asynchronous last inch handoff. Otherwise known as how to make sure you never wait in line again. He has worked in a number of spaces previously on connected product development, process development and general consulting. He has an MBA from National University of Singapore.
UC: What is your field of speciality?
BS: My field of specialty is a combination of supply chain and technology.
UC: Where does your personal innovation story begin?
BS: It probably goes back to my very first Role at Maersk Shipping Company. While there, I found a number of what I would refer to as “white spaces,” where there were opportunities to do processes better with technology. That discovery set me on my search for my next role as a consultant. In that opportunity, I was able to see challenges across a large number of businesses that followed a common pattern. Then, I would identify a challenge that needed a solution, then offer a combination of process and technology to make it all the more efficient. You have to figure out the different elements of it and how you can tweak it. So, it’s about identifying the different components of a system and seeing how they work together and respond to each other, then iterating from there.
UC: What impact has your innovation had on your organization or the field at large? What do others in your industry have to learn from these innovations?
BS: If you look at our core business, which has been industrial, we have really helped recreate how people are managing industrial supplies. One of our largest customers, Fastenal, uses our product called the EDGE 5000. Our product has become a key part of their business strategy and has helped them on their growth trajectory.
Another example is Little Caesars. If you’ve been to Little Caesars recently, you’ve probably seen their Pizza Portal. We developed the hardware that goes with that. So, now you can pick up pizza without standing in line. And it’s been deployed in every Little Caesar’s across the country. They came to us with a goal: to get people to pick up a made-to-order pizza as fast as they could pick up a Hot N Ready pre-made pizza. How do you do a custom pizza in that timeframe? We had to develop an automated, self-served, and heated hardware solution that integrated with their existing mobile app. Now, you can order using your mobile app. You get a notification when pizzas are ready, then you can scan your phone at the Pizza Portal pickup station and pick them up. It’s nationwide now, so you can see it everywhere.
UC: What are the keys to that kind of innovation? What are the keys to that being successful aside from it being a really good idea?
BS: It doesn’t always have to start with a good (or breakthrough) idea. You have to ask: what is the customer trying to achieve? What is the market? What is the gap in the market? And what are the different ways you can solve for that within the existing constraints? Those constraints are going to be different for every project–time, money, engineering resources, or manufacturing techniques and capabilities. You start to work through all of those constraints and end up building a framework, or a set of rules, and the team has to work with them to determine the final solution. That’s where some of the most interesting creative moments come from. When you know what the problem is, why you’re solving the problem, and the set of rules you have to work within, then you can really step back and think about it.
The biggest factor is asking: “Where’s the inefficiency and how can you put people where they are best used?” That’s where they’re dealing with ambiguity or things that require complex decision making. Then you think about how to automate.
UC: What role do you feel that storytelling plays in innovation? Could you describe the importance of storytelling to your own work?
BS: It’s important in a few different ways. Part of innovating is getting everybody on the same page, so telling the story that helps everyone understand the problems. That’s the first story you have to tell–what is the problem? What is the environment? Why is it important to solve the problem? And that’s frequently best told by a story versus a list of requirements because people relate to stories. The next story you have to tell is about your users. You have to create a framework in someone’s head about who the users are–how do they live their lives? What are the challenges they are facing? And what are the things they are trying to accomplish? You want to create some empathy so you can walk in that person’s shoes as you’re trying to solve the problem. The more you can show that in a story, the more it will stick in people’s heads and give them something they can work with, which is very important. And the final story you have to tell is about the picture of the final solution and what that better state looks like. We’ve identified the problem and who will use the solution, and now we have to reveal the better picture.
UC: What one piece of advice would you give to future innovators?
BS:I would say read very broadly and be very curious. To the earlier point about different industries having the same problem–you may find a solution in a completely different space than you were originally operating in. So, you may be working at a high tech company and you look at how someone solved the problem in the 1950s, and you find a way to adopt it. Just because an idea is old or it comes from a different space, doesn’t mean it’s not good, it just may mean it’s something you need to look at and reframe. You have to be able to do that kind of synthesizing if you’re trying to innovate. A big part of innovation is being able to solve problems quickly and sometimes that means applying a solution from another space. You can find a solution, twist it a little bit, and make it work.
Thanks for reading Ben’s innovation story. You can read more about our Untold Innovation Stories series in our Untold Innovation Stories kickoff post.
*Interviews are not endorsements of individuals or businesses.