What a 3D Printer Can Teach You About Innovation


Before you read on - a confession. This post is nothing about 3D printing.

It's about attitudes to innovation and creativity and has been inspired by this week in the Lab.

The week we took delivery of our first 3D Printer.

A lot of people have stopped by to have a look and a play. I reckon I've spoken to upwards of 40 people who might normally pass by and just say 'hi'. This time though they stuck around to ask a few questions about our latest acquisition. And I've interacted with about the same number of people online.

Here's what I find interesting. These interactions can , very roughly, be broken down into about four response types.

They go something like this:


This person is just "let me get hands on it- now".

They wouldn't think to question why a housing provider has bought a 3D printer. Their only question would be - 'Why have we left it so long?'. They've already taken the photo, posted it to Instagram and told all their friends what a cool company they work for.


"I don't suppose you can print me off another drone can you?" 

This person needs serious convincing. They've heard the hype and they've heard it all before too.

"It's quite slow isn't it? Be quicker to get it from Amazon."

It's going to take something that directly benefits them before they start enthusing about it. And you better not hope to win them over very quickly. These guys are in the late majority/laggard camp when it comes to the diffusion of innovation. 

Slowly does it.



The first question. Always:

"So - how much has that cost?".

The wrong answer is "about £600". You need to factor in the cost of the refill cartridges and the time you've spent setting it up.

And don't even think about trying to convince them you are saving money. You are in the very early stages of testing a new innovation - any potential savings are years away. Just admit you're a cost on the business (but a responsible one).  

Be really nice to them - you'll probably need them in the next budget round.


This person is just fascinated. First - they want to understand how it works. They need to process that this is something real and not a form of trickery or magic.

But once they've got it - there's no stopping them. Imagination unlocked - they start suggesting potential uses, some realistic , some light years away.

Best question this week: "If I put my cat in it - what would happen?"

All of these reactions are valid when you introduce something new

The challenge for a Lab or an innovation team is how you blend these people together. How you get that mix of insane enthusiasm , financial astuteness, uncontrolled creativity and healthy cynicism. 

An imbalance of any of them is potentially disastrous when turning your latest idea into a reality.

Thanks to our 3D printer for reminding us!