Remember when you were a kid and your mother or your teacher or your coach or some adult in authority over you admonished you to learn something new every day? I would imagine just about every kid was told that at some time in her childhood. But how often—now that you’re an adult—do you really practice it? What have you learned today?
While it sounds ridiculously corny—and, yes, we all realize it sounds ridiculously corny—all writers learn something from each project we create; we still live that “learn something new” childhood mantra. It’s the “bonus” to our job.
When you work in the power industry, the variety of learning may sound narrow, but it’s more varied than you might assume. You learn all over the cultural and tech map, from behavioral science and emotional intelligence (for customer service) to data analytics and hardware automation (for operations).
So knowing that writers learn a lot on projects and knowing that we’ve recently worked with some fabulous writers and analysts at Navigant Research for our recent project on innovation in the utility industry, I was personally curious about our main writer’s takeaways on the project.
So, I reached out to that principal project analyst at Navigant Research, Stuart Ravens with a few questions about his personal lessons from putting together our latest Utility Innovation Blueprint study.
Kathleen: What's the most interesting thing you learned from the study research?
Stuart: I wasn’t prepared for how different each company’s approach to innovation was. Different companies, different constraints, different drivers.
For example, smaller utilities—particularly those that are municipally owned—are doing great things with limited budgets. We saw a great connection with their communities, and they’re often the most customer-centric. A number of them have ambitions to punch well above their weight, you might say, and they’re using fresh approaches to IT infrastructure investments.
That smaller utility niche, in particular, was absolutely fascinating.
Kathleen: Without naming names, of course, who was your favorite interview and why?
Stuart: That’s difficult to answer—to single down to one. But, UK Power Networks has fine-tuned its innovation process, and I was really impressed with how they maintain momentum with their innovation products. They’re a great example of how to do more with less and how to engage the wider business with innovation. Then Yarra Valley Water also has to make the cut. It’s amazing how they embed innovation in their community through citizens’ juries.
Kathleen: How did researching this study change your view of the global utilities business?
Stuart: I didn’t necessarily change my opinion, more a confirmation that a lot of the industry transformation we discuss as an analyst is actually happening.
Kathleen: It’s not just talk anymore.
Stuart: Exactly. Some businesses have stopped talking about their futures and are now actually changing their businesses—fundamentally changing them.
That push beyond chatter to action should also be a wake-up call for any slow-moving utilities out there who could soon find themselves at risk of irrelevance.
That kind of claim is not just hot air banded around by vendors to sell utilities new products and services. It’s now a fact.
Kathleen: Looking at the study from an overall lessons standpoint, what would you say are the "personality traits" of a truly innovative utility?
Stuart: Most importantly, innovation happens at a happy organization. If your employees aren’t motivated and engaged with delivering a broad strategy, they aren’t going to submit ideas for innovation projects.
And ideas come from the shop floor; it’s workers, not middle managers, who understand what is wrong with existing processes and how they can be changed.
But, that being said, if idea generation is a bottom-up process, governance has to be top-down. The C-suite has to be the driving force behind this. They have to ensure that the right rewards are in place to encourage idea creation. They have to put in place the right governance frameworks, they have to ensure the right balance of finance is in place to support innovation.
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