When you think of innovative companies, names that immediately come to mind probably include Google, Apple, and Amazon. Indeed, these companies have been ranked as the world’s most innovative over time based on the views of global executives, industry peers, and each company’s ability to ‘breach established industry barriers and play in an array of markets outside its own.’
Disrupting norms and exploring novel ideas is good for business—the most innovative companies are also among the world’s largest and most profitable, while maintaining a range of critical assets that businesses the world over depend on.
How do these behemoths continue to foster innovation? Let’s take Google for example. The company has a reputation for investing in research, breaking work into smaller, collaborative projects, and giving its team members the time and space to be creative.
Everyday problem-solving underpinned by creative practices is essential for competitiveness in many industries, but it’s particularly relevant for businesses that manage critical assets. So, how can asset-intensive organisations be more Google-like in their approach?
Innovation is an opportunity to add value. But in many companies the steps to achieving innovation can also be viewed as a hindrance because they require time, costs, and change.
After all, landing on a great idea often requires thinking about the problem from different perspectives, considering multiple solutions, and revising ideas—not every organisation’s workflows allow for these creative processes.
Research shows that creative processes are closely linked to learning and requires a workplace culture that promotes both collaboration and autonomy over one’s work. A person needs to be able to explore different information and methods appropriate to the context of the problem, in order to arrive at a creative solution.
Solving important problems is also easier with a degree of psychological distance. It’s easy to get lost in the details and become overwhelmed by big decisions or problems. Creating distance, mentally and emotionally, can lead to an ‘aha moment’. That kind of detachment might require restructuring a project and team, or leveraging external expertise.
It’s straightforward to see how attitudes to innovation are shaped by an organisation’s capacity: you need to be able to pull together the people with the essential skills, identify the right goal, and be both single-minded and open-minded in focusing on finding a creative solution.
The day-to-day mechanisms that many companies put in place to promote efficiency can make it more difficult to step back and consider ‘what could be?’, and ‘how do we get there?’. Organisations may instead fall into thinking why something can’t be done, or relying on the way things have always been.
Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, said, “The best way to create value in the 21st century is to connect creativity with technology.”
Back in 2007, Apple famously reimagined the mobile phone, making a more intuitive and stylish product that people flocked to buy. The iPhone used technologies already in the market. Its real innovation was a shift in the concept of what a phone was for: Apple gave consumers a hand-held portable computer with connectivity to the internet, which also happened to enable phone calls.
Google’s incredible reach and profitability has arisen from an innovative business model driven by creative thinking. The company leveraged the internet to create a new way of delivering value for advertisers by attracting a massive audience through their superior search engine.
A number of the company’s most successful initiatives since, such as Gmail and Google Maps, began as personal side projects that Google’s engineers were given the time and space to work on in addition to their core tasks. In other words, their creativity was given free rein.
Not getting caught up in everyday processes and being able to visualise different scenarios is critical to innovation, but it’s a skillset that’s hard to foster.
At accesstel, we cultivate this capability through the way we hire, operate, and work with clients. We look for people who can understand our customer’s problems, think deeply, dream big, and are willing to explore. As a result we’re able to be nimble and experimental, but we also have the industry and technology experience to ensure we can pull off the creative solutions we develop.
We’re striving to take the same direction as leading innovators when it comes to being able to apply the imagination of individuals in a practical way to achieve genuinely new approaches that deliver value.
In most cases, that involves harnessing technology—but the technology itself is the means to an end. We work with clients to find new ways to implement cost savings, resilience, and improved customer experience by using IoT technologies in clever ways.
For instance, recently we’ve explored helping clients to utilise their back-up battery power to offload their power from the grid during periods of high demand. Through a series of experiments we demonstrated it’s possible to remotely turn on and charge batteries and switch from grid power to batteries and back again. Now we’re working on the finer details of security and monitoring the viability of batteries to ensure the solution can reliably be used as a back-up.
The rewards of creativity are great, so it makes sense to consider ways to benefit from new ideas to drive innovation across your organisation.
Google recommends five key elements to fostering an innovative workplace:
The systems and culture within your business are vital to giving employees the impetus to think creatively, test solutions, and exploit innovation.
Another factor to keep in mind is that even within a culture that encourages new ideas, it’s often difficult for employees to truly go against the status quo. In some cases it’s wise to spend time with people outside the organisation who will challenge and inspire you.
Using external expertise can help you attain psychological distance so you can better see the ‘big picture’, broaden the scope of potential solutions, and access knowledge and skills you can’t easily find internally.
Creatively applying technology to solve problems and generate value for both shareholders and customers has become key to remaining competitive in almost every industry including critical asset operations and maintenance.
Bring higher levels of creativity to your work managing complex asset networks by cultivating the right conditions for exploring and embracing new ideas. You can also work with an innovative and trustworthy partner like accesstel, acquiring support to push the boundaries of what’s possible.