How do you foster innovation and prepare your employees for future trends

This article was first published in the Infrastructure Sustainability Update 2016 by ISCA.

Innovation, the national buzz word of 2016 (thanks Malcolm) is far more than a political catch-phrase and a safe go-to word, like “synergy”. Innovation is a necessity, the lifeblood of today and the essence of decades to come. 

Here’s why. The economy and the infrastructure we build in the coming decades will be dramatically different to what we have designed, constructed and maintained in the past. The requirements of future infrastructure and the challenges it will face are different in nature to what has come before. Current population and global economic growth is fuelled by abundant and cheap fossil fuels. Presenting an analogy, it is like we are at step one of 12 as the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) would say; we admitted we were powerless over fossil fuel—that our lives had become unmanageable. Climate change is recognised by civil society as the challenge of the decade. At the risk of consuming all your attention span…, all major ecosystems are in decline, 4,300 people live in conditions classified as modern slavery (sorry, that’s Australia, it is 45.5 million worldwide).

The good news is that technology is developing rapidly, public awareness is rising, and it is generally recognised that we need to step it up, and step up! COP 21 is what we all wanted, only 20 years too late. The global Sustainable Development Goals, scope and articulation, and their uptake is the right fuel to the sustainability rocket we should have launched when ABBA was singing Super Trouper .

Simply, we need to de-tox from fossil fuels and be zero carbon in 30-50 years. What does that even look like? Can you imagine your life without fossil fuels and emitting zero carbon (at least), when it is everywhere. Even before we wake up, we sleep on mattresses loaded with embodied fossils and carbon, we have high embodied fossil and carbon breakfasts, we dress, move, communicate, party, vacation, etc. etc. completely unsustainably.  Not just me, not just you, but everyone; we just can’t help it.

Our challenge is to generate 100 new ideas, not left to chance so, led by the Chairman of the Board, that will help the planet, our clients, our company to take it to the next level

At Edge, we know for sure that we do not yet know what the solution look like. We cannot reach for the solution yet. We need to build a team of experts, clients and mission driven organisations that will innovate together to accomplish the sustainability equivalence of putting a man on the moon within our lifetime. Patiently but with urgency, one step at a time, visualise the goal, and persist.

Hands on, this is what Edge does. We have skilled up the team in innovation by going through a boot camp with an innovation architect. Our challenge is to generate 100 new ideas, not left to chance so, led by the Chairman of the Board, that will help the planet, our clients, our company to take it to the next level. We will take it one step at a time, by creating space for the team to think, provide support to plan and resources to act. Everyone can do this, there is a method, it’s not all magic. Combine two average ideas to one killer solution. Change perspective to find and fix the flaw in a stalled project. Rapid prototyping with a licence to fail. And most importantly, relentlessly test and discuss our ideas with our clients. Do you like this? Would this work, or that? Would you value something like that? What do you really want and what do you really need?

Edge’s business plan relies on providing new solutions to known problems. It is why we exist, so innovation for us cannot be a side activity or something you do when you have nothing else on. Innovation needs to define our organisation and our work. Back to the headline, what do we do to prepare our staff for future trends. Simply, to provide methods and tools and give the time. As to the where and why they should innovate, well that’s what brought us together in the first place, a sense of purpose and appreciation of the challenge ahead.

 We know we need to deliver sustainable solutions at zero cost of better, the return on investment needs to be convincing. The good news is, it’s not that hard. Expand the business case to encompass the quality of the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the world we live in, the best option quickly becomes clear and profitable.

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