This week I went to a breakfast seminar hosted by Wazoku. If Wazoku is new to you, check out 106 Seconds with its founder Simon Hill.
Steve Kaye, Head of Innovation for Anglian Water, spoke about how his role has changed in the last 15 years. Then, ‘innovation’ was the preserve of his team, a select group of R&D specialists. Now, innovating belongs to everyone. Job descriptions and levels are irrelevant: ideas are welcomed and expected from everyone; and the process of contributing ideas has been made easier by Wazoku’s Ideas Spotlight software. The water industry is highly regulated and innovation provides an opportunity to think creatively.
Taking it a step further, Anglian Water extends ideas generation beyond its own people, out to its supply chain and customers. Steve talked about ‘Open Door’ sessions where customers and smaller businesses (those which would usually struggle to get a foot in the door) are asked for opinions, suggestions and new ideas.
This democratic and egalitarian approach is yielding results. Here Steve talks about one idea already impacting on the business.
I really enjoyed hearing Steve talk; he painted quite a rosy picture. But it’s not quite utopian just yet. It turns out that getting hold of the ideas is the easy bit; everyone wants to contribute, and even more so when they’re recognised for doing so. It’s the implementation and actual delivery of ideas that’s problematic.
Steve’s putting a project team in place. But for him, the holy grail is the time when colleagues who contribute ideas are able to see them through to reality.
It’s easy to see why this doesn’t happen now. We all have to-do lists longer than our paychecks and the incentive to go the extra mile isn’t always there. We’ve provided the idea. Now let someone else make it happen.
But true innovation isn’t pie in the sky. True innovation happens at ground level: real ideas making a real difference, every day. Maybe leaders need to think about building capacity into their businesses so that colleagues have the time and space to make their ideas a reality. Anglian Water has seen the benefits of de-centralising innovation; so imagine the impact on business if the delivery of innovation was de-centralised too.