The way forward: How to harness the power of innovation

Posted 23 January 2017

Ozwater'17 articles
Innovate, or idle. It’s a choice constantly faced by businesses, and in today’s fast-paced world, it’s never been more relevant. 

“Most utilities acknowledge that innovation is a necessity, no longer ‘a nice to have’. If you don’t innovate – you stagnate,” said Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU) Innovation Research and Development Manager Colin Chapman. 
Sampling and on-site testing“People and workplace culture are the most critical success factors for developing a sustainable innovation program. You need to start with building internal capability.” 

Chapman, who will be sharing his insights into innovation in the water industry at the upcoming Ozwater’17 conference in Sydney, said one place to start is to ensure that the pre-conditions to foster innovation are in place.

“At Queensland Urban Utilities, we have embedded innovation into our organisational values and behaviours through a dedicated innovation program,” he said.  

This includes an element of risk-taking, said Chapman, but “innovation is about exploring, not exploiting”.

“You need to flip it around, because risk also presents opportunities. You can’t really look to manage or eliminate risk, but bounce forward with a unique opportunity.”

This mindset is what led to QUU being named as one of BRW’s top 10 Most Innovative Companies in 2015 – the first time a water and sewage provider has received the accolade. 

Since launching the program in 2013, more than 100 new innovations have been generated by QUU’s employees and endorsed for development, which will lead to operational efficiencies of close to $6 million.

For those who want to encourage similar innovative thinking in their organisation, more needs to be done to dispel the myth that innovators are born, not made. According to Chapman, “everyone has the ability to innovate in them somewhere”. 

It’s a matter of building capability from the ground up through deliberate practice and programs that allow cross-functional collaboration.

Organisations can accomplish this through telling stories of innovations that have come from within the company, hosting catalyst workshops, and creating teams that bring disparate parts of the workforce together to encourage diverse thinking. 

Supportive leadership is also important, he said. QUU hosts ‘innovation hours’ with its CEO where individuals can present their ideas directly to the senior leadership team. Those who are successful then receive support to bring their ideas to life through mentors and professional development opportunities.  

All this contributes to a positive culture where innovation is actively encouraged, said Chapman. 

To learn more about how to spark innovation in your organisation, click here to register for Ozwater’17.