Emerging from the cramped entryways to Bank underground station I glanced into the white sky, looking for signs of one of London’s most iconic buildings, but the view was hemmed in on all sides by tall and beautiful old, columned buildings. Having calibrated my GPS by walking a few hundred meters in the wrong direction said building emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, as I passed a line of parked bikes and scooters in the shadow of an old 16th century Church. The Gherkin ensured the little, ancient church was dwarfed on all sides by shimmering glass and polished industrial pipework of executive offices.
While the view from the street was quirky and unexpected, it was nothing compared that offered by our event suite on the 38th floor of the London pickle. Every delegate and speaker, myself included, made a bee-line for the window to soak in the panorama.
It was Tuesday 9th of May and I was speaking about open innovation at Wipro’s Innovation in Utilities Workshop on behalf of Bromford Lab.
Up first, the slot considered how services (such as provision of housing or utilities) usually fail to accelerate brand new ideas into reality, because they lack a robust, evidence based (but still fast paced) process through which to achieve this. Especially true for social innovation projects, many decisions apparently being made with our hearts more than our heads. When it’s time to report on our progress in such projects we’re left without any evidence, without any confidence and with nothing to actually report back on.
If we’re truly going to innovate openly, we've got to think of such an outcome as a ‘bad failure’ - those ideas we got too involved in, then snowballed away from us. We should, understandably, avoid these like the plague, the only way of doing which is with sufficient problem definition and planning. Their happier counterparts, ‘good failures’, embody non-successful outcomes of rigorous testing, though the learning is arguably more valuable than the successful test (better to fail in your control than after you've deployed it - right?). Open innovation relies on these failures, to help others not repeat our mistakes.
Despite the clear lack of technical awareness of gas, electricity and water system, the key theme of the presentation - scaling back ideas and getting them underway as soon as possible - was well received.
By and large, the utilities sector faces the same difficulties forcing innovative ideas through a process built for risk avoidance, and has key social challenges such as inequality in payment methods and fuel poverty prevention. The opportunities for proactive housing associations or councils to work with utility companies are obvious - with the customer coming out on top.
Thanks again for the invite!
Slides below (though not necessarily easy to understand without the charismatic narrative)...