Are you falling into the Innovation Energy Trap?

We are falling into a real trap around the efforts of much of the invention and innovation we are putting into the Energy Process. We have the danger of getting our innovation balance wrong.

We are emphasizing shifting significant resources towards energy efficiency, not real energy transition work that comes from radical or breakthrough innovations. The focus on extending prolongs what we have and does not offer the transformation affect our energy systems do require to achieve a decarbonized world over the next fifty years.

We all are accepting that the energy system needs to undergo a massive transformation, one that provides breakthrough innovations in new technology, ones that do transform the energy systems. Are we striking the right balance between incremental and breakthrough innovation? I would question this.

The efficiency trap is a classic trap of all innovators. Efficiency often triumphs over other forms of innovation, such as a more distinctive range of solutions, that give breakthrough and radical potential. Why is that important?

Focusing on improving what we have, giving it more efficiency provides a quicker return on investment and certainly extends much of what we have, it provides limited investments to give short-term better returns. All good and essential stuff, but we are in danger of missing the bigger picture that is required in the energy transition.

Efficiency or Radical, that breakthrough Innovation? Getting the balance right

The efficiency idea or concept has those lead times that can easily work within the one to three-year time frame, the classic judgement time for a management team to validate their credentials in improving the bottom line and providing revenue growth.

The management of resources, costs and commitment can be managed well on the balance sheet or even through the P&L as concepts to solutions are often tangible, the problems known to be resolved and well-scoped out in clearly defined timescales and resource need. This is the ideal ground for focusing on innovation efficiency.

Seeking out more distinctive and radical designs.

Yet we are meant to be in an Energy Transition where whole systems need more radical thinking, more evolutionary or radical in its solutions offered? These are longer-term in commitments, complexity, and often tackling the unknown, searching for new technology discovery and validation. These take time and real dedication in sustained resources. Risks get compounded and justification harder, the longer and more complex a change we are attempting to undergo.

The combining of new technology, in highly collaborative and open exploratory spaces, requires more of the unknowns in cost, resources and time. this is in search of the radical or breakthroughs from the invention, innovation, engineering and technology.

Getting the balance right in  the different types of innovation

To fully decarbonize our energy systems requires far more radical design, to shift the energy source from fossil fuels to renewables is a long-term commitment.

We naturally want to form these incremental mindsets as they yield quicker returns, often with one calendar cycle of 12 months, whereas complex issues take years, sometimes decades of dedicated effort. We expect reliable returns on investments, but this is often in direct conflict with much of the research and development that Energy transformation requires.

Most of our resources are placed in working away in the trenches of incremental improvements, and these outputs make up the vast substance of innovation activity.  Many working in these trenches of innovation on a daily basis would love to be part of a breakthrough but tend to find this is always ring-fenced for a few selected others or a distant dream beyond the capacity of one individual organisation to work upon.

The needs of the immediacy of business or the search for game-changers. 

R&D  so often is simply that gazing over the fence in envy or quietly accept this divide between incremental contribution and the need for more radical breakthroughs. Their job is to simply get on with the incremental improvements that deliver to the present needs of the business, important to stay competitive but not radical enough to revolutionize or galvanize the changes the energy system really does need to deliver on the need to rapidly decarbonize and modernize the energy process.

I believe many who work within innovation simply do not share in this delineation of innovation activity, as it divides talent into separate teams, often pitting scarce innovation resource against each other, often in many unseen ways.  This divide of activities is often a real pity. Collaboration outside established borders of individual businesses still has a long way to go to become truly open innovation.

I write a lot about collaboration needs, open innovation, building out relationships and networks of collaborators but this is a complicated process, thankfully happening at improved rates from thinking in a more platform and ecosystem design way of thinking. I write on this on my dedicated ecosystems4innovators posting site. The future of more distinctive and radical innovation comes through broader collaborations.

I would suggest organizations give this incremental area far too much of a focus in their resources and efforts, to the detriment of other options. 

We should move out of the incremental trap far more and not continue to reinforce it as many do. The Energy transition requires far more radical, distinctive and breakthrough in our innovation discovery process.

Lets consistently question the incrementalists and get them thinking more about distinctive, radical innovations as we require these for any chance to deliver on the energy transition and achieve any net zero, so often talked about but not delivered upon.


Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, and digitalization for the energy and IIoT systems

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