OPINION Tales of the unexpected: innovation needs a willingness to think differently

Another day, another industry meeting.

First on the agenda: innovation. The industry needs fresh ideas. It has to break the mould. There are new technologies, new services, new offers out there that could make our system better, serve customers and help to build an energy system fit for the next century – and one where the UK has innovative hardware and intellectual property to sell. Everyone agrees.

Second on the agenda: education. I hear, as I have heard many times before, that most consumers don’t understand the industry. They are terribly ignorant about how it all works: they have to be educated, so that can think in the same way as industry members. In future, they will have to have their behaviour modified so it suits the industry.

Third: we must have a detailed plan and make sure everything aligns with it.

Here’s some innovation. Instead of asking consumers to become cogs in an existing machine, why not let them think for themselves?    And why not get them to provide customer ‘pull’ that will get innovators from outside the industry?

Consumers are not just the poorly-informed users of gas and power who have to be forced or nudged into acting in conformity with industry needs. They are also: working in companies that could be the future supply chain; holders of the skill sets that the industry badly needs; potentially full of ideas for different ways the industry could evolve; and providers of innovation or of experience from entirely different industries that could help solve energy industry problems.

The energy industry is in revolution. Some innovation has to come from within and a roadmap is needed (although one that may have to be prepared for some sharp changes in direction). But if you want innovation you have to leave space for the unexpected and even the uninformed – and be ready to say ‘actually, why not?’

Instead of forcing customers to into energy industry boxes, ask them what they want. Let them ask the impossible or unreasonable. And then – even if the energy industry thinks it’s not the best answer – try to give it to them.

Reveal that ‘customer wish’ to innovators and entrepreneurs across the economy. A market need and the sniff of potential profits will get you more innovation than telling customers what they don’t understand and can’t have.



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