Finding the Spark! Why innovate?

The first of four weekly blogs with John Russell’s reflections on Ofwat’s digital campaign —Spark!

We’re a week into our Spark! innovation channel and one thing that really struck me is what we are hearing from customers. Understanding customers is central to how the water sector builds greater trust and confidence.

So often when you think about innovation, people can move to the idea of technology. And so it was no surprise that customers focused on big name technology companies like Apple and Tesla. But why they chose them was much more interesting. Customers talked about products that make their lives easier, things that are new and different, and things that help them.

And I really liked the comment from Satwant Sahota of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC):

“[Innovation is about] pushing the bounds of whichever sector you’re focusing on and taking it to the next level.”

It sets out the importance of ambition when it comes to innovation. Couple this with a dose of imagination – as the young boy talking about his Lego in the video rightly points out – and it makes the whole process of innovating so exciting and rewarding.

But you do not always have to be coming up with the next iPhone. It was great to hear from Paul Taylor, at Bromford housing, talk about the importance of people, processes or attention to detail. This is so often lost because of the excitement that shiny new kit can generate. However, incremental improvements and a central focus on developing the right approaches and having the right culture in place are really important elements.

I’ve just returned from visits to two water companies and was struck by how they are really starting to embed innovation principles and systems thinking in their work. There is a growing focus on responding to what bothers customers first and then considering the engineering problem. For example, providing alternative supply to customers when there are interruptions so that they have more time to provide a much longer-term solution, not just a quick fix. Yes, the solutions involve some technology but fundamentally it’s more about a different mind-set.

And next week we’ll explore that more as we think about culture. In the same way that information technology enables innovation – as our new Chief Executive, Rachel Fletcher, notes – culture does too.

In Michael Wignall’s interview, you’ll see how Microsoft ‘hit refresh’ because success in the past or present is not enough, you have to look further.

The second episode of Spark! ‘Creating the Spark: How do you create a culture of innovation?’ will be released on Tuesday 13 February 2018.

Please continue to get involved with the discussion around campaign using #SparkInnovation on Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter: @John59131249