Is innovation innate or a taught skill? There is a common misconception that innovation is some kind of magic or alchemy that can only be practiced by a select few. Innovating is a bit like magic in some ways, but not in the way you might think. With patience and time, anyone can do magic. Likewise, with the right tools and process, you too can become an innovator.
I work in Blue Lab, EDF Energy’s innovation accelerator, but innovation isn’t something that belongs just within our team or in fact to any one person. We want everyone in the company to think of it as part of their role. It needs to become part of our employee DNA, developing the skills necessary to embrace our inner innovator.
I recently hosted a workshop as part of EDF Energy’s Learning Week to encourage colleagues to innovate through games. The problem many of us have is that we get a little stuck in a rut with our busy workloads. There are usually more tasks to carry out than there are hours in the working day. How many of us can honestly say we get through our ‘to-do lists’ every day?
We all have a choice – and it’s about working harder or working smarter - and the smart course of action is to identify issues and challenges then find and adopt innovative solutions.
People are idea factories
Getting ideas out of people's heads is never difficult. We are, after all, idea factories. You simply need to ask for them. The most important thing isn't getting the ideas, it's doing something with them. We have a mantra, 'we're not innovating unless we're implementing'.
We've collected well over 2,000 ideas since we started Blue Lab, the vast majority of which came from the frontline - staff doing their day-to-day jobs are closest to our customers and their needs.
Suzanne Dobinson, a team manager at our Doxford site, had a bright idea that is now becoming a reality. She noticed a recurring issue with customers calling with concerns about their energy consumption. Advisers would spend a lot of time with them on the phone trying to establish how much energy was being used based on the number of appliances in the home and typical usage hours.
She came up with the idea of a self-service appliance calculator that would help customers understand their energy usage and what they could do to improve it; Suzanne submitted her suggestion as part of an internal innovation challenge. Her idea took off and won the competition, and Suzanne soon found herself on an unexpected but exciting secondment to Blue Lab, where her project was brought to life. Her app is currently being tested with selected EDF Energy customers with the intention to roll it out to all account holders soon.
Suzanne’s story is a fantastic example of how innovation works. A genuine problem affecting many people was identified, a novel and effective solution was designed, and a solution was rapidly created. It also highlights EDF Energy’s willingness to back excellent ideas and innovative people when they present themselves.
Blue Lab toolkit
Over the past two and a half years since Blue Lab was formed we’ve had numerous conversations with colleagues and partners about how to build innovation capacity within all areas of the business. We feel the business case for innovation has been well and truly won so how do we embed it and make it real?
I started this piece by talking about innovators, who like magicians, need the right tools and practice to bring their ideas to life. With that in mind, we devised a Blue Lab toolkit, which is a collection of frequently used tools, models and frameworks. In keeping with innovation and its constant evolution we have devised a ‘playbook for innovation learning’ that guides the user through the tools available, step by step, and we’re excited at the prospect of this being adopted right across the company.
Although these are internal developments we know innovation works best in collaboration so if you want to join us on this magical journey please drop us a line at BlueLab@edfenergy.com.
What is Blue Lab?
At Blue Lab we work on growing and nurturing business ideas with start-ups, our colleagues, students and innovators who are passionate about their concepts. Our Blue Lab innovation platform encourages collaboration, acceleration and disruption. Innovation can be external or it can be internal. Any idea can flourish with the right support.