Innovation has been adopted in our day-to-day parlance, people are innovative, ideas are innovative, company cultures are innovative. It has become a business imperative with the development of new ideas and the improvement of existing ones driving competitive advantage.
Innovation is creativity, disruption and improvement. Which all sounds great, but the trouble with innovation is that it has to be nurtured – and that takes leadership and people who know how to make it work.
Not every new idea or innovation creates a compelling investment opportunity, as Jock Gardiner, chairman at TMM Executive, explains.
“An elegantly engineered solution to a problem, whether it is a manufactured tool or a piece of software or a service is only meaningful innovation if there are a sufficient number of customers willing to buy it. Technical innovations are often developed by people with a passion for their idea who become absorbed in the amazing features, viewing these as USP’s or differentiators.
“The investors you need to attract to scale up your growth will want to understand how these features create benefits for the customer. Your idea might solve a problem, but does it solve it in a way that really makes a difference to the customer?
“This different perspective or shift in mindset can actually require someone with no technical knowledge, a commercial, customer focused leader who can understand the market opportunity and translate the features into a benefits scenario for prospective customers.
“It is that person’s job to interrogate the innovative idea to discover if there really is a meaningful value proposition, this skill set is becoming particularly apparent locally in the current energy transition phase.”
Aberdeen-based Trojan Energy has benefited from investment and early-stage innovation awards, including funding from local angel syndicate Alba Equity and a £3 million grant from Innovate UK, identifying considerable growth potential in the electric vehicle charging market.
The team was founded by a group of former subsea engineers, who have taken skills and lessons learned in the energy sector and developed meaningful innovation in slimline, smart on-street chargers which use software and sensors to alert drivers that a charging point is free.
Chief executive Ian Mackenzie says: “We have a mission to use the skills we’ve learned in the oil industry to help accelerate the energy transition so we started looking at electric vehicle charging and considering how to help the 40% of people who park on the street to charge their cars without cluttering our streets with lots of ugly and permanent charging posts.
“Following a development and focus stage, we are moving into a commercialisation phase, which will see us expanding and recruiting to enable the development and supply of many thousands of charge points.
“Although behind Norway, the UK is ahead of a lot of other places in Europe but we still have a long way to go, however electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace and over the next few years they will be on par in terms of a similar car to petrol or diesel and as you can charge them at home or on the street it’s super convenient – and it’s also a better driving experience by a long way.
“We’re just starting out here so the potential is huge.”
Culture & competence
People want to work for organisations that have an innovative culture. It sounds promising, energising and is often accompanied by the perception that the business will be inclusive, progressive and value the employee voice.
Amanda McCulloch, chief executive at TMM Executive, comments on the attractiveness of innovative employers.
“Organisations that have successfully positioned themselves as innovative are talent magnets.
“In start-ups and small to medium businesses people are drawn to a charismatic founder storytelling around the difference the company’s innovations are making.”
“For larger organisations, an active employee community talking up how great a place is to work can be very powerful too,” she said.
“Candidates need to be aware that their desire to work for an innovative employer is shared by many others, it’s particularly attractive to the younger leaders I speak with. This means competition is tougher and the selection process rigorous with employers focusing on competence, skills, values alignment and how the person will add to the organisation.
“In addition, people managers have responsibility for nurturing the innovative culture and this requires sophisticated characteristics. It isn’t enough to be competent in your own role, as a leader you’ll also be responsible for promoting creativity, defining limitations, settings goals, managing competence and balancing innovation and risk.”
For Trojan Energy, employees are given the chance to own shares in a fast-growing company but flexibility and freedom are also great motivators.
The move to working from home during the pandemic has also paved the way for increased flexibility in recruitment and the ability to handpick the best team from anywhere in the world.
“We are based in Aberdeen and London but we have team members in other cities throughout the UK and Covid has shown that we can work with people anywhere and access a wider talent pool than ever,” Ian said.
“The oil industry has incredible talent and we are fortunate to have had several people join us from the industry, we now get to harness their abilities and passion to help us accelerate the energy transition.
“They all want to be part of something that has a really great purpose and will help make a really positive impact on the world. They can see they have the freedom to grow and innovate and be part of a team that’s doing something totally new and out of the ordinary – it’s very hard work but it’s also a very exciting journey to be on.”
Innovation in the north-east is shaping our public spaces, improving accessibility for trade, opening up new markets and significantly enhancing digital capabilities. Organisations are seeking out opportunities to be innovative, whether that is through new product and service development or by unlocking business value through the improvement of internal operations.
This drive for innovation coincides with an appetite for diverse thinking and it has opportunities for executive talent.
Amanda continues: “Digital transformation is the catalyst for innovation in many organisations and that’s creating enhanced opportunities for chief technology officers and chief financial officers.
“Innovative leaders who can deliver transformational change are in short supply but employers are much more open to meeting candidates from outwith their industry, to benefit from the transferrable experience. It’s also impacting remuneration with base salary increases reported in recent research of around 16% at the executive level.
“I’m hopeful that the impetus for continual innovation and creative problem solving will accelerate the appointment of people with diverse backgrounds and positively impact executive pay gaps.”