Albert Einstein said: “I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”

Thomas Edison, maybe the greatest innovator of all time, said: "Innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

For years business consultants have tossed around the equation:

Creativity + Execution = Innovation

And, even more recently, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, in their book, The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge, suggest that the better equation is:

Creativity x Execution = Innovation

However you slice it, innovative results come about through a mix of creativity and hard work. Creativity, good ideas, brainstorming –in themselves a lot of fun, but they don’t produce anything new and useful without elbow grease. On the other hand, hard work without creativity just results in the same old, same old, and little innovation.

I was reminded of all this during the recent T&D World Executive Innovation Summit. We had gathered a bunch of utility executives, researchers and a major manufacturer to discuss the need for innovation in the utility industry. These folks were particularly invited because of their leadership in innovation. That kind of leadership hasn’t been all that common in our industry.

The workplace and supervision can provide a culture of creativity and execution resulting in a high degree of innovation. Or, probably more often, productivity, long hours and general ‘busy-ness’ crowd out time for creative, outside-the-box thinking. That’s okay for companies whose operational paradigms and/or products and services change slowly. And a fairly low-creative workplace culture has worked for the power industry for decades. That’s because innovation leads to risk. And risk taking was to be avoided. There wasn’t much upside if an innovative solution worked, but there was plenty of downside if it failed.

That’s all changing. It has to.

Today’s utilities are facing complex challenges as never before. IT and telecommunication technology cycles, the time from adaptation to obsolescence, are less than our rate case cycles. That puts a real crimp in the utility decision process. Companies have to make capital investments in high tech without the luxury of the usual long-term pilot and demonstration projects. Power delivery infrastructure is in the geriatric ward and needs replacement and upgrade. Recent storms point out the need for hardened structures and better outage management. And on it goes.

Many years ago, when I first went to work at a utility, I was told that if I kept my nose clean, got my work done without too much need for supervision and didn’t ruffle the wrong feathers I could “ride this train to retirement.” At the T&D World Executive Innovation Summit I watched innovation being born out of creativity and the willingness to take risks and make it happen. How things have changed.

We’ll see how much gets executed.

You can read more about the Summit when the January edition of T&D World is published.

What about your workplace environment? How would you grade it? Take the Readers’ poll.

About the Editor

Paul earned his B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and is a registered professional engineer. He has worked in the energy industry for more than 25 years, developing and implementing advanced energy technologies. As research director for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. he pioneered methodologies used in the design, maintenance and control of energy delivery systems. As a consultant he has provided guidance to utilities and the vendor community, nationally and internationally. Email him with comments: Paul.Mauldin@penton.com