The plenary for the May event in London looked at “Green Innovation and Disruption”. The three speakers offered their own interpretations and experiences of devising and introducing new sustainable models.
Ian Cheshire, the CEO of Kingfisher, (the third largest home improvement retail group globally), began proceedings. In his time as CEO the company have tried to approach sustainability as a worldwide agenda embracing all operating companies. They have embraced a notion that to help people build better homes means creating opportunities for more affordable sustainable homes. He comments that in big business the role of innovation should not be the job of the “scientist in the corner”, but that all aspects of a business need to know how it works and thinks, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of poor organisation and ensuring innovation is put into action. He believes this is done by empowering people with small budgets, giving the scope to innovate within existing operations. He reflected on how much innovation is talked about. But getting to the delivery stage is far harder.
Ian highlighted strong leadership as a means to empower people at all levels of the business: by allowing trial and error you make people leaders and innovators at all levels of the business. A barrier for leaders is an inability to see future returns in things that at the time seem insignificant and too small. He points out a natural reluctance on their part when things are going good, and suggests that it is easier to innovate when in crisis. He criticizes the part played by a “Celebrity CEO”, favouring 20-30 people getting behind an initiative to push it into the business.
Ian ended by touting Kingfishers endeavour to succeed in a new multi-billion pound refurbishment market. A notion which has government support and some funding mechanisms lined up. He was quick to acknowledge the risk involved by backing this new market. There is very little proof of concept for this new market and they are having to place bets on what products will succeed.
Ramon Arratia from InterfaceFLOR, echoed Ian’s words on encouraging innovation at all levels of the business, emphasising the need for a culture of “successful failure” in order to encourage people to take risks. His main thoughts centred on the inability of incumbents to disrupt and innovate in their own market. With regards to their own product they naturally protect what they sell. He went on to say that penetrating other nearby markets is the best way to achieve innovation in a parallel product, something they themselves have done.
Hugo Spowers of RiverSimple comes at this topic from a completely different angle, having founded a small company that aims to build cars for independent use while systematically removing environmental damage from the use of personal transport, in an industry embedded, shaped and designed for the 20th century. This is an industry with huge exit barriers and to tackle this he believes the best approach is to implement multiple changes simultaneously, thus making it practical to do things in different way. Incrementalism he suggests creates artificial barriers whilst also being too prudent and increasing risk when disrupting an established product.
Hugo concluded by pointing out the difference between a product based business model and a service based model, and how our continuation of a society based on a sale of product business model which maximises resource consumption, cannot achieve a sustainable industrial society. An idea that has long been popular in this space, but one that resonates more and more in the board rooms.
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