At Cribber, we’re always on the look out to stay ahead of the game when it comes to trends in innovation for the resource industry.

Recently, while going through a bit of research, we decided to Google, ‘5 ways the resource industry can innovate’ - and here’s what Google threw back at us - ‘Did you mean: 5 ways the resource industry can’t innovate’. With this article we’re aiming to correct Google.

5 Ways the Resource Industry Can't Innovate

Google (or more accurately, Google users) clearly don’t think the resource industry can innovate. I’m sure some of the big players in the industry wouldn’t appreciate that, but at the same time, they’re well aware of the issues they face. Big companies like BHP Billiton and Chevron may unfortunately be subject to the effects of blockers. A blocker is an important part of an organisation’s core activities, managing risk through a decision gate process or signature authority. However, they are inherently detrimental to the innovation process.

This organisational structure slows down innovation and when there are startups out there moving faster every day and every week, the incumbent industry players should take notice.

Recently, I was asked to speak at BHP Billiton’s ‘Iterate’ in-house innovation workshop. Here I shared some of my tips on how large corporations could apply startup thinking to foster a culture of innovation. These tips and more are listed below in my: 5 ways the resource industry can innovate.

1. Accept Risk and Failure

Too often incumbent organisations miss commercialising new technologies as they get trapped in the Innovator’s Dilemma. Where, while they are often the first to identify new technology, they don’t recognise the true market potential for the new opportunity and are eventually disrupted by a new entrant willing to take the risk and with less to lose.

Loss aversion is also a strong bias present in these organisations. Take Kodak for instance, who invented the digital camera in 1975, but not wanting to cannibalise their film business decided not to pursue this technology. They filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

2. Promote Idea Creation

Company tenure doesn’t make someone’s ideas more important than another’s. In fact, it may limit that employee’s ability to think creatively or outside the box. They are trapped inside the corporate bubble, using company jargon and catch phrases instead of creativity and a wide lens.

Instead take the example of IDEO, perhaps the world’s most innovate design company. They always let the junior employees speak first and also employ “enlightened trial and error”, which they say will “succeed over the planning of a lone genius”.

Every idea should be tabled and listened to, no matter how outlandish it may sound, and people should defer judgement. This is important because it not only promotes the expression of ideas. But more importantly, it will act as a mental bridge for others to build off. It might take two outlandish ideas, bridged together to arrive at something exceptional. Something that is simply unfathomable without the thoughts that were expressed earlier.

3. Focus on Customer Motivation

To really innovate, we need to focus on customer motivation, not their needs. That is: what motivates them to overcome struggles in their work to make progress and make their lives better. This includes four forces: a push away from their current struggle, a pull towards a better life, anxieties about a new solution, and habits in their current struggle.

By applying Jobs-to-be-Done techniques when interviewing customers (internal or external) we can uncover hidden product requirements, that the customer themselves may not know they would want.

As Steve Job’s famously said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want”.

4. Spin Like a Startup

Companies should learn from the lean startup methodology of failing fast and often, iterating around the build-measure-learn loop. All the while pivoting and making changes based on captured data, to learn, improve and eventually achieve product-market fit. Hopefully, before you run out of money.

The resource industry is perfectly positioned to use this model to prototype and test out new technologies in their facilities. Set goals, time limits and move quickly to determine if a prototype is hitting the mark, needs adjusting or should be tossed in the bin.

5. Innovate at Arms Length

Lastly, if you’re a large company, let’s be honest. Real innovation is unlikely to come from within the walls of your organisation. It’s just not a probable outcome (refer back to the Innovator’s Dilemma). This is where corporate venturing comes to the fore. Keeping innovation at arms length from your company’s core business activities will give it the freedom to deliver. This will also protect the organisation’s networks and customer relationships from failed or immature technological plays.

Examples of this in Perth include Telstra’s muru-D (FD: an investor in Cribber), HBF Activate and Vocus Upstart.

The CORE Innovation Hub was created to foster innovation and collaboration amongst the Resource and Energy Sector. If you want to know what’s happening in the resource collaboration space and want to explore innovative opportunities I’d recommend becoming a member.