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Analysis, Thoughts and Conversations by Dan Zilnk

Innovation and collaboration

Dan Zilnik

The two themes at globe 2016: innovation and collaboration



1. Innovation is critical in dealing with the challenges of climate change. What is innovation and what are the risks? This past week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the keynote speech at GLOBE 2016, an international business summit focused on sustainability. During the address PM Trudeau noted, “the future belongs to countries and businesses that become leaders of clean technologies, innovation, and sustainability”. The term innovation was used extensively throughout GLOBE as a key tool for dealing with the multiple challenges of climate change.

Often when people think of innovation they visualize a light bulb going off and a flash of insight resulting in the creation of a new product. This equates innovation with a specific idea that ends in a physical product. Based on O&G’s engagement during GLOBE, the actual innovation challenge for governments and corporations looking to reduce CO2 emissions is “how do you develop a steady stream of ideas that reduce CO2 over time, and what are the combination of products, policies, and processes that can create a new climate trajectory for Canada?”. In this light, the idea of innovation as invention can actually be limiting and likely will not help private industry, and governments at all levels within Canada achieve their climate ambitions.  Innovation has to first create value; in this case it must reduce CO2.

A key challenge to innovating in a large organization is managing personal risk. When creating a steady stream of new ideas some are bound to fail, and the individuals working on the portfolio of products, policies, and processes often feel exposed and professionally vulnerable when ideas fail. These individuals will need to be given the flexibility to try new ideas explicitly acknowledging that not all of them will work, and that these missteps will not be treated as personal failures, but rather a part of the innovation process. Portfolio risk and personal risk are often conflated in private companies and governments and these must be separated in order for innovation to work.

2.  Collaboration, like innovation, is a means and not an end. In parallel to GLOBE, the PM hosted a First Ministers meeting which concluded with all the First Ministers agreeing to the Vancouver Declaration. As noted in the official press statement, “in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we met today to discuss the economy and actions to address climate change and agreed on immediate work…”. The tone of the press release and the Declaration are similar. Both focus on increasing ambition levels for climate mitigation and adaptation, but more than half of the Declaration is dedicated to a discussion on collaboration, which was the other theme throughout GLOBE. Collaboration, much like innovation, is a means, and not an end. Collaboration is effective when it either makes achieving a goal more efficient than going-it-alone, or if collaboration allows individuals and organizations to pursue a goal or outcome that none could achieve alone. The Declaration established four cross-government, cross-functional collaborative Working Groups:

·       The Working Group on Clean Technology, Innovation and Jobs,

·       The Working Group on Carbon Pricing Mechanisms,

·       The Working Group on Specific Mitigation Opportunities, and,

·       The Working Group on Adaptation and Climate Resilience.

These Working Groups will require collaboration across and within governments. Large organizations have long struggled to break down silos and boost cross-functional collaboration, and based on O&G’s engagement at GLOBE, the Working Groups aim to avoid the traditional collaboration challenges by having defined, time bound, goals. The long-term climate goal for Canada is well defined (a target of a 30% reduction below 2005 levels of emissions) but so are the actual goals for each Working Groups, mostly in the form of time bound reports. Further, the Working Group goals cannot be achieved by any individual entity on its own, making collaborating a necessity for achieving goals.

The challenge will remain simplifying wherever possible, as each level of government has different tools and levels of ambition that should contribute to the common goal(s). A second challenge is retooling culture to ensure working groups can keep a laser focus on collaboration that achieves shared goals rather than “bringing in a win for the home team”. There will be little time to invest in capabilities to sustain new forms of collaboration, so culture will matter. Lastly, many of the people in the Working Groups may be involved in policy development, but will not be involved in regulating. Collaboration often falls apart during the hand-off between those who develop an idea and those who need to execute on the idea.