Innovating at Its Best
For many of us, when we think of the word "innovation," we think of a new method, idea, or product. In essence, innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value - or for which customers will pay.
By Vanessa Leiby
For many of us, when we think of the word “innovation,” we think of a new method, idea, or product. In essence, innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value - or for which customers will pay. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources. In the business context, innovation often results when ideas are applied by a company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of customers, often related to product innovation. One recent example of this can be seen in modifications made to wastewater pumps to address clogging of equipment due to the public’s use of disposable wipes.
Innovation can be evolutionary - changes brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes, or it can be revolutionary - often called disruptive, which can lead to the creation of new markets, new methods, or new alliances. Consider the case of flushable wipes and wastewater treatment pumps. An evolutionary change is represented by modifications to the inner workings of the pump to pull flushables out before they enter the mechanical part of the pump or even by the installation of grinder pumps to grind up the wipes. But this is not the only change that is needed to address this problem. We need societal or “revolutionary” changes such as public education to re-teach consumers what to flush and, more to the point, what not to flush. We need investment in research to understand the problem and the costs associated with wipes clogging wastewater equipment, and perhaps most importantly, we need to engage with wipe manufacturers to determine if modifications can be made to the product, or even special fees assessed to help wastewater systems pay for upgrades needed to deal with this problem.
Consider some of the synonyms of innovation - change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, breakthrough, ingenuity, and inspiration. Revolutionary change is certainly not without added risk. It requires people to step outside the status quo, to stop working around the margins, and to step “outside the box” to create new ways of doing business, new alliances, and new relationships.
Tammy Bernier, the WWEMA chairman for 2016 and president of Duperon Corporation, is challenging WWEMA members and staff this year to take a much broader view of innovation - to consider revolutionary rather than evolutionary changes. This involves not only the services that we provide to our members but also the relationships we have with others in the water community, from regulators to engineers to end-users to other manufacturers.
She is asking us to evaluate how we currently do business and think more broadly about how we might be able to do business differently. Where do we have good working relationships and where do they need to be improved? Where do manufacturers, as the technology solution providers, need to be at the table? How can we work better with others in the water community to help them understand that without manufacturers who are willing to take risks, we would not have safe drinking water and a clean environment?
We are also being challenged to think about new relationships with universities, new uses for mobile apps and technology for improving water treatment efficiency, and new relationships with the engineering community. The new year for WWEMA certainly promises to be exciting, inspiring, and revolutionary!
About the Author: Vanessa M. Leiby is the executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). To learn more, visit www.wwema.org.