Category: Business

Social Capital Is Value Which Your Business May Be Missing

“People who like what they do, do it better”. This is what Henry Engelhardt had as his philosophy when he started Admiral Insurance in 1993. He wanted to enjoy work. He recognised that if his staff were happy and enjoyed work too, there would be better productivity, so he set to work with a company philosophy putting happy staff at the centre of his business model.

One initiative to promote this philosophy is to have a business team called the Ministry of Fun, a team dedicated to organising weekly social activities for staff, such as come to work in fancy dress days, such as Superhero Day, nights out, or computer game tournaments in lunch breaks.

For 14 years in a row, Admiral Insurance has been in the 100 Best Places to Work in the UK. The business has grown to a $5.6billion valuation, is in the UK’s FTSE 100 stocks and has 7000 staff across Europe and India.

ARE YOU MISSING OUT ON SOCIAL CAPITAL?
Venture capital, human capital, financial capital, leveraging, share offerings are all sources of value that are utilised in business. And, yet, businesses can still miss out on a key source of capital to help them grow – Social Capital!

The Admiral Insurance story is one of a deliberate culture setting out to build and use strong Social Capital.

Work is, and always has been, one of the most defining aspects of our lives. It might be where we meet people, excite ourselves and feel at our most creative and innovative. It could also be where we can feel our most frustrated, exasperated and taken for granted.

With the average worker now spending over 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime, the workplace has become a “centre of meaning, membership, and mutual support “, and of friendship. Indeed, many people count some work colleagues as good friends.

Work organisations are inherently social. Many organisations depend upon the goodwill of staff members, and on their cooperation with customers and each other, to achieve the goals and mission of the business. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the trust of the majority cannot be taken for granted.

Failure to acknowledge Social Capital and to build an environment to cultivate it may mean that your business is missing out on this vital form of capital and the opportunity to advance to the next level.

WHAT IS SOCIAL CAPITAL?
Social Capital is the sum of goodwill and potential resources available to individuals and groups stemming from their networks of relationships.

When the members of networks have established some level of knowledge and trust, it brings them to a level of commitment to each other and a desire to exchange resources with each other, and this provides a context in which innovation can flourish. People have the desire to do things for and with others within their social networks. People tend to do things to help and encourage those in their same social network, creating a cycle of mutually beneficial reciprocity.

Like monetary capital, Social Capital has some value. It can be accumulated, invested and exploited, through deposits and withdrawals. The Ministry of Fun initiatives at Admiral Insurance are examples of ‘building deposits’ of Social Capital with the staff.

The outcomes of Social Capital are:
• Exchange and Reciprocity – “I’ll scratch your back, because I can trust you to scratch mine, when I need it”
• Good spirits
• Follow through – a willingness to go the extra mile with those in your network
• Trust overcoming uncertainty – it is far easier to come to an agreement with someone with whom you have a positive connection than with a stranger. There is a banking adage that says, “A relationship is worth one basis point”.
• Team Identity, even ‘team pride’

The ‘value’ of Social Capital can be seen by imagining a workplace where Social Capital was missing, one where:
• competition trumped cooperation
• there was little trust, with too much suspicion, whispering and cynicism
• there was little willingness to:
o share information, or to share it in a timely manner
o share resources
o assist each other
• business units stay stovepiped within their silos

HOW IS SOCIAL CAPITAL DIFFERENT FROM HUMAN CAPITAL?
Social Capital differs from Human Capital (as in HCM). Human capital may be said to be focussed on the education, experience and abilities of an employee for a particular role or pathway. It is a main focus of HR and managers, who are trying to hire, develop, performance-manage, promote and retain their talent pool. There may be some overlap between Human and Social Capital depending on how a business’s culture, employee engagement and wellbeing are defined. Many businesses choose to invest in the happiness and well-being of their employees because this investment indirectly benefits the bottom line by cultivating a happier, more energetic workforce.

IS SOCIAL CAPITAL THE SAME AS EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE?
When Billy Aydlett became the 7th principal in 6 years at Leataata Floyd Elementary, a school with a long history of dysfunction in a low-income part of Sacramento USA, he quickly discovered that the young students were not going to be able to make progress on the academics until they had gotten help with their social and emotional issues.

However, although Aydlett had risen through teaching ranks to become principal, he was a socially awkward man who confessed to being “awful” at ordinary human encounters, so he attended social-emotional training. Since beginning the emotional-literacy work, Aydlett said he had become more aware of interpersonal dynamics, and even made going on a vacation with his wife a priority – something he had never bothered to do before. (“I didn’t see the point in that kind of connectedness,” he admitted. “But I’ve learned that it’s important.”)

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise emotions in oneself and in others, to be able to harness and manage them. They are the individual skills that are used by each person to build his or her Social Capital within work or other networks.

The experience of Mr Aydlett shows that building social connections does not come naturally for many people, even successful ones!

Deliberate action needs to be undertaken to foster Social Capital across the staff in a business. Some may be able to make flourishing connections naturally, for example “She’s a ‘people-person'”, but many are not able to do it on their own.

HOW IS SOCIAL CAPITAL OBTAINED?
Social Capital is built by the types and frequency of social interactions. Staff need fresh, shared experiences and face-to-face interactions to keep Social Capital flourishing.

Attending an event together gives a shared experience, which creates their own unique narrative/stories amongst attendees.

“Do you remember when we went xxxing? Wasn’t it great!? Wasn’t it funny when yyy completely messed up? And wasn’t zzz surprising in how she blitzed it!?”

This helps develop ties and bonds, and begins trust between participants.

Team building events can be very useful. If you have met someone from the business at an event, the ice is broken. The next time that you meet them, you are further along the path than with a stranger and better positioned to ask for a favour.

Most team building falls flat because it is a one-time activity, done and then forgotten. The challenge is to keep creating opportunities for people to connect and interact in meaningful ways, outside of regular meetings or training.

BENEFITS OF SOCIAL CAPITAL
Social Capital offers advantage to businesses iv. Here is a listing of the kinds of effects achievable through deliberately helping staff to build Social Capital.

RESOURCE SHARING
Team members have more certainty about how their peers will respond to requests for help. They can drive at unique solutions due to more certainty of a favourable response.

The resources available to individuals via his or her social networks within a business or industry are very wide ranging. The type of resources that someone else could provide include:
• Offering to use their influence,
• Providing their time,
• Accessing some of their budget dollars,
• Providing advice,
• Connecting an idea with the right person,
• Offering support,
• Giving (privileged) information,
• Sharing space and tools,
• Releasing a worker to join a project team,
• Providing an introduction to the right person,
• Giving a testimonial concerning another’s abilities,
• Smoothing access to higher echelons, sponsors or approving bodies,
• Gaining opportunities for advancement and development, or
• Simply rolling up their sleeves to pitch in when a deadline looms.

INNOVATION
Those who define Social Capital claim that it can influence innovation. How so?

It can provide an excited environment full of positivity, collaboration and willingness. It can also provide ‘casual collisions’, whereby unexpected encounters may connect diverse ideas. Roman Philosopher Seneca defined luck as what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Sports commentators can be heard to regularly say that great teams or sports people ‘create their own luck’, which probably means that they show a mixture of being more polished, less clumsy, displaying a commanding, professional presence and competence.

IMPACTING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
For the last 5 years, the Gallup organisation has found that the percentage of US employees who are unengaged has remained steady at 70%. This is despite concerted efforts by executives in those years to drive engagement higher than 30% in business.

Gallup defines an engaged employee as, “[They] are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work. Gallup’s extensive research shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization’s financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Engaged employees drive the innovation, growth and revenue that their companies need.”

Using this definition, we can surmise that 70% unengaged employees have low involvement, low enthusiasm and low commitment to the business and its profitability, and this effects its bottom line.

Clearly, something needs to be done about increasing staff engagement and involvement, and one way to impact this is have an active Social Capital building, through events, training and team building/team bonding activities.

HEALTH IMPACTS
Social Capital can also impact employee health, with positive benefits for those who have Social Capital and negative risks for those low in it or without it.

A 5 year study of 65,000 Finnish Public Servants ending in 2005 showed that men with low Social Capital had a 40-60% higher risk of chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to their peer males who had high Social Capital. They also had risks of an unhealthy lifestyle involving alcohol and obesity.

Interestingly, no association between workplace Social Capital and hypertension was found for women. Is this because of the natural inclination of women to socialise?

LEARNING
It turns out that happiness and learning are tied very closely together. Trying new things with your staff can generate good vibes among employees, which in turn benefits the business itself.

Positive or happy experiences activate the learning process. The ideal state of learning is called flow, when you lose yourself entirely in an activity. Flow happens when you’re so engaged in what you’re doing, that you lose track of time.

These are merely a sample of the positive outcomes available to business managers who choose to provide a positive culture and deliberately assist all staff to build Social Capital. Staff will call upon colleagues to gain access to resources that they would not otherwise have… and then reciprocate.

THE CHANGING NATURE OF WORK
In the past, we commuted to a workplace, committed to a single/or a few employers, knew work colleagues well for years and disconnected from work when we went home. Success was achieved via isolated effort through personal drive, ambition and competition.

According to Seth Godin (blogging and marketing genius), the old paradigm of a commute to rows of cubicles, with meetings behind closed doors, is all too expensive and slow. There is going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest. It will be a high-stress, high-speed, high-flexibility way of working, with your efforts auctioned off to the lowest bidder.

Futurists predict that billions will be connected by mobile services in the cloud, working flexibly, surrounded by digital bots, assistants and learning machines. Success will be achieved through the combination of mastery, to stand out from the ‘crowd’, and connectivity, leveraging what the ‘crowd’ brings. Therefore, having a deliberate strategy to build Social Capital is a strong means of growing and leveraging connections.

The Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship says that in a future increasingly defined by innovation (the capacity to combine and connect know-how), both competencies and networks will be key. It’s in this synthesis from the diverse members of the network that real innovative possibilities lie. So, whom you choose to connect with, and to whom they are connected, will be one of the defining aspects of future working life.

Workplace management, says Godin, will mean managing a tribe, creating a movement and operating in teams, sometimes in person, often online, dispersed throughout global time zones. Therefore, leaders will have to find new ways to help everyone feel like they ‘belong’.

SUMMARY
Social Capital will not disappear along with your dedicated workstation, but it will be ever evolving.

For some, building and using Social Capital is natural, but for many it is not. Deliberate interventions, such as team building activities, need to be undertaken… and repeated.

Consider these questions too. What happens to the networks when someone leaves the business? And, similarly, how does a new hire develop any relationships or break into existing networks?

Choosing regular activities that are unique and slightly outside of people’s comfort zones can encourage them to gel together for the first time or in new ways, building connections from which they can draw resources – Social Capital!

 

Will Your Business Exist Tomorrow

Business models have been changing so rapidly in the last few years. Every established business must have a reason to worry about their relevance in the future. The two things changing our world are – innovation and agility combined. As an individual or a business, are you proactive on these two things to not become irrelevant tomorrow? While people drive change, how can technology help you prepare for tomorrow regardless of our industry?

1. Innovate very quickly – product, vertical & business models

There is an explosion of talent and creativity that is being driven towards challenging & exciting startups as against the juggernaut businesses. There is a new excitement in the buyer and a change of buying behavior. Is your business innovating faster than your competition contextual to this buyer and talent? Are you innovating to create niche product differentiation, empowering your customer’s business and innovating your business model to stay ahead? Are you leveraging trends such as IOT, Digital, Smart, Analytics and User Experience in your execution plan – be it marketing, market perception or product?

2. Automate your Business Processes.

We are having so many dialogues recently with customers across verticals to get leaner, quicker and smarter while ensuring lower risk to business. While often perceived as a necessary evil, automating business processes has many advantages for the longevity and profitability of competitive businesses.

  • It improved employee workload balance and accountability
  • Ensures business risk and decision making is better controlled
  • Improves response times, thereby improving employee & customer satisfaction

The world has moved to driverless cars and robotics in surgeries. Thinking of automating your business processes against a competitive world of innovators, is not an option but essential. This comes in the form of portals, business process management, business applications, collaboration tools or analytics for starters. To start the journey and drive employee mindset is essential.

3. Multi-Channel Communications with Customers & Employees

Businesses not only need to improve the way they connect with customers to differentiate. They also need to improve the way they connect with employees beyond the announcement board or email. The modes of communication are spreading – portals, self-service, social, chat, contact centers and the list goes on. People time in transactions or interactions is coming down. Get emotionally intelligent using technology, capture behavior and take speedy action to improve satisfaction of customers and employees, alike.

4. Outsource what is not core to your business growth strategy.

I may sound like a broken tape recorder if I talk about why outsource. Hence, I shall focus on options to outsource.

  • Transformational Managed IT Services for over 30% customer satisfaction improvement. This can include management of data centers, networks, applications, and end users
  • Remote Proactive Monitoring Services typically cuts down 40-50% operating costs
  • Service Management and Process Consulting improve SLA’s and employee productivity
  • Cloud is a game changer in delivery models for infrastructure and applications. It helps businesses reduce large capital investments and improve predictability & agility
  • Contact centers for processes such as customer service, service management, order management, etc.

I have personally been engaged with multiple businesses recently since I took over the applications business within Intertec. All I can is that exciting times are ahead and our biggest challenge is the speed to adopt an ocean of opportunity.

Ways to Get a Creative Idea

Are you stuck in a creative rut? Do you need an idea – now – but nothing’s coming? Don’t worry, your creativity is still there. Your brain is just taking a little “creativity catnap.” Here are a few ways to wake it up again and get those creative juices flowing.

1. Read an article. [You: “About what?” Me: “About anything!” You: “Huh?” Me: “Stay with me; I’ll explain.”] Pick up a newspaper or a magazine. Turn to an article. Any article. It really doesn’t matter. Start reading-but with this question in the forefront of your mind: How does this article apply to my current situation? (And here we’re talking about the situation that you want some creative help with.) Here again, it doesn’t really matter what answers you come up with. The point of this little exercise is to force your brain into its natural creative space by making it come up with non-obvious connections. The purpose isn’t so much to come up with a great creative answer to the question; rather, it’s to wake your brain up from its catnap and put it back into its creative state.

2. Phone a friend. Sometimes a little conversational stimulation can shake things up just enough to get the creative ideas started. You can use this short chat (ten minutes is a good length to shoot for) as a mini-brainstorming session where you ask your friend for ideas (even if their ideas aren’t all that great, they may spark something inside you), or just talk about anything else. It’s an easy way of breaking the “I can’t come up with a creative idea” pattern that you’re in.

3. Take a walk. This is similar to number 2 up there. When you’re stuck in a creative rut, one of the best things you can do is take a 15-20 minute walk. Ideally, you’d take this walk outdoors in a natural, green setting (the color green has been shown to spur creativity), but really, almost any place will work. Taking a walk helps your creativity in two ways (and that’s in addition to the health benefits!). First, it gives you (and your brain) a change of location, which, again, is a great way of breaking a mental pattern. Second, as you’re walking, you’re pumping more oxygen into your brain. This is good. Brains like oxygen. When you feed your brain oxygen, it feeds you-ideas!

4. Travel through time and space. Okay, this one may sound a little weird, but a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that when a creative task is portrayed as originating from a far rather than close location (with regard to both time and/or place), people tend to come up with more creative responses. In other words, imagine solving your problem or coming up with your idea in Paris in 1910, or Hong Kong in 2050.

5. Pick up a pen. Step away from the computer and find yourself a pad of paper instead. Sometimes the physical act of writing by hand can stimulate the brain to start getting creative. Even if your handwriting is atrocious (as is mine!), there’s something about the sheer physicality of it that engages the brain in a different way than simply typing on a keyboard.

So there you have it! Five quick ways to get your creative juices flowing. Try one or try several. Your great idea awaits!

Real Secret to Coming Up With a Great Idea

Oh, to be the person who comes up with “the great idea”! Solar power! The artificial heart! Potato chips that stack in a can! Great ideas are everywhere, and yet they always seem to be the brainchild of somebody else. So how do you become one of those “somebodies”? How do you become the person who comes up with “the great idea”? Is there a secret to coming up with a great idea?

Yes, and here it is:

Come up with a lot of ideas.

The secret to coming up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas.

When I was the executive producer of Seattle’s hit comedy TV show Almost Live!, we had a regular segment called The Late Report. This segment was basically our version of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. It was a series of jokes about the week’s news. Each Late Report segment typically had eight jokes.

Depending on the staffing at the time, we might have anywhere from eight to ten writers on Almost Live!, each of whom submitted roughly twenty Late Report jokes each week. That means that on any given week, we had between 160 and 200 jokes to choose from.

And we chose eight.

Eight out of 200.

That means we only chose 4% of the jokes that were submitted, and I know this because I just checked the math on my iPhone calculator.

To put it another way, we rejected 96% of the jokes that were submitted. Cruel people might say that we had a 96% failure rate. And, technically, they’d be correct. 96% of the jokes that we wrote for The Late Report never made the cut.

But by having 200 jokes to choose from, it was a pretty sure bet that there’d be eight great ones in there. (These were all Emmy® Award winning comedy writers, after all.)

Now, imagine that on one particular week we had eight writers, and that each of them submitted only one joke. We’d have a total of eight jokes, which was the amount needed to fill a Late Report. But the odds that all eight would be great-despite the credentials of the writers-would be pretty slim.

When an Emmy® Award winning comedy writer writes twenty jokes, however, the odds of one of them being great are pretty good.

The secret to coming up with a great idea is to come up with a lot of ideas.

Are You Killing the Creativity in Your Business

Are You Killing the Creativity in Your Business“Creativity” is one of those things (like its close cousin “risk-taking”) that nearly all leaders love to hail, praise, and rhapsodize over. So why is actual creativity in the workplace so rare?

It’s because hailing, praising, and rhapsodizing are free and have no consequences. (Although, actually, they do; more on that later.) It’s kind of like hailing, praising, and rhapsodizing over the Paleo diet while finishing off that Big Mac. You might feel like you’re doing something good, but nothing really changes.

Although this analogy may seem extreme, it’s actually pretty apt. If you’re eating a Big Mac while espousing a Paleo diet, your actions are completely at odds with your words. (That is unless further research reveals that our proto-human ancestors dined on two primitive all-beef patties, primitive special sauce, some veggies and primitive cheese, all on a primitive triple-decker sesame seed bun.)

It all comes down to a basic and universal truth: talk is easy; execution is hard.

This is why so many leaders talk about the importance of creativity in the workplace while doing virtually nothing to actually support creativity in the workplace. Because talk is easy; execution is hard. But it’s the execution that actually changes things. It’s the execution that causes one business to achieve breakthrough results while another languishes.

If you, as a forward-thinking leader who truly understands the value of creativity, want to move from mere talk to actual execution, you need to first get rid of the obstacles to creativity. There may be many of these lurking in the shadows of your business, but you should first look for these three:

1. Your self. You, as the leader, have the potential to be the biggest catalyst for creativity within your team. But you also have the potential to be the biggest obstacle. If you jubilantly shout, “Let’s get more creative!” while at the same time saying…

“Don’t rock the boat.”

“Here’s why that won’t work… “

“The last time we tried something crazy like that, we got burned.”

“That probably won’t fly with the higher-ups.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” (And no, I don’t care that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs said this. It’s still wrong.)

… then you’re an obstacle. Either change or stop lying about how much you value creativity. Remember those consequences I talked about way up in paragraph 2? Among them is the very strong possibility that when you don’t back up your pro-creativity talk with pro-creativity action, you start to lose your most creative people. Because trust me, creative people don’t want to work with leaders like you.

2. Your systems. Every business needs systems. Systems streamline essential and everyday functions. Systems provide a critical sense of order. Systems ensure that payroll is met, that inventory is maintained and that vendors are vetted. Here’s the catch, though. While rigid systems work great for routine functions, creativity is not a routine function. Creativity doesn’t adhere to a 9-to-5 schedule. Creativity doesn’t thrive in a cubicle. Creativity doesn’t always wear a blue three-piece suit. So as a leader, identify the areas of your business where you want creativity to thrive, and then remove any non-essential systems that are getting in the way of that creativity.

3. Your space. Creativity is all about connecting dots. These dots can be people, places, things, ideas. That spark that happens when two dots collide? That’s creativity! And the more different the dots, the more creative the idea. Look at it this way. If two yellow dots collide, you’re going to get a creative-and yellow-idea. But if a yellow and a blue dot collide, you’re going to get a green A green idea, where there were no green dots. Now that’s creativity! [You: “Okay, you’ve kind of lost me with all of this dot talk.” Me: “Fair point. Let me bring it back to your world.”] If, for example, your marketing people only interact with other marketing people, they’ll get marketing people (i.e., “yellow”) ideas. But what if you throw a blue dot into the mix? Say, someone from accounting? Or someone from outside-maybe an actor, or a historian? Now you’ve got some interesting dots, with lots of interesting possibilities! What if, instead of just subscribing to industry magazines and journals, you have a few copies of Smithsonian, or Lapham’s Quarterly lying around? That’s a cool mix of dots, which could lead to some really cool ideas-ideas that the competition couldn’t possibly come up with, because they don’t have that particular mix of dots in their space.

Creativity is important. It’s what’s going to keep you in business, and ahead of the competition. And it’s your job, as a leader, to do more than just talk about it.

How To Keep A Sharp Focus On Your Best Ideas

Faced with an ever-increasing workload, a man talked to his accountant about stepping up from being a one-man work-at-home business to employing some staff. It would, he thought, ease the pressure.

The accountant, a money management expert par excellence, had other ideas, and was blunt in his reply. All he said was: “The next time you say that, I shall put you in a cupboard and beat you with a broom handle until you change your mind.”

The reasoning behind his brutal assessment of the proposal was simple. Not only was the extra work insufficient to support another employee long-term, but the business model was a poor fit. The business was home-based, and simply didn’t have the space for another employee, long or short term. What’s more, he hadn’t considered the expense management dimension, but had been looking from only a workload perspective.

Hiring staff for a spike in workload is always going to be a bad idea. It will solve short-term problems, but will bring with it new headaches of its own, starting with the recruitment process, and going on to all of the background commitment involved in employment law.

The more effective option

Far better, said the accountant, to seek the help of other self-employed people to help lift the short-term burden, which would have a dual benefit. Firstly, the pressure would be eased, and secondly, a channel would have opened for work to flow in the other direction, thereby making at least two companies more profitable with no extra legislative and HR burden.

And so it proved. But the same thinking is equally effective is sorting the wheat from the chaff for all business ideas. Every individual has ideas; the clever part is in which deserve to be called good, and which deserve to be ditched.

A further illustration of this is in the TV ‘reality’ show The Apprentice, where the sharing of an idea comes under intense scrutiny. Certainly the programmes are voyeuristic, and intended to be good television, but the principle holds true. What the candidate thought was a sound and solid foundation turns out to be anything but, through hyperbole or simply plain misunderstanding of the numbers.

Where to get a second opinion

Examining ideas through the prism of someone else’s perception makes you acutely aware of which are good, and should be followed up. But where to get the right kind of opinion? Don’t ask family members, by and large. Their view is likely to be skewed, because they’re family, for one thing. For another, they may well not have the right kind of business experience.

Accountants are good people to ask. These days the right one is much more than a number crunching expense manager, but will have lots of sound advice they’d be willing to share. It’s in their own interest, as well as yours, to see that your business succeeds.

And what to do next

And when you’ve got the advice and acted upon it, remember that measuring the success of your idea is vital. Never forget either that the reason you’re in business is to generate income to sustain your lifestyle, so make use of one of the money management apps in common use today. Naturally, we’d recommend you to use an intuitive expense manager app that will let you see where you’re spending, and to initiate controls if that’s what’s required.

A Business Case for Going Green

Looking into the near future, I see low energy prices. As of today, energy prices are remarkably low in fact. They have dropped so much that companies, whose sole business model is setting an example of how sustainability is achievable, are losing money at a rapid pace thus making the outlook for the Green Industry quite bleak.

What is the Green Industry you ask? It was a term coined by the United States Green Building Council to certify buildings that are built to perform at optimal levels both in terms of construction and energy consumption. This plays directly into carbon reduction from decreased emissions. These types of projects are referred to as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED. There is often a premium that is paid for a building to obtain a LEED certification, which is then subject to maintaining the building certification status with follow up commissioning to verify that the building performance hasn’t lagged from the original design. The premium for this service can be in the range of five figures with little guarantee of a return on investment.

Energy Star is another certification that functions on a slightly different level focusing solely on building performance based on energy consumption with a heavy emphasis on mechanical engineering and project savings. Both of LEED and Energy Star certifications are useful in their own ways, but often times include relatively new concepts that may not be perceived as safe investments.

The Green Industry relies on sustainable construction practices and clean energy technologies for overall success. More often than not, the Green Industry at its core is met with serious adversity. This adversity hinders the advancement of an entire industry that fundamentally wants to help people consume less and save more. The clean energy tech that needs to be incorporated for these projects to make sense is not usually an easy pitch to investors for a number of reasons.

Take solar power or wind for example. I like solar power because it’s a very practical and abundant resource. I believe there is a great market in wind generation also, but the fact remains that the performance of these technologies is sporadic.

Solar power is great during peak hours of electrical demand, typically in the afternoon, but occupancy during those hours can be very low. Another difficulty is when clouds come over head. This can immediately effect solar generation having a tremendous impact on the output. It would make sense to cover high rise buildings with solar panels to decrease heat gain, while improving building performance. The problem there is roof space in the city is often to small for solar to make sense.

Wind power meets barriers because of the nature of the technology. It’s difficult to deploy on a small scale because of local municipalities and the hindrance of neighboring views. Not to mention the first cost. One important question concerning wind power is when it’s most useful? From a business perspective, during times of high electrical demand to reduce the load on the grid and reap the rewards of off-peak electrical costs. Sounds great in theory, but the highest peak demand is during the afternoon hours of summer months when wind blows the least.

Energy Storage seems to be the holy grail of clean energy. Without out it, the industry continues to sputter. Energy storage could solve most of clean energy’s problems yet it’s almost impossible to get a CEO to sign off on a multi-million dollar project that won’t pay for itself.

Historically, and I’m talking within the past ten years, lithium is the go to resource to create batteries for clean energy. However interesting and useful lithium may seem, it also has major drawbacks including availability of raw material – there is a finite amount in the world, lifecycle, possible environmental hazards, weight, safety hazards in regard to building codes, and mostly first cost. Lithium batteries are a very expensive solution to fixing clean energy’s drawbacks. The more I research energy storage the more it makes sense, but if people are charging thousands of dollars per kilowatt then the market will never take it seriously.

Sodium Ion (salt water) batteries are promising. They’ve only been on the market for a few years, but their price points are a fraction of lithium. They are also lighter, have a decent warranty, and can store over 6 hours of useful energy.

If programs like demand response begin to spread then energy storage will make total sense. That way even if clean energy resources aren’t available, business owners could charge the batteries during off peak hours, to reduce grid demand during “events”.

Events are a term used by Demand Response companies to describe a time of peak usage where they need to cut consumption in order to reduce the strain on the grid. Demand Response companies offer investment opportunities for customers who are willing to shed loads during events. There are different tiers of Demand Response a customer can enter with a provider, but having energy storage available would reduce the chances of losing power to a valuable part of their building when they may need it most.

Clean energy fundamentalists won’t admit it, but natural gas is an ideal transitional fuel to take us to the next level. Looking at it from “a big four” perspective, you have: Nuclear, Coal, Foreign Oil, and Natural Gas. No one wants fallout from Nuclear, not to mention how the natural life of the waste outlives the containers. Mercury from Coal, and runoff from the mines are highly toxic. Wars for oil and a global economy that rely on the performance of such a volatile resource only leads to tragedy accompanied by the spread of fear. Then you have natural gas. Fracking is not ideal in many ways, but one could argue that natural gas is by far the lesser of the four evils. Its emissions are a fraction of the alternate fuels. It’s abundant in the US. We could adapt every vehicle to it, and natural gas is useful as a power source.

Utilizing natural gas for cogeneration is a great application and a nice way to transition into a decentralized approach to our energy infrastructure. If Homeland Security is worried about domestic threats to our power plants or transmission systems, taking a micro grid approach to the future of energy could be greatly beneficial in many ways. People who opt to install Cogen systems for their businesses can burn natural gas to create on-site electricity for their buildings plus reclaim the exhaust energy for heat, hot water or even cooling (trigeneration). A simple cogen system in a high rise residential building can cover up to 40% of the electrical load. So in times of power outages or demand response events, a cogen system will operate with a steady baseline to provide convenience power to a large chunk of the building. Cogen systems are typically between 70-80% efficient where grid power is maybe 30% at best. That’s a big deal, and when you factor in reduced utility rates and available incentive packages, cogen makes great sense.

MicroCHP is another natural gas burning technology that can help bring clean energy to the center stage. Just think of a cogen unit for homes or small businesses. Again, the problem is first cost. People balk at spending 4 times the cost of a boiler for a MicroCHP unit. Alternately, a MicroCHP unit will offer a nice payback and a source of on-site power generation to increase grid resiliency.

Risk and Reward Manager Profiles and Innovation Outcomes

One of the interesting challenges that managers face is the tension between expectations of senior leaders that managers minimize risks for their organizations while also motivating their direct reports to be more innovative. Finding a balance is no easy task, as managers consider the impact of decision-making on their reputation, job security, the impact decisions might have on their direct reports, and the short- and long-term impact of their decision-making on their organization.

Consider the following management profiles and the possible outcomes of these mindsets:

HIGH RISK AVOIDER – This manager defaults to the safest possible decision and encourages his or her direct reports to do the same. The manager will rely heavily on established policies and procedures and punish his or her employees who do not carefully follow these guidelines. This fosters a culture of risk avoidance in this unit. Employees that will thrive in this environment are those that like a predictable routine and are reassured by the presence of clear parameters for decision-making. This manager will likely push any risk up the chain of command rather than making a tough call himself or herself.

HIGH RISK TOLERATOR – This manager is very comfortable with risk and encourages his or her employees to test the boundaries of policies and procedures when a possible benefit can be seen for the company. This manager expects that his or her employees will fail and make mistakes and accepts this is the cost of doing business on the cutting edge. The manager will encourage employees to try new things and step outside of their comfort zones, rewarding them when they successfully innovate but avoid punishments that might stifle future innovation. Employees that will thrive in this environment are those that enjoy autonomy, are comfortable with change, and naturally look for new and better ways of doing things. This manager will likely assume responsibility for decision-making and look to upper management for the financial support and latitude to achieve innovative outcomes.

MODERATE RISK MANAGER – This manager is willing to take calculated risks and recognizes that he or she may forego major innovations when the potential for success seems slim. He or she will likely encourage employees to keep their eye out for opportunities and allow latitude for deviations from policy or process, but feel more comfortable if the employees discuss anything beyond minor risks with him or her before moving forward. This manager is likely to forgive minor missteps as a result of innovative activities, but large-scale mistakes would not be expected or accepted without repercussions. Employees that will thrive in this environment are those who appreciate the opportunity to be creative, but prefer to defer to managers when greater risks are apparent. This manager will likely involve upper management before taking action on riskier decisions in the same way he or she expects to be involved in these decisions with his or her direct reports.

It is important for managers to recognize that the way that they approach risk in their business unit and the value they place on innovation must be in alignment. A manager cannot expect to play it completely safe and also generate large-scale innovations. How employees are rewarded (and punished) influences the way that they approach problems and their willingness to try new things.

There is no “right” way, as each approach has its own benefits and drawbacks. High risk managers are probably not well suited for managing nuclear power plants. High risk avoiders are probably not well suited for working on Wall Street. A moderate approach is not a silver bullet compromise either. Small incremental changes may be great in a large bureaucracy, but equally harmful if the next great innovation would be missed because it appeared too risky on the surface.

What Does It Take for an Office to Be Innovative

Innovation and innovative ideas are among the most top agendas at this moment. This trend is forcing the companies to be more adaptive and acrobatic than ever before. Due to lack of innovation, many companies have fallen in the yesteryear’s especially from last five to six years. However, many companies have embraced this change and are finding themselves in a perfect position by creating an innovative environment in their offices.

INNOVATIVE SPACES

The innovative design & fit-out management of an office can surely contribute to its growth and development. It, however, can’t create a culture of innovation but can support the efforts and ideas for sure. Designing the office spaces in such a way that it encourages the potential of innovation that lies within it. Take an example of most innovative organizations in the world like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. They have the most innovative office in the world and each of them is designed in such a way that everything about their office reflects their uniqueness and innovations. Innovation flows through each department, team, its corridor and perhaps everything related to the office. Innovation is not an individual stuff but a team initiative that involves a large group of disciplines that come with their ideas and thoughts.

MAXIMIZING THE EFFORTS

The next thing that comes in mind is how to maximize the innovation goals in your company. You don’t need any rocket science to achieve this. All it needs is to be ingrained with the daily working process. Weekly or monthly workshops can surely help that connects the people of different departments across the organization to come together and produce the innovations that solve the organizations most challenging issues and problems. Such sessions are required to teach your team about the tools of innovation and how to deliver on these within the specified time limits. Such processes can turn your staff into more innovative and creative people besides will mark the beginning of the change in culture to a more innovative one.

INNOVATION IN CULTURE

Spaces and processes can support the innovation drive in your organization. But ultimately it is the culture of the office that defines how successful and far the efforts can go. The support and willingness from the staff are required to make it to a most innovative office. It is the team game, after all. Innovation comes with ideas, they may come in bulk or meager. Getting ideas is a part of innovation but how to make it a reality is a challenging task to do. To take the innovation from the idea to its execution, a diverse yet skillful team is needed.

Such team is a difficult task to gather. First you need an idea creator to mark the innovation, then a business expert and finally a marketing analyst that gets it done. It is rather difficult to gather all of them right, but a space that is designed in accordance with the proper fit-out management have a greater probability to succeed in the innovation efforts.

Is Money An Innovation Killer

If you think back to your youth, you’ll find innovation everywhere. Whether it was engineering a ramp to jump your little brother’s big wheel, how to get somewhere without a car or the thousands of innovative ways we convinced our parents that breaking curfew was justified by unseen, surreal circumstances. The great thing about youth is that it full of innovation, and in most cases the most creative things are done without money. Coincidence?

For business, innovation has always been an ooh aah word to throw around, however it has increasingly become a reality and for some companies, their hottest asset. In fact, it’s commanding even greater focus than before. In 2013, PWC performed a study to try and get to the bottom of innovation inside of businesses and it showed 93% of executives indicated that organic growth through innovation, will drive the greater proportion of their revenue growth. Not better sales, not strategic relationships — Innovation. It’s safe to say that nothing has changed since 2013 and innovation is sitting center stage, and everyone wants a piece of it.

The problem is that many companies don’t have the innovation DNA, so instead they pump money towards innovation, but this may not produce results. The same PWC report states that dedicating more funds to innovation will not automatically generate growth. Agreed, because the tools for innovation many times have nothing to do with capital (money), but instead, creative capital (fresh ideas).

Money Sometimes Kills The Innovation Mindset

We’ve started a lot of businesses in our time, and have seen and consulted with exponentially more. What you find is that the ones that are amazing innovators are not cash rich behemoths that are encumbered by their incumbency, but the small broke upstarts that are continually transforming models.

Why? Well, if you think about it from an upstarts hard wired, underfunded mindset, they don’t have a choice. They know they don’t have the money and they know they need to scrap for their share. It’s that lack of money that starts driving them to come up with innovative angles on common problems. So what does the world look like from a broke upstart?

It looks like a million colored pixels to cut the fat, find the holes, digitize the process, crunch the model, reduce the labor, kill the middleman and rise up so everyone sings your innovation praises – and you do all of that without a big budget which prompted the innovation in the first place.

More Innovation Came From Friendship Than Money

Yes, we can see how you might find this idea a bit confounding, but if you take a moment to analyze some of the most innovative companies you use every day, it’s clear to see that it started with friendship, and not money.

  1. Google – Idea came from two friends (Page and Brin) with no money
  2. Uber – Idea came from two friends (Camp and Kalanick) with no money
  3. Apple – Idea came from three friends (Jobs, Wozniak, and Wayne) with no money
  4. Microsoft – Idea came from two friends (Gates and Allen) with no money
  5. Facebook – Came from Zuckerberg, but let’s face it, he settled with the Winklevoss twins for $300 million for stealing the idea so you be the judge. Either way, it was him and two brothers (twins and safe to say they were probably friends) and just some money

Buying Innovation

Sure these companies listed above are still innovative, but what do you do when you’ve grown exponentially through innovation and have reached a point where the money has killed the one thing that got you there in the first place? You do what almost all the companies mentioned above do, you go out and buy it. You take the best of the best and bolt their innovation onto your model to make you better, stronger and hopefully more innovative overall.

To be clear, innovation can happen with money and without it, but it’s hard to argue with the reality of our everyday world, that a lack of money drives innovation. This is not to say that healthy capital given to a group of driven, innovative individuals can’t spur brilliance because capital always has its place, especially after the brilliant idea has been hatched.

For companies that do have plenty of funding and want to innovate, isolating an innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem within your company is probably your best bet. Entrepreneurial is the keyword here as that incredible, indescribable spirit is necessary for innovation. So, start squeezing the budgets, pull in the creative capital, isolate the team as if they’re sitting in your parent’s basement and start innovating.