This month I have completed an interesting MBA subject in the field of innovation leadership. A week-long intensive covered traditional Innovation topics such as itellectual property, research and development as well as less obvious strands of innovation including process innovation.
A challenge for me in undertaking this MBA was to learn how to apply the content of my courses to an electricity distributor operating in a highly regulated environment, ie where are the sources of innovation for my company and how can we be innovative?
Previously, I would have listed Google, Apple, 3M and other technology-ased companies as the best examples of companies using innovation to build business. Whilst I still have this view, my mind has now been opened to the idea that innovation can also apply to other organisations such as fast-food restaurants, architectural firms and trampoline manufacturers.
As with most businesses, there are often things they do very well and other parts that require attention to ensure the company continues to operate successfully. Businesses that are able to be competitive in several areas generally outperform their competitors which highlights the importance of looking at innovation as a source of competitive advantage. Importantly, innovation is not exclusively linked to the research and development department in the form of new technology products for customers to buy. Innovation strategies may involve minimising product lead times, or creating new manufacturing processes to reduce defects or encourage recycling.
During the innovation course I reflected on the areas my organisation excels at as well as areas of improvement. Electricity distribution is not an industry that has benefited from vast surges in technology innovation such as the telecommunications industry. As a result, I believe sources of innovation in my industry will most likely be in the form of process improvements. Drawing on strategies implemented by other network and construction businesses, it is clear there are innovative ideas which will aid us in creating a sustainable competitive advantage over our competitors.
Additionally, as my organisation is based in Queensland, Australia, we are well placed to be a source of innovation for other electricity distributors throughout the world. This is largely due to having the highest per capita levels of Solar PV and knowledge in managing a modern network with high levels of micro-generation that few other electricity distributors have experienced.
Understanding the importance of creating innovation strategies within an organisation is a direct outcome of the MBA. In all, this course has allowed me to look for innovative ideas in places that I previously may not have considered. Furthermore, this course has equipped me with the tools and knowledge to identify sources of innovation within my company that can be used later as a source of competitive advantage.
Mba and board seats
Recently I was accepted into a board position of a prominent not-for-profit organisation in Brisbane. The organisation provides services to cancer patients throughout the state of Queensland and it has been an incredible opportunity to apply many of the skills developed during my MBA.
At my first board meeting I felt pressure to perform like a seasoned business leader and provide input into conversations regarding the operations of the charity. My fellow board members are incredible people and are very generous with their time. I am fortunate to have their support for my learning and growth that, along with key skills that I have learnt in the MBA, is allowing me to be a more productive board member.
The ability to analyse data using standard business tools has been a very valuable skill. The organisation has good data management and record keeping however I felt there was a need to delve further into the data and understand areas of growth for the organisation. I feel that over time, the organisation will be able to make strategic decisions with supported data that will ensure the success of the charity into the future.
Another area of the MBA that has assisted me in this new challenge is the ability to analyse proposals and determine if they fit within the core strategic direction of the organisation. Like all companies, proposals from third parties are part of doing business and assist in allowing us to keep our finger on the pulse in our industry. Careful consideration is needed to determine if third party proposals support the organisation in meeting its strategic goal or if it poses the risk of drifting us off course. Through subjects such as operations design, studying an MBA has given me the skills to effectively evaluate proposals for the charity in detail and contribute to board conversations.
An important part of being on a board is also to keep the interests of the charity in the community’s minds by networking at functions. Whilst there is no subject for networking, the university does host many networking events that assist in breaking down apprehensions regarding public speaking. These events along with a deliberate strategy by the university to ensure diversity exists in classes, has added to my networking skills as well as grown my network of friends and contacts.
Overall, my generous and hardworking fellow board members have greatly assisted me to be an effective board member. The central foundation provided by the MBA has allowed me to build on these skills with experience and for that I am very thankful. As I have written about many times, the MBA is great at providing a starting point for future experiences to be built upon and in this example it couldn’t be more right.