Innovate or Die

by Mark Konchar

Innovate or die. The adage made famous by Peter Drucker is clear. Short and to the point, we understand that innovation is imperative for success. For us at Balfour Beatty, it means we continuously seek better ways of doing things to deliver maximum value for our clients and teams. Our vision has long been “to differentiate ourselves so significantly that we change the industry.” That vision reeks of innovation! 

However, innovation cannot occur without first establishing a culture that lives and breathes the mindset of continuous improvement every day. To nurture a culture of innovation, there is nothing more important than developing and encouraging people to investigate new ideas, hack new solutions, and create better ways of working. The most innovative companies create environments that cultivate innovation rather than kill it.  

As part of this dynamic, some pitfalls must be avoided to maximize the impact of new ideas. For example, some believe that what has gotten us to this point is good enough to carry us forward into the future. This trap is triggered when people focus only on the ROI of a new idea rather than simply trying or piloting new ideas. An over-emphasis on short-term returns is the number one killer of creative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, and innovation. 

When companies become too focused on first trying to measure the financial return on their investments in innovation, they dramatically diminish or even kill their ability to differentiate, stay competitive, tap new markets, and maximize long-term growth opportunities for the future. 

The most successful companies know they can never become complacent when it comes to investing in new ideas and stoking the fires of innovation in their people. They know if they become complacent, the competition and new upstarts will continue pushing forward new ideas to disrupt the status quo, and will gradually take more and more of their market share. Particularly in a service business like ours, clients rightly expect that our service improves and creates unique value every year.  

When it comes to successfully driving innovation, it’s important to understand the behaviors required to spur new thinking and creativity. Companies that successfully innovate build, implement and communicate a process that supports innovation in a way that everyone can get involved and participate. In doing so, a process is created that ensures new ideas are nurtured and ultimately put into action.  

To achieve this at Balfour Beatty, we promote behaviors that drive innovation by creating a safe place for people to try new things, test ideas and manage associated risks without fear of failure. Promoting these behaviors and creating the right environment is crucial, helping us attract top talent, differentiate from the competition, and achieve increasing success. 

Four behaviors of highly effective innovation leaders at Balfour Beatty are:

  • Moving beyond the traditional way of doing things, pushing past the status quo and always looking for opportunities to innovate in ways that will benefit the company;

  • Continuously find and champion the best creative ideas, taking an active role to help implement them;

  • Build excitement in others to explore creative ideas and solutions, finding opportunities for others to try new ideas and innovations;

  • Continuously assess the industry potential and business cases for innovative ideas.

In our industry, the most complex projects naturally turbocharge innovation in amazing ways that ultimately deliver valuable lessons and immense value for all our teams. On one such project for a global theme park resort operator, the project team was tasked with bringing to life an epic science fiction film concept in the form of a resort with rides, movie elements, and support facilities. 

Using an integrated project delivery (IPD) approach, the project team had to find ways to bring fantasy-world elements from the movie, such as floating mountains, into reality. Faced with the inevitable challenges of delivering a large-scale resort inspired by a computer-generated world, innovation was the norm in the project trailer. 

In constructing some of the most complex aspects of this unique project, the team was faced with erecting a jigsaw puzzle of 15,000 pieces of steel, 2.5 million pounds of concrete and 30 miles of full penetration weld passes to form the floating mountains. With 2.5 million pounds of concrete being applied to the steel structure, significant emphasis was placed on ensuring structural performance during construction. 

In the end, the integrated team’s innovation leveraging new technologies and virtual design and construction (VDC) strategies accelerated the overall process. As a result, the structural engineers could evaluate the structure’s performance up to three times faster with 100 percent more precision than traditional methods.  

Because of the innovations achieved by this project team, we were able to document the lessons learned and share them with Balfour Beatty teams around the world. In doing so, the new innovative processes were available to be applied to all our projects and for all our clients. 

Never to be satisfied with the status quo, the innovation culture continues seeking new and better ways, always improving. Not a shiny object or a pretty flower, the innovation culture is the weed that grows prolifically throughout the company. 

So, ask yourself, do your behaviors reek of innovation as much as our vision does?