The most recent United Nations climate conference, COP26, served as a stark reminder that time is running out in the ongoing effort to mitigate the climate crisis. As the global economy strives to rapidly shift to clean energy and sustainable technologies, collaboration and innovation will only become more critical.
At Wärtsilä, we have always valued collaboration and innovation, from helping to spearhead the dawn of diesel in the late 1800s to, in more recent years, developing increasingly sustainable power generation solutions and modelling optimal power systems to support decarbonisation. In 2020, the company was named one of the year’s top 10 global innovators by the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF) in Japan for its research into future fuels, particularly ammonia.
A single company, however, cannot solve the climate crisis alone
A single company, however, cannot solve the climate crisis alone. Meeting today’s daunting challenges will require more collaboration, innovation and openness than ever. The successful innovation of the future will require the insights of others. That’s why Wärtsilä established its Open Innovation Playbook, a guide for open collaboration with innovation partners. This kind of collaborative venturing is already in play at sites such as the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre in Singapore and Wärtsilä’s Smart Technology Hub in Vaasa, Finland. We see interesting recent projects resulting from collaboration, such as the Power-to-X demonstration unit, which creates synthetic fuel using the carbon dioxide from any indoor space. The unit was developed jointly by Wärtsilä and Finland-based start up companies Soletair Power and Q Power.
At Wärtsilä, we are constantly seeking ways to better support our customers, and our ability to identify promising technologies and incorporate them into our business is the secret behind our continuous growth. We’re now at the stage where we can invite partners to grow and rapidly scale with us by taking advantage of our global network.
To learn more about this new era of collaboration, I had a chat with Stefan Lindegaard, a Copenhagen-based author, speaker and strategic advisor with expertise in corporate venturing. In his work, Stefan focuses on corporate transformation based on leadership, employees and organisational structures. He has worked with companies in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and believes that business today requires an open, collaborative and global perspective.
Here is a streamlined transcript of our conversation:
Innovation, venturing and, in particular, collaboration has always been important for companies. But now the stakes are even higher as this is the key to not only solve many problems but also unlock a great business potential in the context of sustainability. We can only make this happen if we work together around innovation and venturing. Just look at the mobility sector, including automakers and the ecosystem around it. Well, you can look at most industries and see the growing focus on ecosystems. We also see that COVID-19 has forced everyone to rethink their response plans to sudden, global events and, in particular, the impact this has had on our global supply chains. This also touches into the collaboration elements of innovation and venturing.
Incumbents should be investing even more in innovation and venturing
Your question already captures the essence. It has to happen in partnerships, ecosystems. The only way forward to fully succeed with innovation and different types of venturing models is collaboration, and thus it becomes crucial that your organisation is open and collaborative. This has to become a core value for the organisation. But you also have to train people to become more collaborative. You can train and develop a mindset, as well as practical tools, on this fairly intangible topic. It requires some effort and preparation to make this happen, but it’s doable.
There is a lack of a common language and understanding at almost all companies as to what innovation and venturing really are. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about something, or to start certain activities around it if you don’t have alignment within your organisation on what it actually means. This needs to be addressed so that it can be taken further with a deliberate communication strategy for internal and external purposes.
There are many potential pitfalls, but there are also solutions to them that must be identified and addressed in your organisation. It’s important to focus on your specific challenges and opportunities. You can learn a lot from what other companies are doing or have done in the past, but there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions. Just know and address your issues with an inside-out view.
If I were you, I would build a strong networking culture in your organisation. This includes processes for external collaboration, as in how you seek out and work with requests in the context of innovation and venturing. And, of course, how to move forward with an ecosystem designed for several winners, not just your own company. A strong networking culture also requires that the leadership allows for training, as well as the time for the needed efforts. For you as an individual, there is a list of traits and characteristics that I like to share. I believe the items on this list promote strong innovation, venturing and collaboration:
The sum of all this is a mix of a mindset and more tangible skills, and I believe we need to help many individuals to get the right balance of focus when it comes to these elements.
Anja Frada is the Vice President of Strategy & Business Development at Wärtsilä Energy.