Are we keeping the ingenuity in our engineering?

There is a real need to challenge some of the misconceptions around innovation in the industry says David Spencer

Clients often hear suppliers talk a ‘good game’ around innovation but are we really experiencing results on the scale of our collective ‘spin’? There are surely significant opportunities for genuinely innovative suppliers to capitalise on this. 

Innovation is one of those buzz words we hear a lot in business.  It seems to be used to describe anything from ad-hoc improvements to radical change – and almost everything in between – but what does it really mean when we claim to be innovative, are we paying lip service to the concept or really making a valuable contribution to moving our industry forward? Let us also remember that our industry, being engineering orientated, has innovation in its very origin, ‘ingenuity’.

Semantics aside, there seems to be number of misconceptions about innovation that make fundamental differences in performance for support and construction service businesses.

There is sometimes a perception that innovation happens in a ‘Eureka!’ moment that hits you when you’re least expecting it or, alternatively that a particular person or team, have the sole responsibility for innovation. Worse again perhaps is the association of innovation with undue risk and the fear of failure that engenders. But perhaps one of the most concerning misconceptions about innovation is when it is overly focussed on finding cheaper ways of working.  

The truth of course, is that innovation must be about finding better, ingenious ways of doing things and in our predominantly service orientated industry, has to be something that is continually worked at, nurtured and cultivated, throughout our organisations. Some of the UK’s most forward-thinking businesses give all their employees time for ingenuity, and why at Amey, we have events like The Den, to empower all our people to develop better solutions to everyday challenges, without any fear of ‘failure’.

There are some good examples out there of businesses that have been on the brink of failure and have achieved great things by taking a fresh and sustained approach to innovation. Lego is perhaps one I could mention from outside our sector, but in our own, Amey’s entire business has been transformed as a result of years of continual innovation and ingenuity; starting out as a local quarrying business nearly 100 years ago, to being one of the largest and most diverse infrastructure support services organisations in the UK today. But our success wouldn’t have been possible without building a culture of innovation – or indeed, without experiencing some of the ‘failures’ that go hand-in-hand with trying something new.  

The point is that, whatever innovation means to your business, it should be focused on improving what you do, delivering tangible benefits to your customers and viewed as a truly sustainable path to growth and progress.  

Let’s make sure we keep the ingenuity in our engineering.

David Spencer is consulting managing director at Amey.


Thanks for sharing this, David, very insightful and I recommend anyone interested in innovation to read it. I'd add that innovating business models alongside the technology is not easy, since it also involves the end customer