Digital MagazineYear 2021

Innovation and the Art of Taking a Punch


As you have been told many times, change is bad, change is our enemy, change is the fly in our collective ointment.  And yet, change is our only constant.  Change is innovation.

chris tisdel – ruckus innovation

By Chris Tisdel – CEO of Ruckus Innovation Consulting, Austin, Texas

Read more of our magazine content: Enerkem and its new biofuel plant in Québec, Canada

Over the past ten years, I have worked with many organizations within the energy infrastructure industry that have been looking to innovate in one way or another.  These organizations are often very good at what they do, both from the perspective of expertise in their respective fields. From a financial perspective, they know how to generate value (or at least how they have developed value in the past). 

However, at some level or scale, they have reached that stage that Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, described as “this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success.” I sincerely believe that most of us can understand where Mark is coming from.  How on the nose is the use of the word “constipated?” It really paints a picture. 

Innovation and change: constants

In our corporate worlds, “big” typically equates with “cannot fail,” and an organization’s literal size is looked upon as a bulwark to change.  As you have been told many times, change is bad, change is our enemy, change is the fly in our collective ointment.  And yet, change is our only constant.  Change is innovation.

We get comfortable with the inefficiency, the incremental, the pursuit of what works versus excellence, and our titles and paychecks.  To that end, we create endless “plans” that typically justify or document our constipation.  The humorous nature of change does not care about your plans.

Remember the “Once and For All” fight in 1988 between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks?  If you recall, when interviewed about how he would take down his opponent, Spinks said, “I’ve got a plan.” When Tyson was interviewed with the same question, he famously replied, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth!” That fight lasted 91 seconds.  Sound familiar?  2020 ring a bell?  You are always in a fight, and the next punch is always on its way.

What start-up or scale-up innovation does the energy infrastructure community face in the near future?  Here are three innovation communities of their own that will advance, compliment, or disrupt the industry of energy, even if it takes slightly over 91 seconds to do so.

Innovation Culture:

Traditionally, at least from the perspective of Western culture, the “American Dream” led most of us to a find-success-and-maintain-that-success career path that intended to plant us squarely behind that white picket fence.  While that dream was incredibly motivating for many generations; unfortunately, that same mindset eventually led to a state of “rarely exceeds expectations.”

Based on the Gallup/Qualtrics “State of Workplace Report,” 51% of employees (across the org chart) simply meet but never exceed expectations; while an additional 17% are completely disengaged, day-to-day.  To sum up, 68% of us across the corporate landscape are either destroying or simply not creating value. 

The culture of innovation is one of failure born of risk-taking; collaboration, and an operating structure that values and promotes both.  A metric of 32% remaining that actually creates value is a losing proposition and ripe for disruption.


Several people see blockchain as “bitcoin,” and the latter term sounds extremely risky to all of us in this industry. However, people should consider blockchain as a digital or “smart” contract. Thus, one that allows for the automated escrow of value to drive liquidity and progress across all program and project lifecycles. 

Thing “one metric to rule them all” due to its high level of trust and audit capabilities.  If innovation culture is where value is born, blockchain is the foundational structure for how value is exchanged and realized.  While the typical scenario involves financial transactions; once our legal system catches up with this technology; any transaction can be incorporated, trusted. Finally, partially or fully executed or enforced without human interaction.

Advanced Manufacturing + Construction: 

While a collection of technologies and techniques has been developing for years; presenting itself more recently as modular construction within the energy infrastructure community; recent innovations in computing and robotics have set this trend on fire.  This community of innovations includes IoT, reality capture, digital modeling, robotics, and a host of other supporting technologies. 

However, the most powerful weapon in its arsenal may be generative design by artificial intelligence and automation. Therefore, allowing for thousands of simulated “failures.” Besides, leading to the few remainders that maximize value, return, and production.  If blockchain is how value is exchanged, advanced manufacturing and construction will be how and where it is tangible. 

Capital and budgeted operational assets as we know them will forever change by the new ways in which we can design, build, and manufacture them.

Technology: the only definition to innovation?

Innovation often equates with technology, but technology is an outcome, not a catalyst.  People are innovation, so as you look toward the future, keep one paradigm in the front of your organizational mindset; persons should be the first resort.

So, people will drive innovations that will impact the energy infrastructure community… you, me, all of us.  It is your mandate to innovate.  Surf the wave; do not be drowned by it.

Muhammad Ali once said, “Life is like a boxing match… Defeat is declared not when you fall, but when you refuse to stand again.” A culture of innovation based on immutable trust and executed through our most collaborative technologies and techniques; that will allow it to take any punch in the mouth and stand back up again. Moreover, with a bloody nose and a big smile no matter how much change comes your way.

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