Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of consciousness that created it.”
One of the biggest issues with solving new or intractable problems is that solutions cannot be directly drawn from past experiences. Such is the hurdle faced by participants in the Electricity Innovation Lab (e-Lab), who gathered in Tabernash, Colorado last week for the second e-Lab meeting of the year; they are seeking to reimagine and redesign the nation’s more-than-century-old electricity system.
Their work centers on building shared insight and a commitment to shared action among people who are—in ways—unlikely allies. Any process with a hope of meaningful impact has to build new capacities in individuals, teams, and the overall system. Enter e-Lab’s Learning Journeys.
The most important new source of competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing electricity sector is not technology or market position, it’s the ability of innovators to work efficiently and effectively in complex multi-stakeholder environments. Shifting the electricity sector will require engagement and innovation across traditional institutional boundaries.
Facilitated Learning Journeys—a key element of each e-Lab meeting—are an opportunity for participants to expand their thinking about the current situation. The primary difference between an ordinary field trip and a Learning Journey are the conversations that take place between the hosts and the visitors and those between the visitors themselves.
Here’s a glimpse of a few of the innovative individuals and organizations e-Lab participants visited last week:
Based in Boulder, Simple Energy is focused on “gamifying” customer power consumption; Simple Energy works with electric utilities to develop user-engagement tools to boost clients' participation in conservation and efficiency programs. A 2011 TechStars graduate, the company leverages email, social media, and mobile networks to engage customers and deliver measurable and verifiable energy efficiency, demand side management, and smart grid results through innovative behavioral science techniques.
Over the past 35 years, Clinica Campesina has grown from a single facility with two medical providers to a nationally renowned health service organization with five locations and over 60 health-care professionals serving nearly 42,000 low-income patients every year.
The e-Lab team learned how the clinic—forced by necessity to innovate more efficient ways to deliver high-quality, low-cost care—revamped its physical clinic space into color-coded “pods,” clinical teams built around the patient, not on age or malady. The pods allow clinicians to efficiently provide more care to more patients, and patients see the same group of clinicians at each visit, making the clinic feel as small and personal as possible for each patient. The clinic also uses electronic records, so that physicians can easily access and share patient data in real time through a secure Internet portal.
The Anythink Libraries System in Adams County was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2006 when it made the decision to re-evaluate its business model, seeing a large disconnect between the services offered and the services demanded. People wanted the libraries to serve as a community-gathering place with public access to computers and online resources, not as a silent book repository. By responding to changing customer demand, the Anythink Library system not only avoided bankruptcy, but also became a national model for libraries across the country.
The revamping process centered around three things: culture, customer experience, and branding. The team learned that by embracing a simple set of goals to innovate a compelling image of what a library can be, and what a librarian does, it opened the door to an amazing transformation.
Grammy-nominated Art Lande is considered one of the premiere improvisational jazz musicians today. Based in Boulder, Lande’s motto is to focus on the outcome, not the journey, with self-awareness as the best starting point. By bringing a totally open mind to the process of creating music, Lande and his bandmates empty themselves of preconceived notions, feel the presence of their collaborators, and play different roles in the group at different moments.
The experience helped e-Lab members see how disparate parts can fit together and create something new—in much the same way the group is working together to identify, test, and spread practical innovations to transform the U.S. electricity system towards efficiency, renewables, and distributed resources.
The Learning Journeys left the e-Lab group inspired for two days of the second e-Lab session, where collaboration, creative energy, and idea innovation paved the way for what may eventually become the transformation of the U.S. electricity system.