The process industry is often seen as rather conservative. From a safety perspective, this seems very reasonable – every change in a process may entrail unknown risks, and in the process industries the consequences may be severe. On the other hand, innovation requires the courage to make changes, while handling risk at the same time. In the run-up to Loss Prevention 2016, we spoke to Eckard Foltin, Foltin Future Consulting, about the dilemma of innovation.
The Germans are considered rather risk averse. In what ways might this hinder innovation?
Innovation begins with the destruction of existing established environments and new combination of technologies, processes, materials, …- that means that anyone who is affected, must leave his comfort zone and has to face new realities. Safety conscious people take this step very reluctantly, trying to maintain the status quo. The more changes causes the innovation, the higher the hurdle for implementation.
A typical example for a seeming trade-off between a disruptive innovation and established (at least imagined) safety are autonomous cars. The public discussion in Germany focuses mainly on the question of responsibilities in case of an accident. What would you recommend to the companies who are in charge?
Autonomous driving is not the pure substitution: driver by autopilot system – the entire system changes. All typical driving characteristics and control mechanisms work very well in machine – machine interface network. Autonomous driving is also an emotional decision. Car driving as a passion has nothing to do with traveling a distance from A to B with the daily routine. I am convinced that we could implement autonomous driving faster, if we use it in public life, such as autonomous transport media in airports, exhibition grounds, industry areas, …
Your lecture has the title “Companies in the tension between failure culture and security claim”. How much failure is tolerable for the sake of innovation?
The energy transition is a great opportunity to free ourselves from the complex nuclear energy, which is apparently safe only because we try to make the best prevention. We increase this safety measures further and increase the complexity. Switching to renewable energy provides room for innovation and eliminates high security issues. New solution potentials create change and require completely new risk assessments. If we embark on new terrain, then we must be able to learn from the mistakes – it’s in the implementation of innovations always about trial and error and iterative loops. A nuclear meltdown we can no longer accept.
How can companies provide a framework that leaves space for innovation, but ensures the necessary safety level at the same time?
This is possible by creating innovative spaces that are not subject to the everyday rituals of an industrial company – trial and error attempts are permitted – learning labs, which are taken seriously and their results will be evaluated with an adapted evaluation system.
What are the most important parameters in this equation – technology, communication with the public, responsibility structures…?
Innovation requires a holistic approach, because they happen at the interfaces. All stakeholders have an important role to be involved in due time. I think it is not the question of who are the key partners, but which technology will be when, where and with whom implemented as an innovation.
Interested to learn more? Then listen to Eckard Foltin’s plenary lecture at Loss Prevention 2016 – more at www.lp2016.eu