Framing the Challenge. The problem with Challenge based Innovation

I was at an innovation conference for the rail industry here in the UK yesterday and the Chief Innovation Officer for Network Rail (the organisation that owns and maintains the rail infrastructure across the country) said (three times) “money for innovation isn’t a problem, we have plenty of money to innovate – more than we could probably give away. BUT don’t come to us with an idea. Listen first to our problems and then come to us with solutions”.

Their strategic priorities are very public and easy to understand; capacity, customer experience, carbon reduction, cost, safety and reliability.

Here’s the issue. Take the first of those strategic priorities – capacity, we all know that if you raise capacity, more people access it and it quickly fills up and you end up with a capacity issue again. The way to solve the capacity issue on the railway system at peak times therefore isn’t to create more capacity on the railways system at peak times, it’s to encourage more people to not travel at peak times – to disrupt the normal mode of work whereby we all travel into an office in a city at the same time.

Of course, that’s not in the remit of Network rail so I am not saying that they are wrong because they are in the business of moving people from A to B….but they are wrong. If we changed the way we work and made travelling the thing we need to do as the exception rather than the rule we’d all be better off.