Innovation training goes blue!

A match on an app, falling in love with a problem, and ending up with something quite different to what you started with…? Not a rom-com plot, but exciting possibilities for innovative blue economy businesses in Aotearoa.

A recent pilot of applied innovation workshops, run by Creative HQ for Moananui, focused on the blue economy and particularly the blue economy principles from Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge research.  

Facilitator, Colm Kearney says, Creative HQ helps people build capability, connections, and the confidence to innovate and solve problems. 

The five-week, weekly workshops in Nelson, helped around 20 participants from different blue economy businesses learn specific innovation tools and techniques to overcome challenges, boost confidence in innovation, and understand how to apply the blue economy principles in practice.  

Participants also had chance to connect with other blue economy businesses. Ali Kennard, CEO of Pinpoint Earth (specialists in solar-powered tracking devices) says the workshop was an eye opener and great for meeting new people working with other Moananui companies and understanding what they do.

“It takes us out of our silos, and it brings us together and makes us look at the wider blue economy together and how can we collaborate to make the blue economy stronger for the whole of Nelson and New Zealand.”

Blue economy principles developed by Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge

“The group work was the most surprising because I wasn't expecting it, but it was also one of the most fulfilling parts, so it was a good surprise. Obviously, we're all working in different fields with our individual challenges, but when we look at the holistic GDP for the blue economy, if the GDP increases overall, we all win.”

Grant Wilson, General Manager of Pharmalink Extracts (experts in extracting high-value natural products) agrees. “I think the first benefit of the workshops was getting many different organisations in the blue economy together and some smart people in the same room. The diversity of thought and ideas, was incredibly useful too when considering the challenges that we need to think about to grow the blue economy sustainably.”

A laser focus on defining challenges

Both Grant and Ali said the focus on defining challenges rather than jumping to solutions was useful. Ali says their facilitator, Colm, said they were going to make sure we come away from this work falling in love with our problem and that we need to keep coming back to the problem.

Grant says this perspective was helpful. “The most important thing was, don't jump to solution mode. Really step back and understand more about the problem first.”

Another important factor for Grant was understanding bias and trying to be aware of that when defining a problem. “We make a lot of assumptions; you're going through these processes and then you're testing them. What you start with might not be what you end up with, your ideas are critiqued throughout the process by each other.”

This thinking is now captured on a whiteboard at Pinpoint Earth, says Ali. “Are we fixing the problem or getting fixated on a solution that could then drift away? We're inclined to jump to solutions, but we may not have properly defined the problem. Stepping back and being open to other suggestions, means you come up with a better solution.”

Tools fit for a challenge  

During the five weeks, groups focused on different problems or challenges, which they then tested with other participants and applied new tools too. Examples of challenges include how to get buy-in from communities for new aquaculture projects and how to raise investment to boost the overall GDP of the blue economy.

Facilitators led participants through each stage of addressing a challenge, using practical and adaptable tools says Ali. “At each step, you do your ‘build, measure, learn’ and then you come back to your problem and say, ‘well, are we still fixing this problem?'"

This is where an app idea to match investors with blue economy businesses comes in — a potential solution to a problem around bringing investment into New Zealand and building awareness of the blue economy.

“The tools that we used in the course are now tools that we’ll bring into our business as we move forward. I'm doing a strategy planning day next year and using some of the tools there as we look to plan 2024.

A structure and pace that works for all

Both Grant and Ali appreciated the structure and pace of the workshops. Grant says, “it was a great mix of discussion around the tools, some examples, and group activity. There were quick-fire self-directed exercises to come up with quick solutions, then consider the ideas as a group. That was great too because you got different perspectives that otherwise may have been lost.”

Ali agrees. “The way that they taught the course was so interactive and it was really well done that there was all the different activities. It wasn't just sit and listen, it was actually getting involved.

“The way it was structured over the five weeks was great because you have time there and then homework was set, and you had time to sit and reflect on that past week and then go back in energized the following week.”

Future workshops on the cards in more regions  

Moananui hopes to roll out more applied innovation workshops after this pilot and fine-tune them to more regions in future.  

Both Grant and Ali recommend these practical, innovative workshops that offer participants tools to develop blue economy businesses that are prosperous, accountable, regenerative, and inclusive — businesses that prioritise the health and wellbeing of the moana.

“The Team at Moananui are helping facilitate a really good thing and I'm optimistic that through this there are already better connections in business that didn't exist previously. I'm optimistic that there will be positive changes, not only here in our region, but around the country,” says Grant.

Ali adds, “I would recommend anybody to do it and to go in with an open mind and really use those tools because I think they can make a difference in any business as you go forward and, make sure that you're keeping agile and keeping yourself fresh”.  

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