Guest Column | November 18, 2016

WWEMA Window: Unleash The Entrepreneurial Spirit — Answer The Call To Innovation

Innovations

By Tammy Bernier

Forbes Magazine got it right in 2012, when they considered the true meaning of the word “entrepreneur”:

“Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need — any need — and fill it. It’s a primordial urge, independent of product, service, industry or market” (Nelson, 2012).

Don’t be deceived by the word entrepreneur, which is normally associated with for-profit business. I know firsthand that entrepreneurship is defined less by the organization and more by its members’ way of thinking. An entrepreneur sees beyond what’s been thought possible, identifies the unmet need, and shares the call for change. Some current examples:

Leak Detection

Consider the recent startup Utilis, which finds leaking pipes from space using technology previously utilized to search for water on other planets. With only 40 percent of treated water reaching consumers, this is an invaluable use of innovation.

Funding And Cost Control

Consider Governor Snyder of Michigan, who incentivized municipalities with funding for any project that would create efficiencies and budget reductions among multiple communities.

Structured Research & Development

Consider the Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (DC WASA), which created a structure for R&D as an active part of their organization, working with technology platforms to bring new innovations to wastewater.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

The most commonly held misconception of entrepreneurial thinking demands that our entrepreneurs be born under a special star; people hold the entrepreneurial spirit as an inborn (and rarely bestowed) gift.

This isn’t so. While this spirit may be more easily accessed in some than others, it is within each of us to find our own innovative way of thinking through actions available to all. Consider:

  • Wonder. Cultivate curiosity in your team. Openly explore how they might solve a problem. Look across other industries; utilize brown bag sessions. How might it be done better? Differently?
  • Passion. Get the people on your team aligned with their passions. Maybe you have a member who is great with details; another is incredibly organized. Let them offer their best stuff! Aligning with our strengths and passions is a multiplier for our organizations. Terry Duperon, founder of Duperon Corporation, often says it best: “Success has nothing to do with what you’re not.” Capitalize on what the people in your team are and watch them create their very best.
  • Purpose. People rise to a purpose greater than themselves. In water, this is a no-brainer. We have important work to do. Our industry is now, and will continue to be, challenged by emerging concerns: pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, etc. Aligning to one purpose calls us to the work that demands our best.
  • Opportunity. Let every breakdown, unmet need, emerging regulation, budget, or resource constraint drive the creative process. In allowing ourselves to view these obstacles as opportunities, each becomes potential for better outcomes and, before we know it, invention and innovation. If there must be a crisis, make it useful!
  • Execute. A great idea is just a dream until it is executed. Act on your ideas. Be willing to act on your ideas, even if you don’t know the precise way it will go; action on its own creates the path.

We live in a world of an amazing, incredible rate of change. The resources of the human mind, tools of artificial intelligence, smart technology, the vast catalogue of knowledge that is the internet… all provide faster, more reliable answers to the problems of today. But this same rate of change will continue to challenge the human spirit as never before, presenting future problems and solutions that, today, we cannot yet conceive.

It is critical that we be relentless in our pursuit of the entrepreneurial spirit in service of innovation. I am grateful to have served as chair of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA), which advocates, informs, and connects us to the thought leaders who have accepted this challenge.

As I pass the gavel, I am confident that we have the resources and tools necessary to meet the needs of our industry within ourselves. We have the power to meet the challenges, and the innovation to create solutions newly. It is clear to me that we have the capacity.

The question: Are we — and our organizations — ready?

Tammy Bernier is chief executive officer of the Duperon Corporation, Saginaw, MI. She served as the 2016 chair of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA).

Image credit: "Innovation chalkboard," Missy Schmidt © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/