What makes a utility innovative?

A new idea can come from anywhere, but the right environment nurtures ideas into practice. Utilities can foster a culture of innovation in many ways. Here are some considerations.

  • How are problems (and thereby potential solutions) identified?
  • Do employees across the organization have opportunities to give input?
  • Is testing of new ideas/processes encouraged?
  • How do you get – and analyze – qualitative feedback from customers and other stakeholders?
  • Are new ideas allowed to flourish and fail?
  • Is the utility comfortable taking chances when success isn’t assured?
  • How are results of any pilot programs or projects shared?
  • How do you learn from missteps?
  • Does your utility collaborate – or have the potential to collaborate – with other community groups? With national R&D networks?
  • What opportunities are there for employees to learn from people outside the utility?

From idea to adoption

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory describes what it takes for an innovation to be adopted. The theory posits that the rate at which an innovation is adopted depends on how potential adopters perceive the following five characteristics:

Relative advantage

Is the new idea considered better?


Is the innovation consistent with norms, values, and past experiences?


How much effort does it take to understand/adopt/implement?


Can it be tested on a limited basis?


Are results easily seen?


Infographic of questions to consider as what makes a utility innovative