Russ Conser: It’s the social interactions between people that make or break innovation.
Russ Conser of Shell manages a program called GameChanger, which sponsors entrepreneurs outside the company to work on new ways to produce and distribute energy.
Russ Conser: The basic idea of GameChanger is to create a safe place for crazy ideas to get a start. GameChanger was created with the idea that we needed to have a separate place where people who were looking longer-term at totally different solutions to problems could get ideas started, and then at some point later we can take the position of whether to grow them.
Conser gave an example – the problem how to transport natural gas. The International Energy Agency forecasts that by the year 2030, twenty-three percent of the world’s energy will come from natural gas. Some of the largest reserves in the world lie offshore. That gas is transported by pipeline to coastal plants, which chill the gas into a liquid for transport. In October 2009, Shell announced the development of its 100%-equity Prelude and Concerto gas discoveries offshore Western Australia, using FLNG technology and on 8 March 2010 Shell signed the Prelude FEED agreements with Technip and Samsung.
Russ Conser: GameChanger was used to create the space that said we could take a liquified natural gas plant, LNG, and put it on a large ship, and call it floating LNG, or FLNG. So instead of having to build large plants on land, carrying pipelines from offshore that would liquify gas and go onto big tankers, we could put the essential elements of this process on a ship out in the ocean, near the gas, liquify it, and then ship around the world. We’ve just announced our second project utilizing that technology, off the coast of Australia.
Shell’s GameChanger program, said Conser, is in some ways like California’s Silicon Valley.
Russ Conser: It was modeled after the idea of what would it look like to bring Silicon Valley and the dynamics that happen there, and the venture capital space, inside a corporation. It’s creating a process where managers, through a very hierarchical process, allocate capital to ideas that that they’ve already decided are attractive. It’s a place where anyone, anywhere, anytime can come up with an idea and bring it forward and propose it for investment. It’s a place to give people enough funds and resources and guidance and coaching to help them do the early stage experiments and justifications to show that their idea actually has merit.
The interactions between people inside and outside the company, said Conser, are the key to creating innovation.
Russ Conser: The social interactions between people make or break innovation, at least in this crazy idea, or radical or revolutionary type space we operate in. We use the term ‘orthodoxies.’ The idea is that most often, the barrier that keeps us from considering coming up with solutions that don’t need pipelines are simply the mental models that we have in our head as to what the solution should look like. We tend to frame problems and potential solutions in the way they’re expressed today, not in terms of how they could be done differently in the future. Usually what happens is that an inventor or innovator has had some ‘aha’ moment, usually connecting two ideas that weren’t previously connected. The challenge of breakthrough innovation is, very often, there is the functional challenge of doing the real technical work – engineering work, scientific laboratory experimental work. But the real hard part of GameChanger is working with other people to help them see the benefits of breaking historical orthodoxy and looking at the problem differently.
To find out more about the GameChanger program, or to submit an idea, go to Are you a gamechanger?
Our thanks today to Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.
Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.