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Interview with Emma Cole: Innovation Manager at SA Power Networks

Posted 4 years ago

Impact Innovation’s series of interviews exploring the habits, traits, inspirations and ambitions of leading innovation professionals.

This month we caught up with Emma Cole, Innovation Manager at SA Power Networks. Emma shared how she pitched for her current role before it even existed; her passion for sustainable innovation and a quote from Michael Jordon that has helped her develop resilience in the face of setbacks.

What’s your background and how did you find your way to your current role?  

I worked in IT Commercial roles most of my life.  I always had a creative mindset and felt it was underutilised at work.  After completing an Innovation and Entrepreneurship module as part of my Graduate Certificate, I knew it was a part of the business where I could bring value. I took a leap of faith and pitched to my current leader that I should be in a role focused on innovation. Luckily, she agreed. Thanks to her support, I took the opportunity and never looked back.

What time do you get up in the morning? Do you have a regular morning routine?

I wake up most mornings without an alarm. The first thing I always do is walk my dog Rocky. (Rocky is a rescue dog – a Kelpie cross)

What is your approach when a project gets stuck or delayed?

I use design thinking techniques to generate creative solutions.  To help stimulate creative thinking in a recent design sprint, we first sketched out ‘undesirable’ outcomes.  Doing this allowed the team to have fun and approach the problem from a different angle before focusing on the real task in hand.

What program or software would you be lost without at work?

The camera on my phone. I love capturing images of what our team has accomplished and celebrating the successes using photos and video clips.  Images are a powerful tool when telling stories, and stories are vital for my day to day role as they help bring people on the innovation journey.

What book, resource or app has recently changed your life?

I love watching a good Ted Talk. One of my favourites is Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian talking about Imposter Syndrome (view it here).  Innovation leaders are constantly navigating the unknown. Learning to think about the potential growth opportunities rather than just the risks is a powerful habit.

Has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? What did you learn?

No-one likes to fail, and I have failed a lot in the past.  But I have tried to change my mindset from failing to learning. I had a great coach who said working through a failure builds your personal and professional resilience.  Each failure teaches you to rebuild more quickly and easily next time.  All the highly regarded CEO’s we admire have failed many times, but how they learnt from each failure is what makes them such effective leaders today.

A quote I often think of is, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

What is your biggest challenge currently?

SA Power Networks is entering a significant and exciting period as our State transitions to a net-100% energy future. South Australia is at the forefront with rapid advancements of new technology (DER, VPPs, AR etc) to meet changes in customer expectations. Our network, which is the oldest in Australia is central to making all this work. For these challenges to be met and for SAPN and all is stakeholders to thrive, new ways of thinking, rapid experimentation and a digitally enabled workforce will be required. Innovation will truly need to be in the DNA of our entire workforce, challenging the status quo.

What behaviour or habit has most improved your life?

Walking.  Walking at the end of the day helps with mindfulness, allows me to explore nature, and keeps me healthy.

How do you stay up to date on industry trends and news?

Like everyone else, my time is precious, and I seek different ways to stay in touch with the world that I can work around my schedule.  I will often watch short YouTube videos or TED talks, or listen to a podcast in the car. Anything that is quick and visual. I also rely on a great network of peers locally and across the globe to share new things that they have found.

How has COVID-19 changed the way you work?

It’s allowed me to connect much further afield.  I recently hosted a design sprint as part of an Innovation Festival in the UK, which previously would never have been accessible.  Opening up this type of engagement to our team and expanding their network and innovation thought process has been a great opportunity.

Our organisation has also evolved digitally in such a short space of time.  Working in an organisation with geographically dispersed teams, the swift uptake of technology required to maintain engagement and connection has been very heartening to watch.

What do you love most about working in innovation?

I love that innovation can take so many forms. On an organisational level, it can have a hugely positive impact on company culture, and it can motivate people to recognise the value of their skills and their role in the team or organisation. On a wider macro level, innovation plays an increasingly vital role in the evolution of our community and environment.  It’s a driving force in the war on plastics and in the world’s growing renewable energy market.  I think it’s fantastic to see innovation helping our planet, and I can’t wait to see where that innovation takes us in five or ten years’ time.

If you’d like to connect with Emma, you can find her on Linkedin.