‘Come up with crazy ideas .

En­ergy

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen) - - ENERGY -

“You have to try to build a cul­ture where peo­ple can feel safe to come up with crazy ideas. Stupid ideas are the best ones.”

The words of John Hunter, ad­vanced com­ple­tions di­rec­tor at Ten­deka in Aberdeen.

Days af­ter win­ning an award for in­no­va­tion at the Press and Journal Gold Awards, he looks slightly more at home lean­ing back in a chair at the en­gi­neer­ing firm’s flag­ship head­quar­ters in Westhill.

Dressed ca­su­ally in a T-shirt and trousers, he ad­mits he was “un­com­fort­able” wear­ing his din­ner jacket when at the awards bash.

Ap­ple pi­o­neer Steve Jobs fa­mously es­chewed for­mal at­tire later in life in favour of his turtle­neck and jeans and it’s not long be­fore Hunter drops his name into the con­ver­sa­tion, ref­er­enc­ing the late tech­nol­ogy tsar’s ten­dency to cherry pick other peo­ples’ good ideas.

Hunter said: “There’s only two things you need if you want your team to be in­no­va­tive. You need to have per­mis­sion to do it. And you need to feel safe.”

With that in mind, Hunter is lead­ing a quiet rev­o­lu­tion be­hind the doors of Van­guard House.

Ear­lier this year he took sev­eral em­ploy­ees, stripped away their ti­tles and put them in a room to­gether with a prob­lem.

Some time it­self.

The re­sul­tant Spark Club, named af­ter the premise of an idea be­ing ‘sparked’, is now a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence at the firm.

Hunter said: “It came from a num­ber of peo­ple leav­ing the busi­ness, who had ideas for some of the projects we’d had and the re­al­i­sa­tion that if we didn’t do some­thing we may not be able to de­velop our own prod­ucts in­ter­nally.

“We started the club to give ev­ery­one in the com­pany a chance to be in­volved in th­ese things. later, the so­lu­tion pre­sented

“We don’t need huge in­no­va­tive changes, we need lots of lit­tle ideas. They all turn into big things even­tu­ally.”

Work­ing pri­mar­ily in the down-hole com­ple­tion mar­ket, the chal­lenge fo­cused on how to de­velop bat­ter­ies that can make their de­vices last longer.

And by en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one from man­age­ment – who turned down the of­fer amid fear of sti­fling cre­ativ­ity – to health and safety staff to take part in the ses­sions, Hunter has man­aged to bring in fresh eyes to old prob­lems, with great suc­cess.

He said: “One of the is­sues that we will face, and the mar­ket will face, as we get more wire­less equip­ment down-hole and we move to­wards a dig­i­tal oil­field, is bat­ter­ies.

“Th­ese tech­nolo­gies all rely on the same bat­ter­ies and as the tem­per­a­ture rises they don’t last all that long. To get seven years out of a wire­less de­vice is quiet good and wells tend to last longer than that. “We threw that idea out there. “Lots of ideas, some re­ally sound. But two peo­ple, both non-tech­ni­cal, came up with the idea.”

The so­lu­tion, now a filed patent, was sim­ple enough once found. As all great ideas are, Hunter said.

“It will be a game-chang­ing prod­uct when it hits the mar­ket in a few years, fa­cil­i­tat­ing long-term wire­less com­ple­tions.”

Ten­deka is kick­ing off the re­search pro­gramme later this year which will fo­cus on mix­ing the bat­tery chem­i­cals down-hole as and when power is re­quired.

The next Spark Club ses­sion will fo­cus on ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy, and where it might be ap­plied out­side of its orig­i­nal pur­pose.

Hunter said: “So we’ve got this piece of cool kit but we think it has more uses. So we’ll throw that out there.

“They might come up with an idea, they might not. But they might come up with some­thing in a few months. Hope­fully th­ese things will stick in peo­ple’s minds.”

It’s all part of Ten­deka’s dig­i­tal vi­sion, born out of the dif­fi­cul­ties of the oil and gas down­turn.

Hunter said: “As a com­pany in the down­turn we ba­si­cally had two choices. One was to cut peo­ple and to cut costs. We have had to do that. The other one was look­ing at what we want to be as a busi­ness when the mar­ket picked up and lev­elled off. As a busi­ness we want to grow and de­velop.”

This in­volved pro­tect­ing and grow­ing the firm’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment depart­ment and bring­ing to­gether the tech­ni­cal teams un­der one roof at the new of­fice.

The re­sult is con­ver­sa­tions tak-

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