This blog is based on prior posts written when at GreenTouch. A summary of the GreenTouch results can be viewed at https://youtu.be/v2utCi_i2CQ .
The start. When Bell Labs launched the GreenTouch consortium there was a lot of skepticism in the air. Setting up an initiative that will improve energy efficiency in communication networks by a factor of a 1,000? Creating a platform where all stakeholders of the communications industry and academia will work together, where even competitors will jointly research new technologies or architectures? And in the same effort making the blueprints for better products? Well, we proved the skeptics wrong – we did it (and even over-achieved)! So what was the recipe? Nothing magic about it – it was all about a lot of hard work, but even more importantly setting the right goal, building the right team and creating the right mindset from the start.
Setting the right goal. When you want to rally multiple parties around a goal, you have to set yourself a realistic but bold and ambitious goal. We didn’t go for improving energy efficiency by a factor of 10 or 100, we went for an ambitious 1,000. Kennedy went for a man on the moon, Musk went for aesthetically appealing, long range and high performance electric vehicles, we went for reducing energy consumption in communication networks big time whilst supporting a tremendous traffic increase – in other terms support more traffic with less energy (and therefore improving energy efficiency).
Set a timeframe. And here is another critical element in your goal setting: if you give a bold goal towards researchers and engineers in particular, they might research forever – not because they are slow or won’t find a solution but rather because they want to be ‘perfect’ solving this hard problem. So set yourself an ambitious goal within a specific timeframe – in the same way as Kennedy said he would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Building the right team. In a broad technology field you want the right expertise where you need it. Having diversity and multi-disciplinarity in your team is a must: it brings various perspectives in the brainstorms, the research and the innovations. We also pushed that through the leadership lines of GreenTouch: be it in the executive board, the working groups, and also the projects leaders. Throughout our governance we had experts and leaders from all over the world – they each brought their views and (cultural) perspectives on how to approach a problem, how to present and defend a solution, how to find additional resources to accelerate the research, and how to present results.
Go beyond your company goal. GreenTouch’s goal also had an environmental and societal aspect to it: improving energy efficiency, or reducing energy consumption is better for the planet – in the same way as taking cars off the road, or taking coal fired plants off the grid. But it was even more than that: more efficient network equipment allowed to using renewable energy sources to fuel communication equipment, and in the developing world this meant connecting the next billion people! That is what I call impact on society. We elevated our goal above and beyond your typical personal, company, industry or research consortium goals – it became a societal goal!
Creating the right mindset. Having sustainability goals part of the purpose of your company, and a clear messaging from the leadership and the CEO in particular, is essential to set the correct mindset within your company and partners. Additionally, enlarging the scope of your initiative beyond and above your own company’s to include broader societal and environmental goals forms a tremendous cocktail that boosts the motivation and morale of employees and catapults your company forward.