Guest Editorial: Innovation - A Word We Throw Around
- Brad Baker (Tendeka)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- September 2018
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 12 - 13
- 2018. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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“We are the innovation leaders.” “We are increasing spend on innovation.” “Hey, you’re innovative.”
In our industry, positive advancements turn to unquestioned trends, which are then embraced with a buzzword. Has “innovation” become the latest sales jargon where its true meaning and application have become convoluted?
As a reader of JPT, you will no doubt be dazzled by the latest technology developments and self-proposed innovations, for example, in completions, drilling, and petroleum engineering. But how many are true enablers to a new way of doing something or solving a real problem? Are we really innovating as an industry or merely applying a catchphrase to already tried and tested processes because that is what’s “in?”
What Does Real Innovation Mean?
In its classical sense, innovation is basically any new idea, process, or solution to a problem. So, in that respect, I guess our industry is very pioneering as there seems to be a relentless stream of new products, methods, and techniques hitting the market. However, the term has more recently been tagged to almost every new idea, whether purposeful or just a “nice-to-have” variant of an existing product.
For example, how long have we been talking about intelligent wells coupled with improved digital data to enhance reservoir recovery factors? How big have those innovative leaps really been, or are they simply small steps in a long journey to the solution? The ideas that bring significant changes are what we should be heralding and measuring as true innovation in our industry. I like to call this efficacious innovation—developing real answers to real problems that create a positive step forward.
Who decides what innovation is? In a sense, it is the end user and how important the new idea is to them. For example, when the clever engineers at Zenith invented the remote control for the television, was that really an innovative product or just a cool twist on an already simple process? For me, it is extremely innovative, but for my octogenarian dad, it is an unnecessary device for his lazy son.
Sometimes a nice-to-have novelty becomes an essential innovation as it drives different, unintended behavior and efficiencies. Some would say the remote drove the quickfire viewing pat-terns of today and the television industry built its programming around its ability to access a range of content at the press of a button.
For reservoir recovery today, it seems we are so focused on gathering data that we are missing the big innovation of making that information work to significantly improve low recovery factors. While we have figured out how to capture data, we don’t seem to know how to handle it.
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