Smart tech, extreme materials, automated manufacturing, machine learning – all these fantastic innovations are helping us to create better, more efficient and more consumer-friendly products. But there’s one element of progress that trumps them all.

Innovation does not only relate to hard-wired, tangible things. Innovation can be about process; the way we operate.

Throughout my career, I’ve always focused on taking a more collaborative approach to business structure. Early on, people said this was way out in left-field. Now, more are aligning to this way of thinking.

Whatever advances we make, we’ll never achieve the sum of our parts if we operate in isolation. The art of working together, rather than against, does not come naturally in business, but to achieve the essential movement towards a circular economy, we need to make this cultural shift. 

So for me, the biggest innovation on the horizon is a change in the fundamental manner in which businesses co-exist. 

 

Working together

I have a business background, in software development. The sector is hugely innovative, with some extremely bright minds pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. It is also very competitive.

It may be a surprise, then, that collaboration is core to the industry. Individuals from rival companies regularly combine in large group ‘Hackathons’: a bringing together of minds to solve problems, innovate and advance technology for the greater collective good.

The sector is full of small, nimble companies often seeking out big opportunities. When one lands, collaboration is key to scaling up and down, depending on what is required.  

It’s not easy, but having a collaborative operational structure allows you to place trust in selecting the best partners. Being able to work with others to design out waste, cross-pollinate industries and maximise resource use is the only way we will achieve a more sustainable future.

And as our world becomes increasingly knowledgeable, it will be the individuals and businesses that enable collaboration to thrive that will be the winners.

 

Sharing economy

Collaboration is now an increasingly accepted part of society, as the ‘sharing’ and ‘gig’ economies continue to change the world. Even in luxury yachting, the desire to own a vessel outright is shifting. Public conscience is such that a boat that spends most of its time sat in harbour is not just wasteful, it’s borderline unacceptable. 

In that area, the syndicate model offers huge benefits. It allows members to access fully serviced vessels in pristine condition at their allotted times, with the opportunity to exchange weeks and swap vessels for others anywhere in the world. What could be better?

A social philanthropy model goes one step further, where owners donate sea time to ocean research and conservation projects. Transforming what are often seen as opulent toys into a network of vessels that can further our understanding of the ocean is very powerful. Within the next few years I am not sure any other model could be justified.  

We are now going past the need to ‘own’ everything. And that not only goes for consumer products, it goes for businesses too. Collaboration between designers, suppliers, shipyards and end users offers many more engagement opportunities to help share resources for mutual benefit. 

This will allow greater investment in technologies, systems and processes that promote rapid change (hybrid, hydrogen fuel cells, sustainable materials) and the design of products that embrace the principles of a circular economy.

Integrating a repair and replace approach, designing in a modular way to manage the advancement in technology and, crucially, establishing a route for materials once their value has ended in their existing use case can ensure the earth’s resources are maximised. 

 

Sustainable investing

Achieving this change on a large, global scale must start with capital and entrepreneurs, and core to this is ensuring all capital flows are linked to sustainable outcomes. We will not get a second chance. 

As Mark Carney said while governor of the Bank of England: “Climate disclosure must become comprehensive, climate risk management must be transformed, and sustainable investing must go mainstream.” Part of this new wave of collaboration will involve creating rules and regulations that can drive innovative investment. 

For so long, capital has been without an agenda other than profit, and it's only been in the past seven years or so that we've been investing more with 'head and heart'. 

By building collaboration into their commercial, operational and sustainability activities, companies will have a significant competitive advantage. That will drive investor returns, as in the future, these businesses will create value that an unsustainable company cannot achieve.

I am wholeheartedly aware of how the marine industry is traditional in approach and, as a result, slow to change. But I truly believe in the saying ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’.


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