Focus on Leadership: TC Energy facilitates innovative thinking

September 27, 2022
Leadership Innovation Team Calgary
TC Energy 1920x1080

Chris Foster is chief innovation officer and vice-president of Information Services at TC Energy.
Wil Andruschak © Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © Postmedia Network Inc.

Innovation and technology are often talked about in the same breath at many of Canada’s largest organizations.

That’s not the case at TC Energy — an energy infrastructure company aiming to be one of the world’s most innovative companies, regardless of industry.

“Being innovative is really about psychology more than anything else,” says Chris Foster, chief innovation officer and vice-president of information services at TC Energy. “Part of my job is to help our employees develop mindsets and behaviours that facilitate innovation.”

It’s not an easy task.

Corporate culture commonly favours stability, continuity and repeatability as a recipe for ongoing success.

Yet, Foster points out that the world’s most innovative companies are those not afraid to encourage their employees to challenge the status quo and put forward ideas to solve problems.

All too often, however, organizations and their employees fear doing so because of the potential for failure. TC Energy takes a different approach — creating a culture where experimentation is encouraged and failing safely is acceptable.

It’s part and parcel of finding ground-breaking solutions to really big problems.

“At TC Energy, we think of our innovation process the same as a venture capitalist, who invests in 10 up-and-coming companies, recognizing that only one will likely succeed,” Foster says.

In fact, TC Energy has its own ‘Sharks’ Den’ — similar to popular TV shows such as Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den — in which employees pitch ideas that could improve operations or lead to new revenue streams at the Calgary-headquartered company.

“Rather than saying, ‘We don’t have the funding for that,’ we are creating a portfolio of ideas allowing our teams to experiment a little.”

In many cases, these new ideas do involve technology, he says. Some may use existing technologies for innovative new uses. That includes a recent idea from TC Energy’s student programs that digs into the deep talent pool of Calgary’s growing tech hub.

“The students that enter our company come with great ideas that push the envelope and challenge us to think differently. I have seen students fully automate their roles in weeks, without being asked; these are the mindsets that change companies,” Foster shares.

While innovation does not always entail technology, it is often a key piece. Foster points to another new project called ORBIT.

“This revolves around leveraging artificial intelligence and data analytics to reveal anomalies in our pipeline infrastructure to ensure we are operating safely, efficiently and reliably.”

Foster adds that innovation will only become more vital in the future at TC Energy, given the world’s energy challenges.

“We all know conventional energy will continue to be important for a long time, but we also know we need to look at what’s next,” he says, referring to the growing need for energy solutions for an increasingly low-carbon economy. “My job is to help ensure that ‘what’s next’ comes from our innovative culture.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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