His greatest dream is to go to Mars. For Patrick Baudry, the famous French astronaut, there is no limit to innovation. And because he believes that it is always possible to progress and improve on what already exists, he agreed to be the Honorary Chair of the Best Innovators contest. Total's Upstream business segment organizes this internal contest to reward employees who innovate and are able to share their inventions. Interview with a scientist who is always on the move.
How would you define innovation?
Patrick Baudry /I'd say that it’s a step forward, a positive change in what already exists. Innovation provides a clearcut benefit, be it at the human, financial or organizational level. But we mustn't confuse innovation with technology - a very simple system can be highly innovative. Some of the projects selected for this contest provide a good example: in order to inspect an offshore field in Indonesia, one of Total's employees started by putting a movie camera in a jar. It's simple, ingenious and creative - a wonderful innovation!
Why did you agree to be Best Innovators' Honorary Chair?
P. B. / Because as an engineer, I find Total fascinating. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to discover the extraordinary technologies that you bring into play everyday to produce oil and gas. When you think about it, it's incredible what you do: drilling to depths of thousands of meters, under water, dealing with low temperatures, pressure... In short, I wanted to find out more. And I greatly appreciate initiatives like these Best Innovators contests because companies must encourage innovation.
For you, is innovation a prerequisite for a company's growth?
P. B / Yes, because a company that doesn't innovate is dead in the water. Let me give you an example. I used to work for a French aerospace group. In the 80s we weren't the market leader and our gigantic competitor was jeopardizing our continued existence. So what did we come up with? A fly-by-wire flight control system for commercial aircraft. Without that, France would probably have lost one of its industrial jewels. All that to say that innovation isn't an option: humankind is constantly evolving, the world moves forward and a company that isn't able to keep up is doomed.
What's the best way to remove roadblocks to innovation in companies?
P. B. / That's management's job. Being innovative means taking risks. If you work in a company and you take a risk, but it doesn't work out and and you are penalized for it, will you try again? Of course not. And yet, we hear that it took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb. A company's senior management has to accept that failure is part of the process. They need to instill a culture of innovation and not consider it the exclusive preserve of the R&D department. A company is above all its people. If they enjoy innovating, you're already halfway there.