Grants for equipment to enable innovation in small businesses in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding

Never shoot down an idea

“You can’t be scared to fail,” says Zetechtics founder Tim Overfield, adding: “Innovation is about risk and if you aren’t taking risks, you won’t achieve anything.”

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Zetechtics is a great Yorkshire success story. The business is a global leader in producing innovative control systems for remote operated tooling for use deep under the ocean in the oil and gas sector.

After shipping its first control system in 1998, the Malton-based business has continually innovated. It has created multiple generations of its control system and has transformed the way the business operates to become a multi-million pound global operation.

Zetechtics was born out of a need to innovate. Tim founded the business when the company he was previously working for stopped innovating. He explains: “That company stopped innovating at management level. They stopped looking at the customer and it started to have a disastrous effect on their satisfaction – I could see the writing on the wall.

“A successful company must innovate constantly and at every level of the business. However, customers are critical to that process. There is only one purpose for any business – solve your customer’s problems. That is your only job.

“We have succeeded because we are always looking for ways to do that better. We constantly ask ‘what can we do for the customer’ and ‘how can we do that better’.”
Tim argues that culture is key, explaining that ideas must come from everyone in the business – not just from the boss. He also explains that new ideas must be allowed to flow freely and be tested – no matter how ridiculous they may seem.

“Innovation has to be at the heart of your culture,” says Tim. “If someone has a good idea, they must know they can bring it forward and we will make it happen. The only way you’re going to find out if it works is by giving it a try.

“It also has to be easy – bureaucracy kills innovation. Too many companies need lengthy forms filling in with costs and savings before anything can happen and this paperwork will stop people innovating.”

When it comes to assessing the risk of innovation, Tim admits it will cost time and money but argues the rewards are worth it as customer satisfaction will increase.
He explains: “Inevitably, you will cock it up but you write it off and learn from it. I pushed through a CRM system that cost £20,000 and then had to switch it off after a fortnight because it was a disaster. A second CRM that cost even more has since been installed which has improved nearly every part of the business.

“We always try to work out the cost of testing a new idea but it will inevitably cost more. It’s about planning for the known unknowns and watching for the unknown unknowns. However, innovation is always good for the business. If it will make people’s lives easier – inside or outside the company – there will be real benefits.

“Assessing the risks is about talking through every outcome, looking at every angle and seeking the opinions of others. Understand where the risks will be – is it financial, technical, commercial or all of the above?

“If you’re not innovating, you are moving backwards because your competitors will be. Innovation and risk go hand in hand but you will eventually have a good idea and it will bring great benefits to the business. Remember the rewards are not always financial.”

Tim’s top tips for innovation

  • Have a blame free culture and move on quickly to the next idea – people can’t be afraid to fail
  • Have an open culture where anyone can bring an idea forward – never shoot an idea down
  • Don’t look at the cost – if somebody keeps saying it costs too much or it can’t be done, get rid of them
  • Naysayers are innovation killers – people will eventually think ‘I can’t be bothered’