Jack Selman: A passion for large scale innovation in the industry

Jack Selman, Murphy's innovation coordinator, discusses the challenges in innovating the industry and how Murphy and taking steps to nurture innovators and ideas.

There’s no room for ‘dreamers’…

“I remember what it was like before the internet” is a statement becoming rarer and rarer - already unbelievable to the younger generation - and one that I just qualify to make. I am part of the last generation that will remember dial-up, CRT monitor TV sets and mobile phones with buttons. Fortunately, I was raised in an environment comfortable with change and a looming technology revolution.

From a young age, technology provided me with a lens to understand the contrast in either adaptability or aversion to change of those around me. As technology became more prevalent in society this lens allowed me to witness the “what if’s..?” vs. the “what’s?!” and the “why not’s?” vs the “whys?!”

Driven by a passion to evoke change and contribute to society, I studied and worked as a civil engineer. I quickly found that in such a high value, high pressure, and hazardous industry there is an understandable aversion to risk, embedded in engineers for years, which ultimately restricts positive change.

The opportunity on site to explore innovative products, services or processes is reliant on the stars of construction aligning. A willing and collaborative client, adaptable project manager, suitable project, sufficient budget, ample time, capable team and a lack of social, political and environmental blockers must all fall into place to provide a culture that allows innovation to flourish. As such, I found proposals for change were sporadic and often supressed.

In a delivery-focused industry, there is no time for “dreamers”.

What IF this is the answer…?

Murphy launched its Innovation Foundation (IF) in response to the company’s strategic “10 Year Plan”, marking the dawn of a new era that actively sought to disrupt, change and challenge in the face of adversity. Uncommon in construction, the IF was launched to encourage everyone in the business to challenge the norm and always ask “what if?”

For me, seeing the launch of the IF represented the opportunity for change at a great scale that I had always been looking to be a part of and so I applied to join and secured a place on the team.

Being used to working in a deliverable-driven role meant moving to one focused purely on innovation was not without difficulty. I have adapted my work ethos and now operate in a perpetual state of moderate dissatisfaction; there is always more change and disruption to embrace, more cultural transformation needed and new concepts to grasp – all whilst working with much greater exposure to prominent and senior business leaders. I have had to learn to appreciate the value in ‘softer’ wins like developing key relationships and nurturing potential innovation ambassadors.

One of the key focuses of the IF is to drive inquisitive and questioning behaviour across the business, pushing it to become “business as usual”. It’s no small task but this cultural shift is key to the continued success of both the business and the industry.

Drone technology in action

Engineering Tomorrow…Today

Murphy also runs an ‘Engineering Tomorrow Forum’ (ETF) consisting of the company’s CEO, chief operating officer, engineering director, people team director and two non-executive directors. The composition of this highly skilled, expert panel, who are both welcoming change and passionate about its progress, clearly shows the business is serious and putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to this cultural change. Innovation at Murphy is no flash in the pan nor is it an idealistic state to pay lip-service to; it is real, it is valuable and it will be fervently pushed so as we can continually improve across the business.

Our transformative effort is laying the foundations for innovation for years to come. Through engagement with clients, suppliers, SMEs, universities, research facilities and other contractors we are bringing value to the business by diversifying our opportunities and tapping into the wealth of knowledge that exists across the marketplace. The industry is slowly changing, and we are beginning to see more clients concentrating on innovation in tenders by, for example, making it a scored category.


We also have established a ‘champion network’ which is an excellent force multiplier for change. Champions are volunteers from the entire business who act as beacons of innovation, extolling the virtues of the work we are delivering. All ages, sectors, business units, functions and seniority levels are represented. The network work with the innovation team and the ETF to make sure innovation grows from the bottom up and is nurtured from the top down. The IF, with the help of the champion network, are the cultural change we want to see.

By demonstrating that well managed innovation will deliver value safely and efficiently, the IF empowers everyone to get involved and shows that it is not something to fear, but something to actually enjoy.

Since the launch of the ‘Innovation Portal’, the IF has captured, developed, and managed over 150 submissions and delivered five innovation projects. We have brought over 80 champions into the fold, are supporting work winning bids, live projects, depots, yards, joint ventures, alliances and clients. We are also promoting innovation and enacting change through STEM events, industry advisory panels, university lectures, international conferences and seminars.

Change and Growth

Changing our behaviour stands to bring with it a multitude of benefits; the ability to deliver work that is safer and more cost effective predominantly but also more creating and inspiring. In a risk adverse industry this change is a significant challenge, however, we are seeing adaptations internally and externally at an increasing rate. It is an uphill struggle and maintaining and managing the disposition for flair and creativity synonymous with an innovation leader can be trying at times. Antiquated attitudes, a turbulent marketplace and fear of failure reinforced by confirmatory bias supports a reluctance to change and presents a formidable foe that stands in the way of growth.

Change is most certainly underway.


Posted 07 September 2018 by Jack Selman

Meet Murphy, People, Innovation, Engineering

About Jack Selman

Jack (BEng Hons MIKE GMICE) is an innovation coordinator with a strong engineering background. Jack joined J. Murphy & Sons in 2010 as an engineer’s assistant and has worked his way up from site level, through to engineer into the group role of innovation coordinator. Having spent time working in the cross country pipelines and rail industries in both the UK and Australia, from design and feasibility stages through to construction and delivery, he has comprehensive experience working in the construction sector in a plethora of environments.

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