We’re always trying to test the limits of research, media and events at Zpryme. When you test and innovate, inevitably you’re going to fail. For some reason, I’ve taken great joy in talking about my failures, like my failure to get the energy industry to talk about failure. Today I want to talk about my failure with finding an answer, which I realized is actually a good thing as we look to what’s next for energy.

We were testing a new webinar software last week, and in our test webinar I shared a recent study we completed about utility relationships with smart cities initiatives. The study had many different angles and things we measured, so I wanted to walk everyone through the methodology and the framing of our questions. My goal was to make sure listeners understood how we arrived at our questions and why we thought they were important to ask. A few minutes into the webinar, we received a comment: “You’re talking about a lot of questions, but what are the answers?”

After a few minutes, the listener wrote in again: “Time’s up! This is nothing but a commercial and I’m dropping off.” I felt bad letting down the listener, and, as a recovering perfectionist, it made me wonder: Could I have gotten to an answer sooner in the webinar? Then, I pondered more broadly: Why is asking a lot questions so commercial? People who are too eager to get to the answer often feel more commercial to me. Got a problem? Here is your solution. You have this issue? Do A, B and C.

Going further, as our digital lives grow, so does the urgency with which we seek to resolve challenges and find answers. Any evening hanging out with friends or my husband, Seth, usually involves several “Google it” moments and quick resolutions to discussions and debates that could have dragged on for hours or days in the pre-internet world. In fact, we may have never figured out what year almond milk was developed (and what almond milk is really, anyway) without significant effort—referencing Encyclopedia Britannica, watching old VHS tapes of National Geographicdocumentaries, or spending an entire day at the central library.

Yet, even with the immediacy with which we can grasp answers today, all you must do is go through an ancient chain of Yahoo! answers to remember that often there isn’t just one answer, but there are many answers and many perspectives.

The research I shared considered questions, like:

  • What role do utilities play in driving smart cities?
  • How do we build effective energy innovation ecosystems?

We’re working to chip away at the answers to these questions. Our initial research findings actually led to more questions, but the questions were more detailed and refined. We’ll be diving deeper into those questions at Start@ETS next week, and it will be fun to see where the conversations take us, and what questions grow from there. My webinar presentation about our research was really a starting point to a deeper conversation we’d like to have over the next several months. My initial research really just led to more questions.

Even in this digital age, I think it is good sometimes to let things linger, to ponder, to try to wrap our minds around a concept, to talk about the thought process and how we plan to address questions, and gather inputs. To let things stew, like we did in our latest podcast as we contemplated the new recipe for utility stew that is beginning bubble. Who is cooking this stew? The utilities? The technology providers? The startups? The regulators? The pleasure for me is not just in finding the answer, but finding the right questions to ask as we head into this murky, maybe boullion-based world of what’s next for energy. If that makes me wrong, then I’m excited to be wrong.