Innovation Thought Leader

In the last week of June, BlueCallom hosted its third Innovation Thought Leader Roundtable. The topic gravitates around the question: “how to become more innovative and how to inspire employees to support the innovation process.”

As you may know by now, BlueCallom’s Roundtable is a virtual gathering of selected innovation managers. Many of them work in well-known companies such as Coca-Cola, BASF, Bayer, Dormakaba, DPD, FujiFilm, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, NGK Japan, Nissan Motors, Novartis, Philip Morris, Porsche, Roche, SAP, and Sony. The purpose of this gathering is to share insights, perspectives, experiences, and potential solutions to new innovation challenges.

 

Innovation Culture

Right after opening the discussion, “Innovation Culture” within enterprises became a dominant challenge. Kevin Minier, an expert in the UK Health and Social Care Sector, explained this by saying that “cultural change is needed especially if we want to avoid the big barrier in communication between employees”. Now, it’s clear that when it comes to innovation, employee satisfaction plays a big role.

The real challenge is in the organization itself and as Jonathan Wiesman from PassCare USA, mentioned: “some companies are already providing the top-down and bottom-up meetings between the company’s employees to find out what real employees’ value and purpose is.” One thing must be clear – Innovation can’t be successful if there is a fear present and not knowing where you fit in the ecosystem. Another worrying fact is that today’s innovators are having few side jobs, which means they can not truly dedicate themselves to innovation.

Axel Schultze, CEO of the BlueCallom company, shared one example: “Tesla Inc. today is ten times more valued than Mercedes-Benz and the reason is Tesla has a stellar innovation team which makes innovation happen.”

Other interlocutors, Mikel Mangold Innovation Project Manager at Venture Lab NGK SPARK PLUG, Christian Weh Senior Director Innovation at Johnson & Johnson, and Robert Clougherty Founder at rjclougherty.net agreed that the most important thing should be creating opportunity and an environment where innovation can thrive! And again emphasis is on establishing an innovation culture that allows you to find the best talents in the organization. In big organizations, as Mikel Mangold said, there is a lack of flexibility to choose the people we want to work with and that’s why many ideas get discarded. Steffen Ohr, Vice President Innovation bei Sihl Group, added that an Organisation needs to get a clear mandate to innovate from the highest level. That’s true for all functions but particularly important in the area of innovation when you touch new and unknown areas.

If the company is not recognized as innovative, where will they get talented experts? This question was asked by Christian Weh who also pointed out that companies are losing opportunities to hire the best talents because they can’t provide them with the innovation culture. The winning combination is a passion for innovation and a clear purpose i.e. what is the role of the innovation process. As you see, all our innovation experts mentioned the team – the importance of having the right people who are willing to do the changes, to come up with new ideas and solutions.

 

Role of Employees in the Innovation Process

The second part of this gathering was devoted to employees and their role in the innovation process.

Christian Weh made a very clear point if a team has no well-understood innovation mandate. Just asking people to innovate and come up with ideas is not getting teams anywhere.  Having a mandate, Robert Clougherty pointed out “all employees have their strong sides/skills and the Innovation Manager should be able to recognize it and use it to make the solution they work on truly unique.” Open communication, building trust, prioritizing learning, and keeping humanity at the center of the work are something that is needed in every organization. Having feedback from the employees and clients gives a wider picture which will lead us to better innovative solutions. So instead of asking employees to be more creative, ask them to document problems they see in a company and problems they have with clients.

Tony Namulo, Customer Experience and Success Director at Tavale, mentioned the concept of hackathons where different people with different skills get together to work on the things they are passionate about. Hackathons are a fun way to push boundaries, encourage creativity, and in the end gain inspiration or unique ideas.

When it comes to employee efficiency, except networking and hackathons, we have to mention Think Tanks where a group of people is designated to create innovative solutions to problems. With the right mindset and sense of purpose, almost any group can operate as a think tank.

Talking about the employees’ role in the innovation, we also talked about how to boost internal innovation. Mikel Mangold once again mentioned how important communication is inside the company – colleagues have to work together, they have to organize meetings and sessions, exchange their thoughts and results will be visible.

Kevin Minier said something I was surprised with – leaders are often put on a pedestal, but in reality, none of us are perfect and it is totally ok to be vulnerable, even if you are a C-level manager. Vulnerable leaders are better able to engage with their staff and as a result, they gain trust which is crucial to forming stronger teams.

Steffen Ohr said that in the company he works for, they continuously ask for market feedback. In the beginning, to prove the value of a new product/service on the market they ask for small funding. Based on the feedback they either intensify their efforts to create a real prototype or stop the project immediately. They also prepare an opportunity sheet and demonstrate if it’s scalable. The full focus is on getting feedback from the market.

 

Keys Aspects of Being More Innovative

To summarize this Innovation Thought Leader Roundtable, some of the key aspects of being more innovative include:

  1. Innovation teams have to be full time committed to innovation
  2. Having a clear directive to either innovate or continue to improve
  3. Executive-level leadership with a clear innovation mandate is required
  4. Building a culture of innovation in an organization

The team at BlueCallom will continue the Innovation Thought Leader Roundtable exchange. If you are interested in joining our next by-invitation-only event, please send us an email: tanja@bluecallom.com

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