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

Why is it important to define innovation? How do you measure innovation? How do you collect ideas from your customers?

These are just a few of the thought-provoking questions that came up in conversation between Innovation Managers from around the world in BlueCallom’s Innovation Thought Leader Circle (ITLC) in April. The ITLC is a virtual gathering of international innovation professionals with a diverse range of experiences with the goal of exchanging ideas and furthering learning within the discipline of innovation. 

What is Innovation and How to Measure It? 

Surprisingly, there is no one-size-fits-all definition to describe the term ‘innovation’. In the software industry alone, “there are more than 30 definitions of innovation” says Axel Schultze from BlueCallom. Without a universally accepted definition, companies will have different experiences in how they identify opportunities for value creation, develop an innovation process, and measure its success. 

Defining the concept of innovation will influence how an Innovation Manager is able to “implement the idea of innovation into the organization” as mentioned by Wolfgang Zondler from Zondler Consulting. To proactively confront challenges in considering how to measure innovation, Tony Namulo from Tavalé recommended an approach to clearly define what innovation means within your organization and relevant indicators to track its success by looking at it “what problem it is you’re trying to solve”.

 The goal is to gain a common understanding of innovation, while taking into account that variables such as industry type or firm maturity will influence the understanding of innovation, according to Alkan Dogan from Simmons & Simmons. He also added that “‘innovation should not entirely be focused on generating ideas and implementing them no matter what,” but rather for Innovation Managers to be selective about what ideas to pursue.

Kevin Minier, Health and Social Care Advisor, also recommended that your organization’s ethics should play a role in defining innovation.

Fiorella Vari Castro from Sportradar discussed how to define innovation within an organization by breaking apart the concept into three types: incremental (improvements to an existing product or service), strategic innovation, and disruptive innovation.

According to Schultze, disruptive innovation can be considered as when “you build something new…new market segments, new behaviors, or new needs.” But, defining innovation can be controversial because it depends on the perspective of the end-user, as discussed by Namulo, in judging whether something is truly transformational or not. As a result, the concept of innovation is perceived differently by alternate groups of people, just depending on their life experiences. 

Interestingly, Namulo introduced a very cool strategy to describe the concept of innovation: rather, “define the opposite of what it is not”. By providing a point of contrast and defining what “does meet the definition”, innovation can be better understood, according to Namulo.

 “What are the key performance indicators for innovation?” asked Schultze. It’s an important question because the chosen metrics or KPIs will influence and incentivize employee behavior and how innovation is managed. To provide an example, a company that measures its level of ‘innovativeness through the number of patents will incentivize employees to produce patents, but “how does this affect customer satisfaction?” questioned Namulo.

Furthermore, KPI considerations include: “Did [the innovation] improve outcomes? Did it make the company more profitable?” as pointed out by Minier. 

 

Innovation Culture is Key 

A key takeaway from the conversation revolved around the importance of cultivating company cultures to support innovation, with special attention to assembling diverse teams. Diversity is required to protect against groupthink and linear thinking,” said Minier.  This thought was also echoed by Vari Castro, who said that “having an innovation team with background diversity helps so much to come up with different ideas.” 

But in order to reap the benefits from a group of diverse thinkers, a company should invest in building up an innovation culture that makes productive exchange possible.

Mikel Mangold from Venture Lab at NGK mentioned the need for “collisions and confrontation” to create a productive dialogue with different perspectives. Fostering an environment where creative abrasion can occur leads to more innovative thinking through diversity in thought. Of course, the challenge is then extending this innovative mindset from within the bounds of an Innovation Team and how to “foster culture within the company?” as asked by Vari Castro.

It’s an intriguing question, and one that we may be exploring during our next Innovation Thought Leader Circle on June 11. 

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

During the first week of February, the BlueCallom team brought innovation leaders worldwide together at the BlueCallom virtual Innovation Thought Leader Circle event. The Innovation Thought Leader Circle series provides a space where a select group of innovation professionals comes together virtually to share best practices, insights around innovation management, advanced learning in innovation, and understanding the new normal. 

To generate knowledge and share interesting perspectives around innovation in 2021, we invite you to get insights from this lively innovation circle around innovating during a pandemic, overcoming external challenges in this “New Normal,” and supporting innovation culture to prepare for future shifts in the business landscape. 

Entering into the State of Innovation in the New Normal

Technological advancements and digitization are not necessarily enough to transform an entire industry, but the innovative business models that introduce the technology are disruptive. We’ve witnessed how companies have innovated their business models, products, services, and customer interaction techniques during the global pandemic. Innovation is more critical than ever, or as Kevin Minier says, the current status quo is now entering into a “state of innovation”. 

Adapting to the “New Normal” will determine which companies simply survive and which companies thrive. How will innovation look in a post-pandemic world? As pointed out by Robert Cloughtery, companies should expand their innovation vision from short-term fixes to long-term business model innovation.

For example, Hussein Dajani, General Manager of Digital and CX Transformation for Nissan Motor Co. in Africa, Middle East, India, Turkey, and Oceana, discussed how customer experience transformation had been a crucial strategy to meeting customers’ “where they are” in today’s landscape: in their homes (due to lockdowns). “Innovation, I believe, boils down from empathy, from really listening to your customers, seeing what their real needs are, and being able to deliver on that innovatively,” says Dajani.

Shirin Kurtuldu also contributed excellent knowledge on how to capture customer-driven ideas by running a Voice of Customer program and asking your own customers what they want, what kind of innovation they are missing.  

Corporate Innovation is Key 

However, innovating strategically for the long-term in an established enterprise can be difficult, considering bureaucratic measures, regulatory barriers, and risk-averse structures that hold big companies back from implementing transformational changes.

As Hussein Dajani points out, big firms often think from a place of “revenue, dollar signs, and immediate profit,” making short-term approaches more feasible to execute. The focus on short-term profit is a signal that a company is not as forward-thinking as it should be to innovate and gain a competitive advantage over time. The company’s mindset is another key factor.

Axel Schultze, CEO and Founder of BlueCallom, says, “the culture shift from a non-innovative company to an innovative company is a massive change…it’s a significant change in mindset.” The question then becomes, how to create a culture of innovation? Facilitating a culture in which accepting “failing fast is such a key technique to helping with innovation,” says Tony Namulo.

Regardless of whether a company adopts a ‘freedom to fail’ attitude or not, half the battle is pushing a great idea from concept to creation and convincing others of its merit. Circle attendee André Lüscher says, “for every idea, you need someone to convince other people that this idea is great.” An idea won’t make it past the gatekeepers and bookkeepers at each milestone check-in without a product or service champion supporting the idea along the journey to development and commercialization. 

Turn the Pandemic into an Innovation Opportunity 

Due to the pandemic, the nature of work changed. Teams work together in an online and remote capacity. As pointed out by Mikel Mangold, “all this international collaboration that is going on right now is incredible” and is requiring innovation around online collaboration tools to make remote work accessible and productive.

Aside from virtual collaboration, remote work also enables the ability to reach a broader audience. Furthermore, companies can find talents across the global stage. A lot of companies are going to be considering “the global talent pool, in terms of being able to increase the pace of innovation within companies,” says Tony Namulo. Thus, a silver lining to the pandemic is new value creation through the various opportunities presented.

But not only are digital work tools in demand, but digital lifestyle tools are also increasingly important. For example, gyms and the fitness industry are undergoing a moment of reckoning as digital fitness services adapt to meet our new needs, as Laurent Guinand discussed.

The business of education is another industry in a moment of upheaval as online education has been thrown into the spotlight, and online education platforms’ successes might even indicate that online education is the future. Axel Schultze says that “the education system has followed the needs of the industry,” and with changing industries across all sectors, the future is in the hands of the innovators and creative minds. In this way, ‘timing,’ in addition to ‘need’ and ‘technology available’ can be considered the keys to building a successful innovation, as deemed  Tony Namulo. 

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