The Top 5 Innovation Topics of 2019 from Innovation Roundtable® Events

Developing Organizational Innovation through Employee Focus, Culture, Digital Transformation, Prototyping, and Ecosystem Collaborations

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Roundtable discussions at the workshops hosted by IBM in Milan

In the first half of 2019, Innovation Roundtable® held workshops covering topics from the whole innovation landscape. Looking retrospectively throughout the catalog of presentations, we have pin-pointed the five most hotly discussed innovation topics: employee centricity, innovation culture, rapid prototyping, digital transformation, and ecosystem and startup collaboration.

Not only are these helpful to get a glimpse at Innovation Roundtable® events, but the topics also show what the hundreds of innovation people, who have attended the events, are focusing on and developing within their respective companies.

We have selected some of the most insightful quotes from the workshops, which showcase an array of perspectives, as the speakers come from different countries, companies and backgrounds.

Here is a list of the presenters highlighted in this article:

Taylor Shinn, Vice President for Ventures & Growth, Baker Hughes
Doug Munk, Director of New Business Ventures, Nestlé
Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Institute of Management Studies, Goldsmiths University of London
Linda Thackeray, Director, the Garage — NERD, Microsoft
Uwe Kirschner, Vice President Business Model Innovation, Bosch
Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård, Agile Coach, Director, LEGO
Sophie Seiwald, Managing Director, Mercedes-Benz.io
Hendrik Esser, Manager Special Projects, Ericsson
Fredrik Östbye, Group VP, Head of Digital Transformation, Grundfos
Nicolas Cudré-Mauroux, Research & Innovation Group General Manager (CTO), Solvay
Mark Randall, Executive Director, Kickbox Foundation and Former Chief Strategist & VP Creativity at Adobe
Katja Jospeh, Director End-to-End SC Digitalization, Schaeffler
Nicolas Van Zeebroeck, Prof. of Innovation & Digital Business, Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management
Hartmut Mai, Chief Regions & Markets Officer, Member of the Board — Allianz
Alireza Tavakoli, Global Head of Program Management & Innovation — Digital Transformation, ThyssenKrupp
Olivier Delabroy, Vice President, Group Digital Transformation, Air Liquide
Tammy Butterworth, Global Innovation Lead — Breakthrough Innovation, PepsiCo
Peter Osborne, Innovation Lead, Philips HealthWorks
Serge Hermans, Vice President, Head of Innovation Personal Care, Philips

The five innovation topics are placed in no particular order. Have a read through them and tell us what you think in the comments below.

1 • Employee Centricity

Innovation does not start with technology, but with the people who create it. Many companies are savvy of this important aspect and, therefore, focus a substantial amount of their energy on their employees and customers. Often, this requires shifting the focus from products to people, and engaging the whole organization in innovation activities, not only the top levels.

“In a world in which big companies are spread out globally, you can’t just say, well there’s a team in the States, there’s a team over in Europe, and one in Asia. You have to think about it as a collective resource. There’s talent in different parts of the world or different teams that may not be organized together. What’s essential is how you can focus that structure together. We haven’t put our team members in a lot of small compartmentalized organizational structures, but rather tried to create one large resource pool so we can better identify where there’s talent and when there are opportunities to really leverage that talent.”

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Taylor Shinn, Baker Hughes

The crowdsourcing platform is leveraging both the growth engine and driving culture so that people realize that innovation is their job. We are always engaging employees through videos because many of them could see this initiative as a one-off thing. But what we want to do is transform the entire organization so that this becomes the source of innovation.”

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Doug Munk, Nestlé

“If we use automation and augmentation well, the big challenge is, how do we then free the workers up to be using that time to be more human? And if we say behaving like a human is employing critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, and creativity, then, there’s none of that in our current jobs. So, we need to rethink exactly what’s involved in human work because we’ve been driving towards the mechanization of work for so long that now we need to release ourselves and return humanity to our work. And paradoxically that is made possible through the intervention of the technology that replaces the mechanization that was previously performed by the human being.”

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Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Institute of Management Studies, Goldsmiths University of London

People want to know that they work for a company that allows them to have ideas and which gives them the space to actually take those ideas forward, which is done at Microsoft through hackathons. Even if the hackathon project that the person is working on fails and goes nowhere, they still get all of those benefits of learning, of trying, of experimenting, of meeting new people, of working across organizational boundaries.”

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Linda Thackeray, Microsoft

2 • Innovation Culture

Contemporary rapid market and technology changes require companies to become more adaptive and assertive in their pursuit of innovation. Companies must ensure that the changes they make are extensive, so that they cover not only processes and technologies — but also employee mindsets and behaviors. To realize this cultural transformation, leaders must be the first to model the change.

“Even with fruitful ideation, picking the winning ideas, and testing them, you are still not done. There’s something left and this is called the scaling part. And there again, you should work on your organizational ambidexterity. Just spinning out ideas and believing that, eventually, when these ventures are big enough we will integrate them back into the core, might be very difficult. Therefore, organizational ambidexterity means to manage the next generation product technology development in the core, while simultaneously going out to find new innovative business models beyond the existing core. And what is core today, might not be core tomorrow. And what tomorrow isn’t ‘explore’ business, will, and should, become part of your core business over time.”

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Uwe Kirschner, Bosch

“If you do scrum and design sprints and you repeat it, then it becomes a habit. It just becomes a way for you to work and then it changes the way you think. And that will change your culture, and then that will change your company. So, my aim, my advice is to try and encourage people to just start doing it. Don’t overthink trying some of these methods. They’re very cheap to do.”

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Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård, LEGO

“A lot of the tensions and the discussions that come with change in the company appear not because you’re not agreeing in a functional way, but because somebody says: ‘this is my baby’ or ‘we’ve always done it like this’. And that’s exactly why, for me, the advocate is the most important role in the organization — to actually be there to talk with people about what is actually going on without an impact to anything else.”

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Sophie Seiwald, Mercedes-Benz.io

“An organizational change towards agility is about a change in mindset, and that means the change in how you think and see the world. For me, something important I’ve seen over and over again is that leaders have to change first. […] Change happens when leaders become the change they want to see. I can’t overemphasize this — change cannot be delegated.”

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Hendrik Esser, Ericsson

3 • Rapid Prototyping

The incipient phases of innovation projects — ideation and prototyping — are extremely important because it is within them that ideas are perfected and made into valuable iterations. To improve and grow, failure here is necessary, but lessons must be learned and, where possible, applied to other projects. Similarly, customer feedback must be incorporated to reduce the risk of later failure.

“When you talk about innovation, it is super important that you test out a lot of ideas, that you elaborate with customers, that you try out and fail fast. But then, when it comes to commercialization, you cannot commercialize everything at the same time, especially not when it’s new. One of the things that we did which has helped us a lot was that […] we forced our organization to prioritize three ideas and commercialize them first, because we need to practice on how to commercialize those new offerings. That was a really good decision because, even with three ideas, we had a lot of challenges to get them through to commercialization.”

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Fredrik Östbye, Grundfos

“I have a business development team in my organization and we do not start a new project, especially a breakthrough high risk project, without these business people making the decision together with the other teams, but the business people are the ones who approve the project and they have zero responsibility for the resources that would execute the projects. In other words, they have absolutely no second thoughts about keeping people busy. Their only focus is what is right for the company, what is right for the portfolio, what is right for the customers, and not whether we have second thoughts because of other priorities that are not the right ones for the long term.”

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Nicolas Cudré-Mauroux, Solvay

“I get invited to judge these innovation beauty pageants all the time and I hate it because they’re not reality based. I’m really proud that I killed more innovation projects maybe than any other living human. I created Kickbox — a process whereby innovators can kill their own projects. Creating a successful project — that’s a very hard algorithm to crack. I just teach the employees how to be the judge of their own project and then the whole thing scales.”

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Mark Randall, Kickbox Foundation

4 • Digital Transformation

Many companies are undergoing digital transformation as a preventive method against disruption, as digitalization can be used to speed internal processes and bring in new technologies, which can lead to competitive advantages later on. Digital transformation, however, is more than a preventive method as, on top of technology, it involves also strategy and goal completion. These two aspects must be defined beforehand for technological changes to be truly successful.

What is your strategy? Where are you today and where do you want to be tomorrow? Knowing this, you can go into the blueprints and ask: what needs changing? How must processes change? What about information flow? Then start thinking about what applications and technologies could solve your specific case. And only then break it down into actual projects and a plan of action.”

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Katja Jospeh, Schaeffler

Digital transformation is really the magic interaction between three dimensions: strategy, technology and organization. What I see in my empirical research, is that a lot of the people active in this space tend to focus on the technology because it’s probably the most exciting, but also the easiest part of that game. The second dimension is organization, where there’s a lot to say about how to transform organizations for the digital age, which is extremely relevant, but also the hardest part. And in the meantime, there is one dimension that tends to be overlooked, and that is strategy.”

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Nicolas Van Zeebroeck, Solvay Brussels School

“You have to find a way to get the people on-board and infiltrate a positive gene into the company which creates more believers. The way we’ve done this is that we invited roughly 100 colleagues from across the organization into a think tank which was actually a week’s exercise outside of the offices. And I wanted to confront these people, in a lab style environment, with new technology. At the end, we created roughly 100 ambassadors who went back into the organization and started spreading the news about the future and what we’re trying to build.”

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Hartmut Mai, Allianz

“My approach is case-focused when delivering an application. What master data is needed? What data sources must be connected? Then you need to go into the fundamentals. And for this you need a short and long distance run. The short distance, doing the business core improvements, will give you the backing for the long distance, the fundamentals in your innovation. We have initiated, three years ago, an internal department for pushing digital solutions into the organization. And we said, because we want the backing for the exploration phase,’ we focus on bread and butter innovation for the core business’. So, the backing and the exploration will be done with your bread and butter innovation — the getting-it-done applications.”

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Alireza Tavakoli, ThyssenKrupp

5 • Ecosystem and Startup Collaboration

Companies no longer consider that innovation must be created completely in-house. Collaborating and co-creating with different partners opens innovation opportunities and ensures that a good mix of perspectives and knowledge bases are involved in projects. This requires companies to develop a heterogenous ecosystem of connections and to collaborate with startups, as these can help conglomerates become leaner and faster.

“The three lessons from scaling are: people, inclusion, and ecosystems. First, put humans before technology, which means working in product, having a dedicated organization, having designers, user research, marketing. Second, inclusion. The challenge here is to make different departments work seamlessly together. Third, ecosystems. I like to quote Chris Anderson. He said, in the 19th century you won in business because your company was bigger or your plant was more productive. In the 20th century, you won in business because you had a better product. In the 21st century, you win in business because your ecosystem is larger and faster than the others.

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Olivier Delabroy, Air Liquide

“In our accelerator program called Nutrition Greenhouse, we’re not looking for any equity in the startups that participate. We’re not looking to take any financial advantage. And there were no permanent ties afterwards. This is purely growth on both sides — us taking what we can in terms of mindset, passion, and energy, and the entrepreneurs learning from our experience and expertise. And it’s business impact via expertise and connectivity.”

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Tammy Butterworth, PepsiCo

“We accelerate innovation and we fuel a culture of entrepreneurship. Both of these things in isolation are great, but when put together — that’s where the magic happens. How do we do that? We do it in two ways. One is by inviting the startup ecosystem to work with us, co-create, and collaborate. We also talk about being intrapreneurial. We talk about those people within Philips who have amazing backgrounds, amazing technologies that they’re working on, but perhaps in an otherwise older organization, one full of processes and procedures, some of those ideas might not surface. And we try to prevent that.”

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Peter Osborne, Philips HealthWorks

“There’s no longer a single player that can bring a total solution without working together with other companies and without connecting to ecosystems and using an open application programming interface. So for us that’s super relevant to see what is core what is not core and how can we team up to create a total solution for our customers. We see the emergence of new business models — for instance, access over ownership. People typically do not want to have the product themselves anymore but they want to have access to the great functionality.”

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Serge Hermans, Philips

Our Upcoming Events

Innovation Roundtable®’s autumn calendar is full of workshops, taking place across Europe, China, and the US. If you want to dig deeper into today’s most pressing innovation topics, then join us either at workshops or at the Innovation Roundtable® Summit 2019 where all these topics and more will be brought into focus. You can read more about our events and see the full calendar here.

Innovation Roundtable® is the leading network exclusively for innovation executives in multinational firms. www.innovationroundtable.com

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