Big Bang, and eternal life

It’s Sunday night and I am in a plane to NYC for LenditUSA. Sunday night is not a good time to be in a plane, away from the family. But it is also a time to think… Planes are a good place to think, as you are away from regular contingencies. My thinking tonight is about the week that just went by, and what we achieved at EHDA.

The week was rich, intense, chaotic at times, as often at EHDA. There is one thing in particular that mattered for Louis and I, this week: our BBB was launched. BBB stands for Big Bang in a BU, and is the name we gave to an experiment, probably one of our most radical experiments so far: reinventing a Business Unit (BU) of EH.

EHDA is tasked to reinvent trade finance, and as such we are usually like white hat hackers, starting from a blank sheet of paper to redesign entire EH products or redefine their target clients, unveiling new value propositions and business models. We also often “hack” the technology that underpins the products, as well as their underwriting, leveraging ML and additional data. We remix EH marketing with growth hacking and guerrilla marketing, we augment a few client relationships with co-design and design sprints, and we also “hack” into the global EH organization to enable more digital culture and to catalyse more appetite for innovation. But BBB is different. As if reinventing things like EHDA does was the new norm, and BBB was reinventing how to reinvent things. BBB is the first time we “hack” a local EH organization, hacking a business unit.

Hacking a local business unit

Louis and I had this idea approx a year ago, one morning as we were working with Wilfried, our group CEO, in one of our monthly catch-ups. At that time, we were accelerating one of our experiments with the approach of a startup studio: with ReCorp’s help, we put an amazing entrepreneur in the driver’s seat, to develop our idea into a successful new business. The speed at which he was developing our idea was unbelievable, and the way he looked at the underlying problem was radically new. We found the first leg of the idea: injecting amazing entrepreneurs into big problems or big hairy goals. We further developed this concept into what finally became our approach to innovation: creating porosity into EH ecosystem, to let amazing entrepreneurs in and to create mutations.

Wilfried asked us during the meeting how EHDA could help reinventing EH’s business, from the ground up, at a local BU level. He gave us 3 examples of BUs that would be good markets for such an experiment, with high potential. As former strategy consultants, Louis and I started thinking how we could run this as a transformation project, to find the ultimate plan to make the new and hopefully better emerge from the legacy. Wilfried challenged us to be more radical and forward-thinking: shouldn’t we restart from a blank sheet of paper in one of our BUs?

Suddenly, we realized Wilfried had the key ingredient of the idea — why start from the legacy? Why not start with the new? Why not injecting entrepreneurs instead of formulating a plan, and putting the entrepreneur in the driver’s seat to design the better new? That would be a much faster and safer way of learning if there is indeed a better new, and what it is!

This is how the idea of hacking a local business unit, or BBB (Big Bang in a BU), was born.

Easier said than done — how do you create the space within the organization, for such a potentially anarchic experiment to happen? How do you find the entrepreneur and the team? What mix of people from the organization and from outside do you bring together? How do you ensure the revolution does not end up destroying value locally? How do you support the project for maximum speed and impact? How do you prevent the organization from adding committees and checkpoints? And how do you make it inspiring?

3 … 2 … 1 …

We solved (or we think we solved) most of the questions, and our 1st BBB finally launched last week. It has an amazing team, made of a diverse mix of skilled and motivated individuals, led by a great entrepreneur. They have been given 6 months to actually do the Big Bang, which is ridiculously short compared to traditional digital transformation timeframes. The way they started working is already fast and furious, and they will keep accelerating.

Louis and I, and all EHDA team, tried to create the best possible launchpad for this BBB team. They spent the week with EHDA and some of our partners in Paris to absorb as much knowledge as we could possibly given them. They are now back to the country where the BBB will happen, and we cannot wait to see what will come out of this — hopefully a better new in 6 months!

Beyond this 1st BBB, if this idea proves right, Louis and I believe this may have far-reaching implications for organizations and for their approach to innovation. We live at a time where every organization must innovate or risks to disappear — yet most of the innovation remains at product level and a lot of people are left behind. Each day we see people who are really good at their job, and who love their company, and feel stuck “because someone else is not doing what they should”. This is very common in old organizations, and it levels the performance down by demoting people. As the products innovate, many people are left behind.

With the BBB, not only are the people at the center of the innovation, but also the resulting organization is a mutated one. Mutation after mutation, the organization may stay forever relevant. In other words, the Big Bang is people-centric innovation, potentially unlocking the keys to the organization’s eternal life.