Meet the Axel Springer Ideation Council

Jonas Peeck
Feb 8 · 6 min read

Ideas Engineering is our version of Disney’s Imagineering division — a team highly specialised on bringing the future of Tech to Axel Springer through innovative prototypes. As a part of the Axel Springer Group, it’s also a member of the Global Axel Springer Developer Community.

When Alexandra "Alex" Nicolae arrived (Ideas Engineering, Berlin) in San Fransisco a year ago, she only wanted to find the answer to one simple question:

How does the Silicon Valley go from idea to finished-product?

About as hard as finding a tiny room in a shared apartment anywhere in San Fransisco, answers to her question were almost impossible to find at first. She had 2 months to get to the bottom of how the Valley does innovation, and so far it had been 2 weeks and nothing but closed doors.

Alex was desperate.

Until she caught a break through of the undercurrent of opportunities, seemingly favouring the determined, running below the startup mecca of the world — the mystical mix of perseverance and luck finally catching her adrift in a wave of follow-up referrals. She ended up with over 40 interviews at Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — picking the brains of the top tech companies in the Silicon Valley about how to do innovation at scale.

Armed with the knowledge of how the best in the world drive innovation, she returned home to Berlin — launching the Axel Springer Ideation Council.

See your ideas realised at Axel Springer

The Ideation Council, is the conceptual brainchild of years of experience in prototyping ideas into ready-to-use-products at Axel Springer Ideas Engineering mixed with Alex' insights from the Silicon Valley.

The goal of the Ideation Council is simple: Allow anyone from the global family of companies that belong to Axel Springer to submit an idea and pitch them in front of panel that includes at least one board member.

Ideas can be submitted through a publicly available website by everyone at the Axel Springer Group: ideationcouncil.axelspringer.com.

To get an idea into the Ideation Council, the submitter simply has to fill in Amazon's legendary press release template — "working backwards" from what the final product might look like to potential users.

If anyone is unsure about the pitch, they can optionally also get in touch with Alex for a quick chat before submitting their idea.

Inspiration, Information, Impediment, Impact — 4Is in 3 Minutes

Once submitted, the idea is refined through conversations with Alex herself. What's interesting in this case is that the FAQ section of the Amazon Product Template is assembled in this step: Alex and another team mate from the Ideation Council Team ask the kind of questions that the jury members might ask, to help refine the concept and make the idea rock-solid.

Members of the Ideation Council Team includes a heavy-weight innovation lineup from the Axel Springer universe — next to Alex (Product Owner at Ideas Engineering), Henrike Hedel (Strategic Innovation Manager at Ideas Enginnering), Bente Zerrahn (Innovation Catalyst at Axel Springer) and Michael Alber (COO of Ideas Engineering) help bring the website submissions into a pitch-ready form.

Next, the refined product template is turned into a 3 minute pitch, covering 4Is — documenting what the inspiration for the idea was, which information the submitter can provide as research, what impediment(s) are currently stopping us from building it, and what the impact of the idea on Axel Springer would be:

After that it's off to the next Ideation Council session, where votes are cast by the Ideation Council team members and by one of our board members.

Launching the pitch into the stratosphere

After a pitch has been chosen for implementation from the council meeting, two special teams at Axel Springer Ideas Engineering — Team X and Team POV (name is a WIP)— go into high-gear, building either a prototype (1 week) or even a proof of value (1 month), in order to validate the hypothesis that the pitch is based on.

A while ago, we talked to Martin Bild (Project Lead Innovation & Strategy at Ideas Engineering) about how Ideas Engineering does Innovation, and it turns out that the Ideation Council builds on a long legacy of prototype-driven innovation at Ideas Engineering. For years the teams that Martin Bild works with, have been part of an innovation process where everyone from the company was asked to rate ideas for prototypes on a scale of 1–10 in "Awesomeness", which then lead to the funnel leaders being built into 1–week Proof of Concepts, or 1–month Proof of Value prototypes.

Building innovative prototypes has been part of the Ideas Engineering (the Axel Springer version of the legendary Imagineering Division at Disney) for years.

The only difference now is that the ideas funnel has been opened to everyone inside the Global Axel Springer Family through the Ideation Council.

How to: Innovate like the Valley

Simple things are hard to get right — the Ideation Council seems to have the recipe just right though— if you want to build up your own innovation process at your company / corporation, the following learnings from talking to Alex might help:

  1. Get buy-in from the board / top-management — It's both a motivation and a challenge to pitch at that flight-level. Plus ideas stand a real chance at being seen through to completion with the right backing
  2. Find a team of volunteers who help refine pitches — In every team there's people who get excited by fresh ideas. Get these people to help refine the pitches with passion & curiosity
  3. Make it as easy as possible to submit ideas — The website for the Axel Springer Ideation Council is publicly available so nobody has to go sifting through our various (non-connected) intranets to find it. It's a simple Squarespace site — anyone could set that up!
  4. Dedicate a team to implementing the ideas — The Ideation Council builds on top of the legacy and experience of Team X that has been specialised on building prototypes for years. Don't let good ideas die — dedicate people & money to bring those ideas to life before you start accepting pitches
  5. Follow up with the ideas —Prototypes & Proof of Values often die a premature death in corporations. Make sure the board-member-studded jury that evaluates pitches also follows-up with past implementations. Use the buy-in from step one to make sure your innovative prototypes get a fair chance at life!

For Alex it has to feel like life has come full circle.

Years ago, she switched away from a path towards becoming a teacher to instead join the tech-sector. She believed that she could help bring about change faster through working at tech-companies than by trying to convince teenagers to do the right thing.

Now that change is right at her fingertips — and in everyone's reach at Axel Springer.

Pitch your idea to the Ideation Council, if you haven't already.
Or get in touch with Alex, if you're looking for inspiration to setup your own Ideation Council.

Connect with Alex on LinkedIn

💼 Curious about working at Ideas Engineering?
👉🏻 Check out our open positions

— — —

Hi, I’m Jonas and I’m currently building up a Global Axel Springer Developer Community. Subscribe to our Weekly Tech Newsletter to get a fresh story like this every Monday and to receive details on how you can join our global developer community ✌🏻

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