“True Innovation is About Solving Problems”
Get to know Jan from Forward31
On its mission to create new companies beyond the core of a sports car manufacturer, Forward31 teams up with keen entrepreneurs to tackle promising business fields. Part of this new unit is Jan Feiling. His core strength is to bring various disciplines together, addressing problems worth solving; leading to novel digital products and venutures. As if that wasn’t enough, he worked on his PhD in the field of artificial intelligence.
In the interview, he not only shares his enthusiasm for AI but also what he learned from Leonardo DaVinci and how he translates it into business.
Jan, can you briefly describe what your job at FWRD31 is all about?
I work in the early phase of our venture building process by identifying problems worth solving; validating their potential and eventually develop a solution for them. Thereby, I always check what is in line with the strategic fit to our target picture at Forward31: Topics that operate along the mobility chain or address new target groups. For example: how do we bring value to our defined target group or validate promising market potentials and business opportunities? In the words of the famous investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, I transfer “Zero to One” and build the future.
Therefore, my daily work is at the intersection of design, technology, business, venture architecture and entrepreneurship. There are four main pillars involved: The collection of user insights, understanding the market through research, (beta) tests of product prototypes and the onboarding of new founders.
The Power of the Beginner’s Mind: How we Build New Ventures with Forward31
Forward31 is the new company builder by Porsche Digital. We explore strategic opportunities and create new ventures…
What is the most crucial skill for doing a great job in your role?
To be a specialist and generalist at the same time with the right mindset. My ultimate goal is to learn as fast as possible and to become a specialist in the field I am working on — which could be only a couple of weeks. Since we are looking into very different business areas, this makes me a cross-functional specialist in many fields, thus also a generalist.
Besides our first team value, the beginner’s mind, I follow two principles of Leonardo DaVinci, who is one of my inspirational sources. Firstly, I try to create a balance between science and art, logic and imagination — described as Arte et Sciencia. As a trained scientist I believe the mix of beauty and technology creates successful and sustainable businesses. Most products we build need technology to be solved, but a great design is required to make them usable. Secondly, I believe in the principle of Connesione (systems thinking), a recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Hence, in my job, connecting the dots in the fields of user insights, market dynamics, design, technology, business, and venture architecture. Everything has its own dynamics, but a successful venture only arises if all puzzle pieces working smoothly together and are precisely interconnected.
Talking about Leonardo Da Vinci — why are you fascinated by him?
It is threefold: persistency of his ideas, perfectionism in observance, and his systems thinking principle. Firstly, many of his inventions from 500 years ago — although mostly sketched on paper — are still valid nowadays. Secondly, he was an expert in observing and seeing the world from different perspectives. That is how he changed art and transferred nature phenomena into technology. A skill that I need and continuously improve to identify problems worth solving. Hence, understand and observe how humans behave and interact with products. Eventually, as mentioned early, seeing the world as an interconnected system — social, ecological, political and business dynamics. Interpreting trends and dynamics and their influence on behaviour and technology is important to identify the right opportunity spaces for our companies.
Moreover, Leonardo’s systems thinking principle is even more fascinating with my background in cybernetics.
You worked on your PhD in artificial intelligence — what was your specific topic and why did you do research on that?
Precisely it is on optimization theory which is the core of many artificial intelligence methods. Understanding the fundamentals first before building AI technology was my main driver for my research. I developed a novel optimization algorithm that can be utilized by AI applications.
Every AI method involves optimization algorithms in its training phase to achieve as many correct predictions as possible on the available data points (maximization problem). My algorithm can be applied to so-called reinforcement learning problems which got famous by AlphaGo (an AI bet the champion of Go). Therein, the algorithm finds the optimal solution by exploration of the solution space, i.e., slightly changing the strategy step by step. You can think of a trial-and-error approach — try something and if it improves the outcome in form of a higher reward do one more step in this direction and vice versa.
What has AI to do with Company Building?
It is one tool of many in our toolbox, though a very important and promising one. It is growing rapidly, enables novel products, and makes problem-solving much easier. Our core principle at FWRD31 is to look for problems worth solving and non-obvious opportunities. We apply technologies and design principles to solve those problems and build, together with founder’s, ventures around them.
There is still the belief that innovation is all about ideas, whereas true innovation is about solving problems.
Therefore, AI plays a very important role in it, but it is not our starting point to build new ventures. We don’t ask how hammer and nails can build better houses, we ask what tools can we use to build better houses.
In one word: how would you describe yourself?
Thank you, Jan.
About this publication: Where innovation meets tradition. There’s more to Porsche than sports cars — we’re tackling new challenges, develop digital products, and think digital with a focus on the customer. On our Medium blog, we tell these stories. It’s about our #nextvisions, smart technologies, and the people that drive our digital journey. Please follow us on Twitter (Porsche Digital, Next Visions), Instagram (Porsche Digital, Next Visions, Porsche Newsroom), and LinkedIn (Porsche AG, Porsche Digital) for more.