The Europe Conference kicks off in London in just over one week. Don’t have your tickets yet? You still have time to snag them for a fraction of the at-the-door price and meet us on 6 June for a full day of speakers, startups, investors and more.
Check out this Q+A with Emilie Colker, managing director of IDEO London, and don’t miss her on the Q+A Popup and Mainstage at #sgeurope!
What will you be discussing at the Europe Conference?
I’ll be speaking about creative leadership, and how to foster and sustain a culture of innovation as your startup scales.
Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I am French and American. While I’ve been lucky enough to live all around the world, I spent the majority of my career in Silicon Valley and have been living in London for the past five years.
What does IDEO do?
IDEO is a design and innovation company that helps organisations tackle some of their most complex challenges. We use design to make strategy tangible (in the form of new products, services, experiences, ventures and systems), and help companies to become more relevant, competitive, and sustainable.
What is your mission?
To create disproportionate impact in the world through design. There’s been a lot of hype about purpose-driven companies recently, but IDEO has been driven by purpose since its inception over 40 year ago. It’s palpable in the choices we make, the work we do, and the behaviours people exhibit every day.
What’s one thing you’re excited about right now?
Professionally: bringing humanity to AI. We can’t just be passively awed by the promise of AI, as if it still belongs to science fiction. Instead, we’ve got a huge responsibility to make the technology work for us — and that means proactively addressing questions of ethics, empathy, diversity and democratic distribution. It’s a challenge for all of us, and one that hugely inspires me.
Personally: the power of hypnotherapy. We are so far from understanding our subliminal brains and the power they exert over us.
What moment are you most proud of in your career?
How I have fought battles, responded to criticism and been steered by my values.
I can recall one moment in particular: I was dreading a call from a powerful public figure who disagreed with a decision I had made about a public awareness campaign. It would have been easy to have been intimidated and backed down, but that would have gone against the values that led me to making the choices I had on behalf of others. Handling the situation required empathy, care and interest, whilst standing my ground with data and reason.
How do you encourage diversity within your company?
IDEO is the most values-driven company I’ve come across. It’s also a company that encourages diversity in every sense — our innovation process, for instance, is built on the idea of divergent voices coming together to leverage their differences.
While we have a distinct focus on diversity, inclusion and equity, we try to use our values to guide our decisions. For example:
Be Optimistic: We make the space for people to share their opinions, assuming good in every contribution.
Collaborate: We look to meetings and environments that cater to both introverts and extroverts, so we can achieve more together.
Embrace Ambiguity: We encourage questions over solutions, and look for ways to support each other emotionally.
Learn from Failure: If we hire only from inside our networks or through traditional channels, our opportunities to learn from new perspectives will be limited.
Make Others Successful: We’re only ever as successful as our weakest partner.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing startup founders today?
Learning how to let go.
… whether it’s letting someone else take the reins, or not sweating the small stuff. Leaders, and founders in particular, have a hard time seeing that the energy they display (both good and bad) is infectious and that it has a real impact on their partners and colleagues.
Moving from motivating themselves to motivating others.
Because their startup often means everything to them, it’s no sacrifice for founders to dedicate as much time as they do to the business. It can be difficult to realise that that’s not always true for their employees, who are often juggling other priorities and commitments. It’s important to learn how to work with this, rather than resisting or resenting it.
Realising that culture is something to work on.
Although it might sound like an unfair comparison, research shows that when cults grow to 150 people, they start to be riddled with internal strife (Dunbar’s number). My experience is that once a company surpasses 50 people, culture is something to work on, not to simply expect. Culture will make or break a company, but founders sometimes struggle to see it as an investment rather than a cost.
What is one question you ask yourself before making a big business decision?
I always ask the same question: “What’s the end goal?”. Recently I’ve been applying Roger Martin’s Playing to Win framework, and following my question with a second one: “what would need to be true?” in order to develop a solid strategy, and then execute it.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to other business leaders?
It of course depends on the person and context, but I believe that all leaders can learn from two simple observations:
We are all human, and thus ego-driven, fallible, and sometimes irrational — whether we like it or not!
Learning comes from unexpected places, so to maximise our opportunities for growth, we must sometimes put ourselves in uncomfortable positions.
The 2019 Startup Grind Europe Conference
The Startup Grind Europe Conference (June 6, 2019 in London) is the event for startups everywhere. #sgeurope provides an environment unlike anything else in Europe — where more than 3,000 entrepreneurs, partners, investors, thought leaders, and worldwide directors come together for one full day of dynamic networking events, meetings with investors, access to invaluable resources, and inspiration led by top CEOs and influencers and more. Join us to connect with the largest startup community in the world.