Join me at Singularity University’s first Germany Summit, Berlin, 20-21.Apr.16

Join me at Singularity University’s first Germany Summit, Berlin, 20-21.Apr.16

On April 20-21, 2016, Singularity University, the most innovative and forward-looking institution, has chosen to host their SingularityU Germany Summit in Berlin—one of the most vibrant cities in the world. SingularityU Germany Summit is a local Chapter and community organization of Singularity University. It is one of the largest two-day events in Europe aimed at bringing awareness about exponential technologies and their impact on business and policy to thought leaders and executives from breakthrough companies.

What can you expect at SingularityU Germany Summit?

Leading experts from the global high-tech community will present the latest trends and cutting-edge developments in Mobility, Organization, Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Computing, Robotics, 3D Printing, Machine Learning and Design Thinking. Together we strive to inspire and empower European leaders and influencers in using exponential technologies to solve today’s most pressing issues. SingularityU Germany Summit is an ideal platform to network for both alumni as well as first time attendees, leaders, government representatives, entrepreneurs, investors, NGOs.

500 attendees ranging from CEOs to young innovators from across the globe are expected to attend the event. Together we will explore issues such as: How can technological evolution be transformed into a sustainable and value-based growth for any industry? What ethical standards and responsibilities do global leaders have to account for?

 

 

 

 

Digital Transformation at ‘Life-Science meets Telco7’ on April 14, 2016

Meet me in Bonn, Germany on April 14, 2016 for the 7th installation of DeTeCon’s Life-Science meets Telco series.

This year‘s event focuses on a very special aspect of the Digital Transformation – the cross-industry collaboration and exchange.

How can digitalization be implemented to make a difference in every patient’s life? What best practices from other industries can be transferred to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries? These and many more questions we will answer at this year’s event.

You can expect a great atmosphere for networking as well as exciting discussions on:

  • What is the role of the Digital Transformation for Pharma?
  • Importance of the collaboration between Life Sciences & ICT: current changes in ICT.

Don’t miss this opportunity! Save the date and stay tuned for more information!

 

German Innovation Insider: Catch-Up in Mobility Arena

After exploring German innovation barriers to digital transformation. As a follow-up, let’s look at an example of a successful industry already known for high-tech. And which example would be more moving than the iconic German automotive industry?

Automotive, a moving example

We explored German innovation barriers to digital transformation in German Innovation Insider: The Brakes on Digital Innovation previously.  As a follow-up, let’s look at an example of a successful industry already known for German high-tech innovation: the iconic German automotive industry.

Automotive is the largest industrial sector in Germany.  Vehicles and parts make up some 20% of total German industry revenue with auto sales and exports worth 368 billion euros ($411 billion) in 2014.  Car-making is a German strong suit with luxury cars being the most profitable segment.

Electric Vehicles? – “Nein, Danke!”

Disruptive players emerged with electric car concepts for years. They were generally ignored by the established car makers despite the high eco-consciousness of German society in general.  The new technology was not considered a threat nor as profitable as the existing businesses.  So electrical vehicles were disregarded so not to disrupt or cannibalize the traditional business with combustion engine vehicles.

The influence of the car industry remains strong and has an outspoken lobby also in Germany.  This contributes to failing the German government’s announced goal of leading the electric mobility market with “one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020” since only 8,522 new electrical vehicles were registered in German in 2014 (up from under 3,000 in 2012).

2015Q1 ihs-automotive-electric-vehicles-ranked-by-country(businessinsider_com)
Germany ranks 6th in electric vehicle (EV) registrations by country in Q1/2015. EV registrations in percent of all vehicle registrations displayed.  (image: countrybusinessinsider.com)

Innovation Catch-up by the Automotive Industry

The game changed when disruptive niche player Tesla Motors started cutting into the highly profitable luxury car segment with its high-end and high-tech electric vehicles.  Tesla also receives outstanding customer service reviews in key markets such as the United States.  Suddenly German car builders scramble to catch up to protect their stakes: everyone wants to offer at least one electric vehicle in their luxury car portfolio as a ‘Tesla Killer.’ Finally, negligent or halfhearted governmental support of the program just changed course by offering temporary tax breaks and other incentives.

Growing out of the Niche

Now, disruptive innovation may not make cars obsolete.  We still want to get from A to B, so incrementally improved cars (better safety, quality components, etc.) will remain in demand and customers will continue to pay a premium for luxury models. Take a closer look at Tesla though to see the difference of their bigger and bolder view: the Model S versions, for example, are constructed all the same except for the model sticker on the back.

The true battlefield is no longer the physical car alone.  From the steering unit to the breaking-system Tesla’s are built from pre-assembled, tried-and-tested components from quality manufacturers; including parts from some German hidden champions such as Stabilus (liftgate gas spring) and ZF Lenksysteme (steering mechanism).

tesla-suppliers-2013(insideevs_com)
Model S relies on quality parts by suppliers  (image: insideevs.com)

Software is Pivotal

Nonetheless, it’s the software configuration in the Model S that makes the difference from regulating the available battery capacity (extended range) to other features (acceleration) that become available to its passengers.  Tesla added ‘Autopilot’ functionality and a self-parking feature to its fleet just recently – simply via remote software update. Voila!

Reaching beyond the individual vehicle the software running the car became the key to future mobility.  The question becomes who will own the car operating system of the future?  Chances are it’s the exponential silicon players from sunny California who are best positioned, experienced and deeply understand both, digital integration and exponential innovation.

Mercedes meets the software threat and opportunity by aiming to control this pivotal technology, which may otherwise be seized by more avid digital players such as Google, Microsoft or even Tesla.  Mercedes made some progress when it just announced its new E-class vehicles connecting and sharing relevant information with each other.

Out for the kill?

German luxury car-makers proudly announce their future ‘Tesla Killers’ playing catch-up with high-end electric cars of their own, such as Audi’s Q7 E-TRON Quattro, BMW’s i5 or Porsche’s performance vehicle Mission E (the latter two not available before 2019).  Tesla hardware is even coming under attack with future competition getting ready; among them  Silicon Valley’ Atieva and Tesla clones from China.

In true sports car fashion, Porsche’s marketing highlights 600hp for 0-to-60mph acceleration in under 3.5 seconds. Tesla already achieves this mark today. So where is the actual ‘kill’?

Porsche unvels Tesla Killer
Porsche unveils ‘Tesla Killer’  (image: CNBC)

The Mobility Arena

The real question aims at the next step: where will the drivers of the new Audi’s, BMW’s and Porsche’s charge their batteries on the road?

Looking at future mobility as an arena rather than just vehicles, Tesla’s venture also crossed other industries such as the critical battery business in partnership with Panasonic.  In addition, Tesla offers a wide-cast net of ‘SuperCharger’ power-stations free of charge for its customers at many highway rest-stops and gas-stations positioned to allow Tesla drivers to reach most areas of the continental U.S. already today.

Tesla Supercharger ranges (reddit_com)
Tesla Supercharger station with vehicle range  (reddit.com)

Fueling the Future

Here, Tesla secured the first-mover advantage in securing the precious real-estate needed at busy rest-stops.  In the long run, it appears doubtful that rest-stops will grant additional dedicated slots with proprietary pumps to every car-maker to recharge their line of vehicles.

Tesla SuperChargers
Tesla SuperChargers  (image: teslamotors.com)

So the German car manufacturers may be forced to cut a deal with Tesla adopting the Tesla technology and paying for using Tesla’s high-speed pump space on-the-go in the future.  Tesla even announced it will not enforce patent protection for anyone who, in good faith, wants to use the Tesla technology, which may smoothen over the adoption by other car-makers.

Outlook

Looking into the crystal ball, the automotive industry is not just about introducing more electric vehicles but is morphs to become a new mobility arena as Tesla is demonstrating.  Being still at the early stage of an exponential growth curve, Teslas are certainly not cheap to buy – yet.

Looking at electric vehicles simply as sophisticated hardware components, however, we may just enter a scenario in the not-too-distant future that reminds of Amazon’s successful strategy: giving the Kindle eReader (hardware) devices away cheap. Amazon is not interested in hardware but the content, the vast library of eBooks (software) fueling the customers’ demand, which makes all the difference and holds the keys to a proprietary, digital kingdom with recurring high revenues.

kindle-fire(michaelhyatt.com)
Amazon’s Kindle hardware is fueled by eBooks  (image: michaelhyatt.com)

German Innovation Insider: Holding the Brakes on Digital Innovation

German innovation gets trapped in the very mentality focusing on building quality products ‘Made in Germany’ that the country got well known for. Holding on to vertical product improvement, however, obstructs crossing industry barriers, convergence, developing game-changing business models, and coming up with breakthrough innovations with potential for exponential growth and returns.

Germany – Land of the ‘Hidden Champions’

A recent research study of the Centre for European Economic Research confirmed Germany leading by far with 1,550 hidden champions.  Companies are commonly considered a hidden champion if they are no. 1 or 2 on the world market, make less than EUR 1.5b revenue and their name is not overly well unknown to the general public.

Note that mid-size companies comprise 80%(!) of German industry and resemble the backbone of the German economy altogether. According to the Berlin School of Economics and Law, 90% are focused on B2B.

germany-celebrates_(latintimes.com)
Champions not only in world football (image: latintimes.com)

See if you recognize a few examples of hidden champions that are leading global players:

  • Dixi / ToiToi (portable toilets)
  • Sennheiser (headphones)
  • EBM-Papst (motor and fan manufacturer)
  • Enercon (wind energy)
  • Krones (bottling machines)
  • Recaro (car and airplane seats)
  • Trumpf (laser cutters)

Inside the Vertical Tunnel View

Among the 1.500+ market leaders, only two German companies are leading software companies (Software AG and SAP).  The vast majority focuses on more tangible product innovation leaving this digital industry somewhat isolated, underdeveloped and vulnerable like an economy’s Achilles’ Heel.

You get a good sense of a vertical bias in product innovation, when you read German open job postings for innovation lead position of sorts:  As an innovator in an automotive company, you require a solid background in engine engineering, for example, or as an innovation leader in a chemical consumer goods company, you will not be hired without in-depth knowledge of adhesives, for example.  It becomes painfully obvious how the vertical product innovation fosters a mindset of inbred solutions and can miss out on transformative opportunities beyond the own domain, bridging and converging industries.

3D-printed-German-car(partsolutions.com)
3D-printed car (image: carpartsolutions.com)

Point being: Innovators are usually hired from within a vertical industry. This leaves little room for a creative influx from the outside.  Since meaningful innovation ‘happens’ at the crossroads of disciplines in a horizontal cross-pollination of different industries and domains. This inflexible German practice lends itself to incremental improvement of products rather than disruptive transformation of businesses, entire industries or even across industry arenas.  Within a vertical mindset, ecosystem cross-pollination withers and innovators are less suited, prepared, capable, or enabled to disrupt.

Digital Transformation “Made in Silicon Valley”

When it comes to digital transformation, German companies got disrupted and steamrolled mostly by large-scale digital disruptors coming out of the United States from either California or the East coast technology ecosystems with huge global impact and a different approach:

  • The world’s largest taxi service owns no taxis (Uber)
  • The most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook)
  • The largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
  • The largest accommodation provider owns no real-estate (Airbnb)
  • The largest software vendors don’t write apps (Apple, Google) and so on.

The above examples differ from traditional products not only by bold out-of-the-box thinking but also by paying close attention to the customer.  Their business models rest firmly in the digital world with a software business and an internet backbone.

Uber and Airbnb offer digital platforms – that’s it, no tangible goods.  Nonetheless, they shake up the established industries of transportation and hospitality in ways unheard of.  They also reap exponential returns by creating new digital arenas that generate highest recurring revenue in the digital space.

Digital Industry (telecitygroup.com)
Digital business has arrived (image: telecitygroup.com)

Missing the Digital Train?

Back in Germany, its 1,500+ hidden champions flourish in a robust economy, so Germany must be doing something right overall with a vertical focus set on tangible quality products within industries.  Good money is still made in Germany by holding a steady course of vertical product improvement.

This practice also goes hand-in-hand in hand with protecting and not challenging enough the traditional sales-driven business models to avoid cannibalizing the status quo for next-generation innovations.  It reminds of the Kodak-Eastman story having invented the first digital camera but rejecting the technology in order to protect the business around the existing analog film products – and we all know what happened to Kodak.

A Digital Transformation Divide

Truly putting the customer in the center and embracing digital business requires a radical transformation of the existing business and its operations.  The critical interface between IT and Marketing, for example, often is not well developed in Germany, where traditional companies lack understanding of the digital potential and struggle with developing new, digital business models in time.

It is not a question but painfully obvious that -with the current mindset and strategy- Germany misses the train on digital transformation.  While the world moves online, many companies in Germany failed or simply ignored the emerging technological opportunities to develop digital business models consequently, in a structured fashion and timely.

Failure_to_Innovate(bobmaconbusiness_com)
Germany is missing the digital innovation train. (image: bobmaconbusiness.com)

In fact, German companies practically ‘gave up’ across entire industries including media, travel, and retail.  In a recent wake-up call, the German government asked companies and industries to focus on digital transformation in a widely proclaimed initiative called “Industrie 4.0” ‑ a race to catch up internationally.  And catching up is much needed: the narrow German ‘inside focus’ presents a vulnerability to be exploited by foreign disruptive players.  The gap widens steadily as the competitors advance fast, build up huge resources and become increasingly experienced to develop and apply digital transformation with new business models.

pessimism_quote(notable-quotes.com)
(image: notable-quotes.com)

Pessimism with an Insurance Mindset

The high level of disruption and uncertainty does not come easily to a less flexible German mindset:  Having experienced hardship many times during the not-all-that-distant history, Germans tend to seek and value predictability and safety.  Anxiety and fear of the unknown forms an undercurrent in the mindset of German society, which is expressed by seeking refuge in insurance policies to prepare for unknown future events.

As an example, not only do Germans over-insure their daily lives with a myriad of insurances, Germany also holds on to one of the largest amounts of hospital beds and bunkers per capita. You find more hospital capacity in the Berlin-area alone than in all of their neighboring country, The Netherlands!

In general, start-up funding is not as easy to come by as in the U.S., for example, where venture funding is a more common practice.  When I arrived in Germany a year ago, I came across a serious government program that ‘supported’ a new start-up or entrepreneurs with grants tied to a projected positive return-on-investment (ROI) within the first year.  Now, building a profitable business from scratch within in year is an unrealistic goal.  Consequently, the desperate entrepreneur in need of funding would have to submit a bogus business plan right off the bat, which is a set-up for disappointment down the road.  So, either the government program is not meant serious (unlikely) or is designed by people not knowing the first thing about starting a business (likely).

senior-woman-confused-by-tablet-computer(sheknows.com)
Reluctance to embrace technology? (image: sheknows.com)

Techno-Fear and Over-regulation

Overall, the German mindset tends to be more critical regarding new and unfamiliar technology.  Seeking to avoid risk comes with a tendency to ‘over-regulate’ in the sense of applying regulations just because it is possible to regulate rather than because it is necessary to come up with regulation.

Since a long time, Germany has the strictest data privacy laws (that recently translated into GDPR, Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation).  The domestic law protects the individual by granting them the right to control their personal data online and offline.  These regulations are rooted in the country’s dark experiences during its Nazi-past but are also is a reflection of the outspoken suspicion among the broader population towards digital data technologies and their application.  Thus, Germans tend to be more reluctant to share personal data on social media out of fear of exposure and losing control.

The protective (domestic) legislation means well but can only be effective in a closed system, which the (global) internet is not.  In a digital world, international boundaries are artificial.  Given the nature and proliferation of digital technology and interconnectivity of people around the globe, keeping up the aspired high standards proves increasingly cumbersome if not impossible.

The German island can hardly be defended effectively over time.  It may protect the citizens from some harm locally but in return also isolates them and denies them access to the benefits of a technology that ever progresses globally.

Losing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Given a rather pessimistic Germany mindset that is reluctant to fully immerse in the digital world, digital-resistant citizens appear poorly prepared for ‘moonshot’ visions, embracing the opportunities of Big Data Analytics or the vast potential of the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

German innovation death(deskmag_com)
Reluctant to start up a business (image: deskmag.com)

The present German ‘generation of heirs’ inherits the wealth created by their parents’ generation during the famous post-WWII decades known as the economic “Wirtschaftswunder” boom.  Very much in contrast to the U.S. or Asia, many Germans do not share the venturing spirit anymore.  They show reluctance to trying out something new such as building a business as an entrepreneur for several reasons:

  • Firstly, Germans tend to prefer a detailed plan before actively exploring an opportunity and strictly sticking to the plan during implementation. Besides the favorable element of thorough planning, this approach also reflects a deeper fear of failure and seeking a sense of security and predictability.  Deviating from the plan is often interpreted as a failure.
    But then, which plan ever is perfect and stands the test of a dynamic reality? Sadly, the debate then quickly tends to turn to finding a culprit when things go sour rather than making adjustments to keep moving on.
  • Secondly, German hesitation and even a good amount of pessimism roots in the stigma of a business failure, which seems to stick more in German society than in the United States. More than 9 out of 10 start-ups fail, but when a startup fails in the U.S this does not automatically translate into a personal failure of the leader.  It is much more seen as a learning experience, while a German CEO gets easily branded a loser.
    Surrounded by the ‘insurance thinking’ mentioned earlier it will be hard for the former CEO finding support for a future business or even employment in Germany after a venture failed. In consequence, the German CEO is more motivated to beat a dead horse rather than cutting the losses and move on.

Summary – Brakes on Digital Innovation in Germany

For all these reasons, visions tend to be smaller in Germany.  They are more designed to control risk than seizing exponential business opportunities.  Thinking too small, not disruptive enough and too focused within an industry prohibits to compete with the digital global players that emerged with exponential business models, such as the Googles, Apples, Amazons, Airbnbs, Ubers, and so on out there.

Brake-damage(dba.com.au)
Brake damage ahead! (image: dba.com.au)

What keeps the brakes on the German innovation machine is the inbred mindset and vertical tunnel vision with a focus more on products instead of customers, and the risk-avoidance and fear of applying digital technology to its full potential.  It traps many German companies in a self-limiting disadvantage compared to American or Asian competitors, which prove more venturous, flexible and generally optimistic.

The U.S., in particular, entrepreneurs come not only with a more flexible and optimistic mindset but can also tap into unique startup eco-systems in place (Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC areas primarily) with easy access to bright minds, cross-pollination and venture capital.

Outlook

There remains a demand for physical, quality products in the future, such as the machinery, tools or cars we value today as Made in Germany, so the 1,500+ hidden champions look into a bright future.  Their reluctance to embrace the digital age, however, and transform to embrace new digital business models, however, may steadily push them to the sidelines as industries and arenas change beyond their input or control.

Join Masterclass webinar: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within Pharma, Feb. 23, 2016

The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and business models of the past are failing today. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

Sign up for the Masterclass: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within the Pharmaceutical Industry webinar hosted by the Intrapreneurship Conference at 5-7pm CET (11am-1pm ET) on February 23, 2016!

Intrapreneurship Conference

Why?  The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and the business models of the past are failing. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

This session offers you a unique birds-eye and worms-eye view on pharma innovation and its shortcomings under the current paradigm, before diving into real-life case studies of intrapreneuring, disruptive transformation and strategic innovations within and beyond a Global FORTUNE 500 pharma company.

Join this masterclass and learn on how to bring intrapreneuring and transformation to life in a large pharma company.

Driving Innovation in Healthcare: New Executive Intrapreneuring Workshop

Experience the new two-day intrapreneurial journey to transform you organization with exponential results!

Don’t miss EBCG’s intense and hands-on Intrapreneuring Workshop “Building an innovation framework to design, launch and execute business projects” in the Driving Innovation in Healthcare series in the “Golden City” of Prague, Czech Republic, on April 6-7, 2016.

Sign up before December 23, 2015, to save during the special promotion period.


 

 

The Future of Pharma: Calls Moving to Consults (video)

Calls Moving to Consults is a thought leadership video in the “10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015” series that was hosted by the stellar Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer with Cegedim.

This video addresses the question:  How can the pharmaceutical industry reskill representatives to be knowledgeable consultants to physicians?

Today, sales expertise is not enough. The pharmaceutical representative needs to be a broker of information. Physicians now have very limited time – and dictate when they can meet with representatives, from whom they need comprehensive information that they can pass along to their increasingly educated patients.

In this video, Jo Ann Saitta, Chief Digital Officer of the CDM Group, Stephan Klaschka, Innovation and Healthcare Consultant, and moderator, Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer at Cegedim, examine this shift and the challenges pharmaceutical companies may face in properly retraining their people. These challenges include: adopting a culture of learning agility; integrating silos of information; having the ability to serve up dynamic content; and training representatives to utilize technologies that will maximize their brief but demanding visits with physicians.

Use this link to watch all 10 videos in the series on YouTube directly – enjoy!

  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Communication moving to Collaboration
    • Angela Miccoli
    • Wendy Mayer
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Content moving to Context
    • James Corbett
    • Craig DeLarge
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Care moving to Cure
    • Michael DePalma
    • John Nosta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Compliance moving to Culture
    • Bill Buzzeo
    • Gus Papandrikos
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Supply Chains moving to Supply Constellations
    • Ray Wang
    • Aron Dutta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customization moving to Configuration
    • Tracy Maines
    • Krishna Cheriath
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customer moving to Consumer
    • Paul Kandle
    • Mark Stevens
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Calls moving to Consults
    • Jo Ann Saitta
    • Stephan Klaschka
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Cloud moving to Crowd
    • Les Jordan
    • Krishnan Sridharan
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015- Charity moving to Cause
    • Janet Carlson
    • Beth Bengtson

Eyeforpharma interview “Taking the entrepreneurial approach”

Read this insightful “Taking the entrepreneurial approach” interview conducted by Eyeforpharma on the impact of hierarchy and how executive mindset inhibits adapting to the rapidly changing commercial landscape.  It outlines how “intrapreneurs” and internal “angel investors” can get large, mature organizations moving again!

Read Intrapreneuring Case Study “Leading Innovation” by Ivey Business School!

The prestigious Ivey Business School of the Western University in Ontario, Canada, published an insightful new teaching case study on intrapreneuring and corporate innovation titled “Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation” in which the case writers, Professor J. Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., and Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, follow the footsteps of the newly appointed innovation director.

Meant to raise questions and serving as a learning opportunity for graduate students in academic program around the globe, this case study lifts the corporate curtain a bit to show how innovation through intrapreneuring really happens and decision points along the way.

Outline (by Ivey Publishing)

The newly appointed director of Innovation Management & Strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based multinational pharmaceutical company, is finding his way forward in his firm’s new, first-of-its-kind role, which is central to the company’s growth rejuvenation strategy. His job has a threefold mandate: to build internal networks, to establish internal structures and to leverage internal ideas. His biggest challenge, however, may be transforming the organization’s DNA. The blockbuster business model that has characterized the company for decades is no longer appropriate. Instead, the firm needs to develop healthcare products available to end users over the counter. This shift in strategy requires innovative changes in distribution, delivery and customer focus. To accomplish this goal, he needs to institutionalize innovation so that it becomes sustainable. But in doing so, he must also identify the metrics for assessing progress. The case provides an opportunity for students to step into the shoes of an innovation leader, to develop an innovation roadmap for the organization in the face of uncertainty and to understand how to engage in innovation leadership at various levels of a global enterprise.

Learning Objective

This case has two key objectives. First, this case provides students an opportunity to grapple with the difficult decisions associated with innovation in an uncertain environment. Second, this case highlights that anyone has the ability to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and to lead innovation. The case divides the attributes of an innovation leader into five components: observing, questioning, experimenting, networking and associating. It shows the real-life experiences of a manager doing seemingly routine activities, who evolved into a leader who transformed the DNA of a global enterprise. The case also provides a template of the tasks, responsibilities and value-added changes as an individual moves progressively within an enterprise from an operations manager to a senior manager to an innovation leader. This case can be used either toward the beginning or toward the end of any course that addresses innovation and creative thinking in a large organization. At the beginning of a course, it illustrates the challenges of acting in the face of uncertainty in a large organization. At the end of a course, the case provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned about innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation leadership.

Shut down! Why Successful Innovations Die

Why successful innovations get shut down. WhIle we expect unsuccessful initiatives and projects to get shut down, what sense does it make to stop hugely successful ones?

Punished Despite Success

It doesn’t make sense to shut down profitable programs – or does it?  It happens all the time when the current yet wilting business model still tastes sweet.  Investing in building a disruptive, future business model appears less palatable as it takes uncomfortable transformation that comes with investment cost and lower profits initially.  The sobering reality is that short-term gains often win over long-term investments, sustainability and bold moves to explore uncertainty and white space.

Here is a quick example from the fossil oil and gas industry straight out of Bloomberg Businessweek, “Chevron Dims the Lights on Green Power” (June 2-8, 2014):  Chevrons renewable power group successfully launched several projects generating solar and geothermal power for over 65,000 homes.  Despite margins of 15-20%, the group was surprisingly dissolved earlier this year after they had just about doubled their projected profits from $15 million to $27 million in 2013, the first year of their full operation. – Why would you kill a profitable new business?

Clashing Business Models

As for reasons for the shut-down, a former Chevron employee and Director of Renewable Energy notes that Chevron’s core businesses, oil and gas, still remain more profitable than renewable energy.  This development signals that Chevron’s leadership is willing to experiment with renewable energy but does not seem fully committed – it makes Chevron’s slogan “Finding newer, cleaner ways to power the world” sound like lip-service.

Instead, Chevron continues to hold on tightly to their old business model to squeeze out the last drop of oil.  Chasing short-term profit margins may prove not only a questionable path for long-term company sustainability but also from a business model perspective.  While oil and gas prices have been on the rise for the past decades, it is well-known that these natural resources become scarce, so extraction from more challenging locations becomes increasingly expensive.  It cuts into the company’s profits and the consumers’ pockets.  To date, Chevron already pays a higher cost for extracting oil compared to competitors.

Chevron focuses on the upper tail of the S-curve of the current technology instead at the expense of preparing for the disruptive jump to the next technology platform. (See section “Technology S-curves” in 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)
The risk here is to lose out on developing and acquiring new technologies that will be the make-or-break competitive advantage in the industry’s future.

Bio Fuels

Interestingly, Chevron’s competitor and largest oil company, Exxon-Mobil, takes a different approach.  Even after initial setbacks where proof-of-concept did not scale to industrial size, Exxon-Mobile now partnered with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics to produce oil from micro-algae at industrial scale. Hopes are high that this bio-tech and bio-agriculture approach proves more practical, profitable and sustainable to replace fossil fuels in the future.

Sounds risky?  It sure is, but with profits from oil and gas still in the tens of billions this is the time to invest heavily in the jump on to the next technological S-curve. You may recall Craig Venter as a most successful entrepreneur and also the first to sequence the human genome, so there is no shortage of top bio-brainpower, which opens the flow also for more investment capital.

Nearsighted Decisions

Truth being told, several other bio-fuel ventures of this nature exist all around the world.  Neither made it to produce in industrial scale needed to satisfy the world demand for crude oil – yet.  There is no question, however, that the world is running out of affordable oil and gas at accelerating speed.  Disruptive technologies will emerge to fill the gap and redefine the energy sector.

Leadership is needed to prepare and transform the industry beyond short-term management of profit targets.  Not taking a bold step forward is the absence of leadership.  (More on the clashing goals in Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?)

Learnings

The learning here is that even profitable disruptive ventures get shut down at times when the leadership is comfortable and holds on tightly to the existing business model they are familiar with and doing what they always did rather than taking transformative steps to prepare the organization for the future.  Even with the writing clearly on the wall, the way of how profitability of a new venture is measured and the (still higher) margins of the established business (fossil fuels) make short-term focus attractive despite concerns over business model sustainability.  So often enough there is little patience to further develop even successful, transformative ventures of tomorrow in favor of enjoying the sweet but wilting fruits of today.

Somehow this short-term mindset painfully reminds me also of the established car industry who, obviously, had little interest to bring electric vehicles to market at scale over the past decades until a Tesla comes around to show them how it can and should be done.

As for our example, time will tell whether Chevron or Exxon-Mobil made the better choice in the long run to win the new business model race leading us into the post-crude oil era – or if they both get disrupted by an even different new technology altogether.

Balancing Risk of Innovation Project Portfolios

Risk of Disruption

Innovation projects are risky explorations.  Disruptive innovation projects even more so, and individual projects can be quite a gamble.  So, how can you limit the risk across your portfolio of innovation projects?  The goal is to increase the likelihood for the portfolio to succeed overall even if individual projects fail.

(Quick note for project management professionals: I am deliberately not differentiating terms like “portfolio” and “program” here.  My goal is to get the basic idea across.   More particular definitions don’t add value here.)

In mature organizations, incremental improvement can easily be and often is interpreted as ‘innovation’, which makes sense when optimizing a production environment, for example. Here, at the back-end of operations, big “elephant” projects tend to bind the organizations resources (How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations).  The innovation project portfolio I am referring to, in contrast, aims at the disruptive end: the “small elephant projects” with higher risk but the potential of extraordinarily high returns if they succeed.

Why to manage risk

In large organizations you hardly get a “carte blanche” to manage just highly risky projects.  With a corporate focus on predictable, short-term results there is too much concern of the portfolio easily becoming an unpredictable money pit.  You are likely to get shut down after playing around a while without demonstrating clear success in terms of return-of-investment.  Thus, you will need to come up with a strategy on how to compose your project portfolio to keep your stakeholders happy and your experimental playground open.

Risk Categories 

Managing risk across a project portfolio comes down to finding the right blend of high-risk/high-return projects and lower risk projects that come with less impressive potential for revenue or savings.  You also want to include a few projects that produce returns short-term to demonstrate you are making progress and reap some quick wins for impatient stakeholders while the longer-term projects need time to mature.

A common way to approach categorizing projects into into Core, Adjacent and Transformational based on their risk and return profiles:

  • Core projects are merely optimizations to improve the existing landscape of systems, processes, assets or products in existing markets and with existing customers.  These incremental improvements are the “safe bet” and “next small step” that, typically, comes with low risk, predictable outcomes but also limited returns.  They do not need high level sponsorship, are easy to predict and plan resources for, and so they are the favored playing field of mature, large organizations.  These can often be ‘large elephant’ projects seen as ‘necessary’ that the organization more easily buys into.
  • Adjacent projects come with more uncertainty and risks as they usually extend existing product lines into new markets.  Though not an entire novelty it is may be new territory for your company.  Sometime, ‘imitating’ a successful model in a different industry does the trick (read also: Imitators beat Innovators!).
    Adjacencies add to the existing business(es), which requires a higher level sponsorship (such as Vice President level) to move forward, to allocate resources and to accept the risk to fail.
  • Transformative projects are experimental and risky.  They create new markets and customers with bold, disruptive “break-through” products and new business model.  While the risk to fail is high, the returns could be huge when you succeed.  Highest level (C-level) sponsorship and support is crucial for this category not only to persist and get resources during the development phase but also for the mature organization to adopt and support it sustainably.

Finding the balance

When you manage a portfolio of disruptive (read: transformative) innovation projects, you should expect projects not to succeed most of the time.  Instead of calling it “failure,” see it as a learning opportunity.  As Thomas Edison put it so famously referring to his experiments leading to the invention of the light-bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The common rule for playing a safe portfolio is a 70-20-10 mix, i.e. 70% core, 20% adjacent and 10% transformative projects.  This way, many low-risk/low-return core projects keep the lights on while you play with few high-risk/high-return transformative projects.

Experiences

From my personal experience with the portfolio I manage, I leans towards accepting more risk, so you would expect and be comfortable with a lower success rate as a consequence but also higher returns.  To my own surprise, we completed 55% of our projects successfully and ended up discontinuing 26%.  Fortunately, also the average ROI from our “small elephant” projects is substantial and pays the bills for many years out.  Thus, for my portfolio, the 70-20-10 mix is too conservative.

As for how we select projects and fund projects, read also Angel Investing within the Company – Insights from an Internal Corporate Venture Capitalist and School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.

Before re-balancing your portfolio in favor of a majority of risky transformative projects, however, make sure you have continued high-level sponsorship and alignment with strategy and organizational culture of your organization.  – If culture, strategy and sponsorship don’t align to support your innovation portfolio efforts, your risk increases for painful learning without sufficient business success.

> Interested in Project Management? – Don’t miss VASA’s historic project management lesson!

 

Innovation Killers: The Corporate Immune System Strikes Back!

Parallel Universes

Our immune system protects our health and defends us against threats entering our body.  It identifies intruding germs, isolates them from the surroundings and flushes them out of the system to prevent further harm. Our immune system also keeps track of intruders formerly identified to reject them even more effectively should they ever reappear.

Large organization consist of humans who tend to follow behavioral patterns not unlike their inner immune systems when it comes to evaluating new ideas brought forward by an aspiring intrapreneur. Especially, if a new idea comes with a ‘wishlist’ of demands is needed from us to make it happen; typically, time and money.

Joining the Dark Side

It’s our human nature: we approve ideas we like or that further our objectives while we tend to reject ideas that don’t match our liking, beliefs, commitments or that cause disruption to our equilibrium or budget. Disruptive ideas come with uncertainty and may require uncomfortable or additional efforts on our side. The outcome may appear risky, could waste precious resources or have other undesirable repercussions for us.  The fear of losing something is stronger than the incentive of gain. And often enough, we just don’t fully understand the idea or its implications, don’t take the time or find the impetus to look into its details, so it seems safe and convenient to reject it.

This way, as managers and coworkers, we act as a part of the organizational immune system. We become part of the reasons why mature organizations can’t innovate – we join the ‘dark side,’ so to speak.

Our body remembers a previous intruder in order to respond even faster the next time – and so do we. Interestingly, though, we tend to remember better who presented the idea that we rejected rather than what the idea was about. So when the ‘quirky guy’ shows up again after a while with the next idea, our suspicion is already kindled, and we more easily reject this next idea too.

Facing Defeat

For intrapreneurs it is crucial to avoid the “No,” because it is hard to turn it into a “Yes” again later on. This is why we teach How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!” at the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company, a highly effective talent and leadership development program.

Too often an intrapreneur lets their enthusiasm take over and confronts us straight on with their ideas bundled with a request for resources of sorts. Most often, this discussion ends quickly with a “No,” when we perceive this ‘frontal attack’ as a threat to the status quo, the establishment, and the well-oiled machine that the manager runs; and so it triggers the ‘corporate immune system’ leading to rejection.

Stepping Stones to Success

So, just short of having “The Force” of a Jedi, how should an intrapreneur seek support for an idea from managers, potential sponsors or coworkers? While not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and there is no silver bullet, here is a selection of tried approaches for consideration:

  • Seek support: The trick is to ask in a ways that build support for driving the idea forward – and not necessarily for the whole implementation project at once. Even a small step is better than none. For example, supporting evidence can help to raise curiosity and deflate resistance. Find out if a similar approach worked out in another company or industry; it helps to emphasize validation elsewhere. It can help to frame and position your offer to a potential sponsor.
  • Build trust: Additional ‘selling tips’ I picked up from Gifford Pinchot III., the Grand-Master of intrapreneuring himself, suggest a more social approach that includes building a personal relationship first: It is much easier to connect from a position of mutual trust and openness to find support building the supportive network by asking for advice or references before you ask for resources.
  • Just a test: Cautious managers may open up when they hear the intrapreneur is not intending to change anything, just ‘trying something out,’ so not to threaten their established processes, investments or power-structures within the organization. Emphasizing the ‘experimental’ and non-threatening nature of the idea helps to prevent triggering the immune system at this early stage.
  • Gathering Insights: Successful intrapreneurs listen very closely to what the responses to learn from them. Rather than asking a closed question that puts them in a Yes-or-No cul-de-sac, it is much more insightful to carefully phrase questions in a way that the gate-keeper already solves the problem, or provides an answer or approach to the problem the intrapreneur is trying to solve.
  • Know the Goals: The larger a support network an intrapreneur can built for their idea, the better. Rather than the direct manager, it may be more informative to work with people who have insights into the goals and priorities of the organization, which may be sources of resistance. This way, the intrapreneur can learn about possible conflicting goals (for example, “do more with less” or “stability versus creativity”) that need to be known and understood in order to be addressed and dealt with constructively.
  • Show Gratitude: And finally, it is important for intrapreneurs to pay respect and express gratitude no matter what the outcome is of their conversation. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way and keeps the door open to talk more and possibly receive support in the future.

Angel Investing within the Company – Insights from an Internal Corporate Venture Capitalist

Breaking through the crust

One of my favorite and most successful approaches to building a powerful intrapreneuring ecosystem is internal corporate venturing!

It is an exquisite tool to cut through the crust of ‘red tape’ that bureaucracy builds up over time. Internal corporate venturing or “Angel investing” allows for nimble decision-making with a lean process to give disruptive innovation ideas a chance again in a large company.

Seed-funding promising ideas

How does it work?  Think of becoming a venture capitalist within the company: You invest in ventures within the organization and help building ‘intraprises’ in contrast to funding start-up enterprises outside the company. The difference is a you don’t venture for your own profit but for the better of your organization.

The idea here is to seed-fund promising disruptive ideas that otherwise would not be implemented or even seriously considered. These opportunities –typically‑ were rejected by the ‘corporate immune system’ previously, when an employee with an idea approached their line manager or a governance committee of sorts requesting approval to ‘try something out.’

POC over ROI

Often enough, there is no clear return-of-investment (ROI) predictable for these early ideas.  What you may be looking for is rather risky and experimental, a proof-of-concept (POC).  The metrics for payoff and ROI of disruptive ideas does not follow the same approach we are used to measure the more predictable returns of common cost reduction and incremental improvement projects. Disruptive POC projects often don’t have an ROI projection when you explore technology of sorts or its application that may become a game-changer for our future business.

In my experience, communicating the POC nature of the project over focusing on ROI can actually help!  It prevents the ‘organizational immune system’ from kicking in early on, since there is little threat to established practices.  Why?  It does not come across as competing with ‘big elephant’ projects over significant amounts of governed resources following the conventional processes of the company’s machinery.  Instead, we just try something out!  It’s a little experiment that doesn’t change anything, so it poses no threat to established practices, investments or the power-base of individuals defending their fiefdoms.

Aspired returns

Having said this, there is of course a commercial end to all projects. After all, we have no resources to waste and will have to demonstrate down the road that our ‘experiments’ pay off somehow. Our working assumption is that the disruption should lead to a ten-fold (10X) payoff – at least.

Personally, I prefer aiming at a bold 100X ROI target; two orders of magnitude, that is. It sets an ambitious target and -if things work out- a great success story. It’s a powerful point to make for disruptive innovation as part of our innovation ecosystem and shifting the mindset within an organization.  Sharing these success stories with executive stakeholders is crucial (for future support) as well as with employees (for future ideas).

Governance and authorization

Interestingly, what employees are looking for more than funds is authorization to do what is right and worthwhile for the company. Often, the obstacles are perceived and only exist in peoples’ minds. These barriers are formed by many factors over time, such as the management style they experienced and organizational silos that mold a company’s culture as well as the employees’ mindset.

In this particular company, a lean oversight board makes funding decisions. It is composed of a diverse team of more forward-thinking executives and a very lean decision process. The team acts as enabling ‘go-keeper’ for accelerated innovations instead of pushing the breaks as ‘gate-keeper.’

The little monies offered for trying something new only help smoothen the path for innovators in the company. The most important part is them feeling empowered and “authorized” to take action that overcomes complacency, inertia and organizational paralysis. On the spectrum of strategic innovation roles, the board serves as a “sponsor” and sometimes as a “coach,” when an idea aims to overcome internal barriers to increase efficiency, for example.

Dealing with Risk

The purpose of this governance board is to enable the exploration of disruptive ideas by giving internal innovators a chance. The focus is on projects that can be characterized as early stage experiments to explore transformative enabling technologies and value-adding services of higher risk or less predictable outcomes than conventional project portfolios in the mature organization would feel comfortable with.

Naturally, this approach comes with an elevated risk of failure when projects do not produce profitable outcomes or simply prove infeasible or poorly timed.  This ‘price’ is accepted as long as it generates learning.

The potential damage is low, since we are talking about swift and low-cost experimentation: try often and fail fast. Thus, these risky projects complement regular and more conservative project portfolios in the various businesses of the organization. In addition, the innovation project portfolio is somewhat risk-balanced, which avoids having too many high risk projects that may jeopardize the likelihood of profitability across the portfolio.  Reality is that also the disruptive innovation project portfolio has to demonstrate tangible returns over time, so the mature organization sees the economic benefit of experimenting and not shut down this ‘playground.’

Branding the projects as experiments with a proof-of-concept (POC) endpoint helps to calm the ‘organizational immune system’ and to argue that these risky ‘small elephant’ projects complement the other ‘big elephant’ project portfolios across the organization.

Getting Funds

Here are my experiences as an internal corporate venturer or ‘angel investor’ from the past years: First of all, I don’t have much money to spend. The budget I have for this kind of ventures is pathetically meager – and I overcommit it all the time! Nonetheless, I came in under budget once again by 46% last year. It sounds like an oxymoron, and since I don’t have a money tree growing in the backyard, how does this work?

The secret is in the psychology of acting as the “first investor.” Think of this way: when someone wants you to invest into their idea first with nobody else having made an investment before you, you are skeptical and most hesitant to put down your money, right?

All I do is to commit paying for an idea in full to overcome this initial threshold and get things started.  What typically happens next is that an executive from the business affected by or potentially benefiting from the project hears of my investment, reconsiders and wants to get on board too – as a second investor. Once the ‘innovation guys’ have put money down first, the investment in the idea appears less risky to the business executive, so either we split the bill or the business takes on the cost completely!

I’ve seen it happen many times with managers turning around 180 degrees after they had rejected the idea previously. This is how to deal with them: to save (their) face, don’t point out their earlier resistance but rather thank and recognize them for their support and foresight as valued contributors to change and success for the organization.  Celebrate them as enablers, win them over as allies and keep the connection for future collaborations!

Alignment and validation

Don’t be mistaken, funding by the business is not only crucial given the fact that my funds are few.  It is even more important because it validates that the idea makes sense to the business.  It aligns with strategy and goals of the organization but also helps implementing it once the business has ‘skin’ in the game! Otherwise, even if I funded a project alone, the intrapreneur running it would have a hard time getting it implemented without the support of a business sponsor.

So all it takes is making it easy for business executives to invest in a good ideas by making them feel comfortable not to invest first, which reduces their perceived risk and lowers their threshold to act.

Key Learnings

  • The lean innovation governance board is an instrument for reasonable oversight that benefits from diverse perspectives.
  • The “Go keeper” instead of “Gate keeper” process is crucial as is the willingness to accept risk of failure for disruptive projects.
  • The model proves highly effective to get around a convoluted “red-tape” bureaucracy as well as generating a surprisingly high return-of-investment (ROI) – even without the latter being the primary focus.
  • The “first investor” psychology validates the alignment of ideas with business needs and strategy while opening the flow of funds from the businesses and facilitating the implementation.
  • This internal corporate venturing or “angel investing” approach became a beacon of hope for employees and a very profitable innovation engine for the organization that starts to change the organizational culture to the better.

 

Meet me at HxRefactored 2014 in NYC on May 13-14, 2014

HxRefactored 2014 in NYC on May 13-14 at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.

HxRefactored is a revolutionary design and technology conference that will gather over 500 designers, developers and leaders in health for two days of thought provoking talks, workshops and discussions on how to improve the quality of the health experience. The conference fuses the technical and creative elements of Health 2.0’s Health:Refactored and Mad*Pow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference.

Join me at the Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy Conference in Philadelphia, PA on April 24, 2014

Q1 Pharma Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy
Q1’s Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy

Location: Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City, 1100 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Join me at the Customer Experience Summit 2014 in Princeton/NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Join me for the SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting at Yale University on Feb 22

“Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World – Strategies, Innovation and Implementation”

Join me at 11:15am at the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association‘s new Connecticut Chapter (SAPA-CT) Milestone Celebration Meeting held at Yale University (N107 The Anlyan Center, 300 Cedar St, New Haven, CT, 06511), 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Feb 22, 2014.

SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting, "Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World - Strategies, Innovation and Implementation"
SAPA-CT, Boehringer Ingelheim, BMS, and Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) will co-sponsor this event

Join me in Boston for the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!
Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations

Driving innovation in large organizations is like herding elephants.  Big and small elephants. – How so?

Elephants come in different sizes
Elephants come in different sizes

Big Elephants in the Back-Office

In large organizations, departments gravitate to sub-optimize their core business.  Silos form under local management to run their department more efficient – following the old mantra: do more with less.
(Read more about silos forming at Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?)

Although all business functions are affected, corporate Information Technology (IT) departments often lend themselves as best examples for a “big elephant” world: they are critical enablers in a pivotal position of every modern organization.  Even though the success of practically every business function hinges on IT, also IT is not immune to this silo-forming phenomenon in large organizations.

Over time and with ‘organizational maturity’, the IT department tends to end up focusing on what they do best: large back-office projects that cannot be funded or run by any business function in isolation, since they span across disciplines or impact the entire enterprise.  Just one examples for a “big elephant” project is implementing a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across multiple locations internationally.

This is the back-office domain and comfort zone of IT with technology know-how, big budgets, long duration, high visibility, rigid governance and clear processes to follow.

Small Elephants in the Front-Office

In contrast, the front-office typically comprises Marketing, Sales and Product Development.  Here, a small tweak or agile change (that requires some IT input) can go a long way and have significant impact on organizational effectiveness and business results.  – These micro-innovations are “small elephants” as recent Gartner research coined them.

These little disruptions to the slower-moving big elephant world easily trigger the “corporate immune-system” that favors large elephants and suppressing small emerging ones.

Typically, most projects in large organization aim to reduce cost in some way.  Only a minority of projects address new business and growth opportunities that tend to come with uncertainty and greater risk.

While big elephants are typically incremental improvement project to save cost, it’s the small elephants that are more likely to be disruptive drivers of growth and future business opportunities: the much needed life-blood of sustaining business and future prosperity.

Barriers in the Big Elephant World

IT departments tend to struggle the farther they move away from their ‘core competency’ meaning leaving the big-elephant back-office and dealing with the myriad of small needs of the customer-facing units in the small-elephant front-office.

Many reasons contribute to say “No!” to emerging small elephants:

  • Small elephants are disruptive to the big elephant world, perhaps even threatening to the establishment
  • It is hard for the back-office to accept that there cannot be much standardization around these small small elephant solutions by the very nature of their scope and scale
  • It is cumbersome to plan and manage resources scattered across small projects that pop up left and right without significantly impacting big elephant projects.  Unfortunately, pressure to save cost only fuels the focus on fewer, bigger elephants.
    Gartner brings the dilemma to the point: “[..] the focus on optimization, standardization and commoditization that underlies IT’s success in the back office is contrary and even detrimental to the needs of the front office.”
  • Insights in front-end processes and customer needs are essential (and not usual IT back-office competencies) to seize small elephant opportunities, which are often disruptive and driven by the agile intrapreneurial spirit that makes full use of the diversity of thought and understanding customers deeply.
    – See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur
  • On top of it all, the challenge for IT is to understand the potential and pay-off for initiatives that rely on IT in a domain outside of IT’s expertise:  In the mature world of big elephants, ROI projections are demanded upfront and based on models that apply to mature organizations.  These models typically do not apply well to measure project ROI in the emergent worlds of small elephants, which puts the small elephants at a disadvantage; another disconnect that easily leads big elephant organizations to reject proposed small elephants.

As a bottom-line, for large IT departments it is simple and convenient to say ‘No!’ to requests for “micro-innovations” coming in from employees scattered across the front-offices.  And, sadly, often enough this is exactly what happens. Despite the lasting impact of “No!” (see also How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”), turning ideas and proposals down too fast also leaves out opportunity for huge innovation potentials (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).

What happens to IT without small elephants?

Ignoring the need for micro-innovations and not supporting them effectively will not serve IT departments well in the long-run.  With only big-elephant focus IT departments are at high risk to lose sight of the needs of their internal customers.  Consequently, IT undermines and finally loses its broader usefulness, acceptance and footing in the business functions they intend to serve.

When small elephants are neglected or blocked, it practically forces the front-office to look for other resources sooner or later in order IT-services providing resources to get their needs taken care of.  Over time, the big IT department drifts to become more and more obsolete, and finally replaced by agile and responsive agencies and contractors that deliver on their front-office customer needs.

After all, IT’s general role is one of an enabler for the core businesses rather than being perceived by its customers as a stop-gap.

How to raise Small Elephants

So, what can a mature yet forward looking IT organization do to support micro-innovations – or ‘balance the herd,’ so to speak, to include a healthy number of small elephants in the mix?

  • Brad Kenney of Ernest&Young recommends limited but dedicated resources (including time) for micro-innovations in Ernest&Young’s 2011 report “Progressions – Building Pharma 3.0”;
    for example, dedicate 10% of the expert’s time to implement micro-innovations
  • Test changes in emerging markets first, if possible, where agility is high at a lower risk of jeopardizing the bottom line or threatening the established organization and its investments in mature markets
  • Establish effective collaboration platforms that make it easy for employees to openly and conveniently share content among each other as well as with external parties.

How Intrapreneuring helps

A systematic approach to Intrapreneuring can go a long way to help move these micro-innovations forward.  It starts with systematic intrapreneurial skill-building for employees across all levels of hierarchy and includes:

  • Understanding how innovation happens in large organizations, i.e. large and small elephants and the need for both to exist
  • Helping employees become aware of and overcome their own mental barriers and silo-thinking
  • Attracting, inspiring and engaging employees to take their idea forward knowing there are obstacles in their way
  • Training skills that help to frame, develop and pitch ideas to potential supporters and sponsors
  • Building and presenting a business case for review and improvement by peers and management
  • Enabling and empowering employees to bring their small elephants to life and sharing the story of their success to inspire others
  • Working to gradually change the mindset of the organization, its culture, as needed, to become more balanced on the elephant scale, to unlock the resources within the own workforce and to seize opportunities for growth and the future of the business.

Just as out there in the wild, without raising small elephants the life-span of organizations with only big elephants is limited.

Podcast on Innovation in Large Organizations, Intrapreneurs and Corporate Venturing

Podcast Announcement 2013-09-24futurethink spoke with Stephan Klaschka, Director of Global Innovation Management at Boehringer Ingelheim, who is responsible for encouraging disruptive innovation within the firm. He spoke about creating “intrapreneurs” in large organizations by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset into employees and ways to use partnerships to get to new ideas.

Click here to get to the podcast.

Stephan will be leading the session “Reassessing the Organizational Culture to Better Engage Corporate Venturing Prospects” at the upcoming Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences Conference November 13-14, 2013 in Boston, MA