During my summer break from writing on the blog, I read a lot of articles on the innovation mindset. I am glad this became such an open topic lately. Stéphanie and I recognized that, years ago, as a cornerstone problem for most organizations getting serious about innovation. As with anything we work on, the way we speak of mindset is very practical: “It is an ensemble of patterns of thinking, assumptions that are made about self and the world that are illustrated or observable through its way of working: its behaviors.” (The Culture Framework).
But if the mindset is what shapes the organization itself and structures key processes (and biases), it’s easy to understand that it doesn’t solely stem from the organization exclusively. The personal culture of individuals, their education and former experiences have been critical in shaping their mindset way before they are introduced to the values of any company. At this point you can cue in a full discussion on how to recruit junior executives to change the culture. In this article though, I’ll just try to propose how you can gauge someone’s innovation mindset (yours maybe?).
I’m glad to be sharing this article about Claire Déprez, Innovative Management Programme Leader at Worldline, the youngest of the transformation leaders I’ve interviewed. I’ve met Claire in 2014 when she was a mentee in the mentoring pilot programme I designed for them. The year after, she became member of the voluntary mentoring coordination team. But this interview is not about mentoring even though the programme was the trigger for her career insight, her evolution in the company and the management culture transformations that followed.
Around a cocktail, everyone will agree that you have to accept failure in innovation. During TEDx conferences smart people will boast about failing gracefully and empowering teams to do so. The question is are you walking to talk yourself? Are you ready to accept failure as an unavoidable harsh reality? At scale?
So I’ve decided to continue the series of transformation leaders’ interviews and I’m starting this year with Thierry Zedda, a French engineer, currently working as a Performance and Portfolio Manager at DSM [one of the largest Dutch companies with 10 bill € in revenue, and employing over 20,000 people]. Going from engineering to finance to more transversal roles, leading or involved in complex large scale transformations and with the creation of a knowledge platform [aqboost.com], Thierry has an interesting experience and perspective on finance transformation.
His engineering background grants him a pragmatic approach to transformation and a penchant for technology. But don’t be fooled, Thierry is curious but not crazy for the techno hype we have seen recently entering finance (automation, AI, block chain etc.). And for a finance guy, he has learned to look way beyond the figures and work with the cultural change required to really implement beautifully crafted solutions.
The two key subjects that struck me in our conversation were :
His passion for helping the finance profession to question itself and do a real introspection about its roles, about the meaning of new technologies and about its valuable new position in the organisation.
Measuring the effectiveness of mindset transformation with maturity assessment, non-financial KPIs and storytelling.
The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil. It ended because bronze tools became cheaper.
The origin of that quote attributed to Ahmed Zaki Yamani who was the Minister of Oil for Saudi Arabia in the 70s, is actually difficult to trace back (and the analogy can be critiqued in many ways). But in any case, as experts of any given industry this brings us back to what we love to forget:
We’re not going out of business, because what we are experts in is getting out of fashion by itself (or as a resource, is depleted). We get out of business because “better” comes in. Innovation answers to this simple formula: Customers x Time
So pause a minute and ask yourself:
What are your stone? What are the bronze tools coming in? And what can you do about it if your salary depends on cutting more stones?
Am I the only one that wonder why we still ask rock-star CEOs what was their recipe for success? I understand the father figure thing. But the 2019 market, its digital environment and socio-economics have nothing much to do with what they had to face in 2004. What can a Mark Zuckerberg or a Jeff Bezos tell us about launching a startup in 2019? At what point do we file their inspirational quotes with the ones of Tesla, Bell or Ford?
But even so, in these ‘inspiring’ talks we never take into account the survivor bias: the CEOs we look up to are the ones that survived. Were they extremely shrewd and visionary or just plain lucky? Or more exactly, what was the proportion of shrewdness vs. luck? And what is really transferable to you and your project? Shall we also work on the cultural bias? What white american males have to share with woman in China or India? (Even when taking into account that many of these US guys were immigrants.)
I’m just saying… Finding inspiring people is probably a game you want to play looking forward, not in the rear view mirror.
Some of our customers are already using this retainer-on-demand consulting format but most companies still contact us too early or too late to work on innovation projects.
Too late, when they have thought through many points already and have engaged resources, they contact us to legitimize their approach or they hire us on a too narrow scope.
Too early, when the initiator doesn’t have the power to put into action, doesn’t have the resources or the back up. So it becomes a very short mission/discussion to help the client have the next steps clear to sell internally.
All in all if we decided to share about our on-demand format of consulting, is to ensure our clients (and potential ones) can use us to the best of our potential of value creation. Innovation is motion, so as co-pilots it is key that we are present at the right time to support and more often the case trigger the shift.
I know this goes against all good marketing advice, which say “you should know your audience”, “you should speak their language”, etc. Etc. You know that already.
But somehow too much empathy leads to self-censorship. And writing is about self-expression, so you see the problem here. If you overthink about who is going to read you, then you might be tempted to be less authentic in favour of adapting to your imagined audience (that’s for all the people pleasers) or you might over judge what you write (that’s for the less confident ones) or you might even freeze for fear of judgement, or consequence on your social image (that might be for the overly self-conscious).
Then, you have to look forward; not in your rearview mirror so much. You might look a tad crazy in the process. It actually means you start to let go of everyone’s preconceived ideas and shared wisdom. You enter the slightly weird zone of seeing what is changing in the market, more than the building blocks that got us there.
It means that for you Tesla is an energy company.
Fortnite is the social media of choice for the post-Facebook generation.
Apple aims at being the first and only platform that ensures privacy for your family’s daily life.
Amazon or Alibaba are the next operating system for every retail, grocery and food. So probably pharmaceuticals too at some point.
Hyperloop sells updates in urbanism and real estate opportunities (what should most public transportation companies or Vinci do, but they don’t anymore).
Facebook and Google are now just incumbent companies that successfully reinvented ad business ten years ago, and that are probably lacking a business model for 2030.
At some point you might even ask yourself what is your own company delivering in the proximal future. It might lead to an unpleasant answer of course (is there anything?), but you’ll have rebooted anyway. You can start to innovate.
In a video called « The End of the Beginning », Benedict EVANS talks on the shifting point we are living as a global connected society and how to understand the future of your market.
A few take aways that you might want to consider:
You market always was a part of a more global value chain from which you won’t be insulated anymore;
The speed and volume of China now formally predates everything else, this is not « if » or « when », it’s « from now on »;
The new tools provided by the Amazons and the Baidus of the world are now fully in play and force us to compete to a next level: not new solutions, but unbundling and new full-stacks;
New values brought to the market will be massive and yet difficult to frame (the difference between the value of being cured from an hearth attack vs. the value of avoiding it).
But also, a word of caution. Even us, that are in the full-time business of understanding these changes, cannot avoid but falling in the very same traps we try to flag:
Understanding the future of your market is not only about seeing Amazon as a super-powered platform (« I sell whatever I want ») or a global tech leader with a space program.
It’s getting beyond this obvious point, and understanding that like Alibaba they will be the unique layer between you and what you decide to consume. They will be the unique prism that arbitrate what you want and decide to buy… An operating system to consumer life and reality.
These are the changes that shape the future of your own market, and we ended up understanding after 10 years of struggle with mobile and the internet is now not accelerating, but going to the next level.
Not many incumbents will survive this. Even if they got good at this internet thing in the end…
For this fifth interview of a transformation leader, I met with Karin Parmentier. Do not be fooled by her French-sounding surname she is a straight talking, to the point, Dutch woman who developed her HR transformation expertise with Deloitte, and now with her own company and partners, she is transforming HR roles and practices in large organisations such as ING.
My first MBA class a long time ago was about finance. I was explained that the simplest (and probably most accurate) definition of finance is « money over time ». It struck me yesterday that the simplest definition of #innovation is customers over time.