Conversations with Women Driving Innovation Around the World

We’re excited to share interesting conversations around innovation and growth from female leaders from around the world! Learn from their personal experiences of how they’re working to drive change in their different sectors.

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Dive into conversations around innovation and growth from female leaders from around the world. Learn their personal stories of how they’re working to drive change in their different sectors. Get the free e-book.

A Conversation with Gianfranco Zaccai, Founder Continuum/ Foundation for Augmented Intelligence

Susan Onigbinde the Founder/ CEO of DODO Design Agency and Gianfranco Zaccai Founder Continuum/ Foundation for Augmented Intelligence had a conversation on how businesses can leverage tough times to birth innovative solution

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Gianfranco Zaccai, a global leader in design and innovation, shares from his experience on how companies can birth innovative solutions, he points to major principles that are needed for product success while also highlighting lessons from one of his company’s many innovation successes- Swiffer. Swiffer was and still is a huge commercial success for Procter and Gamble (P &G) of which Gianfranco and his team at Continuum were responsible for developing the product. Watch and get vital information you can implement into your next solution build.

Please note: 
There was a break in transmission during the call, this was as a result of the poor network at the time. We want to apologies in case of any inconvenience. Also at about 24:48 technology is what was meant and not innovation.

You can learn more about Gianfranco Zaccai’s Foundation for Augmented Intelligence here.

A Conversation with Lola Cardoso, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Union Bank PLC

“I believe innovation is about creating, capturing and delivering value to stakeholders – these could be around solutions to your customers’ articulated or unarticulated needs. Innovation needs to be authentic to succeed.”

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Tell us a little about your journey to this current position Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Union Bank. What led you into this path of innovation?

I joined Union Bank in August 2013 as Group Head, Corporate Strategy to drive the Bank’s strategy, anchor its overall transformation and support execution bank-wide.

My aim was to make a difference and transform an almost 100-year-old bank then into a modern organization with the right people, processes and platform. I have contributed to the successful transformation of the bank and proud as the bank continues its positive growth momentum.

In 2015/2016, I began driving the bank’s innovation and sustainability efforts, which are integral to our Bank’s future growth and positioning. Our transformation efforts focused on people, process and technology, have built a solid foundation for us to compete effectively and win.

 Today, I am driving digital and innovation in a 100+ organization and I now lead our retail distribution efforts with the aim of continuously delivering superior value to stakeholders as we position Union Bank as a leader in retail and transaction banking. We are in a new phase of our transformation as we deepen our focus on digital and innovation, which are essential to win in the future.

What are your thoughts on innovation as it is currently in Nigeria?

The speed at which innovative technology is travelling across the world especially Africa is incredible; it is reshaping how we consume financial products and media content. The continent’s strive for innovation and development, especially in Financial Technology – lending and payment systems is impressive – thanks to the increasing rate of mobile penetration across Africa.

“The continent’s strive for innovation and development, especially in Financial Technology – lending and payment systems is impressive – thanks to the increasing rate of mobile penetration across Africa.”

Nigeria is home to so many creative and innovative individuals and businesses – I am very proud to see how Nigeria is consistently being put on the map by so many innovations that have been birthed in the country. In fact, Nigeria’s tech industry has become the leading investment destination in Africa for investors globally; with the country’s startups raising ~$180m in disclosed funding rounds in 2018 according to Techpoint Africa. In the first half of 2019 alone, tech start-ups in Nigeria have raised ~$110m in investments from local and foreign investors. The potential is indeed huge!

Given Nigeria’s current dependence on revenue from oil, it is very clear that there’s a need to boost innovation and adopt new frontier technologies to support growth across all sectors.  Innovation is important for Nigeria’s social and economic growth. It is one thing to say you need innovation and another to create an ecosystem that will push beyond boundaries and challenge the status quo. Innovative technologies like AI, open banking, blockchain, robotics etc. need to be adopted to deliver the economic breakthrough Nigeria needs. With the Government’s recent creation of a refreshed ministry – Communications and Digital Economy, we hope that there will be deliberate and concerted efforts to create enabling structures and policies for innovation and digital initiatives to thrive in the country.

Leading the charge on Union Bank’s digital strategy and investments, I am increasingly driven to pay it forward for Nigerians and the larger society including women and youth to grow the digital economy. The challenges in Nigeria around financial access as well as financial literacy are clear opportunities that we are trying to tackle at Union Bank. I believe that by partnering with a larger ecosystem, we can push boundaries and succeed.

What are your key responsibilities as the current position of Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Union Bank?

As the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Union Bank, my focus is to drive and execute the digital roadmap for the Bank while retaining oversight of the Bank’s strategy and innovation objectives.

 A key objective is to clearly define and execute a holistic digital strategy that enables and aligns with our ambitions. Critical tasks involve mapping out relevant digital requirements, as defined by our target segments and our priorities, identifying the right partners to onboard, and implementing an agile development and prototyping process for accelerated execution and insight gathering.

Ensuring the Bank is proactively abreast of developments in the digital and innovation space and making recommendations to the Bank on ideas and/or initiatives to invest in, is another important responsibility that I have.

I’m focused on integrating digital into all aspects of our business, from solutions, channels, processes and data to the operating model, incentives, and culture we embed in the organization.

How would you define innovation based on your experience at Union Bank?

I believe innovation is about creating, capturing and delivering value to stakeholders – these could be around solutions to your customers’ articulated or unarticulated needs. Innovation needs to be authentic to succeed. It needs to be part of your organization’s ethos to be successful. At Union Bank, innovation was adopted as a core value in 2017 reinforcing that creativity and forward-thinking is critical for our individual and collective success. Our commitment to innovation comes from the top. Employees are empowered to think creatively and strategically and we are committed to considering all ideas shared and investing in those relevant to our growth and strategic priorities.

Innovation can thrive only when we embrace and nurture an environment of ideas, creativity, and openness. This is the culture companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have embedded – encouraging their employees to test, fail fast / forward, and learn.

“I believe innovation is about creating, capturing and delivering value to stakeholders – these could be around solutions to your customers’ articulated or unarticulated needs. Innovation needs to be authentic to succeed. It needs to be part of your organization’s ethos to be successful”

In Union Bank, there are several internal initiatives in place to promote innovative thinking and actions – Annual Case Challenge, Ideas Bank and Union X. These are platforms that provide an opportunity for employees to flex their creativity and be recognized by leadership and colleagues. A number of the recommended solutions are currently in the incubation stage, with some already set to launch. Beyond these focused initiatives, we want to ensure that the innovative culture cuts across all functions across the bank and influences the way we hire, train, recognize and empower our employees. To this end, we have embedded some courses in the Organization Enhancement Academy curriculum that focus on creative thinking and strategic execution competencies to supplement the experiential and on-the-job exposure. This year, we included a design thinking course – Product, Service and Experience Design – to support our mission to continuously create the simplest, smartest solutions and guarantee the best experience every time!

While we continue to build our innovative culture, we recognize the power of collaborating with external parties. We remain open to partnering with start-ups and tech companies and this is evident from the number of live discussions and proof-of-concept testing with several local and global fintechs as we drive to become Nigeria’s most reliable and trusted banking partner.

“While we continue to build our innovative culture, we recognize the power of collaborating with external parties.”

Which companies (around the world) do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention about their practices?

In general, I admire companies that leverage AI, data-driven technologies, platforms and ecosystems to consistently augment their ways of working and create new offerings that push boundaries and reinvent the future. We know the likes of Google and Amazon blaze the trail here with their numerous offerings in the marketplace. However, I would like to emphasize “what” I admire. I admire companies that have made millions of consumers rely on their offerings to access every single product / service they need within one platform in the palm of their hands, thereby becoming an integral aspect of people’s lives – business, personal needs, lifestyle, etc.  As a result of this approach to innovation, it becomes very possible to expand to new business lines quickly by leveraging digital technologies and their existing customer base who have become loyal due to the convenience of their offerings.

“… companies that have made millions of consumers rely on their offerings to access every single product / service they need within one platform in the palm of their hands, thereby becoming an integral aspect of people’s lives – business, personal needs, lifestyle, etc.  As a result of this approach to innovation, it becomes very possible to expand to new business lines quickly by leveraging digital technologies and their existing customer base who have become loyal due to the convenience of their offerings.”

I particularly like to draw inspiration from businesses such as this – their ability to meet consumers ever-changing demands for speed, flexibility, personalization and the role these play in creating great experiences and loyalty are critical as I think about my role in driving Union Bank’s vision to be Nigeria’s most reliable and trusted banking partner.

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their career in innovation management, strategy or innovation leadership?

My biggest piece of advice to innovators is to make creativity a habit. It is very easy to teach someone how to do a job, but very hard to teach someone how to think differently. Take a different view of life and challenge assumptions. Question everything.

“My biggest piece of advice to innovators is to make creativity a habit… Question everything.”

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role as Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Union Bank?

I don’t have one proud moment… we have accomplished a lot at Union Bank. I have many proud moments and am excited about the future. 

 I am very proud of the commitment and the passion with which my organization is driving innovation and is relentlessly pursuing our Digital Union agenda. The creation of the digital and innovation team working across the bank to create value and drive return for the bank and Nigeria has been rewarding. Providing them the tools and soon the workspace to create/co- create with our ecosystem makes me more excited about the future.

 In addition, the implementation of innovation hackathon/challenges for UBN and for Nigeria (Centenary Innovation Challenge, Campus Innovation Challenge, edTech Challenge to name a few) has ignited our employees as well as Nigerian youth and entrepreneurs. These have been proud moments given the opportunities to nurture and enable home grown ideas and provide unique learning opportunities to all involved given partnerships with other innovation partners.

Also, our thorough innovation development process has been awesome to drive and the reward of birthing sustainable digital solutions with real impact on Nigeria consumers. We look forward to building our pipeline of solutions in partnership with the Nigerian technology and business ecosystem. 

If you could build a company from the ground up, what innovation tactics or design methodologies would you use to build?

Companies coming up with new products would like to get the desired product to customers’ hands faster before their competitors even have time to think about modifying it.

 The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup, how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration. This is a principled approach to new product development.

 Today, too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want or need. They then spend months perfecting that product without ever showing to customers. Taking a leaf from design thinking, it is very important to validate the idea/product with the market, observe your customers to determine their unarticulated needs, and further refine the product/idea with feedback from testing and prototyping.

 These methods help to ensure that there is a need and an existing market for the product/idea to be launched, therefore greatly improving the chances of success in the marketplace as well as improving the sustainability of the business.

“Today, too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want or need. They then spend months perfecting that product without ever showing to customers. Taking a leaf from design thinking, it is very important to validate the idea/product with the market, observe your customers to determine their unarticulated needs, and further refine the product/idea with feedback from testing and prototyping.”

#innovationmoment

“The creation of the digital and innovation team working across the bank to create value and drive return for the bank and Nigeria has been rewarding. Providing them with the tools and soon the workspace to create/co-create with our ecosystem makes me more excited about the future.”

A Conversation with Valentina Salvi, Senior Service Designer, Accenture Interactive

A well-designed service system should enable a combination among actors, resources, and processes able to deliver strong value to the end-users, which is easier said than done.

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Can you share with us your background in design?

It all started when I first got my Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design from the Politecnico School of Milano. During my third year at the university, I was lucky to join an exchange program called MEDes (Master of European Design) where I took the chance to spend two years studying abroad in both Glasgow and Paris. While being abroad I first discovered the essence of the term “Service Design” and quickly realized that my interest and professional ambitions were pointing exactly in the Service Design direction. 

After such realization came to fruition, I decided while I was freelancing, to complete a Master solely dedicated to Service Design, and I took the chance to fully embrace this new professional path. After an enriching experience at Paco Design Collaborative where I spent 4 months in Namibia to work on the field for the EU funded PARTY Project, I was keen to keep being challenged and looked onward to doing so in Amsterdam as the city and its vibrant environment had always a loving spot in my heart. It was then that I decided to take a working opportunity and joined Accenture Interactive Amsterdam (Mobgen at the time) where I became the first member of what is now an outstanding 12+ Service Design team.

You’ve worked with various companies, big and small, can you share with us how can stimulate innovation inside those companies? (I’m asking based on your experience as a Service Designer)

Based on my practice as a Service Designer and Design Consultant, I learned that innovation is a mindset that should be embraced by companies from within. Infusing and fostering Customer-Centricity is the access to great, meaningful innovation that matters, and most importantly, that gives companies the readiness to turn new products and services into a success.

“…innovation is a mindset that should be embraced by companies from within.”

Design Thinking, with its inner human-centered approach, is usually the very first reliable methodology to ease companies in creating internal awareness among their values and use the power of design to strive while keeping their end-users in mind. To solve the right problem, you always need to ask the right questions first, therefore research and investigation of your end-customers, the ones that are using your product or service, are the engine of it all. Evidence-based iteration is the overarching principle behind Design Thinking, and something companies of any size tremendously benefit from to stay relevant and being meaningful in an era of liquid expectations, where new needs and challenges are constantly unfolding.

“To solve the right problem, you always need to ask the right questions first.”

Another aspect that truly stimulates innovation is co-creation, one of the key fundamentals of Service Design itself. Co-creating means applying techniques enabling a diverse, multifaceted team, where in most cases participants come from different departments and fields, to shape a vision, ideas, progress, together. This facilitates joint understanding and problem solving, uncovering the reasons why things are done the way they are done, the underlying pain points and the opportunities to ride. Co-creation enables creativity to shine through and generate innovative solutions beyond the known and the obvious. I urge companies of any size to embed these methodologies and ways of working as part of their internal processes and growth

“Co-creation enables creativity to shine through and generate innovative solutions beyond the known and the obvious.”

Can you tell us what Service Design’s values to businesses are?

The core principles of Service Design are: 

1. Human-centered / It unlocks desirable experiences based on real needs, research and data; 

2. Co-creative / It enables shared ownership and stakeholders involvement making success everyone’s responsibility; 

3. Holistic / It considers desirability, as well as viability and feasibility for true success; 

4. Iterative / It promotes focused effort where that’s rewarding; 

5. Sequential / It unleashes one vision of the truth by visual, cross-touchpoints artefacts.

These principles are what enable Service Design to maximize business value and accelerate innovation for companies, in the following manner:

· Saving costs: By validating assumptions with end-users, Service Design reduces the risk of big, costly mistakes.

· Engagement & loyalty: Loveable experiences increase NPS scores, user adoption, and retention rates. 

· Making user impact: Service Design focuses on solving real user problems and seizes amazing experiences out of it.

· Increasing speed to market: By using rapid iteration to quickly validate new opportunities and reduce development time.

· Focused problem-solving: Through practical design thinking tools, Service design uncovers and tackles the root cause of the perceived problem to project new solutions that matter. 

How can companies who are more product-centric infuse Service Design to improve the values they offered to clients?

To be relevant and meaningful to consumers nowadays, it’s of fundamental importance for a business to focus on the whole customer journey. Brand values should be tangibly reflected and perceived from customers at every touchpoint of the experience. Digital products often represent just one kind of touchpoint within a journey of interactions, and opportunities are not often maximized.

“To be relevant and meaningful to consumers nowadays, it’s of fundamental importance for a business to focus on the whole customer journey.”

By conducting research, visualizing your findings, extruding them into As-Is Journeys, Personas, Blueprints, and co-creating solutions, customers’ negative emotions along these journeys can turn into fulfilling moments of delight and reward. Service Design enhances the uncovering for companies of low hanging fruits and long-term benefits that increase the business impact, customer satisfaction, and show differentiating factor among competitors.

In what ways would you say financial institutions can apply Service Design to improve and transform the way they offer their services to customers?

I’ve been working on a range of projects within the financial sector, from banking to pension, and in my experience, the Design Sprint methodology was a great pragmatic way to reimagine such services for customers. In a condensed time window of 4 to 5 days, we were able to scope on the problem, generate multiple ideas, pick one or two to prototype, and ultimately test them with 5 users. I found the process incredibly effective and its fast-moving quality makes it a perfect starting point for institutions that are struggling to find their commitment and space to embrace changes and innovation.

Also, too often institutions rely on NPS score and quantitative data only to assess the level of customer satisfaction towards their own business. Data and statistics are surely important but they are – in my view, unable alone to understand deep consumers’ needs, pain points, and spot opportunities. Qualitative research should be the starting point to initiate any project with a human-centred approach, to gather insights based on real conversations and observational in-context techniques. Such insights should be strengthened and complemented by quantitative analysis. Research is fundamental to understand the now and be able to shape future ways to handle any service, including the financial ones.

“Qualitative research should be the starting point to initiate any project with a human-centered approach, to gather insights based on real conversations and observational in-context techniques.”

Are there practices round Service Design you think companies could apply on their own to improve on their internal processes?

Service Design is a mindset, a skillset, and a wide range of specialties under one name, that can be trained and learned. It is a matter of fact that businesses – from Banks to Insurances and Telco’s – have incorporated Service Design more and more by creating internal teams that are dedicated to the replication and enablement of such processes.

There’s a lot that can be done for companies if they become empowered by the right – in-house or outsourced – Service Design skills and expertise. To give an example, Personas, Customer Journeys, Blueprints are visual artifacts that can enormously help companies in moving forward, face challenges, and respond to them with meaningful solutions. They provide a shared, complete, and unified common ground in decision making towards innovation.

“There’s a lot that can be done for companies if they become empowered by the right – in-house or outsourced – Service Design skills and expertise.”

Moreover, Design Sprints, workshops, internal training on customer-centricity, and specific methods are key assets Service Design capabilities should be leveraged for. Service Designers should amplify their role of users’ advocates for the whole company to become more customer-centric and innovation-driven.

What would you define as a well-designed service system?

Over the past few decades, Services have represented a Post-Industrial alternative shifting consumers’ attention and value from the concept of “ownership” to the one of “accessible functionality”. People no longer want as many things as they did during industrial times. They just want to be able to use them conveniently, when they need them.

In addition to the “ownership vs access” element, a well-designed service system should enable a combination among actors, resources, and processes able to deliver strong value to the end-users, which is easier said than done. Furthermore, successful services like Airbnb, Amazon Kindle, Uber to mention some, have maximized assets that were already there, already available: what made them a success was re-imagining a new configuration for them.

In addition to that, given the ongoing relationship between brand and customer in service instead of a one-off purchase of the product itself, a well-designed service must ensure good customer service and support along the journey, to consolidate the relationship over time and prove value at any stage.

Having said that, we have to remember that we live in a world facing critical climate change issues and deep inequalities. I believe that any product or service should be identified as truly successful if making a step ahead towards circularity, sustainability, and social impact, so they’d be my criteria I’d put on top of the mentioned list.

“People no longer want as many things as they did during industrial times. They just want to be able to use them conveniently, when they need them.”

 Could you give us an example of a company that has designed a great service system? (If you can, please list two or three things that stand out for you?

There are many case studies out there and companies that managed to do a great job within the service-system field, and Fairphone is one that strongly stands out to me. Fairphone is more than just a phone. It’s a revolutionary approach to the way smartphones are made, recycled, and used. Fairphone is made from recycled, old phone spare parts: thanks to their “recycling program” service people can ship their old phones for free and get a discount on their Fairphone purchase. The first thing that stands out to me is the circularity element, which means the smart, ingenious, long-lasting design made for parts to be easily replaced, the care for fair materials, and good working conditions for all the levels involved. 

The product lifecycle consideration throughout turns the current phone status and disposable idea attached to a durable product-service designed to last for longer. Besides, Fairphone opened to the possibility of expanding its offering to businesses, scaling up the impact this fair technology venture can make into a stronger product-service system strategy. Business customers can move from buying phones (ownership) to renting devices allowing them to call, text, use apps, and enjoy entertainment (service). Fairphone, in my opinion, is a case showcasing the power of reimagining the things closer to us with strong ethics and values towards a healthier planet, greater equality, and more responsible purchase.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share it?

Last summer I had the chance to work in a pro-bono project for Plan International in Uganda around Green Skills and Green Jobs development, targeting young women aged 14-24 in rural areas of the country. I spent 2 weeks researching on the field. The purpose of this Human-Centred Design research was to get an understanding of unemployment causes, and the current lifestyle, emotions, dreams, barriers, and fears of our end-users. 

The generative research approach I adopted has been a combination of training, co-creation, and qualitative research methods such as interviews, card sorting, and in-context observations, by taking on the perspective of both end-users and local stakeholders. This project has been one of the most incredible and mind-opening experiences for me as a professional and human being, where I learned a lot myself and had the chance to share my knowledge with others for a great cause. I believe any designer should experience what it feels like to design for social impact and operate in a culturally different context, at least once in a lifetime.

I wrote more about my experience in Uganda on this Medium article, feel free to check it out for a more detailed summary of reflections and methods used.

“Last summer I had the chance to work in a pro-bono project for Plan International in Uganda around Green Skills and Green Jobs development, targeting young women aged 14-24 in rural areas of the country. I spent 2 weeks researching on the field… This project has been one of the most incredible and mind-opening experiences for me as a professional and human being, where I learned a lot myself and had the chance to share my knowledge with others for a great cause.”

Top 10 Innovation Conferences To Look Out For In 2020

Innovation conferences have proven to be one of the richest sources of inspiration for professionals looking to create more innovative solutions within their teams and organizations, for profitability and higher returns on investment.

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Events and conferences are one of the best ways to gain new and stimulating insights, get first-hand information on the latest industry trends and network with valuable prospects.

Innovation conferences have proven to be one of the richest sources of inspiration for professionals looking to create more innovative solutions within their teams and organizations, for profitability and higher returns on investment.

Knowing how relevant and essential this is to the goals of many teams’ and businesses, we’ve done the dirty work to ensure this new year will be your most innovative yet.

We’ve gathered some of the best innovation conferences around the world, along with dates, locations, links to help you.

Note: If it looks like we’re missing any important conference, reach out to us at hello@dodo.ng to get it included in this list!

1. UNLEASHING INNOVATION 2020

The ultimate purpose of this two-day summit is to bring together cross-industry leaders to speed up conversations around key trends and innovative approaches to developments and challenges confronting high-level decision-makers and their industries.

At the summit, speakers will be sharing vital insights that could provide you with the tools you need to promote innovation within your organization, identify initiatives that will lead to greater success, and find ways to apply consumer insights, UX research, and design thinking to disrupt in your industry.

Organizers: Global Executive Events (GEE)

Duration: 2 Days

Date: March 24 – 25, 2020

Location: Amsterdam

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register

2. XXXI ISPIM INNOVATION CONFERENCE


The ISPIM Innovation Conference 2020, themed “Innovating Our Common Future” is a three-day event that welcomes over 700 world-renowned experts on innovation management from 50 countries to share insights on innovation management.

The goal of the conference is for participants to engage and share innovation insights with fellow professionals, explore and discover hot topics around the local innovation landscape, for participants to become exclusive members of a global innovation management community and opportunities to experience and enjoy well-coordinated social events in inspiring fun venues.

Organizers: International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM)

Duration: 3 Days

Date: June 7 – 10, 2020

Location: Berlin, Germany.

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register

3. OPEN INNOVATION SUMMIT

The Open Innovation Summit is a great environment to learn about the latest innovation trends, propose innovation challenges and meet experts who can solve them, involve yourself in experiential workshops, find partners to develop new business ideas with and learn from international speakers who are well versed in disruptive technologies.

Organizers: Connect Bogota Region

Duration: 2 Days

Date: October 19 – 20, 2020

Location: Bogota, Colombia.

Fee: Undisclosed (Visit website for more information)

Visit Site for Registration Info

4. FUTURE FESTIVAL WORLD SUMMIT

Unlike other innovation conferences, the future festival boasts of having a choreographed immersion experience for participants. The uniqueness of this summit is that participants will have a chance to experience the future as opposed to passive listening.

 Participants will leave with over a hundred data-driven Insights, the summit promises to be energy-packed with workshops for teams, downloadable presentations and one on one adviser time. And to relax, there are cultural safaris to entertain participants instead of the regular vendors.

Download the full brochure

Organizers: Trend Hunter

Duration: 3 Days

Date: September 15 – 17, 2020

Location: Toronto, Canada.

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register

5. THE ECONOMIST INNOVATION SUMMIT 2020

The Economist’s Innovation Summit aims to imagine and focus on the company of the future, taking into consideration all the social and political factors that will influence it. The summit is poised to address the following critical questions;

  • How can businesses channel innovation to solve humanity’s most pressing challenges?
  • What sort of chief executives will survive and thrive in the coming era of continuous change?
  • How can today’s companies achieve the transformation they will need if they are to succeed?
  • What kind of world do we want to create and how can artificial intelligence help us get there?

Organizers: The Economist

Duration: 1 Day

Date: March 5, 2020

Location: Chicago.

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register


6. THE LEAD INNOVATION SUMMIT

The Lead Innovation Summit is a 2-day festival introducing more than 100 speakers across three stages. With a capacity of 1800 attendees, the lead Innovation summit focuses on the fashion & retail innovation community.

The conference aims to help participants learn from & connect with the major brands, retailers, digital natives, & tech start-ups that are defining the future of the fashion industry.

Organizers: The Lead

Duration: 1 Day

Date: May 19-20, 2020

Location: New York, USA.

Fee: Undisclosed (Visit website for more information)

Register

7. GARTER TECH GROWTH AND INNOVATION CONFERENCE

Gartner Tech Growth & Innovation Conference 2020 offers an exclusively informed update on the most pressing challenges facing technology providers today and the tech trends that can impact your business. At this summit, you get to learn new approaches to optimize your sales and marketing efforts while driving product innovation for business growth and market expansion.

Organizers: Gartner

Duration: 3 Days

Date: May 11-13, 2020

Location: San Diego, California

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register

8. THRIVE INNOVATION SUMMIT

The THRIVE Innovation Summit which holds once every year in Silicon Valley attracts a good number of 250+ agribusiness leaders, investors, and food-tech start-ups.

This summit offers you a unique opportunity to meet and learn from successful companies influencing the future of the agriculture supply chain and leaders of Fortune 500 food & agriculture organizations causing these disruptive technologies.


At the summit, there will be fireside chats encompassing topics such as climate-positive agriculture, next-gen proteins, blockchain, indoor/vertical farming, integrated supply chain, biotechnology, and automated agriculture.

Organizers: Thrive

Duration: 3 Days

Date: March 25, 2020

Location: Santa Clara University, USA

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register


9. LAGOS 2020 DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION SUMMIT

It is the largest gathering of digital transformation experts, business leaders and global disruptor focused on African businesses, it is dedicated to providing African businesses the opportunity to leverage digital transformation initiatives and solutions position their businesses for global competitive advantage.

The summit includes case study presentations, breakout sessions, panel discussion and technical workshops focused on key strategies, technology, and solutions for developing and reaching targeted digital transformation goals.

Organizers: Institute for Enterprise Management and Analytics

Duration: 1 Day

Date: June 11, 2020

Location: Lagos, Nigeria

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register


10. SILICON VALLEY INNOVATION SUMMIT

A 2-day immersion summit for innovation-oriented executives. You get to gain ideas on how businesses can prosper in an age of digital disruption. The summit focuses on Digital Transformation, the impact of emerging technologies and lessons from unicorns. You will learn how to turn disruption into opportunities, transform customer experience with lessons from survivors of disruption, best practices for using outside resources to advance your corporate innovation agenda and much more.

Organizers: Silicon Valley Innovation Summit

Duration: 2 Days

Date: October 2020

Location: Mountain View, California

Fee: Paid (Visit website for more information)

Register

Discovering the Value for Your New Offering: A Look at the Offering Viability Tool

In developing a new product or service, there is always a need to get an understanding of the value to be gotten for the business. This value derivation might not necessarily be precise but will be based on established economic facts.

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In developing a new product or service, there is always a need to get an understanding of the value to be gotten for the business. This value derivation might not necessarily be precise but will be based on established economic facts. During one of our internal processes, we developed a tool to help us plot out estimates of the returns expected for a product we were building for one of our clients. The tool is called the Offering Viability tool.

The Offering Viability Tool helps teams map out and have critical discussions on the potential market size, revenue and cost of launching a new product to market. The tool takes into consideration facts like the market size, targeted customer base, competitive landscape and cost structure in building a revenue analysis that could be used by your team to test for things like viability and customer buy-in. 

As it is with developing solutions using the design process, the tool gives room for teams to constantly iterate. We designed the tool so teams can compare up to three offerings to best decide on which offering gives your organisation the most value for your organisation. See this as a pivotal tool in building your business case for your new offering just before you launch. It is also a good way to share the value of a potential product with stakeholder and sponsor within your organization.

This tool is great for product teams, strategy and innovation teams wanting to launch a new product/service to use this tool in measuring the offering’s viability.

Here is a breakdown of how you could use this tool.

Step1: Download the Offering Viability Tool here.

Step 2: Write out the offering(s) you want to measure to see if its capable of bringing in revenue for your business. You can use this tool for a maximum of three offerings (3) and a minimum of one (1).

Step 3: Fill each block with the necessary information needed. 

Step 4: Make decisions on the next steps based on the results.

At the end of the session, you’d have come up with clear insights to guide on next steps moving forward to product/service launch.

The Innovation Sourcebook: Finding Inspiration from Successful Products in the Market

There are many ways you can get inspired in launching your new venture or improving on an already existing one. The innovation sourcebook serves as a means to gather various inspirations in one place to help you as you innovate.

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Innovation, as defined by Wikipedia is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

Innovation, in some cases, can be something totally new that was never in existence and in other cases, it is inspired by technology, process or concept that has once existed. However, we see today that business leaders are getting innovative around their businesses more and more.

There are certain reasons why and one I’ll like to point out would be the inspirations they get from novel ideas which may not necessarily be something that directly applies to them or comes from their various industries. For example, we see how a digital revolution led to online booking and leasing service as Airbnb which opened the door for an online car hiring service like Uber and a parking space hiring platform like your parking space UK.

The innovative cycle of new business opportunities is in a loop fuelled by existing ideas. With that said this post is aimed at sharing some of the eye-catching innovation that can inspire you in building your next business venture which will be worth $1 billion, I hope.

The simple way of sharing great ideas that have impacted businesses would be to use the Innovation sourcebook, which is a tool to help you organise various innovative solutions and the unique values they offer to customers and shareholders. Below is one of our curated sourcebooks.

Looking at the curated book above, find out ways that one or more of the above listed solutions can impact the next thing you develop.

A quick thought

How might your team leverage AI in helping people use your offering better?

Use models like the innovation sourcebook to find solutions you can align to meet a unique challenge you may face within your environment.

For business leaders within the banking industry looking to leverage new models or technology, you could use this sourcebook to compile some of the most interesting business models that have caught your attention. Looking through them at a go will help you discover patterns and opportunities you can leverage on to drive business growth.

Be on the lookout for new products and processes being developed around you. Download the innovation sourcebook to help you curate new solutions as they come.

A Conversation with Robin Jadkowski Consultant at Kobold

“Most people have the impression purpose is a thing that’s located in your heart or that it is connected to the deeper meaning of life. While that is true to some degree, purpose design in business means something different: It is the compass for your organization that drives your business into the right direction.”

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What is Purpose Design?

A good way to think of purpose design in business is through the analogy of a car: The organization’s purpose is the windshield through which you and your employees look ahead. Most people have the impression purpose is a thing that’s located in your heart or that it is connected to the deeper meaning of life. While that is true to some degree, purpose design in business means something different: It is the compass for your organization that drives your business into the right direction. It enables yourself and your employees to experience meaningful work.

The purpose of your business is the reason WHY your organization exists: What positive impact are you making on society? Studies show that having integrated a purpose in your organization has a strong long-term performance pay-off, because it is the one most powerful intrinsic motivator for you and your employees. It is the reason you get up in the morning and you know that you’re working on something meaningful.

“purpose design in business means something different: It is the compass for your organization that drives your business into the right direction.”

How can businesses leverage on the model?

A superficial purpose statement on the office wall or in the design of marketing campaigns doesn’t leverage the potential of authentic purpose in business. This is just “purpose washing”.  An authentic integration of purpose has implications not only on marketing or recruiting. Purpose guides your product development, defines your organizational structure and directs the day-to-day leadership and employee behaviour.

Leveraging purpose in your business is done in a co-creative bottom-up process starting with your employees and key stakeholders. You begin by interviewing them on what they experience as the current purpose of your organization. After that, you synthesize the data and co-creatively craft a purpose statement. In the next steps it is vital to lead by example: embrace your purpose and implement it into the strategy and organizational structure. Make these direct implications of your purpose clear to your organization.

It is vital to facilitate purpose-driven organizational change. A good way this can be done is by giving your employees responsibility for exploration of new ideas that are aligned with your purpose. Combined with an internal structure which helps these ideas to blossom within the organization it gives employees the feeling of being valued and leads to a more engaged workforce.

What areas as a Design and Innovation coach do you look out for to impact teams?

 I am an advocate of strength-based approaches to enable teams to work to their full potential. The (German) work culture is often focused on improving weaknesses and only shipping a product when it’s close to perfectionism. The result of such a culture is often making small incremental improvements of existing products while being scared to take a big step forward. When we focus on the strengths of innovation teams, the teams gain self-efficacy and -confidence in their own actions. They are empowered to take risks.

 A small step is implementing the following questions into kick-off meetings of your next project: “What are you proud of?” “What strengths do our customers or stakeholders see in us?” followed up with “How can we use these to our advantage?”.

Design Thinking is seemingly popular, what unique factor(s) differentiates designers? 

 Designers are the interface between creativity and problem-solving. I believe that everybody on the planet is creative, meaning that they can create a novel solution to an existing problem. In contrary to the popular misconception of creativity that a single person sits down on the train and scribbles the next big idea into her notebook.

Design thinking leverages the skills, experiences and knowledge of diverse people to come up with a solution to a challenge. Therefore, there are many differentiating factors for designers and design thinkers to be successful problem solvers: Being willing to understand the problem space from multiple perspectives, building empathy with the users, trying and testing out new ideas while not being afraid to fail and being able to work on a shared vision together with a team.

“Designers are the interface between creativity and problem solving”

What resources around Design and Innovation do you think business leaders can learn from?

I’m not a fan of learning something from reading articles or books. The best resource for learning that we are equipped with are our hands, our words and the interaction with other people. Meaningful personal experiences have the ability to impact our thinking and change our behaviour.

 Therefore, my advice especially for leaders and decision-makers is to walk the talk and get out of your own comfort-zone: Expose yourself to people that are unlike yourself, may it be innovation experts or designers that you find inspiring. Book a training where you learn about innovation in a group setting and most importantly learn by doing: Begin by discovering unmet needs or problems that your users face and test solutions on a small scale. By doing that you have already learned the fundamentals for innovation: rediscovering your own curiosity and doing instead of talking.

“The best resource for learning that we are equipped with are our hands, our words and the interaction with other people.”

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share it?

The most impactful #innovationmoment I experienced was while working with a client in a quite traditional organizational structure and mindset. We facilitated an innovation process for the development of an internal product for their employees. In the research phase, interviewing employees and key stakeholders, it became clear that they were in a state of refusal: Why should we change what we are doing? We know how to do it and it always worked out fine. The powerful insight we had in this phase was that the employees were scared of making the change into a more digital workflow due to the fear of making their own workforce obsolete.

For me that’s an important ethical question to consider when innovating. The powerful shift in the mindsets of the employees began when they realized that their knowledge was valued, and they were included into the steps of the product development. For them it became more of an opportunity than a threat. Through the iterative process they were able to shift their fear into a motivation to effectively change their organizations processes and to move themselves out of the comfort into the learning zone.

A Conversation with Robert Skrobe, Dallas Design Sprint

“If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.”

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You have had extensive experience in User-Centred Design, how would you describe a product or service that is centred around users?

They typically favour metrics like adoption rates, usage and time spent.

What do you think about incorporating User-Centred Design and analytics for business pitches?

I don’t think it’s a good idea for two reasons.  One, you’re coming into the pitch with some information about their audiences that may or may not be true.  If you’re citing existing paid or free research, chances are they have direct data on their users and customers that are fresher and more relevant.

Two, you have to understand what their problems are before pitching solutions.  If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.

“If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.”

How would you say companies can innovate around their services in ways that bring value to them as a business and also to their customers?

By watching the customer, seeing what they do and making products or services that bring them value.

In the area of using customer feedback, how would you say teams can balance the insights gotten from the customer in building their solution? (you know Steve Jobs once said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”)

It depends on where that team is positioned in the company and what purpose it’s serving.  If they’re in the product lifecycle, they have no shot of serving the customer, They serve the business and what their product managers and executive leaders ask of them.  If you’re on a team with direct access to users, customers and the people you serve (like sales, customer service and strategy), you can better position yourself to meet their needs.

What techniques are you currently using to drive innovative solutions within businesses and why?

Less process, faster execution. The murkier and more breakable the process, the happier my clients are these days. 

“Less process, faster execution.”

What industry can you say is yet to fully utilize the opportunities available in the design process and how can they go about leveraging on the opportunities?

Oil and gas.  I learned today that they are historically slow to adopt better and more efficient process, and their time is almost up.  I expect they’ll have to feel the pain before they move.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share it?

That “User Experience”, as a term, is meaningless when the people that work in that discipline a) don’t have regular, direct access to the user and b) don’t influence their experiences at all.  UX is basically mass conceptualism at scale without any relevance to market impact in most businesses.

#innovationmoment

“That “User Experience”, as a term, is meaningless when the people that work in that discipline a) don’t have regular, direct access to the user and b) don’t influence their experiences at all. ”

A Conversation with Jon Kolko Partner, Modernist Studio

“Design Strategy is about creating and presenting an optimistic vision of the future. It’s a north-star: a direction in which to aim.”

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Jon you’ve acquired a significant amount of years doing Design Strategy and Design Research, you’re considered an expert in these areas and in areas such as empathy for customers. These terms have recently begun to pervade the business world globally. How would you describe these areas of Design Strategy and Design Research for business leaders, who are just hearing of this term and are very interested?

Design Strategy is about creating and presenting an optimistic vision of the future. It’s a north-star: a direction in which to aim. When I describe Design Strategy to executives, they understand the need for a vision, and it’s often left to them to paint the picture of that vision. But while they may be the most equipped to understand where the business should go, they often need help understanding how that business vision can align with a customer vision. Design Strategy, working in parallel with a business strategy, describes where to go in order to deliver real, emotional and experiential value.

“Design strategy, working in parallel with a business strategy, describes where to go in order to deliver real, emotional and experiential value.”


How about innovation, how would you describe this within the sphere of Design and Business?

I don’t really know what innovation is. For some time, I thought it meant “something new that people need.” Then, I thought it meant “something new that sells.” Now, I think it’s closer to “something new.” A lot of innovation is meaningless. It’s new for newness sake and has no real value for anyone. I would push a business to aim towards “appropriate” and “valuable” rather than “innovative.”

Having taught design over the years, would you say design is something that can easily be adopted by businesses who aren’t familiar with the process or is design as a process only for a certain type of business? And why?

Design (or anything else) can become part of a business context if it’s treated as a first-class citizen. This means providing the discipline with funding and autonomy. But for companies with more conservative and formal business culture, or for companies founded on the backs of technological advancement, there’s more needed than just money and power. A cultural change doesn’t happen through a mandate. It happens slowly and with evidence. Introducing design into a culture means playing a long game, and the bigger the company, the longer that game may be. We’ve seen companies like IBM and GE stand up design studios seemingly overnight, and the results are shaky (one is rumoured to suffer from attrition, while the other has imploded entirely).

“A cultural change doesn’t happen through a mandate. It happens slowly and with evidence.”


What do you think makes this process of design successful? Do certain things have to be in place, is there a specific pattern to follow?

Doing design is about having attention to detail and craft. This is true when drawing things, and it’s true when doing qualitative research, synthesizing data, developing strategy, and any other form of design. For design to thrive, an environment needs to be provided that fosters this craftsmanship. Designers need to be recruited selectively, rather than in mass; they need time and a clear runway to do their job; they need to be well compensated and feel empowered and recognized; and, they need to see the results of their work manifested in real change for the company and for customers.

“For design to thrive, an environment needs to be provided that fosters this craftsmanship.”

You have taught and are still teaching people about design; you have also consulted for global companies who have launched successful products/services. From your experience, how can a big organization of say over 500 staff build a culture of design and innovation from top to bottom?

Slowly, which is typically not the answer most executives want to hear. Like any other cultural change, an autocratic approach doesn’t work, because it disenfranchises as many people as it may empower. A bottom-up approach works, but takes a very long time, and needs to be grounded in small wins. Many of the companies that are successful in introducing design into their company didn’t do it on purpose. It emerged that way based on the types of people that were hired, and how those people were treated.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share?

I’m not sure that starting a school counts as an “innovation moment,” because it took about two years to get started, and in the last ten years, we’ve reinvented it at least ten times. But I do know that any educational institution can claim impact on people: alumni, students, and the community benefit from any form of quality education. I stay in touch with my alumni, and when I see them in positions of leadership and hear about the great things they do, I realize that the school has had a strong, measurable, and positive impact on their careers.

A Conversation with Gbeminiyi Laolu-Adewale, Head, Innovation Strategy and Commercialisation at Guinness

“Business leaders will drive innovation by encouraging openness and diversity within their teams. This enables team members to be free and unbiased in their assessment of business situations.”

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What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation simply is the act of doing things differently to drive efficiency that ultimately improves customer experience, humanity and the world we live in. 

How can business leaders drive innovation within their teams and company?

Business leaders will drive innovation by encouraging openness and diversity within their teams. This enables team members to be free and unbiased in their assessment of business situations, it also makes room for out of the box thinking that generates innovative ideas. Business leaders must also be humble enough to receive feedback as this is the only way to test the quality of output be it product or services. Most of the time, the feedback received from team-mates, employees, customers and consumers form the necessary springboard for Innovation.

“…the feedback received from team-mates, employees, customers and consumers form the necessary spring board for Innovation.”

How do you think the private sector can develop innovative solutions that can drive growth and push for disruption within the public sector?

First of all, I’d like to say there is no better sector equipped to lead and drive innovation as much as the private sector and I say this because of the bureaucracy that poses a limitation in the public sector does not exist such in the private sector as it is mostly profit-driven. The quest for profitability in a tight economy has led many private sector organizations and multinationals to innovate and come up with better quality, more efficient product/services that command higher prices whilst striving to drive down cost significantly.

“…there is no better sector equipped to lead and drive innovation as much as the private sector…”

Linking this to the public sector, the private sector can drive growth and disruption in its counterpart sector through partnerships. With the huge opportunities in the power, housing and transport sectors, private organizations would have to come to the table with their disruptive solutions and seek to partner with Government to create a win-win situation. Example of disruption in the power sector would be offering solar-powered electricity solution for homes and businesses. Private sector execution with Government backing in terms of funding and platform will lead to a big positive change in the Nigerian economy and a win-win for all. This way, the private sector can command a profitable price point for stable power supply, the Government/Public sector wins by delivering on its age-long promise of stable power and also generates revenue in the process and the Nigerian citizens win by having stable power supply which makes it easy for their families, small business owners and large corporates to thrive.

As Head of Innovation strategy in a multinational company as Guinness, how have you been able to translate internal challenges to innovative solutions?

Working in a multinational company in a tough economy like ours leaves you with only one option which is to Innovate for growth. Product innovation is the only way to unlock new growth and profitability. With the rising cost of commodities, government policy changes on duties and taxes, constant change in consumer behaviour and the unending squeeze in consumer income, the only way for multinationals to remain relevant in business is by translating these challenges into opportunities to innovate for growth.

What disruptive techniques would you say companies can adopt to drive business growth?

Companies planning for disruption could adopt 2 techniques:

  1. Deliberate strategy: With this technique, companies make the choice of disruption through careful research, data gathering, financial analysis and planning. This usually takes years of research and planning with a dedicated project team in place to plan and execute the disruptive Innovation. This is the most common technique adopted by big multinationals.
  2. Emergent Strategy: This is a more spontaneous approach where disruption happens as a result of unplanned events. i.e. with the advent of the Coronavirus in China, The MD of Fine Hygienic Holding seized the moment to turn around a lot of his company by adding the production of 210 times reusable face masks to his product offering. This is a company than previously majored in Toilet papers and diaper production but with an unplanned event, he took the onus upon himself to Innovate and disrupt the Asian/middle east market with this unique facemask offering that commands higher price point than the existing facemasks in the market but offers better value to the consumer.

What new concepts have you been inspired by that has caused a shift in the way you approach business challenges.

I’m very much inspired by the disruption in education with the new wave of online courses which ranges from short courses to long term courses, B.Sc’s and MBA degrees that can be earned right from your bedroom or office without stepping into a physical class. This wave of online studies has changed the face of education in Nigeria and around the world putting an end to geography thus enabling more people to stay connected with learning at their own pace in the comfort of their bedrooms. This has influenced the way I approach business challenges as I am able to engage with my team, customers and target audience using online platforms to deploy new ideas, make sale pitches, conduct research and get feedback via online tools and platforms.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share?

My #innovationmoments would be the launch of Baileys delight. A light lush crème liquor with a taste of African honey that is produced here in Nigeria by Nigerians for the drinking pleasure of Nigerians. It was a first of its kind and afforded many Nigerians the opportunity to unwind with an affordable but indulgent crème liquor from the house of Guinness.

A Conversation with April Anazodo CEO & Co-founder Metamentis

“To stay ahead in an era of global market disruption, business leaders not only need to innovate, but also build a creative culture that enables their teams proactively drive innovation.”

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How can a business turn a challenge into an innovative solution? What steps will they have to take using the strategic play model? 

There’s definitely no singular approach on how to turn a challenge into an innovative solution, problem-solving and innovation require a blend of various tools, methodologies, skills and values.

However, it’s important that businesses consider diverse perspectives when trying to solve a challenge. Ground-breaking innovation is often a result of embracing different points of view and making connections to get the complete picture. Remember the story of “The Blind Men and the Elephant”? All six blind men had touched a different part of the elephant but tried to use their individual experience to define what an elephant felt like.

“Ground-breaking innovation is often a result of embracing different points of view and making connections to get the complete picture.”

Many businesses still have meetings and strategy sessions where just a few people feel confident enough or are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and bring their ideas forward. You can already tell that they would end up with less than half an elephant! 

Businesses can use LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®  to radically enhance their problem-solving and strategy process. LSP allows people to use LEGO® bricks as a tool for creating, thought-building, storytelling and deep reflections. It creates a safe environment for innovation to thrive and gives all participants a voice regardless of culture or position.

You and your team seem to leverage the idea of ‘playfulness’ for creativity and innovation in business. Can you speak more to this, for business leaders looking to drive innovation in their organizations?

My team and I love the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Methodology because it’s not random play, we engage teams in deep thinking and reflection within an experiential framework. The process of building and collaborating often produces insights which simply would not have appeared in regular discussions. Participants use LEGO® bricks to create models that express their thoughts, reflections and ideas, unlike the typical strategy sessions that occur in places of work.

 In the past organizations focused on logical and methodical thinking but that’s no longer enough. It’s no surprise that LinkedIn has ranked Creativity as number 1 in its list of most in-demand soft skills for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

 With play, most of our senses are awakened and our imagination is freed to go wild and generate unconventional ideas. Busy work life and rigid routines tend to kill creativity but when organizations give their employees the space and time for constructive play the results are phenomenal.

“With play, most of our senses are awakened and our imagination is freed to go wild and generate unconventional ideas.”

To stay ahead in an era of global market disruption, business leaders not only need to innovate, but also build a creative culture that enables their teams proactively drive innovation.

“To stay ahead in an era of global market disruption, business leaders not only need to innovate, but also build a creative culture that enables their teams proactively drive innovation.”

Seeing the complexities businesses face either as a result of a new policy, customer trends or economic strains do you think the Design process is a good strategy to turn to when seeking to create innovative solutions around those constraints? 

The pace of change like you have outlined in today’s business environment is very swift. What design thinking and other creative processes do is to make room for rapid problem solving using a structured process. 

This process consistently helps you maintain focus on the customer; the very essence your business exists. It helps you track the customer journey and create tailor-made solutions or improvements on this journey.

 The tools used develops the capacity of employees to think on their feet, generate, select and analyze ideas within a short period of time.

Creating ideas is not enough; communicating these ideas is also as important as creating them. The design thinking process makes it easy to communicate ideas in 3D thereby making abstractions concrete. To develop innovative solutions to customer or business challenges, design thinking and a plethora of creative processes are your go-to toolkit for today’s business environment.

Which company would you say you admire for their approach in using design to create innovative solutions?

It’s awesome to see more companies embrace design as a critical business driver. However, I absolutely admire Apple’s tenacious approach to design. I would love to see more of our traditional institutions in Nigeria embrace this same level of commitment to design in order to create highly intuitive customer experiences.

“I absolutely admire Apple’s tenacious approach to design. I would love to see more of our traditional institutions in Nigeria embrace this same level of commitment to design in order to create highly intuitive customer experiences.”

You have a background in the Banking industry, if there’s something you could add or do to improve the process around corporate governance (which you know quite well seeing you have worked within that department in the past when you worked in the banking industry) or any other department based on your experience now in design, what would it be? 

There seems to be a common assumption that corporate governance introduces bureaucracy and roadblocks that hinder innovation. This is based on another common misconception that creativity and design thinking should not be structured processes.

However, I believe, the core corporate governance principles of fairness, transparency, accountability and responsibility are critical in building a culture of innovation.

The problem might just be the way some banks execute corporate governance controls. It is possible to be more creative and intentional around implementing these controls in a way that does not negatively impact customer/employee experience but rather complements innovation efforts. This is what I would love to improve.

“I believe, the core corporate governance principles of fairness, transparency, accountability and responsibility are critical in building a culture of innovation.”

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share? 

A real estate firm approached us about their growth challenges. They had spent a lot of money on marketing efforts but the CEO didn’t feel the ROI was worthwhile. 

We gathered more facts and information on their challenges and we realized they had never really defined their brand and this was negatively impacting the customer journey.

So, we ran a customer experience design workshop for them. The challenge was “How might we design a unique customer experience across all touchpoints and meaningfully portray their brand”.

Following the workshop, the firm immediately redesigned its marketing strategy and offices to reflect their brand identity. They have since doubled their revenue and exponentially grown their customer base.

“A real estate firm approached us about their growth challenges… we ran a customer experience design workshop…They have since doubled their revenue and exponentially grown their customer base.”

#innovationmoment

“A real estate firm approached us about their growth challenges… we ran a customer experience design workshop…They have since doubled their revenue and exponentially grown their customer base.”

A Conversation with Sabrina Goerlich, Innovation Facilitator, Design Sprint Studio

“Innovation is at the same time a mindset and natural behaviour.”

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Could you tell us what you do and what the Design Sprint is all about?

I run a design agency that has developed into an innovation consultancy since 2017. We support our customers in innovating faster and increasing their competitive advantage. With a focus on sports brands (sport is the passion of our team) we also work with a wide range of industries in our region.

My transformation from a Designer (when I started there was no UX at all) to UX Design and then to Strategic Design was made with the Design Sprint and therefore Design Thinking as well. Exploring the Design Sprint was like puzzle pieces that fit into the right gaps. It answered my questions about business design questions, handling clients and team collaboration. Design Sprint is a system to solve complex business challenges.

Within a week you go with a diverse team from a vague idea to a concept and get feedback from your customers. It helps to reduce the risk of investments, aligns the team, creates buy-in from stakeholders and enables a competitive advantage for companies – fast! Both Fortune 100 companies and start-ups are using the proven methodology. I use the methodology to support my clients with product innovation, business concepts and process improvements.

“Design Sprint is a system to solve complex business challenges. Within a week you go with a diverse team from a vague idea to a concept and get feedback from your customers. It helps to reduce the risk of investments, aligns the team, creates buy-in from stakeholders and enables a competitive advantage for companies – fast!”

You have worked with various teams across various industry, would you say the Design Sprint is suited for people in a particular team/industry or for everyone? And why?

But what I have learned, and what I have learned from my global community, is that the design sprint is a neutral innovation process that suits every industry – but not every problem. Good situations for a Design Sprint:

  1. Complex challenge
  2. New markets
  3. You have the decider (someone who has the power to foster the development of the concept)
  4. High risk to lose money
  5. Strong and innovative competitors
  6. Time pressure to innovate

“…what I have learned from my global community, is that the design sprint is a neutral innovation process that suits every industry – but not every problem.”

Today there are so many ways people view and define innovation, how would you define innovation?

Innovation is at the same time a mindset and natural behaviour. If you want to design innovation – with a team and sustainably, on a scale – you need a process. The Design Sprint is a perfect way to promote innovation at high speed.

“Innovation is at the same time a mindset and natural behaviour.”

Now, some people don’t see the connection between design and innovation, if you were to describe the connection how would you do it?

The connection of Design and Innovation involves more than shapes, forms and functionality. It’s a process to create solutions that meet the needs of people and can be anything from services, processes, business ideas or products (hardware or digital). The Design Sprint is a perfect process to develop innovations as it integrates the user perspective (desirability) as well as the business perspective (feasibility, viability). The attached illustration is from codomo.

“The connection of Design and Innovation involves more than shapes, forms and functionality. It’s a process to create solutions that meet the needs of people and can be anything from services, processes, business ideas or products (hardware or digital).”

As a facilitator who has helped product teams and innovation managers accelerate their innovation process, how would you say a company, in any industry can go about birthing and accelerating innovation in their teams and companies?

That’s a good question. I can think of a way like this

  1. Starting with a Discovery Sprint to identify different challenges in a company.
  2. Prioritize the challenges. There is a great tool to score possible Sprint projects: Sprintness
  3. Assemble a team with different perspectives and a decider (the one who can foster the development of the concept).
  4. Run a Design Sprint
  5. Integrate the Design Sprint as a way of innovation process in the company (with training and scaling). For enterprises there is an Enterprise Design Sprint as well.
  6. Don’t lose momentum and continue the focus. Develop the project or if the validation failed – start a new Design Sprint. 

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share?

In a virtual Design Sprint in 2019 I facilitated a group to develop a business concept for refugees in Kampala to work with international companies. It was an experiment and the prototype was validated. I was impressed by how we were able to work together across all kinds of borders. Now we are still looking for a pilot project to further develop the concept.

“…I facilitated a group to develop a business concept for refugees in Kampala to work with international companies. It was an experiment and the prototype was validated. I was impressed by how we were able to work together across all kinds of borders.”

#innovationmoment

“…I facilitated a group to develop a business concept for refugees in Kampala to work with international companies. It was an experiment and the prototype was validated. I was impressed by how we were able to work together across all kinds of borders.”

A Conversation with Kaan Turnali Global Senior Director, Enterprise Analytics SAP

“If we think of design as a mindset, instead of an abstract concept, people and processes become the primary focus of innovation, while technology plays a secondary role”

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Your job description is incredibly intriguing. Can you tell us what you do as Global Senior Director, Enterprise Analytics?

By drawing on my more than 20 years experience in leading the design and development of business intelligence (as known as BI) solutions, I apply the principles of design thinking to deliver successful business outcomes with enterprise analytics.

At SAP, I guide small, agile teams that embrace an entrepreneurial spirit to create new opportunities for innovation and help our customers and C-suite executives realize business growth and profitability.

Since the birth of smartphones and tablets, I have been fortunate to have been at the heart of digital transformation as we embrace mobile BI. I love this intersection of mobile, analytics, and the cloud.

You’re as much an evangelist for design (thinking) and innovation as you are for using technology (cloud and mobile) to empower C-suite through analytics. What are your thoughts on design and innovation as they stand on their own and then used in the area of business intelligence (that is, if there’s a relation there)?

I have always advocated the use of design-thinking principles to innovate new solutions for business problems. If we think of design as a mindset, instead of an abstract concept, people and processes become the primary focus of innovation, while technology plays a secondary role. And the rules behind designing and innovating business intelligence solutions are no different.

“If we think of design as a mindset, instead of an abstract concept, people and processes become the primary focus of innovation, while technology plays a secondary role”

Let me give you an example. Several years ago, SAP asked me to design our internal business intelligence platform called global customer operations (GCO) to support our double-digit sales growth. At first, our teams immediately focused on technology, especially since, at the time, a cloud deployment was not an option and on-premise solutions required much more effort and investment. But I chose a different direction: I deliberately chose to focus on the user experience because the area was often overlooked.

I began asking questions that were never considered for the implementation of traditional enterprise systems or business intelligence solutions. This move surprised everyone in the organization and received some push back and strong objections due to pre-established aggressive goals and timelines.

By mapping the user journey, I was able to help our teams recognize, isolate, and address pain points to design a complete user experience. With each rapid prototype, we validated interim steps and made new discoveries in areas that would have been never considered otherwise.

Even if the initiative was something different, I would have used the same approach to execute it. This would be the case whether I was involved or asked to assist in projects for an enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resources (HR), customer relationship management (CRM), or finance solution. 

The focus of technology design and innovation should never be on what the technology can do for the user, but rather what the user can do with that technology. If our design—especially in an enterprise setting—does not proactively tackle the weaknesses nor maximize the strengths of the technology, we are bound to fail no matter how elaborate and intricate the solution.

This reality requires leadership with forward-thinking ideals to cement a culture of design thinkers who can expand the window of opportunity with solutions that can be built on top of an innovation foundation through design. 

“Several years ago, SAP asked me to design our internal business intelligence platform called global customer operations (GCO) to support our double-digit sales growth. At first, our teams immediately focused on technology, But I chose a different direction: I deliberately chose to focus on the user experience because the area was often overlooked.”

You recently wrote an article on customer empathy as it’s used in design thinking. Would you relate this qualitative aspect of understanding and providing solutions to customer needs to the practice of, for example, mobile design and analytics to make informed decisions on how to better serve customers?

If we believe that customer-centric design is about “looking out from the inside, not outside-in,” we need to be in the trenches with our developers and users. Working, observing, and, more importantly, suffering side by side with them allows us to see the experience through their eyes, within their authentic circles of influence, and under realistic conditions. We can’t do that from behind a desk. We have to live the experience, rather than experience it from a distance.

Empathy is the shortest distance between design thinking and customer-centric innovation. When we place the user (or in some cases, the customer) at the core of everything we do in our design-thinking journey, we foster a human-centered approach that remains focused on needs, including those that are unarticulated or unknown. If we bring empathy to the forefront and make it a focal point, we can expand our capacity to understand our users, before we judge the experience or execute the solution. That’s the essence of customer empathy.

Take, for example, the performance concept in business intelligence and mobile applications. It represents the speed at which information is loaded and displayed on a mobile device. And the design and management of that can be tricky. 

People who design mobile experiences often forget the psychology behind judging or interpreting experiences. Humans react to emotional probes—whether solicited or not—that are typically accompanied by emotional assurances, instead of logic, reason, or dispassion. I call these triggers “emosurances.” 

Emosurances include sentiments such as: 

  • “We don’t want to be left in the dark.” 
  • “Updates and continuous information flow are good.” 
  • “We want to know the next steps.” 
  • “We hate uncertainty.” 

Regardless of their shape, form, or frequency, we seek these cues to assure ourselves and shape the user experience. Emosurances are the points of light in design thinking that we seek to uncover, which are commonly hidden or marginalised. 

When you compare the experience of a mobile device with that of a desktop PC, people tend to be less patient. 

Think about it for a moment. When we work with PCs or laptops, we may sit in a relatively comfortable chair. We are not holding anything, but we are likely waiting for the next step after we click on a link or button. In most cases, we can minimize the active application window and multi-task as we take an unexpected phone call or take a break for coffee or tea. In this case, minutes can feel like seconds. 

Now, contrast that PC experience with a mobile experience. There is a good chance we are not in an office or sitting at a desk. We are likely holding a mobile device in our hands. If we switch from an analytics app to another app to kill time or view a notification pop-up, the live session on the cloud application may stop. In other words, you must restart the query to acquire real-time information. A report or dashboard with average performance on a desktop may not survive in the hands of a mobile user. Seconds seem like minutes. It doesn’t matter what app you build; people won’t use it if they are frustrated or discouraged.

“…By mapping the user journey, I was able to help our teams recognize, isolate, and address pain points to design a complete user experience. With each rapid prototype, we validated interim steps and made new discoveries in areas that would have been never considered otherwise.”

In describing empathy, the design-thinking methodology of learning about customers, you said, “To learn, we must listen more than we talk. When we observe, we disappear, rather than interfere. There is no room for sharing our opinions or selling the solution. We want facts. If we can’t understand the ‘why’ behind an experience or problem, any assumptions about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ become skewed or misleading.” We thought this was a very profound and descriptive way to talk about empathizing with customers. How does this apply in the world of cloud and mobile analytics?

Subject-matter expertise is a critical multiplier of innovation, as well as an essential element of collective insight. But its strength lies in the application of the empathy principle from design thinking: the desire to seek realization and perceptiveness in the experience, not accumulated experience confined to raw knowledge. 

Listening and observing are critical exercises, but we must do more. If you know something, you can’t suffer because the knowledge holds you hostage. If you are not experiencing the pressure that, for example, a salesperson or executive faces and the serious implications of those decisions, you’re not capturing the essence of your users’ journey. Whether you are an analyst, designer, or software engineer, you must get away from your desk and jump in.

For example, when creating reports and dashboards for enterprise-wide consumption on mobile devices, analysts or content developers use online viewers that simulate the look and feel of a mobile device. Sometimes, I find out that some of them may never view it on an actual mobile device before implementation. Testing on a simulated screen does not even come close to the real-life experience of a mobile device and the conditions that affect it. 

A best practice that I use when designing an application for a mobile use case is an immediate move toward a proof of concept because I want to fail early and often. The prototype, no matter how basic it may be, provides the opportunity to capture, what I call, fail points. I closely watch users, with different backgrounds and tech-savviness, play and interact with the device. I want to see how they handle the device and consume the information on the screen. Are they focused or unfocused? When possible, I record these findings on video when possible, so I don’t interrupt their natural workflow or habits by taking notes and asking questions. 

“Empathy is the shortest distance between design thinking and customer-centric innovation.”

For C-suite executives, is there a way to combine the empathy of design thinking with cloud and mobile analytics to drive innovation and transformation in their companies?

This is a great question! I have spent most of my career helping C-suite executives. That experience has afforded me with a deeper understanding of what drives executive decision-making. 

When I taught doctorate-level classes at Wilmington University, I had a very different philosophy in teaching this subject, compared to traditional methodologies embraced by the faculty. Instead of focusing on theories, tools, and technologies, I designed a curriculum that centered on how data-driven decision-making drives better-informed decisions, not necessarily better decisions. Employing familiar, everyday business models, products, and services, I had a chance to highlight the role that people and processes play when shaping actionable insight. And as I engage with C-suite executives, I have found that the same experience and approach apply as well. 

Competing on design thinking requires a fundamental shift in how we design solutions to business problems and, more importantly, how we channel the essential values of design thinking in everything we do.  To make a greater impact and enable a competitive edge with design thinking, businesses need to place more emphasis—first and foremost—on what I like to call the application of core principles.

This viewpoint requires design thinking as a framework for innovation. We pollinate new and old ideas, which translate into solutions that drive growth and profitability. Furthermore, we can compete on design thinking because its core principles will remain timeless for generations to come.

Can you elaborate on this profound statement you made in a recent post on Medium? “The traditional value proposition of a product or service is a promise of particular utility value. If you get X, you will receive Y as a result of Z. The design-thinking value proposition is a promise of core values: You want to get X because you care about Y and Z matters to you.”

Thank you! I love this equation. For a concept that’s so simple, it is tremendously powerful. 

The foundation of digitalization and the value created through digital transformation are centered on that understanding that they are drastically different than the design precepts of the analog world. Although the design-thinking mindset was equally effective before, its impact is amplified in the digital era. 

We no longer can remain stuck in linear thinking aimed at maximizing the expected ROI at a given risk. Nor can we afford to focus on the transaction, instead of the human experience. These mindsets may have been okay in the analog world when design capabilities were limited in most cases and made up of one-dimensional experiences. But digitalization has changed it all by transforming the user and bringing the experience to the forefront of innovation and design.

When we design products and services, we are creating experiences, even if the boundaries are narrow and controlled. This is true for a product, cloud subscription service, or online transaction. Unlike the analog world, users are empowered and in the driver’s seat because they have control, choice, and influence. In return, we must understand what matters to the user so we can build for and with that purpose to go beyond transactional elements. This, I believe, is where innovation happens. Design thinking doesn’t guarantee innovation, but innovation always hinges on design-thinking principles.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve done, have been a part of, or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others)?

#Innovationmoment is such a great hashtag. This one is easy for me to recall. Shortly after the release of the very first iPad in 2010, I designed and developed SAP’s first internal mobile analytics dashboard for the office of the CEO. 

At the time, Bill McDermott was our CEO at SAP. When he began using the dashboard during his presentations, TV appearances, and customer events, I was captivated by how he would not only showcase the technology but also demonstrate firsthand the incredible value that it brought to the C-suite. Remember, this was happening during the early days of mobile adoption in Fortune 500 companies. More importantly, people were still chained to their PCs and requested printed paper copies of reports, even if the data could be consumed on their monitor screen. 

During one of those interviews, it dawned on me that he wasn’t just showcasing our technology but, more importantly, telling a story. I quickly realized the power of storytelling and building user experiences that empowered it. 

I always argue that mobile analytics isn’t about jamming lots of data with useless charts and tables on a mobile device, no matter how colorful and pretty they look. Instead, it’s about user experiences that empower faster and better-informed decision-making through storytelling. 

This #innovationmoment is what kick-started my fascination with mobile applications and analytics. This project was one of the very first projects where I had the chance to apply design-thinking principles as part of a business intelligence initiative. And ever since then, I never looked back. 

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not reflect the opinions of any organization.

#innovationmoment

“…I designed and developed SAP’s first internal mobile analytics dashboard for the office of the CEO. At the time, Bill McDermott was our CEO at SAP. When he began using the dashboard during his presentations, TV appearances, and customer events, I was captivated by how he would not only showcase the technology but also demonstrate firsthand the incredible value that it brought to the C-suite…this was happening during the early days of mobile adoption in Fortune 500 companies…it dawned on me that he wasn’t just showcasing our technology but, more importantly, telling a story. I quickly realized the power of storytelling and building user experiences that empowered it…”

A Conversation with Chris Wan, Strategic and Experience Design Specialist

“The simplest advice to improving product or service experiences is for companies to have regular contact with their customers and to start this as early as possible.”

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You’ve had an impressive career, from IBM to Hasso Plattner Institute. Can you share what you do as a Strategic and Experience Design Specialist?

As a Strategic and Experience Design Specialist, I uncover user needs and problems to design relevant solutions for users that also address business requirements and long-term strategic goals. This ensures that such solutions are actually desirable and usable while businesses also have the right incentives and benefits to invest in satisfying these user needs.

What is Experience design and how is it relevant for businesses?

There can be a lot of different understandings as to what a (User) Experience (or UX) Designer does and the definitions can vary when you start to look it up online. However, first and foremost, Experience Designers must advocate the needs of the users through user research and testing – usually qualitative. In analyzing these findings, we have a more accurate understanding of the users’ problems and pain points and only then can we start to create solutions to address them. This refers to the point of desirability – whether or not users really need or desire such a solution. There’s another side to Experience Design that focuses on usability by ensuring that a given product, service or system creates a positive and intuitive experience so that users are more likely to use it correctly and/or are happy to continue using it in the future.

One of your goals is to uncover and convert user insights into tangible solutions that not only meet user needs but also business objectives. Can you elaborate on this?

The role of an Experience Designer is about understanding and advocating for users, their needs, problems and pain points to design more relevant solutions. Making these solutions as tangible as possible early in the development process is necessary to better test and validate these ideas with users and iterate based on their feedback. However, addressing users’ needs quite often doesn’t line up with business objectives that are frequently driven by profit and benefits to the business itself. This means that many ideas and solutions need to be explored early on to ensure that some can be found that satisfy both user as well as business needs. Designers today are getting better at understanding and “speaking” business to improve their stakeholder management skills as this also increases the likelihood of getting investment and support for an idea.

Can you share with us the common problems or challenges businesses face in relation to their product offering experience?

Regardless of what size or type of business, the most common challenge or hurdle that I face in delivering a great product experience is budget and time. Quite often you hear a client or senior management saying that there isn’t enough time to do a proper user research phase before development or there isn’t enough budget to do a user test before an idea gets carried forward. This is also usually a result of people either understanding Experience Design at a very superficial level or misunderstanding it completely – expecting aesthetics and visual design to be the full experience and neglecting to see the actual benefits of it. I think an important way to work around this is if people don’t understand Experience Design, then the education of it is needed and this is also where “speaking” business becomes a powerful skill. The benefits of Experience Design then need to be made clear and the only way to communicate this effectively is to “speak their language” of gains and losses.

“Quite often you hear a client or senior management saying that there isn’t enough time to do a proper user research phase before development or there isn’t enough budget to do a user test before an idea gets carried forward.”

Based on your knowledge as a strategic and experience designer, how will you advise businesses offering digital and physical services to improve the experience of their customers around their offering?

The simplest advice to improving product or service experiences is for companies to have regular contact with their customers and to start this as early as possible. Quite often in traditional business models, a lot of ideas and concepts arise from within an organization without any contact with the customer or understanding of their needs.

“The simplest advice to improving product or service experiences is for companies to have regular contact with their customers and to start this as early as possible.”

This leads to creating irrelevant solutions with terrible experiences because all concepts and ideas were developed from unvalidated assumptions. Assumptions are fine to work with, but they need to be recognised as assumptions and should therefore be validated with customers/users through research and testing. This also means working iteratively and being open to changing ideas.

“Assumptions are fine to work with, but they need to be recognised as assumptions and should therefore be validated with customers/users through research and testing.”

Which companies do you admire for the way they designed experiences around their products offering and what particularly stood out to you?

Apple is a clear and obvious choice – at least in the past. They designed smooth, intuitive and seamless experiences within and between their products that customers were and still are willing to pay top dollar for it. AirBnB and Withings are also companies that clearly have a strong focus on good design that has led to a beautiful experience in their products.

“Apple is a clear and obvious choice – at least in the past. They designed smooth, intuitive and seamless experiences within and between their products that customers were and still are willing to pay top dollar for it.”

As an experience design specialist, what is your #Innovationmoment? (something you have done, and feel has really been inspiring)?

My favourite #innovationmoment came from my time as a student at the Hasso Plattner Institute, School of Design Thinking in Potsdam, Germany where we worked with Radioeins, a German radio station regarding the future of radio. Unfortunately, it didn’t get carried very far forward as we were less experienced with stakeholder management but it’s a project that I still hold dear to me as I still believe it would have a lot of impact if implemented properly with a fully dedicated team. The insights that we found from our user research were so powerful and exciting that we were able to get a funding of 30 000 € for 6 months after the course was over to further develop our idea into a Beta version. In the end, it was a desirable idea and there were a lot of potential benefits for radio stations but as I mentioned, due to a lack of experience and also a lack of dedication to the project (pretty much all team members including myself were employed elsewhere at the time and this was merely a side project), it didn’t get carried forward any further after the 6 months. Perhaps I’ll revisit and revitalize the project sometime soon if I have the time!

#innovationmoment

“My favourite #innovationmoment came from my time as a student at the Hasso Plattner Institute, School of Design Thinking in Potsdam, Germany where we worked with Radioeins, a German radio station regarding the future of radio… The insights that we found from our user research was so powerful and exciting that we were able to get a funding of 30 000 € for 6 months after the course was over to further develop our idea into a Beta version.”

A Conversation with Victor Orie Ononogbu, Innovation Manager MTN

“I believe the cliché that the largest room anywhere is that for improvement. A trophy is a quick rush to death – keep moving, and that is what innovation is all about.”

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position of Innovation Manager at MTN Nigeria

I started out in accounting and auditing, working for a medium size private auditing firm. Then moved to Nigerian Tobacco Company PLC. (now British American Tobacco) first as a trainee and then a Asst. Manager Research and ending up as Regional Marketing Manager.

I took my marketing career to MTN Nigeria as pioneer market research manager, setting up and resourcing the unit under the Marketing and Strategy division. I left MTN briefly to work in real estate as head of marketing and returned to the corporate services division of MTN as Education and later Health Portfolio Manager of the MTN Foundation.

Then the move to MTN’s innovation unit in the Transformation office where I am focused on delivering a handshake between business and the academia, and the entire innovation ecosystem. I have birthed the MTN Academic Research Development and Innovation Challenge (ARDIC) and other innovative ecosystem-based solutions to enhance the company’s customer experience.

What led you onto this ‘path’ of innovation?

Interest and passion to see things differently and find new and better ways of achieving greater results. Coming from a research background, asking questions comes naturally to me. I believe the cliché that the largest room anywhere is that for improvement.  A trophy is a quick rush to death – keep moving, and that is what innovation is all about. I am excited by seeing uncharted paths conquered and underrated individuals, teams and nations conquering erstwhile untouched challenges.

“Interest and passion to see things differently and find new and better ways of achieving greater results.”

What are your thoughts on innovation as it is currently in Nigeria?

Based on my experience I am very positive about innovation at the macro level in Nigeria.  My concern is on innovation at the micro level.

At the macro level as shown by Nollywood and Nigerian musicians, the absence of formal structures does not deter Nigerians. Yaba is beating its path to join other global innovation centres (Silicon Valley, Singapore, Bangalore, Tel Aviv etc) and is brimming with solutions to several local challenges in business and the society.  Perhaps the greatest challenge remains access to information and relevant technologies to enhance productivity. That is why the recent trialing of 5G technology is gratifying and holds the ace for a surge in innovation across industries and sectors in Nigeria.

Private sector involvement in catalyzing and harvesting latent innovation activities from the ecosystem is central to reducing the impact of the absence of formal innovation structures in Nigeria. And that is what initiatives like the MTN ARDIC seeks to address by creating a platform for key research in key areas of national development to become solutions rather than become archival artefacts only good for few citations here and there.

“Private sector involvement in catalyzing and harvesting latent innovation activities from the ecosystem is central to reducing the impact of the absence of formal innovation structures in Nigeria”

At the micro level (i.e. firm levels) the pace of innovation will be dictated by industry dynamics. For example, it will be suicidal for any Nigerian bank to rest on its oars today in the midst of the enormous changes in fintech and mobile telecoms which threaten the brick and mortar model within the industry.

Overall, there is a ground swell of innovation in health, agriculture, finance, logistics, retail etc. driven by enthusiastic young Nigerians who are unsatisfied with the status quo.

“it will be suicidal for any Nigerian bank to rest on its oars today in the midst of the enormous changes in fintech and mobile telecoms which threaten the brick and mortar model within the industry.”

What are your key responsibilities in your current position as Innovation Manager at MTN Nigeria?

In summary, ecosystem innovation management, which includes innovation in the academia (universities, research institutions, etc.), innovation and tech hubs, government agencies and parastatals focused on research and innovation and relationships with global innovation and research entities interested in Nigeria. We believe that a lot of solutions reside outside our industry and they need to be harvested for national development; and it is my job to achieve this.

“We believe that a lot of solutions reside outside our industry and they need to be harvested for national development; and it is my job to achieve this.”

Do you run sessions for ideation or problem-solving? If so, how do you go about it?

Internally, yes, I do. We have what I would call a proprietary ideation protocol which enhances our ability to drill down quickly to innovative ideas and get them running in the shortest possible time.

How would you define innovation based on your experiences at MTN Nigeria?

Strictly based on my experience driving innovation and not textbook definition: innovation is creating new processes and/or solutions that lead to considerably big and scalable improvements in value delivery, customer experience and ultimately quality of life.

“…innovation is creating new processes and/or solutions that lead to considerably big and scalable improvements in value delivery, customer experience and ultimately quality of life.”

How do you factor your users/customers as you drive for innovation at MTN Nigeria?

We start off with ascertaining what the customer requires – remember that innovation is meant to solve customer pain-points at a scale hitherto non-existent. As an innovator however, in most cases you see beyond the customers’ imagination. That means, the customer may not even know that she needs a particular solution until you present it to her. In that case, traditional research would do little to guide the innovation process. It requires something different, modelling the unimaginable needs of some geeks. Whatever the case however, an idea of use case and the type of groups that will adopt same is fundamental to innovation.

“…innovation is meant to solve customer pain-points at a scale hitherto non-existent. As an innovator however, in most cases you see beyond the customers’ imagination.”

Which companies (around the world) do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention about their practices?

Grab (which grabbed Uber out of Singapore and the region – talk of daring ‘bigly’), Walt Disney (incredible run, reinventing itself), Alphabet/Google (restless innovation to conquer the world and the way people live), Alibaba (their nothing is impossible kind of attitude to innovation), Amazon (with a finger in practically every pie coming from an industry where nothing like this would have been expected).

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their career in management?

Acquire and display loads of passion for changing and disrupting the way people live. Then follow your nose. Equally important, get into the innovation ecosystem and circles; learn some skills especially things around technology (5G, IoT, AR, ML, APIs, block-chain etc.). Study to understand these concepts and their impact on innovation today – they’re means to an end in innovation, and not the end in themselves.

“Acquire and display loads of passion for changing and disrupting the way people live. Then follow your nose.”

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role?

The emergence of the 6 winners of the MTN ARDIC; rollout of MTN’s mother and child OHP campaign in 2018 arising from the Yellow heart campaign which I championed.

If you could build a company from the ground up, what innovation tactics or design methodologies would you use to build?

Design thinking is a sure bet for me, as well as end-user embedding to systematically query the solution and process for delivering it from point one (1). The customer at the centre, – nothing trumps innovation with this kind of design. Then I will adopt agile project management principles in birthing the innovation to optimize both cost and time.

A Conversation with Faiz S. Hussain, Founder of Creation + Practice

“Innovation means something different to everyone who uses the term. It could be the opposite of tradition – something completely new – it could be the recontextualisation of a product or service to a new market, or the bundling or decoupling of services as they stand.”

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to your current position as Founder and Social Business Designer at Creation + Practice. What led you on this path?

I didn’t arrive here consciously, to look backwards rationalises a series of chaotic decisions into a sensible stream of progress. I freelanced as a self-taught designer from High School to Graduate School; stretching my ability, working on increasingly elaborate projects from publicity to publishing to patient management systems for private hospitals.

With each project, I went deeper into how my clients’ businesses worked, their operating environments and how their insides matched their outsides. With more trust, I was given more leeway to inspect their business models and be a critical voice; pushing the discourse higher and farther from ‘Business Design Light’ to ‘Business Design Heavy’ (Tanimoto) under the banner of human-centring operations and sustainability.

I’ve worked on a range of businesses from smart textiles, brick-and-mortar stores in China, aerosol bitters for cocktails, agricultural education in East Africa, the first craft beer for a Taiwanese palette to athletic tourism platforms. Each experience has challenged me to make my practice more robust and adopt a ‘beginner’s mind’.

Within the next few years, I aim to build a venture studio, codifying what I’ve learned in client services and creating a space for venture origination by committee, within its own independent fund to meet citizen success, open source and circular economic ideals.

What are your thoughts on (Business) innovation as it is currently approached around the world?

From the outside looking in, innovation means something different to everyone who uses the term. It could be the opposite of tradition – something completely new – it could be the recontextualisation of a product or service to a new market, or the bundling or decoupling of services as they stand. I think the best tangible examples are ‘leapfrogs’, where a business impels adoption from one technology to an unexpected one several levels of complexity higher. Consider how payments in China jumped from cash to debit digital payments (and the insurance that sits on top of that platform), ‘skipping’ Credit Cards and lo-fi digital wallets.

“… innovation means something different to everyone who uses the term. It could be the opposite of tradition – something completely new – it could be the recontextualization of a product or service to a new market, or the bundling or decoupling of services as they stand.”

What are your key responsibilities as a Social Business Designer?

I work with Founders to help them originate and refine new business ideas, products and services, within the scope of the mission of their organisation. No two projects are the same, and I work across a variety of sectors from Enterprise Technology to Agriculture to Cosmetics and Craft Beer.

The stock definition of a Business Designer is one who originates new venture activity and its ecosystem along the axes of technical feasibility (invention with traditional and/or innovative technology), financial viability (sustainable segments, partners and supply chains) and human-centred desirability (from the margins to centre). I use these axes as a guide to segment and respell Founders as Inventors, Optimisers and Visionaries respectively, reflecting their starting point and the work to be done.

A Social Business Designer takes this further to consider systems, ethical externalities (non-user-centricity, ethical hacking), future speculation, social impact, regulation, intercultural sensitivity and organisational dynamics (can a process survive within a larger organisation?). These are emerging aspects that I’m working to codify and integrate into my practice.

“I think the best tangible examples [of innovation] are ‘leapfrogs’, where a business impels adoption from one technology to an unexpected one several levels of complexity higher. Consider how payments in China jumped from cash to debit digital payments, ‘skipping’ Credit Cards and lo-fi digital wallets.”

What tools do you use when designing for businesses?

Business Design is undergoing a bit of a ‘prime canvas’ moment. Not a week goes by, when someone introduces a new sheet of paper with boxes to better segment and categorise business and impact strategy. The verdict is still out on which are the real winners, but I have my favourites: Julian Cole’s “Planning Dirty” and verynice’s “Models of Impact”, as well as the standard offerings from Strategyser and the “This is Service Design” series.

Aside from those well-heeled tools, I lean heavily on my training in User Research and Area Studies. I use discourse analysis in particular to delineate the boundaries of organisational silos, what makes a user a user and what lies systemically within the remit of a business, product or service.

How would you define innovation based on your experience?

I don’t like using the word “innovation”, as it feels like a false, inconstant idol in an everchanging world, but I consider the benefit of innovation to be the rejuvenation of a business, fully assimilating new technology, toward a path of sustainable development; where no two businesses that innovate can arrive there by the same, replicable, linear means.

“[My favourite Business Design Tools are]: Julian Cole’s “Planning Dirty” and verynice’s “Models of Impact”, as well as the standard offerings from Strategyzer and the “This is Service Design” series.”

How do you handle factors that hinder innovation within your (clients’) organizations?

Innovation is often placed at odds with the tradition or heritage of the company or industry that I work with, which is not always a good thing. Many companies downplay their own strengths to take risks on what might come next. As I’m bought in as an external to run these processes, I’m often in a position to throw out the rulebook, and that can be a mistake. The best collaboration is in the open, when all stakeholders get the opportunity to participate in the work we’re doing.

“Innovation is often placed at odds with the tradition or heritage of the company or industry that I work with, which is not always a good thing. Many companies downplay their own strengths to take risks on what might come next.”

Does your team run ideation sessions, problem solving sessions and the like? If so, can you shed light on some of your processes?

I’m always a little weary of giving too much attention or weight to a set process when it comes to ideation and problem solving. Almost all of the best hypotheses and solution in my working career have arisen in the most incidental phases; after the meeting is formally over or a stray insight when my team and I are looking at a problem fresh. More generally, our sessions are to create the parameters of play; aligning on what we want to achieve, and not worrying about how we get there; giving people permission to go deep, be creative and intellectual (which looks different in different people).

Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention?

There are quite a few companies and groups that really bring attention to the field. Most recently, I’ve been really impressed with the in-roads Board of Innovation have made to demystify what innovation looks like to corporates, and the opensource initiatives taken by verynice to bring best practices to the firms that need it most.

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their career in business design, strategy or innovation leadership?

Look beyond the industry that you currently work in and learn from other fields. Business Design is already a diverse field, people arrive from all over the place: finance, other parts of design, product management and marketing; prior experience in another field actually enriches your practice.

Make it your responsibility to raise your level of discourse; write to develop your language (as a translator from needs to action), find depth (mediate ambiguity and complexity) and explore emotional intelligence; three things that will make you indispensable.

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role as Business Designer?

It might seem counterintuitive, but my most proud moments have been the times I’ve shut down or said ‘no’ to a superfluous initiative, and pushed my clients to follow their values over the next trend. A sustainable business starts and ends with its values, with a model that brings these values to life.

If you could build a company from the ground up, what systems would you take from existing companies across the globe to build yours?

My clients and I constantly review our systems and operating procedures for better ways of collaborating. R/GA is a great example of a long-standing business that regularly interrogates its own existence, mission statement, business model and objectives for the short-, medium- and long-term – it’s an anomaly that has become increasingly relevant in our era of acceleration.

New startups, social enterprises and small businesses have an understated advantage over their forebears – they can freely experiment and adopt new systems. It’s something few of the clients I’ve worked with really appreciate. It’s very easy to slip into unnecessary administrative overhead, multi-platform anarchy and always-on synchronous communication. It takes a great deal of restraint to fashion good systems that maximise time for deep work, reflection and executive function to work less, with less duress and more creativity.

In my next venture, I’m considering these principles from the outset:

1. To be strict on the number of platforms; to factor in their switching cost and expiry dates from the outset – considering ‘Rundles’ like Microsoft Teams and Basecamp.

2. To reduce context (Erin Meyer’s term in ‘The Culture Map’) and build a multimedia knowledge base that operates as the ‘single source of truth’ for knowledge work – Notion, Coda, AirTable and Figma.

3. To favour open source over proprietary formats – we’ve lost some great tools along the way, so make sure everything can be ported to your next tool.

4. To be transparent and open source with as much of the work as possible to create information symmetry with those our work impacts and for others to build on our work abundantly.

5. To make privacy a centrepiece beyond the realm of regulation, collecting data thoughtfully and respectfully; e.g. don’t use ‘single-pixel tracking’ just because it’s easy.

6. To centre employee experience within our systems, affording autonomy and agency to teams to create better systems for themselves and others – akin to Stripe’s Operating Principles.

7. Appreciate that your employees are with you for a short time (in the grand scheme), make their time with you valuable, and be present to help them grow.

#innovationmoment

“but my most proud moments have been the times I’ve shut down or said ‘no’ to a superfluous initiative, and pushed my clients to follow their values over the next trend.”

A Conversation with Michael Mureithi, Group Head of Digital & Data at UAP Old Mutual Group

“One of the ways we factor our customers as we drive for innovation is by focusing on truly understanding the need of customers and the emotive drive behind it.”

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position as Group Head of Digital & Data. What led you onto this path of Digital Innovation?

I’m a heavy user of tech products – I have close to 200 apps on my phone. I started this journey because I truly believe that technology can solve our problems as a continent from financial inclusion to poverty to low literacy levels to high unemployment and so on to every single person in the economy. I started my journey at KPMG where I was part of the team that set up management consulting in East Africa. I’ve also been at OLX Kenya, Cheki Kenya as the CEO where I founded Timam Cars before joining UAP Old Mutual as the Group Head of Digital & Data.

“I started this journey because I truly believe that technology can solve our problems as a continent from financial inclusion to poverty to low literacy levels to high unemployment and so on to every single person in the economy.”

What are your thoughts on innovation as it is currently in Kenya?

Amazing time to be in Kenya and the greater East Africa! [The market is] educated, young, risk-taking, with the availability of disposable incomes, great skills, and amazing support from the government for innovation, along with a growing appetite from investors to invest in unproven but innovative business models.

What are your key responsibilities as the current Group Head of Digital & Data at UAP OLD Mutual Group?

3 key things:

  1. Leading the digital transformation for the group.
  2. Exploring new opportunities/ventures where the group can invest in.
  3. Build a really ‘smart’ group of businesses through advanced business analytics, AI, robotics, etc.

How would you define innovation based on your experiences at UAP OLD Mutual Group?

[Innovation to me is the] practical application of a new solution to an existing, hidden or future problem.

How do you handle factors that hinder innovation within your organization?

A couple of things;

  • Be a great listener
  • Focusing what the customer & business needs are, not what I think their needs are 
  • Continuous and open communication, both when we have great wins and when we make mistakes
  • Identifying key enablers who can act as your advocate
  • Generally…be a nice guy; someone people actually like being around.

How do you factor your users/customers as you drive for innovation at your organization?

  •  Continuously talking to them every day
  •  Being very analytical, fact-based decision-making process (numbers don’t lie).
  •  Focusing on truly understanding the need of customers and the emotive drive behind it.

“[One of the ways we factor our customers as we drive for innovation] is by focusing on truly understanding the need of customers and the emotive drive behind it.”

Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention about their approach to innovation?

a. SpaceX & Tesla – their boldness; they’re high-risk takers

b. Microsoft – for their high operational excellence

c. Cellulant – created for Africans by Africans

d. Safaricom – their power of scale & great partnership.

A Conversation with Tommaso Martucci, Innovation & Design Manager at Indeed Innovation

“Innovation is a result of the design process.”

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All the way from Hamburg, Germany, Design and Innovation Manager Tommaso Martucci of INDEED Innovation speaks on how design brings about innovation, and shares how he and his team design successful products.

Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position as Innovation and Design Manager at Indeed-Innovation. What led you onto this path of design and innovation?

I’m a designer by training, even though I’ve experienced it in all its forms. I’ve got a bachelor’s in Industrial Design, then a Diploma in Landscape Design, a first Master in Service Design and a second Master in Business Design. It would get even more complex to mention all my working experiences. But the long story short is that they are all very different. During these 10 years, I lived/worked in multiple cities and countries. And when INDEED proposed [for] me to come back to Europe, [it] seemed [like] a very interesting challenge to me, and a month after their call, I was in Hamburg.

What are your thoughts on innovation as it is currently approached around the world?

Innovation is a big word, it comes along with evolution, so it’s part of our natural process as humans, we evolve naturally. The current approach, from the perspective of a designer, is related to the general understanding of the design process. Meaning: innovation as a result of the design process.

And it’s a great time for designers. Some words like “Design Thinking” and “Human-centered” have been spread all around, and the more they become “buzzwords” the more they function as important tools of communication, so as to reach a broader user target.

“And it’s a great time for designers.”

What are your key responsibilities as an Innovation and Design Manager?

The most beautiful aspect of my job is to keep moving between tasks of a doer and a thinker. This approach enables me to connect the dots between the daily job of the designers and the value that clients perceive for them.

Mostly, my effort is to make my clients aware of their full capabilities, which often means turning their requests to us into a structured briefing, to aim for higher purposes. Nowadays designers must share the same perspective of their clients, it’s important to go out of the “design bubble”, that’s the only way of effective consulting.

“The most beautiful aspect of [design] is to keep moving between tasks of a doer and a thinker. This approach enables me to connect the dots between the daily job of the designers and the value that clients perceive.”

How would you define innovation based on your experience?

Back in the day, when working on projects for innovation, it was easy to read articles about the world in the next 50 years. Nowadays, when defining a roadmap for an innovation project, the most common horizons move between 1-3 years, 3-5 years or 5-7 years, in some rare cases it goes up to 10-15 years. But in any industry, we are all conscious about the speed of transformation which prevents us to foresee a future which is too far away. Antoine Lavoisier wrote, “Nothing is created, everything is transformed”. Thus innovation could be any transformation that changes our lives for better, not in a hugely impactful way, but in the small daily things. Regarding the nature of innovation, for sure we notice a shift of focus, from technology-driven to technology as a tool to support people.

“…innovation could be any transformation that changes our lives for better, not [only] in a hugely impactful way, but in the small daily things. Regarding the nature of innovation, for sure we notice a shift of focus, from technology-driven to technology as a tool to support people.”

How do you handle factors that hinder innovation within your organization?

By definition, Design Thinking is a “creative problem solving” process, which implies the presence of a problem. Thus it’s important to change perspective, to see the problems as opportunities, not as obstacles. Every unfilled gap is an opportunity to do better.

Does your team run ideation sessions, problem-solving sessions and the like? If so, can you shed light on some of your processes?

We tend to do what we preach for our clients, so we are based on multi-disciplinary teams that adapt their knowledge from case to case. Luckily there is no recipe for good results, otherwise, it would be boring. We love to host clients at our office to involve them in every activity, it helps us to discover the little details behind the briefs, and it helps them to understand what we do before handing anything over to them.

Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention about their approach to innovation?

I believe that companies are made by individuals, there are leaders and there are teams. I pursue many great minds related to the design world and [those unrelated]. I feel that they are those who make a difference. I tend to admire and respect those who can deliver great thoughts and results over the promotion of brands. To name all of those great individuals it would be a long list, but if you follow my daily posts on Linkedin with the hashtag #timeforreading, you’ll read about many of them.

“ I tend to admire and respect those who can deliver great thoughts and results over the promotion of brands.”

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their career in innovation management, strategy or innovation leadership?

Do what you love. And if you don’t know what it is, keep searching, keep experimenting, keep trying. Once you find it, share it, and fall in love also with something else. If it’s really hard to find something, then look for someone, a visionary, someone who inspires and motivates you, someone who moves you with words. And follow that leader.

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role as an Innovation and Design Manager for Indeed-Innovation?

I’m proud of all projects, but in particular of those cases when we developed entire ecosystems. More in detail, to convince and guide our clients in scaling up, so in moving from the development of a single product to the entire ecosystem made of multiple touchpoint, such as physical products with services and digital products. Some of those projects are ongoing, but some others have already their first touchpoint displayed on our website.

#innovationmoment

“…moving from the development of a single product to the entire ecosystem made of multiple touchpoint, such as physical products with services and digital products.”

A Conversation with Gbolahan Fagbure, CEO of Supermart.ng

“When I think about innovation, I see it as thinking of new ways of doing things, trying to enhance processes, being more efficient and effective.”

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position as Co-founder and CEO of Supermart.ng, what led you on to this path?

My journey in E-commerce & technology started with Jumia in 2012, prior to Jumia I had worked in the banking industry for 5 years. At Jumia, I was the Chief Operating Officer for the first 2 years before I and my co-founder Rafael stepped aside to start Supermart, which we run now for the last 5 years. That’s the history in a nutshell.

So, what led you to this path? When Supermart came out it really was seen as an innovation because there was this need, and no one thought of it or put it together till you guys came on the scene. Can you share how that happened, how the idea came about and how you have built till now?

Well, when we were at Jumia, we realized that no one was doing groceries. I think there were a couple of smaller companies doing online grocery retail. Jumia wasn’t doing it and they hadn’t done it in any other markets anywhere else in the world.

We worked long hours and closed late, so this was a problem we had ourselves. When I had to go to the supermarket, it would be a pain finding parking, spending time in the store, and queuing. It just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I guess I had also gotten used to online grocery retail while I lived abroad, so for me, it was something that was fairly straight forward. I thought to myself, ‘this is something that can work here locally, especially with all the traffic situation we have.
So we thought about all those things and said this is an area we can add value in, it’s probably one of the most difficult areas of e-commerce, but for us, over the years we’ve continued to learn, to innovate and continued to try new things. We are happy every time we have better service than in the previous months and year.

Looking at Nigeria’s current landscape, what are your thoughts on innovation in Nigeria today?

I think of innovation as new ways of doing things, trying to enhance processes, being more efficient and effective. In that regard, when I look at many companies we interact with, I think too many companies are too slow to try things, too many companies are still stuck in regimented ways of doing things.

“When I think about innovation, I see it as thinking of new ways of doing things, trying to enhance processes, being more efficient and effective. In that regard, when I look at many companies we interact with, I think too many companies are too slow to try things, too many companies are still stuck in regimented ways of doing things.”

For us at Supermart.ng, I can’t count the number of things we’ve tried over the years, we get an idea, we start it, we stop it [if it’s not working].

For example, recently we started selling groceries from the UK, we launched the service on Monday, but the idea came 3 or 4 weeks ago and literally 3 weeks later, we launched that new service.

Today, we have 2000 additional products from UK supermarkets. I can’t count many other things we have started over the years; some we’ve started, and we’ve stopped, some we’ve started, and we’ve carried on with us, but the most important thing is we have to be quick and nifty. I have discovered most companies are too just too slow and this is beyond technology or start-ups.

“I can’t count the many other things we have started over the years; some we’ve started, and we’ve stopped; some we’ve started, and we’ve carried on with us, but the most important thing is we have to be quick and nifty. I have discovered most companies are too just too slow and this is beyond technology or start-ups.”

What are your key responsibilities as CEO of Supermart.ng on a day to day basis?

I have about 10 reports that I review on a daily basis. Every morning I look at things like sales, performance reports on our marketing initiatives, operations report, customer service issues, and based on those reports I can react to specific things or think of a more holistic way of solving a long-term problem.

I start my day with those 10 reports and depending on the situation, for example with the UK project we just launched, I would be a lot more involved for the first 2-3 weeks, just making sure that things are working properly but once we have things settled, I take my foot off the paddle and look at something else.

So, it’s providing direction, guidance, making sure the various team leads are doing what they should be doing but again to me, it’s just about having a process that works. For instance, we have a lot of documented processes for almost all departments, even simple things like approving payments, there are certain things that we should see before a payment can be approved at various approval levels and if those approvals are not there, the payment will not be made. Right down to how we pick items, and how we deliver, what we say to customers. We have those processes identified, it’s only when there’s a deviation from those processes, that I now step in and ask questions.

All the guys I work with know that about me, I didn’t study marketing or operations, I’m not a programmer, but what I’ll always do, is ask questions. The guys know I will always ask those questions, so it comes, they must be ready for answers.

These questions come every day, I will always see things that can be changed or improved, or where someone has been out of line, and take into consideration how we fix them.

What would you say are factors that hinder innovation in your organization?

I think for me, it would be good to have more innovative thinking across the entire organization, from top to bottom. We’ve tried to create that kind of open environment where everyone can speak up. But I find out that sometimes even though you try to give that message, you find out that people still keep things to themselves. Sometimes, cause they’re not sure how it would be received, or they just feel, I’m just here to collect salaries, if ‘oga’ says to do it, do it fine, and if he doesn’t, then ‘oh well’.

We can do more to get more people coming up with ideas and suggestions. One thing we came up with, about a month ago was remote working. I thought to myself, do we need to be in this central place called ‘office’ to do our jobs? And the answer was ‘no’.

I asked the team leads to go and figure out how we’d still manage the company and make sure everyone is still performing. What kind of reporting structure do we have? How do we ensure that people are still getting their jobs done? Are people still motivated to come into the office? Are they still disciplined to get out of bed at the same time and at work at a certain time? How do we communicate, is it Skype, WhatsApp, e-mails? So, I just left it with them and went on to do other things.

So, at the next town hall meeting, we had one of the junior guys in the company who said, ‘why don’t we consider doing remote work? Within a week, we agreed that we would start it, and for the last 4 weeks now, we’ve been doing 3 days away and 2 days in the office. We will continue that to the end of the year, at year-end we will review to see whether it’s been working well.

We’ll then ask, can we now do it on a full-time basis, and have more social activities that compensate for the physical time that we don’t spend with each other. We can have team lead meetings once a week for a few hours and at another time, we can have a social activity, say to go out for drinks or maybe go to the cinema, to build a level of camaraderie within the team.

So we will go with this experiment till the end of the year, then in January, we can decide whether we will continue or go back to working 5 days a week, or whether we’ll decide, ‘hey it’s working so well, let’s get rid of the office.’

How do you factor your users and customers as you push the envelope at your company?

For a long time, I think our tech team was just working on too many different things that were not properly articulated, in the last two months we decided to work on just 2 things:

  1. Things that bring operational efficiency
  2. Things that bring customers to the site and attract them to shop.

Which companies globally or in Nigeria do you admire for how they innovate or operate?

I don’t know if there’s any one company in particular but if you’ve read my book you probably know that I observe things a lot. It may be one person or one thing I learn from somebody else.

I don’t think there’s any particular company whose mode of operation ticks all the boxes for me.

Not too long ago, I used to run a monthly speaker series program, where I invited CEOs to come talk to young professionals. One of the guys that came, arrived maybe 45mins before the interview.

I said ‘wow you are really early’, he responded that he doesn’t like to waste time, if he wants to do anything he does it quickly. He says ‘yes’ quickly and he says ‘no’ quickly. That mind-set stayed with me up until now, and it’s how I run my personal life and business. I apply it to simple things, like when job candidates come for interviews, I always tell the HR Guy, ‘let them come in and go quickly. ‘Don’t have many people come in and wait, when you know you’ll interview them one after the other.

So that essence of speed of executing, not really wasting time on things is one of the key ethos by which we run the business.

We’ve had a lot of people who have joined the team and left to what I guess we would call ‘bigger companies’, say that they really learned entrepreneurship and business at Supermart, because yes bigger companies are good, but the speed in which things are done and the level of detail in how they are done is completely different to the way they’re done in those bigger organizations.

You gave a lot of advice in your book, ‘Working on a Dream: Lessons in life and business’, what advice would you give professionals who want to grow in areas of business strategy and innovation?

Read my book (LOL). We are always learning, I guess nobody has all the answers, as long we have an open mind to learn as we talk to people. But I think more important than learning is implementing. We like to listen, we listen with one ear and it comes out from the other ear, we don’t actually practice all the things we talk about.

Some big companies are just too slow in their mode of operation, many of these guys have gone to the top business schools both locally and abroad. I am sure they have learned about building proper structures, you don’t need to wait for the MD to be physically in the office to make a payment or to decide if we are doing a, b, c, d or e.

There’s this one company we went to recently where they actually wanted to pass a memo to the MD, I thought to myself, ‘using the MEMO just shows that there’s something wrong here.’

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of at Supermart.ng?

There are so many things we’ve done so it’s hard to keep track.

I guess probably the most recent one is around remote working. Before we started, a couple of people I spoke to said it’s not going to work, you are wasting your time, guys won’t be committed, they would be doing other things.

But we found people are actually working and even I, I find that I’m working more hours than when I go to the office and that didn’t require any significant change from us. All the tools were well placed to start this. Yes, there are a couple of areas and 1 or 2 people who are not quite keeping up, but I think by and large we are happy with the progress.

It makes it lighter, a lot more efficient, just a better work-life balance so that people who were spending 4-5 hours in traffic daily, that’s now gone.

A Conversation with Scott Boylston, Sustainable Design Expert and Social Entrepreneur

“People hear the word innovation, and they immediately think: iPhone, AI, VR, etc.”

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Sustainable Design and Innovation Expert, Scott Boylston shares with us how businesses can innovate and profit, from the lesser-known approach of social innovation and sustainability. He gives examples of companies doing this and sheds light on what innovation truly is-beyond just technology

Tell us a little bit about your journey to your current position as Graduate Coordinator of the Design for Sustainability Program at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). What led you onto this path of innovation?

It’s been an interesting path that has included everything from writing fiction and designing sustainable surfwear, to creating package design for luxury cosmetics and facilitating change in how professional groups perceive the value of construction waste.

The big driver for me has always been a deep and active curiosity that’s manifested itself in the interplay between the tiniest and most transient of expressions and the broadest and most complex of contexts.

Innovation generally starts with questions; why are things the way they are, and what keeps them in that state even when imperfections are obvious, abundant, and even fundamentally problematic? We’re a strange species; while our desire for change is constant, dysfunctional habits whose detrimental impacts are on full display can remain sacred and ingrained.

“Innovation generally starts with questions; why are things the way they are, and what keeps them in that state even when imperfections are obvious, abundant, and even fundamentally problematic?”

In my transition to teaching design, I’ve focused on exploring how the value of innovation is determined not by the innovation itself, as much as by what it is perceived to be. As we teach it in SCAD’s Design for Sustainability program, design is understood as the creative potential to create conditions for sustainable innovations to burst forth from any given context.

“design is understood as the creative potential to create conditions for sustainable innovations to burst forth from any given context.”

What are your thoughts on design and innovation (particularly in the area of sustainability) as it is currently around the world?

People hear the word innovation, and they immediately think: iPhone, AI, VR, etc. These are all great forms of innovation, but when almost 100% of our population thinks about technology when they hear the word innovation, we’re way out of balance.

“People hear the word innovation, and they immediately think: iPhone, AI, VR, etc. These are all great forms of innovation, but when almost 100% of our population thinks about technology when they hear the word innovation, we’re way out of balance.”

With so much emphasis on technological innovation, humankind’s ability to keep up with all of that technology’s unintended consequences is lagging disturbingly behind. We need to turn our attention to social innovation—innovating the ways in which we work together; the ways in which we explore shared futures of abundance and equity through generative conversations.

That doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down technological innovation as much as informing it with deeper, inclusive, and future-oriented intentions. When you’re driving a car at 20 kilometers per hour you have plenty of time to react to unforeseen complications in front of you. When you’re traveling at 120 kilometers per hour your response time has to be faster if you want to survive.

The rate of technological innovation continues to accelerate at an astonishing rate, and it’s out-scaled our human ability to respond to unanticipated repercussions. Yet we consistently neglect to focus on the character of the human dynamics that could infuse human-scaled and human dignity-oriented quality controls into this technological deluge.

What are your key responsibilities as a Graduate Coordinator, Design for Sustainability program at SCAD?

My great honor in this life is to help guide young, creative, and deeply caring individuals through a journey of discovery into how their passions can manifest themselves through sincere, curious, and rigorously impartial explorations of complex situations.

I co-founded the Masters’ program a decade ago and teach many of the classes, as well as mentor the students through their everyday challenges and epiphanies, including thesis development, internships, community interactions, and professional development; you name it. I also recruit young and justice-oriented individuals who are seeking ways to make a visible difference in other people’s lives.

How would you define innovation based on your vast experience in the sphere of design?

Our program talks about a three-pronged approach to innovation: Mind, Matter, and Society (see image).

When we speak of ‘mind,’ we focus on people’s mindset or worldview. Paradigms matter. In systems thinking, the purpose of any system defines the interaction of its elements, and in societies, our worldview—what we cherish; what we emphasize in our daily lives, either explicitly or tacitly; what we deem normal or abnormal; acceptable or unacceptable; just or unjust—determines everything else.

The ‘matter’ part of the equation explores the materiality and technology of our rapidly changing world. This covers what most people think of when they hear the word innovation, and from a sustainability perspective includes everything from renewable and distributed energy production to circular and re-localized flows of material goods, and from economically just forms of finance and banking to open source software and hardware.

And the ‘society’ part focuses on social innovation; participatory and iterative human interaction with a shared vision of a common future. The idea is to activate different aspects within each realm of innovation when considering how a context-specific solution can enhance the social, cultural, environmental, and economic conditions of that situation.

We see these forms of innovation as if they were items on a tapas menu; pick a few from each category that are most appropriate for the occasion and create the most sustainably savory of combinations. You don’t have to be an expert in each one. What you need to do is seek a nuanced understanding of the breadth of any context—in place, and over time—and apply a suite of strategies that most effectively generate both change and the conditions for further change.

Do you run workshops for Ideation, Planning or Problem Solving? If so, how do you go about them?

We do run a lot of workshops. Most of them are catered specifically to the context of the situation. They emerge from our human-centered research, and they are generative, in that we run a series of them to create a cascade of learning that includes those we work with throughout.

We’re very keen on framings such as Theory U and transformative scenario planning that allow groups of people to leave behind past assumptions of what’s possible and what’s not. We believe storytelling can weave contrasting views into a harmonious tapestry. We focus on ‘getting the system into the room.’

And we look at the opportunity much like organizations like Reos Partners, Roller Strategies, and Bridgeway Partners, although we are approaching it from a designing and design-thinking perspective. This would include adapting self-organizational workshop approaches like frog’s Collective Action Toolkit, and the Thinking Wrong, which adds elements of surprise and playfulness when the situation allows for it.

What factors should one consider when designing for sustainability?

A focus on long-term consequences of seemingly attractive short-term solutions, as well as exploring potential unintended consequences of actions is one.

Considering the value of prototypes that test assumptions even as they pave the way forward is also important.

Systems thinking is always considering the interdependence of all elements and placing special focus on the quality of information flows, and the power asymmetries that are either visible, invisible, or hidden.

Julian Agyemen has observed that you can’t retrofit social justice, and so this is essential too; if you don’t bake social justice into the process from the beginning, it will always slip off the agenda.

How important and relevant is sustainable design for businesses?

It’s becoming more and more relevant every day due to the shrinking resources on our precious planet and the increasing appetite for a materially wealthy lifestyle.

We’re running up against some real limits, and the global corporations have understood this for a while. But we are also moving into an era of higher demands for accountability and sustainability from consumers.

There’s an increasing risk in business as usual, not only from changing consumer mindsets, but from regulatory changes, and from upstarts that are diving into social entrepreneurship with a passion and a commitment to doing things right.

Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation? Can you share what caught your attention about their approach?

Patagonia’s new mission statement is simply this; “We’re in business to save our home planet.” No mincing words, and cutting to the quick when it comes to what, in the end, makes the difference between a hospitable planet, and a life of toil in an uncertain landscape: vibrant ecosystems that are solely responsible for our ability to thrive.

Their approach is systemic; it looks at their value chain and asks who contributes and what do they receive in return; what ecosystems are compromised, and how might they be restored and regenerated in return. They look at sustainable innovation holistically and rigorously, and with care and respect for all that bring value into their business sphere.

Companies that have innovated material sustainability like Method and Pangea Organics due to their commitment to sustainable material innovation have created opportunities for others to follow that same path with less risk.

Mud Jeans has disrupted the denim market with circular concepts that can reconfigure the reverse logistics for textiles. There are many companies that have embraced an ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude.

There are new ones every day that raise the bar and reveal just how unimaginative and un-innovative companies that still rely on exploitation of people and natural resources really are.

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their career in sustainable design, strategy or innovation leadership?

Find the passion inside you to build innovations that celebrate our deep interconnectivity with all of nature, including your fellow humans, no matter how seemingly far removed they are from your process.

If you define success by this measure, you’ll be surprised just how exciting your exploration of innovation can be. It’s simply a matter of reframing the basic challenge you’re confronted with. There are regenerative feedback loops that exist everywhere, but if we don’t feed them, they remain dormant, and thus, unseen.

When we tap into these kinds of energy flows, they almost always kick start an increase in positive energy that benefits us all. This is not only the way to operate; it’s a way to present the power of your own design contributions to potential clients.

“Find the passion inside you to build innovations that celebrate our deep interconnectivity with all of nature, including your fellow humans, no matter how seemingly far removed they are from your process.”

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role in the Sustainability Program at SCAD?

It actually involves DODO’s founder! Our SCAD team was invited to participate in a Rockefeller Foundation effort by Pyxera Global to reduce post-harvest loss of tomato crops in northern Nigeria.

The deep contextual fieldwork we facilitated—conducted in large part by Susan Onigbinde and another SCAD alumni—helped us identify a design opportunity in creating a facilitation tool for smallholder farmers and their business partners along the supply chain to access more value from the tomato supply chain before the post-harvest losses occurred.

The project—an interactive, multi-stakeholder tool designed to create generative dialog around shared value creation—resulted in a train-the-trainer program across northern Nigeria and has become a model for similar initiatives in other parts of the world.

Your new book: “Designing with Society”, talks about a new culture of design that’s emerging and how designers/design agencies can leverage them along with the set of competencies the book introduces, to begin to effect lasting change on our world and its future. How could this incredible concept be infused to businesses today, especially to drive growth?

The book Designing with Society presents a detailed, and hopefully compelling, case for designers to adopt Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s Capability Approach to Human Development into their design thinking mindset.

The basic principles of the book can help businesses reconsider their role in society altogether.

It can help them adopt a mindset that challenges them, for instance, to ask questions about the ability of people along their supply chain to do and to be what they have reason to value. And this, in turn, might help them discover how new opportunities arise not simply through a value chain that enhances human integrity along its full course, but within it as well.

A Conversation with Ayo Bankole Akintujoye, Head of Strategy Consolidated Hallmark (CHI) Group

“Any innovation that does not address that larger part of the Nigerian population may only be scratching the surface of the addressable market in Nigeria.”

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Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position as Group Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance (CHI). What led you onto this path of Strategy?

I have always wanted to be a strategist because of my passion for finding solutions in difficult situations and solving complex issues. Hence, I always looked out for roles that will give me that leverage.

I started off my career at C2G Consulting. From C2G, I moved to KPMG advisory services, PwC, Phillips Consulting and FMDQ Securities Exchange as the Head of Strategy.

I am currently the Head, Strategy and Corporate Planning at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance Group where I am responsible for driving the business transformation and innovative strategies for the company and its subsidiaries.

That’s quite an interesting journey Ayo, Kindly share with us your thoughts on innovation as it is currently in Nigeria?

We still have a long way to go when it comes to innovation in Nigeria. Although we can see some traction in the technology space, a lot can still be done and this has to be supported with the right policy from the government to enhance local content and create an enabling environment for entities trying to innovate.

“We also need a transformation minded government that can lead to massive transformations in various key sectors, such transformations are needed as strategic enablers for innovation in Nigeria. For example, broadband infrastructure, transport, power, etc.”

What practical solution(s) can you suggest in tackling this innovation problem in Nigeria?

There are about 55 tech hubs in Nigeria, which is just behind South Africa with the highest number of hubs in Africa. I believe Nigerian organizations and Government need to latch on to these increased activities in these hubs for the development of innovative ideas to drive the required growth and transformation in the economy.

There is also a need for a paradigm shift in the thought processes amongst our leaders, as the current thought patterns in the corporate and public space, are inhibiting innovative growth. Therefore, there needs to be increased collaboration/support between the younger drivers of innovation in the corporate world and the older business/government leaders to enable increased adoption of innovation.

What are the major challenges affecting strategy and innovation teams today, and how can these problems be solved?

One of the major challenges affecting strategy and innovation teams today is getting Management commitment to innovation and to the effective implementation of innovative ideas. It is oftentimes difficult to get the management (especially the baby boomers) thoughts to be in alignment with contemporary innovative ideas, as they are more comfortable with conservative concepts.

One of the ways this may be managed is to oftentimes develop ideas that somewhat highlights immediate benefits whilst still stressing the long-term benefits of the innovations. It is important also to ensure your innovations are void of ambiguity and factors the realities of your audience; in order to get their buy-in.

What are your core responsibilities as the Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark?

I am primarily responsible for ensuring the implementation and execution of the company’s strategies to ensure the company achieves its strategic goals. I supervise four strategic business units viz Strategy, Research and Development, Budgeting and Budgetary Controls, Process and Product Innovation to support the company’s growth.

How would you define innovation based on your experiences?

For me, based on my experiences, innovation is about either continuously improving on your products and processes to improve the performance of your offerings to your customers, or totally creating new product classes targeted at new or existing markets that is totally different from what your competitors are doing. Such innovations can be disruptive and be the game-changer for you or your business.

What are the essential tools you use most and benefit from in your role as Head of Strategy?

One of the major tools of strategic management is the Balance Scorecard. Balance Scorecard is the foremost strategy execution framework in the world. That is the framework upon which the strategy was developed and that is what we use to monitor and keep track of how the execution connects with the objectives across the four pillars.

I also use the SIPOC framework for process-related activities and reviews. This tool helps drive process improvement efforts of I and my team; helping us develop robust and quality processes. There are countless other strategy tools and frameworks that I have used and still use in the course of my career.

How do you handle factors that hinder innovation within your organization?

We try to turn every obstacle to innovation, [by seeing it] as an opportunity to think deeply and innovate around the obstacles. We don’t allow any factor(s) to hinder us when it comes to innovating.

“For me, based on my experiences, innovation is about either continuously improving on your products and processes to improve the performance of your offerings to your customers, or totally creating new product classes targeted at new or existing markets that is totally different from what your competitors are doing. Such innovations can be disruptive and be the game-changer for you or your business.”

Do you run sessions for ideation or problem-solving? If so, how do you go about it?

Yes, I run planning sessions with my strategy team where we develop different innovative ideas to solve existing problems. I also conduct periodic strategy war room sessions with management and relevant staff members to assess implementation levels of the strategic initiatives and develop innovative solutions to implementation gaps of some initiatives. I also engage in other ad-hoc problem-solving sessions as some issues arise.

How do you factor your users/ customers as you position for strategic growth at your organization?

Our growth trajectory is built around customer satisfaction, as customers are key stakeholders in our strategic goals, and this is why we place huge premium on constant improvement of our internal processes to deliver quality service to our customers.

Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation and strategy? Can you share what caught your attention about their approach to innovation?

GTB (Guarantee Trust Bank) is a company I admire so much for their innovation and market entry strategy that focused on the digital, retail and profitable end of the market and significantly altered the face of the banking industry.

What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their careers in innovation management and strategy?

Be focused and be aggressive with knowledge and personal development as that is what is going to stand you out and prepare you for the right opportunities. It is also important to put in the hours to work and gain valuable experience.

What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role as Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark?

The innovation around performance management, product development and processes we introduced that changed the way we view and report performance on a periodic basis, our approach to product and marketing and improvement in operational efficiency.

It helped stimulate creativity and improved performance among key strategic business leaders. All of these resulted in a 21% increase in the topline in year one, having flatlined for almost five years; and then further increased by another 24% growth in revenue as at Q3 2019, and a whopping 56% increase in profits.

If you could build a company from the ground up, what innovation strategy or design or methodologies would you use to build?

The innovative strategy I will use is a disruptive innovation. I will focus on the low-end of the market as about 70% of Nigeria’s population are currently at the bottom of the pyramid.

To gain market share my innovation will be centered around creating products or services that are affordable and are good enough to deliver quality satisfaction to customers at that lower end of the market. Any innovation that does not address that larger part of the Nigerian population may only be scratching the surface of the addressable market in Nigeria.

“Any innovation that does not address that larger part of the Nigerian population may only be scratching the surface of the addressable market in Nigeria.”

We try to turn every obstacle to innovation, [by seeing it] as an opportunity to think deeply and innovate around the obstacles.