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.”

Scroll

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.”

Scroll

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.”