This is how you facilitate innovation

29 August 2018, Retail, Wholesale, Manufacturing, Real Estate, 4 min leestijd

How can you stimulate innovation in your business? Recently, I joined SAP on a tour of several leading companies in the San Francisco Bay area. Each had their own way of giving direction to innovation and it turned out to be an inspiring and educational week.

In June of this year, SAP organised the Innovation Tour. As part of this tour, I joined SAP and several prominent SAP Partners from the EMEA region in visiting various innovative hotspots in Silicon Valley. The trip lasted a full week and took us to the Stanford University campus as well as the offices of companies such as LinkedIn, Google, NVIDIA, Airbnb, Cisco and SAP itself.

Everyone knows these companies, but each from a different perspective. I was particularly curious about how my image of them related to reality. What is the current state of ‘digital disruption’ and that world of tomorrow that everyone keeps talking about? What can I already see of it? How far have they come? I became incredibly inspired there as I was able to witness, for an entire week, how these organisations give structural direction to creativity and innovation — and thus to digital disruption across the world — day after day. And do you know what the beauty of all this is? We can apply these same principles here in Europe (and at Ctac). So I would like to share a few conclusions with you from my notebook.

Facilitating the new generation

Airbnb might actually be one of the most disruptive companies in the world. This platform for renting and booking private accommodation is changing the face of cities everywhere, especially Amsterdam. But Airbnb does not do this by adhering to any strict ‘regular’ working hours in a ‘regular’ office space. The mostly young employees — the average age is well below thirty — do their jobs in an informal work environment that comes closest to resembling a living room. Set working hours? There are none. Pets? Bring them along. Hungry? Go ahead and use the kitchen or order something nice. The relaxed, domestic, and informal start-up culture in which these boys and girls work is anything but commonplace in the western world. Work and private life intersect seamlessly. This is a very different way of looking at work and it fits a new generation of employees. Being able to perfectly facilitate that generation is undoubtedly an ingredient of Airbnb’s success.

Design with the future in mind

NVIDIA, designer and builder of graphic cards and chipsets is incredibly technologically advanced. For example, the processing power that NVIDIA’s products facilitate is part of the backbone of the Chinese social web. Within 0.5 milliseconds, their hard- and software scans seven thousand images. The processing power that NVIDIA can deploy for this is beyond imagination. I saw an installation with a couple of modules that were at most 1m² in size, yet they had a combined processing power of four (!) data centres.

Yet for me this visit also illustrated a shocking pitfall. We always seem to be inclined to look at what is possible now. When we create innovative solutions for our customers, it is the current technological state of affairs that is our starting point. But if you do that, you will always lag behind. NVIDIA takes a different approach. Their designs are based on what they expect will be possible in the long-term. So, by the time the technology is here, they are fully prepared and their designs and ideas are ready to be applied. 

Create a start-up environment

Great ideas can arise anywhere in an organisation. Once dreamed up, they can keep growing or slowly fade away. Which of the two it will be strongly depends on what kind of environment your organisation offers. Cisco wants to prevent new ideas from fading away by allowing all of its employees to input new, creative ideas. The best of these ideas become projects, small start-ups nested ‘within’ the organisation which get their capital from private investors.

This approach allows creative thought the space to ‘breathe’ and challenges employees and teams to actually start thinking like young, fresh start-ups. This is a development that I think we can learn a lot from in the Netherlands. However, it is also crucial that these kinds of projects should be able to fail. In the Netherlands, we often have a ‘Work Hard, Don’t Fail’ mentality. At Cisco, and really everywhere in the Bay Area, the motto is ‘Try Hard, Fail Fast’.

Ctac is working on an innovation lab

It was amazing to be able to visit the most creative companies in the world with SAP, exchange ideas with SAP’s most innovative partners, and to be able to investigate the many aspects of innovation for an entire week. The result of being immersed in all this innovation will gradually find its way to our outlook on life and the way we direct innovation for our clients.

One of the ways we are already doing this is through setting up Innovation Labs: small and super-innovative teams that will take it upon themselves to further develop new, creative ideas that arise within the organisation. An Innovation Lab will also investigate how we can combine and deploy our partners’ new, ground-breaking technologies for our clients. We used to do this mainly on a project-based approach, which made us sometimes lack the speed needed for rapid change.

It is fantastic to see that this new way of working corresponds, for the most part, with how they do things in the Bay Area. We will be closely following the developments in Silicon Valley as well as looking to continually improve our Innovation Labs.

Do you want to learn more about how Ctac facilitates innovation? Or are you curious about the rest of my travel experiences? Then feel free to contact me.