In this episode, our guest – Essy Dahlin and host – Michał Grela examine the topic of innovation.
Following discussion on questions like: ‘Is innovation only about technology?’ and ‘Should everyone be an innovator?’, they move on to explore where to start when implementing innovation in an organisation and look at approaches to fostering the culture of innovation and creativity.
The episode ends with Essy’s advice for companies that are struggling to implement innovation or are unsure where to begin.
Essy Dahlin: With almost 20 years of experience from different industries in both private and public sector, Essy Dahlin brings insights from a broad range of roles and areas of expertise. Since 2016, she’s been working as a digital strategy advisor at Sogeti, part of Capgemini. With a holistic view of business, market, and organisation, she advises business leaders on how to address challenges facing their industry, accelerated by digitalisation and innovation. In close collaboration with architects, designers and developers, she also leads innovation projects where emerging tech proves its value.
Michał Grela is Future Processing’s Relationship Manager, working within the marketing department to establish and nurture relationships with prospective customers and expand the company’s network of contacts. He strongly believes that business is about people and that, at the end of the day, it’s all about Human-to-Human rather than Business-to-Business.
The transcript of the episode
Michał Grela (MG): Hello, my name is Michał Grela, and I’d like to welcome you to the next episode of IT Leadership Insights by Future Processing. Steve Jobs once said that innovation is what distinguishes
leaders and the followers. And as organisations, we all aspire to be at the forefront of innovation, to have this competitive advantage over others.
But, at the end of the day, implementing innovation is not that easy. Today, my guest is Essy Dahlin, a Digital Strategy Advisor at Sogeti, who is well-experienced
in implementing innovation particularly including areas such as Artificial Intelligence. Hi, welcome to this episode.
Essy Dahlin (ED): I’m very happy to have you here with me.
MG: But before we dive deep into the topic, could you please say a few words about yourself, please?
ED: Hmm, thank you. I’m very pleased to be here. In my work, I consult different business leaders in how to address challenges facing their industries, with the help of technology and innovation. And I also lead different
kinds of innovation projects often related to AI.
MG: Let’s start. Innovation means something different for everybody. It depends from the point of view. To those who are using pen and paper, introducing a simple Excel
spreadsheet would be innovative. But for others it would be about AI or quantum computing. What’s your definition of innovation? How do you perceive it personally?
ED: Well, I think it’s quite simple, actually. It’s about inventing and connecting that to a market value or a use of some sort. It could be a public use for society, for example, as well. But you can own hundreds of patents for different inventions,
but unless it’s actually useful, it’s not an innovation, in my point of view.
MG: So, from your perspective, the idea is not innovative unless there’s a use case for it.
ED: Yes, that’s right.
MG: That’s very practical point of view.
ED: Yes, I think so. And I also think that since it’s depending on the use of our time, when it’s actually implementing, it could be an invention at one point, but later on, maybe it’s not the time for it, just the market is not ready for it, maybe the infrastructure is not built for it.
But 10 years later, it could become an innovation.
MG: So, aside from the aspiration of becoming an industry leader, where does the need for innovation actually come from?
ED: Well, I think it’s basically rooted within most of us, anyway. For survival purposes, we have always aspired to improve our living conditions and become more and more efficient, using machinery of different kinds. And, of course, to use as little of energy as possible. Unfortunately, this has tipped over the bridge right now in the world, where obesity is a huge problem. But we have that kind of built in ourselves to do as little as possible, to be as efficient.
MG: So, it’s deeply rooted in…
MG: In human kind.
ED: Yes, exactly.
MG: It’s that deep.
ED: Yes, it’s that deep.
MG: And can or should everyone be an innovator then? Since you said that it is in all of us, should we all aspire to take it from there?
ED: Yeah, we all have different personality skills, of course. And we are more leaned to being innovative or not, and being more afraid or averse to risks and averse to change overall. But as humanity, we are built for innovation. And I think we should aspire, everyone of us, to be innovative. Think about when you were a child, for example, even up to about 12 years old. We are all very creative, we are looking at the world from a child’s eyes, and we question everything and coming up with great solutions to every problem of the world. And then, somehow, we are taught that this is difficult, and this is impossible and so on. But this can be retaught, and we can train to be more creative and innovative again.
MG: So, in this case, is innovation about technology? Or does it have a broader scope?
ED: Definitely a broader scope. Technology, I mean, now we live in a digital age. So, innovation nowadays, we often talk about innovation related to digital technology and to new business models and new possibilities related to the new technology, like AI blockchain and so on. But innovation has been around forever. And look at the industrialisation, for example. When we came up with machines, that made human labour much more efficient.
MG: That’s it, yeah.
ED: So, it’s not about technology, it’s processes, for example. You can innovate with processes, and that has nothing to do with technology at all. So, there’s a large scope of innovation.
MG: Focusing about the tech-related innovation then, since we in IT Leadership Insights episode. Where do you start with? What do you start with? What are the initial phases of actually thinking about implementing innovation within organisation, technology-wise.
ED: Well, it’s a difficult question. Of course it depends on where you are at. And it also depends on where you want to innovate. We can innovate more breakthrough innovations and focus on that to gain a huge marketing and competitive advantage, and try to maybe open up a whole new market that is not there today.
ED: And, you can also work on more sustainable and incremental innovation, that is maybe, maybe innovative for your company, but it’s not a breakthrough innovation. So, it depends on where you are, and what your ambitions and goals are. But I think you should look it from an overview perspective. What are the biggest problems you have in your company today? And how could you create an innovation portfolio? But from taking it from there, to actually getting a result, is not just about something written in a document, or a tool you implement.
ED: But it’s much more with the people, with the culture and the processes.
MG: That was to be my other question. Isn’t it all about people at the end of the day? Like, even if you think about implementing different kinds of technologies, still, you need a team to do the job.
ED: Yeah, definitely.
MG: Doesn’t it come down to having the right skills on board and attitude on board to be open-minded enough to implement this innovation?
ED: Yes, an attitude, that is a good example. Because it’s so important to have that kind of culture that explores…
MG: How do you foster that? How do you get there?
ED: Well, you can get there from two perspectives, actually, from two points. Both, if you’re doing it from both perspectives, it’s the best, I would say.
MG: What are these perspectives?
ED: It’s the top-bottom and bottom-top. So, you can, I know it from examples, companies where different teams have gone rogue, actually, creating different products without the knowledge and without the consent of leaders in the company. And, actually, have pushed some of the budget to that product under the radar. And from top-down, it’s important for the leaders to be role models and to actually show and be perceived as innovative, to take risks, in moderate, of course, but also to show how we handle people when they do mistakes. And when we take a road, and it doesn’t go very well, it didn’t go as planned. How do we react to that? Do we take it as learning, or do we take more serious actions?
MG: The example always comes from the above.
ED: Yes, the good example.
MG: Hopefully, good ones, bad ones as well, unfortunately. But were you to give your top pieces of advice for companies who are struggling to implement innovation or are willing to do so, but don’t know how to start, what would this advice be?
ED: I think if you are a novice in that innovation area, I think, start small, start with one or two teams that you’re dedicating to innovation, or at least 50% of the work time. And find those apples that are very close to the ground.
MG: So, what you’re saying is, go with your natural flow of the company, stick to the core, but at the same time, allocate some resources to thinking about always finding ways for improvement.
ED: Yes, if you don’t have a natural corporate culture of innovation, many organisations create, like, innovation labs.
ED: Maybe it’s like an organisation within the organisation.
MG: Like an R&D department?…More than that.
ED: Not like an R&D department, but it’s more of an autonomous department, that runs by their own rules and so on, to give them space for innovation. And that is a good idea, if you have, if you’re totally novice, and you have a large traditional organisation, that just can’t keep up with this new way of thinking and working. But, the challenge with doing that, is what happens when you need to scale. When you have that innovation, and you can actually prove its worth, but you need to scale it. If you don’t have the platforms or the infrastructures or the processes, or the culture in the rest of the company, it’s very difficult to implement it in a very useful way in the company overall.
MG: Well, it was plenty. Thank you, it was very interesting, and this conversation was full of interesting information.
ED: Thank you very much.
MG: Thank you. And thank you, our viewers, for watching another episode of IT Leadership Insights. If you found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like it and share it on social media. And please do drop us a line, if you wish to have another topic covered in IT Leadership Insights. Thank you.