Aug 2, 2019
Lately I was asked by a German blog about the necessary mindset changes of Hamburg's companies towards the path of innovation. Interesting questions lead to this summary in English.
“A serious mistake is to trust that things always went well in the past and that you just have to stay in the flow.
Or in a nutshell: Lean back and don't actively shape the future”
For the past 20 years, new business models have been changing more and more the industries. It's no longer just a question of how or what, but often why people buy. For example, people use AirBnB not only because it is cheaper than a hotel, but also because they want to get in touch with locals. Motivation is changing. This means that the mindset in the company must also adapt accordingly.
Methods, processes, strategies - simply everything changes systemically. It's insane for companies to think they can build a digital unit or department that will run independently from the rest of the company.
160 years ago, ice could only be gained by waiting for the cold winter at a lake and then harvesting the ice with a saw. Production capacity was the size of the lake. The demand was secured by an increasing population. And when a hot summer came, the ice was sold out in autumn at the latest.
Today there are no more "ice farmers". They were replaced by ice factories. And finally, the ice factories by refrigerators. No ice farmer became an ice cream manufacturer. No ice-cream manufacturer became a refrigerator manufacturer.
If board members do not accept creative destruction as a business reality for their company and proactively shape the future, they are the wrong person for the job.
Established companies unfortunately often only carry out product development. They have an existing customer base and want to sell them even more products. Start-ups, on the other hand, do customer sourcing because they lack customers. As a result, they are much more interested in the real needs of customers and users.
So, the first step is user centricity and customer focus by gaining relevant insights into their ecosystem and needs. And this not only through marketing, but also through product management and above all through the development department.
It also requires courage and a willingness to take risks in order to develop really new and good solutions from the findings. You have to be be very agile and move from the prototype validated by the target group to the MVP.
At the end of the day, it's all about culture. A company must want to develop innovations with all its employees - across silos and with a focus on implementation. As long as an idea only slumbers in the drawer, there will be no innovation. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for this complex task.
The advantage of our company size is that we offer an absolutely personal service. There are no overheads – instead we focus on colleagues which focus with 100% commitment on their project and take responsibility. Our colleagues are outstanding specialists who only rest when the project has crossed the finishing line. They are not interested in titles and headcounts, but in creating something new every day.
We will finally be able to do more really good and important work.
Many tasks in most professions, from lawyer to doctor to architect, are bureaucratic. They don't need a lot of brain neither are they fun. Nevertheless, they are relevant. For example, how many emails do you answer every day that are actually meaningless? How much time do you spend on documentation or searching for information?
If AI creates context between two or more domains, then we will be able to delegate away many of the rather dull and uncreative work. At best, there will only be exciting and challenging, human work - like innovating.
On the other hand, it is important to state that AI without data is useless. And if I don't know what I intend to do with the data, it's useless.
In this respect, every company must first consider whether, where and how it could generate or generate data. Then, as part of a first AI innovation project, it can be seen what could be achieved with these data, or what value, what output could be created with them for the company or its customers.
Companies that already generate a high volume of data using customer data, measurement data, etc. should urgently initiate an AI project. Their industry could be disrupted very quickly by new business models and services. But attention: AI projects are not IT projects.
The cluster management in Hamburg is really good. With eight clusters that are cleverly set up and well networked, Hamburg is creating an enormously good innovation policy. As for myself, I am active in two of them as a member of the board and as an advisor, I experience on a weekly basis the diversity that the Hanseatic city offers and the potential that exists.
However, Hamburg itself is in the "Innovators Dilemma". As an Hanseatic City with a merchant’s soul, it has always taken care of the harbour. To this day. Everything else is interesting, but not as important as the established trading system. This can have a negative effect because monocultures have never been known for their resilience.
I like to see, local politics pushing things forward over the finish line. Cause one must promote new things so far and so long (also after setbacks) and think globally until the whole world has understood that Hamburg can be more than a port authority.
(Original Interview in German published by https://hh.hansevalley.de/p/hansepersonality.html - Aug 2019)