In my former life at an FMCG company where I was responsible for the Innovation Pipeline, the challenge was to constantly invent something new. We sometimes didn’t get the balance right between the existing core business and launching new product and ideas. It was relatively boring to take care of bouillon for example, instead of the exciting vitality fruit shots. However, from a business angle some of the traditional product lines are very interesting as they are highly profitable. We had a very insightful presentation from a research company one day showing us the effect of constantly launching new products. They challenged us with the term “Innovation Junkie”. I learned my lesson then and there and we were highly successful in harmonizing our bouillon approach across Europe with massive cost savings and in some countries increased sales as a result.
Our challenge today is that the world is changing and moving at a fast pace. There is a need of being passionate about innovation and at the same time use our scarce resources well.
Monika Schulze has a broad range of experience in the FMCG and Insurance industries, having successfully served in senior executive positions for more than 25 years in different countries.
In 2017 she was recognized by Forbes as one of the World’s Most Influential CMOs in 2017 and was nominated by AdAge as “Woman to Watch Europe 2017” based on notable accomplishments.
Other assignments include a Board Membership at Schloss Wachenheim, one of the most notable sparkling wine and semi-sparkling wine producers in Europe with sales worldwide in more than 80 countries.
She is Board Observer at CoverWallet, a New York based digital firm that uses analytics and state of the art technology to customize and simplify the purchase of insurance by small businesses. Monika is also an advisor to Atheer, a US-based company that is a pioneer of AiR™ (Augmented interactive Reality) computing, designed to enhance the productivity and safety of professionals.
Here are some thoughts about successful innovation:
A mandate from the top: One essential lever for success is leadership and cross functional support. There is a need for a strong mandate to push innovation so that everybody understands that the company’s future success depends on innovation. The leadership team needs to provide a clear vision, including the role of innovation.
Establish a process that supports innovation and growth which at the same time helps to avoid internal resistance against new ideas and new ways of doing business.
Start with the customer and their needs instead of thinking inside out. Innovation is often not something which is driven by marketing and customer insights. We have to fight for the fact that we have a seat at the table to provide our thoughts on customer insights for example.
Use the power and creativity of your employeesto unlock your company’s growth potential. An increasing number of business leaders now use cloud computing and websites to capture employees’ suggestions.
Think outside-of-the-box:Give a group of people the time and resources to research and follow trends outside the insurance industry. Give them the mandate to not only think in small step changes, but also radical innovation. Identify the people in the organization who can do this or consider bringing outside thinking on board.
Learn from things that did not go well: The famous “Think big, start small” is important if you want to test new things. Encourage pilots so that you don’t waste a lot of time, energy and money if something goes wrong. If it goes well, scale up quickly. Be willing to let people experiment and try new things in a low risk environment and don’t punish them, if things are not a success right from the beginning.
Set up powerful partnerships: In some cases it does not make any sense to start everything from scratch. Let us take the example of data analytics. Insurance companies are traditionally strong at this. However, today a lot of data is available which we don’t have in our databases and would help to refine our model. Establishing partnerships with for example parking app companies might help to improve our underwriting. And a potential partner can help us to see trends in the marketplace which we may have not identified yet as well as customer insights which are relevant.
Consumer’s needs, desires, and expectations are changing faster today than at any time in history. We need to examine the changes that are going on in consumers’ lives so innovative products and services can be created that will help them to protect the business, the people and things they love. The technological advances are challenging us more and more. We have to choose and focus on which ones are important for our business model, and where needed establish partnerships to become the best solution in the eyes of the customer. If you don’t have enough internal power to push for and embrace innovation, look for a partner that will do so. As previously stated, if there is a natural resistance against new ideas and new ways of doing business, it is important to acknowledge this and to seek for solutions to overcome this. This requires strong leadership and a common approach from the top. Ultimately, I would love to be in the situation of having too many ideas to choose from to achieve my vision of growing the company.