Bright ideas can dazzle, too

The innovation expert can be found in the most innovative environment with her new office. Recently, Nikola Bachfischer has rented the rooms in the center of Munich. WeWork offers founders and entrepreneurs jobs, but also a lot of style. At the counter there are spritzers and coffee from the private roastery. You can retire for a meeting in a glass case, squeeze with laptop and smartphone in a telephone booth or hang out in the lounges and get into conversation with other founders. There are showers, a room for prayer and meditation, the inevitable table tennis tables. Hustle and creativity are in the air. Maybe this is how the future of work looks like. So where, if not here, can you learn about innovation?

And what should companies still have to learn in Germany? If one reads the current Federal Report Research and Innovation, everything sounds dreamlike: in hardly any other country is more spent on innovation, three percent of GDP. Business owners filed more global market-related patents than in the US. And more and more people are employed in research and development.

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But then there is also, for example, a study on digitization and innovation in Germany, carried out by the consultants of Deloitte. It shows that although spending is rising, companies are still not prepared for change. Many leave opportunities for innovation unused, do not give themselves enough time, or simply lack the know-how. Both studies together can be read as: Everyone has realized that they need to position themselves for the future. Everyone wants it. Nevertheless, it is difficult for many. Why is that?

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Being innovative = sustainable

On the WeWork terrace, Nikola Bachfischer explains why this is not so easy. She advises companies on innovation management, saying that many companies have a working model that generates revenue and profits, loyal customers, and a sense of responsibility towards their employees. “The point is then: why should I change something when things are going well?” On the other side of this scale are the startups. Small and flexible, hardly any employees, eager to experiment. But despite all the agility and open-mindedness: hardly any customers, no functioning core business.

Being innovative means, according to Bachfischer: sustainable. So also in the future successful. “In order to stay sustainable, companies need to connect these two worlds,” she says. But how does that work in the fast-paced times of digitization? Bachfischer recommends thinking in three horizons. “A business should think in core business, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” she says. It had to be positioned in all three areas, with a focus on the core business. “After all, the money comes here.” At the same time, new models must be created for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, which will create new value again. The areas should not be next to each other. “They must be aligned with the business goals and be connected.”

This is often accompanied by an organizational change. Where former employees were told what they could achieve by what means, there is now more freedom, more open structures and participation. Bachfischer shows this with the example of a restaurant that has set itself the goal of leaving every customer with a smile. Whether this succeeds depends not only on the food. Every employee can contribute, but the cook is of course different from a waiter.

Everyone wants, but only a few can do it: There is no magic formula for innovation
Nikola Bachfischer, innovation coach

The sooner you fail, the better

Innovation does not necessarily mean changing the product. There are many points of contact, in production, in marketing in the communication of your own brand or in the administration or when in conferences new tools to increase creativity are tried. Bachfischer considers it fundamental that one does not level the particularities of one’s own company. There is no patent recipe for innovation. Experimenting, building networks, maybe even starting projects together with competitors: There are countless possibilities and every company has to find its way.

Of course, the ideas would have to be evaluated and adjusted if necessary, says Bachfischer. This requires suitable key figures: sales and profits. That’s what it ends up with. “An idea that is not suitable for the market is virtually useless,” says Bachfischer. An “Innovation Lab”, which makes no measurable contribution in the long term, could at best afford a company an expensive image measure.

That is why it is so important that inappropriate ideas are recognized early and pulped. The sooner, the better the failure. Otherwise, companies such as the Federal Employment Agency, which invested 60 million euros in a software project and announced its termination in February 2017, are fated. Completely confused the authority with: The software had proved too little flexible. In the future, they want to focus on agile methods during development.

Anyone who fails prematurely or fails projects may pay, but not 60 million. With this often-vaunted positive culture of failure, however, long-established companies often have problems. “Of course there are areas where a mistake would be fatal,” countered Bachfischer. “Innovation is no brain surgery,” she quotes a talk by Tina Seelig, an American professor of economics. Brain surgeons or female pilots will most likely be entertained to hear about their failure at a “Failure party”. There are areas where you can not experiment. And the “good” mistakes by which you learn something happen while experimenting.

Nevertheless, innovation does not mean to throw everything over what was once there. Bachfischer says, “I think there is no area where you can not integrate improvements or new ideas.”

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