Interview Transcript

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing, driving innovation within Conti?

There are a lot of internal processes that prevent you moving forward, even if the organisation wants to do something with a start-up. Procurement is a very good example. Procurement departments within big organisations usually treat start-ups as a regular supplier. “Okay, let’s sign the agreement; half a year from now, one year from now…” They don’t understand, a year from now, a start-up will be in a completely different place. For them, it’s just regular day-to-day operations. And a lot of the people we’re working with don’t have KPIs for start-ups. They’re focusing on the day-to-day and say, “If I work with a start-up, it’s an additional workload for me, so why should I do that? I just want to do what I’m paid for, get my bonus. Don’t disrupt me with other stuff that will create more workload for me.” This needs to come from the top. You need support of management to understand it and push forward with innovation. Even if you have a group like us leading in innovation, sometimes, you might find it really hard because procurement is putting up barriers and business units that you’re working with don’t want to engage with a start-up because of the extra workload. There are all these internal policies or bureaucracies that don’t allow you to do the much better, swifter job you would like to do.

How do you encourage business units to spend time on innovation?

The first and most important thing is not to think of this as a full-scale strategy to change an organisation. Look at this as a tactic; gain their trust, help them with the sore points, find what hurts most. Come to the business units and say, “You’ve been tackling this problem for so many years, you’ve not been able to solve it, let me try and help.” If I’m able to solve it, they will be much more open to listen, to do more stuff outside their comfort zone and adjacent to what they’re doing because now, I’m really helping. The way to approach it is, find the sore point, help them in the day-to-day, then get them on board for the bigger stuff you want to do. Of course, you need the support of the management team, giving KPIs for start-ups and innovation and incentives to do so. You need the whole structure to support you in that because, if you’re alone, it’s a really tough job to do.

How do you overcome “not invented here” syndrome?

When I’m working with start-ups and confronting a problem a business unit is trying to solve, you don’t try to challenge it and say, “I can find someone who can do it better,” but you really try to help. And this is the point you need to relate to them, something they need to understand. When you don’t challenge them, but you help and support them, you take down the “not invented here” syndrome. If you find a solution that is an exact fit for a problem they have been facing, they will be very open to listen to that and do something. If you’re looking at a start-up to replace something they’re doing, that will be “not invented here” syndrome. It’s a very delicate line of understanding their sore point, not trying to challenge what they’re doing, but rather, assisting them.

Do you treat the business unit leader as your customer?

Of course because, if they don’t bite into the start-up, nothing will derive out of it. If I’m just doing PoCs with a start-up and no one is taking them forward, what am I doing here? I need them on board, I need them to be convinced, to push things internally, or nothing will fly.

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