BMI Lab goes West.

Our CEO, Felix Hofmann, gives a lecture to the study group in San Francisco.

Our CEO, Felix Hofmann, gives a lecture to the study group in San Francisco.

During this last September and October BMI Lab organized the Second Senior Management Experience Study Trip with Covestro, a Bayer company spin off created in 2015 (formerly Bayer Material Science division). We interviewed Katharina, one of BMI Lab´s consultants, about this experience.

Hi Katharina, can you please explain to our audience what the Senior Management Experience Study Trip is?

Basically, it is a carefully tailored program designed to inspire and enable senior managers to lead their company to break their dominant industry logics. It’s a great mix of theory and practice combined with a reflection on the innovation ability of their own company and their role. It highlights hard skills, such as how to steer business model initiatives as well as soft skills, such as entrepreneurial ways of thinking.  

What activities do you take part in with this program?

We combine theory and practice. Our goal is to explain how innovation really works, and this goal requires a theoretical foundation of concepts and methodologies. But we also want our clients to meet and discuss ideas with real innovators, and for that we visit startups and founders, corporate innovation outposts, company builders and maker spaces all over the world. In this particular case, we went to Silicon Valley.

Why Silicon Valley?

Well, it is obvious, isn´t it? In the San Francisco area you can probably find some of the most innovative companies in the world (and not only in the digital industry). But also you can start to understand what kind of environment and mindset is needed to foster these kinds of businesses. In Silicon Valley one can experience an ecosystem where innovation has been thriving for the last 40 years. Not a small feat!

Can you please explain the agenda of this kind of an event?

We divided the experience into two parts: Zurich, Switzerland and San Francisco, CA. The first one is more theoretical, and the second one involves more experiential activities.

What kind of topics did you cover in Zurich?

Basically, over the course of 2 days (September 21-22) we invited Covestro´s selected senior managers to Switzerland. Here the participants could discuss thoughts and questions with Prof. Gassmann and Prof. Frankenberger, as well as with other leading researchers in business model innovation from the University of St.Gallen. After a conceptual introduction, we had a closer look at digital business models. We invited Markus Schmidt from Bosch, who successfully led his company in the digital transformation. He shared concrete steps as well as his experience. The day ended with a dinner and a lively discussion between Markus and the participants.   

During the second day we moved into the topic of leading BMI. We started with an overview of challenges involved in leading BMI - then we moved to the individual level. In the afternoon we examined Covestro’s innovation maturity. We identified and discussed strong areas and weak areas. Self-reflection is really important in a BMI process, since we need to build upon our strengths and develop our weaknesses to build up innovation capabilities.

Did you have any feedback from the attendees for these two days?

Yes, we did! The participants started some really interesting conversations during lunch and dinner about how to apply what they learned and experienced. They told us that we helped open their minds and generate a good basis and common language to start with specific steps. The participants were asked to present how they see their role in enabling and leading business model innovation. What I heard there was great and I am happy that the Experience Study Trip inspired them.

The second part of this experience was the trip to San Francisco, on October 4-6th. Which activities did you cover during this visit to Silicon Valley?

A lot of them! The experience trips are pretty intense, since we try to visit as many places as we can. We also try to activate people, helping them to understand whatever is done in the companies we visit, and encouraging them to ask about everything as well as reflect how this could be applied to their company! We really had a great time.

We started the experience with John Danner, from Berkeley University, introducing us to the Valley and giving us a speech about founder personality, and what it requires to be an innovation leader. After that, we headed to our first visit at Ivaldi.

What is Ivaldi?

Ivaldi is a company that specializes in design and implementation of advanced manufacturing solutions for the maritime industry. Around this company its founder, Espen Sivertsen, created a whole ecosystem of companies working on additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

It was a great visit, where the participants could see in person a real example of a successful business model built around a new technology, capable of making both aerospace materials and pills! After that, we ended the day with a reflection and a much deserved dinner in San Francisco.

That was the first day.

That´s correct. The second day was even more intense. After having met an entrepreneur who has already started several businesses, John Danner acquainted the participants with the failure mindset and its importance for innovation. This is a very interesting topic, since managers are used to pursuing achievements, and they try to avoid failings. We tried to encourage them to change their mentality, stressing the importance of failing as a mandatory part of any innovation process.

Probably something hard to accept for many people.

Yes! But this is what you need to engage in innovation. Changing the mindset of the people is the greatest challenge most companies face.

What did you do afterwards?

We visited the Standford, probably one of the best places to understand what  design applied to innovation looks like. Its founder Larry Leifer was kind enough to guide us through the facilities, explaining what is and what they do.

After that, we visited a corporate innovation outpost of a German company: Sennheiser. There participants asked Michael from Sennheiser questions such as how the company is run, what kind of activities are done there, how it relates to the HQ and the culture lived there. People had the chance to ask as many questions as they could; it was an enriching visit. After that, we moved to a restaurant for dinner and further informal discussion.

The next day we started our daily activities with a visit to Slack. This is one of the hottest startups right now that has disrupted corporate communications with its software. It´s an amazing example of both entrepreneurships and innovation management in the digital world. We could experience their unique culture, and discuss with them their business model development.

To finish we looked at Covestro’s BMI maturity again, and together with all the inspiration the participants got during the experience trip, we developed specific steps to increase Covestro’s BMI maturity.

Can you be more specific about this last workshop?

Sure. We had a discussion on BMI based on the findings about readiness made in the first module, held in Zurich during the previous month. After the experience trip, people at Covestro had a much better understanding of what BMI really takes, so they could discuss which hurdles they are facing. As I told you, this is our goal for the whole experience trip: to make people understand what they need in their companies to start with Business Model Innovation.

The full group after a workshop in San Francisco.

The full group after a workshop in San Francisco.

But there is a big difference between understanding and actually doing.

Yes, that´s true! Because of that, we also encourage managers and directors to define specific steps to get started. In this case, we will continue to work with Covestro and we are looking forward to seeing sparks develop into actions!  

Is there something else that you would like to say to our readers?

Innovation is about doing, so you can´t learn about it just from a theoretical approach.It always helps to go out, to see what is actually happening and to talk to people. You should understand what they are doing and why, what they believe, which kind of environment they operate in, and the kind of people they engage with – you won’t understand all of these things if you don´t experience them first hand.