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Three things you can learn about innovation from the National Railway Company of Belgium September 9, 2021

Bootcamp tip of the month Costeur 8F43E92326B4D42E6A9C97Ca73450864

Since a few years now, the National Railway Company of Belgium (NMBS) has shifted its customer-driven innovation endeavours into a higher gear with an intensive program that combines the forces of a dedicated innovation lab, a broader innovation community and an ecosystem of external partners.

Stefan Costeur, who heads the NMBS Innovation Lab, is one of the top speakers at our Kickstart Innovation Bootcamp in October 2021. So what better way to introduce him than to feature 3 of his top learnings about innovation?

Innovation is an ecosystem

Innovation should never be siloed and contained in a closed-off lab, according to Stefan Costeur. Though labs with innovation experts are obviously the backbone of many successful companies (as they are at the NMBS), innovation works best when it functions like an ecosystem.

First, it’s about spreading an innovation culture throughout the entire company. That’s why the NMBS set up an innovation community of about 80 ambassadors from every division of the company. They are the “ears and eyes” of the innovation lab and are continuously on the hunt for new ideas and opportunities. The lab also closely collaborates with HR to spread the new mindset as widely as possible by means of webinars and workshops. A great example is the accelerator-program where employees with a great idea receive the tools and methods needed to develop their theory into a fully fledged project.

Second, the innovation ecosystem should also reach beyond the internal borders of a company. That’s why the NMBS frequently collaborates with external start-ups and corporate partners to help them improve the customer journey with new technologies and innovations.

Think beyond your own products and services

As we live in a world with many societal and environmental challenges, customers have come to expect that organizations think beyond efficient products and services. That’s why the NMBS innovation projects focus on Big Challenges too, like global warming, health and inclusion.

Examples are the Move Safe app that informs travellers when trains are expected to be highly populated, which is very relevant in times of COVID-19. Another one is the app that helps the visually impaired find out where they are exactly located. And let’s not forget about the test project that rewards travellers on the basis of the amount of CO2 that they avoided by travelling by train.

Create psychological safety

Innovation is a risky endeavour. Sometimes your ideas will be spot on, and sometimes they just won’t work. If you want to create a psychologically safe environment where your team feels comfortable experimenting with proof-of-concepts before rolling them out in collaboration with their business colleagues, it’s simply crucial that you install a culture that tolerates failure. This mindset is highly encouraged at the NMBS Innovation Lab, and the fact that the team has its very own office where they can freely move and test things out is a big part of that.

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