What I learned at the biggest entrepreneurship conference of The Netherlands Laurence Van Elegem - November 24, 2017

Organizing Innovation Wvdo Publiek

For the past two days (22/11 & 23/11), I’ve been listening to keynote speeches and personal growth stories at the marvellous Dutch entrepreneurship conference ‘Week van de Ondernemer’. Though I left the Amsterdam RAI with many insights, this is what struck me the most: the centre is no longer what we think it is and the people who can help fix that are the ones who have no idea about what they are doing.

Bear with me. This will actually make sense.

The centre is shifting

It is an essentially human characteristic that we perceive ourselves as the heart of everything. Pretty normal, considering that we are all the only constant in our own lives. The very same goes for companies. They see themselves as the centre of their own ecosystem and everything they do to manage and market themselves, streams from that perception. How they organize their processes, products, leadership, working climate, …: it’s all designed for the good of the company, not for that of its environment.

But the centre is shifting. “Companies are no longer the core of their own ecosystem”, as Rik Vera, Partner at nexxworks explained at The ‘Week van de Ondernemer’. “The customer is.” Since the smartphone, our customers literally hold their lives in their own hands and that has empowered them in such a way that companies can no longer “create” needs. They have to follow the data, listen to the voice of the customer and offer the experience that (s)he dictates. The “B” is steadily losing its relevance: it’s no longer about B2B or B2C, it’s about H2H: Human to Human.

"Most companies are not presenting a solution to their customers, but an organized problem."

To be honest, a lot of us have been offering a bum deal to the customer. I love how Thomas Rau - entrepreneur, architect, innovator and keynoter at the ‘Week van de Ondernemer’ - described it: most companies are not presenting a solution to their customers, but an organized problem. For instance: instead of receiving light, we get lamps, which have a limited lifetime, and which consume energy. That’s why Thomas - who’s an architect - demanded from Philips that they offered their product as a service: Pay Per Lux, instead of paying for an intrinsically faulty product.

Thomas, who’s a pioneer in the circular economy, warned us about another shifting centre. Humans are no longer the core of their planetary ‘home’, he told us. They never were, obviously. But we always behaved that way. The earth is the centre and we must learn to act like it. That’s why, thinking beyond offering products as a service, he believes we have to start thinking about the use of material as a service. It’s not energy shortage we should be worried about, according to Rau. It’s lack of materials. Because, in a closed system like earth, material is limited. (Some people like Elon Musk refuse to see our ‘home’ as a closed system, obviously, but we’re not yet living on Mars for the moment.) We have to start borrowing material too, like we would borrow library books and then return it in a proper state, so others can use it again. Mines will become like libraries.

Let Rik Vera inspire you at our next Innovation Bootcamps in Ghent & Utrecht!

Survival of the clueless

If our system is broken, then WE have to change first. Not our surroundings. It’s not the customer that has to change. It’s our companies. It’s not the planet that has to be ‘fixed’, it’s how we treat it. It’s not AI and robots that need too be stopped. It’s how we learn, how we work and ultimately, how we plan to stay relevant and survive as a species. And that is a very uncomfortable truth. One which a lot of us prefer to ignore.

"You can’t count on experience if you are innovating with a brand-new concept."

That’s why we desperately need nexxworks Partner & “Week van de Ondernemer’ keynoter Peter Hinssen’s 1% in our companies: that precious 1% of people who don’t know what they are doing. Counterintuitively as that sounds, it makes perfect sense. Start-ups consist of 99% of people who don’t know what they are doing because they are building something that has never been done before. You can’t count on experience if you are innovating with a brand-new concept. As companies grow, that number of people shrinks. That’s why big corporations tend to be mostly filled with employees who know exactly what they are doing: they calculate product-market fit, check quality control, install management layers, hire an experienced sales force. These people are there to scale. Not to invent. Or to re-invent. And that’s fine.

But the ones that are crucial for the future of the company, for its relevance in the coming years, are the “clueless” ones. They should be protected from the other 99%, who are much more riks-averse and focussed on revenue instead of growth and change. These "clueless" creatives are the ones who understand that the centre is shifting. Unlike the most of us, they are not uncomfortable in this type of unstable and uncertain environment. They thrive in it. Even better, they are the ones that are shaping it. The intrapreneurs. The entrepreneurs. The builders. “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”*

* From the Apple ‘Think Different’ Campaign.

Let Peter Hinssen inspire you about Day After Tomorrow innovation at our next Innovation Bootcamp!

Laurence Van Elegem

Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and...