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What it takes to jumpstart innovation Julie Vens - De Vos - December 21, 2016

Blog December 2016

Change is hard. It’s so hard that our brains will do everything in its power (and it HAS a lot of power, often without us even realizing it. Just look at the example of neuromarketing, for one thing) to make sure we keep the status quo: in our personal lives, in our jobs and in the way we run our companies. Basically, if we want to change our organizations in a significant way, in a manner that we can prepare ourselves for our Day After Tomorrow, then we need a “shock”. At nexxworks, we don’t believe in textbook innovation. Innovation is not something that you can “learn” in a traditional classroom, or even from a high-level consultancy report. It’s something you need to see, hear and feel. You have to travel to where it “lives” and experience it if you want it to make a dent in your universe.

That’s exactly the reason why, among many other things, we take people on innovation tours. These are NOT swanky non-committal trips to trendy start-ups, as some seem to think. We show companies everything - quite literally, actually - that is going to change in the coming years and even changing as we speak: not just the technology side, but how we should organize our companies, what the true sense of customer centricity is (a lot of companies get it wrong), how we can let our customers “run” our companies, how we can keep our most talented employees, how we can speed up innovation,…

As a New Year kicks in and resolutions are pencilled down, I’m happy to share with you how an inspiration trip can be a great way to jumpstart the innovation within your company.

Get out there

Many of our daily jobs are about efficiency, habits, rules and following the system. I can highly recommend Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit’, which explains the danger of this kind of habit loop as well as how we can escape from it. We all have habits: we follow the cues in our lives, which trigger a certain routine, which then again offer gratification. Understanding how these habits work, is crucial to breaking the toxic ones and create positive habits.  

All 3 elements – cues, routines and gratification - are necessary. I recognized myself in Duhigg’s running example, which was the result of a research of New Mexico State University: the test groups confirmed that they continued their running habit because they felt good after it. It gave them a sense of accomplishment. What urged them to do it however, was a very simple cue, like having their shoes standing at the same place when they come home. Seeing them made them crave for the feeling of accomplishment and pushed them to go out & run. 

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Just like running, or any other positive action actually, innovation is about creating a healthy habit loop. You cannot hold one large innovation project every year and then think you’ll make it to your Day After Tomorrow. You have to work on it permanently - with your entire company and not just your R&D team - until it becomes a habit. At the same time, you have to break bad habits (like keeping a strong internal focus in a fast evolving outside world), and I strongly believe that a proper shock is the best way to turn your ways around. Getting out there to observe what is out there becomes crucial. Make sure you step out of your office and into the world enough. If you don’t know how that world is transforming, you will not know how your company can help shape these changes, or even just adapt to them. Go look for new cues, build new habits & discover new rewards. 

Embrace creative chaos

Often, people return from an Innovation Tour, flabbergasted with cues. Inspiration level peaks. That’s the moment when creativity kicks in and they start to connect everything they saw with their own experience, knowledge and company. That’s exactly the moment that you need to act on these very strong impulses and create new bridges. That’s the magic moment. Dorte Nielsen & Sarah Thurber’s book “The secret of the highly creative thinker” offers a great related read. It gives hands-on tips on how you can nourish this creativity even further. Basically, their first exercise is ‘A walk with a purpose: observation as inspiration’.  

Guy Wollaert, former Chief Innovation Officer at Coca Cola said the same thing: "it’s not about what you look at, it’s about what you see". The reason why cues & connections emerge during and after an Innovation Tour is because you give up control. You open yourself up to break your routine and allow a little chaos to kick in. Your new connections might seem overwhelming, scary even, but it’s that exact moment you’ll be at your best to make new connections. Culture, business and education give tons of examples. Take Keith Jarret’s bestselling solo piano album, recorded during a concert in Cologne that he almost cancelled because of the absolute poor quality of the piano. But he turned to creativity, to new ways of playing & he created its masterpiece. Businesswise, the company 37signals once decided to give its employees a month the time to do whatever they wanted without any structure or task. They were blown away with the ideas that came back. 

I’m a big believer of embracing a little disorder, diving into uncertain ponds. Listen to this great podcast by ‘The Hidden Brain: Embrace the Chaos' to hear more about it.  

It takes a network

Lastly, innovation tours are about people. Our CEO Rik Vera loves to quote Maya Angelou “People always remember how you make them feel”. And it’s true, even in this increasingly connected world, the human one is the most powerful connection one can still make. A connected world exponentially reinforces why you should value investing in your own personal network today. Not for the sake of networking, but to connect to communities, to experience serendipity and to re-ignite your own and your team’s passion towards a highly exciting future. You will find that we’re always more intelligent together than apart.

But it’s not just about the external networks, it’s about your internal ones too. In order to facilitate the incorporation of the ideas and inspiration from the tours upon returning, it’s always better that a small innovation core of a company has the same experiences on tour than when it’s just an individual. This will always make it easier and faster for the innovation DNA to spread all over the company than when one single node has to lead the transformation.

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So basically, these are my tips to trigger innovation: get out there, embrace change and connect. Knock on new doors like so many people I’ve met the last 6 months did and do. This is how you will rethink your relationship with your customers, your KPI structure, your talent acquisition,  or how your executives will challenge their dominant frameworks. In short: how you will ignite the change that our brains are so scared off.


Julie Vens – De Vos, nexxworker. 


We have some great innovation experiences lined up for you! Check our Customer Centric Tour Las Vegas in February and our Day After Tomorrow Tour China in May.

Julie Vens
Julie Vens - De Vos

Julie coordinates the nexxworks Innovation Tours. As a natural communicator with 5 years of experience in a corporate FMCG environment, she fully understands how customers are the true...