In the future, competitiveness and the ability to innovate will depend more than ever on companies’ and workers’ willingness and ability to bring about “the New.” The Steinbeis Network is grappling with this challenge in a variety of ways. The publication “InnovationQuality. The Value of the New” (Steinbeis Edition 2014) set the stage for the Steinbeis Innovation Arena 2015, which took place in the SpardaWelt events center in Stuttgart on April 22, 2015. The event explored the question: What is the Value of “the New”? Eleven discussion partners – representatives of companies, associations, universities and colleges as well as two winners of the online simulation “Young founders” – came together in the arena with some 200 guests. The event was organized by Steinbeis and the industrial association of the German federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg (LVI). Support with the content and concept came from Beate Wittkopp (Steinbeis Transfer Center TransferWorks BW), while the arena was moderated by Marcel Wagner (BR/Regio TV) and Tina Kraus (SWR).
Baden-Wurttemberg is a leading powerhouse for innovation within the European Union. But – and this is an important “but” – only 28% of medium-sized industries invest specifically in innovation, and that number is falling.
Has the term “innovation” sometimes been overinflated? Kicking off the arena, a discussion of the term showed its many facets and made it clear that an interest in exploring “the New” is germinated through education – although simply disseminating knowledge does not spark the creative force or reveal the significance of what is taught. It’s not until knowledge is actually applied that competency is gained and the spirit of entrepreneurship is awakened. For this reason, incentives such as the online simulation “Young founders” (Jugend Grundet) cannot come early enough to inspire the creativity of young people and provide the necessary stimulus for new ideas, even those that meet resistance or controversy. This is why skills development must be firmly established as a primary focus of education as well as professional life with the aim of creating “the New” within a dynamic of change. After all, the call for radical innovation is louder than ever, while the frequency of upheavals and transitions seems to have only increased. As their next topic, the participants looked at the fundamental issue of whether the ability to innovate is a question of money. This round of discussion made it clear that first and foremost, innovation starts with an individual. However, according to a 2009 Gallup study, at many companies only 30% of employees’ individual strengths are actually used in their regular jobs. Management must provide space for the creative development of employees outside of routine work processes, because innovation rarely occurs predictably at the press of a button – as the audience in the arena also affirmed with their votes.
And what makes a company innovative? The ability to innovate does not depend on the size of a company, but on a corporate culture and visionary spirit that make it willing to take risks and accept new challenges. Only by breaking rules can a path be cleared for good ideas and new business models. This often calls for nothing less than a paradigm shift toward a new workplace culture of “Resourceful Humans.” This approach does not revolve around technology, but places its trust in human beings and their intuition. For companies, this also means applying new methods to analyze talent during recruitment. Team diversity can be extremely valuable for the process of innovation. Knowledge and ideas must be communicated quickly across hierarchies and managed agilely until their direct implementation, if necessary as external spin-offs to the company. Failure should not be a hindrance, but seen as knowhow for following projects.
Innovation is a form of competitive advantage, with companies measured by the quality of their products and services. The entire network of value creation must be able to stand up to international competition. A technology- driven revolution is transforming the workplace and society. Information and data are becoming important raw materials, and software engineers are the inventors of the future. As software-driven processes increase in complexity and size, human beings are nevertheless assuming a key role – by thinking laterally, recognizing overarching connections and potential, and creating effective networks between companies, partners and customers. This is also because a “real” innovation is not limited to manufacturing processes. Tangible products are not the only things that count; complexity also matters. Interdisciplinary expertise can thus lead to reinterpretation and innovative projects, as was clearly illustrated in the arena discussion using examples of transfer between the construction of stadium roofs and e-vehicle concepts.
The final discussion round asked whether there is a creative conflict between innovation and quality. And when does an innovation add quality? A minimum amount of creative chaos, vision, curiosity, courage and drive are all necessary for ideas to grow into innovations. But an innovation must make it onto the market at the right time and stand the test of market forces. The selection of an appropriate business model in particular shows the importance of quality management for sustainable business growth, with indicators and targets providing the necessary guidance.
The Steinbeis Innovation Arena provided lively proof of the special expertise and innovative spirit of the discussion partners – and of the topicality of the subject matter. Attendees were impressed not only by the unusual format, but also the intense discussion, and expressed interest in continuing the conversation. With this in mind, the arena is launching an online discussion forum and a creative, interdisciplinary network for innovative processes. Starting immediately, contributions, opinions and critical observations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org to serve as the basis for a discussion platform.
To watch a full-length video of the Steinbeis Innovation Arena, go to the Steinbeis media library at www.steinbeis-innovationsarena.de.