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Innovation manager's secrets to success

Experience from the trenches.

Bruno Pešec
Bruno Pešec
28 min read
Innovation manager's secrets to success

How come that some managers immensely struggle to get buy-in and executive support for their innovation projects, while others find it a breeze?

Why is it that some are able to lead and deliver a number of innovation projects alone, while others can't get even one to the finish line, despite having a talented team?

Above are some of the questions Kristian Lindøe and I discussed in this webinar.

Kristian is currently leading a group-wide project to remove barriers and speed up commercial/digital innovation throughout DNV, the world's leading classification society.

You can find the recording, transcript, and license information below.

Webinar recording

Webinar transcript

BRUNO: Hello. Welcome to the “Innovation Manager’s Secrets to Success” webinar. My name is Bruno Pesec, and I help business leaders innovate profitably.

Today, I'll be joined by a good friend and experienced practitioner, Kristian. I'll introduce him just in a minute. Two minutes actually.

Before we go to that, I just want to raise some things since you're on Zoom and I want you to have the best experience possible. On the bottom of your screen, you should find a chat button and Q&A box. Please feel free to type in your comments, questions or observations, whatever as we go. Kristian and I will address them as we go. Today there will be no slides, no wild presentations or anything. This is a conversation between two practitioners. So to get the most out of it, feel free to get involved in the conversation itself.

Now, as I said, some of you may know me from before, some not. For those of you that don't, I have over a decade of experience succeeding and failing with innovation in different contexts and in different industries. I worked on regulation, designed freight-trains, I worked on weapon systems, battle tanks that are so good and revolutionary we had actually people from the country that designed them come to us to see the modifications we did. I also designed an educational board game that won awards for teaching innovation and lean startup and everything. So, quite broad.

Today, as I said, I'm very happy to have a Kristian here. So Kristian is working at at the DNV GL, or DNV. However you’d like. When I was looking at his profile, one of the things that I really, really liked, and why I invited him to share more, is that he doesn't fit into the classic narrative of a person who you'd expect to be leading innovation management in a big company globally. You always have people expecting that person to come from strong R&D or something like that. But Kristian has actually a different background, a diverse background, and Kristian, if you’d like to join us on stage, on the digital stage, and perhaps, share a little bit about yourself, your background and also for those that don't know, what is DNV?

KRISTIAN: My education is as a journalist. So asking questions is something I've been doing a lot of and I think that has been helpful. I'm also a generalist in a company of specialists. So we are a company of twelve-thousand employees in a hundred companies around the world and we are a self-owning foundation working to safeguard life, property and the environment. And we do this mainly through quality assurance and risk management. And we do it, traditionally, we started in the maritime industry, making sure that ships were designed, built, operated and maintained in-line with certain rules to keep them safe. And then that expanded to oil and gas and later renewables.

And then we also do certification of companies to quality standards and other standards. We do digital solutions, helping companies and organizations with their digital transformation. For a long time, we have used five percent of our revenues, regardless of whether it's a good or bad year, five percent of our revenue to innovation, research and development.

BRUNO: Five percent of revenue. Well that's not bad at all. And what kind of returns do you see on that? A lot of people expect, well, if you're investing into innovation, into R&D, everybody says, “I want to see something at the end.” So how is your experience with tracking that globally?

KRISTIAN: It's hard. That’s definitely a part of it. I think the head of R&D feels like people think he has that big of a budget and he doesn't. We of course have some essential function doing that which is a relatively easy fact in a way. But a lot of innovation is incremental and the development parched. So, to renew and tweak and improve our services based on customer input is definitely a part of that.

But we did set the KPI of looking at revenue from services younger than twenty-four months. Last year, we managed a hundred million in revenue from services under twenty-four months. So that will be an ongoing KPI. And you, of course, hope to see that number grow because many companies, especially these days, see that growth is hard to come by and you really have to work hard to grow organically.

BRUNO: Just to clarify for the listeners, that’s one-hundred million euros.

KRISTIAN: Yeah, a-hundred million euros. Sounds better in Norwegian kroners.
BRUNO: That's true. Everything sounds better in Norwegian kroners.
So you said 24 months. You track services younger than 24 months. So that is very similar to a new product vitality index. Why did you pick two years instead of three years? Any specific reason?

KRISTIAN: I'm not sure. Two years to have it rolling, not have too wide a measurement, but to be quite specific. Everyone thought it was an extremely stretched goal that we had. But managed, and then to keep that going. So I think the two years, we ended there because we really want to keep that as a cycle and ideally also go beyond what we made the last time.

BRUNO: I understand you don't have the sheets here and numbers in front of you, but what I'm curious, because we're really talking here… innovation management to me is something that's pretty much in the corporate innovation room. Companies like yours. One of the things that I often say is, “Size matters a lot.” So you say a hundred million. That's a massive number for some companies. But I'm curious, roughly percentage-wise, how much does it account in the total revenue of the whole group? Just rough percentage.

KRISTIAN: We have a revenue of twenty billion NOK a year. So that would be two billion euro a year. So that's a proportion in a way.

BRUNO: That's a good one. The reason I'm asking this is maybe more for our listeners and the people that will be listening in because it is this relative part that also shows the extent of how healthy companies are actually coming up with new, sustainable businesses.


BRUNO: Because there is a assumption built in here that services that are younger than twenty-four months, and have been bringing in revenue, that they will be able to continue bringing in revenue. That they were not the one trick pony. They will allow you to phase out products and services that are expensive to maintain and have legacy customers or godfather customers, which does happen. How old is your company? Two-hundred years?

KRISTIAN: That's a good point. We were established in 1864. So we have had a stable business, particularly within maritime where we’re most known. And we have, as the finance director in maritime says they invented a business model which was a subscription model, typically of five-year contracts. At least. So they invented subscription models for services long before anyone else.

And from there, of course, there is a bit of trial and error and so on. But we have grown quite a lot recently. Of course, it hasn't been much growth. And we’ve had an efficiency-focused strategy for the past five years. So, to be more efficient, agile, digital, customer-centric. We were able to do a lot of that and that put us in a good position for growth. And we also managed to weather the storm that has been since the fall in the oil price, new building of ships went down. There's been COVID, and so on. So it was good to have an agile and efficient organization. Now we have a growth strategy again.

Our two most important areas is digitalization and decarbonization, and I don't think too many companies have services lying around on their shelf for digitalization and decarbonization. Such services need to be developed. We have tried to find good ways of developing such new services.

BRUNO: So you mentioned something very interesting. You mentioned a lot of interesting things, but one thing I made an immediate mental note, and I just want to spend some minutes on. When you used the expression, “We weathered the storm.” Right? That is just something that I'd like to discuss a little bit.

So, when it all started, like lockdowns at the beginning of 2020 and etc. One of the things I was consistently noticing with both companies in Norway and also in Europe, and globally as well, did better than the others, was, they didn't take this mindset of just putting their head in the sand. Like in the Middle Ages when kingdoms were under occupation and then you would have an army retreating into the castle, locking down everything and waiting two to five years for the occupants to actually go away because they ran out of supplies.

And I was saying, well, that's a really bad strategy. This isn't the Middle Ages anymore. You need to become more conservative with your resources, but at the same time, you must be aware of how your customers and their customers' lives have changed and adjust to them.

Just before we started this, you were sharing some practices that you did temporarily to weather the storm, but in a more…well, at least, when we were talking, I got a strong sense that it was very proactive, that it wasn't really just reactive and saying, “Well, this is how much we have in the bank. This is how much of a hit we can take, keep on looking.” So if you could, share some of that, that is shareable?

KRISTIAN: I think in the beginning there was definitely a bit of batting down the hatches and being extremely careful, particularly on costs and very frequent business reduced and monitoring cash flow very carefully and so on. As you said, to be conservative on resources, but it was also a strong determination to make sure that we could continue services. Among the problems that happened, in a business sense with COVID, was the disruption of global supply chains. We work with helping companies manage complex global supply chains. And shipping, of course, is an extremely important part of that, so t0 make sure that ships can still operate safely, and so on, it has been important to keep supply chains and value chains going.

And so we were then able to capitalize on the work we have done to enable remote surveys, remote inspections and so on, that can still be trusted. Some customers were ready, willing and able for this while others were more reluctant. Then more and more gave it a go, and they were impressed at how much easier things could be done remotely. Less travel, less time involved, and in many, many cases, also more affordably.

So that was a good experience for many. And we think that's better a change for many of our customers. And I think now it’s very clear that many customers and many companies see that, “Wow, we can work quite efficiently remotely and under these new circumstances.” Despite everything.

BRUNO: So I was just thinking. It gave everybody a kick in the ass for sure. But it also played to some companies that already had their products ready for the market. We see Zoom go through the roof. We saw Microsoft Teams adopt extremely fast, which probably wouldn't be going as fast without that. We've also seen Slack. So it's a deluge of these tools just going through the roof and forcing everybody in this type of collaboration.

And when I'm thinking to last year? Well, I guess we need to provide a little bit of context for the listeners. So, in DNV, you have a specific approach to innovation. You have the innovation system and you're leading that on a group level globally, right? So just interrupt me if I say something wrong, or you can correct me after I finish. Given your size, you have multiple business units, Maritime, oil and gas and other things that you mentioned. And you have said both for the group specific innovation process and in every unit, you have people that are allowed, or invited, to actually start innovation teams. And they get a specific type of support. So that is a very very high level.

How would I describe it, just a little. After all, the topic for today is innovation management. So you said, “I’m a journalist.” So from being a journalist to managing innovation at the company like the one you are talking about. What happened from A to…well, I don’t want to say A to Zed. You have a lot of life left. So maybe what happened from A to M?

KRISTIAN: Yeah! So I went from journalism to working as a communication consultant. Then in 2006, we got a new CEO and he knew that he would be doing many changes, many acquisitions, a new strategy and a new direction in many ways. And in order to be able to do that effectively, he wanted a dedicated internal communication unit that I then I started.

And I think all of the above we had to work on. And also there was definitely a bit of shaping the culture in the way that we wanted. And then working with great people in HR on that. So together, with good colleagues in HR, the HR Director of DNV at the time. And others, we worked on, “What are the systems? What is everything that shaped culture? Culture can be very fluffy and talking about it and that does not necessarily change the culture. So looking at all the processes and systems and everything that touches everyone that has an effect on culture. So find all the tangible things you can do, as well as the communication side and make sure that it all drives in the same direction. I think I learned a bit about culture and culture building. And that has been really useful. And also just working at corporate. I’ve been working at corporate for longer than many recommend.

And I think one of the ways to survive working in a corporate for so long is to understand some of the dynamics. People don't want to do something because corporate says they should do it. “I’m from corporate and I'm here to help” is not a good way to start any conversation. We made sure to use that approach when we developed our innovation framework and that we have extremely highly professional people, typically experts in their fields. So that means they are experts in a very narrow field and that means they are not experts in everything.
With innovation, you need some more generalists and so on.

So, what we did was we put, together in a room, people who have successfully and unsuccessfully – and most people have done both - services and products. And then we listed along timeline of what they did for a successful project, when they did it and in what sequence. And similarly, for unsuccessful projects. And then we looked at what type of questions and criteria should have been asked earlier to avoid some of the pitfalls and what could have sped up the process and make it successful sooner or letting people confidently stop the project for the right reason.

Also we were looking at what I think it is you don't have to do very early on. Very early on, do you have to worry about paying taxes in India if you haven't made money anywhere? Because we have great people who can ask the right questions, that is great. But if everyone asks all the smart questions all the time, innovation goes slowly. So we make sure that we worry about the right things at the right time. It was important.

Of course, it couldn’t have been done without the people with the actual experience and experts in their fields that are also good at innovation and have experiences to share. So to bring them all together and make sure that everyone could benefit from these experiences and then do as we do in our business which is to collect experiences from many industries and create best practices, basically, so that people can share other people's experiences and act on that.

That was a very successful way of arriving at the innovation framework and it also meant that people knew, this wasn’t some guy in corporate who made this. It was made by us, for us. And I think that has been important. Then we work actively with people in the business who use it to improve and change as needed as we go along.

BRUNO: So I apologize, I was just checking the Q&A box. Yes there will be a recording and you will receive it.

So again, I just want to point out some things and I would love to hear you add to that, Kristian. So what I kept hearing, as you were giving your account of what happened and how it happened, your background and kind of your approach enabled you some unique things that are often overlooked from the world of specialists that you say. And that is, you nailed it on the head, nobody wants to hear, “We're here to help.” It feels like police. Like you did something wrong and we are here to tell you how to do your job better, you know?


BRUNO: So it definitely creates a wrong mindset. And to me, I especially see that problem. Well, I actually see both in SMS and in large companies, it usually stems from very passionate specialists. I mean, I used to be one of them myself, where you accidentally end up gatekeeping, like preventing others from actually doing their work. Be it quality, be it lean, be it innovation, be it edge or be it anything because you set the standard so high and say, “Well, you must do it like this or don't do it at all.”

And then people are like, screw it! Let them hire someone who will do it. So I think that's a subtle thing but it’s very important. How do you approach others in the organization? How do you frame it? What kind of words do you use? And humility and humbleness in doing so. And here, I do like the model of servant leadership and similar styles. Because, in the framing, in the wording, in the phrasing, it puts everything in the context of, “I'm here to serve. I'm not here to tell you, this is how you should have done it and this is how you do it from now on. But we partner and let's find a better way.” So I think that that's definitely one thing that I want to highlight.

Another thing that you didn't explicitly put out there, it was almost like a passing comment but I believe it is probably something that you also were unique and are uniquely equipped to do because of your background and that is navigating the organization. How you said, just in the way you phrase everything and how you connect and orchestrate. And that is what to me, part of innovation management is, is being able to orchestrate the organization.

A little bit of a theory. There is this theory of power dynamics that talks about three different levers. So one is basically controlling the meeting agenda. Another one is controlling who can access the meeting at all. And the third one, the most difficult and most interesting one, and it is actually I think part of the unit that you're leading is, “Who gets to control the meaning of words?” What does innovation mean at DNV? What does this mean at DNV?” So it's kind of the control of what the specific words mean within the organization. So it's very interesting when you stand back and try to look at all the power dynamics and how it works, so it's fascinating.

KRISTIAN: Absolutely. In a way we felt we had to do a little bit of rebranding and repositioning of the word innovation. Because it’s hard to track the return on innovation and so on. So there's been a bit of a perception, and maybe not entirely wrong, that innovation is something fun, cool and creative that some people get to do if there's money left on the budget. So we tried not to take the role of being that we would define certain words and this is it. We tried to make a point of making sure that people see that innovation takes discipline. Innovation is intrinsically linked to developing a sustainable business model. We use the business model canvas because the business model canvas leads you to see so many sides, so many aspects of the business model and that has been important. So when you have such a heavy technology background as we have in our company, you typically get very technology-driven innovation.

But we needed to have more of the commercial aspect in it. You know the saying that an innovation team should have a hacker, a hipster and a hustler? We definitely don't have many hustlers in the company and that's probably okay. But the commercial element has not been as strong perhaps as we have needed it to be.

And then there was another thing I wanted to mention and that was, first of all, the person who started the project and did fantastic groundwork and so on, was Martine, and her background was as an organizational psychologist. So that is definitely important here. One of the genius things she did was to make sure - and this is interesting for a corporate unit to do something according to innovation principles, basically means that, “Okay we are a corporate unit. We need to find pain points in the organization that the business areas say that, yes, we have a pain point here and we would like to work with you on a solution or for it.” And then we have worked together on developing solutions to very specific pain points. And we had a very data-driven approach to making sure that we don't just get opinions. We definitely got opinions about the pain points as well, but also data and to have that as a starting point. And then making sure there is customer interest in what we propose to solve it.

That was extremely important. I've been following the innovation framework for everything that we have developed in this and that has been definitely an important function.

BRUNO: You did mention that you're trying to avoid defining too many things, but I'd be curious to hear what your take on innovation is? How would you, if you don’t like the word “define,” how would you explain it to another person that asks you, “What is considered innovation at DNV?”

KRISTIAN: Developing something new and useful that the customers want, and will pay for, and has a sustainable business model. I think it’s something along those lines we define it.

We kind of had to define it.

BRUNO: That's fair, that's fair. There are many definitions of innovation strategy and all the fine words, but in my experience, and I guess with yours as well, alignment is important. You can't have twelve-thousand people thinking it’s all different things. “If I'm coloring boxes, I'm innovating. Corporate, please fund it.” We do it.

Alignment is important, and in my experience, it would be interesting to hear yours. It's possible to have alignment and disagreement at the same time. That's what I would say makes adults disagree. But we commit to direction A, B or C.


BRUNO: How do you navigate those situations?

KRISTIAN: Absolutely we do that. So we have tried not to come across as dogmatic. When Martine was leading the project, I used to tease her about, “We should call this the corporate culture governance committee.” Just to really freak her out. So we try to avoid that and we try to make sure that we involve the people who really know what they're talking about and need and want the solutions we are working on.

And then we have been very clear, we are not targeting all twelve thousand employees with this. We quickly narrowed it down to maybe five hundred who are likely to work directly with innovation. So let's make sure we talk to them and get their input and can have an exchange of ideas and get a good thing going, and start looking at, “What can we do differently? Not talk about things, but what can be done differently from tomorrow onwards.”

And then we take it from there because that's another thing about changing culture, start with actions. That works. Otherwise, it will easily be many, many words to many, many people. And then you get all those people who would rather define, “What is a Java file and what is Lean, and what is this, and that and the other.” And that's not really useful. Some of it can be useful because too many words are thrown around too lightly and they just get besmirched. But to find the people for whom the words have actual meaning and mean something due to how they go about their daily work is an important function.

BRUNO: So building on your definition or explanation of innovation, one of the things that I distinguish between is doing innovation, and managing innovation. So for me, doing innovation is exactly how you explained. It is taking something from a thought, an idea, and transforming it. Seeing first if it has the potential to become a relevant business and also then developing it. So it is a kind of converting idea into the capital. That is, to me, doing innovation. And that is what innovators do, corporate innovation teams and everything.

And then in a corporate setting, you also need to manage that innovation because it won't happen by itself. You cannot just throw a hundred-million euros or two-hundred-fifty million euros at innovators and say, “Go innovate.” Right? To me, it is critical for the success of any large organization that actually wants to see any returns on innovation to also deliberately manage their innovation efforts. So not just to throw money and hope that ideas get developed. To me, that is similar and maybe you'll have to add to that as well because your company has been doing that and that is quality management.

So, if you think back to Juran, Demming, Ishikawa, the whole gang that revolutionized quality management, to me, what's happening now with innovation management is what happened thirty years ago with quality management. Quality wasn't deliberately managed. It was basically quality assurance. That was a predecessor of quality inspection. “We made the thing. We inspected the thing, the thing is bad. Go back. Either scrap it or rework it and then we're going to inspect it again.”

Then Euron was inspired by actual budgeting and accounting practices and he said, “Okay, why don't you try to do the same with the quality? We try to build the quality from the beginning, we try to minimize the inspection, not to have more defects, but because we have built in the quality, there will be less to inspect and there will be less scrap and defect.” So we went from hoping for quality, to managing for quality.

I'm seeing the same thing happening with innovation. From hoping that this will be an innovative thing that will bring money, to it actually deliberately working. We accept that because no one can know for sure if this is going to bring money. But we are going from, “Hey, this isn't the black box. There are some things that we know how to deal with.”

So what's your view? Because I would say to people, what Kristian does, he actually manages innovation at the individual level. He helps teams and helps managers get the right people, the right ideas and then help them execute on that. But Kristian doesn't take any idea and then tries to write a business model for it, and does customer interviews. He doesn't try to validate the idea itself. That, to me, innovation managers that try to do that will fail because they have too much work to do. That's my viewpoint on it. What’s your viewpoint? Am I misrepresenting what you're actually doing?

KRISTIAN: I think it's fair to say that what we do is to try and make sure that there is a set of best practices and tools. We have also avoided just holding a course or things like that, video training only, things like that.

We have had both managers and innovators go through a digitalization course, digital transformation course, with Incel. It was really good. And then a lighter version for all employees. Then people start to get the same language and understanding of things.

But for something to really take hold?

We have also avoided the word implement. We don't implement. We have made sure that a management group wants to use the innovation framework, then we have introductory training, but the important thing is there is ongoing coaching to teams in applying these tools and solving problems and getting used to it and getting the value out of it. And then we now have, as more and more people have gone through that, a growing number of innovation coaches that can help other teams apply it on the work that they are doing.

We will also need to work with finance on how can finance give the right assistance. Because if you have approval engineers who are working really, really hard on developing a new service, they certainly understand business models and can develop things and so on. But it is easier if someone from finance has a best practice on, “These are the most likely good business models for this type of customer segment and this type of service.” And so on. It can speed up the process. So we will now be working more and more with other functions that can support innovation teams. Many, at least in the early stages, have to do innovation in addition to their day job.

And then you need to be able to draw on what we have. As an unfair advantage as a big company, we have finance people. We have lawyers, we have communication experts, and it's a matter of making sure that they can help innovation teams in a way that works for the innovation teams.

So we're not there yet. But that is definitely some of the work that we are prioritizing now.

BRUNO: So you mentioned coaches. Coaching teams, etc. I just want to give a comment on your approach to skills, the development, and again please feel free to add or correct.

So what I found to be a good decision long-term is that you started the innovation teams and you got external help for them. So that was myself, Don, and so on and that was the first generation. And then the people from those teams who also felt like they could help other teams, you gave them an opportunity. You enabled them to take this role even if they weren't feeling ready to actually be full-fledged innovation coaches. And then in the second generation, they were allowed to join the teams.

For example, I was coaching and observed and added to their expertise. So you were deliberately investing in your long term competence, developing know-how internally. I think that is the best stepwise approach, to kind of long-term success of the company, developing that skill. Because a company doesn't need to know everything. But the things the company chooses to do should get better as the time goes on. So that was an interesting approach.

KRISTIAN: Definitely. And at the same time, it is also important to be humble and realize when you don't have all the necessary expertise and competence in-house. To go outside and get it and boost the effort. We are a company of experts as I had said, so we really respect expertise and competence, deep deep confidence is respected. So I would never have dared to go out to the business areas and say that I will now teach you to do innovation. I don't have that confidence. But you have Don, yourself and other people with a proven track record in it that are known for this really gave a boost. And people realized that, “It's a discipline. It is a profession. There is, in a way, a right way of doing it.”

Because sometimes, this can be seen as something where you operate by gut feeling and instinct. So, to take that away and say, “No no no, it is actually a competence. There is an approach, there are systems and methods and things we are used to as engineers."

BRUNO: There's a group of skills that can be improved. You don't need to be born with it.

KRISTIAN: Yeah, yeah exactly.

BRUNO: Innovation is in that regard, is similar to entrepreneurship. Some people believe they are born with it. To me, it’s bullshit. Because why would you limit someone in something they want to do? Of course we all have different, natural potential. It’s just how it is. I will never be able to lift five-hundred kilos no matter how much I work out. My body isn't built for it. Yes, there are genetic freaks that can really do that, there are some strong people out there. I mean, lifting a ton, you know. But not all of us will be able to reach that potential. That's perfectly fair. But to me, that's not the same as saying, “Well you're not allowed into this club. Like you're not allowed to join.”

If someone wants to join an innovation team, even if they are not perceived as, I don't know, by someone, as innovative, I would personally still let them because the passion is something that you cannot go and buy, right? Skills. We can teach them. That's why we become engineers because we have a predisposition for systems thinking. We are curious about why things work. How do they come together? That not what we learn, that is what we have. And then we go to learn how to design shapes, how to read technical drawings and how to make them. That to me is the relationship.

So it was just something I felt. I felt the need to share because I see more and more the stream that these are the characteristics of the innovators you must have, if not, then fire them or don't allow them to do that. And to me, it's, you know, nah. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel right.

KRISTIAN: Absolutely. And another effect that we have seen through the innovation work, that we have been doing more and more systematically and with invitations to ideas and so on, is that we discover new talents in the organization. People that have been doing an excellent job in their field, but can really be even better as innovators and they learn so quickly and they adapt and they navigate. So the learning curve is extreme and you see some people that you wouldn't necessarily think of as such superstars emerge as superstars. And you can see them grow as they go. And to discover more and more talent in your own organization outside of areas where you thought you had talent is an extremely positive effect of this.

BRUNO: Then there's this saying that, that comes or expression more correctly, that comes to mind. “Allow people to rise to the occasion.” I think this is just a great expression. Allow them and they will not fail you. That's beautiful.

We have a great question that I want to share. So, at what stage did you, Kristian, start communicating to external customers about innovation efforts? And what was the narrative that you used?

KRISTIAN: Well first of all it wasn't mainly me doing it. Typically its innovation teams and business development people. Typically, many many of our customers are, like I said, leading companies. So they are pioneers. They want to push the boundaries and that is something where they often want to talk to us as a partner, ideally, for them as they develop new technology or new products and services and so on. And so, when talking to these customers, our people, innovation teams and others have been explaining how we do it and then people, I think innovators, tend to realize, “Okay, so we're from the same tribe, we speak the same language. We hold these truths to be...”

So you share a set of similar beliefs and practices. Then, in many cases, our customers have been relieved to see that, “Okay, so we speak the same language, which means also that things can be done quicker and better.” So for the most part it has been individuals and project teams and so on speaking one-on-one with customers and sharing our approach. And then maybe that has built up. Now, more and more people know how we work.

And now we have basically more people who have gone through the training and coaching and so on. And so we have a bigger and maybe we're reaching critical mass now and then it makes sense to talk more about it also externally.

BRUNO: So if I may offer an external look, which is obviously always limited. Your company, despite its size, most of the customer relationship goes through the key account manager. Right? So they're the face of the company. Even though you're a large company, it still feels, I mean, large companies are your customers. It's not like I walk into DNV and I say, “Sell me a certificate.” It's another equal or larger company that has a fleet or some other services and products and then you have a relationship with them. It's closer to a partnership in some cases, the value flows both ways. So it is these key account managers who are the faces.

And maybe, here it’s interesting. Did you offer them some sort of, for a lack of a better word, statements, or stories or something? Or they would just call you up and say, “Hey Kristian, we have a customer. They're curious about what we do with innovation. Tell me what I can tell them.” So how did that go? Or how does that go?

KRISTIAN: I think typically, as you say, we have big companies and we have varying degrees of close interactions with them. And then we learn that, we hear from more and more customers in such and such segments that probably there is a pain point here. And then our innovation team members, who don't necessarily call themselves innovation team members at that stage, they start talking more and more closely to some of these customers to learn more about the pain points. And ideally, then also look at solutions.

So to an extent, the idea is to have as much direct contact with the right levels in the customer's organization as possible. Because in some cases a key account manager, if managing a frame agreement with shell, or another huge company that is a lot of work in itself and to be able to have in-depth conversations to understand pain points at a completely different level in the customer's organization is not as natural.

So it is important that the people who plan to solve pain points can speak as directly as possible to the right levels in the customers or users.

BRUNO: I think I'm just looking at the clock and I think this could be a completely new conversation, like innovating in B2B, because when a company is large, it's not the company that makes decisions, its people at the specific parts of the organization that are making specific decisions. That's also what makes B2B innovation a bit different, riskier to some extent. And we worked a lot on that, but that is maybe for some other day.

I would like to wrap up for today, because we have many different talking points and I love them all, but this is one of my favorite questions with everybody, especially innovation professionals. And that is, looking back from when you started, what is your biggest regret?

KRISTIAN: Hmm. Yeah that's a hard one. I think in a way that I would have wanted different at least would be higher speed, higher scale, more, sooner. But at the same time - we are definitely going, more speed, more impact now. But we had to balance also making sure that we take things in the sequence and in a way that is acceptable to the organization and so on.

But we have quite a few solutions. So we have a portfolio of solutions for different pain points. And what I really hope, now at least, is that we can start using more of them with more and more people more quickly.

BRUNO: Thank you for sharing. I know it's a difficult one. I don't like it because it's difficult. I like this question because it shows you, or it forces retrospection. A deep retrospection, of course. I mean, just dropping in the conversation. Again, it would be great to have another two or three hours to retrospect on it. But to me, it's quite important and a simple question that anyone can ask themselves.

Like, I'm not talking about in private life what do I regret most? Oh, I wish I knew more, or I partied less or whatever. But in a professional life, I think it's a very potent and strong question. Like okay, three years later, you know, we've been running this group wide initiative, what are some of our regrets? It's not about grieving, but it's about, "Okay, this is what we regret." And you said speed? Which I think is perfectly fine. I feel that frustration. I know that frustration, like when you're beating inside and the outside of the organization and it just doesn't match your pace and your energy. So I know that.

But again like this question is allowing that to air, allowing that emotion to go out and then pausing and saying, “Okay cool. Is there still a sort of source of grievance? If yes, what can we do? If not, what have you learned?” So I love the question and thank you for sharing actually so fast and in an unfiltered manner, so I appreciate it. Thank you, Kristian.

KRISTIAN: It’s a pleasure.

BRUNO: So what I’m thinking, I'm going to wrap up here. We had some great comments and questions. Kristian, thank you very much again, thank you for sharing openly, thank you for sharing honestly and genuinely to everybody that has listened and will listen to this. So this was completely unscripted. If someone thought that we prepared some PR or something, Kristian didn't get any questions or anything. This was as I promised in the beginning, and I hope we delivered to everybody. This was a conversation between two practitioners on the things we've seen that work and didn't work.

Even though Kristian mentioned best practices in the organization, I think every innovation professional has the responsibility to hear what are good practices and then make hers or his own best practices.


BRUNO: It's very difficult to operate on pure copy-pasting. It's about really understanding the principles. To me, the best way to understand them is to listen to a lot of different stories from different practitioners like Kristian here. Like myself, and so on. And then make sense of it and make your own approach.

Thank you. Everybody have a great day and see you next time. Bye bye.

KRISTIAN: Thanks for now.


© 2021, Bruno Pešec. All rights reserved.


Bruno Pešec

I help business leaders innovate profitably at scale.


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