How do you distinguish innovation from invention? And how do you apply this knowledge to lead teams and companies?
Dr. Frank Meyer, Head of B2C Solution & Innovation, E.ON:
Just having been awarded as one of the most innovative minds in Germany, Dr. Frank Meyer is opening up completely new business opportunities for E.ON as Senior Vice President B2C Solution Management and Innovation at E.ON SE. He is globally responsible for setting up and accelerating E.ON’s innovation and new growth areas. He recently was selected as one of the Handelsblatt Top 100 Innovators of Germany. In 2012, Dr. Meyer joined Vodafone Germany as Director Strategy and New Business Development, where he was responsible for Corporate Strategy, Innovation, New Business Development and Strategic Programs Management. Among other things, he acted as strategic lead for the Kabel Deutschland acquisition. In 2014, Dr. Meyer was appointed Director Commercial Management, Enterprise Business Unit at Vodafone being responsible for the commercial steering of a multi-billion B2B business. The early part of his career he spent from 2006 to 2012 at The Boston Consulting Group. In addition to his role at E.ON, Dr. Meyer is member of the board of the Handelsblatt Energy Academy.
Learn how the Head of B2C Solutions & Innovation proceeds for implementing visionary concepts and ideas at E.ON. :
Interview with Dr. Frank Meyer, Head of B2C Solutions & Innovation, E.ON
Sebastian Morgner (SM): How do you define innovation?
Dr. Frank Meyer (FM): I personally distinguish between “invention” and “innovation”. Inventions create for example new technological options and opportunities. On the other hand, innovations use an invention to solve real customer problems. In other words, innovations are new marketable solutions / business models that scale.
SM: Many products claim to be innovations, but mostly are – according to Nassim Taleb – “neomania”: old solutions packaged in new marketing. Do you agree?
FM: Real innovations solve customer problems in a completely new way. Often a real innovation is based on an invention, e.g. a new type of technology, service model or delivery method.
SM: Which factors are crucial to assess true innovations?
FM: To evaluate whether you created a true innovation or not, you must first launch and test your product or service to find out if it meets customers’ needs. But don’t stop too early – it is important to adapt your solution until scale is achieved in the market. If customers adopt the product because it truly generates value for them and solves a real customer problem, then it is a true innovation.
SM: Plan vs. accident – how do innovations happen?
FM: It depends. To plan it, you need to understand the conscious and unconscious factors which influence customer behavior. In contrast, e.g. Steve Jobs’ strategy was different: It was strongly based on intuition, as well as anticipating and understanding customer needs. He was sure that if your product or service improves customers’ lives that there will be a demand for it. He had a clear vision he believed in.
SM: As a result, innovators must think about the customers’ needs?
FM: Yes, and it even goes beyond that. What are the consequences of putting changing customer needs at the core of your actions? It may lead to the conclusion that you must disrupt your own business model. Yet, in traditional management you normally don’t want to accept an innovation which disrupts your role and your own business model. However, if you don’t do it, you will ultimately lose.
You must disrupt your own business model.
SM: Is it possible for companies to create an ecosystem which allows disruptive innovation?
FM: Yes, but you need to provide the right space and structure. You need to make innovation a real priority. Look at Google: Every employee is supposed to spend 20 percent of their time on innovative concepts, projects and processes. Moreover, you need a risk-taking culture where you can learn from mistakes, adapt your ideas, and test whether this innovation can ultimately become a business success.
SM: Looking at a big company like E.ON: What do you consider as the most important challenge while having this change of mindset?
FM: One challenge is persistent focus. Whatever you create, it’s going to be small, at least in the beginning. You may ask: Why should we do it? Well, you need to be deeply convinced and accept that you will disappear if you do not do it – like Kodak or Nokia. Innovation is about giving your corporation a future which your employees and the market believe in. If you succeed, it will ultimately translate into growth and a higher share price. This is one of the big tasks in large corporations. It does not happen overnight – it only works with continuous strong leadership from the top.
It only works with continuous strong leadership from the top.
SM: Whenever you start a project in companies, you have to deliver a very detailed 5-year business plan. In the end, you’ll face problems if it doesn’t come out as expected. This has to change somehow, doesn’t it?
FM: How do you as a leader provide your team with the space to test things and learn from failures, but at the same time focus them on creating real market impact? Recently, I had a conversation with a Google engineer who told me that “if a project fails, we do not look for a person to blame, but we carry out a ‘post-mortem’ analysis to learn what we can do better next time”.
In a classic corporation, fast testing and failure is a big cultural challenge. Leadership needs to change its attitude here. At the same time, innovation needs to show impact: we need to test fast, at a low cost, be agile, and learn from it to create impact. But as you know, changing attitudes is one of the most challenging things in large corporations.
SM: Yes. Innovation is a state of mind. I’m looking forward to hearing you talking about “Rethinking your company: How to successfully turn your organization upside-down?” at the Future of Leadership Initiative Conference 2018.
The Future of Leadership Conference 2018
On February 28th & March 1st 2018 we shared our insights during the FLI Conference amongst others, an interactive two-day Think Tank that includes powerful keynotes, panel discussions and innovative interactive formats.
About the author:
Sebastian Morgner is Managing Director of the MLI Leadership Institute in Munich. He is advising global management teams in the area of agile leadership and strategy activation. For anybody who is interested to experience more about the topic, he offers an open leadership lab in Berlin: www.agilemeetsleadership.de