Innovation “en filigrane” and other reflexions on innovation

Last week I was at SWIFT’s Global Sales Convention – an event where people from our regions and marketing (and others to a lesser degree) meet to plan how to achieve the 2011 sales objectives and the commercial aspects of the SWIFT 2015 strategy.

The event itself is a tradition at SWIFT, but – just like our 2015 strategy – this year it had a “twist” which made it different, new and interesting.

The best way to capture this twist is to quote my collegue Anthony – he used a very picturesque and elegant french expression: “L’innovation est en filigrane de tout”. Meaning “innovation is in the background of everything”.

And it is very true –

1. the format of the convention itself was quite new and innovative, very much in the Innotribe spirit. Chat rooms, icebreakers, collaborative workshops, pitching contest. Kudos to the organization team for introducing novelty, and (being head of innovation ;-)) kudos to Mariela and Muriel from the innovation team, who were very instrumental in designing and running many sessions.

2. one of the most high energy sessions was the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) pitching. A PoC is one of the tools in our innovation toolbox – it is a short 2 months project, sponsored by the innovation team for up to 50,000 EUR, whose goal is to shape an idea into an actionable plan. We put one PoC as a prize to be won by whomever in the audience had the best idea to increase our sales. In response to our challenge, 6 teams came up with candidates idea and pitched them in 90 seconds presentations. In a memorable (and noisy!) session, the crowd elected the best idea by applause….. The high-tech applaudimeter was run by Petervan  (a tricky exercise, I can tell you. And no it’s not Petervan in the picture  ).

In the end, Gottfried , head of Marketing, gave out two PoCs as we had two teams come up equal in the first place. You can imagine the energy – the majority of people in the room being sales, and thus a very … competitive … crowd 😉

3. Some very interesting things happened after the pitching session – the business owner of one of the ideas doubled right away the PoC budget. Another – non winner – idea was adopted by a number of people and they pledged to make it happen. You could see and sense the “thirst” for new ways of doing things.

Today, Petervan and I were debriefing all these events and working on the opening speech I will give tomorrow at the Mobey Forum hosted by SWIFT. In my team we call this “quality time” – dedicated time we set aside to discuss topics and issues calmly and without interruptions – no phones, mails, people walking in, etc. (BTW, try it – it works very well, in our world of continuous interruptions…. ).

Anyway, we debated the meaning of the “innovation en filigrane”  at the sales convention and whether this represents significant progress.

The discussion made me think of a time long ago when I was learning to sail on Lake Tanganyika in Burundi (where I lived from my 10 to 17 years old). One of the basic learnings is navigating upwind – as you cannot go straight against the wind, you have to go close to it and tack often.

I think innovation is the same. We cannot go straight against the established procedures and thinking – but we need to challenge constructively this thinking and keep pressing. In sailing, eventually you come to a “no go zone” where you need to tack. Similarly, in innovation, when you come against too strong resistance, you need to let go, and find a different way.

Are we yet the experienced sailors we hope to be?

Getting back to the sales convention event, we felt we were in one of these moments right after the tack, sailing happily almost upwind and making good speed. A bliss moment. And a moment to enjoy, I’m sure another “no go zone” is ahead and we have to brace for the next tack.

See you in more upcoming events where Innotribe will be present –

1. SWIFT Operations Forum Americas, NYC, 8-9 March 2011
2. SWIFT Regional Conference, Middle East, Beirut, 21-23 March 2011
3. Unpacked, an Innotribe Event focused on mobile payments,  Mumbai, 1-2 June 2011 (MUCH more on this soon)
4. Innotribe @ SIbos, Toronto, 19-23 September 2011

And more innovation challenges within SWIFT.

Godspeed, sailors



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