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Mastering the challenges of innovation

Innovation is key when it comes to staying relevant to customers and keeping ahead of the competition, but can innovation be learned? Our renowned faculty of the new Winning with Innovation Program (February 12 – 14, 2019) provides valuable insights about the triggers of innovation, innovative thinking and its connection to new technologies.

The Winning with Innovation Program equips professionals with the best practice guidelines and tools they need to meet disruptive challenges and initiate and lead innovation-driven organizational transformation. Under the leadership of faculty director Professor Dr. Serden Ozcan, Associate Dean for Corporate Connections, Otto Beisheim Endowed Chair of Innovation and Corporate Transformation at WHU, these Professors will prepare participants to master the challenges of innovation:

  • Professor Dr. Holger Ernst, Chair for Technology and Innovation Management at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Stefan Spinler, Director of the Kühne Institute for Logistics Management at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Arnd Huchzermeier, Chair of Production Management and Director of the Center for Collaborative Commerce at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Dries Faems, Chair of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technological Transformation at WHU

Can innovative thinking be learned?

Professor Ernst: Sure, there are established best practices of innovation management that can be learned and implemented in any organization. Companies with excellent innovation management grow faster and have a higher contribution to their profit than companies with poor innovation management.

Professor Spinler: Yes, but it requires not only creativity, but also recognizing unmet customer needs to be disruptive and successful in creating innovations. Especially short-lived technology solutions require devotion and a strategic focus within the process of innovation.

Professor Huchzermeier: Definitely, but you need a total quality management philosophy in your organization or else you will fail. Typically, innovation is a learning and search process by many people, which needs to be coordinated well.

Professor Faems: Yes, but it is important to make a clear distinction between "inventions" and "innovations". Although inventions can be an important input for innovation, we speak of innovation only if companies are able to translate such inventions into concrete products or services that bring added value in the form of financial and/or social benefits.

What is the trigger for innovation? Is there a trigger at all?

Professor Ernst: In some companies, a crisis can trigger innovation. Innovation leaders, however, have a culture and strategy in place that makes innovation an on-going priority. These firms know how to continuously reinvent themselves, stay on top of the competition, and avoid a crisis.

Professor Spinler: In my view, the trigger really is fulfilling customers’ needs through leveraging technology.

Professor Huchzermeier: A customer interface that monitors a business unit’s strategy success and allows market or customer feedback to be continuously channeled back into the organization are prerequisites for a strong innovation process.

Professor Faems: It is important for companies to anticipate or react to disruptive changes in their environment. This requires investment in innovation projects that enable research into new resources and capabilities.

Is innovation always connected to new (digital) technologies?

Professor Ernst: Not always, but digital technologies are and will continue to strongly affect all facets of innovation. Innovation leaders embrace the opportunities of digital technologies to create new products, services, and business models pro-actively.

Professor Spinler: Digital technologies can mostly be easily adapted and scaled fast which makes them prime candidates. In addition, they help to better understand the customer and their needs through uncovering patterns in customer data.

Professor Huchzermeier: Digitalization is here to stay and drives firms’ productivity. While automatization is on the rise in almost any industry and globally, humans are the scarce resource to develop smart products and services for the future.

Professor Faems: The emerging variety of digital technologies is affecting many industries. To survive, it is important that existing industry players respond to such disruptive trends.