Ahead of our Chief Innovation Officer summit in San Francisco, May 7 & 8, we spoke with Gigi Wang. Gigi Wang is a leader in global entrepreneurship and innovation and heads up MG-Team, LLC, a consulting firm focusing on global entrepreneurship, innovation, and business development. She is an Industry Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Chair Emeritus of the MITEF/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB), and on the advisories board of Mobility Ventures, iGlobe Partners, and others.
Gigi is a frequent conference speaker and conducts entrepreneurship/innovation workshops for start-ups, corporates, incubators, and universities around the world, along with offering biz dev services to help companies scale. Gigi’s clients have included SAP, RockStart Accelerator (Amsterdam), HongKong Cyberport Incubator, Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship, Shanghai GM (3rd largest auto-maker in China), Lagadere (France), Samsung, Runa (acquired by Staples, Oct 2013), Happy Farm (Ukraine), IDEPA (Asturias, Spain), and more. She has mentored and advised hundreds of of start-ups from around the world.
The presentation you are going to be giving is titled ‘Successful Innovation Starts With Mindset’ – how would you define an ‘innovative mindset’?
People who have an innovative mindset are accepting of change, and are not afraid of getting outside of their comfort zone. They have a strong ability to get past failure and, as a result of that, comfortable with experimenting. You only discover new ways of doing things or new innovations by experimenting. Nobody just goes ‘oh I thought of this great innovative idea’ and boom it is simply successful. It’s about experimenting and iterating.
Another characteristic of an innovative mindset is valuing diversity, valuing a broad range of people for what they bring to the table like their different backgrounds and skills. In addition, a big part of innovating, especially in an organization, is being able to trust other people and to instill trust, in order to foster collaboration.
What is the value of trust in innovation?
You need to start with trust. Some societies basically start with distrust, where you have to earn someone’s trust, but that really slows down the innovation process. The people who move the fastest are people who start with trust, collaborating and sharing their ideas with other people, getting feedback and iterating quickly. People who trust recognize the importance of collaboration and working with other people, because when things are changing so fast in the market, no one company or person can do everything by themselves. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be aware when people do something to lose your trust.
What do you think a company can do to ensure that they have a workforce with this innovative mindset?
It starts with the leadership. Recently, a lot of leaders have decided that innovation is the buzzword and they simply say ‘Oh everyone in the company has to be innovative’. Okay, what does that mean? Leaders have to first understand what an innovative mindset is and internalize it themselves. After they do that, then they need to implement programs to instill this innovation mindset throughout the whole organization.
A starting point would be innovation training workshops where team members are thrust into situations where they have to trust others, encounter failure, and stretch themselves. The team should then be directed to apply innovation mindset in doing their jobs. So, I think it starts with the leaders and they instil an innovation mindset throughout the rest of the company.
Another approach would be to identify the team members with a more innovative mindset and engage them to inspire others in the company, perhaps by leading projects or teams. By working with these people. Others will learn to act with a more with an innovative mindset.
Are companies having to innovate faster than they have before?
Oh My God yes! It’s because the world is transforming from a linear world to an exponential world. The two big drivers of this are the fact that the world is becoming increasingly digital, with almost everything being transformed into digital data, and that computing power is growing exponentially by doubling every year. Anything that can be digitized can transform exponentially.
How do you prepare for the disruption caused by this new digital era?
First is to look at the big picture of what’s happening in society and how this will influence your business. One of several ways to prepare for the disruption is of course to train your workforce to have this innovation mindset. My colleagues at Berkeley and I deliver training and have been working to help corporations and institutions around the world instill innovation mindset into their organizations.
How is the nature of innovation and organizations’ approaches to it set to evolve over the next five years?
Instead of focusing on top-down mandated innovation, change will be driven by empowering the employees at all levels to internalize and apply innovation mindset to help the business grow and thrive. Remember, the most valuable resource of a company is its human capital. This is especially true for the younger people who’ve grown up in this digital world and know more inherently how to grow exponentially. So, instead of a hierarchical system, what companies need to do is adopt a different management structure to harness this talent. An organization which collects ideas and input from everyone in the company, especially the younger ones, and utilizes all that brainpower to set its strategy will prevail.
In summary, the company that realizes that they need to get their whole workforce to adopt a more innovative mindset is the most likely to succeed and create amazing value propositions that markets will love.