An interview with Dr. Martina Weifenbach
What does digital innovation mean to you?
Digital innovation is coming up with something radically new that people are passionate about. Living innovation is more than technological advancement. It can necessitate the need to re-think the entire business model because changing one aspect of the business model usually also leads to changing other aspects
It is, in fact, a new mindset of curiosity and passion which is deeply entangled with a new and innovative business model.
How can companies keep up in today’s fast-changing world?
By fostering an openness and curiosity for new things and by enabling the people in the company to be agile and flexible in both ways, how they think and act. Which leads us back to the foundation, that is, the mindset.
How would you define mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as presense in the current moment, without judgement and with compassion. It can an be a great way to foster an open and curious mindset. Mindfulness practices drive creative thinking and openness as well as focus and learning. They can thus create an individual and shared mental space for innovative action.
Taken together, innovation is a holistic and systemic process that happens on all enterprise levels and can only work, if it is being brought forward as a team effort.
Why does digital innovation seem to be so hard for companies?
The challenge is that companies are usually shaped by history. This history is tied to agreed upon understandings of hierarchy, leadership and models of thought. I here refer to history such as the industrialization which made many employees to objects that had to fulfill certain targets, instead of subjects who were invited by the firm to bring in their individual potential.
Today, however, knowledge changes so quickly that sticking to certain understandings of hierarchy or other sticky models of thought can become a barrier to change. That is why I also stress the importance of change and innovation management working together. They should not be seen as separate units of work, but important partners in driving sustainable growth.
Putting this within the sphere of digital change: The digitalization as such symbolizes a collective change on an entrepreneurial, societal, global and local level. Everyone is part of it because everyone is affected by it.
Can you put the keywords digitalization, blockchain and quantum computing into context for us?
Blockchain can be considered an enabler of the digital networks. It has the potential to drive digital networks and interfaces on an economic level sustainably and purposefully. However, to do so, humans who develop ethically and morally grounded code become vital.
Quantum computers are a next step to ensure the processing of a high amount of data and a high degree of interconnection. They promise for advances and laps in medical research and many other industries. As Mr. Harari says: “They get people dreaming about becoming gods.”
That brings me back to my previous point: While those technological advances make entirely new value chains and business models possible, it is important to drive these innovations while keeping ethics, value sharing, and sustainability in focus. Today, we lay the foundations for the technological future of many generations to come.
Which challenges do traditional medium-sized enterprises face?
A challenge is certainly to manage the generational jumps by creating an atmosphere of openness and trust between existing employees and new ones. Only thus, they can collaborate and innovate together within a setting of so-called psychological safety.
Allow me to share a few thoughts on how they can achieve this:
Instead of thinking in hierarchies, it becomes more important to allow for employees – both existing and new ones – to express their potentials and to include them actively in processes of innovation. In other words, innovation lives from diversity and integration, both of which can only function when it is done together, across business units and by including all ages. Using mindfulness tools can help to boost empathy and, thus, to develop initiatives towards diversity and integration.
On another note, innovation units should not be considered as „nice to have“, but as essential to safeguard the future of the company. By pursuing a transparent communication about the innovation ideas and projects and by encouraging the workforce to contribute their thoughts, everyone can become part of the innovation journey; no matter what they have been doing before. Knowledge and experience are vital foundations for innovation and new business models.
How can mindfulness help to change habits?
On the journey of innovation will arise hindrances and barriers towards change. The fear of change is deeply human. But innovation can also be fun. By using mindfulness techniques, we can check for ourselves whether we oppose a new unit or innovation because its novelty frightens us. If so, instead of simply saying “no” to it, we can always search for elements that we know about that innovation, e.g., the customer groups, the market, the initiators, and start thinking about what we could actually like about the innovation. This way, we bring ourselves more towards a mindset of curiosity and engagement and let go of “old” mental models.
Put differently, mindfulness can help to stop and to re-think preconceived mental models. A practical approach to this could be:
Inhale and exhale and look at why you are resisting a new idea in this particular moment.
Resistance is deeply human and yet, we can all find ways to overcome it individually and together.
In your opinion, what should companies consider when innovating business models?
Digital innovation is a combination of tools, knowing how to use those tools, and the underlying mindset. Hence, companies should learn about useful tools for innovation and find a strategy of how to apply those tools. Simultaneously, they should choose an approach that supports the enhancement of the existing mindset. In this, applying mindfulness methods could help.
What matters to a company that wants to continuously innovate?
I would like to frame this answer with mindfulness and start with a core ingredient to an innovative organization:
Healthy and happy employees! If the workforce is healthy and happy, they have a much higher level of motivation and are more capable of processing new information and learning new things. If the organization itself makes space for health, people will feel empowered to express themselves and to engage in new projects.
Creating a shared mindset of innovation also involves celebrating successes together, having fun and talking openly about things that might not have worked so well. Hence, embracing risks is equal to learning from failure continuously.
Learning about and applying methods of co-creation and innovation on a daily basis helps to boost an innovative mindset – in a best case scenario this happens across boundaries and silos. This might also lead to a new consideration of what leadership is. Within an innovative company that drives co-creation and adopts new methods of collaboration, thinking leadership as a shared process of mutual empowerment may become a natural path.
And last but not least, I think it is important for everyone who is part of the innovation journey to stay curious without ever falling in the trap of someone who thinks they know it all.