“Innovation is not a one-time thing”

Innovation consultant Christian Buchholz from Düsseldorf's "verrocchio Institute for Innovation Competence" on change, ideas and the courage to fail.



How does a company have to see innovation today?

Christian Buchholz: Change happens very quickly today. This is due to competition, which is now much more global and therefore stronger than in the past. However, this constellation also entails a certain degree of equality of opportunity. It is therefore logical to set the standard for oneself, to constantly expand one's own performance and to question business models.


Even if it goes well?

Buchholz: Especially then you should take the time to work on innovation. When the crisis approaches, it is often too late. Of course, the time factor plays an important role. People usually focus too much on everyday business.


Do you think you need to strategically anchor innovation in your working life?

Buchholz: Right. Innovation is not unique. Above all, it requires the ability to constantly monitor. The ability to get out of everyday life and to consider whether what you do cannot be done differently. The problem is usually in the routine.


Keyword error culture. What does that mean from your point of view?

Buchholz: Essentially, it has to do with the way I judge people who make mistakes or fail with their ideas. Do you react with criticism or even lift it onto a podium because they dared to do something?


Do you have an example?

Buchholz: I would like to mention Amanda Zolten, who once won a Heroic Failure Award from the US advertising agency Grey Advertising. What had happened? For a pitch for a customer, she had placed his product, cat litter, with her cat's excrements under the table in the meeting room. Nobody noticed, nobody smelled anything. When Zolten pointed this out, the customers left the room irritated. But she had tried something special. And instead of punishing her, she was rewarded.


But isn't that risky? After all, you play such actions with your job.

Buchholz: Of course it's risky. But the question is, what happens if I don't? When you try something, a lot of things go wrong. You have to admit it, up to a certain limit.


What approaches are there to innovation?

Buchholz: We know two basic types of innovation. First of all, incremental innovation. The aim is to improve what already exists. We Central Europeans are already doing quite well. There are processes in place, such as how to expand your own offering. And then we talk about disruptive innovation. Here, existing business models, products or services are in part completely obstructed by innovations. Established companies naturally find it difficult to do so.


Does it always have to be the primary goal to develop a ready-made product that spends money?

Buchholz: Not necessarily. In the USA, venture capital is often invested in start-ups with the aim of improving the product in the first step and gaining as much experience and know-how on the market as possible. We often do not focus enough on what the customer really wants, and in new projects the focus is usually on the product earning money and making a profit as quickly as possible. 


How do you do that?

Buchholz: By going into prototyping early. With small, unfinished but presentable products to get feedback from customers. In Silicon Valley, a' Minimum Viable Product' (MVP) is a product that is designed to meet customer needs and provide feedback with minimal effort. You can only find out a lot about the customer if I involve him/her as early as possible and get feedback. So I can find out quickly: Does it matter? How do I have to change it to make it better?


Is it difficult for traditional media to deal with innovation? And what are their chances?

Buchholz: The information monopoly is no longer there, which is certainly a problem for many media companies and at the same time a major challenge. Today, people can organize all the necessary information themselves. At the same time, the amount of information available creates a feeling of overstrain for many people. Here I see a great opportunity when a medium creates clarity and structures content. Today the user does not only want to be a subscriber, but wants to be part of a community where you know: I can rely on good information, I can trust in it and can participate in shaping or discussing. However, media houses will certainly have to diversify more.


Your final advice for people with a sense of good ideas?

Buchholz: Let go, rediscover the desire for new things and look forward to the future with attentive joy.


Interview: Philipp Lackner