Catalin Munteanu-Ene | Manager | Wavespace | Consulting
I’m sitting down in today’s “virtual office”, my favourite coffee shop, with a half-empty espresso cup next to my laptop. You know, one of those black Lenovos that have become a staple of working for a corporation. Legs-crossed, eyes-squinted, I’m trying to figure out the value proposition of a new start-up that I’m reading about. Their idea looks similar to one that was incubated in our company as part of a recent innovation challenge. I guess that’s a good thing.
Innovation has become a buzzword in today’s business environment, and in one form or another, all companies acknowledge the need to embark on this journey, some having started already. In a recent EY Global CEO Survey, 67% of institutional investors agreed companies should undertake disruptive innovation projects. However, 50% of companies indicated they are not well prepared to take advantage of disruptive change and opportunities.
I can call myself lucky to be part of a firm that is promoting innovation globally, not just as a door-to-door empty believer, but by doing, similar to August Bier who discovered spinal anesthesia in the 20th century by enrolling himself as a test subject. A lot of the services we’re offering weren’t there when I joined the company and the way we’re doing things has definitely changed. For example, in Romania we’ve implemented more than 100 robots internally, helping our colleagues deliver their projects. But probably the most impressive achievement, the one that is promoted globally is actually achieving an innovation mindset, where people are encouraged to think of new ideas to implement, some of which not even remotely close to the classic waterfall projects they were used to.
For us, this journey has started about 2 years ago and I feel like the pandemic acted as a fuel for this, as Linus Dahlander and Martin Wallin were stating (HBR, 2020)1, “urgency leads transformation”. We started this journey with our very own innovation space, wavespace, as Bucharest joined a short list of other cities where this is present, like London, New York, Shanghai and others. EY wavespace is not just a physical location, where we can host client events or undertake Design Thinking incubation sessions for the internal ideas we are nurturing, but also a mindset that we are promoting within the whole company. Periodically, we are launching innovation challenges with different themes and then walk shoulder-to-shoulder with our colleagues in the incubation process of their ideas. Thinking of yourself as a “guide” is probably the largest mistake you can make, especially in an environment so ever-changing, where versatility and iterating is key.
It is paramount to empower employees and admit that innovation can never be fully achieved without the support of the people in the organization. As Nadya Zhexembayeva (HBR, 2010) 2 describes, a common perception is “For you people, innovation is all that. For us, it’s extra work with no results or — much worse — lost jobs.” This can be overcome by delivering clear messages, showing an organisational purpose and “prove by doing”. It might not come natural for a Big4 company, globally perceived as “auditors”, to promote open innovation, but are glad to change this perception.
This is how we have built some ideas that you would expect to see in a start-up competition full of tech-savvy teams. A Machine-Learning platform predicting your employees churn rate. A Cybersecurity solution able to identify critical vulnerabilities. An app where clients can contract a loan directly in-shop, for any product they like. We have changed the way we are delivering client meetings, solution-oriented, with clear messages and practical interactions. This carried on in the past months, delivering our events virtually.
As a job, this brings a new challenge everyday, trying to adapt to any changes in our business environment and our clients’, to deliver the best advice possible. Waterfall turns to Agile, brainstorming to incubation, SWOT and Balance Scorecard to Lean Canvas. I got used to helping teams construct a pitch deck in order to get funding, organize incubation sessions using Design Thinking and then design the structure for a 3-hour workshop with a client and my Service Line colleagues.
Whether this crisis will be over soon, or not, whether you’re bullish or bearish on the world economy, it’s clear that being able to adapt and innovate, as a firm and as individuals, will help you overcome those challenges. In a world that everyone perceives as a race to get back to the old normal, the real winners are those who actually build the new normal.