How To Make Innovation An Integral Part Of Your Company's DNA

Industry insight: Thierry Van Landegem, Chairman at GreenTouch


Ahead of his presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit in New York this December 5-6, we spoke to Thierry Van Landegem, Chairman at GreenTouch.

Thierry Van Landegem is the former Vice President of Open Innovation at Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent. He was responsible for Bell Labs’ research eco-systems and collaborations with third parties, such as universities, research institutions, and governments. Thierry Van Landegem is also the Chairman of the board of GreenTouch™ – a consortium of leading ICT industry stakeholders dedicated to transforming communication to significantly reduce the carbon footprint. GreenTouch™ has more than fifty members covering all telecommunication stakeholders worldwide.

How did you get started in your career?

I started as a researcher in the telecommunications industry. It was the days of the introduction of broadband technologies to the end user and opening of an opportunity to be connected to the world. I then moved to a strategy role and later innovation.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

I remember when I was responsible for the strategy that was focused on how the telecom world would look like in five or ten years. I produced a document at that time that described the network of 2005. It was very much focused on the own industry but already taking into account influences of other industries such as the media and the internet.

I think that nowadays, strategists need to have a good overall view not only on their proper industry as more and more industry borders are blurring, and technology takes a major place in this. As an example, the larger ICT (information and communication technologies) are literally affecting all industries (health, logistics, etc). This is becoming a very complex task! Various scenarios need to be built. Secondly, given the short-term focused nature of the business, it is becoming very tough for strategists to influence the thinking, and hence, the roadmaps set by the business leaders. Thirdly, I believe it will be difficult to encompass all scenarios. Thus, it becomes essential that your company is flexible - and here employees and management play an important role. Developing their skills to become more flexible and adaptive is essential, especially for creating an innovative mindset that can help a company to act fast and in an agile manner.

How do you ensure your long term plans are reactive to disruption?

One will never be able to foresee every single move, especially disruptive ones. It is, therefore, essential to build an organization that is flexible and adaptive in all its dimensions. As mentioned before, employees and management play a crucial role in this. As a company, we need to make sure that those key stakeholders deserve enough attention and get a continuous development opportunity. Developing their skill base, in order to become more innovative, flexible, and business minded is critical. And, not only to become reactive but more and more pro-active.

What are the main challenges companies face when planning their innovation strategy?

The innovation strategy needs to be tightly coupled with the company's strategy. I would almost argue that it should be one and the same. I, therefore, welcome that some companies have one person leading both the strategy and innovation. The point is that employees or managers don’t need to be just innovative - they need to be innovative in the strategic spaces identified by the company. I have seen too many examples where companies start innovating in areas that are outside their core. Unless it is a strategic endeavor to explore new markets, a company should stick to its core and adjacencies, and innovate in these spaces. Looking at bringing in new technologies in those spaces creates a huge amount of opportunities.

Secondly, companies are facing a tough time in organizing their innovation, looking for ways to implement their innovation strategy from an organization point of view. Are you going for setting up an innovation office, or do you distribute innovation efforts across the company in every business division, or do you take a hybrid approach?

The key to answering that question is related to your employee base. As pointed out previously, it will be critical to support your employees by continuously developing their skills, thereby creating an innovative mindset that becomes part of the company’s DNA. In other terms, innovation needs to be spread across the organization.

What will you be discussing during your presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit?

I will be discussing the importance of innovation to be an integral part of the company’s DNA - employees are the heart and the collective brain of the organization. They need to show an innovative mindset within the strategic scope of the company so the company can act flexible and innovative. I will discuss several key success factors, both from the employee base and from the leadership perspective. Such talent development has important consequences towards the company’s workforce plans, development actions, and motivation.

You can hear more from Thierry and other industry leaders at  the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit, taking place in New York this December 5-6.

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