Architect by education, innovator by nature. Founder and catalyst of the Innovation Leadership Forum. Director of Awards Program at Katerva. Scientist, lecturer and coach – ready to help designers identify the right ways of development. Meet Dr. Bettina von Stamm, who describes herself as a person in relentless pursuit of innovation.
Laka: You believe in innovation as a trigger of change. How was the idea born?
Bettina von Stamm: When I was trying to understand why so many organisations say they want innovation yet at the same time seem to struggle with it I was asking myself why that was. When thinking about what innovation is and means, I quickly came to realise that, fundamentally, it is the introduction of something new or different, whether this something is a small change or a huge one. So it constitutes a change to the status quo in some shape or form. Since then I have thought of innovation as almost interchangeably with change – though all innovation is change, not all change is innovation ;-).
Laka: What do you see as the possible short-term and long-term results of promoting innovation via such initiatives as ILF?
Bettina von Stamm: For me innovation is one of the key necessities of the 21st century. Our poor planet is in such a state that it is very clear we cannot continue on the paths we are currently on. We need new and different paths – rather than making those we are already on wider and wider. Hence, we need innovation. When I look at what is currently happening I see everyone asking for innovation – in their annual reports, policy statements, newspapers and magazines, yet at the same time satisfaction with innovation performance tends to be low, and we seem to continue to do more of the same, just in faster and faster iterations. What I aim to achieve through my work and the work of the Innovation Leadership Forum is a deeper understanding what innovation is and what condition it requires, and by doing so alleviate the latent fear of, and consequent reluctance to engage with, innovation. We often seem to assume that in order to become more innovative we need to change, at the individual level; that each and everyone of us has to become more creative and innovative. That is not so.
Laka: What is the trigger for innovation then?
Bettina von Stamm: Innovation thrives on diversity. In fact, do diversity, no innovation! When I realised that the challenge shifted for me: it was not longer to make everyone creative and innovative, it started to be about creating a deeper understanding of ourselves, our strength and weaknesses, and about a deep appreciation of the importance and contributions of those who are different from us. The challenge is then not to change people but to develop tools, approaches – and a willingness – that facilitates what I call “collaboration across communities”, collaboration across different backgrounds, experiences, worldviews, mindsets. While that is still a rather interesting challenge – how to get people who are very different to truly collaborate in the sense that one plus one equals five rather than minus one – I believe that it is easier to achieve than expecting individuals to change, say from being highly risk averse and uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity to becoming someone who absolutely thrives in these conditions.
Laka: What are the ways in which ILF supports innovation?
Bettina von Stamm: One of the key principles of the ILF is to work with people, rather than for people. Fundamentally, innovation happens in the presence of certain values and behaviours – such as inviting questions and being challenged, the courage to challenge and experiment, the willingness to collaborate with those who are very different from us. I can tell people that this is really important, and they might nod and agree – on the surface, but when it comes to actually doing it they might be reluctant.
Laka: Working with people is a challenge in itself!
Bettina von Stamm: You cannot change someone’s behaviour, not really, not sustainably. They might do so under duress but it is not likely to last. As soon as the pressure is taken away, old behaviours start to resurface. Only if the individual him or herself wants to change their behaviour will it endure. Anyone who makes new-years-resolutions will know how tricky changing our own behaviour can be, even if we want to… So it is about facilitating an understanding of why change is required, and beneficial. I always say that changing requires us to understand why it is important – that’s the rational part, and to feel it in our gut and hearts. Both mind and heart are needed.
Laka: How do you see the idea of a competition as vehicle for selecting the best innovation proposals?
Bettina von Stamm: For me competitions are more about inspiration, about creating awareness. It is so easy to only see problems, challenges, hurdles. Competitions show us what is possible – and that it is possible to do things differently. For me the runners up are as important as the winners – certainly if it is competitions such as Laka Competition or the Katerva Awards. I am a strong believer in using inspiration to drive change as I see this as much more sustainable than change that is driven by fear.
Laka: Competitions always provide judges with lots of inspirational material – but how to define the best solution?
Bettina von Stamm: I do not believe much in ‘the best’ solution but only ever in ‘the most appropriate, given any participate context, and a particular point in time’.
Laka: What are the strengths and weaknesses in a formula of an architectural competition in recognizing an innovation?
Bettina von Stamm: For me the results of a competition that seeks to inspire and recognise are only as good as the jurors are open minded and open hearted. If they seek to prove their believes or point of few, the choices will cement the status quo. Courage to go beyond what we know to work for certain, to nurture and encourage experimentation and the seeking of new paths, leaving own believes behind, that is what it should be about.
Laka: Innovation does require courage! What would you suggest to a prospective innovator at the beginning of his or her path? What steps should she/he take in order to have his ideas noticed?
Bettina von Stamm: To start with an open heart and open mind, to imagine an amazing and worthwhile outcome, to engage with others to build and expand on that idea. I should mention that collaborating with other is NOT about finding consensus! It is about finding people who share vision and values, and who bring different perspectives to the table so that the idea we create collaboratively can be more than what each one of us could achieve. It is about experimenting and exploring, about remaining flexible and checking in with what is needed, at the point in time, in the relevant context. It is about creating awareness, about putting oneself forward to engage and enrol others to join in – it is about entering competitions such as Laka Competition, and the Katerva Awards.
Dr. Bettina von Stamm is an original and visionary thinker in the field of innovation, who has focused on enabling innovation in large organisations since 1992. She is the founder and director of the Innovation Leadership Forum (ILF), which brings together leaders and decision makers in large organisations to embrace the challenges of innovation in a non-competitive and non-selling environment. Through the ILF, she offers a variety of innovation MasterClasses and coaching for senior managers and innovation leaders to help address barriers to innovation and to help them create sustainably innovative organisations. She is also Visiting Professor of Innovation at prestigious universities throughout the world.
http://www.bettinavonstamm.com/ | http://innovationleadershipforum.org/