On May 23, IESE Alumni Association hosted an event at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) headquarters in Copenhagen, focused on the topic of innovation leadership. The event featured Mr. Steffen Kragh, president and CEO of Egmont, Mr. Jan Mattsson, executive director of UNOPS, as well as Prof. Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg of IESE who shared some key insights from their forthcoming book The Innovation Architect (Harvard Business Review Press), and gathered more than 50 alumni and friends.
Mattsson discussed the work of UNOPS and shared how it has worked with a number of development projects, using a self-funded model. He emphasized the organization’s steady, multi-pronged approach to building a better world, doing everything from clearing mines in Afghanistan to building schools and improving infrastructure across the developing world. UNOPS was established in 1974 as part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and became an independent organization in 1995.
Miller and Wedell-Wedellsborg discussed the key role of the leader in driving innovation, emphasizing that instead of trying to become the next creative wunderkind themselves, leaders must focus on making their people more innovative.
“As a leader, you have to step into the role we call the ´innovation architect,´” said Prof. Miller, “You have to create an organizational space that allows your people to pursue innovation as part of their daily lives.”
Miller and Wedell-Wedellsborg also highlighted the importance of directing and focusing the search for innovation. “You can think of innovation as a searchlight that the leader directs,” said Wedell-Wedellsborg. “If you try to illuminate everything at the same time, you won’t see a lot. But if you focus the light beam, directing your people to take an in-depth look at the most promising opportunity spaces, then you can achieve remarkable results.”
Sharing the results of a recent study of 260 Innovation Officers, conducted with Cap Gemini, they pointed out that lack of guidance and clear goals was one of the biggest barriers to innovation. “And that is great news,” said Wedell-Wedellsborg, “because that particular barrier is relatively easy to remove. Freeing up more time and money for innovation can be hard, especially for lower-level managers. But simply giving your people more guidance on where and how to look for ideas – that is something everybody can do.”
The event concluded with a lecture by Kragh who shared several inspiring examples of innovations within Egmont, including how one of their weather forecasting units, StormGeo, discovered a new and lucrative market for their services in the oil industry. He also spoke about the close connection between creativity and constraints: “I believe firmly in the power of limitations to make people innovate,” said Kragh. “There are two things that will never go away: tight budgets and deadlines. The most talented people use those limitations to think differently, identify new problems and come up with better solutions.”
The event was organized with the help of alumni Vitaly Vanshelboim, Martin Nordestgaard Knudsen and Erik Boyter and was generously hosted by UNOPS.