Oliver Blume, the new CEO of
Mr. Blume, what does it mean to be innovative?
Theodore Levitt—the Harvard professor who first coined the term “globalization”—once said that creativity means having new ideas, and innovation means putting ideas to work. That’s more or less the way I see it too.
Which one is harder?
Probably the latter. You start with a good idea. But the idea only becomes an innovation when it is put into practice. That is hard work, because innovations don’t happen on their own. No matter how new or great an idea is, it’s not an innovation unless it advances a company or attracts customers or pays off in other ways. It’s an innovation when the market cheers.
So innovation means giving customers what they want?
You should definitely know your customers. Or anticipate what they would like. But if that were all, then the Wright brothers would have kept on selling bicycles instead of inventing the airplane.
You are launching an innovation campaign at
For one thing, the demands that customers are placing on cars and mobility in general are undergoing enormous change. And for another, quantum leaps in automotive engineering and production are compelling us to think in completely different ways. The key concepts here are electrification, digitization, and connectivity. They represent a break in the system for the automotive industry, including
Can a company simply prescribe a culture of ideas and innovation?
No, I don’t think so. It’s not like flipping a light switch. But what we can do is open up space that allows for creativity, freedom to innovate, and thinking outside the box. People are the key here. If creativity is going to get us anywhere, then we have to start by understanding what leads people to produce ideas or, alternatively, what might prevent them from doing so. What do they need? What motivates them? How do we deal with mistakes? An innovation program does not invest in patents or inventions. It invests in people. Innovations are closely linked to enthusiasm and emotion.
Can you teach people to be innovative?
That, too, is difficult. You can convey knowledge. You can improve skills. You can create an organizational framework that’s more conducive to personal development. But can you practice being curious? The desire to be innovative comes from inside. Let’s call it a disposition. There are people who enjoy working on problems, regardless of where, when, or with whom. The point is to come up with something. Or not. These are the people we’re looking for. The foundation for success lies in systematic and professional innovation management, and the courage to put new ideas into practice.
How do you intend to do that?
First, we are defining the fields in which
This much is certain:
Not at all. Tradition means responsibility. It fuels us. Tradition and innovation are two sides of the
How will you manage that?
By concentrating on the four key fields of power train, lightweight construction, connectivity, and driver assistance and active safety systems.
The company is also founding
Those places all have an especially high density of ideas.
How much of
First, there’s a lot of
On what exactly?
This company is like a center of expertise for digital mobility. We want to set the tone as early as possible. Employees, teams, and whole departments work like start-ups, looking for potential new added value and innovative solutions. Mistakes are expressly viewed as part of the learning process.
Will that turn
We are not seeking to change our character or turn the whole company inside out. What we want to do is systematically generate ideas across all of our divisions and put them into practice rapidly while maintaining flexibility. We want answers to persistent questions, without tunnel vision. We don’t want a culture of avoidance, but rather one of entrepreneurship in the truest sense of the word. We don’t want to become different. We want to become better.
Does that apply only to products?
That’s one of three big errors.
And those are?
Error number one: people always think that innovation means we invariably end up with a new car. That might be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. Leaders in innovation go about it in extremely nuanced ways. In addition to technologies and products, they also deal intensively with processes, services, customer interfaces, partnerships, and even business models. That brings us to error number two: Does what I do always have to be new, unique, and revolutionary? By no means. Both the “prime mover” and the “fast follower” can be very successful.
And error number three?
A continuous improvement process would already be innovative enough. We are making everything a little faster, more lightweight, and more economical. I think we also need to have the courage to question the fundamentals. Without that, we wouldn’t have the
When it comes to innovation, to what extent are you driving or being driven?
Are you afraid of a
I have respect for the immense culture of ideas and learning at companies like
By Rolf Antrecht
Photos by Max Kovalenko
In order to become a leading provider of digital mobility solutions in the high-end sector,
Founding this subsidiary is just one element of a large-scale innovation campaign at