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8 Innovation Leaders in Singapore Share their Corporate Innovation Advice

8 Innovation Leaders in Singapore Share their Corporate Innovation Advice
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Singapore is currently ranked as the sixth most innovative country in the world and it is home to some of the biggest corporate innovation programs. Since launching Collective Campus in Singapore earlier this year, I’ve met many innovation leaders from across the region. I’ve distilled the many insights gained into this article for our lucky readers.

What is the biggest barrier to corporate innovation you’ve encountered and how did or are you overcoming it?

Hari Krishnan

Chief Executive Officer, PropertyGuru Group

“Based on my experience in various industries and companies, the biggest enabler as well as barrier for corporate innovation is the mindset of the leadership team and the impact it has on the teams. The fear of failure and the lack of appetite for taking risks or doing anything ‘out-of-the-box’ impairs any chance of innovation. The digital age has made the speed of change more rapid and this can be very overwhelming, posing another barrier to innovation.

I believe that organisations must adopt a collective ‘growth mindset’. When the organisation’s leadership adopts a learning culture, the individual’s potential is recognized in both success and failure. As a leader, I see my role as setting the purpose for the organisation: the entire team needs to feel and share a common sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. When a growth mindset is combined with a clear purpose-driven culture, it can be a potent catalyst for innovation.”

Altona Widjaja

Vice President, The Open Vault at OCBC

“One of the classic innovation conundrums faced in a large organisation would be what’s become known as the ‘innovator’s dilemma’. According to Professor Clayton Christenson, large, outstanding firms can still fail ‘by doing everything right’ as their current successes and capabilities become obstacles in the face of changing markets and technologies.

Banks are complex organisations and we are no stranger to this problem. We’ve tried to overcome this by letting the business results speak for itself. For eg, if you suffer from chronic migraine and we introduce the best panacea that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, it works and you are now able to function and focus 10 times better than before.

Would you not want this solution?

This same analogy applies to us.

We start by having a view of what the bank of the future might look like. With this, we align our beliefs with a clear business strategy and scout for the best Fintech companies to solve selected business problems via customer pilots.

If the experiment works, we push it to the next phase and expand the experimental scope. If the experiment fails, we embrace it and learn quickly from our mistakes. We call this smart experimentation. At the end, it’s all about the business results. If we can help to solve the right business problems with the right technology within the given boundaries in a shorter period of time,  we are actually encouraging our businesses to innovate intelligently and explore new business models safely.”

Alvin Chia

Innovation Program Lead, DBS Bank

“Trust. Being a corporate innovator means that you will have to work with teams and senior management from the business-side that has 10, 15 or even 20 years’ experience dealing with the particular product. How do we contribute meaningfully with our breadth of experience, in order to help them achieve the desired outcome is one of the biggest corporate innovation barrier I’ve encountered.

We overcame that barrier by demonstrating value. Instead of taking for granted that the business needs innovation, we first understood what were on their KPIs, and we went above and beyond to help them exceed what they needed achieve. This then forged trust between ourselves and the businesses and allowed us to be their trusted advisors over and over again.”

Lawrence Chong

Chief Executive Officer, Consulus

“The biggest barrier I have ever faced was our own transformation from a design firm to becoming a management consulting firm with design and organizational development capabilities. When we embarked on this process almost 13 years ago it was unheard of. There were so many unknowns in the process: my three partners were at least 20 years older than me. They resisted the change initially as they were comfortable working in a space that they were familiar with.

So I changed my approach, I stopped arguing, called for a retreat, got everyone relaxed and then invited everyone to share their hopes, concerns and personal journeys. I then developed a framework based on what they shared. Because everyone felt listened to and engaged, it unified us. Till today, because of our own experience, we still follow the same approach for our clients, we start by listening to their hopes and concerns, understand each one's personal journey before creating a shared fighting principle to unite them to change and shape the world.”

Steve Leonard

Founding CEO, SGInnovate

“The concept of innovation has evolved tremendously over the years. Today, tech startups are leading the charge of a technological revolution, where their innovations are disrupting entire industries. While Singapore certainly doesn’t lack the ambition to be an innovative, knowledge-based economy, I would say that the biggest barrier to corporate innovation is mindset – one with old habits and attitudes that are resistant to change.

We need to break away from this, start taking more risks and think about how innovation can be more durable, how will it address big challenges in areas such as healthcare, transportation, resources or the environment. We need to be obsessed with experimentation and not be afraid to push boundaries. We need to be nimble and adaptable, much like creating ‘entrepreneurship at scale’, or risk becoming irrelevant."

Scott Polchleb

Senior Director, Innovation & Customer Experience Design (APAC), VISA

“The Visa Innovation Centre is a place our clients can solve complex payments problems and innovate with us. The biggest barrier I encounter is not the want or desire to innovate, the appetite for this is huge and our human centred design approach coupled with Visa technology is always valued. The challenge is what to do once you have the north star, the brilliant idea that solves for the customer pain point - it is in deployment that an idea becomes an innovation.

With the Discover, Design and Develop that so many of us use as our creative approach to problem solving and customer first mindset, we’ve added and doubled down on the fourth ‘D’, 'Deploy’. We’ve asked ourselves how might we better empower and equip our partners to deliver the ideas we generate to their customers.

We approach deployment with the same rigor and discipline that we do understanding a problem and designing a solution. We take a programmatic approach that is flexible in execution. The use of deployment blueprints, phasing frameworks, stakeholder commitment, and road mapping as well as tooling our partners with a package to socialise the strategic and monetary value of an idea is key to overcoming this barrier and truly innovating.”

Bernard Leong

Founder, Analyse Asia

“The biggest corporate innovation barrier that I have encountered is to align internal and external stakeholders to implement a modern version of the corporate website. Given that the corporate website means different things to different people, I have to gain an understanding of everyone's interests in the website. To overcome the barrier, I have to get support from the group CEO that I will run the project in stealth in three months before the approval during an executive meeting and get a prototype of the new corporate website that can be easily seen on a mobile phone to a desktop computer.

By working on the prototype and aligning internal stakeholders two weeks beforehand with their feedback, I managed to get all the feedback and relay to my team what needs to be done on the prototype version of corporate site. In the end, we managed to get an internal alignment before the approval meeting and get the corporate website approved within 5 minutes because the interests of every internal stakeholder is well taken care of.”

David Goh

Digital Strategy and Innovation, Daimler AG

“The most challenging part is starting off out-of-the-box innovation initiatives from ground up where there’s nothing of similar sort that’s been done before in the organization that can be compared to or measured towards.

To overcome this barrier, it is important to find innovation advocates and innovation evangelists across different parts of the organization that can help deliver and execute part of the message for the bigger vision.”

Final Comments

Driving corporate innovation within any company is not an easy task - there are many challenges that come with it. These challenges include shifting traditional mindsets and overcoming old-school internal processes. By learning from innovation leaders that have faced challenges in the past and found ways to overcome them, the next generation of corporate innovators will be better equipped to succeed when they encounter their own barriers.

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

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Shay Namdarian

Shay is the General Manager of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. He has over 10 years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience, design thinking, innovation and digital transformation. He has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture.

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