Success through systematic innovation? Interview with Prof. Dr. Roman Boutellier

Is innovation still innovative? Even though innovation is considered one of the key success factors in a company, the question arises whether we can remain successful with today’s highly standardized processes.

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Being our expert for innovation and technology management as well as a consultant and board member of several renowned companies, Professor Boutellier is very well acquainted with the current challenges of innovation. We therefore asked him on his opinion whether it is possible to achieve innovation with a systematic approach.

Professor Boutellier, you describe miniaturization and standardization as the drivers of current innovation. How important is creativity in this context?
Most new products are combinations of already existing “Lego” pieces. This is not only the case for new mobile phones but also for most apps available on the internet. However, finding these new combinations requires a lot of creativity. Who would have thought that coffee could be sold in portioned capsules in their own stores? Technically this is nothing new, but the novel combination of individual elements makes the difference.

Where can you see limits for systematic innovation? Would you say that through those processes it becomes more difficult or even impossible to create radical novelties?
Systematic innovation is what can be planned. When they emerge the market reacts positively but they do not cause disruptive changes. The backup camera for the car is very useful but no big surprise. However, fundamentally new things are not created like this. Radically new things appear unexpected and sometimes even by accident. We react disbelievingly and skeptically, would never have thought that this could really work. Examples of this kind of innovation would be the microwave or the GPS system for the car.

In your opinion, what are the prerequisites in order to (nonetheless) be innovative in the B2B business?
In B2B, one can expect that in the end, rational reasons will decide on the outcome of a purchase: It helps a lot if the customer’s business is well understood. How can I make my customer more successful?