Creativity, innovation and disruption – these were the three things we were going to discuss, according to Bartholomeus-Henri Van de Velde, Orchestra Conductor, Music Producer, and Change Management Expert with ifa laboratory. It was the morning of 23 May at the European Business Summit and Mr Van de Velde, the moderator, welcomed the attendees of the Creativity at the Heart of Business: Key to Success? debate session.
Four panellists were invited to provide different points of view: Javier Echarri, CEO at EBN – European Business & Innovation Centres Network; Zeldah Schrama, Entrepreneurship Coach, Change Manager and Connect Africa Founder and Consultant; Frederique Paccagnella, Director at Excel Careers; and Thomas Van Halewyck, Co-Founder and CEO at Bundl. Furthermore, the audience had the opportunity later on to join the debate through questions and comments, and many audience members took the opportunity, presenting their views and bringing in topics not yet addressed at that point.
Each panellist was first given a few minutes to introduce themselves and their broad perspective on the topic.
Mr Echarri referred to the large number of startup business plans he analyses each week, and how his wealth of experience led him to an interesting observation about startups and innovation, “it is not about the brilliant idea, but about making it stay”, which was met with agreement from the rest of the panel and echoed an earlier remark from Mr Van de Velde: “How innovative and creative are you in your business? It’s not about creating a new product. New is always easy. What is difficult? To continue.”
Ms Schrama talked mainly about the entrepreneurial side of her work, being a coach for startups mainly in Africa and the Caribbean: coaching them at how to start, be better at what they are doing, stand apart from what the rest of the world is doing, and enter the international market.
Ms Paccagnella, an HR expert, discussed the challenges of recruitment and making the right match, making sure that person is hired for a position where their personality and competences fit well, for the sake of both parties. She believes that innovation does not have to be done at all cost – if the system works, there is no need to innovate. Some companies or processes also work better in more traditional ways. But if there is space to innovate, creativity comes hand in hand with that.
Mr Van Halewyck is one of the founders of Bundl, a company that builds tailored startups for corporations, and he finds building from scratch as the most effective method of innovation. When asked what innovation is, he admitted he always answers a bit differently. To him, it is basically about what the market needs. Creativity is essential, but everyone can be creative – it is about meeting the market needs, but you never know what these are, and that is why you have to experiment. He also talked about the financial outcomes – though in his current work, most projects they create aim to enter the market and create more employment, innovation does not have to be related to business or to be for profit. This was supported by Mr Echarri who does not necessarily see conflict between for money and not for money innovation. His company runs a number of competitions in which startups are supposed to find solutions to social challenges, and they have to make proof of concept to show they could make money. He also believes that a product or service that stays often comes with some money.
Ms Schrama reflected on a common trait of some entrepreneurs who have passion and want to be innovative, so they break down all their walls, think they need to be all different, like Google, and think they will be more innovative then – but it has to be ingrained in their culture, it is not that simple. Innovation is taking it step by step.
“Being innovative means taking risks. Taking risks makes your life more interesting.” Mr Van de Velde finds risk-taking, one of the several topics discussed, an essential part of innovation. Ms Paccagnella finds it an interesting trait that has to be considered carefully when matching a person with a company and position; but she also addressed the need for companies to be willing to take risks, such as in the case when she picked a 65-year old person as the best candidate for a job for a company who had originally envisaged somebody half the age but decided to trust her. Candidates need to be open-minded too as they sometimes might not realise what they could be good at, what transferable and other skills they could offer – sometimes it is about looking at the person differently. Following a question from the audience on risk-taking and leadership, Mr Van Halewyck discussed the importance of supporting leadership taking risks, as these are often the ones that want to be in control and safe – it is often hard to define for corporates why and how to have innovation, so he always has a session first with the leadership in which they look at why innovation, what the company wants to achieve, and how to achieve it.
The panellists were asked to pick three words or phrases that, for them, define creativity or innovation:
- Ms Paccagnella: risk; evolution; out of the box (non-traditional);
- Mr Van Halewyck: customer (or market need); risk; speed;
- Mr Echarri like what had been said and added some new things: disruptive (which for him is a good word); market; people;
- Ms Schrama supported the idea of positive disruption for innovation and added that, for her, innovation is about: vision; (solving) problems; and culture.
Fostering creativity in the next generation, and creativity development in general, was a topic that presented differing opinions. Though essential for the audience member, a co-founder of a non-profit organisation, Ms Paccagnella reacted cautiously that, in her work, creativity is considered a personality trait, something you cannot really create; furthermore, some people are not interested in being “creative”. She agreed however that education is very important to let the creative people develop further. Various possible definitions of creativity were clearly present among the participants at the debate. Ms Schrama, whose company Connect Africa also offers training specifically in creativity, reacted that you cannot divorce innovation from creativity. In companies she works with, it is process-focussed, and there are different ways to make people more creative; in one of them, even before the training workshop, you need to prepare first, and then people from different sectors challenge you so that you have to consider things from different perspectives, apply creative problem-solving, and that is for example how you develop creativity.
Do you want to read more about topics such as innovation, entrepreneurship, skill development and others? Feel free to look at the rest of our articles covering more EBS sessions and other interesting events.