#GCBInnovationWeek: “True innovation is about finding the right people”


On our quest for inspiring insights into successful innovation, we stumbled across Alexandre Janssen’s talk at TEDxFryslân. He is Deloitte’s former Head of Innovation for EMEA, has worked as a guest lecturer for Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam and is currently the co-owner of Minkowski, an agency that helps leaders and organizations prepare for the future.

The last decades have shown two things: Technology is developing at an exponential pace and the time it takes for users to adopt something new continues to decrease dramatically. Of course, this also has implications on society and the business landscape at large: Organizations that want to remain relevant in this fast-paced world need to innovate. This surely does not come as a surprise. Neither does the fact that many organizations are struggling to innovate, though. But why is that?  

Alexandre Janssen points to four main reasons:  

  • Many of the bigger organizations that are trying to answer today’s challenges have been designed in the 20th or even the 19th century. That implies that they may not have the ideal structures in place to truly foster innovation in today’s world.  

  • The corporate level may not be ready for new ideas or in fact attack changes within their organization. Alexandre Janssen refers to this phenomenon as “corporate antibodies.”  

  • Many organizations only focus on the short-term KPIs and results. This may hamper their innovative work which should be regarded as a long-term commitment.  

  • Lastly, whilst many organizations claim that failure is an option, their corporate culture proves otherwise. If new ideas are not allowed to fail, there may not be any new ideas at all. 

The good news: these obstacles can be overcome. But whilst there’s been a lot of talk around the ideal framework for innovative work, Alexandre Janssen emphasizes on the importance of the individual. And when looking for the perfect fit, organizations should prioritize the individual’s drive and creativity, not his or her skills. It’s individuals who see the possibilities and opportunities, the ones who are most passionate, who will ultimately drive innovation. And whilst skills are important, they cannot make up for a lack of passion.  

Nonetheless, even the most passionate workers need certain conditions. Of course, Alexandre Janssen points out the obvious: Hire the right (the passionate) people and create a safe environment that protects creative minds and new ideas from being sidelined. He also describes a different measure, though. He calls it the “F**k Up”-Card. He proposes to give this card to every new employee as a “free out of jail card” when an idea fails and encourages their bosses to take full responsibility for it. And to really put this idea into practice: He demands that all his new hires use this card within a year and encourages them to take a risk. Or else, they will be let go. This may be somewhat resolute, but he claims it has worked for his organization. What do you think? How can organizations and leaders truly encourage innovative ideas?  

TEDxFryslân Alexandre Janssen

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