Interview Of The Week

Interview Of The Week: Martin Wezowski

Martin Wezowski, a native of Poland, is software giant SAP’s chief designer and futurist for the Innovation Center Network. He focuses on strategic innovation, designing the future of work. He currently works out of Berlin, Germany. Prior to joining SAP in 2013, he worked for Sony Ericsson in Sweden as creative director, art director and user experience (UX) designer. He also served as director of the UX team at Huawei in Shenzhen, China.

Q: What is the best way for companies to tackle innovation?

MW: Innovation is becoming a worn out word. That is too bad because humanity thrives on ingenuity. What I have observed is that in many businesses people focus on the work they are doing now, reporting results, scaling the business and plotting strategy based on normal cycles but don’t spend enough time on the left side of the canvas. There is a much greater need to observe the changes in the world. To look at things that might go together. For example, today we have globalization, blockchain and flying cars. You need to not only to watch these things happen but to physically map them, to have good people observe these trends and include them also in the company’s investigations and thoughts in order to determine which direction things will go. It is pretty hard and time consuming but it is infinitely cheaper than producing the wrong thing.

Q: Once a company figures out what the future will look like how does it carve a role for itself?

MW: Bring people in to build a narrative around possible futures. If we are going to have flying cars it will change the whole ecosystem of living and working. Once you have defined possible futures then you need to identify desirable futures. Hollywood serves us the dystopia. The difference between dystopia and utopia is the difference between science fiction and science fact and hard, sweaty work. Companies need to define what they think are positive futures and then figure out what they can do to make them a reality. The role of C-Level executives should be to figure out where the company can have the most impactful, positive role. You draw up a short list and you figure out ‘this is where we have skills’, then you have a strategy and your company becomes purpose driven. Make where you are going your passion, your purpose.

Q: How will that impact companies’ relationships with their customers?

MW. At SAP our vision is ‘help the world run better and improve people’s lives.’ It is good to formalize a vision like that. At SAP it has helped us gain the trust of our customers for 45 years. Companies need to articulate possible futures in such a way that people understand them in their hearts and not just in their brains . You can have chatbots booking fights for customers and that is great but where does it lead? You need to create a close friendship with the customer and show them ‘this where we will go together.’ It is helpful to articulate the 10 steps you will take to get to that future to establish trust in your vision.

Q: Should companies bring in innovation from the outside?

MW: Co-invention and open innovation is something to look at. Universities can provide access to research you can’t afford. Find partners that can geek out to figure out the puzzles that you can’t. And don’t forget your customers. It is beautiful if you can bring them to the table.

Q: How else can companies keep up with the pace of change?

MW: It is only in the last year that SAP appointed a chief innovation officer. It is necessary because of the speed of change. You can’t just jump into it and hope for the best. It is better to design the future than be handed one. Innovation is not a department. It is a behavior. You can build an expensive lab and feed that for three years but if it is not an integral part of the company and its strategy, it dies. So the folks in the labs also have to be enabled with KPIs. The KPI of production is efficiency. The KPI of innovation is learning. How do you measure that? To come up with one brilliant idea you have to have many ideas first. So you have to create an innovation culture by hiring people with very diverse backgrounds. Ask your staff what they dream of, what is the purpose of them working there, what are they bringing to your company? Transfer their fit and actualize them in the right department.

Q: How do companies balance the pressures of making their quarter with trying new things?

MW: A company needs both dreamers and doers. Dreams are good. But any dream is disrupting the machinery. So you have to have more than one horizon. Maybe you start with 5 % in the new product line.

Q: What is your best advice to big corporates?

MW: These days people say data is the new oil. You can’t wear oil but you can make sneakers. What does that mean exactly? It is what you do with the data. Context is the new value. Digitalization is not about information technology. It is about why, when and in what context? If you can answer these questions you can build products for the future.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.