How to Manage Innovation?
NIKLAS GUSTAFSSON, KTH EXECUTIVE SCHOOL
Niklas on Innovation
We got the opportunity to speak with Niklas Gustafsson, Program Director at the KTH Executive School in Stockholm. Here’s what he had to say on innovation and business transformation.
You focus on innovation management, why?
I think innovation sums up a lot of the challenges we’re seeing today. In this day and age we’re witnessing the introduction of a lot of new technologies and completely new product and service offerings.
We see this in the consumer business, driven by the new tech coming out of Silicon Valley, but it’s also happening in traditional industries. Big changes are under way, from combustion to electric engines, AI, 5G changing the frontiers of telecom, financial blockchains and new sensors enabling the internet of things. All these innovations are going to transform industries of today into something new.
The question is how companies can manage transformation? And this is where innovation management is a very good tool.
What are the main challenges facing companies today?
I think the biggest challenge is to adapt to the new reality that’s coming, especially for manufacturing companies.
There are so many shifts going on at the same time, in technology, business models and internationalization. A lot is being driven by new technology, but technology itself is not the solution. It’s how you convert technology into a viable business model.
For example, the electrification that’s ongoing in the truck and automotive industry is going to put an end to traditional business models and old ways of thinking.
What are the main opportunities?
If you can adapt, innovative technology presents tremendous business opportunities. I think the future looks very good for companies that are able to transform, adapt and re-educate their personnel.
It’s going to be much tougher for traditional companies that can’t adapt fast enough, which in turn presents opportunities for new companies with interesting and exciting new solutions. Innovative start-ups have the chance to completely transform traditional industries, faster than ever before.
We’ve seen this in Sweden in the music industry, where streaming capabilities have created big new companies. Books is another, where big new companies are buying up older ones.
And it’s not just Silicon Valley type start-ups. The airline industry, for example, is changing to meet new environmental demands, and the shipping industry is also going to have to make big changes. These changes will demand innovative thinking.
Another example is healthcare, where the opportunities are enormous, and we’ll need innovation in legislation too. Legislation that fits the old world won’t always fit the new.
What advice would you give to companies?
Fill up on knowledge. Refill. Understand theory, research, as well as practice.
I give the same advice to academia. Go out, talk, listen and really understand the companies that are out there, and their problems. There’s a balance at this meeting point of theory and practice, and if you find it you’re in a good position to take on technical innovation and business model transformation.
What's the best thing about your job?
I get to meet a lot of interesting people, ideas and questions. It’s where theory and practice meet.
Any links you'd like to share?
I like trying to understand ideas and think one of the best podcasts right now is called Hidden Brain (external link).