Bursting the corporate filter bubble. (Episode 134)

Bursting the corporate filter bubble. (Episode 134)

Interview with Johan Maresch, Chief Digital Officer at Perstorp.


Let’s talk about how we can burst “the corporate filter bubble.”

No matter where we work, there will be a sense of “we know how to do this”.

Experience, previous success and tradition tend to create a sense of “we know this” inside a company.

This is universal, to be expected – and, honestly, a shame.

One company is fighting this trend in an interesting way. The company is Perstorp, a specialty chemicals company founded 140 years ago.

Johan Maresch, Chief Digital Officer at Perstorp, is in charge of this program that has been given the name “Change Makers.”

Johan, with a vast experience from many innovation roles at different companies, understands how important it is to get new and fresh perspectives into any organization.

The “Change Makers” is a set of trainees that are recruited because they possess a different competency and background than the people that Perstorp would normally hire.

If you go to a department and ask: “Would you appreciate another headcount who could help?” everyone will say “Yes, please!”. But if you ask them what kind of skillset they want this person to have, most departments will describe the same skillsets that are already in the department.

People tend to hire people who are like themselves.

But Johan instead gives the departments trainees with a totally different skillset.

It could be a UX designer that gets recruited into a chemistry lab. Or an engineer with an extreme interest in data recruited to work with chemists.

Their role is, in the words of Johan, “To identify where we need to work differently.”

These trainees are paid, but not from the department’s budgets. That means that a person who comes into a sales department is not seen as a cost (he’s not) or a threat to sales, and that makes it easier for the trainee to come in and challenge the department’s way of working. They have a freer role to play.

Johan: “These people are young and they like to question things. They have a totally different expertise and they are open to new ways of doing things. The departments they are assigned to might not immediately see the value in these hires, but I tell them: ‘These are the competences that we did not know that we needed’.”

Let’s call these people “A Positive Trojan Headcount”. People recruited to come in and change things from within.

These Change Makers have developed radically new development processes for chemical products, and developed new proof of concepts.

They have also helped to bring “sleeping ideas” to life. Johan: “Many of the things that the Change Makers bring to life are things that the departments have wanted to try out, but just did not have time for. Other things have more unexpected solutions that the departments hadn’t even considered before. Either way it’s a win.”

The trainees help make change happen by infusing new perspectives, ideas and curiosity into a department due to their unusual and different competences, and they do that at no additional cost to the department. Johan: “The current trainees just solved a “thought to be almost unsolvable problem” that has been there for years, in two weeks. Amazing”.

But the Change Makers do more than that. They spend about 50% of their time working in a group as a scrum-team to address larger opportunities on a company level.

What are the competences you did not know that you needed, and how can you get them into your organization in a way that is flexible, productive, and effective?

Perhaps Perstorp’s strategy of using trainees with the “wrong” competences can inspire something similar in your organization.

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