A forest of ideas. (Episode 90)

A forest of ideas. (Episode 90)

Interview with Fernando Bertolucci, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Suzano.

How Suzano thinks about the bigger picture and a strong purpose make it easier to create a forest of ideas. But the purpose needs to inspire people to connect across the organisation.

Creativity is like a forest. That was the message I got from sitting down to discuss creativity with Fernando Bertolucci, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Suzano. His current responsibilities involve corporate leadership of research and technological innovation activities, including tree breeding, plant biotechnology, forest management, silvicultural technology, process & product development.

Suzano is among the 10 largest producers of market pulp and the largest producer of eucalyptus pulp (paper) in the world. The company has 37,000 employees and a presence in over 80 countries.

With 33 years of experience of innovation in the tree industry, it’s natural that Fernando thinks about ideas like trees. But what does “a forest-of-ideas” really mean?

Many people think of ideas as “stand alone entities”. But they are not. Ideas are best utilised when they are interconnected with other ideas. Like trees and other plants interact with each other to create a forest, in the same way ideas can – and should – interact with each other to create a “forest-of-ideas”.

While this concept might seem a bit philosophical, let me give you an example:

Fernando told me how pulp and paper sector approached innovation until a few years ago. The sector thought about innovation around the growing of trees as one thing, and the innovation around the development of products as another thing. Two separate approaches, with their own objectives, normally not connected to each other. People who innovated around better ways of developing trees did not think about how that could create better end products. Similarly, people who developed new products did not care much about how the trees were grown.  It was like the two departments of the company were two stand-alone “trees.” But then Suzano started to think differently around innovation and today people working with seedlings want to hear from the people producing new end products and vice versa. Because ideas cross-pollinate when people share ideas between each other.

A forest-of-ideas mindset also means that you focus less on “the big idea” and more on “an ecosystem of ideas”. Smaller ideas that support and help the big idea, with a vibrant rainforest-of-ideas mindset carrying all kinds of different ideas (big and small!), help inspire new and better ideas.

Thirdly, Fernando told me, with a forest-of-ideas mindset you care much more about the environment which makes the ideas grow. Just like trees need soil, water, nutrients, and sun etc so does your ideas. They need an environment that will let them grow, expand and come alive.

Let’s not just focus on the big ideas, let’s focus on what makes them and other ideas thrive, i.e., let’s focus on the creative process.

When I asked Fernando for things that will help with creating a forest-of-ideas mindset he said: “A sense of purpose is really powerful.”

For example, when Suzano decided to focus on finding alternatives to fossil materials and put a goal of creating 10 million tons of renewable products to replace fossil ones, the company, in practice, created a motivation for pioneering developments that have the potential to double the current size of production. For a good cause.

That made people within the organisation think in bigger ways.

Having a forest-of-ideas mindset does not mean that everyone has to have a big, holistic mindset, just like the bee does not think about the whole forest when it’s collecting honey. A local factory manager should focus on his factory, but as Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Fernando has to have a bigger picture. Or as he told me: “I have 100 research scientists working in my team, I cannot have them solving small problems, I want them to solve big problems!”

He told me about how a short term way of getting rid of pests could be to just spray the trees with pesticides, but from a bigger perceptive that is wrong. So, Fernando got his team to look at how they could use natural enemies of the pests.  As a result, in 2022 Suzano has reached a production of more than 200 million natural enemies of pests, produced at company’s own laboratories. These natural enemies were released which led to avoiding the use of chemical insecticides in approximately 300,000 ha.

Just like companies can have a forest-of-ideas mindset, so can you as an individual.

Look at life as you are coming up with a big idea and you will have to be lucky to make it and risk going at it alone.

Look at life as an abundance of small and big ideas shared between you and others and you are not only more likely to get a big and strong idea, but you are also much more likely to have your ideas become a reality.

So learn from the trees.

Adapt the mindset of a forest-of-ideas.

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