Interview with Yaron Flint, Director Innovation, strategy and operations, and Head of Israeli operations at co-pace.
After the discussion I just had with Yaron Flint I will never look at the word “experience” in the same way, and I hope this text will inspire you to look at experience in a new way too.
Let me elaborate, but first let me introduce you to Yaron. Yaron Flint is Director Innovation, strategy and operations, and Head of Israeli operations at co-pace, which is the startup arm of Continental. Continental, founded in 1871, is a technology company that offers safe, efficient, intelligent and affordable solutions for vehicles, machines, traffic and transportation. The company currently employs more than 244,000 people in 61 countries, or as Yaron summarized it: “It’s a pretty big monster…”
Now, let’s look at this thing we call experience.
If someone says to you that they have 40 years experience in a specific industry, what do you read into that? Most people would think it means that this person has 40 years worth of skills or knowledge from doing whatever their job entails.
But the word “experience” is actually more insightful than that!
Experience can be split up into the word “ex” meaning “out of” or “from” and the word “per” meaning “to risk” or “to try”. So the word “experience” truly means “What you learn from taking risk and trying new things out.” (!)
When you realise how profound this is you realise that there are two kinds of experience, because we just cannot use the same word for a person with 40 years experience of trying new things and taking risk and at the same time talk about another person with 40 years “experience” of doing what works and what they know.
So let’s split experience into two groups:
a) “Real experience” – people who have been trying new things out and taking risk. Let’s continue to call that “experience”.
b) “Fake experience” – people who have been doing what they know works. Let’s call that “unperience” (as in “not taking risk and trying new things out”.)
The first group is being drawn into the future by happily trying out new things.
The second group is reluctantly being dragged into the future while at the same time being held back by the past and by what used to work.
A person with 40 years “unperience” from the automotive industry can be totally lost in an automotive world that is now increasingly digital, software driven and connected because what he used to know is not relevant anymore.
At Continental Yaron Flint is passionately working on helping ensure that the people inside Continental get “experience”, not “unperience”. One of the ways they do that is with “Co-pace” a program where Continental works with startups worldwide to help the people within Continental to see the opportunities that these start-ups are trying to uncover.
The work that Yaron and his team is doing is high priority and his group reports directly to the CEO and one of the reasons is that the automotive industry (or personal mobility sector, as it is now sometimes called) has gone from a place where the car companies used to go to their tier-1 suppliers and say “This is what I want”. The tier-1 suppliers would then provide that. Now the car companies come and say: “What else could you come up with?”
For Yaron, who has 20 years experience of evaluating start-ups and looking at new opportunities, this is like being a fish in water, but for many people who lived a life in the safe and isolated world of cars for the last few decades this can be a very scary (maybe a better word would be “challenging?”) place to suddenly find yourself. While some traditional ‘petrol heads” in the industry are struggling, others are learning to re-learn and they are thriving.
I asked Yaron what the difference is between those who are struggling vs those who are thriving.
“It is a matter of mentality”, he replied. I asked him to expand on what could be done to infuse the right mindset to make sure people develop “experience” and not “unperience”.
He said that you first have to show them that taking risks can give higher returns.
Yaron: “When I come with a new idea some people give excuses for why it will not work, so I try to show how it will work with some small examples to get them to open up to the proposed changes. It’s all about baby steps to slowly get them onboard.”
He then told me that the second technique he uses is to get them to focus on something that they have suffered with for a long, long time. When you focus on an old, annoying pain point people are much more open for external ideas and outsider feedback than if you come with new opportunities.
His third advice is what we can call “scrumping ideas”. Just like kids would think it’s more fun scrumping apples from a neighbour people find it easier to accept new ideas if they come from a different industry than if they come from a start-up in their own industry. (People in the car industry might feel threatened if a car start-up is introducing new ideas, but if a start-up in, say healthcare, has an interesting invention that could work in the car industry that’s easier to get onboard with as it then feels like it is “you” who introduce this idea into the industry and to overcome the “not invented here syndrome”. Yaron told me that many times he would specifically avoid the 700 start-ups who are in the automotive space, and instead focus on the other 7,000 or so start-ups in Israel who are inventing for other industries.
Finally Yaron told me that you need to be active, not passive, when working with getting people exposed to new ideas. He said: “You need to push them, rattle them, scare them a little.”. Rattle them. I like that. Rattle is an intriguing word.
It’s all about pushing your people to be less comfortable with the status quo. Less happy with what they already know. Less intimidated by what could be done. More curious. A lot more curious.
And it is working. Yaron told me that in just 2,5 years that this program has been active within Continental more than 25 brand new projects have been created and people within the organization are actively approaching the co-pace team asking to be pushed, asking for more challenges.
How is your organisation working with making sure that your people every year are getting more experience – in other words, that they are “learning from taking risk and trying new things”?
How much of your own experience is actually “experience”? How much of it is coming from trying new things and taking risk? And how much is just”unperience” disguised as “experience”.
I think that most people in business, if they looked at how much “experience” they honestly gained in an average year would have to admit that most of it was actually not very much coming from taking risk and learning new things. I know that is true for me, and I think you would agree that it is also true for you. But perhaps not this crazy and special year…
Now imagine if we every year optimised the way we worked to really live a life full of learning from risk-taking and new-things-trying. Now that would be a rich life full of experience.
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