Innovation Pathfinders. (Episode 65)

Innovation Pathfinders. (Episode 65)

Interview with Rafael de Jesus, Head of Innovation Teams Partnership & Development at Petrobras.

By now I think you know that I love to speak to innovation leaders to learn more about how we, and our organisations, can become more creative. I am looking for inspiring insights through conversations with experts. The conversation I recently had with Rafael de Jesus is a perfect example of this kind of conversation.

Rafael de Jesus, who is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is Head of Innovation Teams Partnership & Development at Petrobras. With +45,000 employees around the world and with over $USD 10 billion revenue in the last quarter (Q2-2022) Petrobras is one of the largest producers of oil and gas in the world.

Rafael has held numerous innovation related positions and he has been leading innovation and transformation teams, intrapreneurship programs, Change Management (CM) programs etc. He is the co-founder of Petrobras Digital Transformation area, and also has experience as a researcher on R&D project, just to mention a few of his innovation experiences.

So clearly I was intrigued and curious to see what he could teach me about innovation.

We ended up talking about “Innovation Pathfinders”.

Early in our conversation Rafael told me: “My biggest talent (in regards to innovation) is my ability to see what needs to be changed, and how to get that done.”

Rafael is talking about the skill of taking a challenge, an idea or a concept and, as quickly as possible, be able to see its potential as well as see how to find the best way of taking it from idea to completion.

The ability to see the path forward for an idea or a challenge is such a powerful skill, and the lack of that skill is what kills so many innovation initiatives.

And this is why I think “Innovation Pathfinder” is such a good description of the people who have this skill.

Innovation is a walk through an unknown jungle, and the people who are able to find the right path are the ones that succeed.

I asked Rafael to tell me more about how “Innovation Pathfinders” think and act.

The first thing he told me was about need to become better as spotting the core problem an innovation can solve.

When you find the true pain point you often suddenly see the solution and how to get there.

Let’s call it “the pain spot” – as in “the sweet spot when you find the right pain point.”

When asked what makes Rafael a great Innovation Pathfinder he said:

“1) I am always curious, analytical and user oriented.

2) I have passion for problems, not solutions, and I am good at thinking from the perspective of “What challenge is this innovation really solving?”

3) I am good at looking for the foundation – the critical point – of an innovation to identify the one thing that might lead to it failing and what need to be addressed first”.”

Can people be trained to become Innovation Pathfinders, I ask him.

He replied with a smile: “I think I do this every day. And it is a very rewarding thing to do.”

So, what should one consider when developing Innovation Pathfinders?

In summary Rafael said:

1) Develop peoples ability to analyse risk.

A quote from Rafael: ” Remember that many times the biggest risk is not technology, but rather related to people.”

2) Develop your ability to connect with people.

Other people – inside and outside of your organisation – can be the most dangerous risk on your journey to innovation success. Not because people want you to fail or because they actively want to ruin your life by making your innovation project fail, but because they do not understand what you are trying to do and therefore do not like the change that might come with it.

Quote from Rafael: “It’s not about getting enemies, it’s about not alienating people and it’s about finding supporters.”

3) Make time to make a good reflection and discussion on the objectives….

Innovation often dies because the innovator goes in the wrong direction, gets lost and/or solves the wrong problem.

Another quote from Rafael: “A good pathfinder finds the way – but a great pathfinder makes sure he is going in at least roughly the right direction even before setting off.”

So make sure you give people enough time to reflect and discuss the objectives early on in projects.

When I listen to Rafael explain the power of Innovation Pathfinders I reflect on how it’s such a good analogy for one of the skillsets you need to succeed with innovation. The value of a pathfinder is his, or hers, ability to find the right way when no-one knows what that is. And when you innovate you do not want to be lost – or stuck. You can be searching – actually, you should be searching – but you should not be lost or stuck.

And that is why we need Innovation Pathfinders.

Do you have them? Are you developing them?

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