Novare – Renovation Innovation (Episode 26)

Interview with Quique Vivas, Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer at Vodafone.

According to Greek mythology the Sirens lured sailors to wreck their ships on the rocky coast of the island of Sirenum scopuli by singing and playing beautifully. Could it be that managers are similarly being lured to wreck their companies by the calls of disruption?

That is what I talked to with Quique Vivas, Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer at Vodafone, for this episode of The Creativity Suite. Quique has been with Vodafone for 15 years which means he has seen the company transform many times. The “telco industry” was one of the first industries to be transformed by the Internet revolution as Internet connectivity killed off their hugely profitable long-distance phone service and fax-services. For a few years the industry was confused and some telcos even started to change what they called their own industry. Suddenly they were not “telco’s” anymore, but “multimedia companies” and other colourful, new, labels. But many people who have been in the industry for a while now have gone back to calling the companies “telco’s” again.

“Our products have changed, but we are still in the industry of offering connectivity and communication solutions to our customers in a safe, affordable and reliable way,” Quique said to me. “We are offering different products and services, but at the core we still do what we have always done.”

Vodafone is a great example of this. Many might not know this but the company is the second largest supplier of TV services in Europe, and they are now also offering Internet connectivity via cable, not just mobile.

Quique chuckles at how some companies, even some industries, are aggressively changing what them call themselves. Quique: “Spending time re-naming what you do can give you a false sense of security, and distract you from what you really should be doing.” And what you really should be doing is to pay close attention to what your clients want today, and what they might want tomorrow.

Now, do not get me wrong. Companies, and industries, need to change, but focusing too much on disrupting yourself can be counter productive.

Because disruption and innovation do not go together as tightly as many people would like to think. To disrupt comes from the Latin “disruptus” meaning “break apart” and the definition is to “drastically alter or destroy the structure of something.”

Many times disruptions do not make the world better at all. They just break down existing structures while introducing something new, but to be innovative disruptions need to build something that is better than what was torn down. Quique brought up the example of how algorithms in social media disrupted advertising making it easier to target specific individuals instead of just demographics, but how those very same algorithms are now also eroding the trust in journalism and the truth as people are stuck in polarising filter bubbles on social media.

But what if we looked at innovation, not as “breaking something down” or to “wreck something”, but instead of innovation as “renovating something”. To fix, instead of breaking.

We often hear people say “we need an evolution, not a revolution”, but if we instead say ”We need a renovation, not a demolition” we are actually giving a similar message, but at the same time we are giving a different focus. Because while “evolution” describes incremental change “renovate” implies both incremental change” and (!) fixing of a problem.

Quique, who studies philosophy on this free-time, brought up the classic philosophical paradox of the ship of Theseus where the ship was preserved in Athens when arrived back from Crete and had its parts parts replaced as the planks became too old. After some time all the planks on the ship had been replaced and the question then became was it a new boat, or the same ship of Theseus?

What if we looked at innovation like that? Companies that look at change and realise that pivoting is not the only way to react to change have a better way of coming out on top in the end. The fast turning, hard pivoting, agile start-up’s that wreck havoc get a lot of attention, but the large, responsive, established players that navigate the seas of change, like Vodafone, often go under the innovation radar of many.

Perhaps, in a time when it seems like everyone is frantically pivoting, the companies that are re-refining what they do and how they do it will actually fare better. Re-refining vs re-defining.  

As Quique put it: “You do not have to change the DNA of a company to make a difference and change with the times as long as you really do pay attention to the needs and wants of customers and how they change.

Quique said: “One dangerous saying is the one about people say “If you ask clients what they wanted a hundred years ago they would say faster horses, instead of saying they want a car.” Quique argues for perfecting the skills of being in-tune with what the company can deliver, the customers want, the market is ready for and the technology is capable of.

The next time people sing the siren songs of “disruption” and urge you to disrupt who you are, what you do and how you do it, suggest that you instead of “breaking something down” look at your customer offerings and “renovate” them.

The word “renovate” comes from the Latin “novare” meaning “to make new”. So, if you think about it, to renovate does not just mean to fix something, it means to fix something so that it becomes new again. That is a quite a powerful insight helping to push the narrative that we should “renovate” (ie “novare”) rather than “break down” (ie “disrupt”) what we do.

As a person who used to live in Beijing and saw how that ancient city was more or less torn down to create a city that was not very liveable to live in, I am all for supporting the idea of renovating instead of tearing down what we have. That does not mean we should not tear down or disrupt sometimes – it just means it should not always be our “go to state”, perhaps not even our first option.

Is your company a “break-downer” or a “renovator”? How about yourself? Do you prefer to see how things can be disrupted or do you take a “novare” approach?




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