The value of “Innovation Faith”. (Episode 68)

The value of “Innovation Faith”. (Episode 68)

Interview with Harald Rodler, Head of Innovation Management at NTT DATA Business Solutions and Thomas Normark, Global Head of AI & Robotics at NTT DATA Business Solutions.


This is a text about the one thing that really creative people have vs the less creative.

But let’s start with the premise. While I do believe that everyone is creative in some way, and that everyone can become more creative, it is also quite apparent that some people are more creative than others.

It’s like music. Everyone can learn how to play an instrument, but some people have perfect pitch and that just makes it easier for them to pick up an instrument or learn a song. Perhaps there is also something similar to perfect pitch with innovation. Let’s call it “Innovation Pitch” – this ability to easily look for problems, easily look for solutions to them, and easily imagine a better world.

Two people that certainly have Innovation Pitch are Harald Rodler, Head of Innovation Management at NTT DATA Business Solutions and Thomas Normark, Global Head of AI & Robotics at NTT DATA Business Solutions. Harald and Thomas are true innovators. When I sat down with them to discuss creativity the very first sentence that came out of Thomas’s mouth was “Innovation is what we do. We wake up in the morning and we think about innovation.”

Working with innovation for a giant IT Services and Consulting business like NTT DATA (they have 140,000 (!) employees and of which NTT DATA Business Solutions is a part with more than 12,000 employees) means that Thomas and Harald are innovators with some big muscle behind them. They work on developing new technology around everything from robotics to AI.

I asked them both about what they think separate the people with “Innovation Pitch” from the people who lack it.

They said: “Their mindset.”

And then they added: “People keep talking about Lifelong learning”, and while that is important what we really need to push is “Lifelong Thinking”.”

“Lifelong Thinking”. I like it.

It’s like a quest to always be questioning.

But the innovation mindset is more than just questioning, they say to me: “It’s also about faith. You need to believe that what you are doing will have a good outcome.”

“So you are talking about “Creative Confidence?” I ask.

Thomas replies: “No, not just confidence, but faith!”

And I realise that Thomas is right.

Because anyone who innovates is going somewhere where this person – perhaps no person! – has ever gone before.

Every time we innovate we do not know if what we do will work. We have no proof that it will work. And yet we still believe that it will.

That is more than confidence. That is faith.

Faith in the creative process. Faith in our ideas. Faith in the outcome, even as we fail and fail again.

So can you teach faith?

Thomas and Harald look at each other and nod.

I ask them how.

In summary they said:

1) Communicate trust

If you jump into the boat it’s easier for people to decide to follow you.

In other words: The faith of a leader rubs off on the people.

(The root of the word “faith” is actually “to trust”.)

So communicate trust and people will have more faith.

Thomas: “We have a list of words we try not to use. Like “no”, “stuck”. “don’t do that”.”

2) Encourage exploration.

Harald told a story about how one of their people had heard of a new machine that was basically an “Artificial Intelligence Nose”. He had no idea what they would use it for, no client that was interested in it, and no project to apply it on – and yet they bought it. Trusting that getting it would generate some new ideas that they could use.

And it worked. They developed a technique to use the artificial nose to smell when a crop is ready to be harvested!

They also bought an expensive robot that no-one on their team could program and no one knew what they were going to use it for.

But as Thomas said to me: “The minute we turned it on and saw all the smiles in the room we knew we would be able to get some value out of it.”

That insights and ideas generated by getting that robot has now been resulted in multiple applications – and the robot was even featured in a sitcom…

When people see that exploration works their faith in innovation grows.

3) Push the positive news.

Think of a person planting a bunch of seeds early in spring. For weeks there is no change. Just brown soil. It’s easy to give up and loose faith that any plants will grow. But then one day you see a tiny seedling stick its green head out of the ground! Suddenly their is faith and hope.

Get people to “see the seedling”. Point out the good news around your innovation project. It will strengthen their faith.

My last question to Harald and Thomas was: “How do you get innovation faith back if you have lost it?”

I find it to be an important topic as so many people give up on their ideas because they lose faith in them.

Again Harald and Thomas gave me three insights:

1) Remind yourself that what you do is important.

Purpose strengthens faith.

2) Surround yourself with others that share your faith.

There is not just strength in numbers. There is also faith in numbers.

The more people who share a common dream the bigger the chance that it will come true, especially when some stumble in their innovation faith.

3) Take a long term perspective.

Having Innovation Faith means that a small set-back will not stop you. So by taking a step back and zooming out to the bigger objective the small set-back will look, well: small.

In summary:

Confidence in yourself and your ideas is important to be creative.

But Innovation Faith is more important. That ability to be able trust the creative process and to believe that you will succeed, even without any proof, supporting facts or other indicators that you are on the right track apart from a brilliant hunch in the back of your imagination.

So develop your Innovation Faith and that of the people you work with.

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