Wildcarders. (Episode 97)

Wildcarders. (Episode 97)

Interview with Mark Sonne Kharazmi, VP, Executive Office at Novo Nordisk.



Study the history of corporate innovation and you will quickly notice how often those innovations came about because of a “maverick”, an free-spirited or independent-minded person who went their own way and ignored procedure, processes and rules.

“We need to hire more mavericks!”, cries leader and innovators. And yes, that might be true. But what many fail to acknowledge is that a maverick mind is only half of the equation for how unorthodox innovation might happen.

It takes two to tango.

The other half needed is the “Wildcarders”.

A Wildcarder is a person within an organisation who is encouraging, accommodating, protecting or supporting a maverick.

Without a Wildcarder much fewer mavericks.

I learned about Wildcarders from Mark Sonne Kharazmi, VP, Executive Office at Novo Nordisk. Novo Nordisk is the highly innovative pharmaceutical company perhaps most famous for its groundbreaking treatments of diabetes and obesity.

In my conversation with Mark he highlighted how Mavericks often can benefit from having a supporter from the organisation.

The term “Wildcarder” comes from how, for example, tennis tournaments like The Wimbledon, give “wild cards” to players who can enter the tournament without having to take part in the qualifying matched or be ranked at a particular level. The Wildcarder, in this case, is not the “maverick” tennis player, but the person/s within the Wimbledon organisation who decides to hand out said wild cards.

Without the Wildcarders, no mavericks getting wild cards.

The Wildcarders are the unsung wingmen of the mavericks. And they need to be acknowledged, celebrated and recognised for how valuable they are.

Let me repeat: Without the Wildcarders, no mavericks getting wild cards.

Wildcarders do not just support the most eccentric of Mavericks, they can also help promote innovation on a smaller scale.

Mark gave me a great example of how a woman in the global communications organisation, who on her own initiative and outside of her scope of work, dug into the new genAI tools that are popping up. She had found a guy in the IT department and together they had created a “AI powered content creator tool”. The woman (our Maverick), wasn’t even a full-time employee, but had been given a wildcard to try out a few new “digital things” by a department head (the Wildcarder). The new genAI tool was quickly deployed across the communication organization.

“You have to have a few people in your organisation who can see an opportunity and just run with it”, he told me. “This woman is a passionate and curious person who wants to change something and is willing to do it. The job (as a leader) is to support her.”

Another example from Mark’s own department is how a couple of people in the IT department during COVID started playing around with a VR platform for an internal event. A member from Mark’s team, the Head of Commercial Capability Programmes got inspired of this and with a bit of support, guidance and experimentation converted the platform into a full scale virtual campus for learning & development where Novo Nordisk is now offering virtual study rooms for onboarding and upskilling of their thousands of employees worldwide in the Commercial area.

The guys in the IT department and the Head of Commercial Capability Programmes were the Mavericks. Mark the Wildcarder.

An important part of the Wildcarder’s role is to look out for, and to hire Mavericks. People who are curious, who likes to try new things and go new ways.

But an even more important part of their role is to make the mavericks thrive in the organisation.

Mark: “As leaders – as an organisation – we need to ask ourselves: ‘When something different emerges e.g. a new technology, then what do we do with it. How do we embrace it? And how do we scale it?”

It’s not the organisation with the most mavericks that wins. It’s the organisations with both mavericks and Wildcarders that wins.

How many Wildcarders do you have?

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