If you’ve ever played sport against a competitor who was significantly better than you, or on a team of players who were clearly a grade above you, you will understand the power of surrounding yourself with people who are more experienced and skilled than you are. Surrounding yourself with more advanced people is a sure-fire way to improve your skills in any domain.

It’s the same story when it comes to getting better at innovation. When people involved in innovation come together and share their knowledge and experiences, learning and growth happens. I work with Intrapreneurs – a term that refers to those entrepreneurial people who are seeking to drive innovation within established, large organisations. They often have titles such as Innovation Manager / Director / Partner. Their roles are nothing short of complex.  An average week will see them getting out of the building to observe their customers, facilitating an idea generation session and constantly encouraging their people to “test and learn, test and learn!”. Each journey will be different, but there are certainly some common challenges – fighting for budget, getting leaders to truly commit to doing innovation and challenging people to truly understand their customers. For those of you who may be starting out, whether in an innovation role or simply trying to be more innovative in your own role, there’s plenty to learn from those who have been at it for a few years!

I recently caught up with one of my favourite Innovation Managers, Dwayne Bargfrede, to hear about his experiences managing the global innovation program at BlueScope. Dwayne’s been in the role for about 2 years and had lots of great learnings to share with the Inventium community! Check out our conversation:

What is your role at BlueScope and why was it created? 

This role was created at the beginning of 2017. At the time, we were doing innovation in all our business units, but we were all doing it slightly differently. So, my role was created to create the common language, and a common approach to innovation, as well as formulate what the innovation journey would look like.

What do you think is the most common misconception about innovation in a corporate environment?

I would say the most common misconception is that when people think innovation, they automatically think it is only those larger, disruptive, game-changer type projects. That it doesn’t apply to continuous improvement. That it’s not Kaizen, it’s not Lean, that it’s somehow separate. When in reality, it’s a little bit of all of that. Innovation is kind of the umbrella that goes over all those specific tools. The challenge is to look at the specific situation and determine the correct process or tools to use.

What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in your role?

It’s very easy for people to say innovation is important. No one’s going to say it’s not (to your face at least). But do they really believe it, to actually do some of the stuff? That’s been a big challenge.

I’ve really had to step back and think – “how do I get people to believe in the process?” – because understanding it is just not enough. And that’s why I’m now starting to work on building specific internal case studies to show people the results.

What’s been the single most effective initiative, small or big, that you’ve put in place to create a culture of innovation?

Having a group of trained Innovation Champions has been one of the critical elements. I had to have enough people in each business unit that understood the innovation process so that even if I wasn’t physically there, they had a base level understanding of what was required at each stage of the innovation process.

And what’s been your biggest, what we call ‘flearning’ – a failure or a learning?

You can’t forget about middle management. What I found was that I was training up our Innovation Champions and when they got back into the business, they were trying to follow the innovation process, but they were running into the roadblock of their middle managers. I realised that I’d spent no time at all communicating with, or training those middle managers. I had left them out of the equation and that was a gap that I missed.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received?

To treat your innovation journey as if it’s an innovation project, complete with a change management plan. Immerse, make sure you understand where you are and where you’re going. Have a stakeholder engagement plan and create a roadmap for your innovation journey. That is something that I wish I had done and maybe that would have stopped me from missing the engagement of our middle manager level.

Can you share one example of the impact that BlueScope’s innovation process has had on external customers?

One example was the release of our COLORBOND® steel Matte product which arose out of speaking to our customers. The original COLORBOND® product was always a shiny, bright product. And over the years it would fade, which was frustrating for our customers.

We wanted to see how we could improve that for our customers. Our typical solutions would have been all technology based – ideas about how we could make the product last longer and maintain that ‘new’ appearance. But instead, we started talking to our customers and eventually we got to asking them – “Well, is fading bad?”, and they said to us “Well, it’s not bad on natural products, but it’s bad on your product”.

So, if they purchased a shiny blue colour, they wanted it to stay that shiny, new blue. But if it was wood, or some other natural material and it faded naturally over time, that actually looked good!

We were fighting so hard to make the shiny new product stay shiny new for as long as we could – but that wasn’t our customer’s real requirement. They said, “We’re okay with a matte finish, or a duller version – as long as it stays put.” Creating a matte product was much easier for us to technically do, it made the product last longer and everyone was happy! So that really highlighted to us the importance of really understanding our customers.

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Thank you, Dwayne, for sharing your experiences!

If you enjoy talking to people who are passionate about driving innovation in their organisations, like we do, you may want to check out Inventium’s Intrapreneur Club. We created this club to bring together passionate innovators to learn and grow from each other.  If you are interested in joining the club, check out the full details here, or feel free to email me at charlotte@inventium.com.au.

Have a great rest of your week!

Charlotte