With ideas 'out-of-the-box' to new digital solutions
Lukas Göbel – Innovation Product Manager in the Customer Innovation Tribe (TCI) – on the successful involvement of students in the innovation process.
Students who provide fresh, external impulses meet in-house experts and together successfully develop outcome-driven business models – that's the Student Ideation Booster (SIB). Lukas Göbel, Innovation Product Manager at thyssenkrupp Materials Services, accompanied the first round and reveals what makes the approach so promising.
1. Our innovation process benefits from ideas outside our bubble.
To transform our business, we develop new business models along the digital supply chain. To identify such innovations and new forms of value creation and bring them to market, we have implemented a structured process. Sherlock – a bottom-up innovation process – helps us identify new ideas, evaluate them and develop them to the point of a viable business model. But where do the ideas come from at the beginning of this process? Often from the Operating Units of thyssenkrupp Materials Services or directly from the Tribe for Customer Innovation. With the Student Ideation Booster, we also get ideas from outside. The students are completely unbiased and open up a new perspective on the market and possible solutions.
2. Specifications set the focus without restricting the development of ideas.
In the Student Ideation Booster, we specify a rough thematic focus – in the first run, this was the topic of supply chain risk management, which is strategically trend setting in order to make value chains more resilient and sustainable. The topic must be broad enough to allow for different ideas and narrow enough to meet customer needs in a focused way.
This is a very attractive format for students. They have the opportunity to deal with relevant future topics, can gain operational experience and prove themselves in a real-life environment. They actively participate in a business transformation in the industry and develop new Digital Supply Chain Services for our customers. In the process, they are on equal footing with internal team members. Their role: They should critically question the status quo and, on this basis, develop real innovations from new ideas.
3. Mixed teams as a success factor in ideation.
For the ideation, we formed several teams of students and colleagues from the various operating units. There was a structured process and methodological support, but the format is fundamentally open. This was also a new experience for the in-house team members and was a lot of fun for everyone.
Since the students know little about our business, we first had to establish context. What do we at tk MX mean by supply chain risk management? What drives our customers in this area? Why is it of such elemental importance to the future of the industry? The mixed teams then develop ideas and approaches for digital services, products and business models.
4. Team spirit is crucial.
To successfully develop innovations together, you need the right team spirit. After all, ideation is not about lone warriors pushing through their ideas – quite the opposite. Teams tend to fall in love with their own ideas. However, there is no room for personal preferences in innovation – we call this "Kill your Darlings". Everything is geared to the current and future needs of the customer. To do this, the team needs a protected space that promotes open-ended innovation. With this in mind, we invested a lot of time and resources in team building.
We conducted the format completely virtually. This enabled us to recruit students from all over Germany for the Student Ideation Booster and to flexibly integrate experts from various locations. In the future, we would like to further increase the spirit and trust in the team with presence components; for example, through a large pitch event at the end.
5. Only the customer decides what really works.
To assess the value of ideas for our customers in the early stages, the teams conducted customer interviews to check: Is this really relevant? Does our idea solve a real problem? Are customers willing to pay money for such a solution? Customers' willingness to pay is a good indicator of whether an idea is worth something and has this necessary relevance. Another exciting experience for the students: they get to know our customers and their needs.
6. We create an environment free of competition and hierarchy.
Very important for the process in the Student Ideation Booster: The teams are not in direct competition with each other. The teams worked on the same set of topics, but focused on different search areas. In this way, we were able to further increase the diversity of perspectives. At the end of the idea development process in the teams, there is a pitch: Here we check which ideas we can actually develop further and which are viable. There are no "losers”. In innovation processes, it is also important to let go of ideas in good time. The teams have understood this.
7. Support at all levels.
In our first run of the Student Ideation Booster, we had four teams with students and one or two experts from our operating businesses on each team. After the pitch, a committee including the Materials Services board decided which ideas would be developed further. This signals recognition and above all shows how important the role of innovation has become in the transformation of thyssenkrupp Materials Services. For the students, the presentation was a real highlight.
8. Student Ideation moves into the regular innovation process.
The results of our Student Ideation Booster are impressive: two of the four project teams continue to develop their ideas and have received six-figure funding via our investor pitch. It's remarkable that Student Ideation has made it out of the sheltered realm and into regular innovation development! With such a success rate, we are of course planning a new edition – this time with a thematic focus on sustainability. In this field, too, there is a compelling need for innovation, new digital solutions that support our customers in decarbonizing their supply chains. After the first round, one thing is clear: the Student Ideation Booster can also provide fresh impetus in this area. The process requires a lot of courage and openness on the part of everyone involved, but it's worth it!