Cultivating Innovation in a Land of Abundance

In my last post, I asked which of the 17 digitalswitzerland challenge bets currently running would you put your money on to win? At this stage of the race there’s no odds-on favorite to win. But as the field rounds the half-way post and begins sprinting to the April 2018 finish line, some bets are struggling to break out of ideation and begin building while others already have MVPs (minimal viable products).

Because the stakes are so high for the future of Switzerland to become the leading global hub in digitalization, it’s tempting to imagine if each bet were given some tens of millions Swiss Francs and suite of offices in Prime Tower, the odds of each bet succeeding would be greatly improved. If only…

If only … and other old school “wait and see” thinking lies at the heart of why digitalswitzerland initiated the challenge with the intention of spurring digital innovation. According to Tobias Pforr, Founder & Managing Partner of Redrock, and methodology coach to challenge roundtables, “the key element of innovation is value creation, which has to be nailed through constant trial and error in collaboration with customers and partners and then scaled.” Exactly what the “orderly chaos” and execution framework of the digitalswitzerland challenge is designed to cultivate and deliver.

What organization doesn’t want to be innovative and collaborative? On any day of the workweek, CoLab’s Coffee Auer co-working spaces, managed by Impact Hub Zurich, are filled with employees from Engagement Migros, Swisscom, Credit Suisse, SIX and AXA Winterthur. Corporates like these all have adequate office space for their employees. Desk space isn’t the issue. No, their hope is by mixing their workers with the 5000 startups and SMEs in the Impact Hub network, some of that entrepreneurial mojo might rub off and cross-pollinate their own businesses’ innovation efforts.

The present Swiss ecosystem of corporate and personal self-interest are formidable enemies to successful collaboration. Stefan Schöbi, Chairman of the challenge steering committee, is betting his reputation the challenge, and the results delivered by the different bets, will be a catalyst for change in the way Switzerland competes on an international scale.

Squeezing me into his overbooked schedule late one Friday afternoon, he said, “The main thought behind this is that competition has become a global phenomenon. Once your horizon gets bigger, you can see where the real dangers or the real threats are coming from.”

In spite of our meeting encroaching on the weekend, his eyes light up as he tells me about digitalswitzerland’s strategy underpinning the challenge, “So we needed an execution framework to accelerate collaboration between enterprises, maybe even between competitors, between enterprises of different sectors, and also between the public and private sectors.”

Stefan believes if Switzerland is to innovate its way to become the leading global hub in digitalization, the better bet might be for Swiss enterprises to collaborate with national competitors – than risk losing time or advantage in the relentless war of global competition.

What are Switzerland’s chances? Stefan shoots me a sly smile, suppresses a chuckle and says, “As a country of four languages, we are always forced to collaborate, and we are very used to the concept of going beyond our own culture.”

Spoken like a man who knows a winning bet when he sees one.

Below are links to the challenge roundtables and current bets competing for time, money and the future success of Switzerland.

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