Meet Bettina von Stamm

The world of those passionate about innovation I still somewhat small, and you always meet people who know people you know, and often you then connect virtually. ISPIM is one of those events that ensures that such people actually meet face to face! 

Rui Patrício and Bettina von Stamn met in Dublin at last year’s ISPIM conference.

Thank you Bettina for the interview!

Dear Bettina, could you tell us where are you from? Do you sometimes employ your origin to work in your favour and how?

That is an interesting question... Born and bread in Germany I moved to the UK in 1990, and have spent almost as long living in the UK as I have in Germany.  As usual, if something is normal for us, as in experienced on a daily basis, it can be quite difficult to figure out what makes us different from others…  So reverting to more general German stereotypes I like to think that I punctuality and reliability are something people associate with me (in a positive way!).  And I like to think that, contrary to conventional wisdom, I do have a sense of humour which can be very helpful in the context of innovation - laughter opens the brain and reduces anxiety; and we all know that both a closed mind and fear are core enemies of innovation.

Please tell us shortly about your professional career.

I started off with a degree in architecture & town planning - which was a compromise between computer science and fashion design.  First lesson: if something is truly important in your life don’t go for a compromise!  There is a second lesson from my first degree: if things are important, don’t make a choice out of convenience.  I choose a university close to home and paid the price of utter mediocracy and complete lack of inspiration.  The opportunity for a change in direction happened about 3 years after finishing my first degree in the form of an article on MBAs - something completely unheard of in Germany at the time.  With its broad topic range it promised an opportunity for an abundance of learning about new things, and hence new possibilities and opportunities afterwards.

I was extremely lucky to have been at London Business School when it had its Centre for Design Management - well ahead of the time (unfortunately London Business School did not realise it and decided to close it down in the mid 90s).  This introduced and inspired me about Corporate Identity - not as in ‘pretty pictures’ but understood as a holistic approach to understanding an organisation’s strategy and culture, and finding ways to communicate these internally and externally.   When finishing my MBA in 1992 there was another economic crisis going on that particularly affected the creative industries which meant that the one and only company I would have wanted to work for was laying people off - so I started to work for myself instead, and have, basically, done that ever since.  Loving project based work, and having found my topic around design, design management and new product development - something that is pretty much included in the term ‘innovation’ today, I decided to deepen my level of expertise by doing a PhD, and went back to London Business School.  The glorious title of my dissertation is “The effects of context and complexity in new product development”.  The three core insights from that work still form the backbone of my thinking around innovation:

  1. The importance of understanding the specific context
  2. The importance of taking a holistic, or systemic, approach
  3. The need to understand how we as human being feel, think and act, and why, what the consequences are, and how do work with rather than against it.

What captures you about innovation management, more specifically Innovation Culture? 

What holds my fascination is innovation as mindset.  The reason for that is that the way I understand innovation means that everyone, just the way they are, has a role to play and contribution to make, be they detail focused or prefer the big picture, whether they like small changes or revolutionising the world; in order to have a future we need all of it.  Admittedly we probably need some more radical thinking right now, yet without those ho have huge attention to detail and worry about costs and efficiencies we would not be able to get it to work. Thinking about innovation as a mindset, and relying critically on diversity means that the focus shifts from trying to make everyone more innovative to finding ways to enable people with different mindsets to work together better, and with a results where 1 + 1 + 1 equals 111 rather than 3.

What has been in this area the latest breakthrough in your opinion?

Being at an innovation conference last year (Chief Innovation officer Summit, London, April 2014); I started my write up of the event with the following: “The conference got off to a great start with Selvan C, Director, Global Innovation at BP pointing out that you can have all the process in the world and innovation will not happen.  What you need are the right kind of behaviours, and culture. Hallelujah! Finally an innovation conference opening that gets to the heart of the matter straight away.” 

In what projects are you working currently? What is your expectation on them?

Whilethis is something still in the very early stages, I can feel the passion for it bubbling up every time I talk about it.  There are two strands to it:  the first is that I meet so many amazing people from diverse yet somehow connected fields in my travels that for years now I have been thinking about mapping them to find an opportunity to bring some of them together to achieve the 1 + 1 + 1 = 111 - or even 1111.  The second is that I feel that our current education system is just not delivering what we need in the 21st century, let along to help us create a sustainable future.  Where are the new, visionary and inspiring leaders we desperately need supposed to come from? 

When talking to one of the amazing people, a neuroscientist who turned to biomimicry and design thinking, about developing programmes for large corporation executives it finally clicked: bringing a team from my wonderful network together for a senior executive programme that brings together everything I believe we need to be able to create a (better) future: 

  • Longitudinal learning, hence the programme would run over a period of 9-12 months, 
  • Draw on collaboration across boundaries (a topic that I have pursued with great interest for about a decade) hence bring teams from 5-7 teams different organisations together
  • Make it relevant and meaningful, hence work on a real life project (identified and developed at the outset of the programme)
  • Help participants understand the urgency for change by taking them to the most beautiful and most desolate places on earth
  • Enable them by letting them experience new tools and approaches such as design thinking and biomimicry

As I said, I am in the early stages with that; I feel that those to whom I have talked about this were getting similarly excited about this idea.

We are arriving to our collaboration, how would you describe CONTINUE TO GROW Alliances Network and your treasure/expertise in it?

One things I treasure about Rui (my main conduit into Continue to Grow) is the open and collaborative approach, the willingness to share and explore mutually beneficial opportunities.  Rui is one of the people from my amazing network whom I would like to get involved somehow - though he does not know it yet ;-)

If you would meet the Miss. “Not enough resources are given to innovation projects and initiatives” then what would be your message to her?  

My advice would be: create an inspiring vision and you will be amazed what people will do to get there.  I feel you may have identified a symptom, not the underlying causes.  Two thoughts, first, I do not think it is a lack of resources, it is a fear of allocating resources to something where the return is uncertain or will materialise only in the longer term.  Second, if something is lacking it is inspiring visions, something people can become passionate about, something where they want to contribute, something that gives meaning and enables us as individual to contribute and make a difference.

Coming to more relaxed questions. What fascinates you besides work?

I find that my journey into understanding an enabling innovation is providing a very broad range of topics to delve into, and somehow I find connections between almost anything that crosses my oath and my thinking around innovation!  From complexity theory and quantum physics, to neuroscience and psychology; most recently ancient egyptology and the film ‘Lucy’.  And all of it has implications and resonates in my private life :-).  Having two teenage boys, a quite large house and garden combined with a fair bit of travel (which I just love!) also mean occasionally I just like to do not much at all... 

For concluding this pleasant dialog, would you be kind enough to share with us a personal quote.  

The Irokese Indians have a saying: it takes all of us to save us.  I absolutely believe that to be true, and I believe the time is now.  We need to get serious about creating a future that is worthwhile, and fair to all of those living on our planet, animals and all. I passionately believe that everyone one of us would like to have an impact and that we wish to make a contribution.  What we need is an inspiring vision and a belief, individually as well as collectively, that we can make a difference. 

I believe that in order to have a future we need a new kind of leadership, AARCTTICC Leadership: 

    • Aware 
    • Appreciative
    • Respectful
    • Collaborative
    • Trusting
    • Tolerant
    • Inspiring
    • Curious
    • Courageous

Just let me ask one more question. From your point of view, what is that crazy, unexpected, flying cars like innovation that you wish to see come true?

A device that enables us to make the best possible decisions for the triple bottom line, ie the decision that is most positive (not least negative…) for planet, people and profit. 

Beetina von Stamn is passionate about understanding and enabling innovation. Having pursued this passion independently since 1992, I set up the Innovation Leadership Forum in 2004.  Loving public speaking, giving workshops and seminars, I very much enjoy my role as a stimulator, provocateur, inspirator and catalyst to enable different ways of thinking around, understanding, and enabling innovation.   By contributing to corporate education and teaching on a number of exciting post graduate programmes around the world I aim to infect as many people as possible with the innovation bug as for me it is about an outlook on life, a frame of mind.

If you wish to know more about Bettina von Stamn, please visit heLinkedIn profile.


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