Economic Progress

7 questions cutting-edge innovators ask

View of a brain. Caption: Innovation is essential for business growth and longevity.

Innovation is essential for business growth and longevity. Image: Unsplash/Milad Fakurian

Gabi Thesing
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • 'Meet The Leader' is a podcast series from the World Economic Forum featuring the world's top changemakers sharing the habits and traits that shape effective leadership.
  • In this episode, we explore the key questions seven top innovators ask to develop leading ideas that will reshape the future.
  • Subscribe to Meet the Leader on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

How do you know if your team is solving the right problems and building the right solutions – all while truly pushing the envelope?

In this episode of our Meet the Leader podcast series, we asked seven top innovators how they develop the short- and long-term business strategies that will determine their organization’s future.

Working in fields as diverse as engineering, biotech and healthcare, these leaders share practical tips and insights that keep them at the cutting edge of innovation.

Here are some of the key questions they ask themselves and their teams.

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1. Are you solving a real problem?

CEO of Qualcomm, Cristiano Amon, cautions against developing solutions without a clear problem to address. "Is this a technology in search of a solution, or is it actually a true solution? Can it solve a real problem? You can have clarity of what the use case or what the use case potential is? I think that's one." Ground truth derived from market data, conversations with users, and ample research can guide innovators in developing fresh and relevant solutions, he says.

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2. Are you falling into innovation traps?

Shez Partovi, Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer at Royal Philips highlights the risks of basing decisions solely on evidence, expert opinions, or eminence. “When I came to Philips, one of the first questions I asked our Research and Development teams was: ‘When was the last time you were with a customer?’”

The key is listening for the signals that indicate real pain points and establishing direct contact with the end user. He explains: "You want no filter between you and the voice of the end user, whether that's the consumer, whether that's a physician, nurse, patient."

3. What legacy have you set up for your successor?

The importance of long-term thinking, not just focusing on short-term results, is key for Geraldine Matchett, co-CEO and CFO of Royal DSM. "We're very fortunate to run a company where our predecessors did so many things right."

She says it is crucial to lay the groundwork for future success, even during periods of achievement. Planning and investing in the future ensure continued growth and progress. "Whether it's in setting up the culture, the purpose of the mindset and setting a very good pipeline of innovations."

Graph indicating the index of economic profit generated by mastery of innovation essentials.
Innovation is essential for business growth and longevity. Image: McKinsey & Company

4. How are you breaking down silos for better collaboration?

For Inari, CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet, breaking down silos and fostering effective communication and collaboration is key to meeting commercial objectives.

"We use 'All hands' a lot. So we meet pretty often for the whole company and actually update everyone on where we are as the whole company in terms of our milestones." It's vital the research departments and the commercial side, in particular, work together towards 'one goal', she says.

5. How does your innovation serve your vision or purpose?

Rodrigo Santos, President of the Crop Science Division at Bayer Crop Science, highlights the importance of aligning innovative solutions with a shared vision. “And our vision is about how we can produce more and conserve more at the same time. If it's not sustainable, that will not be part of our R&D, our investment, our focus.” This ensures short-term clarity while developing long-term solutions that truly make a difference, he says. By prioritizing solutions that address real problems and contribute to a greater purpose, innovations become more meaningful and impactful.

6. How are you making your teams accountable?

Accountable and responsible teams are the key to driving innovation, according to Lars Stenqvist, Executive Vice President of Group Trucks Technology at Volvo Group. “Give the teams the true responsibility and the true mandate,” he says. Teams should not only focus on delivering immediate results but also take ownership in shaping the roadmap for future innovation. “That team should also have the responsibility, take the accountability to come up with roadmaps for that system or component, for the next five-to-10 years.”

7. Are you creating a joyful, disciplined and collaborative environment?

A.T. Kearney Managing Partner and Chairman Alex Liu highlights the significance of combining a sense of joy with collaboration to drive innovation that is both spontaneous but also disciplined. He believes it’s important not to have “people just joyfully doing R&D” while being removed from the marketplace. Putting teams together that have a more holistic view of customer needs is key, he says, adding that “it may not work out, but there's certainly the sense of co-creation with other people is in itself a source of, of wellbeing and positive hormones” that will fire more innovation and collaboration.

Innovation requires asking the right questions and maintaining a relentless focus on real problems. By understanding ground truths, fostering collaboration, aligning innovations with a clear vision and creating accountable teams, cutting-edge innovators can make a lasting impact. Embracing these strategies will not only drive success in the short term but also pave the way for significant breakthroughs in the future.

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