Take the call (to adventure).
Most companies, unfortunately, leave the “future proofing” activities (searching for opportunities, changing the course of their strategy) for the very end, just before certain death. Why go spending resources if all seems well? Why broaden the scope beyond tomorrow, when it would seem that everyone likes what we do today? Our current business model and strategy works perfectly well! So, says…GE, Blockbuster, etc. etc.
But our tale is not about companies who have taken the wrong path and died (or are dying). This story is about WACKER, a multinational chemical manufacturer with a little over 14,000 employees and annual sales of around 4.99 billion Euros (as of end 2018), that operates in a highly competitive market with low margins. It’s within this context that WACKER, our hero in this story, felt it was time to act before there was a dire sense of urgency.
In early-2017 WACKER’s senior leadership and the board began to ask, “What might our future look like? What are future business models haven’t thought off? And, how might we enable our employees to find interesting, new business models while also teaching them how to continually innovate?”
In order to answer that question, the board and executives clearly understood that whatever they were planning to do, they would likely only find the answers outside the building, where the world turned free from WACKER’S priorities, attitudes, internal politics, current KPI’s, and nay-sayers. And, if WACKER was going to look outside for answers, they would need to free up people who — for a set period of time — would work solely on new business models, learn new (design) tools, and acquire new skills, in an inspiring, challenging and engaging environment, with a plethora of different approaches…far, far away from the corporate structure. They realized that this is something that could not be accomplished as a side project next to “business as usual”, or as an extracurricular activity. So, where better to do this than the land of (start-up) opportunity, Silicon Valley?!
With this question answered in their minds, WACKER’s leadership decided to explore what it would take to send a group of employees to Silicon Valley for an extended period of time (up to four weeks) to work on those business models, cut off from their daily responsibilities (including their phones and email).Besides the potential business models that they would bring home, WACKER leaders envisioned one more goal for this venture to be successful. The people they would send to Silicon Valley would eventually become innovation change agents within WACKER. By infecting their colleagues with their newfound skills, the new tools, and a different mindset, the change that WACKER is looking for would take place slowly but surely. While revolution is a great way to change, sometimes evolution is just as effective and suitable for a big corporate organization like WACKER.
Meeting the mentor.
Before committing to this, WACKER’s leadership decided to first do some precursory scouting themselves. During some short trips to Silicon Valley, they began to better understand what Silicon Valley (and the Silicon Valley mindset therein) is all about and would it might mean to “get out of the building”. During these journeys, the board began to understand what’s happening in the world outside WACKER…and outside the chemical manufacturing industry as a whole. It was during these trips that Business Models Inc (BMI), was introduced to the board, and was invited to organize an innovation deep dive, via a chalk talk.
After the second visit of exploration and soul searching, they’d gathered enough insights, had enough conversations to have a clear point of view on what it would entail sending a group of employees to Silicon Valley to explore, create, and learn. With our San Francisco office as the anchor, BMI was chosen as the local strategic Sherpa, to help guide, teach, and mentor the WACKER employees, in what was to become WACKER’s first-ever Silicon Valley Challenge (SVC).