"Once we can identify the pain point for certain customers and we identify the large unmet needs in the market, then we believe there is high potential or high possibilities of business success." - Shige Ihara
"Follow your gut feelings and your intuition. Have a piece of passion and curiosity. With that I think you can drive tremendous results and very satisfying results both for yourself as well as for the companies, the clients, the customers, and the colleagues that you work with." - Jesper Frederiksen
Today, I'm so pleased to welcome Jesper Fredrickson. I first met Jesper when he was president of research and development for Danaher, which is one of those huge companies that not many people have heard of. Danaher is a diversified conglomerate headquartered in Washington, DC. Since then Jesper has served as Chief Innovation Officer at Banfield Pet Hospital, at Mars company and then at Mars Veterinary health care itself. Most recently, he's become a VP and digital executive for Velux, a Danish manufacturing company that makes windows and skylights. Jesper attended INSEAD at the Syed School of Business at the University of Oxford. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
It's such a pleasure. Jesper you've led so many large manufacturing organizations through this turbulent period of digital transformation. How did you come to be involved in this work? What drew you to it in the first place?
Well, I think as a digitalist or technologist if you will, fueled with a lot of passion and curiosity, it wasn't that hard to get into this piece. I started out very traditionally in the IT and Technology space. One of the companies I was with, one of the Danaher companies is called Gilbarco Veeder-Root. We started to get into the realms of IOT. This was about seven years back and that really triggered my interest to get deeper into the R&D piece and to be part of how you develop products. How you utilize data and digital to understand how your customers or users of your products actually work with your product. For a couple of reasons, one is to understand whether and how and where you can improve your products.
The second piece is to also understand what opportunities there are to enhance your product. You could also say there are opportunities that certainly arise to the point of other additional opportunities to monetize or to provide more services to your customers using the information that you get out of your product. I would say this balance between being super passionate and being curious have sort of led me to all kinds of different industries and different businesses that I've worked with over the years.
I guess that's probably my magic formula in this. I mean people might say, “Well is that really it?” Yes, it's a simple, and very human piece here called curiosity and the willingness or the desire to learn and to educate yourself. That brought me to a ton of different companies, different people and constantly sort of sparks my interest in just getting to know more.
What steps do you go through when you come into a Mars or a Velux? How do you break down the steps involved in structuring corporate Innovation in these huge companies?
It's a great question, but I think I'm not sure if there is one single formula to it. But the first part of my sort of discovery is listening. What's the appetite? What's the boldness? What's the willingness to dive into uncharted territories? What is the digital maturity of the company? Because that sort of assessment, if you will, helps me navigate and also assess how quickly we should move and where to move. Exactly what technology stack or what level of ambition to build up. For me that initial testing is a gut feeling as well. It's not a scientific formula that I have, it's trying to understand where the mindsets are. Where are the ambition levels? What industry, what market are we in? What are the opportunities and what are our capabilities. I'm trying to gather a lot of different information in a relatively short time. To sort of distill and to test my hypothesis and to get going.
It sounds like it's really an internal process of customer discovery.
Yeah, you could say that. Obviously I utilize wherever possible, external perspectives or inputs and what have you. But it is mostly an internal process and it's something that goes relatively quick. I would say it's not a year-long study of where and how and who and all these kinds of things. I feel that you can almost take this temperature pretty quick and diagnose how quickly you should move and where you should move. That's kind of how I see it.
Were there big differences between Danaher and Mars and now Velux in terms of their digital maturity and their appetite for Innovation?
Well, it's three very different companies. Velux is obviously based in Denmark over in Europe. We can talk about the differences between US based companies and European based companies in a second. But really, if I take a step back and look at the major differences in Danaher, as a publicly traded company, compared to the two other ones of Mars and Velux that are family-owned. There is a different sort of level of transparency needed into your investments and into your roadmaps and strategies and these kinds of things.
I tend to say that in a company like Danaher and maybe other publicly traded companies. There is a higher focus on quick return or quick output or tangible results. That can then be utilized in one way or the other. Compared to both Mars and Velux that are both family-owned businesses where the perspectives typically are longer cited. The ambition level may be the same or may be even more passionate or even more short term driven, but family-owned businesses are typically in for the long run. What I've discovered is that you typically have a little bit longer leeway in terms of how and where you want to go but having said that, that does not really change my strategy as to how quickly you should move or where you should focus and what you should expect from an outcome perspective.
It is not just different types of companies, it's also different industries. Danaher being basically an industrial conglomerate and Mars being a mix of different kinds of industries. Obviously, there's the chocolate we all know but there is also a fairly large part of Mars that is focused on pet nutrition and pet care. There's the veterinary hospitals and there are technology companies within that space and there are also other branches of Mars. It's really spread across different Industries and sectors and then looking at Velux, that I'm helping right now. That is a single pillar kind of industry in the construction industry producing windows. With sort of a single product more or less. Of course there are accessories and things that go on to your windows or part of your windows, but it's three very different settings to work in. That has an impact as to how you diagnose and how I put a strategy or game plan together. The level of ambition, the passion needed and the investment needed is kind of the same no matter where you are.
Your comments about the difference between European privately held companies and American publicly traded companies really resonates with me. As ambitious as they would like to be, an American publicly traded company really is somewhat chained to those quarterly analyst calls and to having to demonstrate results within 90 days. Which puts quite a lot of constraints on what their R&D can achieve. Whereas family-owned companies, which you find a lot of them in Europe, can afford to think in terms of 20, 50, 100 year bets.
That is true. However, I mean there are goods and bads - pros and cons to both. Because I personally like the short-term focus on tangible outcomes - like you mentioned publicly traded companies usually have. Because what happens is that family-owned businesses might experience a little slowness. Because you have a longer leeway, you aim for the long run. You may not be as pressured to deliver something, but it does not take away that you still have competitors. You still have a market, you still have customers that are expecting the same level of innovation and the same experience no matter whether you're publicly traded or a family-owned business.
We all as consumers do have expectations for the products and the services that we buy. We have all been schooled in the recent years from Amazon's and others as to what you can expect when dealing with a services based company or a product based company. Our expectations again as consumers of services or products are sky-high and are not really differentiating between their regions of that service, from a company construction perspective.
Yeah a little tangentially, I think this is what really appeals to me about the accelerator format is that you have the ambition of a moon shot. But you are placing this arbitrary time limit around it and saying let's get as much as we possibly can done by this date that we have chosen out of the air. But that deadline pressure really does concentrate the mind wonderfully.
That is true.
Jesper when you look back on all of this work you've done in innovation, what are you proudest of?
There's not one single thing, but there is a repeating point of proudness that comes to my mind. When I see the ignition or the realization in people's eyes as to, “Is this possible with technology?” The moment when I can see the coin flip or this bit of understanding that suddenly is there when people connect the dots. When I have sort of facilitated a situation for a moment or provided a piece of knowledge that is helping people take that next step. That to me is super satisfying and something that makes me proud. Because that is where I have enabled a person, a project, or a team to maybe even run on their own with a piece of innovation.
I know exactly what you mean. I don't think I've ever heard anyone articulate it quite that well before. But that moment when we as corporate innovators have created a space for people to really grasp the possibility is the most rewarding part of this work for me as well. I think it probably is for all of us.
It is. I can't help thinking - I used to be a teacher way back when - it's sort of the same moment and it's the same experience. When you stand in front of a class and you see they start realizing and understand a formula or a bit of knowledge or information. Again connecting the dots you see that in people's eyes and that’s just wonderful. No matter if it's kids, if it's grown ups, a big corporate setting or whatever it is. That just makes me fly.
Yeah, exactly! I had started out to be an English professor and my children laugh at me and say, “When do you ever use your degree” The truth is, every single day. Everything I do is about storytelling and about connecting the dots. Tell that to kids today and they don't believe you. If you had one do-over, if you got a mulligan and you got to replay a scenario from your career, what would you do?
People have asked me that question before and it's hard for me to point at something specific. Because I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. So all the so-called failures that I've made, I've used those to learn something. That's brought me to the next level. I really wouldn't be without those learnings or failures that I could have done differently. What bothers me sometimes is if I do something that I know I have done correctly before or basically repeating an error - that to me is not so super nice. I have unfortunately done that a few times. But again, there is some learning with that right? There is something that comes out of that. If you put me under pressure on this one, I would probably say that when I have not allowed people to process information or get into a safe space. Or I haven't allowed them to take the time they need or the time a project needed or the group of people needed to get there by themselves, that can bother me.
That has happened a few times in which I've said “I did this or I've seen this before, why am I repeating this.” Then on the contrary saying well, “Maybe there's something for me to learn here. There is a reason for this happening again. Honestly I've discussed that with the teams and the people that I've been with as “Hey guys I've been into this before and it's kind of unfortunate. We are here but there's something for us to learn here.” As long as you take your - call it discoveries, I wouldn't call it failures, but discoveries from that point. There's always a piece of learning in what you're doing and there is always a reason behind things happening or you reacting, or you responding in a way you do.
That is profound because as people drawn to Innovation, we are sky high in curiosity and openness to new things. But we're also in a position of arbitrage where we're bringing information to people who aren't quite as sky-high on curiosity and Innovation. Having that patience, creating that safe space as you say is key to success and yet it goes against our temperament. It's a really challenging balance to try and achieve.
It is and there are a couple of college sayings that I typically throw around me when I'm in these Innovation settings. One is, “Let's not let perfect get in the way of better.” It sounds so simple but yet we often tend to over engineer solutions or look for the perfect rather than the next increment that can be somewhat of a showstopper in many cases.
I guess you've been in those situations as well where you build up expectations you want to deliver - the right solution for all these kinds of things. I often have to pull back and say “Hey guys, let's focus on what we can deliver in two weeks or next week instead of long road maps or milestones.” Because if you look at this year. This year has shown us that we can't really expect or predict anything anyways, right? Let's not plan too far out because things change rapidly and it's not going to stop. I think we have all learned something about our ability to change. Our ability to make decisions. Our ability to stay bold in what we do.
That, “Perfect less, better.” thing is something that I use quite often. The same goes with people saying, “Fail fast to learn.” But to me it's not really a question of failing fast. To me it's a question of learning quickly, right? There is a sort of a negative tone of feeling whereas there's a more positive tone or optimistic tone about learning. We talked about mindsets before. That's part of this mindset change that I go into organizations with. Which is “Let's stay optimistic, let's focus on the short-term wins.” Because that in the end will bring us to some really leapfrogging kinds of Innovations down the line. Let's not aim for that specifically now, but let's aim for what we know, what we can move in a relatively quick manner.
I like Samuel Beckett's formulation “Fail again. Fail better.” It’s back to your point about not making the same mistakes over and over but at least learning from them if you do and taking that data away.
We preempted my next question a little bit. But what do you think makes corporate Innovation so difficult?
Probably a multitude of things. I mean the word itself that puts some pictures in your mind - at least in my mind. About some heavy processes, some bureaucracy that may prevent Innovation or fast movements from happening. I guess that's also part of the reason why some corporations are sort of isolating or separating their Innovation to specific hubs or specific accelerators to have them stay away from the normal corporate structures. Because that is something that is not necessarily fostering the Innovation that you need.
I support that because you do need the space, you do need the freedom to remain open, to remain untied towards HR processes or financial processes. Of course, you need some guardrails around what you're doing, but there is a benefit in sort of separating that out from the normal corporate structures.
This idea of ring fencing Innovation, putting the innovators in quarantine makes a lot of sense in order to create that safe space. Then there's the challenge of reintegrating that work with the mainstream business.
That is true. That's where part of the magic is, right? Because what I have seen - we talked about feelings before - but what I have seen is that innovation drifts away from the context where they were supposed to be applied. That is a problem. So, to establish that connection between your separated Innovation team and the rest of the corporation or the business unit that you are innovating for or working with, that is super important.
Part of what I've done and sort of the settings that I've been in is to have those anchor points between your innovation teams and your corporate settings. In the terms of again test and learn so that you may have your innovation happening in - I wouldn't say a silo because that also has a negative connotation about it - but in somewhat of a separate environment. Then go back and test and learn and then take those learnings and go away again and innovate and then come back.
That dialectic play between the corporation and your innovation hub is super important. It also speaks to and requires capabilities and understanding on both sides. Both from the Innovation hub, that “Hey, we're not just innovating because it's fun to - that's also part of it, but we actually innovate with a purpose.” For a purpose and a context that needs to be considered when we do our innovation.
There also needs to be a realization and an understanding from a corporation that we allow an Innovation team to work on the different conditions and processes that the rest of the corporation may work on. I think that mutual acknowledgement is important. Then I would actually like to take it one step further because then what I have seen positively as well, is that the reintegration of the innovation hubs into corporate settings may trigger, or may spark a discussion in the corporation. Which can be about “Are we actually organized in a way within our corporation that is fostering and supporting an Innovation culture?” Or do we have way too many processes and boundaries that are actually hindering the - I would say natural Innovation that is in all employees and all associates that you have in your cooperation.
Because I mean it's not only the critical few or a few people who are good at innovation. All the associates in your corporation have ideas and perspectives. What I've seen in some cases is that you just need to create the environment or the space for that Innovation culture to sort of bloom and to get to the surface. I think we have an unfortunate tendency or history of holding some of that down. Holding some of our associates and employees. Having them focus on their yearly objectives or whatever it may be. I'm not giving them enough space to actually do something else. That privilege has been associated mostly and so far to technology companies.
We've all heard about Fridays or the afternoons or whatever it is where companies give their associates some time to Innovate or do fun stuff. That typically happens only in technology companies or in companies with an already mature Innovation culture. Not necessarily in more mature corporate settings.
It's the abundance versus scarcity mindset. Google can assume that it has an abundance of revenue and therefore time. It can afford to invest in those speculative ideas. The downside of a scarcity mindset is that it can be self reinforcing. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How would you distill all of this experience into say, two or three lessons for our listeners?
I've been thinking about how to respond to that. You cannot touch upon it before the scarcity and abundance. There are some keywords, some values, that I think are valid as one moves forward in life. With Innovation and acceleration in these kinds of things that goes along the lines of, “What’s driving you?” Are you driven by fear of your competitors being faster than you? Fear of competition? Fear of something else? Or are you driven by the desire to bring something new to the world? There is a piece here that I think is important for all of us to remember. We are typically driven by two things. Either fear or love.
Love meaning the desire to improve or enrich or enhance what is already available. What is out there for the world or to the world if you know what I mean. The things that I have learned on my journey so far - my journey is far from over, of course. Is that you should stick to your core values in whatever setting you get into. Like I said before it does not really matter that much to me whether I'm in a publicly traded company or a family-owned business. The challenges are the same. Your intuition for what needs to be done is the same; the setting might be different, the industry might be different, the people you work with might be different. You have to follow your gut feelings, your intuition, and have this piece of passion and curiosity that I talked about earlier; that I'm gifted with. With that I think you can drive tremendous results and very satisfying results both for yourself as well as for the companies, the clients, the customers, and the colleagues that you work with.
We've touched on this already. But how do you think the pandemic might affect corporations in the long term?
I think what we've learned during the pandemic is that it is possible to change quickly. To adapt quicker to new situations than we anticipated. I'm not sure many companies had planned for a pandemic like this one. Such as how we would collaborate, what would happen, how to respond. All these kinds of things that this pandemic has forced us to do. What we've learned is that our ability to adjust and readjust and to adapt is maybe more key now than it has ever been.
When you look at it from a digital standpoint we've all learned that you may not necessarily need to travel to collaborate or to innovate or to do things that you thought required a face-to-face interaction. Don't get me wrong, there's still a social aspect that is not to be underestimated. But as human beings, we can get a lot done remotely and virtually. I think that is probably the biggest change that I've seen. Having said that, I'm still missing some Innovation here because when we are working virtually, what I would love to see much more of is for instance in this conversation you and I are having right now. I could be sort of empowered and so could you with input to our conversation.
From artificial intelligence or trigger points or references from real time as you and I are speaking about points. We could pick up topics. We could discuss our perspectives on topics that we are talking about. It could be something like if we had video of your facial expressions - what does that tell me as I'm speaking? Am I speaking too fast? Am I boring you? I mean what we can also learn from this pandemic and this conversion to the virtual settings is that there is more we can do here. We can use technology to do more than just video conferences and teams meetings and Zoom meetings. There is a layer we can add to it. In my mind it is too interesting as the next step. Wherever that next step takes us.
Yeah. I love that idea of applying augmented reality to a conversation. When you were talking about reintegration I was thinking about Jeffrey Moore's book Zone To Win and the process that he describes for using milestones in an internal Innovation project as moments to reflect on and decide whether to continue investing in a metaphor drawn from VC. I would have been amazing. If for our listeners that book had popped up with a hyperlink to the books page and to Jeffrey Moore's description of the zones.
That's exactly what I'm talking about.
Yeah hypertext in real time with video and audio.
Yeah, why not?
Yeah. Why not? It is remarkable. I think the extent to which humans have adapted to the new reality. We ran a program earlier in the year and then we started a new one four months later. The difference in how people were using the tools at their disposal and how they were learning to collaborate with one another was really striking. Even just in that period of 20 weeks people had really raised their game and it makes you realize just what ingenious chimpanzees we are.
Let me try and give you another example because I used to work in the veterinary industry...
Speaking of chimpanzees!
Yeah, you triggered it. But part of the areas that visiting your vet are in is a physical face-to-face sort of interaction. Right? And we thought that could only happen in one way before the pandemic. You go into the Veterinary Clinic, have the interaction, and all these kinds of things happen. However, what we have learned and not only why the veterinary industry is booming right now, is that there are other ways to engage or interact with a veterinarian. Such as video consulting.
Yes, it sounds very mundane and a commodity piece but that was not as developed before the pandemic as it is right now. It's a critical point or part of the veterinary process nowadays. The other piece I alluded to in that industry that is booming right now is the home Improvement industry. All of us are sitting at home now, which makes us maybe want to have a companion to be around us to protect us or help us out. The loneliness we may have in our home offices or the missing social interaction with other humans that triggers this desire to maybe have a companion of some sort. Like home improvements, right?
If you're working from home, you always spend more time at home. You may want to have more daylight, more fresh air, a nice painting, something beautiful to look at, or an environment to work in that is different from what you normally have. Because you simply spend more time at home.
There are industries right now that are booming because of the pandemic. It is what it is. It's just interesting to see what this pandemic does to the human race. How we think. How we collaborate. What values certainly get us back to our lives. To me it's also a question about how thankful I should be and how grateful I should be for things that were sort of diluted or were too far away before the pandemic. I think the pandemic has sort of reignited or brought us back to some of the core values that may have been forgotten a little bit over time.
I think that's true. I think I know for myself personally it's been an incredibly grounding experience. I've actually really enjoyed spending so much more time with my family and working from home, having those interactions instead of with colleagues, but with my husband and my kids. Another guest called it the great acceleration: a lot of digitization that had been planned suddenly and absolutely had to happen on a deadline. Again the pressure of necessity created a ton of innovation around moving these platforms online.
That is one of the things that often tricks us. Innovation is a necessity. You're forced to think differently, you are forced to work differently. You're forced to use the tools you have available, maybe in a new or a different way than what you'd normally done. Sometimes crisis is not a bad thing because sometimes it forces us to view things differently or to come up with new ways of doing things.
Jesper, you've been working so hard for such a long time. How do you personally avoid burnout?
I have a strong backbone with my family. The time I spend when not necessarily working. I'm probably working 24 hours a day, but I mean the perspectives, the conversations, the life I have with other people is fueling me. The second piece is that I'm ignited by words. I'm ignited by my passion and my curiosity that seems like an eternal flame or internal fuel that is just driving me forward. Don't get me wrong. I get tired. I do get times where I need a break.
I would say it is by design because it's something that I know is good for me. And I know it's helping me keep my motivation. Keep my passion, keep my drive there. It's about realizing and acknowledging the things that matter and work for you and your life. And the moment you get to that point - maybe it's something about age. I can say that, I'm a bit older now. I think you get to a point where you know your trigger points.
You know what motivates you. You know when to maybe stop or slow down or when you can scale up. I think that's an experience that you build up over time - at least in my case, helps me not to burn out.
I think there's a huge advantage to being at our end of our career trajectories where you have this enormous database to use for pattern recognition. You can look back on all of these scenarios and things that you tried in the past and what worked and what didn't. It's wonderful to have that repository of experience and be able to apply those much more nuanced analytical skills to these situations
What if that catalog information you and I have or experiences that we have - what if it was possible to push those forward to the younger generations? I mean that is per definition what happens when we teach children and younger people. We pass on information. We pass on experiences. But what if we could find ways to personalize some of those experiences? So that they don't have to wait 10, 15, 20 years into their working life before they know things that you and I may know about ourselves. What if they could get to those points much earlier in their career and in their life? That could be fantastic couldn't it?
Yeah. No, I think of that as a pretty explicit goal of my coaching and mentoring practices. I have all of these burn scars so you don't have to.
I do the same here.
What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you or follow your work?
I would appreciate one-to-one interactions or connections. I do use social media and I do share pieces of work and experiences or stories on different kinds of social media. But what I enjoy the most is more personalized settings. Like what you and I have right here. It's not as superficial or impersonal as if you and I were chatting over Linkedin or Twitter or something. We could still do that. We could probably get so far. But you know, I appreciate the one-to-one connection. It may be very old school. But hey, why not?
It's a very high bandwidth information exchange. And that's great for those of us with shorter attention spans.
What is the future look like for you personally? You've just taken on this new gig. What's exciting to you about it?
I really enjoy moving a company and their mindsets in a company. Like Velux. Like I said earlier. It's a much smaller setting. It’s a much smaller company than some of their companies that I worked in before. I'm actually doing a lot of things on the side. I'm supporting and advising younger startups both in the Bay area as well as in L.A. And also in Eastern Europe. I enjoy fueling and ejecting ideas into younger generations or people who want to move forward with an idea that may or may not know exactly where and how to go.
So I spent some time on that. I spent time with that piece or in private equity. Really helping them with some of their portfolio companies to think about what digital transformation could look like in some of their portfolio companies. So helping them with that is also something that I enjoy. Then I work with some super large companies as well giving them some ideas on what Innovation could look like. And also, I’ve spent quite some time connecting people.
During my career I've gotten to know a lot of different people in all kinds of places and all kinds of industries. So when people reach out to me with an idea or with - In fact many headhunters also reach out to me. They say, “Hey, do you know somebody who fits this role or could help out here.” I mean, so I actually do a lot of things on this side.
Again, it's something that I enjoy. Helping others. I enjoy giving to society, giving to other people, and to share my learnings. Again it sort of refuels my curiosity because I get to learn. Then again, other people, new things, new innovators, and actually since I came back to Europe I've started to look into Eastern Europe. Which was not that much on my radar screen when I was on the West Coast. It has so much going on. I enjoy discovering all these kinds of things that are coming out, and helping them to get to their next levels. And get them introduced to some people in the US or other parts of the world. Because your geo location should not be a hindrance for you to get your product or your idea out there.
I do so much more than just help out.
That gives our listeners a really good idea of the kinds of things they should reach out to you for. Which is great.
Okay. I'm going to grant you a daydream now. What’s the most positive, amazing outcome for the tech industry or for our economy that you can imagine for the next 5 to 10 years? What does the world look like?
That is an awesome question Rachel. I think if we could remove some of the friction that exists today. If we could somehow promote what we already do, a lot of work in the stem area. Stuff like genders, diversity, and all of these kinds of things. I think if we could support and ignite the innovation of more people, I think that would be wonderful. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like, but I know every single one of us has ideas. We do have dreams. We do have perspectives on things. If we can somehow transform that into something useful that ties us together more than separates us. If we could get to that point within the next 5 to 10 years. I know it's not concrete or not super concrete, but for me Innovation is about mindsets more than a concrete service or concrete product.
If we can move mindsets that will bring our generation and the will to the next level.
That sounds like a fantastic future. I want to live there.
But Jesper, thank you for talking to our audience and sharing your insights from your distinguished career. It's been a great pleasure anytime. Thank you so much for inviting me.
"Once we can identify the pain point for certain customers and we identify the large unmet needs in the market, then we believe there is high potential or high possibilities of business success." - Shige Ihara
"We always need to innovate in order to survive. I think it's a natural reaction to want to just hold on. But it kind of goes against what really needs to happen." - Kathy Chill
"No matter what you're selling, who you're selling to, or what you're making it for, you have to think about who the buyer is. What do they look like today? And what do they look like tomorrow?" - Laura Merling