Rupert Schäfer about Innovation Management

Promoting innovation is rightly at the top of the agenda in companies geared toward the future. And it’s no wonder – after all, everyone wants to initiate the next major developmental step and be first in placing a completely new product in people’s minds and  on the market. But innovation involves much more than just providing human resources, budgets and defining goals. How do you create fertile soil for future success? And how do you secure competitive advantages?

We focused on the topic of innovation management during a fishbowl discussion at this year’s Bits & Pretzels conference, to answer the above questions and many more. On the podium along with other experts, Bits & Pretzels partner The Nunatak Group was represented by Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Rupert Schäfer. In the following interview he reveals how innovation management within his own company differs from project work with client, which initiatives at The Nunatak Group are already bearing fruit and which illusions a successful innovative company should let go of.


Mr. Schäfer, “Innovation Management” was already the core topic at this year’s Nunatak Networking Night. What insights have you incorporated into your project work since then?

RUPERT SCHÄFER: Above all: innovation is a change topic that depends very much on people and accordingly is reliant upon optimal cooperation. We knew that before, but that evening and all the input coming from different perspectives confirmed it once again. Innovation can only succeed if you manage to change cooperation, leadership, project work and the way mistakes or failures are handled within the company. And at the Nunatak Networking Night, practically all the representatives of large industrial companies, such as The Linde Group, up to large reinsurers confirmed this. The human component is and remains the crucial point if transformation and ultimately innovation are to be successfully driven forward.


In the past, innovation initiatives often failed due to a lack of measurability. How is success measured today?

Of course, measurability is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to innovation. For years there have been a lot of attempts to establish KPIs and targets in companies with fixed processes and structures. And when jumping into the unknown – exactly what innovation is – those targets aren’t going to work at all or only with great difficulty. KPIs and targets that are needed to steer a tanker with a turnover of 100 billion euros are usually not the same as those that are needed for disruptive innovation, mindset change and new working methods. At the Nunatak Networking Night we got to know some very interesting approaches to measuring innovation success. These include, for example, the number of employees involved in an innovation program. Or whether new working methods are applied and adopted in day-to-day business. In contrast, classic target coordinate systems, such as sales and margins, are more or less unsuitable. However, this insight has to be understood by senior management before companies begin to deal with establishing change processes.

Bits&Pretzels 2019: Nunatak’s co-founder and managing director, Rupert Schaefer, discussed innovation management in a fishbowl round.

Numerous historic examples show that successful innovation often takes time. Thomas A. Edison, for example, needed more than 10,000 trials to develop the light bulb. Henry Ford even had to file for bankruptcy twice before finally launching the mass-produced car.

Which companies come to mind first when you think of exemplary innovation processes today?

Certainly the tech companies. If you look at Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook or Netflix, you can learn a lot when it comes to innovation culture. This is certainly because these companies are strongly data-driven and mistakes are part of the development process, following the motto: “Fail fast, fail often.” This is the only way they can actually produce new products and learn. They also show that innovation does not have to be based on a gut instinct, but can also be analytical, data-driven and quantifiable. However, it definitely becomes difficult when a company grows past a certain size. Then you can see that the tech industry giants also buy innovations, take Google, for example; innovations such as Google Maps, Android and YouTube were all acquisitions and not in-house developments. The same goes for Facebook with WhatsApp and Instagram. They belong to the family today, even though Facebook already had Messenger. So you can see, the bigger the company, the more important M&A becomes in order to ensure lasting innovation.