In this series, “Partner Vision,” the RevelX partners introduce themselves. They share the road that led them to RevelX and what activities they employ at our firm. In each episode, one of our partners will give their vision on a hot topic in their professional field.

In the fifth article in this series, we give the microphone to Marc Douma. He was one of the co-founders of RevelX in 2014. We want to learn all about Marc’s take on innovation.

How did your previous professional life prepare you for your work for RevelX?

“Well, to be honest, my career in consulting started almost by accident. After winning a small prize with a team of fellow students, I was approached by the University of Twente and Coopers & Lybrand (who had awarded that prize) to co-author a book on strategic alliances. This book got published and eventually led to a part-time job as a consultant at Coopers & Lybrand and a part-time position at the University to work on a Ph.D. on strategic alliances.  Back then these were a highly unusual combination, but it was also a defining moment because, as it turned out, consultancy suits me quite well.

“Later, at the start of this millennium, I worked for Nuon where I have seen the huge impact of market deregulation on the business model of the entire energy sector and how tough it is to make a transition. This experience of having been ‘on the other side of the table’ helped me enormously when I moved back to consultancy again as a partner at Boer & Croon.

“And now, at RevelX, I combine this experience in consulting, academia, and management with entrepreneurship.”

What is your definition of "innovation?”

“Many people think that innovation is only about the next beautiful, new product. But it can also be a new way of distribution, a new business model, innovative partnerships, or a different brand positioning. Innovation is all about the question: How do we stay relevant as a company for our customers?

“Game changers such as the iPod only happen once in a while. The possibilities offered by technology and the speed that characterizes its development are constant drivers of innovation, though.

“You can go viral in a week and become known to a million people. It is this speed and the emergence of a large start-up scene that are threatening the market of established businesses. Many times, they still use hierarchical, traditional processes and legacy systems. These are the organizations where somebody has to make a stand and say: ‘We have to do something!’ “

What does a CEO have to do to become more innovative?

“CEOs should start with asking themselves the following questions: ‘How will my industry develop in a period of 5 to 10 years? What will be the impact of trends like artificial intelligence, blockchain, connectivity, the use of data, and sustainability on the future of our business?’

“The second question should be: ‘Is my current business model still future-proof in the light of these trends? And which aspects of our business model do we need to innovate to stay relevant for our customers?’ This can be a different product portfolio, for example upgrading your products to connected versions. You also have to think about distribution channels, revenue models, service models, etc.

“Then the real work begins—making it happen. And in our experience, that is the hard part because it generally calls for tough choices such as which innovation projects are viable, and which ‘pet projects’ do we have to kill if we are honest with ourselves? And making that happen often requires a change in culture and way of working— and a different role for senior leaders.”

Please describe such a case.

“One of our customers, a leading international OEM, was struggling to realize growth after many successful years. Together with their CEO, we set out to find the root causes. One of them turned out to be their performance in New Product Development (NPD). Despite having launched many successful innovations in the past, their performance in NPD had fallen behind. Their time to market was too long, the products were not well aligned with their customers’ needs, and they were quite often also too expensive. These are definitely not positions you want to find yourself in.

“That conclusion was the starting point of an ambitious transition program. With the full commitment of their Board (an absolute precondition), a core team of 15 people was given the challenge to realize fundamental improvements in their new product development. They were supported by RevelX.

“In the end, it took us 1.5 years to make this transition. The NPD process was revised and simplified. We implemented a continuous customer validation. Portfolio management was improved. Skills and competencies of 400 people involved in NPD projects were strengthened via e-learning and on-the-job coaching. And, the role of senior managers was strengthened in the key innovation projects.”

Can you tell us what it takes to become a best-in-class innovator?

“Certainly! Based on our many years of experience with innovation, our team has developed the Innovation Readiness Benchmark. This is a must-do, self-assessment for any manager who takes innovation seriously. It includes over 40 innovation best practices.

“There are too many to discuss in this interview, but in essence, each CEO should, in our view, be able to confidently make the following statements:

  • Our innovation strategy aims to reshape our future business model and not just our products.
  • Our innovation projects are driven by a profound and validated understanding of our future customers’ needs.
  • Our innovation processes are based on best practices like rapid prototyping, MVP testing, and data-driven decision making by multidisciplinary teams.
  • We manage our innovation portfolio very effectively using well-defined metrics and frequently calibrate our priorities.
  • Our organizational infrastructure fully supports innovation.
  • Our organization has outstanding innovation skills and competencies that are continuously developed.
  • Innovation is deeply embedded in the DNA of our leadership and our culture.
  • Our innovation performance clearly differentiates us from our key competitors.

“I invite readers to use our Innovation Readiness Benchmark to assess their innovation power. In the end, that is what it all boils down to if you want to become a best-in-class innovator—having that urge to learn how to do better, never to be complacent, and always to challenge yourself.

“This, in fact, is exactly what we do in all our projects, and why I love my job so much: challenging the status quo and finding ways to become more innovative. Always with one single objective: realizing growth.”