Professor Johann Füller, CEO of HYVE AG Innovation Agency and mentor at Skoltech’s Innovation Workshop 2019, recently gave an exclusive interview offering his views on innovation in modern universities, what distinguishes Skoltech students, his experience as an IW mentor, what innovators face with regards to market demands, innovation management and how perfectionism could stifle innovation.
You have a history with Skoltech, because you were at last year’s Innovation Workshop. In September 2019, Dr. Anja Tekic became the first PhD student graduate of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the data that she used for her work came from your company. My question is, when did you first hear about Skoltech and why did you choose it?
Dr. Füller: “I met some scholars at the Open and User Innovation Conference, which focuses on how to create innovation through users in communities. It is hosted every year at different locations and it was there that I met Kelvin Willoughby, Anja Tekic and Zeljko Tekic; they also work in open innovation in a crowdsourcing context and they approached me with some interesting stuff. We had a conversation and, after that, they invited me to come and have a look at what they are doing. That was the starting point and I was invited to the Innovation Workshop and they visited us in Innsbruck.”
Your company acts as an intermediator in co-creation between client companies such as BMW, Adidas, etc., and individuals who provide an input into these types of projects. One of the focuses is students and, as we mentioned, you were engaged as a mentor at the last Innovation Workshop; what do you think about Skoltech students? What distinguishes them from other students?
Dr. Füller: “There are especially talented tech students at Skoltech. I usually attend many innovation workshops in Innsbruck, where there are lots of business students that create nice presentations and do visualizations. However, it’s very difficult for them to demonstrate feasibility or a technical solution. It’s the opposite if you go to Skoltech; the students spend a couple of weeks and they present their prototypes, or they create software or an app and this has big potential and is especially unique. There is a lot of tech talent allowing them to create physical prototypes.”
Going back to the Innovation Workshop, could you explain your experience there as a mentor and would you be interested in joining the next one?
Dr. Füller: “Definitely. The Innovation Workshop is probably one of the coolest formats I’ve seen so far. It has high investment, it’s well prepared, it lasts almost a month, and there are coaches from all over the world. For me, the work with the students is always the most fascinating, because it’s interesting to see their progress. What would also be interesting to see is the follow-up of those ideas; is it just a nice experience for students to get a flavor of what it is to be a startup, or is it a starting point from which they can continue their journey? That’s interesting to witness and I guess there are a lot of discussions going on right now, and probably some of those students have founded their companies and become successful.”
You consult top corporations on the development of customer-focused innovations and online communities. That is a broad issue, so what do you think the market demands from students and universities like Skoltech?
Dr. Füller: “First of all, I am sure that what universities offer will change; it’s not just that they learn something on a theoretical level, but it’s much more about application and utilization of real cases and real data. I think they play a more important role not just in the educational and scientific arena, but also in job creation and entrepreneurship, because knowledge has become the most important differentiator nowadays. Universities are knowledge factories, so now the question is how to apply this knowledge.
What is innovation management for you?
Dr. Füller: “If you are a lone inventor, you don’t need the management process and you don’t need the skills. You may or may not become successful, but if you really want to cope with all the challenges, changes and technologies coming out, then you need guidance. You have a huge area to explore, but you need to do it efficiently with the least risk and the highest chance of success. You can’t ensure 100% success, but you can learn how to avoid the biggest traps and mistakes. That is something that I consider to be very important.
If somebody Googles your name, “Dr. Füller, Professor without Perfectionism” appears. Why does perfectionism prevent innovation?
Dr. Füller: “I think that at a certain point you have to decide if you want to explore further and whether or not you need to gather more information; if you are really sure, you will never reach this point. Very often, the real learning and the real innovation will come at the beginning of the journey. If you are too perfectionist, you will never start, because it will never be good enough unless you start practicing, unless you play a real game. Especially nowadays with software, there is always room for improvement.
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