How to maximize open innovation – my experience at PostExpo!
Many companies are promoting open and participative innovation. The real challenge is achieving it efficiently and quickly. Here are some key practical pointers from PostExpo, our industry’s flagship exhibition.
My name is Thierry Golliard and I’m responsible for open innovation and venturing at Swiss Post. Unsurprisingly, I’m a strong advocate of collaborative and participative innovation. We’ve got an incredible pool of talent at Swiss Post, but we need to draw upon external tech expertise to develop and market solutions for the future. Achieving this in an agile, quick and efficient way presents a real challenge, and my team is tackling it with great energy.
I’d like to share my experiences at PostExpo with you to make our approach more tangible. PostExpo is the postal sector’s flagship exhibition. It attracts around 4,000 participants from the industry and 200 exhibitors from over 100 countries. It’s a golden opportunity to talk to, observe and learn from our competitors, partners and suppliers. Taking part in this kind of exhibition requires a significant initial investment but can prove very enriching and beneficial provided certain rules are followed. Here are my five key pointers, which are far from an exhaustive list (please don’t hesitate to share your ideas and views in the comments).
Firstly, preparation before the exhibition is vital:
1. Read the programme and think about the participants and topics you wish to focus on. Personally speaking, I always do a bit of research on the people I’m going to talk to beforehand and focus on the goals I want to achieve at every meeting. I also make sure I refresh my profile on social networks, update my details before the event and provide the people I’m meeting with some key information beforehand. The discussions at the event provide a unique opportunity for participants to interact to help create mutual trust, but networking on sites like LinkedIn before, during and afterwards is an additional, crucial point.
2. Ultimately, people must want to meet you which is why it’s important to position yourself as an expert at the event and to communicate this proactively. In my particular case, I was invited to act as a judge in the start-up competition which meant I received lots of meeting requests.
During the event:
3. Prove that people had good reason to want to meet you by sharing your knowledge but also by being open, welcoming and friendly. The more people warm to you as a person, the more they will open up. In this respect, I very much agree with the notion “it is nice to be important but much more important to be nice!” Informal contacts also play a key role and are often made at drinks receptions or dinners where the mood is more relaxed. As well as light-hearted moments, going for a beer can also open up attractive business opportunities. And there is definitely no shortage of famous breweries in Amsterdam, so there’s no excuse! … :-)
4. I also believe in striking while the iron is hot. For example, this involves regular brainstorming with colleagues attending the event and, at the end of the exhibition, producing a summary of key take-aways which you then aim to promote internally (see point 5 below). In my case, I took note of the innovative business models I came across:
a. A network of mailboxes for parcels for residential areas in Madrid from the start-up Citibox. A model supported by the Spanish (Correos) and French (DPD) postal services.
b. Reusable bags for the fashion industry from the start-up Repack and the Dutch postal service (PostNL).
c. In-home delivery from the Belgian postal service (bpost) with Zalando as a pilot customer.
Finally, once you’re back in the office:
5. Adopt the maxim “sharing is caring” by telling others about your experience to ensure as many colleagues who remained in the office benefit as possible. How? I use several methods and channels, such as sharing my notes on PostConnect (Swiss Post’s sharepoint platform), giving personal introductions for my colleagues (over ten in the past two weeks!) and lastly organizing a dedicated event “PostExpo goes” in Berne at our head office on 5 November, during which internal and external speakers will present and share their experiences at PostExpo at six themed stands with over 100 Swiss Post colleagues.
To sum up, attending an exhibition enables you to hold high-quality meetings with great potential. However, the final impact for the company depends heavily on a clear strategy of open innovation and a strong desire to share. Like many other things in life, innovation is a “people business” where social skills are key.