Optimizing Innovation – Dr. Guido Petit of Alcatel-Lucent

by Braden Kelley

Dr. Guido Petit of Alcatel-LucentWe are happy to bring you some of the key points and insights from Dr. Guido Petit’s talk at the Optimizing Innovation Conference, which was held October 21-22, 2009 in New York City.

Dr. Guido Petit, Director of the Alcatel-Lucent Technical Academy spoke about Optimizing Innovation through Entrepreneurial Boot Camps. The program had its genesis back in 2002 after massive layoffs at the company. At that point in time, the CEO decided to focus on making innovation the job of everyone. They started in Belgium with an idea generation site that they built. They received maybe ten idea submissions per month in Belgium after launching it.

But, then they decided to put a car on the parking lot and offer it as a prize. Submisions tripled to thirty per month. So, they got 150 ideas in the 5 months of the car contest. Eleven people were selected to pitch their ideas to senior leadership out of the 150 ideas. But this car prize promotion was a mistake. In the end we made one person happy and 149 people unhappy. This is not sustainable.

As a funny side note, the person who won the car, was someone who rode his bike to work every day, and he sold the car after one week. And after contest the volume of idea submissions dropped back to 10 per month, and none of the eleven selected ideas made it into a product (including the winner).

But, the guy with the second place idea proposed starting a program to help people learn how to develop their ideas. This evolved into our entrepreneurial boot camp.

“Let people pursue their passion.”

The Entrepreneurial Boot Camp takes place over three weekends (Friday + Saturday) – with the Friday being donated by the company and the Saturday being donated by the employee, and then a dry run, and finally a Super Friday for people to pitch their ideas (all together this takes place over about three months – spaced 2 weeks apart).

For the program, we set expectations that idea subissions must be for a new business that will be worth 50-100 Million Euros in 3-5 years:

  • Otherwise we just get a lot of process improvement ideas or suggestions on improving the food in the cafeteria

We partner with the Flanders Business School on the program and typically have five teams of five people with a senior manager as part of the team as a coach (for a total of six people). We generally have five or six teams per boot camp.

Super Friday consists of 15 minutes per team, with 12 slides each to target all 12 points including vision, competition, solution, etc.

  • 30 minutes for Q&A
  • Participants don’t want to lose because this is a great exposure opportunity
  • CEO, CTO and CFO of Alcatel-Lucent Belgium and venture capitalists make up the panel
    • Now VCs are knocking on our doors to participate

  • Only 1 of the 5 ideas will go into the incubation phase where market validation, fast prototyping, and a lead customer must be sourced
    • Sometimes ideas are transfered immediately to business units if they are close to core

One thing that we have found is that people don’t always want to post their idea on an innovation web site, so we have these ‘dating events’. Idea owners can pitch their ideas to anyone in the company at a dating event to attract supporters. This also serves as an opportunity to connect people. We encourage people to merge research, mktg, finance, engineering, and sales into diverse teams.

“Talented people are everywhere but… they are not connected.”

We have found that in our organization the smokers are the connectors, and so we have made it more comfortable for people to smoke. This is not to say that we encourage smoking.

  • There are no salary levels when people smoke together
  • Our smokers tend to be very social
    • hey call people to go smoke
    • They also like coffee and beer

We do our best to promote success stories from the boot camps. The boot camps are 80% coaching and 20% theory. Boot camps are done on top of daily duties.

We encourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship with our boot camps:

  • A way to change the innovation mindset
  • They provide an opportunity to scout entrepreneurial talent (finding people that have skills that are not otherwise shown and to possibly redeploy talent)
    • HR doesn’t know where the entrepreneurs are

  • 80% of the ideas coming through the boot camps address new markets – the other 20% are new technologies for existing markets
  • We include VC’s and business school professors because they often have insights into new markets – either new or existing technology

The results of our boot camps so far?

  • 2 internal ventures
  • 3 projects in incubation
  • 5 proposals were transferred to existing business units

Setting expectations is important to get the good ideas. Managing expectations is important because all of the teams believe they will win even though only one can win. For those teams that lose, they will get feedback from VC’s and our executive leadership in the room.

Successful teams don’t always move onto the incubation or venture teams. Some have had nobody transfer into the venture team and others have seen 4 of 5 carry forward onto the venture team. GM’s for venture teams can be hired from outside.

We started two ventures in 2008. It is still to early to tell if they will be successful. We can tell you though that the business plans of ventures were different at the end of incubation and the at the end of the venture period than they were going in.

We are on Boot Camp 8 and we have now put 200 out of our 1,800 people through our boot camps and the number of ideas and the quality of ideas are inevitably and expectedly trending down. So now we are opening our boot camps to Alcatel-Lucent employees outside of Belgium, and we are sharing the methodology with other companies like Exxon, Agfa, Philips, J&J, Picanol, etc. We are also going to experiment with joint teams from more than one company.

One nice outcome has been that the alumni still supply new ideas and are interested in being coaches the next time around. Surprisingly, only about 10 of the 200 people in the program have left the company.

Optimizing Innovation Conference

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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