Interview: Gijs van Wulfen

by Mari Anixter

Interview: Gijs van Wulfen The Innovation Expedition: A visual toolkit to start innovation

An interview with Gijs van Wulfen

Innovation Excellence sat down with visual author Gijs van Wulfen to discuss the development, design and delivery of his new book, The Innovation Expedition: A visual toolkit to start innovation. Here is the interview:

Why did you write this book?

Innovation is still a big struggle for a lot of innovators, managers and consultants. I wrote ‘The Innovation Expedition’ for three reasons. First of all, I like to share the notion that you’re not the only one struggling with it. Everybody does. Second, I love to inspire with remarkable stories of how great explorers overcame unexpected setbacks on their innovation journeys. And third: I like to share concrete tools, formats and checklists to start innovation successfully.


This book seems to be as much a tool for work as a book to read — did you intend it?

Yes I intended it to be a visual toolkit to start innovation. You know, there are a lot books on innovation that tell you innovation is important. They explain you should make a strategy and a process for it. And stick to it. But in practice I see so many organizations struggling with the implementation. I missed a book that shows me concrete HOW to do it. That’s why I made an inspiring book full of charts, checklists, formats, maps and tools: to work with them. The best compliment you can give me is saying it’s falling apart because you have used it so often.

Any thoughts on how European companies are embracing innovation?

Northern Europeans like Scandinavians, Germans and the Dutch (like me) are very structured. And they are team players too. That’s why European companies see innovation as a disciplined way of working. On the one hand they embrace innovation. On the other hand innovation brings a lot of uncertainty too. Europeans are more afraid of making mistakes than for example Americans. In Europe we only go outside the box when we really have to. That’s why innovation is really embraced when there’s urgency: when ‘business as usual’ can’t grow the company anymore. And when there is this ‘sweet spot’ for innovation we like to do it: structured, disciplined and with a diverse team. Now we are pretty close to the end of the five-year-economic-crisis in Europe. Innovation will blossom again because we dare to more entrepreneurial again.

What inspires your visual thinking about innovation?

As I am an image thinker myself I wanted this book to be very visual because that’s the way I learn more easily. One picture tells you more than 1000 words. That’s why the FORTH Innovation Methodology is designed as a Map. It communicates so effectively.

What do you hope to convey with the expedition metaphor?

My book takes an original approach to show how you can innovate the expedition way! Their remarkable stories of exploration and how they overcame unexpected setbacks will inspire people in organizations to approach innovation with a new mindset. The urgency of Magellan, the meticulous planning of Amundsen, the focus of the Apollo program, the courage of Columbus and the teamwork of Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest are all part of the FORTH innovation methodology. The method has the characteristics of a real expedition, mixed with best practices of creative and business thinking and is -fittingly- designed as a map. Having a map to consult is tangible proof of preparedness. And a large-scale map on the wall with a planned route inspires the crew with all the confidence it needs to start innovation effectively.

What are the key messages in the book that you want people to retain?

My book has a lot of concrete insights and practical learning’s for innovators in organizations. Choosing five key messages is really difficult. But anyway, these are the first five I like to share:

1. Wait for the right moment.
2. Never start with an idea.
3. Solve relevant customer frictions.
4. Do it structured and disciplined.
5. Bring back new business not new ideas.

How do YOU use the exercises in the book at work?

I use the formats, tools and maps in my book everyday, as I am facilitating the FORTH innovation methodology myself. This moment I apply my method at an industrial company in Southern Germany to help them coming up with five mini new business cases in new markets or for new applications of their technology. Yearly I am training innovation experts in the FORTH methodology to expand it across the Globe. Last August I trained, for example Akash Chander from Bangalore, which I will visit in November to introduce the FORTH method in India.

What has been your biggest surprise in the reaction to the book?

My biggest surprise is something I could only hope for: readers all over the world are super enthusiast. As author this is hearth warming. Spontaneously, publishers from other countries approached me to publish ‘The Innovation Expedition’ in Russian and Japanese. It’s wonderful how the book and the FORTH methodology spread all over the world. A dream comes true.

image credit: forth-innovation.com

Editor’s note: Gijs van Wulfen is the founder of the FORTH innovation methodology. His book The Innovation Expedition, A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation is available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers worldwide.

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Innovation Quotes of the Week – September 29, 2013Mari Anixter is Managing Editor for Innovation Excellence. She is a communications/creative professional living in the Boston area.

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