Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Successful innovation by posing the right questions

April 12, 2016 | 4 min read

How can a Dutch educational publisher innovate more successfully? Jacqueline Spoeltman and Simon Reijnders, alumni of the TIAS Master of Management & Organization, researched that question in their thesis entitled "Ready for the future?!" It won them the Ton Wentink thesis prize.
In their thesis, Spoeltman and Reijnders advise the publisher to define an innovation strategy and set up portfolio management. They also recommend forming a separate innovation process for radical innovations.

How did you arrive at these recommendations?
Simon, educational manager at ROC Leijgraaf: "During the interviews we held, it became apparent that the publisher had no unambiguous definition of innovation. If you don't talk the same language and you want to go somewhere, then that is a hindrance. The general business strategy must be leading when answering questions like: which innovations are we going to use, what resources are we going to use to achieve them and then: how will we manage that in the company? Those three steps formed the basis of our questioning and we provided feedback on them."

How were the results received?
Jacqueline, Corporate manager at Rabobank: "That the recommendations were to the point and practically applicable was particularly valued. The direct coupling of theory to practice provided a clear insight into the three-stage rocket of strategy, portfolio management and the innovation process. Our supervisor was extremely satisfied with the results, for her they were partly a confirmation. We would like to present the results of the research to the management team."

What was it like to come to an unknown company as an external researcher?
Jacqueline: "You don't have any history, so you can step in with objectivity and curiosity. I didn't know the sector and that was an enormous trigger for me. All of a sudden you see all newspaper articles about education, developments with publishers and niche players. That was very satisfying, an adventure that went naturally. Moreover, we experienced a very open attitude with our client and conducted pleasant discussions with employees."

Did your mutual cooperation go well?
Simon: "We were able to complement each other perfectly. All the time we were discussing together: how can I formulate this best, are we not being too eclectic here? I was the one for the broad lines, choosing radical options and making cuts, while Jacqueline was good at formulating and connecting things. We wanted the thesis to be a single entity, not a collection of her texts and my texts. It had to read fluently. We both had the ambition of delivering a really good product for the client. It is fantastic if that is then awarded with a thesis prize."

What did you think of the supervision by TIAS?
Jacqueline: "Our supervisor Carla Koen was a good sounding board and we experienced her enormous involvement. We had lively discussions and conversations about the content. It went very naturally. She was constantly holding up a mirror to us. Have you looked at it in this way? Maybe this has still received insufficient attention? Then we could do our own research to see whether that was the case and what amendments were required. She left the choice to us. That does mean that we twice radically altered our research."

Has that critical mentality been an advantage to you in your career?
Simon: "It turns you into a different conversational partner, because you are able to put things in a larger perspective and pose other questions. You are able to discuss things at a more strategic, conceptual level. Which processes shall we initiate, where could we as a school do things better? Does this help us connect to the students? For me it resulted in another job where I am going to set up something completely new with innovative education."

Jacqueline: "I have gained more insight into my own organization and how one can tackle problems. For instance, for an assignment about the capital structure of the Rabobank, I interviewed a professor who made me look at the matter very differently. That is so interesting: each time you view things from a different perspective and look for other opinions. I now have a tool that helps with posing sharp questions and tackling problems. Don't be satisfied with an answer too quickly, but ask probing questions."

How do you combine this study with your job and your family?
Jacqueline: "You have to really focus yourself on the study year and make proper arrangements at home. At first I had the feeling that I had to make some concessions at work. But I soon became more effective and more efficient at that. I noticed that I could do a lot more than I had earlier thought. It does demand discipline. You really need a top sport mentality. You have to forgo a lot, but it is also very rewarding."

Why would you recommend the Master program to others?
Jacqueline: "The training has enriched me with insights about how to pose questions and how to be positively critical. More than anything else it is also inspirational. Your group members come from different sectors so everyone sees different issues when you are discussing something. You also get case studies from other companies to talk about. Then you notice that case studies are often not even all that sector based. And you want to keep on reading everything, also after you have finished the study."

Simon: "Your sights are widened and enlarged, viewing things from different perspectives. You learn to substantiate things, pose questions and ask probing questions. We are going to do it like that, but why? At TIAS we received lectures from so many different inspiring people. They are real toppers. They can inspire, they have a convincing story."

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