Venzin: becoming innovators. By sharing experiences and putting yourself on the line

Conversations with SDA Bocconi new managers

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Asking Markus Venzin to speak of change and innovation is meat and drink to him. Professor in the department of Management and Technology of Bocconi University, and Associate Dean for Innovation, he is now back in the Management Board of SDA Bocconi. Dean Giuseppe Soda has charged him to lead ICE, the Innovation and Corporate Entrepreneurship Center which is the arm of B4i – Bocconi for Innovation within the School. It is designed for companies wanting to increase their entrepreneurial energy even in the present heavily uncertain times and to draw onto external and internal innovation potential to rapidly translate it into factual projects.
 

“ICE supports firms in tackling the challenges posed by the digital and tech transformations, by scanning startups and ideas emerging within companies and organizations that have the potential to shape the evolution of their industries.” Markus Venzin has devoted his career to imagining, designing and implementing new ways of doing business and developing managerial and organizational culture. A strategic job in a time when much of our established beliefs and know-how are rapidly falling apart. We have asked him to explain his views on the next two years in this new role.
 

Which are the main new directions in managerial education nowdays?
 

“In the first place, for sure a growing importance of experiential learning, that is to say a learning-by-doing approach,” says Venzin. “ICE focuses on actual projects: I am not going to tell managers how to write a business plan; together, we are going to build the business plan that most suits their strategic and operational needs. That is what we call the ‘pre-acceleration’ stage. Another step has to do with teaching itself, which must be thought of and put into context: I need to know who my counterparts are and what they need; in this relationship, I am not going to be a ‘preaching’ teacher but a co-manager and co-entrepreneur.”

Experience is not only being “present”, especially these days. “Another important direction for change is no doubt online learning, which is increasingly going to integrate face-to-face with synchronous and asynchronous teaching, allowing for greater user flexibility.” This does not merely mean transferring in-class courses to the internet but leveraging all the potential of digital tools: “for instance, through gamification I offer active simulations where I can literally play the game and assess my own performance, receive feedback from others, and so on,” says Venzin. “This is another form of experiential learning.”
 

Which is the critical question and priority in your role as a promoter of innovation?
 

“I think the most critical and delicate issue is creating a corporate team to work with. Innovating is not an easy thing to do, you need motives, competences, imagination, and the ability to work together. I think it would be wrong of us to go to a company and say: ‘Now I am going to teach you how to innovate’. The process and the team working on it need to be built at the same time; I am rather offering myself as a co-entrepreneur.” And you need to use the right tools: “In some cases,” underlines Venzin, “you can better overcome internal political opposition by comparing with external entities, maybe using a ‘start-up radar’, that is to say a map of innovative companies who have the potential to disrupt your industry.”
 

What is going to be your main personal contribution, your signature mark in this new role?
 

“First of all, in my job it’s sharing ideas that is particularly important.” Markus Venzin has no doubts, he sees corporate innovation as a common process based on the ability to elicit and integrate different points of view. “I think two elements are also important: leading by example and giving independence to your team, not making yourself indispensable”. It is the wisdom coming from innovation, which is due to go beyond its creator.
 

SDA Bocconi School of Management

 

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