Michael Bednar-Brandt is passionate about change making.

He’s done it at all levels, from startup to global powerhouse, and is currently doing it as the Head of Business Innovation at Oracle NEXT, the international co-innovation program of technology giant Oracle.

At our Paris event, Michael will speak on the co-innovation program his team is developing, the book it will ultimately become, and the role of storytelling in innovation. We sat down with Michael to give you a sneak peak ahead of his appearance in Paris.

Can you share some of the main design principles of Oracle NEXT?

The core idea is that the hard part is not the idea – the hard part is the execution. Everybody has ideas today; so many people are creating ideas or running methodologies like Design Thinking. But the sad pattern across big companies is, most projects get to the prototype stage and that’s where they die.

Even in 2019, successfully getting ideas out there, executed into the market is still super, super hard. Our main design principle is that we want to fix that. We want to focus on the execution side. We want to create ideas for the right reasons and help bring them alive.

So, instead of starting with an idea we make sure we start with a business challenge and we are very crisp in the beginning to focus on the “why.” You want to make sure to look at the market super early and then throughout the whole process of getting your idea executed you have to cover your bases. We have a couple of super smart and very experienced people on board who are crucial in creating the program, people who know what it needs to operate and survive in a corporate environment, and we incorporate these experiences into the process.

One simple principle is that if you have an idea you need to not only look at validation of that idea, but also do your homework to establish buy-in. That’s something you can’t just skip. You really need to do that properly, identify your stakeholders and get them on board.

With the book we’ve set out to write, we’re aiming to create a step-by-step manual, a guide that hides the complexity and just makes what you need to do in a specific situation super clear and easy to do. A guide that anybody in our company or anybody out there can just take and run with.

Is the program for employees or for startups?

The key model we try to establish is co-innovation. There is a lot of talk about how you should run your own innovation program. Beyond that co-innovation is about how you orchestrate two or more parties coming together at eye level to solve a business challenge together. So in the end it is about all of them, bringing corporates, startups and our own staff together in a new way.

The reasons to do this is very simple; in the Cloud Age we can either sell our technology the traditional way, or we can co-innovate with our customers and bring together all the people, the technologies, and the greatness we have, so that we can help people significantly accelerate and de-risk their innovations. With our program we do the latter to quite some success.

So we are really passionate about bringing together two or more parties in innovation. It’s sometimes quite tricky but it’s a really great experience.

Do you think not having buy-in is the key reason or main obstacle for ideas not being executed? Why is it so hard to get?

That’s an interesting question. I will definitely put it in the top three. Saying it’s the main obstacle is a little bit tricky. It’s like when you train for a marathon, you could say that my left leg is really the main thing, but it’s not – you need both legs to cover the distance. But yes, it is absolutely one of the main obstacles.

With regards to having buy-in, let me state something that we find quite fundamental, we are not aiming for the head of innovation or innovation managers. We do work with them, but in most of the time they don’t have a business challenge to solve.

We’re aiming for somebody who, somewhere in the business, has a challenge and needs help to solve it. It could be something they want to pursue because they’re passionate about it or could just be a problem they want to overcome. Our goal is to equip and enable those people.

My favorite angle for how to identify these people is looking for “the head of something small.” These aren’t C-level or C-level minus one, they’re the head of something small, close enough to the ground to be really connected to the needs of their customers. It’s the people that are just high enough in the hierarchy that they see patterns. They know what is going on, and if we can help those people to come up with ideas to solve their challenge, and more importantly equip them to get the buy-in and whatever else is needed, then that’s a game changer.

And by helping many of them, we can create a domino effect. Look at it like a Russian doll or the layers of an onion. At the core we start with helping one individual intrapreneur, someone who wants to get something solved, help them come up with a good idea and make sure it’s getting approved and tested. That’s the inner layer. The outer layer of the doll is to do it repeatedly, again and again.

Many “overnight successes” have ten years of history behind them. The thing is, you need to run a large number of these projects to get to a tipping point, to achieve something that really moves the needle for the company or their market.

Finally, communication is key: how you talk about the innovation happening. One of the biggest complaints surrounding innovation culture is that there’s too much talking and not enough action. So, how do you make people feel like there’s something going on?

The answer is, by doing it again and again, and by involving people in the process. Innovation culture is when many people do innovation, and then talk about it. Not the other way round.

In general, do you think there is too much talk about Innovation? Are people tired of it?

Innovation is definitely a hype topic today, but it it’s a transformative topic. In the long run, a company should not need an innovation department. The whole company should be able to react to market changes and opportunities in a very fast and flexible way. Agile and innovative by nature, that’s what the company of the future will look like. So, on one hand, yeah, it’s a hot topic or maybe even a hype.

On the other hand, it’s not going to go away soon; it’s something that you need to learn and establish now, and for the foreseeable future we are not running out of work here. You have to have a lot of conversations, and do a lot of things, to make the shift from machine type, high-volume, constant-quality, low-cost companies to becoming flexible organizations.

Talking to you and so many others out there, bringing about this shift is a passion. This is something I really love, we innovators want to help people to see the need to move, to change, to become more agile, to get these ideas out there, and to play a role in a different kind of economy.

Anything else about your talk in Paris that we haven’t touched on?

The innovation process of creating and driving innovation is an innovation in and of itself, and it’s ultimately a story. It has all the good ingredients of a story: a big goal and a lot of struggles. It’s a little bit like the Lord of the Rings. You’re one hour into the movie, and you know you have to destroy the ring, and then it’s 9 hours of process to get to it. There’s bone grinding stuff and good and bad experiences with your surroundings, friends and enemies.

It’s this kind of story that brings things to life. It’s not the happy end, it’s the overcoming of struggles, accepting defeat in some areas, finding ways around it. That’s what makes innovation so interesting. Because every good innovation is also a good story.

My speech definitely won’t be to Lord of the Rings quality, but I think there are some pieces of genius in our learnings, and also there is quite a bit around struggles, and then it should be also good fun to listen to. See you there!