Is there a linear, structured approach to developing innovation?
"Systematic yes, structured no," says EHL Associate Professor of Service Management Marc Stierand. "Innovation is actually something that happens if you're lucky. That's the accepted result of a creative process."
Stierand, and his colleague Ian Millar, are currently setting up a new Institute of Business Creativity (IBC) at EHL. "What large, institutionalized organizations need these days in these turbulent times is actually an entity like ours that pushes them to think differently."
Consulting & Research
Yes, there are established consulting firms out there proffering plenty of advice, "but I think being an institute at an academic institution has one big advantage: we don't have to hide behind a certain agenda or jargon," Stierand says. "We can be pretty blunt - polite but blunt - as to how we see things. I think the businesses that really want to change, like that very much. They're very receptive to this idea."
The institute's inaugural commercial partner, Metro AG, which set up a digital division a couple of years ago, has already been working closely with EHL on various projects linked to the digitalization of hospitality.
Millar, a senior lecturer and the institute's manager, says EHL students have already conducted some 18 consulting projects with the German retail group, which partners many small and mid-sized independent companies, "resulting in almost 20 of our students being hired by the company."
Previous research, Millar says, focused on "how to digitalize the very much analog world of HoReCa (hotels, restaurants and cafés/catering). It's a tough thing to do."
"There's a very large wall in front of us but we're slowly chipping away at it, and Metro - through the hospitality digital division - are putting together new digital tools for restaurateurs. We've been a core part of that and are happy to see the success of that."
Bridge Between Academia & Industries
Student employability will continue to be a priority, but the institute will also conduct research for Metro as well as executive workshops. "And then, really, the idea is, as the institute grows, to replicate the framework."
The new institute aims to act as bridge between academia and the business world, and according to Stierand, will offer "good, practice-based research for the service industry, with the ambition of doing something a bit differently - creatively – but, of course, appropriate and useful."
Management research needs to be applied and useful but this does not mean that we would not allow for 'big thinking' … to ask challenging questions. But the aim is really to give something back to the industry.
EHL, in conjunction with its Innovation Lab, is currently looking into innovating hospitality education.
As for Metro specifically, the IBC is currently exploring "how we can innovate hospitality training and education at the vocational level, where there is a very urgent need worldwide to act very fast." Stierand adds: "And for this we need to not only involve practitioners but also policy makers and politicians to change a lot of things that should have been changed a long time ago and we're working on that."
Creative Concept Destruction
The IBC will also be looking to work with a range of companies and partners as it builds on the academic foundations of innovation developed by Joseph Schumpeter to develop what Stierand terms 'creative concept destruction.'
We offer a service where companies can come to us with a concept which is almost finished and we will basically rip it apart, test it, and give them our honest opinion about the things - micro and large - that could positively or negatively influence the success of the concept.
"The reason why we have set up the institute like this is that, in creativity research, we talk about 'The Medici Effect,'" says Stierand, referring to Frans Johansson's exploration of innovation which outlines how combining insights from different disciplines can create breakthroughs.
Sometimes you can learn incredible things by simply being in contact with a partner from a different discipline where they've done something and you see the potential by translating this to your discipline.
"In order to push this forward, we have set up a very exciting community of worldwide academics, leading figures from different disciplines all interested in the topic of creativity." This network, he says, includes psychologists and academics with management expertise. "We'll make this community accessible to our industry partners."
The Future of the Institute
Upcoming projects include the publication of a book, with chapters by some of the institute's associates, "based on methodologies that can be used in the realm of creativity and that will give us a very robust foundation on which we can build and stand. And, yes, I'm very excited about it."
So what will success look like for the institute?
"Success for us would not only mean financial success … but, more importantly, that we establish ourselves as the 'go-to' place for businesses who want to become different, think differently and who want to say 'okay, let's think about this differently than we did for the last 25 years'. We aim to build a very inclusive environment for academics and practitioners, to come together and say 'Let's do something together, something that will have an impact.'"
For more information about EHL's new Institute of Business Creativity, contact [email protected].
Marc Stierand, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Service Management and the Director of the Institute of Business Creativity at EHL. Before joining the world of academia, he was a chef in Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels. His research focuses on managerial and organizational cognition and management education and development in the hospitality context, with particular interest in personal and team creativity, intuition, and talent.
Ian Millar is a Senior Lecturer in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation department at EHL working on the Student Business Projects and delivering hospitality technology courses. His expertise in the areas of hospitality and information technology sets him at the forefront of new developments in the international hospitality industry. He is also a mentor for the Metro Accelerator program, advising various hospitality technology start-up companies. He is currently on the HITEC Amsterdam advisory council, organizing Europe's largest hospitality technology conference.