Industry Update
Opinion Article19 August 2019

Innovating Through the Eyes of the Next Generation

Students are a great source of inspiration and can offer valuable business expertise for companies in hospitality and beyond. Frédéric Delley, Senior Lecturer on Innovation Management at EHL and SBP coach, shares his perspective.

By Frédéric Delley, Senior Lecturer, Innovation Management at EHL

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Delley

New Ideas Live in New Boxes

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Asking yourself or your collaborators to "think different", while it sounds good, is probably just a fanciful hope. When is the last time you changed your mind about something you deeply believed in? When did you last seriously consider the merits of diametrically opposed viewpoints?

To think differently, or "out-of-the-box" as the overused phrase goes, is hard because each of us has spent our entire life constructing our views of how the world operates.

This was painful work, and one feels squeamish at the idea of exposing potential cracks in our mental models. So, rather than expecting - or, even worse, requiring - everyone in the workplace to break out of their boxes, why not engage with new people living in other boxes instead?

Diversity Meets Structure

Opening new boxes is probably the most valuable benefit I have seen Student Business Projects - SBPs for short - provide organizations of all stripes. For nine weeks, an SBP offers access to the fresh perspectives of the next generation of professionals - and, yes, future customers as well - as they help you make the most of new exciting opportunities or address old frustrating issues.

Six young minds with different outlooks on just about everything will approach the challenge you give them in truly unique ways, blissfully unaware of "the boxes" - you may know them as "cultural baggage", "operational constraints" or "internal politics" - that may exist within your organization.

This uniqueness comes not only from the diversity of our students' profiles but also from the specific SBP process that has been carefully refined over the past twenty years. Indeed, we have taken great care in designing a methodology that gives structure while also encouraging creativity, guarantees objectivity while also allowing for original contributions, and provides flexibility to react to the unexpected while also ensuring that each milestone is met efficiently.

Gracefully resolving these conflicting objectives is at the heart of all innovative endeavors. So, while the fresh and diverse perspectives of our students are essential, they are just the raw material that must still be shaped to ensure both the novelty and the usefulness of the solutions being developed.

A Versatile Approach to Innovation

Having coached more than 150 SBP teams over the past ten years, I have witnessed how powerful this combination of diversity and structure can be.

The most compelling evidence can be found in the range of projects that this formula has been successfully applied to. From the creation of new concepts to the development of ambitious marketing strategies or memorable customer experiences, there is little that a group of motivated students following a sound process cannot tackle.

Beyond the range of projects, the variety of industries in which our client organizations operate is further proof of the versatility of the approach. Among our most loyal clients are organizations from sectors such as financial services, luxury goods, education, non-profit, and, of course, hospitality. While our students may not always be experts in these fields, their ability to quickly immerse themselves in new environments has always amazed me.

I believe that this capacity for instant adaptation has much to do with the profile of the typical EHL student.

Excellence as a Blend of Action and Reflection

Pick an EHL student at random and you are likely to find someone who values human interactions, has an innate sense of empathy, and is emotionally aware of the context she finds herself in. Together, these traits foster learning and discovery, both vital ingredients during the first few weeks of a project when teams immerse themselves into unknown environments. Never afraid to engage, discuss, and probe, the teams conduct the necessary in-field work in search of valuable information and insights.

Whether studying the customer retail environment in Japan's mega-cities or benchmarking the latest concepts of senior residences in the South of France, students will do whatever is necessary to bring back the knowledge needed to develop relevant and impactful recommendations.

Back in Lausanne, they will tap into the school's resources and its network of experts to advance their thinking on particular issues. All the while, the teams' coaches - handpicked from the school's faculty body - will act as sounding boards to the team's analyses and ideas, challenging them week after week. Later, as the students put the finishing touches to their report and get ready for their all-important client presentation, they will up their game one more time and make sure that EHL's touch of excellence comes through in their work.

How many times, as coaches, have we heard a particular client say at the end of this whole exercise, "I'm not sure I would have gotten this level of quality from a professional consulting firm." That is the moment when, as we all stand in that presentation room, students and their coaches exchange a knowing glance, a fleeting recognition of a job well done.

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Frédéric Delley

Mr. Frédéric Delley has international experience working in startups and multinational companies in the fields of high technology and brand management. After completing his Master in Data Communication Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in 1998, Frédéric moved to Silicon Valley where he worked as a software engineer for Intel Corporation and Cisco Systems as well as participated in the development of several software startups.

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