Idea's space

This blog is dedicaded to share ideas about personal and professional development.

Posts Tagged ‘innovation

Predict the future or make it possible.

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StudentsRecently, I was part of a BarCamp with some entrepreneurs. The topic of the session was the passion of entrepreneurship. During a discussion, one of the members asked me the following question: “What kind of studies would you recommend to your children?” This question was a very good one, in this particular difficult time where in one hand, the level of unemployed people is high, and on the other hand, some countries are facing lacks of talents, as consequences that some jobs opportunities remain vacant.

Nevertheless, what should I tell to a teenager who has to choose studies?  My advice would be that he has to choose studies he is motivated by, independently from the fact that there are job opportunities in that field or not. My answer seems to be a bit unrealistic, but let me explain why I think so. I think and am convinced that it will be more useful and enjoyable to study something you like. One of the obvious advantages to make studies is that it contributes to open your mind, to discover new matters, to acquire knowledge. Each of us remember some matters we discovered during our studies, matters we found very interesting and that probably led us to new fields of interests and opportunities. In such movement of motivation, we can increase our chance to find our place in the society and in the professional world. Think about studies only in terms of job opportunities doesn’t make sense. If you advice somebody who hate figures to study accounting, you will make an incompetent and unhappy accountant, and his chance to convince an employer will be thin, as he will not be convinced himself.

To answer to that question is not so easy, as we are facing a strange paradox. On one hand, we try to predict the future and to organize our career, and on the other hand, we have no idea what will be our world in five years. I remember when I finished my studies, end of the eighties, we never heard about a webmaster, as the world wide web was just invented in 1989. When I finished my college in 1985, nobody could advice to do webmaster studies as it did not exist.  As said Alexandre de Saint-Exupéry with this nice quote, “Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it”. What we can only do is to maximize our chance to get a future job by acquiring a good basic knowledge thru studies. But does it mean that each type of studies enables us to get a job?

We know that today, a diploma is not a guarantee anymore to get a job, but the way we will make the difference by is innovation. If you remember Steve Jobs speech at Stanford University, speaking about “connecting the dots”, he was saying that you never know forward what you can do with something you learn. It is only backward when you discover new things, new interests that you see the value, the application of matters you studied, the opportunities you can catch with what you learned. To do studies can be an serendipity accelerator. Let me give you an example. I knew somebody who studies musicology in Berckley, and had a P.h.d. You are wondering what job opportunities are for such a qualification.  Music was his passion, and he was a fantastic bass player, but he had also another passion, software development. A few years later, he decided to create his own software company and start to develop software to learn music. The combination of two passions can open the doors to opportunities, and here, we are clearly in an innovation process.

Innovation is a key to invent the jobs of tomorrow. I saw around me many examples of people who made a kind of studies, taking interesting professional ways by combining what they studied with other skillsets. Often, they reinvent existing things by having another perception of the world. It is obvious today that in a fast moving environment, we are led to learn during all our live. It is a necessity but also an opportunity to find new opportunities or to build successful professional projects. But such ongoing process cannot be run without passion. Passion is the energy to build a successful life, passion is the key to convince people to subscribe to your project and to make it work. Passion is the only renewable energy.

The answer to the question of studies choice, is to listen to your inner voice, but also to be aware that you will have to manage your career in terms of knowledge development. Most of us will probably have different professional careers, or to do what we do on another way. It is only curiosity, interest and passion that will enable us to build a successful career in accordance with our expectations and our values. Passion is the key ingredient, not to predict the future, but to make it possible.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

June 23, 2014 at 17:42

The intangible side of an organization.

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Traditionally, each company or organization used to publish financial statements in order to present their results and the performances of the activity. Most of the time, the level of profit is the main concern of companies. Of course, making profit is a essential condition to ensure the durability of a company and to finance in future projects. But is profit the only condition and the only parameter proving the good wealth of a company, of an organization?

A financial statement is a picture at a T time of the property of a company, an organization. A picture provide a range of information, but the evolution between two period of time will tell more about the trend of the business or the activity. In other words, the movie will tell us more than a couple of pictures. Nevertheless, these financial information does not include a range of intangible values that will have a positive or negative impact on the activity or the business.

What are these intangible values contributing to the sustainability of a company, of an organization? Let us review a few of them:

  • Innovation: in a fast moving environment where a lot of competitors are acting, innovation is a key factor of success. Innovation requires to perceive the trends of evolution, to look at the expectation of people, of to potential market needs. Innovation means to anticipate and to look further than the horizon. Innovation and creation of new innovative products or services will distinguish your company from your competitors. Success is never definitively acquired. But sometime, companies are meeting success and forget that success has a time. The major point is not how to survive to failure, but how to survive to success.
  • Talent and competences: An organization or a company works only thanks to the collaboration of people having competences and skills. The development of competences level will contribute to the performance level. The organization needs to have a long term view in term of competence development. Some people are leaving the organization, and it means that a part of know-how is leaving the company too. To ensure the sustainability of resources and talents has to be a major concern of the companies.
  • Vision and team spirit: The organization needs to have a clear vision and all the member have to subscribe to that vision, to the common goal. It is only by sharing the same vision that they can contribute to common goals and show team spirit. A company like Appel Computer succeeded in her major realizations, because Appel members are sharing Steve Jobs vision.
  • Motivation: Each collaborator, each member of a team has competences. But competences is not the only condition making him contributing to the organization by giving the best he can do. The key factor is motivation. He can only be motivated if he has clearly assigned goals and if these goals and the role he has to play within the organization fits with his expectations. People who are not motivated will show poor performances and the level of performances will decrease with the time. People need to be able to express their talents, and to find sense on what they are doing.
  • Wellness: Wellness is linked to motivation. People needs to love their job and to do it with a feeling of to wellness. They need to enjoy their work environment in order to be motivated and to provide the best work they can give. Stress and lack of wellness have a negative impact on the health, and on the productivity. People are only waiting to go back home, their do not want to be considered or identified as a team member of the organization. In these circumstances, it is difficult to reach a common goal.
  • Corporate social responsibility: People are paying more and more attention to the reputation of companies and their engagement to social responsibility. The economy is a major actor of the society and has to integrate values that are respecting the society and the people.

These are a lot of intangible aspects you will never find in a financial statement of an organization or a company. Nevertheless, these aspects can have a positive or negative impact on the performance, but also on the reputation of the organization. And with the development of information technologies and the social medias, your bad reputation can be known quickly and cause important damages to your organization. To take care about these things will contribute to empower the efficiency and to ensure the sustainability of your organization.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

August 16, 2011 at 21:08

Mistakes, a necessity ?

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Mistakes, a necessity ?

We commonly say that we could learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. When we succeed in a project, we are just enjoying this success without asking too much questions about the reasons which contribute to this success. Maybe should we put some questions about the reasons of the success and what happen, if things could go on a wrong way?  But most of the time we could only put questions to ourselfs about problems when they happen.

By analyzing our mistakes, we could learn a lot of things; understand what happen in an environment, in a process. By learning from our mistake, we can develop new solutions, innovate and be more creative. Does it mean that to make mistakes is a necessity in order to innovate, in order to increase our knowledge?

In an interview, Luc de Brabandere, a Belgian consultant specialized in creativity is making reference to the philosopher Kant, to explain the necessity of our mistake by telling the following story: at a certain moment, a flying bird becomes to be tired because he has to struggle to the resistance of the wind. It should be easier for him if the air did not exist. But if the air did not exist, he could not fly. Kant explains by this that the air is the problem and the condition for the bird.

By making reference to this, Luc de Brabandere wants to explain that often, we are scared to make mistakes because it could have negative impacts and people making mistakes could be blamed. Mistakes have negative impact on a short terms basis, but they are implying the necessity to put in place improvement processes, and to develop innovative and creative solutions. An innovation process includes testing steps and experiences. By analyzing the mistakes resulting from these steps, we have a better understanding of the processes, the mechanisms, and which brings us new elements to develop appropriated solutions.

Does it mean that we have to encourage mistakes in order to move things forward? Do not forget that some inventions were created accidently. It is the case of Spencer Silver, a chemist working in the research and development department of the company 3m. In 1970, he was elaborating a solution of extra strong glue, but the results were not as expected. By separating two peaces of paper, he was noticing that the glue remained on one peace of paper or on the other. This invention seemed to be useless. Four years later, one of his colleagues got an idea. He was singing in a choral and was used to place bookmarks in his songs book. As the bookmarks were always falling, he putted Spencer’s glue on it. He noticed that he could remove the bookmarks without damaging the book pages. The Post-it was born!

The question is not to encourage mistakes, but sometimes they are unavoidable. Mistakes could represent cost on short terms basis but benefits on a long terms basis. Mistakes are a necessity to go further but not an obligation.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

July 5, 2010 at 21:20

Passion and team spirit, the ingredients of successful projects.

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Solar Impulse, the fruit of passion and team work

Wednesday, april 7th, Solar Impulse, the first solar plane did his first flight. This plane took off from the military airport of Payenne in Switzerland. This plane, with a wingspan of an Airbus A340 (63,40 meter) and the weight of a car (1600 kilos) is propelled by four electrical engines, fed by around 12.000 photo-voltaic cells, charging lithium-polymer batteries. The plane flighted around two hours.

This event represents more than an evolution in the aerospace story, we could say that it is a revolution. Since a lot of time, the man was dreaming to fly, and it is in the year 1903 that the Wright brothers built the first glider. It was a revolution at that time to be able to make fly an aircraft. There were after a lot of steps and improvements, from transport planes to jets. Today, another step starts, with a plane using renewable energy sources.

This solar airplane represents a wonderful technological achievement. Bertrand Piccard, a swiss psychiatrist and entrepreneur, is at the origin of this project. He wanted to demonstrate that it is possible with the development of new technologies to minimize the usage of fossil energy. Solar Impulse is supposed to fly by using only solar energy. Following Bertrand Piccard, if we are able to develop this technology for an airplane, we can develop it also for other transport mode or applications.

This is a revolutionary technological achievement, but it is also an extraordinary human adventure. Bertrand Piccard and his team worked on this project during six years, on design, simulations and construction. The success of such project is only possible if two ingredients are there: passion and team spirit. To lead such project to the success is a question to gather competences and expertise, but also to gather people moved by passion. The first point is to believe in the project, to believe in such project because you have an entrepreneur mind. The entrepreneurs have always a project in advance, they are visionaries. For then, impossible is not a reality, and if there are doubts about that, they will try to see if it is really the case. In this case, we could add also an humanist dimension to this project. As said Bertrand Piccard, “With this project, we would like to send a message, to demonstrate that the renewable energies are not trivial, but they are a credible alternative contributing to the environment preservation and to economical development. During many years, ecology and economy were opposed. Today, the development of new ecological technologies presents a potential of economical growth and sustainable jobs.

During an interview after this inaugural flight, Bertrand Piccard was explaining that he had tears in one’s eyes, that he was so happy to see the fruits of his team work. We could imagine easily the satisfaction and the happiness to succeed such project. It is an evidence that such project has not been only moved by cerebral activity, but also by the hart. It is when things are coming from your hart, that you find the energy to build the different steps of your project. You are in a mood where you have not to convince yourself, because you are already convinced. You are maximizing your change to reach your goal, because you are focusing on it.

If you gather people having the same passion, who want to pursue a common goal, and who are aware that there is no personal success without team success, then you have the most important ingredients to realize your projects, to transform dreams in reality.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

April 14, 2010 at 20:46

Growth or innovation ?

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Apple Headquarter

Nearly each week, we can hear about merge or acquisitions of companies through the media. The acquisition race seems to be unavoidable if you want to develop or preserve a company or your business. Really? Everybody does not seem to agree with this fact. It is true, with Mr. Peter Mandelson, First Secretary of State in U.K., who declared in “The Guardian” that it is not a secret to say that during these last twenty years, the fusions and acquisitions did not create value on a long term basis, except for consultants”. Mr. Mandelson said these words in the context of the Cadbury takeover by Kraft.  Is it true or is it wrong?

As financial consultant, I was confronted with some business cases where the supposed financial setting-up did not produce the expected results, and finally represented a charge and not a benefit for the corporation, because the business was not running as expected or because some legal or tax rules changed. Was it predictable? Difficult to say, but a conclusion which could be done is that financial or business structure can produce positive effects, if we take all the parameters into accounts, and if these do not change afterwards.

Each business case is different. Most of companies are announcing merges or acquisitions because they found synergies between both businesses. Normally, when a company is acquiring another one, she is acquiring or consolidating business segment, new customers. We could believe that normally, one plus one makes two. There is of course some jobs cutting in order to suppress duplicate functions, but what we notice sometimes, is a lot of people laid off. In this case, it seems that the goal of such acquisition is purely for financial purposes.

Are the acquisitions an absolute necessity in order to survive in a competitive environment? This kind of operations arises always a level of risk, and the history shows sometimes these operations as unsuccessful. General motors for instance, acquired other automotive marks like Saab, Daewoo. We know what happened to this corporation. To take another example in the automotive industry, the merge between Daimler and Chrysler in 1998 was not a success and the two entities demerged in 2007. Where was the mistake? To big to fail does not seems to be a reality, but maybe to big to be managed with short term view is a good answer.

Is the size of a company an asset to stay alive? Is the size the only criteria to maintain or increase the revenues? Let’s talk about companies which make some acquisitions for strategic reasons, which are operating in businesses where they have not the most important market share. If we take the example of Apple Inc, this company has a much lower market share of the computer industry, compared to the other computer manufacturer running with Microsoft Windows operating systems. But why this company is still competitive and why the Apple products are still successful? A part of the answer is in the question. Apple is always focused on the product development. Apple creates hardware with original design and efficient technology. But on top of creating quality products, Apple builds a brand image. When you buy an Apple laptop, you do not buy only a computer, you buy a concept, a philosophy. In one word, Apple is innovating on an ongoing basis. Innovation means that you have a long term vision and that you need to have ideas or project in advance. The innovation is probably the best guarantee you have to get a sustainable business. It is probably why a slogan of Apple is “Think Different”.

It should be wrong to conclude that acquisitions are useless operations, but they have to be done in a long term perspective, which is a difficult exercise in a fast changing economical environment. Let’s think that maybe quality is still better than quantity.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 31, 2010 at 21:15

Posted in Business

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Small could still be beautiful

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Silicon Valley, land of innovation

In my previous posting, I was talking about the social economy as an alternative. Of course, to face such complex problem, there is not only one solution, but different ways of alternatives. If I am coming back to this subject, it is because when some indicators are showing that the recession seems to be over, other consequences of the economical crisis are still there, to prompt us to stay moderately optimistic ….or pessimistic. That is what we could see in the news these last days.

Few days ago, there were around seven hundred people losing their job in the Brussels region. A major media distributor felt in bankruptcy and around four hundred people will lose their job. Another pharmaceutical group announced a new restructuring process, by cutting one hundred and seventy jobs. A press group, facing to a decrease of advertising revenues announced also a job cutting of seventy six employees. These tree companies were obliged to axe jobs for different reasons. There are circumstances where we have no choice to cut jobs in order to ensure the company continuity.

Regarding this problematic, I would like to talk about the axed jobs as consequences of merging and acquisitions processes. We can hear very often companies explaining that they acquired other companies or merged with other companies because there are synergies and complementarities between activities. In my mind it should mean that the combination of different activities should provide new opportunities and generate more revenues. It makes sense for small companies who have similar or complementary activities but which can not reach a critical size in their market. But for bigger companies, like international groups, it appears that most of the time, the purpose of such operation is often a financial goal. Most of the time, after such operations, it follows a restructuring wave and a lot of jobs are axed. As already mentioned in other postings, how can this economy survive, when the principle seems to be “do more with less people”? If people are losing their purchasing power, how can we sustain a growing economy? Are merges and acquisitions always necessary to ensure a business? Some years ago, a Belgian fashion designer, Olivier Strelli decided to expand his activities in Japan. After some problems of unfair concurrency and piracy, he decided to stop his activities in this country. Finally, such decisions did not have a negative impact on his business.

It is not forbidden to believe that our economy needs to move to a SME economy, where there is more flexibility in terms of organization, in term of creativity and innovation. I was reading recently in a book written by Philippe Buschini (*) about Personal Branding, a sentence of Nathan Rosenberg saying that “The innovation appears often outside of the existing organizations, partly because the winning organizations are staying in the status quo and are resisting to the ideas which could affect then”. A lot of new high valued activities were created by start up companies, with high potential of development. Let us think for example to the IT industry.

But the interesting point is that in the actual environment, where things becomes more and more complex, these small companies needs to get high value advices and services but on a temporary or part time basis. This could be a real opportunity for other companies and people, to create not only commercial and technical relations, but real business partnerships. This kind of services are already existing, with the field of interim management or project consulting, but we could also consider that people could become partners in several companies, and participate of the development processes for each of then. People would work as freelance, which is still seen as more risky than an employee position, but the advantage could be to gain more experiences by working on different projects and in this way, to ensure their employability.

By thinking about this, it seems that the story is a process of constant renewal. Some small companies grew, became giants and then disappeared. It could be that finally, small could be still beautiful.

(*) Philippe Buschini website:

Picture from

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 19, 2009 at 19:45

Social economy, the sustainable way ?

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In Gironde, consumers are financing the installations of a "bio" market gardner for a local direct sale.

Today, the social economy seems to gain interests. The main principle of this concept is to create an economical model showing more solidarity. When I read these words, I am wondering if we are not busy to re-invent what should be the ideal model?

If you think about the economy, it has to be to the service of the people, and not the opposite. By mentionning this, it implies that the economy has a social dimension…or should have it.  But today, the concerns are more to maximize the profit of the companies in order to create value for the shareholders. But for how many time? In these particular difficult times, people lost their jobs. Sometimes, it was the only solution in order to maintain the continuity of economical activity. But we can see also in many countries, increasing difference between higher and lower salaries. When some people could not spend the money they are earning during all their live, other people try to survive.

Do not forget that some people have high responsibilities and need to be paid for. But until which salary level does it still make cense? When I remember by the past, some salaries and bonuses earned by some directors of companies which did not show exceptional performances or falling in bankruptcy, I see that more as an incompetence premium. Everybody would be ready to miss a target of to fail a project and receive a salary or bonus which allows you to have a comfortable live. Where is the risk?

By reducing the lower salaries, how can we ensure an economical growing, if people can not pay for goods or services? By contracting debts? That is what  happened these last years, and created the financial crisis.

We can not create a social environment in an economical desert, but we can not also develop a sustainable economy without a sustainable social model.

Today, it seems we are trying to find new technical solutions in order to re-start the economy, while it is much more a mentality change which needs to happen. Let us take the example of the automotive industry. Today, in order to save this industry and to boost the car sales, many countries are giving allowance to people buying a “green” car. When we know that the automotive industry is in overcapacity since few years and that this industry is producing more with less people than before, this kind of measure will only produce short term effect, but fundamentally will not solve the problem.

In a sustainable economy model, the profit should only ensure the continuity of the company, giving the capability to finance new projects development. The profit is one of the components, the human resource is another. Maintain the number and the quality of the jobs contributes to maintain the know-how of your company. And this know-how is increasing everyday as long as same people are staying in the company. People should not be considered as employee, but as partners of the company. Reduce the people turnover contributes also to reduce recruitment fees and avoid to lose productivity.

To preserve the environment contributes also to a more social environment and develop a sustainable economy. By producing less and recycling more, by developing new activity fields respecting environment, we can develop a social economy giving opportunities to lower qualified people, to contribute to a high valued environmental project. We can already see such programs, gaining successful results.

Personally, I believe that a social economy is possible. It implies innovation and creativity. Creativity does not mean only to invent new things, but also to do things, to think on another way. But such transformation is possible if it is driven by the common good. It is just a question of will and intellectual honesty, to move to a society where people do not exist only by using a credit card.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

November 11, 2009 at 23:16

Posted in Economy

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