Innovator Spotlight: “Accept that [resistance] is a normal human reaction to change”

Diana Pincescu innovation interview

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Do these new job names puzzle you too?

Chief Innovation Officer.
Business Model Designer.
Change Agent.
Digital Transformation Manager.

These unfamiliar job descriptions sometimes leave people wondering: so what do these people do exactly?

We’re so used to familiar job descriptions that jobs associated with innovation are difficult to visualize the type of work involved.

This is where we come in, to help turn innovation from an abstract concept paraded at conferences into a practical set of concepts and skills you can use in your own job.

What better way to do it than to learn from skilled innovators who do this every day?

Meet Diana Pincescu, Innovation Experiment Lead at ING Romania.

Diana is in charge of coaching her colleagues on the fundamentals of innovation with a strong emphasis on experimentation. In a few questions, we tried to capture some essential insights she learned through hard work, self-development, and uninterrupted commitment to making customers’ lives better.

Here’s what we learned that you could integrate into your own workflow.

What is the most exciting or challenging aspect of being an Innovation Experiment Lead?

“Most of the aspects of this role are either exciting or challenging, or even both at the same time. 😄 I think I am most excited when I’m waiting to see the outcome of the experiments. The waiting and the curiosity make this moment special to me. Every time.

This can turn into a challenge very quickly though. Quite often, product managers and stakeholders are not truly prepared (yet) for the scenario in which their assumption/hypothesis is invalided. Thus, it is harder for them to accept it or further act on it.

Another aspect that I love about this role, especially since it is still in its early stages in Romania, is that I get to try new approaches/experiment designs/tools myself.

I experiment on experimentation. 😊”

How did your background in market research influence your career path towards innovation?

“In fact, I think it is rather the influence of my profession as a sociologist, which also influenced me towards market research.

The common ground is the desire to observe and understand the human and the consumer behavior, needs and problems. All three – sociology, market research and innovation – have this desire and focus at their core.

This is enhanced by my personal predilection for novelty, curiosity, experimenting and taking on challenging objectives, such as transforming the mindset of an organization. He-he!”

What does it take to build a mindset that supports experimentation? What are some mental habits you have to change or new ones to build?

“First of all, you need perseverance and persuasion.

The existing business models and organizational cultures, most of them, especially in older or larger companies, do not have an experimentation mindset and infrastructure. When pushing experimentation and customer validations on a larger scale into an organization’s life, you basically bring it out of its comfort zone.

When people are out of their comfort zone they either:
1. reject/ignore you and do all they can to keep things as they were previously
2. forget and automatically resort to what and how they have always done things or
3. are excited but don’t get your hopes up; you still need to be there for them because the others or “the organization” might spoil them.

‘Do we really need to do this (customer validation)? I am sure it (product/service/…) will be well received by the users’
‘I do not have time to experiment.’
‘Wait, we cannot test/experiment yet, we still need to tweak it. It is too early to show it.’
‘Why do we need to experiment/test on a new iteration? Isn’t one experiment enough?’
‘I want to test with the clients/users to get a confirmation that my idea/solution is a good one.’

These are some of the most common barriers to experimentation I encountered, especially in the beginning.

To change this mindset, you need to accept that this is a normal human reaction to change and you need to repeat, again and again:

  • why experimentation helps,
  • why an idea/solution is a good one if it solves a need or problem for the user,
  • why failure is always an option and that we do not perform experiments to get confirmations but to learn,
  • why it is more valuable to throw your ‘baby’ out there earlier and so on.
  • You need to help them understand and internalize that ideas and solutions are not like wine, they are better only with the number of iterations shown to users. Also, that innovation is not about winning the lottery of new ideas; most commonly it is about, again, iterations, experiments and drive.”

    How does company culture change when it embraces the innovation process? From your perspective, why is this a valuable transformation to engage in?

    “From my perspective, the most valuable gain is that product managers and stakeholders get closer to users/clients and this has multiple benefits.

    Listening to them more, weighing in their needs and behaviour more, and understanding that experimentation and customer validation are really valuable – all these help lower risk/uncertainty and build a continuous learning mindset.

    And moreover, this helps them grow: it makes it less about my skills and ego as an expert and more about the product and the user.

    It is not easy to take in customer feedback and experiments’ outcomes. Making this transformation will help them use their professional expertise to design better/more relevant products for their customers.”

    Which resources would you recommend for decision-makers who want to understand the practical aspects of innovation?

    So if Diana’s experience got you excited about accelerating your own growth path, no matter your role or background, here are some resources to keep going.

    Diana recommends the best books to fuel your innovator mindset by exposing yourself to new ways of thinking and working:

    If you haven’t read it yet, a must have: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

    Also, one of my all time favourites, a very enjoyable read about human behaviour: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.”

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    If you’re looking to understand more of what’s behind the scenes in innovation, keep an eye on the WiseUp blog for interviews with global experts and our own insights gained from hard-earned experience or join our free course: Introduction to corporate innovation.

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