Evonik Industries AG

Carlos Martinez Cristancho

Carlos works at the intersection of chemical engineering and open innovation at EVONIK Industries. He strives to connect people across all levels and geographical borders.

What led you into working with Innovation?

I am a chemical engineer and in my first position at Evonik, I was responsible for developing and optimizing processes closely related to biotechnology which is a field with a lot of potential for Evonik. This kind of job requires a lot of creativity, teamwork, openness and focus on experimenting and documenting diverse solutions for for existing or new processes. These privileged engagements in process technology left a deep mark in my mind and showed me that innovation could be a potential career path.

After some years, I was lucky to get a position in the Innovation Networks department, related to the Open Innovation. I found a great appeal in the idea of working in Open Innovation and trying to make something of it. It is a job full of intellectual stimulation and a lot of interesting people. I have found new tasks and responsibilities but at the same time more freedom, more satisfaction, and, even a different kind of fulfilment in combining technical knowledge and managerial skills.

My job is to create the perfect environment for the creation, growth, and development of ideas and every day is different.

How does a typical day look like?

My job is to create the perfect environment for the creation, growth, and development of ideas and every day is different. My focus is on experimenting with new methods and tools for everyone to try and to fail. We want that every employee at Evonik feels as an innovator in his or her daily job. We aim to identify and develop ideas, but most importantly the persons behind the ideas. This is what the Evonik’s Corporate Entrepreneurship Program does, and I am responsible for it. A program, Nosco helped us to develop a couple of years ago.

We further support the growth fields - strategic topics on which Evonik is building its future. This requires cooperation among different internal and external stakeholders, and we play a significant role in bringing people together to share their expertise or questions or ideas.

What Innovation Challenges do you face at your company?

At the moment, I focus on two challenges at Evonik: enhancing risk-taking and improving knowledge sharing. As mentioned, we are continuously working on identifying the innovators within the company and giving them the opportunity to develop their ideas and skills further. We give them a platform for taking the risk of creating and developing ideas into value as products, processes, services and so on. The next task is to find strong support from the operational divisions. Support means to bring the developed prototype to market and test it with real customers. For this, the divisions need to provide further financing. Here we still have a lot to do to enhance the risk-taking of the operational division.

Our second largest challenge is to effectively connect our employees from different business lines for open cooperation. Recent acquisitions and a clear decentralized structure of our divisions and operating businesses have brought many advantages for independent decision making. But they have also made knowledge sharing or technology transfer within the company more difficult.

Can you share a recent success story?

We have very creative and high-potential people at Evonik. People who think beyond their job description. But again, these people need a suitable platform to share and realize their ideas. This involves a cultural transformation on a large scale, at all levels of the company and all regions where the company is operating.

Our innovation challenge, The Global Ideation Jam, developed together with Nosco has been a key driver for our cultural transformation to become a more connected and innovative company. This has been a great success and evidence of this can be observed in the evolution of the competition since 2016 when we started. Up to now, we have 4 entrepreneurs, more than 3000 participants each year, around 80 ideas per year, more than 100 employees and 30 coaches trained at the boot camps. We evolved from an almost pure German competition to a global initiative, international participation has outnumbered even Europe. The operating businesses are now recognizing that the Global Ideation Jam is a source of novel ideas and talents and they are also getting more interested and supportive with the initiative.

Our success story is the learning journey that this cultural transformation has left behind. We are still learning, and this journey is far from over. Nowadays, we are developing other formats to make our innovation culture more visible and hopefully more impactful.

What is one thing about Innovation that you think is important?

The synergetic effect of combining people and expertise is the one thing that makes innovation unique. And this is normally the result of curiosity and networks. Ideas come from the curiosity of people asking about better products, services, technologies and so on. But for ideas to become reality, they need a special constellation of people and skills interconnected in an incredible and magical way. Setting the platforms and tools for this to happen is the one thing that makes innovation stand out.

Recommendations

BOOK

I recently read “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight. It is probably one of the most impressive and honest entrepreneurial stories I have read. I got the recommendation by following very closely Bill Gates’ book recommendations in his blog. I can only recommend visiting his website and his blogs about the books he reads. He started in 2010 and I started last year to follow his books’ recommendations. That means I have a backlog of almost 10 years.

ADVICE

Again, from Phil Knight (sorry I finished the book a week ago and it is still on my bedside table):

“The art of competing is the art of forgetting. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past…”

Innovation is sometimes more about forgetting than creating. Forgetting bureaucracy and hierarchies to create value and connect ideas and people with freedom and with the necessary thrive to implement ideas no matter what. Execution instead of endless ideation.

QUOTE

There is a very insightful quote from Phil Knight in his book:

“Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment”—Phil Knight

I really like the part about never-ending commitment, and this is something that made me think about my journey.

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