KUKA AG

Ulrike Tagscherer

Ulrike is the Chief Innovation Officer at KUKA AG. Her focus is on changing the mindset in a very technology-driven culture.

What led you into working with innovation?

I have always found myself working at the intersection of research and industry. I started my career in European's largest organisation for applied research, where I learned innovation from just doing it. My understanding of innovation as something that requires trial and error as well as seeing failures as opportunities for learning comes from being part of an organisation where everyone had that attitude. Now I am trying to infuse people at my current workplace with that attitude.

What does a typical day look like?

Most of my day I spend talking to people. I try to convince stakeholders, communicate about internal innovation and mobilise people to participate in our initiatives. I also try to stay up to date on how other companies innovate and lookout for new tools that can support us being more innovative.

In Kuka, this way of working is very new to many people. The global standards require robots to have a reliability of 98,5 percent. In KUKA it is even higher.

Using the right tools can help us to form new ways of thinking and working. They help us to reduce uncertainty among our employees and to move through the process. In Kuka, this way of working is very new to many people. The global standards require robots to have a reliability of 98,5 percent. In KUKA it is even higher.

In the coming period, I will focus on supporting two teams from our currently ongoing innovation campaign that are going into the incubation phase and I will work on building our global innovation community.

Which challenges in relation to innovation do you face at your company?

The biggest challenge that we currently face is the change of the mindset and culture of a very technology-driven organisation. We have some deeply rooted ways of working and a "no-failure" culture that permeates the entire organisation. Whereas this way of thinking is a necessity in our operational business, it also keeps us from doing some real leaps in learning and pursuing new and interesting opportunities.

One example is that some ideas have a hard time getting any backing again when they have been rejected once. But in fact, conditions might have changed, and they might indeed be relevant now to pursue further. We need to build ways of testing ideas fast as well as we need to learn that failing along the way is part of the journey. Making this change is a process that starts with management, which is why we will work with our leadership team to teach new ways of working with innovative ideas.

Can you share a recent success story?

I think that our first online innovation campaign was a great success that even surprised us a little. We had such a great number of ideas, of people participating in the campaign and a lot of conversations around innovation. The best part for me was that what we saw in the comments of our ideas was the start of cross-organisational communication, regional and cultural borders in the company. I found it amazing when colleagues from the UK shared their experience from a pilot project with their customer with an idea author in Germany, who had a similar idea. Also, we saw that colleagues started communicating via the platform and at some point, they said: "now let's have a physical meeting" because they realised they wanted the same idea being developed.

But a new approach and better timing can make previously suggested ideas successful. We need to learn that failure is a feature of innovation, instead of trying to have a flawless product before we show it to a customer.

Furthermore, we selected an idea for incubation that had been suggested before. We believe that some of them should get a new chance. This is new to us because we tend to not retry ideas once we have discarded them. I hope that the coming campaigns will create more opportunities of this kind and that it will naturally evolve.

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

For me, it is about being open-minded towards ideas and past failures. I often hear people saying, “we have already tried this and it did not work”. So, they suggest that the idea will never have a chance. But a new approach and better timing can make previously suggested ideas successful. We need to learn that failure is a feature of innovation, instead of trying to have a flawless product before we show it to a customer.

When working with innovation, I also think it is important to have the right tools and processes in place. Without it, it will be very dependent on individuals and not necessary progress as it could when you scale it using the tools and methods. 

One such tool is the Value Proposition Canvas and the Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder that we applied in the Bootcamp (part of the campaign). 

To illustrate this, one person who was part of the boot camp came up to me and said: “I have worked with innovation for many years, but I have never understood or learned the process, theories and tools behind it". We need more people to understand these models to assure that we get more ideas faster to our customers.

Recommendations

BOOK

Value Proposition Design by Alexander Osterwalder.

BEST ADVICE

Never fall in love with your first idea! You must be ready to discard it if something tells you it will not work. 

QUOTE

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow."
— William Pollard, physicist

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