Monthly Archives: March 2018

Da Vinci @ Work: How Lenard finally found his voice

Meeting him today, it’s difficult to believe that an articulate, friendly person like Lenard Strydom was once shy and introverted and something of a loner within his working career. It’s true, he insists. “A couple of years ago, I was very insecure and scared to interact with people. I had a huge lack of self-confidence.”
Lenard compares his transformation from timid to self-assured to a homeless dog (Thor) that is adopted into a happy family. In fact, that was the analogy he used at his oral defence in February 2018, when he explained to a Da Vinci Institute panel what his BCom Operational Risk Management studies had done for him.
“That dog represented me: skinny, scared and without a voice. Then, through four specific modules and the mentoring I received, I found my voice.”
The four modules that changed Lenard’s life within business were Business Management, Professional Writing Skills, Systems Management and Innovation Management. “Those four modules were new to me, and they taught me a lot,” says Lenard.
Aiding his transformation was the mentoring he received from Da Vinci and his executive manager at his employer, Macsteel. “I never thought I’d be capable of studying for a BCom degree, but those four modules and the mentoring from Nival Porun and Da Vinci were a recipe for success.”
As he grew in confidence, new career horizons opened up for Lenard, who had started his working life as an operator at a steel mill and is now National Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) Manager at Macsteel Service Centre SA.
Lenard received the news on 8 February this year that he had successfully completed his work-based challenge and completed his BCom degree.
“Three years later, I’ve finished! This degree gave me skills and knowledge and so much more, and I’ll never stop studying now. But it was the toughest challenge in my entire life, trying to balance work, home, family – a new baby – and my studies.”
When the going got tough, what kept Lenard motivated were his wife, Liechen, and his baby son Ulrich. “My wife would talk sense into me and I would see my son; they are my support structure. I want my wife to be proud of me as a husband and my son to look up to me as a father. That pushed me to complete, and I am so happy that I did,” he says.

“To achieve greatness, you need to believe in yourself, be consistent and disciplined day after day, month after month, and year after year. Never give up; never.”

Left: Lenard Strydom, BCom student, Right: Mark Fuller, Da Vinci Lecturer

Innovation – The strategic imperative for relevance

By Henra Mayer
The importance of innovation for the longevity of organisations is a topic discussed by CEO’s and industry experts alike. It is a long-term commitment, a commitment that requires a considerable investment in the future. It is certainly a good conversation to have in prosperous times when targets are made and economic conditions seem more predictable, but what happens to the “we are great at innovation” conversation when things go pear-shaped? Do we throw innovation out of the window when we face the first round of turbulent headwinds?

 Innovation as a strategic competency is crucial for organisations as disruptive change becomes the new normal. Top organisations manage for innovation success as a rule, but it seems that they do even more so in tough economic times.

Towards the end of 2017, a general turbulent year for global economies and one that saw South Africa downgraded to junk status twice, Innocentrix ran a survey to better understand the innovation behaviour of organisations when the going gets tough. Our “Innovating in Turbulent Times” survey reflected the views of over a hundred CEO’s, C-Suite Executives and Senior Managers while we conducted eight face to face interviews with experts from the Telecommunications, ICT, Manufacturing, Mining and Academic industries.

Does innovation management feature in top organisations?   


We know that organisations talk – and write about innovation easily enough. Think innovation as a “company value” or stated in the “vision or mission” of the organisation, but does this translate into real-world innovation success? 
Over 70 percent of the organisations surveyed said that innovation management was an intentional activity while 83 percent said that getting better at innovation or “anticipating disruption” was part of a longer-term strategic goal. The intent was therefore clearly demonstrated by most but marrying this aspiration with execution proved difficult as 59 percent admitted that no formal budget was in place to support innovation intent.

The Focus for Growth

Responding to business challenges in shark invested waters certainly brings a new dimension to the debate but according to respondents, remaining relevant in turbulent times required a focus on the following three things first:
1. Creating new value from existing products and services
Leading organisations  know what they are good at, they focus on their strengths and find new value for customers and stakeholders. They inherently understand their internal environment, as well as their own capabilities and limitations and then focus their efforts where it matters most.   
“Many organisations of our size opt for variety in terms of contracting-in various services to make innovation happen – these services focus on certain expertise like for instance cost-cutting and restructuring, strategic consulting or change management. Winning companies do lose focus in uncertain times and this will have long lasting negative consequences. One should choose two to three core strategies and work on that consistently to really understand what our competitive advantage and core values  are, so that we can focus at outperforming others on those values.”
          Divisional Head of Strategy, Innovation and Change at a large Financial Institution
    2. Designing totally new offerings or business models 
Being aware of industry happenings, finding the next S-Curve and reinventing the old, is an important strategic question for leading organisations. This is a question that they constantly seek answers to in new ways.
“Leaders must look beyond the pain despite major challenges. Reducing costs and retrenchment are immediate knee-jerk reactions and is not sustainable, it is not a well-considered response. True leadership must relook and reorganize but the appetite should always be to create the new, the future of the company and that lies in the realization that an innovation capability must be built that reaches beyond the ordinary.”
         –  Mining Organizational Effectiveness Officer at Large Mining House employing over 72 000 people
    3. Managing for innovation and differentiation
Organisations that give innovation a home, give people a voice and continuously support process and execution related activities, reap the rewards in terms of a culture that drives differentiated value to the market.  
“It’s important to be agile and to be ahead of the wave. This means that we need to build a rapid execution capability and the ability and willingness to invest. Also a willingness to take risks and challenge the status quo. Winning firms innovate constantly and don’t allow themselves to become complacent, but they also understand the need for failure. They experiment and move to adjacencies. A start-up ecosystem and working with our partners ensure impactful collaboration that will deliver on the innovation promise”.
-Chief Digital Officer at a Large Telecommunications Company (Mobile Operator)”

 tt100 supports and rewards excellence

The TT1000 Business Innovation Awards supports innovation leadership. It annually recognises those who manage their organisations on a holistic level, considering technology, innovation, people and systems. It rewards companies who link their technology and innovation practices effectively to become more agile. The appropriate linkage of technology and people practices tend to create better alignment to react to changing circumstances and this ensures that the organisation up-skills (by acquisition or development) the appropriate human capabilities to match, and even exceed the technological needs at any one time.
From here the organisation develops, improves and adapts its technology needs and appropriate innovation is applied to generate real market value and profitability.  TT100 participants receive intensive, customised feedback on how they manage technology, innovation, people and systems, enabling them to improve the way they operate their organisations. A special benefit of the TT100 awards programme is the feedback participants receive from the adjudicators. This takes the form of the verbal feedback received during each adjudication session and an electronic dashboard that each entrant can download after the awards.[1]
It is about speed to market, response to change and an ability to cope with new world flexibility. But none of this will lead to real-world outputs if people do not make it so.  
Organisations also need to match innovation goals with the appropriate investment, building capability, and an innovation pipeline. In a recent piece of research highlighting the gap between innovation aspiration and intent, McKinsey’s talk about the frustration of sustaining innovation to create real value at scale and state that senior executives agree that people and corporate culture are the most important drivers of innovation. They state that the first step is to formally integrate innovation into the strategic-management agenda of senior leaders, to an extent that few companies have done so far. In this way, they say innovation will not only be encouraged but also managed, tracked, and measured as a core element in a company’s growth aspirations. Other steps are to make better use of existing (and often untapped) talent for innovation, without implementing disruptive change programs, by creating the conditions that allow dynamic innovation networks to emerge and flourish. Finally, they can take explicit steps to foster an innovation culture based on trust among employees. In such a culture, people understand that their ideas are valued, trust that it is safe to express those ideas and oversee risk collectively, together with their managers. Such an environment can be more effective than monetary incentives in sustaining innovation.[2]
High growth companies value people and culture, they think ahead and consider agile methodologies that integrate design thinking principles. They know their industries and customers and make innovation a sustainable strategic competency, and this, after all, remains a leadership responsibility.    
For more information on the TT100 Business Awards please click here or contact Da Vinci by emailing To talk innovation and the Winning in Turbulent Times Survey please contact Innocentrix by emailing or by visiting

[1] TT100 profile

How to Create an Innovation Culture that Lasts

By Henra Mayer
Many organisations kick-off an innovation programme with innovation training or brainstorming sessions. Seeing that it is easier to execute, this can be a good way to engage the organisation around innovation intent. A good programme that delivers fresh ideas utilise the power of collaboration to create repeatable differentiated value in the market and one can appreciate that creative brainstorming alone is not going to deliver that type of return. Training might equip innovation teams better for the task at hand, but done in isolation it will not build a sustainable culture of innovation.
The TT100 awards recognises that the management of people includes the human technology interface.  It embraces both the employee and the end user.  It is about the processes that organisations deploy in the development of their human capital, and how they retain and re-skill existing employees, how they incentivise their people and how they plan for succession to ensure organisational longevity. 
Culture is both about people management and technological enablement. Building innovation DNA is painstakingly hard work. It focuses on output and reinforcement of behaviours. Experience often teaches hard lessons like small steps at a time, avoidance of the big bang approach and learning as you go, but some of the most effective approaches to generating a sustainable innovation culture lies in the following, often overlooked activities.

Explaining the what and why

Many organisations have not taken the time to properly and eloquently define what innovation means in their organisations. It is about context and creating a common language that is understood and internalised by all in the organisation. How else will you get people to understand why it is necessary to participate in an innovation programme? Defining what innovation means for your organisation is not only a necessary first step, it is imperative if you want to create strategic alignment and lay the foundation for ultimate innovation success.    

Leadership buy-in

Without visible leadership support and clear communication on the imperative of innovation for the organisation, any effort to transform the culture will be dead in the water. Leadership needs to stand up and be counted, they need to fly the flag high. What type of behaviour is the organisation supporting, punishing or rewarding? Leadership needs to lead innovation, and this applies to all managerial levels. Success very often depends on middle management – who has the responsibility to ensure implementation of the corporate strategy. If middle management is not championing innovation, they risk becoming one of the greatest barriers to innovation in the organisation. Get them on board early with clear objectives and tightly aligned goals, which highlights the next point.

Have a game plan

The development of an innovation strategy is one of the first steps an organisation must take on the road to success. It defines your game plan, sets the rules (will we focus on incremental or radical innovation) what is the investment budget and who is responsible for tracking outcomes? It must outline the organisation’s overall strategic business goals, and show how innovation can be applied to achieve it. A well-defined innovation strategy will focus activities, manage outcomes, fund opportunities, track success and impact culture.

Provide structure and guidance

Innovation needs a home. What do people do with their ideas? The organisation needs an effective, transparent process to support innovation so that ideas can get from people’s heads to implemented value. What type of ideas are you looking for, how will you filter and decide on the best ones, how often will you run innovation challenges and campaigns, how will these align to your strategic objectives? Employees need to know the answers to these questions and have the information required to help them to participate and engage effectively.

Communicate and engage

You need to communicate about the what, why, where, when and how of innovation constantly. If the message is not clear and compelling, staff will not engage and your programme will drown in a  flood of more imminent pressures. This makes innovation reward part of the discussion. Rewarding people for innovation effort is a very important activity. Reward needs to be well thought through and need to encourage the type of behaviour you want people to display.

Celebrate and demonstrate

There will always be nay-sayers, non-believers or stubborn opposers of the new in an organisation. It is important to recognise who these people are and to find ways to get them to work with you. Not everyone will be an avid innovation champion or diligent contributor to the innovation programme,  but a diverse talent pool increases the quality of contributions and the chances of finding something truly impactful. Write up case studies, showcase successes and demonstrate results. It will help you spread the word while showcasing the outcome of your efforts. There is nothing as convincing as real-world results to help you build the business case for innovation.


Connect and Co-create


The days of innovation is seen as a top-secret internal activity is long gone. Isolated innovation effort often misses the mark or lacks the depth that comes from stakeholder engagement and an integration of different points of view. Although many organisations start with internal innovation campaigns to learn the ropes, it is important to consider integrating an outside perspective into the creation of your innovation pipeline. External stakeholders that include customers, suppliers, academia or other experts in industry can add tremendous value to your own effort and help you find an edge far beyond what you would have been able to do on your own. Organisations wining at innovation have embraced formal and informal mechanisms of stakeholder engagement and collaboration, to the benefit of the organisation. 
It is a truly extraordinary time for innovation. Changing business landscapes, disruptive and unconventional market forces and the reality of a true global village presents both opportunity and threat. It will be those organisations that flex their innovation muscle and strengthen collaborative networks that will lead the future.  It is no longer about whether you should invest in building an innovation capability as an organisation, it is about how you are going to win at it.


For more information on the TT100 Business Awards please click here or contact Da Vinci by emailing To talk innovation please contact Innocentrix by emailing or by visiting 

Top Organisations Manage for Growth

Top Organisations Manage for Growth
By Henra Mayer
The world is changing quicker than you can say, Flash Gordon, we talk about Moore’s Law, the role of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) Big Data, Digitisation, Disruptive Business Modelling and then throw into the mix other specifics like FinTech, the potential of the Blockchain and the sharing economy, to name but a few. It’s a jungle out there. Managing the ambidextrous organisation and balancing the demands of the business of today with the business of tomorrow is a skill. Strategic thinking needs to be elevated to the next level, aligned and resourced to focus on driving innovation results. This is a leadership responsibility and in order to benefit fully from the evolving central role of innovation, management must become more responsible for innovation output, and put in place tactical strategies to give it legs. If strategic intent for innovation is not visible, it will go nowhere and innovation results will continue to be just as undetectable. [1]
CEO’s have undeniably turned to innovation in order to address the organisational changes necessary to grow in the future, yet they also feel their organisations are really bad at it. The reason we bother with innovation in the first place is to change the status quo, yet innovation programmes fail more often than they succeed.

Why innovation programmes fail

The process to get ideas to market will differ from organisation to organisation but most challenges in this regard are universal. Think lack of resources, not sufficient budget, inappropriate strategic attention or not enough time to get to innovation as well.
Many organisations talk about innovation with authority, but when it comes to considering a well-defined approach that enables innovation as a strategic lever, talk is often cheap. Getting innovation right requires a demystification of the concept and a seriousness about getting to market, and none of this will happen without doing the groundwork first. Innovation capability, in essence, includes a consideration of the following enablers:
  • Leadership and management – to ensure intent, focus and strategic enablement
  • Organisational structuring– where the organisation puts in place the required processes and structures to support innovation
  • Culture building – a focus on people and building of cultural DNA to make it happen in a sustainable manner
  • Implementation and measurement – getting ideas implemented and tracking returns
  • Effective collaboration – effectively supporting collaboration efforts in various stages of the innovation lifecycle, both internal and external to the organisation


When any of the above activities gets left behind, innovation is stunted and returns are left to chance. But there is more that can be done to increase innovation’s survival rate over the long run.

 Process and Technology

Tools can help you get to implementation faster
Technology and the power it represents opens a new world of potential all around. It is often difficult to navigate this ever-changing landscape but it is necessary to do so with an open mind. Today’s leaders have a myriad of options. Decision-making must consider fit-for-purpose tools in support of strategic objectives, the streamlining of processes and ever-changing requirements that requires flexibility. The focus is on enablement by means of strengthening organisational technological capability and driving results. Technology enables efficient processes and for innovation to flourish a finely tuned, transparent innovation process is necessary. Consider idea flow, internal as well as external participation, engagement, gamification, teams and the issue of effective collaboration.


The competitive advantage is effective teams that bring projects to market.
Ideas are just that. Innovation success will depend on your ability to harness the power of people to bring those ideas to market in a feasible way. Organisations good at innovation knows that it must come from various sources, that it depends on diverse teams, internal as well as external to the organisation. They understand that this will lead to an outcome where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Innovation happens at the periphery, thinking in isolation will not yield the same results.  
Although the world of business constantly talks about innovation and disruption – the challenge of doing this successfully is often not linked to a shortage of ideas. It is about getting the good ideas to market and doing so consistently.

Looking back to look forward

It is important for organisations to look back at the past, in order to learn from mistakes and capitalise on learnings. In order to remain relevant and stay ahead of the curve, it is also essential to understand what needs to be done today in order to prepare for tomorrow. No one has a crystal ball to predict what will happen next but future foresight is essential for organisations in the fight for relevance. Many companies, once having become dominant in their industries, lost their competitive edge and their desire and belief in the need to innovate. Think Blockbusters and Blackberry, beloved giants of industry that fell quickly and unceremoniously.


Innovation success will require a focus on doing the right things, but will also ask the organisation to consciously learn and assess. What are your core capabilities, do they still serve you and what else do you need to learn? It is important to understand the competitive forces in your environment and the trends in terms of new and emerging business models required to deal with it. Despite the time and energy required for the day-to-day operations of the business, organisations must develop the commitment and discipline to look to the future to recognize trends and ensure that they continually react and innovate.
True leaders have the ability to inspire people to great achievement. They keep their fingers on the pulse of progress and diligently lead their organisations towards the pinnacle of innovation excellence.



[1] Adapted from blogpost “Why the implementation of ideas remain a corporate struggle” – H Mayer