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“We had to start all over again”

How Project O won ORMIT’s Innovation Challenge

On May 16th ORMIT launched this year’s Innovation Challenge. Right in this moment, various teams of ORMIT’ers are defining new disruptive solutions that can prepare ORMIT for the future. We spoke to Alexander Suykens, one of last year’s winners of the Innovation Challenge, about what made his team succeed - and which learnings he still uses in his daily work life.

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Alexander was working in the Multicompany Program at ORMIT when he decided to take part in the Innovation Challenge. Why? Because he wanted to put into practice all the trainings he had gone through and have an impact. Yet, the Innovation Challenge didn’t all work out as his team expected. And if Alexander would take part in it again, he would change quite a few of his strategies. In this article, he gives tips and tricks for current and future competitors.

Alexander, can you tell us about your approach in the Innovation Challenge?

ORMIT gave us a document with a step by step route to follow, to get to our final innovation idea, but we didn’t follow it at all. We were freewheeling, and we thought we had the solution straight away: a CRM-system for ORMIT’s Talent Development Managers. We had skipped all the first steps and went straight to the solution. But the different steps ORMIT appointed, are there for a reason. So after a while, we had to start from the beginning. By following the process, we first interviewed the stakeholders, then stated the problem, found possible solutions and calculated the risks.

Through the interviews, it turned out a CRM-system was not what ORMIT was waiting for. Instead, the different stakeholders wanted a digitalized route to personal development. With the idea to design a new digital platform, we went to the semi-finals of the Innovation Challenge. In Rotterdam we sat together with a team of design thinking experts who taught us how to unroll our idea further. At the finals, we won the first prize: a four-days-trip to the SXSW festival, a world known music, film and innovation festival in Austin, Texas. It was an unforgettable experience.

What was so unforgettable about it?

One thing that I remember very well was the ‘your neighbor’-test. If you have a new, disruptive idea, would you like your neighbor to use it? Maybe a flying car sounds cool, but if you’re not sure whether you would like your neighbor to have one, then maybe your idea is not as funky as you thought.

Why would you recommend taking part in the Innovation Challenge?

Everything you learn at ORMIT through training, coaching and projects is brought into practice during the Innovation Challenge. That’s what makes it such a strong concept. You learn to make things visual, you work together with other trainees and you get lots of feedback. On top of that, you get to work together with the staff and you get to know the faces and ideas behind the email addresses of the company.

“Everything you learn at ORMIT through training, coaching and projects, is brought into practice during the Innovation Challenge.”

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Which tactics would you recommend to current and future participants?

Working hard is always beneficial. And if you’re on the wrong track, you have to head back as soon as possible. And then start over again, step by step. After our weekend in Rotterdam, we had to adjust our idea again. After, we focused on bringing the most effective story.

We also gave each other feedback the moment problems occurred. We always had a structured and ongoing communication. That gave us a strong advantage.

We also focused on everyone’s talents. One of us was very good at preparing and keeping track of things. I could keep the overview and ask critical questions, and I negotiated when there were struggles. Another colleague was very visual and could convey all our words in beautiful images, and the last colleague was a born storyteller who mastered all our pitches. The combination of all our talents, and the choice to not let everyone do everything, made us a great team.

Did you also get to develop the digital platform you defined?

Yes. After my team won, I was able to further develop the project with an external partner – the one we had proposed during our final pitch for the Innovation Challenge. We had a pilot group who tested the platform and I kept an eye on everything. In the end it turned out the platform was a bit too hierarchic, while ORMIT has a very open, non-hierarchic way of working. At the same time, ORMIT Netherlands was digging deeper into digitalising  as well. We decided that we had to get on the same track first before something could be implemented.

Are your learnings of the Innovation Challenge still beneficial to your current job?

Definitely. I learned to deal with changes. After four months of researching on the development of the digital platform, and the decision to let it rest for now, I knew my skills were in coaching and change management. During the two years I worked at ORMIT, the company helped me finding my dream job through 3 consecutive projects. I signed at my third and last project, EFESO Brussels.  To give an example, at a current client we are in the process of buying new ships. But instead of buying them and then deciding what to do with them, we speak to the people who will work with them first. We ask them what they need and let them interact. Only after, we speak to the manufacturer about how we want the ships to be built.

Through all the trainings and projects at ORMIT, I slowly but surely built towards my dream job. And the Innovation Challenge was an intense summary in which I could put all the things I learned into practice. Today I know what I’m good at, what I could still improve, and what kind of work gives me energy.