In everything we do at TEDxAmsterdam, our partners are very valuable. First of all, they make it possible for us to create a diverse program five times a year (where we can explore the depths of human nature). Secondly, they are a great help in realizing the TEDxAmsterdam Award. And last but not least, the way they share their visions inspires us to think and do differently. That’s why over the next couple of weeks we would like to present to you interviews with these inspirational thinkers. This week, we like to present to you Erik Hoving from KPN.
“It sure wasn’t the plan to end up here, but that’s it with me: I like being in the middle of changes.” Well in that case, Erik Hoving, Chief Officer of Strategy, Innovation & Technology at KPN, has his work cut out for him. As one of the biggest companies in telecommunications, KPN needs with the continued emergence of new technologies to face big challenges in its innovation policy and business models. These are challenges which Hoving still loves to tackle, but about which he has also developed a more realistic perspective throughout his career: “I love not only seeing and experiencing change, but most of all, leading it. But through the years I’ve learned also that innovation is 5 percent about the idea and 95 about the execution and that means hard work. Young people often forget that.”
Go outside to innovate
Another lesson Hoving has learned through the years about how you can successfully innovate is that it’s no use to stay in your comfort zone. Brainstorms inside the company are useful but not as efficient as stepping outside and checking out the world around you. Hoving argues, “A lot of companies talk about innovation strategy. I always laugh when I hear that. In this rapidly changing world you cannot talk about innovation strategy anymore. That implies some sort of planning or forecasting the future. Innovation, especially in communication and technology business, you find outside your own company. In Africa they are much further in building networks, for example. Or look at Mumbai, we can learn so much from the new technologies they are developing there.”
That’s why Hoving is a fervent world traveler to spot the latest developments for his company. But he is quick to emphasize you don’t have to travel physically to connect to the latest ideas: “That’s why I love TED so much. It makes it so easy for people to learn new things. Further than that, it makes it easy for people to get out of a so-called comfort zone, because with TED there’s no comfort zone borders you need to take down anymore.“ Another source of inspiration for Hoving is the customer. “Don’t underestimate your customers,” says Hoving. “They have already incorporated the changes which you as a company need to take the next step. Take for example Facebook. Most of the companies really don’t know how to use it and even have a slightly contemptuous attitude about it. It’s just a trend, they think. It will blow over. But most of their clients are using it, and using it intensively, and that is not without a reason. In my opinion social media strategy would be a lot more useful if it’s used more to listen to your customers instead of sending your own message.”
It’s about speed
So when Hoving comes home from his travels with a backpack full of new ideas and inspiration, the 95 percent of the hard work lies ahead, and his first obstacle is breaking the resistance against change inside the company itself. “It’s funny,” says Hoving, “people like change, but they don’t like to change themselves.” For Hoving it is key that you don’t see innovation as a process of change but instead, as a process of learning. “I don’t think that people change; you just learn new behavior. I am a father of four children, and I have taught all four to crawl, later on to walk and then to bike. If you learn to bike, it’s not like you suddenly don’t know how to walk anymore, you’ve just learned something new. It’s the same with innovation.”
So, for Hoving it’s about creating innovation as a learning process that needs to be done more quickly than ever. “Look,” says Hoving, “we’re not talking about decades anymore. The iPhone is just 4 years old, a tablet around 2,5 years. That’s how quick innovation goes around. The one who can quickly adapt to the changing circumstances and translate them to a successful business model wins the race. It’s not anymore about how much money you have or how big your company is; it’s about speed.”
A warm blanket
Of course not only the world of telecommunication is changing at a high speed – technological innovations have a huge impact on all components of daily life. That’s why KPN explicitly chooses to take their innovation policy across sectorial borders and also invest in, for example, innovations in healthcare or energy. Hoving says, “You should not see telecommunications as a sector in itself; it’s more like a warm blanket across other sectors with which you can re-vitalize them.” For KPN it is important to stay connected with society as a whole and make their contribution for a better society. But as Hoving says, “Of course it’s also business for us. In the sectors in which we invest, we see possibilities to make things more efficient. Take for example the area of healthcare. If I wake up and my child is ill, now I need to take it all the way to the doctor, wait for a long time, possible affect the other patients in the waiting room, only to hear a one-minute advice ‘take that medicine, and put him into bed.’ A lot of things can become a lot better through an efficient connection with technology.”
TEDxAmsterdam, the ultimate combination
Hoving smiles and shakes his head when I ask him if the Netherlands has a good innovation climate: “Let me tell you one thing: you can’t push a good innovation climate. Innovation happens. And it happens when you attract the right kind of people. Those people need to see opportunities for freedom to think, human capital and good business.” How then to entice these people? Hoving doesn’t see much potential in the Netherlands, which is, according to him, too unknown. But he does believe very much in Amsterdam, which he describes as the perfect international brand: “It’s strange, really, how well-known Amsterdam is across the world if you look at its size. With only 800.000 residents it’s much more famous then cities in India which are inhabited by 12 million people.” Hoving, who for four years was a proud resident of Amsterdam, still misses it dearly: “I miss the feeling of freedom which attaches to the city. Everywhere you go, you feel so free. Doesn’t matter is you’re heading to work or drinking a beer on a terrace.” While Hoving is already a big fan of TED, he believes even more strongly in the power of TEDxAmsterdam: “The combination of TED and Amsterdam has enormous power. Take the feeling of freedom, and combine that with the inspiration and ideas of the TED concept, and there you have it, the ultimate combination: freedom of ideas.”
- KPN entered three ideas for the TEDxAmsterdam Award and one (Social Energy) made it to the top ten. Watch the TEDxAmsterdam conference on the 30th of November to see if Social Energy grabs the TEDxAmsterdam Award 2013!
- Read our other partner interviews about their choice for TEDxAmsterdam and inspiring ideas about innovation.