Leadership, innovation, strategy, opportunities, mediocrity: These are all concepts directly related to Xavier Marcet, a strategy, innovation, and business entrepreneurship consultant who trained at the prestigious business schools IESE, ESADE, and at UC Berkeley. Since 2002, his work has focused on helping people and companies adapt to new challenges, and now, the challenge is undeniably enormous.
What do you mean by innovating?
Basically, creating new value for customers through new propositions or solutions. Innovating isn’t having ideas; innovating is putting new ideas into practice. It’s turning ideas into value. Innovating doesn’t involve doing 10,000 innovation workshops and lots of hackathons; it just means defining value propositions that people will buy.
Can innovation be evaluated?
Yes, it’s pretty easy. You have to ask yourself what part of the operating income and margin account relates to projects that didn’t exist two or three years ago and are the result of a process of innovation. From this point of view, innovation is as clear as day.
Given the current circumstances, is this the best time to innovate?
It’s always a good time to innovate; it’s always a good time to create value for our customers and adapt to changes and context.
Lots of companies have done it…
Yes, and they’ve done it with a clear idea: coming back with a better version, coming back with a better offer for customers.
How do you think the COVID-19 crisis will affect people and companies in the medium and long term?
It will accelerate things that were already brewing. We can never underestimate the form of old inertias. It seems that a more powerful digital repository will remain and organizations that will have lost the fear of a certain amount of flexibility. But each sector will have to notice (not ask, notice) whether their customers have changed any details. Our future as companies is at stake in the customers’ details.
Is there any formula to keep a crisis like this from ending up affecting you as a company?
No, for a crisis like this there’s nothing. But it’s advisable to go for consistency as a formula for dealing with crises. A consistent company assimilates successes and knows how to handle adversity. Consistency entails evolving with customers even during the toughest times. Bodegas Torres is 150 years old and an example of how a company can deal with all kinds of moments in time.
Many companies have seen that it’s possible to work remotely… What do you think of the fact that there are companies that have already adopted it as a long-term measure?
Many corporations and institutions have discovered that they could organize themselves in other ways. But more important than remote working has been establishing new forms of non-face-to-face trust and greater flexibility in ways of doing things. I think these companies that are now proclaiming remote working as a new reality won’t have to wait long to see the significant issues it creates. The most sensible thing is flexibility and to remember that not everyone can work from home.
What positives can we take from the COVID-19 crisis?
We’ve put the focus on people. The ones who were dying, who were saving lives, who were locked down, who were working in essential services, were all people. This has been a crisis of people. Technology has played an important role, but we’ve made people the focus. I think this crisis has brought us down to earth; we’ve shown ourselves to be more fragile, less arrogant. The fact that something older than walking, such as a pandemic, has affected us so much, should serve as a lesson in humility in general, but especially among those who constantly use inflated technological narratives.
One of the big problems in Spain is appreciating the knowledge that comes out of research. What recommendations would you make to change that?
We produce knowledge, we do science, but it’s very hard for us to appraise it economically or socially. Maybe it’s because we base knowledge transfer more on content than on opportunities. There is a need to define profiles that will be able to translate the needs of companies and the availabilities of knowledge to create projects with a certain ambition, that will provide a certain growth to those who believe in knowledge and those who use it to create value. The secret lies in basing the transfer not only on knowledge but on defining the transfer based on opportunities.
What policies are necessary to boost innovation in our country?
Changing the mentality. Instead of creating spray irrigation policies (giving a little to lots), concentrating resources on strategic gambles and helping truly innovative companies that could fall into market failure. We need public policies that better link innovation and growth. Our whole world is very small in terms of the dimensions. We need companies to grow more and better and we just don’t see how we’ll do it without innovation.
What advice would you give to convince companies’ management that they need to commit to innovation?
The world is changing. The company cemetery is full of amazing companies that were doing very well. You have to know how to do two things at once: take advantage of your current portfolios and at the same time explore opportunities for the future. Innovation is part of this exploration. Innovating is putting the future on the agendas of the present (which, by the way, are full of the day-to-day dictatorship).
Are the innovation dynamics the same in small and large companies? Do you think there can be synergies?
Innovating is having the ability to take sensible risks. There is no innovation without risk, but the biggest risk is not innovating. This logic is the same for big and small companies. Big companies have more resources, but they also bring more inertias and bureaucracies along with them. Open and collaborative innovation is very good among large and small companies and start-ups too. When it comes to innovating, what counts is having a great ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and being able to answer the question: What will my customer need that they don’t know how to express to me?
If we talk about your book Esquiviar la mediocritat [Dodging Mediocrity], what is mediocrity to you?
Mediocrity is what vulgarizes us as people instead of inspiring us, it’s everything that lacks authenticity, it’s imitation without graciousness, and confusing inertias with inconsistency and innovation with sudden ideas. We need real companies that tend toward the truth, where superficiality is an exception and not the rule.
What is leadership to you and how can you be a good leader?
Leaders are people who serve others and transmit a mindset of growing by causing growth. Leaders are key for teams, for companies. Leading is serving, not being served. Leading is deploying a mindset of how to do things with sense. In a world where the knowledge you have access to doubles every day, “how” things are done is fundamental. Leaders thus explain a way to be in society, both for people as well as organizations. Leaders aren’t charlatans. They’re “doers.” They inspire their people so that those people can unleash all their potential. Leaders must be a lever for people, never a millstone. Leading is encouraging others to get the best out of themselves. In this sense, exercising leadership requires commitment and generosity.
A little taste
The best time for having a glass of wine.
While I’m cooking and the wine gives me a preview of the pleasure of good food. Wines open and close meals. They set the perimeter of enjoyment.
“I Lost My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett.
Somewhere you’d get lost.
In Sant Llorenç del Munt and the Serra de l’Obac, the mountains behind Terrassa, my true homeland.
What do you do in your spare time?
I walk in the mountains, in the evergreen oak, pine, and oak forests in Sant Llorenç and in the Serra de l’Obac. The Sundays I don’t travel I spend on the paths my father and grandfather used to walk. They taught me to look at and respect the mountains.
One flaw and one virtue.
I have a very selective memory; I only remember the good things and good people.
What did you want to be when you were little?
When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor or a vet, I don’t remember. When I was a bit older, I wanted to be a historian.
And now that you’re grown up?
As a grown-up, I’d like to be a Renaissance apprentice.