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Keeping up a constant flow of ideas at BASF

Recently I spoke with Dr Thomas Weber, Managing Director of BASF’s Future Business, about what it takes for a large company to maintain a constant flow of innovation ideas and a spirit of enthusiasm to feed the pipeline. BASF Future Business (www.basf-fb.com) opens up new areas of business for BASF, the chemical industry’s leading player. It is geared to exploration of ecological and social megatrends that will challenge BASF in the future. BASF Future Business and its partners, develop new materials, relevant solutions and new business models for future innovations in areas such as energy, electronics and health. Since 2007, Dr Thomas Weber has been Managing Director of BASF Future Business.

What are the most important levers for keeping the pipeline filled?

The biggest issue here is that we need to identify unmet customer needs and future market demand. We do this through our scouting team, and a strong network that links internal and external partners. This allows us to combine a broad overview of industry with expertise in special industries and specific market intelligence.

Acuteness of mind and technical intuition are crucial for keeping the innovation pipeline filled. We need to identify ways in which we can improve our products, or discover potential new applications for them. We continually ask: What else we can do to get more out of a product?

Actually, there is a classic example of evolutionary development: the steam engine originally was developed to remove water from mines and then evolved to power steam locomotives.

What are the characteristics of a corporate innovation culture required to keep the pipeline filled?

We strive to keep the spirit of innovation alive in the long term. And we do so even in times of crisis – we may strive even harder then! Our employees are open to new ideas and have the courage and enthusiasm required to put new ideas into practice. Open communication and short communication paths are essential for this.

How do you measure and manage the pipeline?

Filling the pipeline measurably is not pivotal; what is important is to continually generate ideas, evaluate them and always to work through each subject consistently. We measure the number of projects evaluated and manage the process by means of objectives.

A larger fill in the pipeline could lead to higher numbers of rejections. How do you keep spirits up? How do you keep people motivated?

A project that has been successfully completed is obviously a success for each individual involved. However, the rewards given to individual employees do not hinge on what they have achieved, but rather on how they did it. Ideas that fail are as valuable as projects that are completed. How well individuals manage their projects, how purposefully they pursue their course, and how well they cooperate with others is what matters. It is by practicing these key skills that employees gather experience and continue to develop.

This interview was intially published by www.innovationmanagement.se