“If we're not innovating, we're not progressing.” says founder Kevin D’Silva

The pandemic is causing significant changes in consumer behaviour and putting increasing pressure on businesses worldwide. Organizations must discover new ways for growth and revenue generation — those who don't face irrelevancy.

According to Kevin D'Silva, a founder and thought leader in intrapreneurship & enterprise innovation, creating an environment that fosters meaningful internal innovation that encourages employees to act as entrepreneurs, is the key to gain business advantages and reap increased revenues.
By Jan Takacs, Editing by Alexis Ernst, 15th June 2021

The importance of innovations

Jan: Hello Kevin, thank you for making the time. Your long career in technology is constantly revolving around innovations, thus resulting in launching Nestlé's highly successful employee innovation accelerator, InGenius. Afterwards, ultimately founding your own startup, Ideateplus. Can you talk about why innovations play such a pivotal role in your life? Do you think this is the difference between success and failure in today's world? What does innovation mean to you personally?

Kevin: Hello, Jan, my pleasure. I will try to define it. Innovation, to me, are two things: First, it could be continuous improvement initiatives, and how do you innovate in getting your products to market — this is internal facing. Or secondly, it could be external facing — looking at real breakthroughs in terms of innovations.

Innovation is essential to me because innovations, whether internal or external, dramatically impact people's progress. If we're not innovating, we're not progressing. That is the key area where, luckily for me, I have always embraced innovation — although it's a bit of a struggle for many people. The critical thing about innovation is that you have to think at least five years in advance; there is no point in being an innovator by just thinking about things that are already being done.
“The critical thing about innovation is that you have to think at least five years in advance.”
Risk aversion and fear of failure are major blockers for many. You are helping people to overcome this fear. Is there any recipe for success that works every time?

In terms of being comfortable with failure, it's about a cultural transformation as opposed to a digital transformation or a process transformation. It's really about the culture. Yet, when you talk about cultural transformation to people, it's a little bit fuzzy and sometimes they don't understand what you mean. Innovation is based on having a solid process — more so than creativity because creativity comes through that reliable process.

I think it's essential to understand and develop a straightforward process that works within your organization, and then bring people in and get them to adopt that process. That's why I went out with what I call a “rapid innovation method” because people don't have much time or resources to put into innovation. So you need to help them adopt that way of thinking.

You teach them, or coach them, on those different ways and the advantages of doing things in small increments. That's when failure is okay. And have that "fail fast, fail cheap" kind of mentality.

This can only happen if you know how to break things up into small increments, and that's what we like to teach our clients.  More so, we want the employees within our clients’ to say, "Look, just keep it small, and then the failure won't be so catastrophic, and you'll get lots of learnings out of it."
Ideateplus' teaser video explains Kevin's methodology, ways of working, and the team's innovation and problem-solving approach.
The fact that enabling a culture of innovation is more about having the suitable methodology and processes in place — rather than having wild, creative workshop sessions where fabulous ideas magically appear might be disappointing to many. Are there any other components without which innovation will just not come to fruition?

There are. It's not only about putting processes in place, but it's also about genuinely committing to the employees. To say to these employees, "Look, we've got a process in place which we would like you to adopt. Within that process, we're making, or the company itself, is committing to you so that if you adopt this process within a certain amount of time. You would either get a response back from us as to why your solution may not be the right solution for now and what you have to work on." Or something along the lines of: "If your solution is successful, within a certain amount of time then, you will be able to execute your solution and test it in the market."

That's the solution part that took me a lot of learnings at Nestle — to develop that commitment to the employees because, without obligation, you don't have that adoption.
“Every employee can and should innovate.”
What was the primary motivation behind you stepping away from the corporate world and becoming a startup founder?

The main reason why I decided to become a founder rather than work in corporations was to try and fulfil the vision of actually democratizing this thing that I call enterprise innovation. For me, enterprise innovation was to actually push through the idea that every employee, firstly, can, and secondly, has the right to innovate within their enterprise to help the business grow.
Delivery services in Southeast Asia see spike in business because of COVID-19 (Source: Channel News Asia, Photo: Mediacorp)
Essential Reads The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur laid the foundations for Kevin's intrapreneurship business.

Starting with "Why"

The ongoing pandemic is causing a shift in how people perceive their work and its impact. The purpose of our actions is becoming increasingly prominent for startups and enterprises. Does this play a role in your decision making, how you think about your work, and how you approach innovations? Do you think that it's that important that people understand the why of what they do?

I think it's essential for you to understand the why, and then you kind of turn that into a vision for yourself. For Ideateplus (Kevin's startup), that vision is to democratize enterprise innovation. With those three words, you can then build a story around it. When you create a story around it, you get other people to believe in your story and tell your story on and on. That's what makes a good story. That's why the vision is essential for you individually. Then with your vision, you try to propagate the story.
And build a tribe.

Exactly. Like I said, just to repeat myself, with Ideateplus, it was about democratizing enterprise innovation because we genuinely believed that every employee can and should innovate. That's why we came up with that vision.
Grab operations span across 8 Southeast Asian countries (Source: Grab)
Core Values "Be courageous, be collaborative, and be committed are beliefs that rings true to my own life, and that's why I built it into the company culture as well."

Seeing the best in people

What is the best advice you ever received?

The first one would be that you have to be courageous. Just try new stuff. Don't be scared. The second one is to be collaborative, use your network, and use the people around you to develop something. Don't do things by yourself. The third one is to be committed. Even if you fail the first time, try again, and try to learn how you failed and try something different and new. Those are the best "pieces of advice" that I got or received, and we used them to build a culture in Ideateplus around these three aspects, the three Cs as I like to call them.
“I see the best in people. Witnessing them achieving things that they never thought they could before—that's what makes me wake up in the morning.”
Talking about a purpose just now — What drives you every day? What provides you with everyday motivation?

For me, it's that I see the best in people. What I mean by that is that I would call that a “trained eye” to see how to push people beyond what they realized was their capacity or capability. When I see them go through those phases, there are, at times, some headaches — but in the end, it's the joy that I see in them realizing that they're achieving things that they never thought they could before. That's what makes me wake up in the morning.
What's the single capability or skill you feel that everyone should possess to thrive in the future world?

I would say to be courageous, to be honest. Being bold, it's not a specific capability or skill, but it can open up a whole world of opportunities and abilities. So, just don't be afraid.
Delivery services in Southeast Asia see spike in business because of COVID-19 (Source: Channel News Asia, Photo: Mediacorp)
Teaching Design Thinking Giving back and teaching design thinking are one of Kevin's lifelong dreams—as seen here during his first lecture for Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland.
Is there any advice that you would like to give your younger self if you had a chance to do that?

I've thought about this quite a lot. Of course, in hindsight, you can say, "Okay, go off and do this," or, "Do that," depending on the trends. I could say, "Oh, forget about engineering and studying management, but go off and be a UX designer." For example, right? But really, what I would say to my younger self would be: "Keep trying new stuff."

"Keep trying new stuff, and don't be afraid of failing in any of them because in failing comes learning." I think learning is the greatest gift that anyone could ever have.
“Be courageous. Being bold can open up a whole world of opportunities.”
How would you describe yourself in three words?

I think it's in my values. I believe that it's those three words that I live my life with and what I'm trying to teach my clients and my children, and that is: Be courageous, be collaborative, and be committed — as I've already explained before. I would say that rings true to my own life, and that's why I built it into the company culture.
I think it's a perfect sort of an ending point for the interview! Thank you for your time!

Thank you, Jan!
About Kevin
Kevin is a serial intrapreneur that provides enterprises with a rapid innovation process that helps them achieve customer-validated experiments while developing the competence of their employees. He is passionate about enterprise innovation and how it can help empower your employees and drive top-line revenue. You can drop him a note via LinkedIn here.
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