Transcript of the talk is as follows:
It is a great pleasure to be here to talk about my favorite thing, to talk about learning and making somebody else happy as well. My wife typically is very happy when I had already the chance to talk about learning and do not come home and start the whole thing over and over again. We have 3 small kids. So, learning is a constant debate at home. We constantly figure it out.
I am a professor so I thought I might as well start with the definition, right? I think that is expectation, right? So, we have to live up to expectations. What is learning? It is acquiring new knowledge and of course, hopefully, it will change something. You will change behavior, change taste, change whatever. You grow. You do things differently. Why did I start this talk or why did David push me a little bit into this - direction innovation and learning? Because for me, when he came up with this, that is pretty easy. It is like no innovation without learning. To be honest, I am probably very biased because I am in the learning business, right? As a professor, that is my job. I am all about learning. It would be stupid to say that innovation and learning could not belong to each other but then if you do look, you will find proof that the fact that companies do sometimes tend to learn but are not learning and others totally neglect to learn and are doing great things. When you think about entrepreneurship, that is one of my favorite quotes and I think Tom Alter referred to it and some other speakers is I mean business plans (we already had that) are useless. The planning is important. Sometimes, fact is not the important stuff and the knowledge but it is acquiring the knowledge, the learning. I will give you an example where I think it all went wrong. That is really 70s. The Ford Edsel. Biggest flop for Ford ever. It was called the You Car. They did massive market research. It was the car with the biggest market research budget. They went out to people and said, “What do you want to have in a car?” I would say that is a pretty good approach, right? That is what we teach at least in business school. Ask your customers what they want. They came up with this car. It did not sell. It was just awful. It was priced completely weird. People did not know. It had brilliant features. A lot of innovation was in the car. Brilliant feature. Then, you look at other companies and you probably all know this quote. That is Steve Jobs’ and says like you cannot just ask customers. That is totally a waste of time. Why ask customers? On the one hand, you have a company that tries to learn at least I would say and failed. On the other hand, you have a company that says, “I do not even want to learn from the customers. They are not going to help me.” I am going to produce stuff. I am going to sell stuff that people do not even know that they want. It might be latent. That is the problem. Learning is sometimes not very obvious. It is not the obvious things that you should be asking for. The obvious fact, the obvious things that you should be looking for. That is why I came up with my little graph. Not very nicely animated but I thought about for startups.
What is it? What is it that you should learn and can learn and how could you do that. Of course, there are at least 4 areas where you can learn. You can learn from customers, from competitors, from investors, from your team, from the people you are working with. At least, that is very intuitive. Four areas where you can learn. The questions is what do you try to set up? I mean what is your question that triggers learning. Very often, you see people try to learn about preferences. That really goes back to the quote of Steve Jobs. People will tell that preferences. The question is are these the real preferences? Are these just the preferences they think they ought to say? I would say look for problems not for preferences. It might be semantic and you think “Yeah, sure problems.” but there is a big difference between a problem somebody has and a preference somebody has. You have been all probably in this situation especially when things are pretty good. I told you already I have 3 small kids. I live close to the ocean. I am driving this old Volkswagen van 12 years old but my surf board fits in but if somebody with a new BMW would ask me what else do you need in a 5 series BMW? It is already a perfect car at least compared to one I have but being a good German, I would of course answer. I would say a little bit more acceleration and the leather could be just a little bit nicer. Would I be willing to pay for that? Of course, not. Obviously, I am not even paying for the actual series. It is not solving my problem. It is asking for preferences. Then, you can ask, “How do you do that?” Asking for preferences is the classical market research. You can reach out to people and ask stuff. If it is for problems, it is much more sensing and not asking. It is observing. It is seeing what people do instead of asking people.
Looking at your competitors. A lot of people do a lot of competitive intelligence even if in startups. What else is out there? What are they doing? How does it compare? How do these features compared? That is action. That is what they do right now but if you want to beat them, that is going to be in the future, right? You will not beat them on the actions that they do today. You can beat them in the future so you have to find out what are their plans. Why are they doing the things that they are doing now? Where do they want to be in 2 years and cannot be there faster? It is much more questioning and not benchmarking. Benchmarking might be an important tool to learn certain things but all it gets you is to be as good as somebody else. You do not want to be as good as somebody else, right? You want to be better. You want to do different things. So, questioning not benchmarking.
Investors. Vision not short term goals. Investors also want things on the long run. Why are they interested? But people get tied in these short term goals. KPIs. Everybody is KPI driven. You are in it for the long run, right? So, go for these conversations where you ask what is the vision, where you are going and not where is the next KPI I have to meet. When you need investors, try to listen and not to send. I know the situation. Very often, you are asked to send. You have to bring your message across. You have 5 minutes to pitch. I was blown away by the pitches. I have 10 minutes and I probably have the content that you had and you only had 5 minutes. Listening not sending. When you go for your team, it ties very closely into what Tom just said. Of course, you can have people who are already closely connected but it is the same with you look at the CVs and you hire people for knowledge that they have. MBA Harvard. Great. Take. Then, he did this but basically these are all good but you want to drive them somewhere, right? Hire for emotions. Hire for where do they want to be. It is engaging not pushing in this direction.
The question of course is in the end how does this all going to happen. How does learning really happen? I think we talked a lot about or they were other examples like we need this, we have to answer this question but then what really happens? When do you take fact and information (you question, you sense, you do things) when you take these on because we all know so much stuff, the questions is does it really change our behavior? Are we going to really question our self?
I think the 3 core elements in learning that have to be fulfilled so that learning takes place and that really behavior changed and that action will come. The first is bringing your perspective. Bringing yours and the others. This is easy set but the same with the networks. To have diverse networks is great but to have diverse networks who do not talk to each other is absolutely useless. There has to be respect. You have to bring in your perspectives and sometimes, again, that is easier said than done. I did a lot of stuff with executives more on the corporate side and one of these things, yes, we bring in these R&D people, production people, sales people. Very diverse people and they all look at the problem from a different angle and then we do stuff together. If you do that in an engineering driven company, you suddenly realize that people are not really actually talking to each other. People with engineering background if you start at the engineering driven companies at least once I know, if you are really good you start an R&D. You are an A level student. You start an R&D. If you are so okay, you start in production. If you are good with people but not so good in school, you start in sales. That is the old world and then they sit together and the sales guy says, “I have got this great idea. I have just talked to our customers and they want this.” and the R&D guy looks at him and says, “I know you. You copied my homework in college, right?” Now, I am going to tell you what the customer really wants because you do not understand what the customer wants and by the way, the customer does not understand either. The questions is do they really bring in their perspectives? Do they really respect each other?
Build a learning experience together. Build it together. That is when learning happens. It is not one way. It is not like getting stuff.
The last thing is get emotional. Learning is a very emotional thing. It is not data. We have been discussing this kind of things for quite some time. I have given some examples but all we learn now from neuroscience is all supporting this. It is all supporting this. The basic fact that fireplaces have been there way longer than PowerPoint is already hidden in the direction. It is not about data. It is about stories. It is about emotions but then you do only get to the important part of the brain which processes data if you pass the old part of the brain. This one is all about emotions. It is about fleeing death, fear, anger. Only if you pass this part of the brain, you will be able to transmit data which is maybe still at the core. You want to discuss fact but it has to be emotional.
This is what I wanted to bring to you. That is why I think learning, of course, is fundamental to innovation but it has to be the right learning and you have to set up the right atmosphere to achieve this. Thank you very much.