I met Luke at the FEI Innovation Europe Conference in June, where he gave a great presentation about the challenges of running an innovation programme in a large corporation. I was taken by his in-depth understanding not just of how to run successful innovation programmes, but how to navigate the politics and priorities of the organisation to maximise the chances of success.
Many of the themes he talked about have emerged in other, subsequent conversations (system change and immune responses, for example, which was the focus of my most recent chat with Rowan Conway at the RSA — watch this space for the write-up), and he is also responsible for telling me one of the best analogies about innovation I’ve heard in a while. You’ll need to read to the end to find it, though.
One of the reasons I do these interviews is to get different perspectives on what innovation is. I feel that FMCG, particularly, has a very product-led view of innovation and I wondered what innovation means for you?
I think people spend way too long thinking about that. Innovation’s like happiness, it’s more of a concept and an outcome than something you can actively try to be. If your objective is to be happy you’re best off going and doing other stuff and then that will ladder up to happiness at some point in the future. Innovation’s the same. When people say they need innovation, what does that really mean? Do you need more profit? Do you need more products in the market? Start there, and then the activities that you run through to achieve those can loosely be termed innovation.
Are you saying there’s a fashion for innovation for innovation’s sake?
I think businesses are shy about saying what they want. If you want to increase top line and boost your profits by X, Y or Z, then just say it. There’s some weird doctrine that saying that stuff out loud is somehow filthy and uncreative, but actually it focuses the mind and makes it much easier to do your job.
So how did you get into innovation, and then into this current role at PepsiCo?
By accident, really. I’d worked in a couple of big corporates for some years at a middle management level, and then joined a start-up TV shopping channel. About a year and a half in to that one of our investors ran out of money, I was made redundant and met innovation consultants ?What If!, and my background of corporate and start-up experience was interesting for them.
I did about 22 projects with them overall, and that got me deep into innovation. Later I set up Samsung’s European innovation function and built the team there. We did projects across the entire Samsung portfolio: home appliances, mobile, TV, heating, cooling, medical, lighting, everything you could imagine. Over the course of four years we had a lot of success: we had some home appliances, camera and TV concepts commercialised, the Galaxy S5 core concept was one of ours.
Then, about four and a half years later, I got a call from Pepsi and I met my current boss, Brad, who’s a maverick change agent. His pitch was that he was trying to turn the oil tanker around, and in a fairly short time we’ve managed to get things moving and get some big things happening in the world.