Innovation as a mindset

Expert interview

Business is a challenging endeavor. Innovative business is not just challenging, but rather complex. Could we grow our business without being innovative? Could we grow and innovate without proper institutional support? When we say institutional support – what does that mean and who is responsible for that kind of support? How can we all serve as an example to our business community, and even as an example of proactive and creative business practice to every business regardless of the industry, country, and culture we represent?

To address these questions we should think and think hard. And not just that! We should think, and learn, and seek and ask the wise and the most experienced in the world. Philippe Mariani is one of the best in the world in the field of Business Development, Science & Technology Parks, National, and Regional Innovation, City Development Strategies, Cluster strategies, and Cultural engineering. This amazing man is my inspiration for many years now and I am proud to say – my dear friend. He was kind enough to share his wisdom and tips with us in this interview. I am sure you will enjoy it.

DDj: When you think of innovation what are the first things that come to your mind?

PM: I immediately think of the people who are behind it. The human factor is the driving force behind innovation and thus arguably forms the most important part of the process. People tend to forget that! This includes the Knowledge, experience, and skills of a person, which I would name the Human-centered design or the cross-fertilization of ideas coming from different horizons. Such as during the Renaissance period which illuminated Europe for centuries beginning in Italy and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Creativity flourishes when people from diverse industries, cultures, and disciplines collide. This is well described in an innovation classic called “The Medici Effect”, and we have applied this concept in Sophia Antipolis right from the beginning and it has led to tremendous and powerful innovations.

DDj: Are innovation and growth something we can start and maintain on our own as business owners (or at some point we need some kind of institutional support, mindset growth, mentors, incentives. Please include examples)

PM: I don’t believe in Ivory tower innovation,  in the archetypal image of the lone genius often disconnected from the „real“ world…a kind of all or nothing approach. There are multiple pathways that bring innovation to the market place and they are increasingly interdisciplinary. Of course, every new generation wants its hero – and maybe today Elon Musk is one of them but behind the iconic figure are many people from many various backgrounds, sometimes even massive teams that together form the backbone of any successful enterprise.

When you consider growth as being part of the equation it is even more necessary to gain traction through support/incentives/mentors/mindset etc (as you mention). Knowledge flows.  I always tend to consider ecosystems of innovation as the most effective areas for innovation growth. It is my nature (smile) …let me take a simple analogy. If you want to create a delicious soup (the ecosystem) you need to incorporate the right ingredients, each one will resonate with the other through texture, taste, flavors, so one needs to know which ingredients to choose and how to mix them together to achieve a real genuine delicatessen! In this process sometimes ingenuity and creativity enable new flavors etc so you see this brings me to the conclusion that it’s not a given to create THE most delicious soup! You need the knowledge!  So what you do is that you take advice from the best cooks!

Every country has its own best soup…. made of traditional culture but also innovation!! I will continue in the analogy by saying that cross-border inspirations lead to fusion tastes and thus create new tastes!!

DDj: What could an expert like you do for a business ecosystem of a region or a country within 6 months, within two years, and within a decade?

PM: Well, I am biased because I am involved with the strategy for the number one science and technology ecosystem in Europe and I honestly believe that it is one of the most proven resilient areas of innovation in the world over the past years. What is important to note is that this is not a fluke, meaning that there are “models” that have been created.

They can sometimes be applied to existing upcoming business ecosystems of regions or countries or even ex nihilo areas of innovation, yet each country is unique; each region is unique… so to come to your question and within a given time frame I would focus on creating strategic international alliances to support pragmatic and substantive cooperation in the areas of innovation, capital, talent, and industrial development. I would address the societal changes we are facing by driving new policies towards a better inclusion within society geared towards youth and within two years these strategic alliances will have led to joint ventures, public-private partnerships which in turn attract further investments, and demonstrate effective models for collaboration.

DDj: Five global topics all business and political leaders in developing countries should monitor and explore regularly (and why)?

PM: I have 4 (sorry :) not in order:

  1. Environmental and Corporate Sustainability with a BIG focus on the circular economy.

This economic system aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits, for example, I would particularly recommend the actions and models proposed within a remarkable document that has been delivered by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on this topic. In this non-linear economy, the behavior of dynamic economic systems is challenged as it leads to an enhancement of the human factor that I was talking about:  every player is interconnected. Together, they influence each other building a network of intent, an evolution of modern, intelligent networking.

  1. Disruptive innovations and how they can change the world

They affect the way markets or industries function. That is they can have both positive and negative implications; (they can affect positively or negatively.) For example, the healthcare and financial industry are particularly concerned at the moment. It is said by many that disruptive innovation generates new markets and values, yet the impacts can be so profound it remains to be seen which is best: revolution or evolution?

  1. Financial inclusion

This brings me to the third global topic which is Financial inclusion defined as the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services to the economically underprivileged. COVID-19 is spurring innovation in the digital field with certainty bringing about industrial transformation and new digital usages. It seems that business and political leaders could seize the post-Covid moment to address this important question for the world.

  1. Art for change

As you know art is close to my heart and I have a cultural engineering mindset. Artists are known for breaking social norms and introducing new behavior patterns; throughout history, many artists, art events/happenings, Art movements have shaped society and influenced Political norms. William D Burroughs, one of the primary figures of the Beat generation, once said: “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change” and (he even added) “not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”!

DDj: What do you think are the skills of an entrepreneur/business owner/manager for the “new normal”?

PM: Innovation is an inherently human endeavor. Frankly, I don’t really envisage how and if the concept will impact our society and mostly the entrepreneurial spirit, as we are getting closer to a digital world;  it could be that new models new discourse will take overdriven by the era of artificial intelligence, Big data, and algorithmic governance; new shapes of work will emerge. I am astonished and confused to see – in the sports industry for instance –  the rapidity with which the industry has adapted and created new business models by literally overcoming the absence of physical presence for all major events…or how the event industry is adapting by creating virtual conferences; walkthrough posters, etc..

So I think it’s more of a certain mindset that one has or not; entrepreneurs are profoundly sharp on the move and one can notice this during these challenging times!!

DDj: Please share with us key takeaways and a short overview of your career achievements?

PM: Well, I started my career under the mentorship of Senator Pierre Lafitte, a guru of innovation and founder of the Sophia Antipolis Science and Technology Park, so working alongside this bright mind gave me the opportunity to embrace his philosophy which was very disruptive at the time in the sense that driving innovation with cultural diversity unlocks access to diverse perspectives including social cohesion.

This led me to the understanding that the acquirement of a cosmopolitan spirit enables one to think out of the box and expose oneself to more potential. So I then decided to change my perspectives and pursued an invitation to work for a prestigious corporate entity in the Kingdom of Bahrain (alongside my family) in what was a very different cultural ecosystem.

The next 10 years of my life were spent spearheading with very pioneering spirit development towards building new dynamics for an emerging knowledge economy in the Gulf. In more concrete terms these 10 years were dedicated to creating a culture of innovation in one of the most promising countries in the Middle East. Today the country is thriving and is a leader by example in the fintech industry.

DDj: What inspires an inspirer like you?

PM: Well Gaga we have been friends for some time now and I am impressed by how people like you can demonstrate through life and work, leadership for women’s empowerment. Because empowering women matters. Empowering women to become leaders as you do, has a long-lasting impact on our youth and society; so I am very much impressed by the energy and commitment you have in this field! Also in another field, my children inspire me to appreciate what I have in life.

*I encourage you to connect with Philippe Mariani on LinkedIn.


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