Interview with Dr. Umut Ekmekçi – the Open Innovation Institute

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We recently kicked off a partnership with the Open Innovation Institute, based in Frankfurt and established the OII creative hub on the jovoto platform. Founder, Dr. Umut Ekmekçi has over 20 years of innovation experience with a focus on strategic and innovation management and is an active speaker, lecturer, and mentor. We caught up with him this week to learn more about his work and how he approaches the topic of innovation leadership amidst the changes we’re experiencing today. Here’s the interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do at the Open Innovation Institute.

 Dr. Ekmekçi: I am an entrepreneur, a researcher and management consultant who specializes in collective creativity, innovation management, and strategy. For nearly 20 years I’ve worked as an academic at different universities in Turkey, and as management consultant / corporate trainer with companies from various industries. Today, I live in Germany and work as a Strategy and Innovation Consultant.

Dr. Umut Ekmekçi

Innovation and creativity are critical for countries, societies, companies and individuals for sustainable growth, as well as for a better life. On the other hand, unique methods, tools and know-how are essential for developing creative ideas and solutions. And I believe that the potential of collective creativity is much larger than the resources within the corporate boundaries. Therefore, I do work on bridging the innovation experts to create unique content, methods and services, and to bring them to the clients that need unique solutions.

Open Innovation Institute (OII) aims to serve this objective. It is a “virtual creative hub” that aims to build a community / pool of carefully selected and limited number of innovation experts who are specialized at different dimensions of innovation (such as innovation strategy, innovation culture, product & service design etc.). The experts are not “organically” dependent to OII; all of them work freely, mostly in different countries, but they share a common communication and working culture. OII offers four types of services; “consultancy”, “research”, “learning by gaming” and “workshops”. On the basis of our clients’ needs and required experiences, we create new project teams, and develop unique services.

I should also mention that the roots of OII date back to my professional career in Turkey, and to another creative hub of which I was one of the founding partners. It was named as “Istanbul Innovation Institute”. The uniquely developed “Corporate Innovation System Model” was successfully implemented at over 100 companies in the last 3 years period. The model was mainly focused on designing corporate innovation systems that enable improving innovation capabilities of companies in a systematic and sustainable way.

You recently joined forces with jovoto, and we’re really excited to collaborate on upcoming initiatives. What convinced you to make the leap?

Dr. Ekmekçi: jovoto is one of the pioneers in open innovation that has proven that open innovation can work well and very efficiently when the system behind it is properly designed. In time, you’ve created a very strong global network of experts, developed very inspiring projects for your clients, and most importantly, accumulated very valuable knowledge about how to manage open innovation processes.

Joining forces with jovoto was a wonderful idea for me since we have very complementary competencies. First, I wanted to make the potential and experience of jovoto much more visible in theTurkish market. I believe that we can link Turkish companies with a wide variety of creative minds, and enable them to develop truly innovative solutions in collaboration with multinational, multidisciplinary perspectives. For Turkish companies which aim to move to European market, the local know-how of jovoto’s experts will be of great value. I hope that we can open up many opportunities for them thanks to the expertise of jovoto.

The jovoto x Open Innovation Insitute Creative Hub

And second, I believe that jovoto is an excellent source of flourishing creative ideas from a wide network of experts, while Open Innovation Institute and its narrower network of experts provides complementary services such as research, consultancy and training, to implement those ideas successfully, and to build sustainable innovative systems within the companies. The services of jovoto and OII serve to the same value chain of innovation in a complementary way.

Third, but not least, what motivated me to collaborate with jovoto was my very strong ambition to connect minds, and facilitate groups to produce creative solutions. I hope I will have more opportunities in the near future to be involved in the projects of jovoto, and to contribute more to the solution development processes. I feel excited to work closer with the team at jovoto!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d like to share with corporate managers when it comes to innovation? In other words, what’s the best approach to managing their business in a time of such great uncertainty?

Dr. Ekmekçi: We all know that customers’ demand has narrowed down in many sectors. But we also have many needs that we suppress in our restricted lives.

Once the measures are gradually eased, many of us will look for opportunities to re-travel, vacations, for services to cinemas, sports events, shopping malls etc. to meet our repressed needs. With one difference; now much more selectively. We will prefer brands that pay attention to health, safety, hygiene and develop the most innovative solutions in these areas and gain the trust of their customers. Those who understand the needs and feelings of customers and can innovate quickly according to the newly emerging needs of their customers will be the ones who come out of the crisis even stronger. Total markets will shrink, but so to speak, “all cards will be redistributed”. Despite the shrinking markets, some brands will continue to grow. Those who lose trust will also lose their customers.

“Those who understand the needs and feelings of customers and can innovate quickly according to the newly emerging needs of their customers will be the ones who come out of the crisis even stronger.”

For this reason, institutions need innovation and a systematic approach more than ever, in times of crisis. Even if we personally feel a bit down because of the isolation, it is time to continue walking on the road, and maybe to create new paths. If it is not for anything, it is due to our responsibility to our employees and our customers.

It is also the perfect time for companies to look in the mirror. Transformation to something stronger, something more creative, requires a self-evaluation with brave eyes. Companies may need strategic, cultural, organization, financial and operational restructuring. They must be brave enough to question what they did so far, where they failed, what they learned during the crisis, and what kind of opportunities exist for them in all this chaos. An entrepreneurial mind always perceives crisis-times as large pools of opportunities, where there are various other needs to be answered.

“(Companies) must be brave enough to question what they’ve done so far, where they failed, what they learned during the crisis, and what kind of opportunities exist for them in all this chaos.”

What do you expect the next 6-12 months to look like, versus what do you hope it will look like? What are best practices for moving in the right direction?

Dr. Ekmekçi: I think that facing up with the deficits and weaknesses of the systems during the large-scale crises also creates important opportunities for us to remember what we have forgotten.

For example; we noticed that while the global system weakened local producers and leaned its back on China, it also became so dependent and fragile at the same time. Modern people were so focused on running, rushing, and consuming that Corona reminded us that it may be healthier to stay away from work for a while, to stop and relax, to stay at home with a clear mind, to be isolated for a while instead of unnecessarily wandering around in the traffic. Some companies were so resistant to their employees’ home-office work, that Corona reminded them that one day all of their employees would be able to work at home-office, and still collaborate in a very productive way. While wasting our time with political agendas and conflicts, Corona reminded us that science, technology and innovation are the main solution areas we should focus on. It also reminded us exactly at the time when racism, ultra-nationalism, discrimination and xenophobia increased most, that global problems can not be solved within the national boundaries and global solutions requires global cooperation.

“Those who evaluate and understand the changes will survive, and they will also contribute to creating a better future.”

It is clear that there are some competencies we have to gain / develop to survive, both physically, psychologically and financially, during and after the outbreak. For example, not to get stuck in the phase of panic, anger, fear and depression, and to go on to the phase of producing solutions, in the moments of uncertainty. To be able to evaluate and renew our self-values, our goals, paths and strategies. To be free of our unnecessary burdens, expenditures, and luxuries that have lost their priority, to be small enough to be sufficient for ourselves and to make us independent. To learn producing and collaborating independently of the location. To learn to take early, fast and effective measures and take action in crises. To be able to distinguish scientific data and manipulation.

I am perfectly sure that humanity will not remember all these valuable lessons after a couple of months when there is no more Corona fear in the air. But at the same times, I know that the future will be different from our past and our present. Those who evaluate and understand the changes will survive, and they will also contribute to creating a better future.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Ekmekçi: I am super excited about a better life, a better future, and to create innovative solutions with the power of connected, collaborative minds.

I thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share my ideas.

 Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dr. Ekmekçi!

To connect with Dr. Ekmekçi you can reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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Liz von Loewen

Liz grew up drinking maple syrup by the gallon and frolicking in wheat fields in her native Canada. In 2015, Liz moved to her 7th city in 5 countries in 6 years, settling in Berlin to join jovoto as Head of Marketing & PR.