From Corporate Career To Creative Entrepreneurialism

RSM Erasmus University Interview Series for The NextWomen

Lorna Goulden, founder of Creative Innovation Works and MBA alumna

As part of our interview series with the female heroes of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) we spoke to Founder and MBA alumna Lorna Goulden. 

Lorna Goulden is the founder of Creative Innovation Works, a networked innovation consultancy specialised in guiding the transition of emerging technologies into user-focused products, services and interactive experiences. She is also a member of the global Think Tank “Council: The Internet of Things”; a hub for policy debate, practice and implementation of the emerging Internet evolution.

A former creative director and innovation manager for Philips, Lorna has spent over 20 years combining interaction design and creative thinking with technology developments for business innovation. In addition to her MBA, she holds a Bachelor’s degree from Sheffield University and a Master’s in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art in London.

Since joining Philips Design in Eindhoven in 1994 she worked with Philips Research and Business groups in Europe, Asia and the US, and in 1999 she set up and managed an interactive design team developing an Experience Design approach that evolved into being widely employed across Philips Design.  Lorna has also previously worked as the Creative Supervisor of an innovative urban lighting development program at Strijp-S in Eindhoven where she is currently creatively directing the implementation of two of the urban interaction projects within the program. 

We spoke to Lorna about her decision to embark on her entrepreneurial journey as well as her motivation for studying for an MBA.

TNW: Tell us a little about your current ventures, Creative Innovation Works and The Internet of People.

LG: I founded Creative Innovation Works in 2012 as an internationally oriented innovation consultancy with a particular focus on helping organizations to navigate more effectively towards innovation growth by employing a particularly strong emphasis on customer development and creativity.

Anticipating a growing need for more flexible, multi-disciplinary capabilities, I have also organized my company as a networked innovation company, connecting with a growing number of creative specialists to provide flexible support across the entire innovation chain; from tracking and translating industry trends right the way through to launching new products, services and interactive experiences.

Our most recent work has been in contrasting domains: global corporate and local council – from the development of innovation concepts and interactive prototypes for a Philips-Cisco strategic partnership, to guiding the implementation of an ambitious ‘living-lab’ lighting vision for a city council development in Eindhoven, coincidentally a former Philips industrial site that is being transformed into an exciting creative quarter close to the city centre (Light-S.nl).

Earlier this year I also co-founded a complementary company The Internet of People, together with Internet of Things author, expert and consultant Rob van Kranenburg; London based interaction designer and entrepreneur Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Berlin based business consultant Martin Spindler.

The Internet of People has been set up to manage a global network of over 100 consultants who specialize in topics relevant to the Internet of Things such as smart cities, connected consumer products, sensor development, M2M, security and academic research. 

I believe that the emerging ‘future’ Internet will play an integral, and also disruptive, role in all aspects of future business development.

Not only in enabling innovative new products and services but also by fundamentally impacting how businesses are being run and the role of customers within that process. With our global team the goal is not only to support organizations that are already making the transition, but to also advise companies keen to understand what the Internet of Things could mean for them; both the threats and promises.

TNW: What led you to take the leap from a corporate career with Phillips Design to entrepreneurialism?

LG: I think the seed was planted a number of years ago whilst I was still at Philips Design. The focus of my work shifted from directing creative innovation projects for the different Philips business groups, to including global creative leads for external innovation consulting.

In this role I encountered a diverse range of company cultures, within an equally diverse range of industries and locations.

Yet within this diversity I was observing a frequently recurring ‘innovation challenge’ that appeared to be remarkably universal and was also appearing with an almost disappointing predictability.

The result of this ‘challenge’ meant that after a considerable investment of time and effort in user research, ideation and strategic road mapping, often followed by more tactical developments such as design detailing, prototyping and marketing activities, a ‘once-promising’ proposition would nevertheless, eventually and finally fail before making it into the world; the challenges of launching innovation would eventually prove to be insurmountable.

Now while I recognize this as a necessary feature of innovation; not all ideas can make it to market, I have over the years witnessed perhaps a little too often extremely inspiring and often costly innovations being shelved by one company, to emerge only a few years later as a highly profitable, even game-changing business for another.

And so my questioning began, how might it be possible to reduce, or even speed up this apparently destructive gap between the highly creative, yet in my experience very well grounded activities of innovation design and the structural business development steps that eventually lead to a ‘launch or shelve’ decision?

A turning point for me came when I was asked to lead a comprehensive investigation for a large global organization that was actually questioning why they were not able to fully capitalize on the design capabilities within their organization.

While the value of design was apparently ‘recognized’ up to the top levels in the company, it was too frequently not making it through the business wringer, with significant economic consequences ensuing.

This questioning, combined with the experience and insights gained over the years, developed into a personal vision to make it possible to build a more effective, structural and sustainable connection between creativity and business development.  While the seeds for this vision were sown during my years working as a creative director and innovation manager, what started as an intuition grew to become a driving force behind my decision to apply for the OneMBA at RSM. I wanted to be able to develop a deeper understanding of the business end of the equation; what factors are driving or restricting business development and how does this impact business decision-making processes.

When I applied to RSM I had two future paths in mind, one of them was potentially within Philips, as I wrote in my application “I believe that there will be an emerging career opportunity requiring a creative professional like me to take more of a leading role in business development alongside existing business managers; bridging the gap between complementary approaches in a more effective way.”

The other path was to pursue the development of this vision either within another organization, or in a more independent and entrepreneurial capacity. Within the first year of the MBA it became clear to me that the latter option would be my more immediate future path, so I set about forming my own company without delay.

TNW: You have spent the last 19 years initiating and directing creative innovation processes. Which of the creative innovations you have helped to bring to market are you most proud of and why?

LG: In 2008 I authored an award winning publication – “Strijp-S: Creating a Public Lighting Experience” and was subsequently hired by the local council as creative Supervisor to guide the transformation of this vision into an innovative urban lighting program at Strijp-S, in Eindhoven. The final futuristic lighting projects of this program are being installed this month along with a sensor network (backbone) that connects the installations together, enabling them to respond intelligently to changing conditions in the environment throughout the night, the week and the year.

These lighting projects could almost be described as ‘unfinished-designs’ or what I call ‘open-tools’, in-line with the Living Lab goals of the location. Once installed, the behavior of the innovative (coloured) LED lighting will be designed and developed over a period of time to uncover the most optimal light settings for a range of different situations. These ‘design’ iterations will not only be carried out by the team of experienced lighting designers and artists who have been involved throughout the program, but also in collaboration with local residents and businesses, the city council and university students and other interested visitors to the location – essentially a shared innovation initiative.

I should also point out that while one major lighting installation is more traditionally attached to lampposts other more experimental projects are flying around on a hexacopter (6 rotor helicopter); sitting on the top of an iconic industrial chimney or creating a pathway of light with hundreds of crystals that you can literally pick up and play with!

We are ultimately challenging the way that people think about and experience lighting in the urban environment.

This program has been particularly successful in the way that we have remained true to the original vision and goals, in particular maintaining a dogged focus on user experience driven innovation, rather than being driven by technology, and by integrating the sustainability goals of the city into the key projects, supported by the advanced infrastructure of the backbone.

A major achievement of course is that such a broad-reaching range of innovative projects has managed to survive the development process to be implemented, and particularly satisfying for me is that the key street lighting installation has resulted in the creation of an innovative new commercial product by the manufacturing party. A challenging, rewarding and educational aspect of this work has been the interaction between a large and diverse team of expert individuals and companies who have been responsible for making it all happen, from initial concept and design right through to technical development and implementation, my role has been to bring many of these people together, guarding the original vision, under the guidance of the local council as the ultimate decision maker who have paved the way forward for us all.

TNW: I really enjoyed your TED talk about the Internet of Things. 18 months later, which potential applications of the Internet of Things are you most excited about and why?

LG: This is a very difficult question to answer, rather like putting a child into a sweet shop and asking them to pick out just one sweet!

I believe that developments in (wireless) Body Area Networks are going to be particularly interesting to watch.

This is where your body is essentially connected to the Internet, with sensors and transmitters either embedded in clothing, worn like the Google glasses, or even swallowed in a pill that is powered by your own stomach-acid. 

One interesting development I expect to start to shift towards the mainstream is the ‘quantified-self’ movement. quantifiedself.com While still on the fringes, there is a growing international movement of individuals actively experimenting with self-monitoring; continuously gathering data with body sensors, they track their location; patterns of activities; how their bodily functions are performing and even what their emotional state is. This information can then be used for a variety of purposes such as improving personal health, diet and fitness management, as well as sharing with specially designated medical or care professionals for more tailored ‘wellness’ advice, support and treatment.

Tied to this is a future possibility where a critical mass of people share a growing database of body-sensed data, (confidentially and anonymously of course).

This could support a vastly improved chance of earlier diagnosis and more tailored individual treatment based on the intelligence gathered from the data of millions of people that may share similar patterns, signals and reactions to you.

TNW: How has your MBA helped you to bridge the gender gap in different cultures?

LG: The first step in understanding how to navigate the gender gap in different cultures is to gain a deeper insight into how big the ‘gap’ is, where it originates from and which additional cultural aspects are likely to have an impact on how you will be received and what is generally expected and acceptable within a particular culture – before you make any moves to try and build a stronger bridge. 

One of the most valuable aspects of the OneMBA was the global nature, not only travelling to the different regions but also interacting closely with executive students from different locations around the world, working together on projects and also being welcomed in their local environments. We were guided through a comprehensive and practical investigation of global leadership and cultural differences, which was then further expanded upon at each location we visited.

I was particularly inspired by the work of Poonam Barua, founder of the Forum for Women in Leadership in India, whom we met during the Asian residency.

One of the drawbacks perhaps of my MBA experience is that while there were many eye-opening cultural challenges, encounters and interactions to learn from, working in the cross-cultural teams, I did not gain any noticeable experience in dealing with gender gap issues, a compliment I would say to my global colleagues and the overall culture of the program! But that is not to say that this isn’t something that I experience from time to time in my professional career, navigating as I do in a predominantly male-dominated environment.

What is particularly inspiring about RSM is the ongoing discussion on empowering women, and the realization that there is a growing body of women and men, working together to support each other and actively working together to find more effective ways to bridge this gap – this kind of post-graduation interaction, supplementing the more academic cultural awareness developed during the course is extremely valuable. 

TNW: Have there been any difficulties/obstacles you faced because you have an MBA, and if so, how have you overcome them?

LG: None that I can comment on.

TNW: What aspects of RSM culture or composition have been helpful to you in your career and in what way do the relationships you have with classmates or other RSM alumni add to your professional life?

LG: One of the most rewarding aspects of my OneMBA experience was the high level of professional experience and the depth of interaction and support between classmates, in both the local and global classes and projects.

I have come away from my MBA with some true friendships and an incredible global network.

We have a particularly active alumni group, and I have already been supported with advice and feedback on a number of professional developments which have been particularly helpful as I embark on my new career path. What is exciting for me are tangible plans I am working on at the moment in line with my personal vision to tackle the gap between creativity and business;  input and feedback from classmates is providing valuable new perspectives, inspirational, and very much appreciated.

TNW: What kind of advice would you give to a woman choosing to do an MBA programme today?

I would not give any specific advice to a woman, beyond the same advice that I would give to a man – as I have already found myself doing on a few occasions since I graduated. I generally advise to first be clear about what your personal and professional goals are and the role that you believe an MBA can play in achieving those goals.

It is particularly useful to then discuss your ambitions with admissions staff, who are very experienced in advising if there is a good match between what you hope to achieve and their program.

I also advise to consider how an MBA will be viewed in your current professional environment; will it turn you into a bigger asset or a potential threat to your closest colleagues and managers?

Prepare for the eventual impact that a step in the direction of an MBA is likely to achieve.

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