Innovating by Taking a Peek at the Neighbours

Innovating by taking a peek at how the neighbours are doing it. Ramon Vullings is a cross-industry expert. He shows us what the event industry can learn from other industries.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Innovating by taking a peek at how the neighbours are doing it. Ramon Vullings is a cross-industry expert. He shows us what the event industry can learn from other industries.


Hi Ramon, you wrote a book about cross-industry innovation. Are we not able to innovate our own industries? 


Yes, of course we are able to innovate in our own industries. But what we see is as industries are quite mature these days, that they've been economically optimised. We call that best practices. So you take best practices from everywhere. From other company, normally within your sector. With similar processes. And then you build upon your best practices. Finally you get to an optimisation level of, say, 96%, and best in class and all kinds of awards, but these are all sector oriented. If you're looking at innovation; the most disruptive innovations come from another sector. Let me give you a few examples: candle-makers never came up with the light-bulb. Carriage-makers, horse and carriage, never invented the automobile. And also the post office certainly didn't invent email. 


So just the same thing like Apple starting to sell music?  


Yes, or Apple going into the wearables and now it's fashion with golden watches and everything. So they're literally crossing sectors. 


That's an interesting idea, but if you want to do it in practice; where do you start? 


In our book we outline the three steps; the overall strategy that you need to really take something from another sector. What we try to teach the people via the book is to increase their match-sensitivity; in which area should I go and look to find the goals. Yeah, let me put it like that. The overall strategy is: concept, combine, create. Three steps. So concepting is conceptualizing; going higher on your abstraction ladder. To be able to figure out new questions. So you need to ask more beautiful questions to challenge the assumptions of your sector or your industry. The second step is to combine it with something. Based on the higher abstraction you're able to see a broader view of areas which might be interesting. And finally, the third step is to create, to make it fit for your situation. 


Do you have an example of that? 


Yeah, let me give you an example for events, in this case. Most people love to have people on time. Supposing you start an event in the morning; a lot of people, 9:30 you want to start the event. 


That never happens. 


It never happens. Everybody comes in and everybody looks at the program: "9:30 before the first speaker gets up, 10 o' clock. Let me arrive with my car at 9:35, I'll get a coffee and I'll be okay..." What we did for a few clients was investigate: okay, how can we change this behaviour? The normal timings are 9:30, 10 o' clock... If we challenge that a little bit: you put it higher on the abstraction ladder. It's not about the timings, but it's more about the sense of urgency you would like to give to the people. Well, where else do they really infuse the people with a sense of urgency? Take for example trains. A train leaves. Not always on time but the principle is that they leave at 9:17, 9:44, 10:23... By applying these principles also in the programs of events... What we've experienced is that people have the tendency to be more on time. Because they have the feeling, a sense of urgency, like: "oh, the train is going to be moving and if I'm not on time, I'm not going to be in." And that works really well to get people more aware: 10:23, maybe then the keynote speaker is going to give the wow-ey thing at that point, so I need to be there at that time. And that really helps. And that's a nice basic example of learning from another sector. 


That sounds very logical. But why is it that in most companies this doesn't happen? 


And that's why we've given the book the name: 'Not Invented Here'. It's from the psychological 'Not Invented Here'-syndrome. That it's probably our ego which blocks us from accepting ideas from others. We'd rather be proud of our own ideas and also we'd rather do a good brainstorming, and we come up with a radical new idea instead of doing some research and some fact-finding on what's already out there. Probably in different wordings, because what keeps us from actually learning from other sectors is jargon. Within the event sphere you have a certain jargon. Everybody knows what a call sheet is, everybody knows what speaker notes are. In other sectors people have no idea, but they have a similar process. So a check-list for a doctor in the hospital is similar to a call sheet in events. So we play with synonyms and abstractions also in the book. To help people to jump from sector to sector to see: in that sector they have found a different way to solve a similar problem. 


Okay, that's very interesting. If I want to read the book, where can I find it? 


You can go to and it also will be available on Amazon and all better bookstores in the beginning of February 2015. 


Okay, thank you very much for coming over.  


Thank you. 


And you at home; thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week!