This reflective blog comes exactly one month after attending the module two sessions of my Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. It is reflective because the trip was followed by a quick re-immersion into the catching-up of both work and daily life at home. Somehow my work acts like a jealous toddler and tends to compete more for my attention as soon as I return from a trip.
The week-long module two covered Innovation Strategy with Associate Professor Marc Ventresca and Associate Scholar Victor Seidel. The focus for the week was for us to become more eloquent in the language of strategically organizing for innovation.
On the first day, we took a deep dive into the Geroski model on evolution of new markets. A case analysis on Astroscale, a start-up leading space debris removal was central to the class discussion. For most of us in class, although we were encouraged to approach the case as any other business case, the concept of space business threw us off. The mind prefers the familiar, so the concept of cleaning up space felt abstract, and one’s mind more easily pictured images from sci-fi movies.
However, two things happened that set the tone of the day and the rest of the module. The space debris removal concept made for animated break time conversation and commentary, there was a realization that we were all united in the abstractness of the concept, and yet we began using terms like ‘TMO framework’ and ‘dominant design’ almost effortlessly. We were beginning to speak the strategy language.
Secondly, at some point in the afternoon, Professor Ventresca paused, and we got onto a Zoom call with Pat Mathewson, a colleague from Astroscale, who gave a quick briefing on where the company was on its journey to become a leader in the space industry, and the status of the quest to solve this problem of ‘immense technological complexity’. The impact of ‘putting a face’ to the organization that moments earlier was confined to the pages of a case study, was a great touch. The call with Pat made the company relatable and it brought Astroscale and the space debris issue ‘down to earth' for us (for the lack of a cheesy slogan).
As we wrapped up the first day, with the setting of the groundwork done, we forged on for the rest of the week, with a mix of academic lecture sessions punctuated by interesting guest speakers who further drove home the concepts we covered in class. Notable was Professor Dame Fran Ashcroft, who gave us a storytelling-style lecture on nurturing discovery and innovation, whilst highlighting her research work with a delicate and relatable sense of humour.
The week went by quickly and our strategy vocabulary became increasingly rich. And on a sunny Sunday morning, as I wheeled my suitcases from my hotel down the street towards the coach station to catch a bus to the airport, I reflected on the module two week. I remembered it being highlighted in class that it was not until 1970, that Bernard D Sadow, vice president of a Massachusetts luggage company, managed to put wheels on a suitcase. An invention without which my walk to the coach station would have been the equivalent of a weightlifting exercise. I chuckled at the thought, a fitting nod to innovation strategy indeed.