We interviewed Jordi Díaz, Dean of EADA Business School, and James Haigh, Director of the International Master in Management. They both co-led the MiM Innovation Challenge 2021, which took place from the 10th to 12th February in a hybrid format (face-to-face and online). It was a 3 day-day competition where current participants from the Master in Management worked in teams to produce disruptive innovation business ideas. All of them were supported by EADA Alumni mentors and innovators. In the following interview, we talk to them about this unique experience and also about the meaning of disruptive innovation.
Why do you think the innovation challenge is a unique experience for our participants from the International Master in Management?
JORDI DÍAZ (J.D.): The MiM Innovation Challenge is a phenomenal experiential learning initiative. Our participants, at this stage of the programme, have the chance to put into practice what they have achieved so far. This is a journey which, in three days, they discover what disruptive innovation is. They get inspired by mentors and innovators, and they compete in semifinals and finals to prove and show that they identified a problem and found a solution for it. For all of these reasons, it is not about going and listening to professors and experts, but it is about discovery, seeing what is there and making proposals. We clearly think that it is a good experience that, whenever they are facing a job interview or process, will put them in a better position to succeed.
Jordi Díaz, Dean of EADA Business School
James Haigh, Director of International Master in Management
JAMES HAIGH (J.H.): We are talking about three intense days – like a Bootcamp. It puts them in a position of having to deliver a project, and having to do the project under pressure. It takes them out of their comfort zone and makes them grow, not only on their hard skills but on their soft skills too. Besides, participants detect business opportunities through the lens of disruptive innovation. It is all about, in three days, trying to install the key elements of a way of looking at businesses and looking at business models that have to do with the disruptive innovation framework.
Do you agree with the guest innovators and mentors that disruptive innovation can change the world?
J.H.: Definitely. You look at typical examples of disruptors and how they have changed the world in the sense that they tackled a specific problem, they brought value to a certain segment of people, they satisfied needs and even changed habits of people. Disruptors have the potential to bring change to big groups of people, big market targets, and one after the other completely changing the world. The principles of disruptive innovation –making the impossible possible, the exclusive inclusive, and accessible the inaccessible– are put into practice from the very first day of the challenge.
J.D.: We see disruptive innovation as a way of viewing the world of business, a world where there are plenty of opportunities and challenges. Instead of having an incremental mindset – which means doing the same a little bit better – we go into a different way of looking at business, considering what are those needs that are not being served today. This could be on a low end, as we say, and trying to find a good enough solution that will democratize the solution. Or what we believe is the most exciting opportunity they can navigate in, generating new market opportunities, which is trying to turn non-clients or non-consumers into clients or consumers. This is why we want our participants to fall in love with this problematic and try to propose a good alternative.
Are executives aware enough of the importance of disruptive innovation for their companies’ growth?
J.D.: We see that disruptive innovation is a buzzword. It is something that is very present in today’s business language. But, at the same time, it is very hard to apply it, because you have to compromise how you have done things until today – which most likely brought about success, one way or another. This is why we say that disruptive innovation is easier said than done, because basically your organization many times has an ‘immune system’ that defends your own practice from this disruption that needs to be generated.
J.H.: I think it is easier for startups because they don’t have a legacy, nor a story or a way of doing things. When you are launching a new initiative, you can really try to create the perspective, the processes, the resources needed for this alternative, and the most critical thing, which is a profit formula. The established players and the legacy organizations are a big challenge for the profit formula of most of these disruption innovation alternatives.
What do you feel when seeing our Alumni return as mentors and innovators, having progressed and grown in their careers during these years?
J.D.:The MiM Innovation Challenge is a very special initiative and it is thanks to the participation of our Alumni as both mentors and innovators. In the last edition we had 7 Alumni, one of which just graduated last July, while we had another one that graduated 16 years ago. All of them are from different nationalities. There are two important points to highlight for our current participants: on one hand, it is an inspiration for them, because they see people that were where they are sitting now. On the other, this challenge is close to real life, so we bring real-life here into class – this year, in a hybrid format – helping them come up with their own real-life propositions or alternatives.
J.H.: Eada has successful entrepreneurs in different industries as alumni, having implemented different kind of business models. It is really rewarding and inspiring to listen to their success stories. Thinking back on when they were participants here and reconnecting now by fast forwarding in time and seeing where they are at today is really fantastic. I feel grateful for being part of that story to whatever extent. Our Mentors and Innovators now help our participants in thinking in an innovative way: it starts by helping them identify a perceived problem and also which assumptions are at play, and then questioning them to reframe the issue.
One of them was Inês Pereira, who was also the ambassador of this year’s challenge. She is Startup & Partner Manager at Microsoft For Startups, where she helps companies in their digital transformation by connecting them with partners and access to technology. What is your opinion on having her with us?
J.H.: It was a pleasure and a privilege to have Inês here because, apart from the fact that she is an EADA Alumna (Master in Management 2015), she regularly oversees and evaluates different projects and business models. So, what she brought to the MiM Innovation Challenge was an external point of view with a significant amount of experience. She was able to give some indication on the feasibility of some of these ideas and how realistic or unrealistic they were.
What were the main problems our participants had to overcome?
J.D.: First of all, to get together, because some people knew each other but others didn’t within the team. That sometimes played in their favour or against them, because the team has to perform and has to produce results in a very short amount of time. For this reason, we saw that teams made progress at a completely different speed than others. I am not talking only about the innovation or the creativity in their ideas, but also in how they came together to produce a reliable and professional output.
J.H.: Apart from going in the right direction and working with significant time pressure, they were sometimes a bit overwhelmed because they had great ideas and needed to limit their scope. Also, it was important to focus on the team and the roles in the team. Besides, some of them had difficulties to define their target and their customers. We insisted on the importance of asking them about their needs and getting into the heads of customers.