A conversation with Sofie Lindblom, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ideation360.

This is part of my series on thought leaders in the innovation space.

Sofie Lindblom is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of ideation360, a subsidiary to Innovation360. She spends her time creating innovation strategies, providing companies with a clear and structured process for them to evaluate their success.

With a Master’s degree in Engineering and Media Technology, Sofie believes in combining the power of creativity and logic to solve complex problems. She credits her time as the Global Manager for Innovation at Spotify for teaching her about innovation success and what it takes for an organization to thrive within that balance of creativity and structure. Sofie starts many innovation conversations with an unexpected but important question: what blocks innovation?

Sofie Lindblom, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ideation360.
Sofie Lindblom, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ideation360.

The Intersection of Creativity and Logic

Sofie found her way into innovation by way of engineering. She was fascinated by creativity but also loved structure and logic. Engineering, she thought, would be a way to explore both fields, so she got into computer science. This satisfied her love of logic, but she said, “something was missing. I love technology, but I was not a great programmer. I’m quite restless and was missing the bigger picture.”

In pursuit of finding the bigger picture, she realized that the people using the technology and the business model behind it were missing. So Sofie pursued her Masters in Media Technology, where she went outside of her curriculum and took a course in Innovation Management. Her response to the idea of innovation was, “This is what I’ve been looking for. This is where you holistically get to take all the different components that are needed to figure out the future and drive it in the way you want.”

Her newfound love of innovation led her to a job at Spotify, where she tested models and processes that she had read about in her innovation class. Here she learned how to implement creative innovation while navigating the company structure and logic. Finding the connecting tissue between the two ends of the spectrum paved the way for her to do much of the work she does today.

“What we learned there was that there are a few components you need to have in place to succeed. The first thing is a very clear governance model with roles and responsibilities. Who owns what and who makes the decisions? And the second is the structure process. The end goal isn’t always known for innovation, so we need an innovation process to structure that exploration.”

Sofie Lindblom, Managing Director and Co-Founder of ideation360.

The Why Behind Innovation

Sofie believes that knowing the “why” behind your innovation efforts is one of the top drivers in a company’s success or downfall in their innovation. It’s not just a belief, either. At Innovation360 they have assessed innovation capabilities in over 5,000 organizations in 105 countries. One of the top blockers for innovation is lack of purpose.

Lack of Purpose: Find Your Why
We all intuitively know that the “why” is essential, but what does the “why” really look like, and what happens when a “why” changes? Sofie gives us an example of a company that sells magazine subscriptions. “With the magazine industry on the decline and subscriptions not selling, what do you do if your entire purpose for being was selling magazine subscriptions?” Suddenly, the “why” for existing is disappearing.

To help an organization plot a way forward, Innovation360 creates an innovation strategy. First, they perform an internal analysis, assessing an organization’s strengths and weaknesses. They ask, “What are they good at?” to look for innovative opportunities to use those strengths in a changing business. Then they do an external analysis, looking at what factors affect the industry — figuring out where the world is going and how the company fits into that.

Once the company knows their why they can start to innovate on that idea and be sure it still fits the market (or adapt as needed).

Lack of Patience: Innovation Takes Time
Most companies work in quarterly time frames and have high expectations for results — fast. But radical innovation in a short period of time isn’t exactly how innovation works. In companies with high pressure on the short term, the vision is often lost for longer-term, innovative projects with high uncertainty or unclear return of investment.

These pressures are completely necessary, of course, but there is much more to consider than purely looking at ROI when it comes to innovation success.

In our day-to-day business, there’s an ever-increasing number of priorities and activities to keep track of, leaving us little room and patience for the long term thinking that innovation requires.

Innovation takes time, systematic exploration, and calculated risks. Sofie says people often think that Spotify was this “happy accident,” requiring no work because they are young and hip, but she stresses how untrue that is. During her time there (and she contends that even now,) Spotify invests heavily in, prioritizes, and dedicates a great deal of time to innovation.

Sofie at work.
Sofie at work.

The Tanker vs. The Speedboat

Sofie works with a lot of big organizations looking to innovate and breaks down different strategies using an analogy with a tanker and a speedboat.

There are two different strategies at play: the corporate strategy and the innovation strategy. The corporate strategy, which acts a lot like a tanker. Then there’s innovation strategy, which behaves more like a speedboat.

Tankers are big, stable, and steady when it’s windy at sea, but that also means they’re slow to turn and don’t move very fast. Innovation strategy is different. It’s more like a group of speedboats sent out in varying directions, some further than others. They’re small, agile, and active. When these boats return, they’ll have gathered learnings and data about the atmosphere and road ahead.

We can’t compare the boats in the same way because they serve vastly different purposes. The goals of the boats aren’t the same, so they’re not evaluated the same way.

Having an innovation strategy is important because things are always changing. Having those speed boats (innovation strategy) active enables you to gather information about what’s coming, giving you the ability to assess the data and respond accordingly.

Sofie at work.

Expanding Your Horizons

To take that innovation strategy analogy further, there is a useful model called the three horizons*, which can help explain how different “boats” explore and the criteria and key performance indicators of each one. These criteria help set up the right expectations and keep the boats traveling on the right timeline.

Horizon one: Return of investment in the form of money or growth. What speedboats help us grow or increase revenue?

Horizon two: Data used to make decisions — what type of information do the speedboats come back with?

Horizon three: Learning — which boats we shouldn’t send back out again and which ones to double down on based on promising results.

*Three Horizons Source: Adopted from Baghai, M., Coley, S., & White, D. 1999. The Alchemy of Growth: Practical Insights for Building the Enduring Enterprise. London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd.

Splitting up these different horizons gives the innovation process, which can often feel messy and difficult to measure, a way to determine success and failure more clearly. Sofie also uses these horizons to get other people on board, “For us, it’s been a good way to motivate or at least get decision-makers to understand the difference between them. And when you get that, then you can also allow different ways of working in the different horizons.”

Innovation Leadership

In innovation, you need someone comfortable with uncertainty, able to cast vision and inspire others towards progress, despite the possibility of being wrong.

One thing that continues to be required in innovation, Sofie says, is “a generation of leaders that are challenging the status quo and thinking differently. This requires diversity in the board room.” Diversity is something Sofie is familiar with, as a woman, engineer, CEO, founder, she understands the value and challenges that come with diverse groups of people.

“This is not just about a room full of similar people coming up with new ideas, but in order to broaden perspectives and horizons, diversity is necessary.”

An essential part of innovation leadership is to make yourself a part of this change — to be a role model and to find role models in new places that you may not have looked before.

Finding the Balance

Maintaining creativity through innovation, finding the right balance between structure and creativity — it’s where the boats make a great team. “Because if you put too much structure to it, then we kind of kill creativity. But if we have no structures, it’s really hard to capture that creativity and turn it into value.”

In the end, it can be said that innovation is truly an art, a masterpiece of mixed media. Structure and creativity blended to form a picture of innovation success.

The Right Tools

The problem Sofie has often faced is that companies don’t always possess the confidence to generate ideas, or if they do, they aren’t pushing the boundaries enough. With tools, communication, and workshops you can boost an organization’s creative confidence. This hopefully encourages people and gives them the confidence to either pursue an idea further or to leave it.

At Innovation360 they have developed a framework and tool to determine what will enable an organization to perform most optimally. This tool, InnoSurvey, is an assessment used to ask why, what, and how in 92 codified questions. Within this, there are 66 capabilities broken down into 16 lenses, which are categorized in different ways based on their particular ability to produce specific outcomes.

Innovation360 is also experimenting with an AI called Sherlock that helps with the analysis of the assessment data. The goal is that Sherlock will solve complex innovation challenges with the world’s leading companies, going through all data in the databases assessing innovation performance. From there, Sherlock can provide recommendations on how to improve innovation capabilities drawn upon the learnings from all organizations in the database. This also helps companies hone in on their skills and decide what type of innovation works best for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Sofie and hearing about the ways Innovation360 is assessing and driving innovation. I’ll end with this quote from her: “Innovation is the core of surviving and thriving in 2020 and beyond.”

If you want to read my other articles about innovation experts and practitioners, please check them all out here.