Wilfrid Kroath is a well-renowned executive with almost twenty years of experience in the Technology and Innovation Industry. Former Nordic Regional Director at Frosmo, Regional Director Emerging Northeast at Riverbed Technology, Regional Director at Dynatrace, and Sales Director for Nokia Siemens Networks at Tieto Company. Will has a Masters in Science in international business from the University of Vienna. With international studies and many friends at Hanken School of Economics and University of California, Los Angeles. WIll is an Austrian #business leader happily stranded in Finland.
With experience in empowering brands to deliver better digital experiences and as a Podcast Host, Will emphasizes the impact on Creactive Leaders. Accordingly, such leaders are surrounded by people to collaborate intensively on creative projects through activities that promote creativity and innovation.
Henrik Totterman (Henrik): Will, it's great to have you here for the interview. I've known you for many, many years. We studied together and learned the same things, and we have the same kind of educational backing. I've been impressed over the years following your career. And, of course, I always see you as a great, creactive leader, and that's why it's such a pleasure to have you here this morning. I have several questions for you, and I would like to start by asking you how you define your leadership style?
Wilfrid Kroath (Will): First of all, thanks a lot for having me here. It's a great pleasure to be here and to see you again. This Covid period has been a little bit hard on us in terms of having meetings. When it comes to my leadership style, I would say that one of the most important things is to live by the rule of 40/60.
I mean, by 40/60, we are usually very much driven by habits running on 40 percent of our capacity, and we hardly ever push ourselves a little further. If we are using 40 percent of our ability, it means that we have 60 percent left, and you should tap into these remaining 60 percent. If you feel that everything is under control, you are driving too slow. With that mindset, I also lead my team, always encouraging my team members to do a little more. It's that easy. To give you a couple of examples. In the morning, if you go running, instead of two miles, run two and a half, or instead of 10 push-ups, do 11. Suppose you are in sales; instead of calling 15 people, phone 16. Try to constantly push the envelope a little bit because, in that zone where the pain starts, that's also where the most significant learnings are and where growth is, and that's what I try to do with my folks.
Henrik: Impressive. Why do you see an increasing need for a Creactive Leadership style? And I play with the word creative and active, and I claim that leadership can be and should be more creative. But if it's not action-oriented, it's not purposeful and doesn't lead to expected outcomes. So proactive is the word I use for that.
Will: It's a good word. Creativity and activity have always been the essential characteristics of great leaders. And let's look at it from inside of the organization. It means that it fosters problem-solving, enables achieving goals, and inspires teams to contribute to a successful and healthier workplace environment. Suppose I look towards the customers; it's super important that we are active and creative to find new ways of working, discover new perspectives, and be relentless in our pursuit of customer satisfaction. And the third angle, as you also said already, is that we need to make sure that we think big, not just in terms of the organization, but what our role is in terms of humankind. I'm a firm believer that there is enough to do on this planet; we don't have to fly to Mars. We have to do a lot here to leave a dent in evolution. I love what you say, active and creative, valid.
Henrik: Thank you. We'll cover four sections to discuss different themes that I'm interested in talking about. The first one is Innovation and Strategy. My first question to you is: How do we maintain a positive outlook direction and keep a winning concept current in a primarily disrupted world?
Will: If I look in general at the organizations that I have been working with over the last couple of years, and there are, of course, a few, in my opinion, I have not seen such a thing as one entire winning concept. However, I have seen highly successful companies that are reinventing themselves constantly. And as we said before, besides pushing your boundaries every day, you also need to surround yourself with great people. You need to talk to other entrepreneurs; you need to speak to industry leaders to search for new trends. Imagine going to a museum; I invite you to my museum. My museum has three rooms. Room number 1: that's where all the panic buttons are, red lights, emojis with thumbs down, fire on the roof, chaos. Everything looks a little bit destructive. You go to the second room; we find shiny new tools there. I mean, I'm working in the salsa industry. There is an abundance of excellent tools that exist and everything that probably can solve the world's problems of the world. And we have room number three, where all the latest trends, ideas, and what-ifs are located.
In my opinion, what I see is when people come to my museum, most of them, including myself, spend time in room number one, where the chaos is, where the fire is, where the destruction is, where there is always something burning. We should spend time in room number three, all of us. Just imagine what we would be able to do instead of being in firefighting mode all the time. Suppose we would use that time instead of in-room number three and think about what needs to be solved, the next trend, how we could approach these things, and probably the evolutionary perspective on a global scale. That's what I think I see in organizations maintaining a positive outlook. And as you said, they have a winning concept; they spend much time in room number three.
Henrik: I love the analogy. Thank you. My next question is when you look at data collection and business intelligence. Any advice on the collection and analysis for companies just waking up to request or generate such intelligence?
Will: I am from Austria, originally, living in Finland right now and pleased about it because I like the darkness, I like heavy metal, so what better place to be than here? But I still read the newspaper, and today in the Austrian newspaper, it said that the Austrian state, the regulator, has found that the usage of Google Analytics is a breach of what we know here in Europe as GDPR, Privacy Data Protection, and that is huge. That is huge for my industry segment, where we are very much driven by everything or anything digital. On the other hand, it's the first time that the European Union is also publicly criticizing something that has been underneath the surface for a long time. So there is a couple of angles to it: we have more data than ever to date, that data has become a hard currency, so data collection must evolve around three things:
The first one is clarity; what do you collect? The second one is consistency. You can't change the rules of the game every second day. And the third one is controlling. Always bear in mind that for the user, there's nothing worse than your data leaking out. So if these three clarity, consistency, and control are in place, I think there is a lot that we can still do because at the end of the day, honestly, it's not about who your customers are. It doesn't matter if it's you in a digital enterprise in my industry. It doesn't matter if your wife and kids are on my platform. What is essential for me is to understand what you are doing? What is driving you? How do you feel about it? And what is the behavioral context? I can do a lot with the behavioral context without knowing who you are. Let's not forget. I think it's the first time now for the new trend. For a couple of years, humans have been back in data. What was artificial intelligence machine learning in the past? Data crunching, all that kind of stuff that is extremely powerful today. Now again, we see humans, and we see behavioral analytics. So that's much more important than just the plain hard currency of data.
Henrik: What an insightful answer. Thanks for showing where the trend is heading. That's, of course, something that is of interest for all of us to understand where the puck will go rather than where the puck is already like Wayne Gretzky said once. My last question in this section relates to key performance indicators, and it goes like this: With Creactive Leadership and overall performance in mind. What KPIs do you favor? What kind of key performance metrics do you follow?
Will: There are probably two angles to it; I would be looking from the inside-out, from inside the organization to outside to the customers. I would always say the first thing that comes to mind is customer satisfaction. I know that is a little bit fluffy. What does that mean? But on the other hand, we have many ways to measure it, from old discourse to anything we use to measure customer pulse. Super essential for me to, the starting point of how good or bad we are doing inside the organization. Of course, we have different ways. I have been working a lot with business development and with rapid prototyping. I'm a big believer that, for example, we measure the lead time to failure for projects. What is the lead time to failure? How many losses do we have? So how many project failures do we have versus how many successful projects? How many rapid prototyping projects do we have and execute upon? Of course, it's always a play of cost versus revenue. If you have a highly successful prototyping project going on that drives a massive hole into your pockets, it doesn't help either.
Henrik: I want to move to the second section about Compliance and Entrepreneurship. And my first question is: Can you provide some examples of employee engagement in corporate innovation activities? And then perhaps elaborate a little bit on how this impacts overallwellbeingg and retention?
Will: I'm super happy that diversity, equity, and inclusion- are growing in importance, finally also here in Europe, and I love it. I think it's a core foundation of corporate innovation because we need to be on a base level that needs diversity, equity, and inclusion. Without that, nothing will work. However, the next thing for me, and I think we also discussed a little bit on the sidelines already idea meritocracy. If I look at Ray Dalio, for example, to create complete transparency, to let the better idea win instead of always having a pure democratic approach on how we are, for example, driving innovation projects forward in the company. That's what I believe in.
For me, it works much better defining the strategy together, and I love it. There's nothing better than sitting in a room with my peers and just explaining to ourselves what the vision is and what the strategy is? What do we want to do? Hackathons are incredibly successful, and incubators are very successful. Even company internal podcasts are a powerful way of distributing innovator ideas. I have seen idea management platforms; sometimes, I know these work; most of the time not. People are just not engaged enough; you are forcing it on them. Customer polls, anything related to making an impact or leaving a dent in your community outside your organization's boundaries, having fun at the end of the day, and striving for the 40/60 rule closely impact wellbeing and retention.
Henrik: Impressive. The next question relates to your industry. You've been working in various companies and always on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. The question follows: How are companies safekeeping their intellectual properties and keeping their knowledge base current?
Will: I now have glasses that relate again to the SaaS industry, and there are always two forces at play. Of course, the one major force is that companies on a SaaS platform or outside of IT need to guard their intellectual properties through patents. That's paramount; you need to protect your rights at some point.
On the other hand, I have also seen, and this reminded me of what you say right now of the previous times, many moons ago, at the beginning of the year 2000, when we were still working on the very, very beginning of mobile phones. These operating systems were always more or less working against each other. With the evolution now to 20 years ago, the change is that all platform operators, in general, are trying to open up as much as possible. Opening APIs and opening up your platform means many people can attach themselves to it. So if protection through patents is one major force; the other major force is having as many APIs open as possible and getting as much input from outside vendors and outside players as possible. I think that's so important because otherwise, it doesn't fly. You don't get enough feet on the ground.
Henrik: Excellent. Let's move to the third section, asking about Cooperation and Impact. My first question: How are you and your employer engaging with the surrounding society and specific industry?
Will: As we also said earlier, we don't need to leave earth to engage. I think we have hit the jackpot when it comes to the lottery of galaxies. We are here, and with that in mind, it is super important that we leave a dent in the evolution. From a personal perspective, you need to feel that there is something else than just going to work for the sake of making money. There needs to be an overarching goal, that needs to be an overriding drive, some goal you have. Of course, money is crucial for buying the things you want to have, but that can't be the primary driver. For me, it goes very much into being exposed to people with ideas through hackathons, through incubators, through pro bono work outside of your work hours. So these things, I believe, make a huge difference, and that's at least what I can see; once that is in place, people start to go the extra mile.
Henrik: Excellent. And I know you are very innovative in reaching out to customers. I've seen some of your creative customer pitch videos and so on. My next question relates a little bit to that piece: How do you interact with different customer segments and any changes now, of course, during COVID as well?
Will: For me, what is essential, something that wasn't always in place in my old thinking, is that whatever I do needs to be on a product-led approach. What do I mean by that? If I sell you in the classical sense, e.g., I have a mug here, and I say to you, "hey, this is a great mug, even containing here my name, my initials. Here's a W. It's incredible. You should buy it." Maybe you do, perhaps you don't. The better I am at convincing you that you need it, the more successful I will be. But even in the last couple of years, I have seen that the more we go down with the product-led approach, let the product speak for itself. In the best-case scenario, you will come to me and say, "Will I need this mug, is unbelievable! This mug is a piece of art if I can't live without it." That's what I mean by product, and that's the massive change for the customer. I wouldn't say I'm segmenting customers, but I strive for a product-led market approach to determine who needs more.
Henrik: Excellent. The next question is, How do you assess risks and opportunities, especially when it comes to key partners and suppliers that you work with? What is the way to evaluate risks?
Will: If I take it one step back, working with partners and working with suppliers, especially with partners, it's crucial because we were talking about feet on the ground. And that is not possible if you are not working with partners and not working closely with suppliers. You need to have a broad network and work for the exact cause. However, it is always a matter of motivating your partners or suppliers. And for me, risk assessment is very much in how willing you are to go on this journey with me? What do you put on the table? How much are you willing to spend? How much are you ready to invest? If we take those boxes, I can quickly assess: are you a huge risk for me because you are not as committed as I would like you to be, or will you be a fantastic partner, and we will ride into the sunset together?
Henrik: Wow. The final and fourth section is about Delivery and Transformation. And there my first question is How do you prepare and make decisions? Describe a typical process from a strategy to implementation?
Will: I have my Software as a Service glasses, but I think it might also apply to other markets. We look at the needs for the implementation, but first at the total addressable markets in general, and what do I mean by that? If I look at what we can do in addressing a specific need and then multiply it with the average revenue generated in that market? That becomes the total addressable market, and that's where we start. The second thing is to analyze the real spend versus the spend in the specific market segment. The next thing would be which verticals have which level of maturity because, as you can imagine, there are different industry segments. You can always follow these Gartner hype cycles, which are always fascinating. Some industry segments are highly excited and very low in maturity, and others are not. There we are constantly leveling up; what is the maturity level? And then what I think is also super important not to forget is how we can look at overlapping or adjacent markets. If I'm selling mobile phones, there may be an adjoining market where they can use mobile phone covers or use anything that I can do to protect my mobile phone. Looking at those, don't just look at your specific market, which might be a mobile phone. That's the process from strategy to implementation.
Henrik: Fantastic, and what I'm going to do now is I'm going to take you back to something you mentioned earlier. You spoke about learning from failures, so How is your organization engaging in exploratory activities to verify assumptions? Perhaps you can give us some concrete examples?
Will: That is for me, the holy grail. And honestly, the holy grail started with a video that I saw. It must have been ten years ago. I'm not sure, you know, Clay Christensen?
Will: I'm a huge fan of Clay Christensen, and where he woke me up was with the video available on YouTube. There's this milkshake principle where he explained they did some research for a major fast-food chain, how to beef up the sales of their milkshakes. And they were arguments, and some said, "OK, we need to make it juicier. We need to make more flavors. We need to make it more colorful, whatever we do," but that didn't lead to any results. What, however, led to results, and that's what I also really strongly believe in, that's why I'm constantly checking this with my customers as well since I saw Clay Christensen, is why do you hire a product? What do you employ it to do? And Clay Christensen, in the milkshake principle, found out that the folks who are buying milkshakes want to have something in their hands during their commute from home to work. So it could be a banana, it could be a sneaker, it could be a donut, but all of that is a little bit too messy. So that's why they hire a milkshake. And this analogy goes to, it doesn't matter which industry, it has worked for me constantly because I need to find out why do you not hire an excel sheet to do what you want me to do? Why don't you use another product? Why don't you do anything at all? So to find out as much as you can about why is your customer hiring your product? What do you want to do with it? And then in this segment, I would say you're there to suck and come up with new ideas, make them fail as fast as possible.
Henrik: Lovely example, jobs to be done. A great example there. The next question in this section is How do you assess implementation and drive improvement? So once you have done your rapid prototyping, you have ensured that you haven't failed. You have implemented it. How do you follow up, and how do you continuously improve?
Will: We live in the software world where things, thank God, have improved from the waterfall model of developing into a weekly sprint. When I worked 20 years ago at the major Finnish Handset Manufacturer, we worked on the waterfall model. And now, for me, we are assessing through weekly sprints how we can succeed with, for example, a software implementation. And then just getting this flywheel start spinning. And the flywheel, of course, is a mixture of weekly sprints and customer feedback on how that specific feature, for example, works.
Henrik: Excellent. Will I have one final bonus section where I ask you to define four different words. I'm not going to give you too much time to think about them. The first word I have for you is Influence?
Will: Influence, I would say, Sir David Attenborough. For me, Sir David Attenborough is about how we live. We live at the evolution of the universe, a person who is just outstanding in what he does and what he always has done. Now he is more than 90 years old and still not thinking about it. There is no such thing as retirement for him. There's so much to learn because he has seen how much destruction has happened over almost 100 years. He has had a significant influence on me.
Henrik: Agility is my next word.
Will: At least I know what agility is not. You have a dog yourself. You see the sport of dog agility when a handler is directing the dog through obstacles and course. That's something I haven't managed for our dog. So, hopefully, you are more successful.
Henrik: The next word is Resilience.
Will: David Goggins. It might be, for some, a little bit more controversial. For me, he's the godfather of the 40/60 rule and has done stuff in his life that you wouldn't think is possible in terms of how far you can push your body. I think he's a former Navy seal and running triathlons and marathons to the left and the right, all kinds of stuff. Super inspiring in terms of what you can do outside your comfort zone.
Henrik: And the very final one is Efficiency.
Will: Efficiency is a regular day for a working parent like you and me.
Henrik: Will, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you here. First of all, it's great to see you. And, of course, as I said from the beginning, you are such a fantastic, creactive leader, and I'm sure all our listeners and readers have learned a lot here today. Thank you.
Will: Thank you so much. Thanks a lot.
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