Innovation Managers

Spiegel Group boosting innovations

28 August 2019
Spiegel's Dr. Kerstin Fröhlich, Head of Innovation, talks about educational work and the innovation campus

The history of the Spiegel Group is closely linked to Hamburg. The first print magazine hit newsstands over 70 years ago. Meanwhile, the publishing group has added more than 20 media to its product range. But how does a traditional company like Spiegel cope with innovations? At first, the company or an interdisciplinary team of innovators analysed employees’ ideas in terms of product development and implemented them where feasible. Early in 2018, Dr. Kerstin Fröhlich became the first permanent contact person for innovation processes. Hamburg News met her at Spiegel Group’s headquarters in HafenCity. During the interview, Fröhlich drew an interim balance and spoke abut educational work, teamwork, the innovation campus and co-operating with start-ups.

Hamburg News: What does innovation mean to you?

Dr. Kerstin Fröhlich: It’s like a formula. You need an idea, but more importantly, you cannot simply leave it at that. It should be linked to users’ needs. The saying, “don’t fall in love with your idea, fall in love with your problem,” means that simply having an idea is not an innovation in itself. Essentially, it’s about solving a user’s problem. The whole thing must be linked to a business model and be implemented, of course. You can only speak of a true innovation when all four components are brought together successfully.

Hamburg News: What skills do you require as manager of innovations?

Fröhlich: I work in a supporting function to enable innovators and the company as a whole to innovate. The emphasis is on designing processes and environments, but also on a culture of innovation and incorporating inspirations. It is not always immediately clear whether innovations are possible and desired. Apart from professional skills, this requires a gift for communication – and a certain tolerance for frustration – because obstacles have to be overcome as with any kind of cultural change.

Hamburg News: Does innovation require teams?

Fröhlich: Clearly, yes. Initially, an interdisciplinary team consisting of editorial and commercial staff was tasked (part-time) with promoting new business areas and a culture of innovation in the company. However, when it became apparent that a special team would be more target-orientated, the process was bundled and innovation management was created. So I joined the Spiegel Group in January 2018 to take up the newly created position of “Head of Innovation”. The team has since grown to three people and we work closely with the individual specialist departments and editorial officeson how we can bring our company even closer to the issue of innovation. Collaboration and talks are essential. And although we still have a long way to go before we raise the potential for innovation in the Spiegel Group, the issue is falling on fertile ground here. As employees of a media company, we are very alert to events all over the world. More often than not, it is essentially a matter of inputting ideas and suggestions for improvement into a structured innovation process rather than getting out of an everyday routine. 

Ideally, there would be no innovation management, if the topic were so deeply anchored that all employees had an eye for possible innovations in every situation. My goal is to set up processes and structures in the company in which innovation is simply a given.

Hamburg News: How do you promote your employees’ innovative strengths?

Fröhlich: We have developed a special entrepreneurship programme for this purpose. We give all colleagues an opportunity to develop new ideas on the so-called Innovation Campus. We start with a question to make the process as goal-orientated as possible. Last year’s question was: “How can we reach, inspire and accompany people between the ages of ten and 30 with credible and inspiring offers on channels that are relevant to them? The application phase is open to anyone in the company and interdisciplinary teams are particularly welcome. Last year, around 100 employees registered. As we value transparency, we draw lots to choose the participants of the Creative Day.

Innovation campus

Facilitators, who help to apply methods such as design thinking and lean start-up, support the participants. In 2018, six ideas reached the prototype phase followed by a selection phase similar to The Lions Den, which is open to everyone. That’s an important part of cultural change as we want the projects to be seen and to be inspiring. Last year, three ideas reached that round, two of which we are currently implementing in the company. One of them is called Gespiegelt, a YouTube format to convey the contents of the magazine to a young target group.

Hamburg News: What is the best innovation that you have promoted so far?

Fröhlich: We have rethought innovation management from the ground up and demonstrated that it is an integral part of a modern business. That includes not only creativity, but also professional skills and removes the “playful” trait. At Spiegel, we work partly in declining markets, which is why it is important to reinvent ourselves constantly. I think we have done lots of educational and persuasive work in recent years. I think that the term “innovation” has long since been a buzzword for many people. The term has become more concrete thanks to innovation management and is now accepted in the company because employees can associate something with it.

Hamburg News: How do mistakes and innovations define each other?

Fröhlich: There will always be setbacks in innovation processes. Novelties can only be planned to a certain extent, as they are not based on experience. As a company, we have learned plenty from innovation work, especially about structures and processes. How are innovations received in-house? How do we reach our colleagues? How can we make it easier for employees to implement innovations? Of course, some projects never get off the ground such as a video portal for aircraft enthusiasts. We organized the first related Fuckup Night at our company, which was a huge success. This cultural change is very important to enable a traditional company to be innovative. If you don’t talk about your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them, you won’t learn anything. Personally, I prefer to be open to all projects. What can you learn in both positive and negative terms? That requires transparency and communication.

Hamburg News: How important are start-ups to the Spiegel Group?

Fröhlich: We take an open innovation approach, so we open up our innovation process to the outside world. Der Spiegel, for instance, is involved in the Next Media Accelerator in Hamburg. On the one hand, we invite media start-ups to the company to inspire the individual departments. It is always exciting to make this entrepreneurial spirit tangible and to show how these innovation-driven people work. On the other hand, we want to give start-ups an opportunity to exchange their ideas with established media. We recently went on a tour of innovations across Hamburg. We visited fledgling companies that are not in the media industry. It’s always inspiring to see people who are passionate about their ideas. 

Interview by Sarah Bischoff

Sources and further information

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