The best roadmap to create innovative companies

One of the key characteristics of an organization that emphasizes innovation is a relentless focus on looking beyond the obvious. Often, especially for engineers, encountering a challenge leads to an immediate jump to a possible solution, without really taking the time to review and reflect. 

Instead, a ‘road-mapping’ pause for study of root causes will help to deliver a solution that will go beyond the short term. Organizations should undertake an assessment on desired impact: “What impact do you want to achieve once this problem is solved? What would be the impact if it is not solved?”

During my recent podcast episode # 27 of The World Class Leaders Show, I very much enjoyed my discussions with Dr. Abdul Samad (Sami) Kazi.

Professor Dr. Kazi is Research Team Leader for Smart Cities and Intelligent Buildings at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT provides high-end technology solutions and innovation services that enhance its customers’ competitiveness.

Sami has authored/co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications including more than ten books in his areas of specialization: smart cities, intelligent buildings, innovation ecosystems, knowledge management, systemic innovation, service innovation, ICT for construction projects and processes, and open building manufacturing. He is a recipient of the prestigious FIATECH 2012 STAR Award and a fellow of the Entovation E100 Global Knowledge Leadership network.

Developing the Right Skills for Innovation

Fostering high-impact innovation relies on high energy activities that involve many different stakeholders, including your customers, your partners, and their customers and partners. The innovation journey needs to include testing and implementation: from invention, to innovation, to habit.

“Where we get into co-creating, in my opinion, that’s where the magic starts to happen.”

Passion. Collaboration. Curiosity. Today, the biggest skill you can teach people, beyond basic problem-solving, is how to be curious and how to ask questions. When you know how to ask the right questions, it will lead to something meaningful.

One of the most valuable practices is to simply ask: “What if?” For example, “What if this would happen? What if this did not happen? What if we could do this?”

Simply using those two words in the beginning provokes thought and engagement

Pragmatic Tactics – Building a Framework

Sami shared with me his step-by-step advice for reliably creating innovative solutions:

Get out of the Comfort Zone – Black and White

  • Take a standard letter-sized sheet of paper, and draw a big black box.
  • Write the challenges or issues inside the black box, then crumple it up and put it to the side — this represents what you already know.
  • Now that the known challenges are ‘out of the system’, spend one night reflecting about new ideas which could replace the known problems.
  • Take a separate sheet of paper and write down those open ideas – this is the ‘white box’.
  • The following day, put both sheets of paper together. Review to identify inter-connections and opportunities.

Developing Road-Maps

  • Establish a group of 5-9 people for brainstorming. 
  • Each individual will provide their unique answers to a series of questions. 
  • Then the group will have three votes each to identify the top rankings for each.

The Questions:

  • What do you like about today? 
  • What do you NOT like about today? 
  • What do we want to create or enable in the future?
  • What do we NOT want to have happen tomorrow? 

Through this mechanism, you have immediately identified the top three or four things from today’s situation which you must keep, and the top three or four which you must get rid of. Then, you will also know the top three or four ideas for the future that you must enable, and certain risks that you can disable, avoid, or mitigate.

How to be innovative despite the workload

An essential component of building a sustainable career is ensuring that you and your team have ways to release stress. It’s important to take the time to understand and look after your own well-being; physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s critical to be able to demonstrate 100% presence – and that’s just not possible if people are stressed and not performing at their best level.

Sami shared with me his daily schedule and time management routines:

  • First 30 minutes of the day – ‘Rise and Shine’ time is booked into the calendar. This period is dedicated to reflection, planning and tuning for the day.
  • At day’s end, another blocked-out 30 minute calendar entry for ‘Wind-down and Chill’ time.
  • No team emails after 12 noon on Fridays, or before 12 noon on Mondays.

We closed the podcast episode by exploring Sami’s answers to my standard guest questions.

Q: What has been the number one lesson that you’ve learned in your career?

A: For me, the number one lesson is LOVE:

  • L is all about learning and listening. It is extremely important. 
  • O is for observing the surroundings, and orchestrating change or helping organizations to orchestrate change. 
  • V is for valorizing: that is, creating value and then validating it. 
  • And last but not least, we have the E, where you start to execute, you empower, and most importantly, you need to empathize in case things just don’t go to plan. 

Q: What is one thing that you might have done differently in your career?

A: To be honest, nothing. Yes, I’ve made many mistakes in my life, as has everyone. But, if those failures or mistakes didn’t happen, you wouldn’t learn and you wouldn’t become more knowledgeable or wiser. It’s only when we share and reflect on our own failures, or even learn about others’ failures, that we actually learn something new. So, for me, the key learning has been that nothing beats experience, and I wouldn’t change anything.

Q: When you had your best performance ever as an individual, what was in place at the time to allow you to get to that level of results?

A: I think it was the atmosphere, and having all of our core values in place. One key characteristic was the ability to co-create with stakeholders. Having this passion for innovation, we were able to go beyond the obvious. With the environment of empathy and collegiality, we had enough support and trust that people were able to open up. It is okay to make mistakes, as long as you’re responsible and accountable.

Q: What has been one book that has had the most impact on your life and your career?

A: There have been a few books that have transformed the way I think.

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows.

Business Dynamics by John Sterman

Industrial Dynamics by Jay Forrester

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

To contact Dr. Sami Kazi, you can look him up on LinkedIn:

You can also go directly to his organization’s website to review some of the amazing work that has been done, at:

Listen to the podcast related to this article:


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