What offerings should Audi convey to its customers for the mobility of the future? How can radical concepts be best implemented? Anne Greul, PhD students at the Technical University of Munich, occupies herself at Audi with those question.
Anne, you already have an unusual study path behind you. How did it lead you to Audi?
Anne Greul: During my bachelor studies, parallel to the classical business contents, I was very interested in the topics of consumer behavior and product design. During an internship in the fashion industry, I had a firsthand experience of how well-established companies can handle radical changes in consumer desires and technical innovations. With an internal startup, we took advantage of the opportunities of digitization and addressed a completely new target group - this was an exciting playground to test out your own ideas.
During my master studies, I deepened my knowledge in consumer insights, business design and innovation. In projects with companies of various sizes and industries, the question often was how to develop innovative products and services, and how new business models disrupt entire industries - in some ways turning them upside down. With my PhD at Audi, I am building on this. The automotive industry is currently changing and I am exploring how Audi can cultivate radical and disruptive innovations to actively shape future technology and consumer trends.
You are responsible for three projects here. In one of them you lead an innovation team working on a completely new product idea. What can you say about it?
This is not about a new vehicle in the traditional sense, but about a new, more radical definition of the term mobility - especially for people in the major cities of the world. Megatrends such as urbanization or digitization bring along both challenges and exciting opportunities. We take chances and challenges and develop solutions for new scenarios and future consumer needs.
Your second topic is called pitch@ and is a new decision format in which employees can present their ideas to the board. How does this work?
Radical or even disruptive innovations give companies a huge competitive advantage. But for their successful implementation, it takes courage for change and advocates on all levels. At pitch@, employees with ideas for radical products or business models get the chance to discuss them with the board of directors on equal terms and to win the top management as an advocate. Promising ideas are promoted and tested in this way with a quick and unbureaucratic start-up investment. We started the pitch@ format in Technical Development in the autumn of 2016 and now it is being rolled out to all business units.
Is it possible to promote radical ideas in the regular organization of a large company?
This question is controversially discussed in research. Therefore, in a study, I examine how internal and external influences impact the innovation process of producing radical ideas. Every week, 50 colleagues who work on such innovation projects at Audi communicate anonymously in an online questionnaire which impulses they have received for their project and how it is progressing.
Which influences affect an idea?
Ideas are exposed to extreme influences - not only from internal experts, but also from customers or other external agents. This is crucial, because only clear feedback transform ideas into successful innovations. At the same time, there is a risk that radical ideas will be thwarted by critical voices. The aim of the study is to provide answers to fundamental and cross-industry questions: How can established companies develop and implement radical ideas? How to address new customers while satisfying existing customers? How much distance from the established processes and structures is beneficial for idea providers and their ideas?
How much start-up practice can and must Audi afford?
Big companies can learn a lot from startups in terms of agility and culture. However, a distinction must be made between the core business, where the focus is on the continuous improvement of products and processes, and the exploratory sector, where new customers and completely different products are the focus. Large companies must act more risk-averse than start-ups and continue their core business while testing new ideas. The key is to promote a different culture and approach to radical and disruptive issues of the future - here start-up methods are very useful. My ambition is to make a major contribution to successfully implementing this balancing act at Audi.