This week, 10 years ago, we launched Spark at UPC Netherlands. Little did I know this would completely transform my life.
Spark was launched as a program to engage employees with innovation. At the time, the broader Liberty Global family employed 23.000 people and UPC Netherlands was selected as the country to pilot the approach. I happened to get the project assigned to me, but – to be honest – I was quite skeptical and wasn’t convinced this would create real value. I believed this would become just a digital version of the wooden suggestion box that mainly collected dust over the years. Ideas didn’t get implemented and employees didn’t get feedback on their submissions. Why would this be different?
So we launched and I pledged to answer all participants. How could I know that 50% of employees would login and submit more than 200 ideas in the first month? And so I found myself answering questions and providing idea updates during my once free evenings. And at the office, I was walking around with a printed excel export to discuss ideas and find implementation sponsors. Spark grew on me so I did this with a lot of enthusiasm and conviction. It surely wasn’t efficient.
After the first three months, we organized a decision making meeting and selected almost 10% of submitted ideas for implementation. I couldn’t believe that there were apparently loads of relevant ideas flowing around that never reached the decision makers and thus didn’t get realized.
The word was out and during 2012 the Spark program was implemented at four other operations in Europe. But I was still this lone wolf and – although I was supported by lone co-wolves in the newly added countries – it became clear Spark couldn’t be managed as a side project in spare time anymore.
As per 2013 I was hired into the global role of Innovation program manager at Liberty Global. We partnered with HYPE Innovation to smooth the administration, idea processing, and increase cross-silo collaboration. We also chose to completely focus idea generation on specific challenges that were valuable to the company (ideation campaigns) to improve idea quality and realization. We updated our logo and branding materials, formalized processes and setup a global organization. This new Spark was eventually rolled out to all 45.000 employees in over 31 different countries.
As we could present increased value resulting from ideation, the central team grew to a whopping 4 people. That allowed us to work more intensively with the country teams, run bigger and bolder campaigns and even setup an innovation lab where we worked together with students from the Technical University in Delft.
Then, during 2017, I got this “Been there, done that” feeling. Even though I was constantly working on innovation, it didn’t meet my personal ambition to keep reinventing and growing myself. So after intense consideration and loads of chats, I quit the job I loved and had to say goodbye to my awesome team.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great”. – John D. Rockefeller
I started as an independent Innovation Management consultant to help other companies with the experiences I gained over the years. I transformed myself into an advisor, trainer and speaker and gained a lot of new insights on how innovation is done at other companies. I was also able to work more flexibly and spend more time with my two young daughters.
Now, I still highly enjoy working with all kind of different corporates, governments and other companies and help them supercharge their innovation efforts. It gives me new experiences and insights that I can investigate and learn from. And my work-life balance is, well, more balanced!
Thanks to everyone that made this journey possible, made it more fun, made it reach further!