Photos and written by Stefan Jermann
September 25, 2020
Creaholic has ingenuity in its DNA: In the 1980s, the company’s founders were involved in the invention of the Swatch watch. Today, the innovative minds from Switzerland’s watch metropolis Biel develop new products and services in collaboration with other companies. An interview with the co-founder Marcel Aeschlimann.
Childlike curiosity and playfulness definitely help, but creativity is only one side of the coin. In order to develop successful innovations, you must above all have a feel for the market and a passion for entrepreneurship.
I believe so. Many people have a sense of innovation, but it can and must be cultivated. Here at Creaholic, we exercise this sense every day, because it is our passion. After all, you cannot become a good skier without practice.
Usually there is not just a single final “eureka!”, but many. In retrospect, one frequently focuses on the single most inspired idea that leads to a groundbreaking innovation, but a successful product is usually based on many decisive moments. And always, a wide variety of people are involved, not just one ingenious mind.
I come up with my best ideas when I am lying alone in bed thinking – but only if I have discussed the ideas intensively with my team beforehand. You have to have the ability to feed your subconscious, and that is only possible if you have a great team. One could say that the idea must be inspired by the team. As the ancient Greeks said: Good ideas require the inspiration of a muse. At Creaholic, we are all muses that inspire each other.
The best inventors are skeptics. Ideas are rarely truly good right from the start, most of them are not fully matured and must be critically scrutinized. Being innovative requires the confidence to pursue your own path, but you also need to be sufficiently self-critical to keep questioning your path.
That is indeed the case. The Swiss are very tenacious when it comes to turning an idea into a success. The downside of this is that sometimes, it takes us too long to admit our mistakes. At Creaholic we also had first to learn, to learn from our mistakes. We are better at it today than we used to be.
The best inventors are skeptics. Ideas are rarely truly good from the outset.
There are literally thousands of books on innovation, and each one claims its own method is the only correct one. They sometimes remind me of all those diet books. The key is to know which method is best suited for the current situation.
We have developed our own approach; the “Gas-Liquid-Solid” mindset. Based on this, our innovations are created in three phases: In the gas state, the molecules are free and ideas can be thought up from scratch. In the liquid phase, the ideas condense into a feasible concept, and in the solid mode, we create the actual solution. The gas state is the most important. Figuratively speaking, this is where the chair molecule meets the dynamite molecule – combined, this results in the idea of the ejection seat. If you always think of the chair as furniture, you would never come up with such a concept.
For me, market demand ranks first and competitiveness second. In my opinion, the technological ingenuity of the product is only the third priority, despite the fact that I have an engineering background.
Many people assume that technology lies at the heart of innovations and the needs of the customer are often overlooked. HCD is based on the philosophy of developing products and services based on a rigorous customer-centric perspective. First and foremost, this means that the innovation must offer customers relevant solutions. Apple is a prime example of this approach: Their products feel good and are easy to use. Of course, profitability should not be overlooked either. In our opinion, the most effective innovation is achieved by focusing on these three aspects – customer needs, profitability, and technology.
How do you find out what the customers really want? Or in other words: What is more important, satisfying an existing need or creating new needs?
Frequently that is not the key question, unfortunately. Many companies approach us with concrete ideas, which we always examine in detail. Our task is to find out whether the idea actually addresses a customer need. Examining needs and their context is an important part of the innovation process.
A key part of the innovation process is to carefully examine customer needs.
By creating a pleasant experience. The shops of the Swiss telecommunications provider Swisscom are a good example of this. They used to be rather cold and sterile. Today the interior resembles a homely kitchen. Trying out products in a relaxed atmosphere is a much more pleasant experience for the customer than simply standing in front of a shelf.
In my opinion, large companies generally find it very difficult to launch disruptive innovations onto the market.
When you climb Mount Everest, you feel more confident in a small team than in a large one. The same is true in product development. Companies like ours allow large corporations to develop innovations within manageable teams.
When you are climbing Mount Everest, you feel more confident in a small team. The same is true in product development.
No. If you want to establish agile processes, you have to be prepared to break up old structures. But not every division of a company has to introduce agile structures. When it comes to production or logistics processes, for example, I believe the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
The differences are becoming increasingly insignificant, as the various sectors of the economy merge. A modern car, for example, has a communications function, and foods have a health aspect.
It is a matter of being better than the others. When I say better, I above all mean the intelligent utilization of data and know-how. I believe this is particularly important in Western Europe, where the price is not the only factor.
Digitalization is one hundred percent positive in my mind, especially because it automates time-consuming manual processes. I believe we can make better use of this time. Needless to say, every technology has its drawbacks: You can use a smartwatch to arrange a date or orchestrate a terrorist attack. Fortunately, however, the vast majority of people utilize new technologies with positive motives.
The Neanderthals probably had to cope with much more pressure than we do. They had to defend themselves against wild animals and constantly fight for survival. I often think that in Switzerland, we have too little pressure. We lead very comfortable lives, and this makes us complacent. The current corona crisis is creating somewhat more pressure. I hope that we can use this to initiate positive changes.
I used to travel for hours to take part in meetings. Now I know that this is not absolutely necessary.
Beaming. I believe we could all benefit from it.
Marcel Aeschlimann is the managing partner and Chairman of Creaholic. Since its foundation in 1986, the company has implemented around 1000 innovation projects and contributed towards the development of some 250 patent families.