AIMS International Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum enlighted the audience. An interesting interview of the guest speaker Jill Hellman in Sofias News Agency

Jill Hellman: Bulgaria Can Use Innovations to Improve Its Image
The article is written by Milena Hristova, from

Ms. Jill Hellman is a prominent, energetic and memorable speaker skilled in delivering trainings on innovation and strategy. She has over 15 years of experience in strategy, innovation and training. Ms. Hellman spent the first 10 years of her career inside Fortune 500 companies. In addition to creating the General Manager training program and implementing operational standards for over 300 locations, she led the integration of more than USD 1 B in acquisitions.

Author: Milena Hristova

Interview| February 22, 2010, Monday

Ms Jill Hellman. Photo by M3 Communications Group, Inc.

Ms. Hellman also serves as a consultant and speaker and has traveled around the world to address audiences for such companies as Microsoft and regional entities as the Nordic Innovation Center. Furthermore she has led the creation of the Innovation Network in Cornell University. This network brings together top-level executives several times a year to strategise on major business trends and stretch business leaders? minds to new levels of inventiveness.

Could an economic crisis be the right time for companies to engage in innovations?

Yes, definitely. There are a number of examples of companies, which are called ?recession babies?. These are companies that decided not just to cut costs and hold down the fort during the crisis but to take an opportunity to get prepared for the comeback. These ?recession babies? were born during different periods of time. Some even joke that Warren Buffet, the famous investor, was born thanks to the recession.

How could companies prioritize developing innovation programs in the face of very real questions of fundamental survival?

It is a challenge. The companies that only focus on survival though are only focusing on… survival. The companies who elect also to look at new ways of doing business don’t necessarily need to spend money to do it. Many of the ideas that deal with innovations are about partnering with people, coordinating people, creating things, rather than spending money to increase marketing, cut costs or spend money to create.

During times of crisis there are also entrepreneurs, who start up, people who might have no longer jobs with their companies. Those people are now looking for things to do and many of them are not interviewing for bigger companies, but are being entrepreneurial. I don’t know if that is the case in Bulgaria.

Do you think history will ultimately judge 2005-2010 as the years where the innovation movement really took an important step from the fringes of the corporate world towards the mainstream?

The word ?innovation? over the last three to five years has been focused on much more. If you look at the conferences that are being held now, many more have the word ?innovation? than have ever existed before.

What is strategic innovation now about?

The idea is that the more patterns you have, the more ideas you will generate than you would not have ordinarily thought of, the more they will help you see many moves that others would not see. This is where innovation comes in. The strategy part comes after you are able to generate this amount of ideas and wonder how you should strategically pick the one that would help propel you into the future. This method focuses on areas that we consider ?no brainers? or ?crazy?. Innovation is not only about creating lots of ideas in a room, because you never get to strategy, you just have a lot of ideas. The key is to have a strategy to implement them.

What are your impressions from your meeting with the Bulgarian business elite?

I was very impressed with their willingness to embrace something very new and different, to talk to each other, to not just listen but to participate, the ideas that came out of it. Several of the groups that we formed are staying connected around the solution that they came up with, some of them are even thinking of implementing it together and they have never done such a thing before.

You said during the lecture that the visit to Bulgaria exceeded your expectations. Why?

One thing that I heard since coming to Bulgaria, though, is the lack of knowledge transfer. What I generally took this to mean is that there is a challenge in taking information and disbursing it through organizations. That was not the case when I met the high-level representatives of Bulgarian companies. As someone who is coming here to provide a new method, my expectations would have been that the people would not be that open. Somebody even mentioned that the groups may not talk to each other. It was quite the opposite.

Are ?the seven winning moves? that you presented in Sofia universal? How do business people from around the world respond to them?

The response that I receive has always been incredibly positive. With every session, in any corner of the world, we find that there are ideas born in the room that people come and implement out there. This is the most rewarding ? to not just know that somebody has enjoyed the session, but hear that people actually changed things. The general manager of a large multinational company in a small, developing country once told me that the stratagem changed not only the way the company did business, but it impacted the way the county started dong business.

Here is one funny story. When I was speaking in Iceland, there was a small group of people from Greenland. They invited me to come to Greenland and they particularly liked ?the winning move? that says you can ?create something out of nothing?. They asked me to speak on innovations, but said it could be anything as long as we talked about creating something out of nothing.

Do these ?winning moves? combine two seemingly paradoxical mindsets: visionary thinking and down-to-earth implementation activities?

It is a great question. The ?winning moves? are very neutral in this respect. Even if you are a down-to-earth type, you will come up with ideas that you have not thought of. A visionary may have more crazy ideas. The point is that when you are forced to look through a pattern, you may come up with ideas about which you have not ordinarily thought of.

How can Bulgarian authorities and business implement innovations to improve the country’s tourism sector and its image abroad?

Innovations will definitely help the business and authorities achieve that goals. I did not know much about Bulgaria, I admit that. My perceptions about the country ? lack of knowledge transfer and people unwilling to participate ? were created here and they turned out not to be true. My first impression of Bulgaria was very strong.