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In 2011 I launched the “Innovation Steampunks”. Why you haven’t heard about it? Because it’s currently an SAP-internal, virtual group where SAP employees can join innovative ideas. These ideas – we call them “punk-projects” – can be tossed into the forum by any colleague – we call these folks “steampunks” – independent from what organization or on what level of the internal food chain they are. These punk-projects don’t necessarily need to be relevant to SAP, our products or strategy. The only criteria is that the idea-originator and other steampunks find it worth spending their time on it. And faster than not, ideas that seemed totally unrelated to SAP in the past suddenly wound up in the center of our strategy.

How does that work?

The ideas tossed into the pit are discussed by the steampunks, and this in an honest and constructive way. If there is a whiner, naysayer, or know-it-all putting down the idea, we don’t want him or her. We tell them to stay away.

Once we have a good discussion going on, but not yet a clear vision or concept, we invite to a “punkstorm”. That is a virtual brainstorming session to figure out some or the best use-cases. We need them so that we finally can create a prototype and get our hands dirty. “Give us some piece so that we can write code!” And during this punkstorm we go crazy. No rules apply, except that punks must not be hurt or killed.

Innovation Steampunk

After a punkstorm and the subsequent writeup of the outcome, a steampunk – typically the colleague who tossed the idea into the pit – does a “punk-project-pitch”. Think elevator pitch for venture capitalists, but in our case more with a Mad Max-element. This is a 15 minutes pitch (yes, our elevators serve very tall buildings) to give everybody an overview of the concept, followed by a 45 minutes discussion.  At the end of the pitch, we ask steampunks to sign up for the ride. We staff the punk-project and officially launch it.

Every couple of months we organize an Innovation Steampunk-Ball. An event, where steampunks present their launched punk-projects, the progress and where we cheer for them.

Sounds cool so far? You haven’t heard about the coolest punk-fact yet: the Innovation Steampunk thing is totally sooo not approved. None of the steampunks has the official go from their management or units. There is no official purchase order or cost-center to book the time. These projects do not exist. Look at the light — FLASH!

Why do we do it?

These passionate underground-mammals don’t ask for approval. They create facts and a following first. Because our believe is that we do not have a lack of innovation at SAP, but a lack of getting the cool and needed stuff out on the market. And many ideas that folded in the past should have made it. And nobody can explain where and why exactly ideas fizzle and die. What are the reasons for a broken process? We have some suspicions but don’tknow for sure: no focus, cumbersome processes, the “thinking-you-are-Steve Jobs-syndrom”, fear of taking risk? Who knows what. But we don’t let that get into our way anymore.

The Innovation Steampunk group circumvents these obstacles in the SAP innovation process – or simply ram and turn them into fish food – by strategically ignoring certain internal rules, by not waiting for approval and by just kicking ***. Disruptive innovation cannot happened without stepping on somebody’s toes. Steampunks also share their experience with successful and failed innovation examples and find best-practices for getting innovation out. Of course not all innovation will make it, that’s why we celebrate failure as well. Failure is welcome and we can only learn from that. We even plan to award the most spectacular failure of a punk-project every year. No risk, no fun.

Once you have a punk-project that is ready to be tested and used, we distribute and show it. The process from the idea-toss to the final product is totally transparent, SAP employees can follow all steps in the group. And when a punk-project creates a following of several hundred SAP-internal users or multiple customers wanting to toss money at us to get it, it’ll become easier for decision makers to take the following and facts into account, see the demand and get it into the portfolio and on the price-list. We help them get rid of uncertainty and risk by not just bringing them a ready product, but also a customer- and a user-base.

How many steampunks are there so far? More than 200.
What punk-projects are we working on? Kinect, Lively, Swarm intelligence, Holodeck, SMAP Tool and other mind-blowing sh@#$&t.
Not an SAP employee but still want to become a steampunk? Punk me in the comments.

Keep punking!

Mario

I am aware that some people might be offended or steamed up by the repeated use of the word ‘Punk’. I want to apologize for that. Punk!

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7 Comments

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  1. U B
    I’m wondering if after reading this article people think ‘WTF I want that too in my company!!’ or if just nobody cares.
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  2. Martin English
    Hey, dont apologise (its not part of the punk ethos, for a start). More importantly, bands like the Ramones amd the Saints were both classed as punk because they delibetately broke from the prevailing orthodoxy. Which sounds like what you guys are doing.

    PS punk doesn’t give people the licence to be rude, we still say please and thank you. Its just that we don’t ask for permission when we see the need to do something.

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  3. Ashley Tyler
    I’m loving this mentality! facebook didn’t materialise out of pre planned project plans and massive amounts of market research, it was this inspirational spark that has just about changed the world for a entire generation.  Keep Punkin’
    Ash
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  4. Michael Bliemel

    This concept rocks! I would love to jam with you. I am not an SAPer, but a SAP University Alliances professor into getting his students into the the latest technology.

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