“A major differentiator and therefore driver of innovative development is the end user.”

Dr. Christoph Hahner, Board Member Innovation at DAW SE

The U.S. innovation culture can be characterized by Yes, we can compared to Yes, but… in Germany

Innoboard: There is no consistent definition for innovation. Every industry and every department has their own definition. How would you define innovation with respect to DAW?

Dr. Hahner: Innovation at DAW is mainly focused on new products and services. Innovations need to make a difference in the market and need to be recognized by our customers as such. Innovation at DAW also includes using core competencies in an innovative new way in order to address new customer groups and branching out into next neighbor product categories.

Which sources for new ideas and new impulses do you use? Which sources for new ideas are most promising?

Sources for a new need is the market (our customers). Sources for new ideas in an open innovation approach are customers, suppliers, universities and to a large extent our employees across all different brands. In our innovation portfolio, we strive for a healthy mix of market driven and research based innovations.

What is your approach to transforming new ideas into innovation projects? How do you evaluate, prioritize, and select the right innovation projects? 

In case of a product innovation we typically select and prioritize by business opportunity. This is done together with the sales organization. Feedback from prospect customers is collected early in the development process to ensure that we are targeting the right goal. A classic stage gate process ensures a cross-functional approach.

How do you internally accelerate innovation projects for a shorter time to market?

By switching gears, prioritizing and focusing resources. That means focusing people. Cross-functional innovation teams are very useful in this context. All functions need to be committed to a short-term goal coordinated by an innovation manager.

You lived and worked a few years in the US. What are three major cultural differences between the US and Germany regarding the innovation culture?

One of the major differences is that in the U.S. one is much more willing to take a 80% solution to the market and get the other 20% done by collecting input from the market. Germany is a very engineering-driven country. While this offers a lot of advantages, it also can slow down product introductions, since the attempt to deliver 100% to start with is very time demanding. Also the amount of product certifications is very high in Germany. However, it also needs to be said that the level of technology within a product in the construction material field is quite advanced compared to similar products in the U.S. That is partly caused by a low-cost approach in the U.S. compared to Germany. With respect to innovation culture, the U.S. can be characterized by “Yes, we can” compared to “Yes, but…” in Germany. However, a major differentiator and therefore driver of innovative development is the end user. In Germany very skilled and educated crafts men/women have a high demand on the performance of a material. Such skilled labor is mostly missing in the U.S. Skill is there ultimately developed via experience, not a bad thing but profoundly different to Germany.

Thank you very much for this interview!

About the author:

Dr. Christoph Hahner is member of the board and responsible for innovation at DAW SE. Prior to joining DAW, he was Vice President Technology & Strategy at Laticrete International over seven years and at Wacker Chemie in several positions.

Dr. Christoph Hahner has a proven history of accomplishing the assessment, design and implementation of strategic interventions in the Operational, Business Development and Technical arenas. He holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Julius-Maximilians-University in Würzburg.