Transforming a Nation
How we helped companies build new growth ventures in days, not years.
When a nation is hit by the biggest economic shock in modern times, what do you do?
Not as a government, industry or even a company, but as a small band of entrepreneurs looking to help “transform a nation”?
Here’s Our Story
June 2014 marked a global highlight as oil prices peaked at $115 a barrell. Crude oil prices had been steadily rising since the 2008 crash and analysts were predicting a $200 barrell scenario with near-certainty.
Clamoring to capitalize on the robust growth of oil prices, industry executives and government officials alike were talking about issuing more drilling licenses, explorations in arctic and protected regions, and generally accelerating the development of the existing oil & gas industry.
But the $200 barrell scenario never materialized as oil prices started falling in late 2014. And fall it did, from $114, to $100, $90, $80, $60… only to come to rest, hovering around $45 – $79.
A deathblow has just been dealt, a blow that few would accept and even fewer would understand.
At the time, we as founders and partners at Engage//Innovate — a strategy and innovation consulting company –were deeply involved with clients across the industry, and we saw little desire or even urgency for transformation. The rhetoric at the time was:
“It will bounce back up again, as it always has.”
Exploring “Strategic Transformation”
The absolute lack of urgency for change we witnessed drove us to address this in our annual strategy summit event in January 2015, titled “Meet the Transformers”.
At the same event, as a part of our research program Strategy Tools for the Next Generation, we launched our latest strategy tool — Transformational Architecture.
The tool was deeply influenced by key takeaways from the 2014 Drucker Forum in Vienna.
Sharing ideas, perspectives and challenges with management luminaries like Clayton Christensen, Rita McGrath, Gary Hamel, Bill Fischer had significantly shaped our thinking in terms of creating a simple and easy-to-use, visual tool for strategic transformation within existing firms, most notably from the oil & gas industry.
A Beginning, Not an End
During the year, we witnessed a massive wave of down-sizing, cost-cutting and, what Clayton Christensen would call “efficiency-driven innovations”.
Oil workers were laid off by the thousands. National flagship companies went into cardiac arrest and brutal downsizings.
An industry that had formerly lived comfortably with US$20 a barrell, were now unable to build a business case for anything below $65. And yet, the turmoil of VUCA market forces had driven the price to $29.
Winter was here — in full force — and few showed any interest in transformation, innovation or exploring business model experiments.
Building a Better Vehicle: X2 Innovation Center
By Christmas 2015, it became apparent to us that other measures were required.
Bolder measures, and an approach that went far beyond just training executives in a new strategy tool.
We decided to launch a national program: X2 Innovation Center.
Our mission: help “transform a nation”.
Through 8 weeks of intense customer development, government official development, national funding development, we thought were were uncovering a problem-solution fit (ie: a product-market fit).
Our pilot program increasingly involved rapid, accelerator programs, intrapreneurship, combining public-private financing, and teaching executives about market opportunities outside their legacy business model.
In the space of a few months, we ran 5-day accelerator programs on future industries, including smart city, digital health, solar energy, electric vehicles, offshore fish farming, smart buildings and beyond.
For 5 days — often 15-18 hours a day — diverse teams from business developement, marketing, communications, tech, and engineering explored, learned and hacked together at their new growth venture.
Need to talk to potential clients? Call them at 10pm at night.
Need a market validation? Launch a Facebook ad.
Want to present a new product and would like to build it first? Forget it. A MVP one-pager will do.
Sign the customer first, build it later.
Tired at 23:15? That’s OK, have a Red Bull
Suddenly, we had founded a 5-day accelerator program — a framework and methodology that worked. A respectable, scale-able process for building new ventures in just 5 days.
This would not change the price of oil, nor the future of Norway.
But what we had was a proven program that could help large oil and gas companies launch a new growth venture in days, not months or years.
Connecting Startups and Corporates
A repeat breakthrough would happen in our pilot programs when we introduced the corporate team with the right startups.
Solar energy partnerships, autonomous robotics partnerships. Suddenly, unlikely partnerships emerged with intensely positive results.
We quickly realized we needed more startups — more relevant startups, more startups with significant growth ambitions.
Unfortunately, these kinds of startups were hard to come by, and we couldn’t find quite as many of these as we would’ve liked.
So, naturally, we took the problem into our own hands.
In October this year, we launched X2 Labs – a Startup Factory.
X2 Labs — A Startup Factory
X2 Labs brings brilliant people from across the globe to Stavanger to co-found and scale a series of new companies across a range of future growth industries — all in the span of only four weeks.
This hyper accelerator program will co-create a portfolio of new companies with global growth ambitions and place Stavanger on the global map for innovation and entrepreneurship.
With this, we hope to be part of the solution for the future in Norway, and maybe even the world — post-oil and gas.
Are We There Yet?
A fair question for reflection.
The answer — far from it.
We have achieved perhaps 3-5% of what we’ve set out to achieve. But at least we have begun.
Every day, we are witnessing the entrepreneurial effects of the “oil-based” IT company teaming up with completely unlikely partners to build the connected cities and cars of tomorrow.
We are seeing the sparks of intrapreneurship ripple across large industrial companies as they explore what just a year ago would have seemed highly improbable markets with business models they wouldn’t have fathomed.
X2 Innovation Center (one working full time, 3 part-time) is growing, allowing us to put out our latest job ad: “Visionary CEO Wanted“.
A National Transformation Agenda
Ours is an extreme bottom-up approach. A “let’s just do it” approach. We jumpship policies, budgets, national frameworks and political agendas. But we move fast, we ignite more than elaborate. We kickstart and accelerate. We don’t take three years to wait and see for the final results.
Our approach alone would never do lasting good. But it is a start.
Can an “oil company” become a smart-city company in just 5 days?
Internal structure for new growth ventures, a dedicated internal team, and a 5-day accelerator program are the building blocks that make that happen.
Looking ahead, we will witness a large number of Nation states in dire need of a national transformation agenda.
With shifting oil prices, changing energy logics, digital disruption and system-level change, combined governments and industry leaders around the world will need to address a national transformation agenda.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Christian Rangen // Partner, Co-Founder at Engage//Innovate
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