The Time to Innovate is Now: Interview with Eric Saint-André

ISSUE #63 – Faced with a rapidly evolving playing field, businesses need to adapt and remain relevant. Eric Saint-André, Managing Director of ASA Advisory & Amplification Lab, shares with us more about the innovation landscape and how collaboration is at the heart of innovation.


Innovation is a key driver of growth, for business, for industries, for the economy and you work on innovation with both start-ups and large organisations. What common innovation challenges do you observe today?

Organisations out there are facing disruption and have to adapt to a complex, increasingly turbulent and ever-changing environment. Innovation is critical but it is hard. We observed the following challenges:

  • Too many companies lack the sense of urgency and too many still try to make sense of why (why should I innovate?), or simply do not treat this as a priority (no real intent, lack of strategy or resources);
  • Many companies are trying to figure out how to get started and make innovation sustainable (where do I start? what does innovation mean to me? what minimal capability do I need?);
  • And lastly I see a lot of companies that have tried but are not maximising the value of their innovation efforts because they have not thoroughly identified what they should be doing and jump abruptly to solutions.

But overall I believe the biggest challenge is the cultural transformation required: how do we change the mindset and upskill leaders, managers, employees, teams, and the organisation as a whole to make them more agile, innovative and effective problem solvers?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

What does a human-centred methodology mean to innovation?

Human-centred design is about putting the human at the centre of the innovation process. It is about innovating for and with people.

For too long, companies of all sizes have been mass-producing and inundating the world with solutions, products and services that nobody either wanted or really needed. Human-centred innovation helps avoid this.

I prefer the term “human-centred” to “customer-centred” as it expands the scope of innovation to any type of stakeholders you are innovating for. For example, process innovation focuses on employees, product or service innovation on customers, and business model innovation on the likes of suppliers and strategic partners.

I prefer the term “human-centred” to “customer-centred” as it expands the scope of innovation to any type of stakeholders you are innovating for.

Human-centred innovation requires a mindset and a range of tools and methods that differ from what traditional organisations have been using. Our focus has been to help those organisations embed this into their core by upskilling individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole while delivering tangible innovation that solve real problems (“learn by doing”).

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
– Albert Einstein

Collaboration seems to be taking off as a central theme to innovation (joint projects, strategic alliances between and among organisations and even countries). What are your thoughts?

Collaboration is at the heart of innovation and the best is yet to come.

Local government agencies such as SG Innovate are driving this collaboration agenda and helping to drive effective collaboration between deep tech, start-ups and corporates out there or using BASH as a corporate accelerator “platform” to connect start-ups with corporates and invite them to collaborate and co-design new products and services.

Regulators, with MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) leading the way, have also embraced collaboration with most stakeholders in the ecosystem to co-design the fit-for-purpose regulatory environment to support innovation as well as to experiment on exponential technologies (e.g. blockchain).

Global and regional institutions, such as the UN Security Council or the EU are relying on collaboration to define new governance models and design digital platforms to tackle big world problems.

In the complex, fast evolving and interconnected world we live in, which is facing a level of unprecedented disruption due to digitisation, collaboration is the only way we can solve big industry, societal and world problems.

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
– Charles Darwin



Interview with Eric Saint-André, Managing Director of ASA Advisory & Amplification Lab

Published in FOCUS Magazine — Issue #2 2017 “Future Economy”