In a “box” called Coimbatore
Mike, what motivates you in life?
I believe that the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today’s world is the deeply human need to learn and create something meaningful that lasts and has an impact. That is exactly what motivates me.
If you think of Making More Health, what comes to your mind?
Most of the young talents in a corporation focus on their career, income, reputation or in the best case forming a skill set which can differentiate them from rest of their peers to help them stand out amongst the crowd. This is completely understandable. However, MMH offers us the opportunity to create a healthier world for individuals, animals, families and communities. It focuses on improving people’s health and lives through social innovation and co-creation.
You were exposed to a highly ambiguous and challenging environment during the MMH Insights India Leadership Week. Why were you interested in such an experience?
One of the key reasons to participate in such an exceptional experience is expanding ones perspective and horizons toward social entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking. And to learn how to combine theoretical knowledge with practical experiences.
Even though I have been working in enabling functions such as HR, finance or IT, I was very curious to know what is happening on the other sides of our business. I wanted to see how healthcare works in different parts of the world. Furthermore, it is an enviable opportunity to be in direct contact with people from other cultures and leaders from all over the world where Boehringer Ingelheim is located. Travelling to a remote area close to Coimbatore also made the experiences during the Insights Leadership Week incredibly worthwhile.
You were asked to develop disruptive and innovative ideas, to set up a micro-entrepreneurial business opportunity, and to test it in front of those who are in need. What was the idea you worked on?
A huge number of the Indian population suffer from malnutrition, especially during pregnancy. It causes the child to have increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities. The idea was to use gamification to teach tribal villagers what nutrient-rich food to consume in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, rather than choosing foods based only on caloric value.
In addition, teaching people personal and animal hygiene was part of the idea. In remote areas within Tamil Nadu, some of the people live with domesticated animals like goats, sheep or cows. In that sense, hygiene in critical for both human and animals to avoid a mutual transmission of infections. I worked with the team members who came from diverse business backgrounds to develop a card game for this purpose.
What was the first-hand feedback?
The first feedback was that our idea is not scalable. Then there was the question what would happen if one of the cards went missing and how we could replace that all the way from Germany? To be honest, that was interesting for me, because scalability of our project topic had not been our focus. We had been content driven only. We as a group should have thought more holistically and see the project from different standpoints and beyond the cards set. As a result, we had to readapt the concept in a way to meet the goal of our project.
Was it hard to come up with that idea? How did you get to it?
Education in those areas is one of the top priorities in addition to health. Gamification provides an effective, informal learning environment and helps learners practice, and interact with real-life situations. This leads to a more engaged learning experience and better knowledge retention. Therefore, we were just thinking of how can we combine education with gamification and that is how we came up with the cards idea.
How did this experience develop your social entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking?
When I came back from India, I always thought how could I make a difference and provide the population there with solutions based on their needs. Currently, I am working on a recycling project, which is something we can hand over to the schools we sponsor there. We can build one of those machines to recycle plastic instead of burning it close to the villages. This will protect the environment, prevent the people in the villages to inhale the smoke, and create more jobs.
What challenged you the most during the leadership program?
Developing an idea that affects the lives of the tribal people was a huge challenge. To come up with a social entrepreneurial idea in an environment where there is no basic standard of living and a lack of things like electricity, bank accounts, infrastructure etc. is tough, if not impossible. This is actually the role of Making More Health: help make those ideas and concepts possible and self-sustainable with a social impact.MMH connects us with business and social needs and involves collaboration across sectors to facilitate co-creation. That means collaborating with new types of partners and social innovators to identify new and better ways of improving health not only in India but also around the globe.
How far and in what way have you or your experience influenced Boehringer Ingelheim as an organization?
I think that as a company we have not harvested the full potential of this leadership program. I believe that working within cross-functional teams will be the way to achieve our common goals in the future. Exactly like we work under the umbrella of Making More Health. From my point of view, that will be a side product of MMH for the company; that we redeem the silo of each department and work much better together. This is valuable for the organization because combining different skills and specializations from different people will enhance the performance on the personal and team levels and produce innovative solutions.
If you look for example at popular products like “IPhone” or “Facebook” and the persons behind both of them. You will find that Steve Jobs was a designer and an IT expert. Mark Zuckerberg was a psychologist and an IT person. Finding the same quality of those people in one organization is very rare but working cross-functional could bring these disconnected topics together. This is what Making More Health does by connecting a wide range of employees from various departments; it fosters cross-functional movement.
Have you felt you could contribute or also develop yourself individually during or after the leadership week in the frame of Making More Health?
What I perceive here is that we spend a lot of time creating concepts and ideas and then look for consensus around the concept. Let us imagine that you have a brilliant idea in corporate life where you need to convince a big bunch of the managers to implement it. Then, they have to decide whether or not it is a good idea or concept, even before implementation. That costs us a lot of efforts and resources. During the Insights India leadership Week program, it is more hands-on and pragmatic, more just do it and see whether it works or not.
What I also learned, is involving the end user when developing ideas to have a better understanding of the needs. In my case, it was engaging the local tribal community while developing the card game. On a private level, it really widened my horizon and made me see the world from different angles. It gave me a broader view of experience, knowledge and learning and developed my understanding to the links between my own life and all the people throughout the world.
"We hear quite often the expression “think out of the box”, but what we need before, is to be in the box for a while to able to think out of it, says Mike Kleemann. "