Photo: Sigrid Malmgren
From secret laboratories for special choices to collaborations over organisational borders and self tought developers. This is how Annie Lindmark, Innovation Expert. Proxify has spoken with her about problems with growth, competence gaps, unicorns and how one should go about making system changes.
Annie Lindmark herself says that she was a bit of an odd bird when she started in the financial industry. After a bachelor's degree in economics with a focus on behavioral economics at Uppsala University and a master's degree in innovation, she landed a job on Nordea's trading floor. This was just before the word innovation ended up on everyone's lips. Instead, several of his bank colleagues raised an eyebrow and wondered what Annie would do with an innovation degree.
Cut to two years later when Annie was one of a handful of people who started working with Nordea's strategic partnership for entrepreneurship and innovation. In parallel, she founded the network W.Empowerment for women entrepreneurs and sat on the board of UN Women's Swedish organization. No wonder the first thing you meet on Annie's LinkedIn is a picture of her and the king.
Photo: Marilia Bognandi
– Last year, Sigma-IT released a report showing that 70,000 people are missing in the IT industry until 2022. When digitalisation and automation accelerate, it also means that the gap only gets bigger and bigger. At the same time, the same report shows that almost one million Swedes can imagine working with IT-related professions and that a large majority want to train to do so. There is a clear gap between the crying needs of the business community and an education sector that does not map in according to their needs.
Today, Annie works with open innovation and the government assignment "Hack for Sweden", where Swedish authorities work together to promote innovation through open data. She also works to provide innovation support to startups, tech companies, research and innovation that can contribute to a sustainable society. In her work, she comes into contact almost daily with startups that need special tech skills.
– The lack of skills is a growth problem. Without the right skills, the company's development stops. Our Swedish unicorn companies, such as Spotify, Skype, Klarna and iZettle, could be many more if we had the right expertise in the market.
Difficult to know what skills you need
But what paths do startups take that are looking for tech talent? You often search in your own networks or in communities and find people via recommendation, says Annie.
– Then many find their skills abroad as well. But another locking effect is that companies must first understand what skills they need. Often you do not sit on that knowledge yourself but need advice. Otherwise, the risk is that you staff with the wrong skills. There is an advantage to bringing in developers on short-term assignments so as not to get stuck. In addition, it is an opportunity to bring in someone with a very specific competence who can then spread their knowledge in the company. You can see the assignment as a learning process.
The fact that growth problems arise due to a lack of tech competence is not only a problem for the individual companies, but for the growth of the whole of Sweden. What role does the state have in remedying the problem?
– The numbers indicate that very many Swedes want to work with tech, but why not do it? I think it's a combination of many factors: false stereotypes about who can work with tech, what a career in tech looks like and inadequate educational opportunities. Here I am thinking above all of how our education system is designed. We will need more short, practical educations in tech and connect the academic world closer to business. When our world changes at such an incredibly fast pace, we must think more in terms of lifelong learning, where in the future we will not only have one career but maybe three or four. Then our education system, but also our way of looking at talent, staffing and continuing education, must be designed accordingly. Increased automation and use of technology such as AI will also be an issue of attitude. It will place higher demands on us individuals to be able to continuously and be open to changing tasks.
Everyone can be an innovator
Another issue that Annie is particularly passionate about is open data and open innovation. At her lectures, Annie usually shows an old photo from the famous innovation lab Bells Lab. In the picture, mostly men in white coats are standing in a row in a long corridor. The picture illustrates how innovation at that time was in many ways something for a few and that took place in a lab. Today, on the other hand, innovation is something that everyone can do.
– The possibilities of technology and our increasingly open world have meant that the concept of innovation has been broadened and become something that everyone can get involved in. Using open data is one way. There are huge amounts of publicly open data, such as traffic, weather and satellite data, with our authorities. But more examples are needed of how this can be used. We must trigger both the public and private sectors to see the benefits of publishing and making data and information available to the public.
Openness also rests on another important bolt: trust and cooperation. Making data and open sources available can enable new collaborations that might not otherwise be possible. This in turn breeds innovations; something that is needed more than ever. Society now faces a number of complex challenges, and new ways of dealing with them are needed - we cannot do as we have always done.
– It is not profitable to sit in your own room and work in silos anymore. The challenges we face in today's society are complex and, above all, global. Whether it is about poverty, climate change or inequalities in health, individual efforts are not enough. Changes are required at the system level. If we are to achieve a sustainable future in time, we must think and cooperate in new ways.