This article first appeared on the IESE Innovation & Design Club blog. The interview was conducted by current IESE MBA student, Michael Mathieu.
Aldo de Jong (pictured) is a 2004 alumnus of IESE’s MBA program and the co-founder of Claro Partners, an innovation and service design consulting firm based in Barcelona. Claro Partners have been on campus for the past several years to recruit for highly competitive intern and full-time positions. Aldo was able to fit some time into his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me!
What *is* innovation consulting, and how does it differ from traditional strategy consulting?
It’s different in a few ways: the objective is different, the way of working is different, and the people are different.
Traditional Strategy Consulting (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) works directly with the CEO or Board of the company, whereas innovation consultants work one or two levels below with Innovation officers, Insights team, Product Managers, etc.
In innovation consulting, the way we do it at Claro Partners is that we form small teams that work intensively over 2–3 months, informing our work with insights about the business, technology and most importantly about people. We do the collection of insights ourselves — researching the lives of the real people who are potential customers. Strategy consultants tend to focus on internal interviews. We are very collaborative, very creative, and very intense. We work with small, dedicated teams, we work very visually with design thinking methodologies, and we balance that with diametrically opposed business thinking.
For our clients, innovation consulting is either to acquire capability to become more innovative as an organisation or, it’s about innovating together with the client — what are the opportunities to create a new product or service based on a deep understanding of the context: society, people, the business landscape and the organisation itself. We place a lot of emphasis on the startup landscape because that’s where most innovations are being experimented with — if you analyse that, you can have a good idea of where things are going.
The people at Claro tend to be misfits — they have a combination of skills that wouldn’t necessarily be valued in many other types of organisations. For example, in a strategy consulting environment they would expect a Senior Consultant to have an MBA. While we hire MBAs, we also look for designers and anthropologists to complement those with an MBA. An example: several of our star performers have a background in design. Through learning at Claro they have become very capable with ethnographic research and strategy but don’t possess an MBA, aren’t the best at design, and don’t have a degree in anthropology. They wouldn’t fit in a traditional strategy consulting firm, nor in a research firm nor in a design firm, but for us they are perfect.
Why should an MBA consider innovation consulting, and why consider doing it at Claro Partners?
It’s about passion and motivation, nothing else. If you’re really interested in creating new products and services that actually make it to the market, in making an impact in that way, then innovation consulting is the right choice for an MBA. If you’re mostly interested in financial gain, or power, or status, it’s definitely not the best career for you.
Claro’s got a combination between business, research, and design, with a strong balance between the three disciplines. This makes it a very attractive place for anyone who comes from any of these backgrounds. I used to be “the business guy with an MBA” in a design-driven innovation firm called Smart Design. There, the dominant way of thinking, working and the leadership was design — they are mostly designers. To me Claro is more attractive for an MBA as it gives you more space to develop your skills and creativity. We believe that designers can do good research, researchers can develop good strategy and MBAs can be creative. That’s why we don’t label people — everyone is called “a Claro” and everyone is co-responsible for the end-result for the client. Everyone has strengths, but the expectation is that you learn about design and ethnographic research in your work. You won’t see the same thing in other places, because other places tend to define people by their role and background, and we don’t do that.
What do you look for in MBAs who are interested in working with you?
Motivation is really important. We pay the most attention to that. Other aspects are things like fit in terms of values, cultural fit within our culturally diverse team of strategists, designers and anthropologists and respect for their disciplines. International experience is a positive thing because of our work being global — we do a lot of global research to understand global context, and experience in this is important. Awareness of disruptive shifts is also a very important thing. Finally, being really smart is also really helpful — we do look at GMAT scores.
This article first appeared on the IESE Innovation & Design Club blog.