IKEA – on a mission to reinvent the furniture industry

An interview with Innovation and Co-creation Manager Siri Engelschiøn

IKEA is collaborating with EGGS on an innovation project to develop the BetterColiving concept – an ecosystem of services and products to support people living together. We met with Siri Engelschiøn, Innovation and Co-creation Manager at IKEA, for an interview to hear her thoughts in innovation, the future of the furniture industry and the circular economy movement.

Siri, IKEA hardly needs an introduction, but would you mind telling us a little bit about your role and what you work with in IKEA?

“I work in IKEA Norway’s business development department as innovation and co-creation manager. You could say that my role is to build and strengthen the innovation muscle of the company. We’re looking for new ways to work and new opportunities where we can be part of something that is bigger than the company itself. That’s why we focus on collaboration and partnerships. Business development is about capturing synergies.”

How would you define innovation?

“Simply said, it’s about searching for the unknown unknowns. That is – to identify what it is that you don’t know. I’m saying this after having experienced an aha-moment in the project working with EGGS, when we in the process managed to unlock and “free” ourselves from what we thought we already knew about our customers. To innovate, it’s necessary to stop assuming and really opening up to learning new truths and throwing the old ones out the window. You need to start with a clean slate. Especially if we’re talking about the highest level of innovation, where you’re aiming for disruptive solutions, not merely incremental changes.”

“To innovate, it’s necessary to stop assuming and really opening up to learning new truths and throwing the old ones out the window.”
Siri Engelschiøn, Innovation and Co-creation Manager at IKEA

You’re on an exciting innovation journey, where also EGGS is involved – can you tell us about that?

“Yes, we’re working on a project where we’re aiming to innovate for our Gen Z customers and potential customers. IKEA has always been an obvious option for previous generations when starting out their first family home, or their first own apartment. With Generation Z, we can see that it’s different. They have different habits, they ‘grow up’ later than their parents did, and have a different approach to most ‘traditional’ lifestyles. So, in essence, we’re missing out on them, and they on us, for about ten years of their lives when IKEA doesn’t provide what they need or want. We want to change this, and figure out how we can innovate to serve these people and offer them what they need right now to make their lives – their living – better. So, what we’re doing is to gather insight from them, and co-creating a new ecosystem of services. The app Sven for Better CoLiving is an example of this.”

Do you have any tips on what B2C organisations that wish to work with innovation should think about?

“I think the most important thing to remember, and something that you need to make other stakeholders understand, is that you don’t innovate to get immediate results. If that’s your goal, then you shouldn’t innovate. Innovation is a long-term investment for long-term results. It requires time, work and money. When I, as innovation manager, can make people around me understand this, it makes it much easier to explain to people why they should invest in innovation. Also, it’s essential to manage expectations. There is no guarantee that you will succeed, or that you will create something disruptive. You still need to try, because the option is a guarantee of becoming irrelevant and obsolete. Also, another thing is to trust the process. It sounds cliché, but it’s really true, and necessary. You have to accept that the process is long, often uncomfortable and that the good answers take a long time to come.”

Siri point out that, when working with innovation, it's important to remember that you don’t innovate to get immediate results. She says that "Innovation is a long-term investment for long-term results. It requires time, work and money." She continues: "Also, it’s essential to manage expectations. There is no guarantee that you will succeed, or that you will create something disruptive. You still need to try, because the option is a guarantee of becoming irrelevant and obsolete."

Any pitfalls that should be avoided when working with innovation?

“Oh, there are many! I think one of the most common mistakes is to innovate for your internal needs rather than for the market. Many companies think that they’re being innovative when they’re solving their own, internal problems. Of course, it’s a good thing to solve your own problems. But to innovate, you need to find and solve the problems of your customers or clients. This relates to another common mistake – to assume. You should never assume that you know what a problem is, especially not when it’s your customers that you’re making the assumption about. You need to make sure you know the problem before you try to solve it.

Lastly, don’t try to measure your results too early. If you set KPIs early in the process and try to measure them, there’s a big risk you’re going to hinder the innovation process. Simply because you’re trying to create something new and you can’t create KPIs for what doesn’t even exist yet.”

“Don’t try to measure your results too early. If you set KPIs early in the process and try to measure them, there’s a big risk you’re going to hinder the innovation process.”
Siri Engelschiøn, Innovation and Co-creation Manager at IKEA

What made you chose to work with external designers, and EGGS specifically?

“We, in IKEA, have previously had a very internal focus when it comes to innovation, but in connection with DOGA and the DIP (Design Driven Innovation Program) we started looking a bit more outside of the organisation. That was a great thing, as it made us see things from a new perspective. That we eventually turned specifically to EGGS was kind of a lucky coincidence – there was a personal connection between people in the two companies.“

What has the experience of working with us as an external design and innovation team been like?

“Creative minds met and magic happened, you could say. That turned out to be very good for us both! Our design has for a long time been product-centred and in-house driven. So, working with external consultants is a true learning experience. Finding a company like EGGS has been a good match, where our skills complement each other. You bring creative tech, digital design, business design and service design – that’s been enriching for us.”

Many companies attempt to move from linear to circular value streams and economic models. What are your thoughts on that when it comes to the furniture industry?

“The ambition for IKEA is exactly this – to move towards circular value streams, and the whole industry is moving in that direction. There are a lot of initiatives on the agenda, but the complete map isn’t in place yet, so to speak. We’re drawing it along the way. But one thing we believe is that a better home creates a better life. And that goes beyond the four walls of a house. A part of our transition journey will be to challenge the idea of what a home is, and what it’s made up of. It’s not only the furniture. Perhaps that’s the smaller part. Living comes in many forms, and health and well-being are essential to it. IKEA can be an enabler of healthy and sustainable living, and that’s what we’re working towards.”

“A part of our transition journey will be to challenge the idea of what a home is, and what it’s made up of. It’s not only the furniture. Perhaps that’s the smaller part.”
Siri Engelschiøn, Innovation and Co-creation Manager at IKEA

What future challenges and opportunities do you see for the furniture and interior design industry?

“I think the challenges are the same as the opportunities, and there are many! Especially when it comes to sustainability. People are becoming more conscious and more demanding about companies measuring up to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). We, as an industry, have an opportunity to support people on their journey towards a sustainable life. We can use our knowledge to do that, and to develop our business along this journey. Of course, it’s a challenge for the consumer industry that many trends are immaterial – decluttering trends for people’s homes, a search for experiences and interactions rather than physical products, reuse of furniture and clothes and so on. But these lifestyle changes don’t mean that people don’t have needs they want to fulfil. They’re just different, and we need to adapt and figure out how we can provide that service to them. As a business you can take a passive role or you can see it as an opportunity and observe, listen and figure out how to act.”

“We, as an industry, have an opportunity to support people on their journey towards a sustainable life. We can use our knowledge to do that, and to develop our business along this journey.”
Siri Engelschiøn, Innovation and Co-creation Manager at IKEA

Anything else you would like to tell the readers?

“Yes! One last tip when it comes to innovation – it’s essential to build a culture that supports creativity to succeed with innovation. That means that you have to allow people, and yourself to be vulnerable. No high shoulders and sharp elbows. The most creative people are often quite insecure and worry about being good enough, so it’s important to be supportive. And to find your own cheerleaders that will cheer you on! Otherwise it can get lonely.”

Sounds interesting?

Lena Sendstad

You should talk to Creative Director
Lena Sendstad
+47 932 82 811
Email

Caterina Forno Rios

You should talk to Senior Digital Designer
Caterina Forno Rios
+47 907 11 031
Email

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