Infinite Skills Create Miracles

Pedro Ahlers

Industry Insights

Many chemical companies are trying to cope with growing B2B customer demand. Some are responding by running trial-and-error approaches; others are applying a more conservative, academic method; and still others are waiting and watching what the competition is coming up with. “If it works for them, we can simply adopt it in our business,” they think. In reality, adopting other companies’ approaches isn’t the best idea.

In times like these, when technology offerings are so broad that you can spend ages evaluating them, it’s a good idea to discuss best practices. Chemical companies can leverage their networks to exchange knowledge and experiences. However, the steps of progress are small, and success often is very limited.

I see three major topics that I believe are preventing companies from coming up with the miracles they want.

1. Focusing on isolated tools

Complex spreadsheets are not digitalization, just like an app is not digitalization. Many projects are heavily isolated by technology, the IT organization, the business, or other factors that prevent them from delivering a true user- and customer-centric service, one where the user says, “Thank you!” instead of, “Pheww, I survived this!”

Magic moments, in the context of customers and their journeys, are created from a bigger picture that measures success way beyond implementation and costs.

2. Being too comfortable in your comfort zone

There is a good reason why a comfort zone is hard to leave – it is comfortable!

You have probably heard of design thinking and other creative methods to boost innovation or improve business models. Ideally, these workshops include many people with different perspectives, although some people (notably scientists) have a hard time with the process. My recommendation: Trust the process.

Statements and thought patterns like “We tried this years ago, it did not work!” or “It is not supported by the process!” are not allowed in design thinking workshops (at least not in ones I’m leading). I see many companies investing a lot of time in these workshops without a real willingness to evaluate the outcome. They may have limited resources to drive the process, or they may fear setting unrealistic customer expectations, or they may simply misunderstand concepts like prototyping or minimum viable project. This usually this ends with an over-engineered, “more of the same,” expensive, and process-oriented solution that doesn’t solve any problems for the target group.

“Most of the executives I talk to are still very much focused on digital largely as a way to do ‘more of the same,’ just more efficiently, quickly, and cost-effectively. But I don’t see a lot of evidence of fundamentally stepping back and rethinking, at a basic level, ‘What business are we really in?’”

John Hagel III, co-chairman of Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge

3. Missing skills

Worse than knowing you don’t have the right skills is not knowing what skills you need.

Many years ago, I was having a dialogue with a colleague from R&D. He told me he was struggling to fill some open positions for chemists. As we talked, I realized he was not just looking for chemists but for chemists with an IT background.

Fortunately, he knew what he was looking for, but many others do not see the need to change their employee profiles to find the right resources. This puts more work on your staff’s shoulders without solving your problems. Also consider that certain countries and regions may require a set of skills that you haven’t heard of before. Your local business operation can help you develop these profiles.

The success of your business starts with the skills and the empathy of your employees.

The success of your business starts with the skills and empathy of your employees and embraces change as an opportunity


Always look for the big picture, ask yourself why something is relevant, and think about the journey of your target group. Think about measuring success from their point of view, not your own. Identify the blind spots in your service, improve your employees’ skills, and teach them to identify with the success they are generating, not just the job they’re doing. Find a partner who helps you gain a different, more challenging perspective.

Author: Pedro Ahlers

About Pedro Ahlers: Pedro Ahlers is a business architect at SAP. In this position, he helps chemical companies understand and apply the values of customer experience beyond products, features, and functions to increase business growth, customer loyalty, and satisfaction. He is obsessed with customers and human-centric change management that empower organizations to accept the challenges chemical companies are facing. With 12 years of experience at BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, Pedro brings together business and technology know-how.

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