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Altran Innovation: Turning the Impossible into Possibilities

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Altran is a group of 17 000 consultants working in areas as diverse as life sciences, aeronautics, or electronics. The company is present worldwide, particularly in Europe and specializes in strategy consulting and management. It promotes innovation in the service of general interest. 
"What is creativity? What is innovation?"  These questions, asked by Philippe Van Caenegem, director of Altran Innovation, surprised many students who came to the lecture, on 15 September. The latter wanted a demonstration of what creativity can be by reversing the roles: students responded to questions asked by the teacher.
Students, amused by this reversal of responsibility, gave the following definitions: Creativity is the sum of the imagination, experience, risk-taking and responses to needs. As for innovation, they defined it as the result of adding creativity, new technologies, improvement, new needs and market adjustment. Philippe Van Caenegem, while acknowledging the relevance of these responses, provided his own: "The world of creativity is a world where we dare speculate, invent, make connections, ask questions, develop thinking. It arises against the operational world, the universe of rules, decisions and habits. At the junction of the two lays innovation."   Steve Jobs –Apple’s CEO, states that “Innovation is creativity that ships", which can be sold and creates value. "
The speaker took the water bottle he held in his hand: "This bottle is a bit expensive. How can we optimize the cost of the cap? If one chooses to modify the cap, the solution will probably be minor–"incremental". But if one chooses randomly to delete it outright, then there will be a “breakthrough innovation." This original proof was chosen to make the students understand that the issue of innovation is not so simple, it is divided into different types, which use different processes.
The room was completely disoriented when Philip Van Caenegem said, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, that if an idea is not absurd, there is no future for it. This provocation launched a challenge to the audience of engineers, which was to make them feel the crucial role of creativity in innovation. Einstein neither excel at Math nor at Physics, but he had "the power of imagination."
Followed a short film showing the illusion of a stage, taking the viewer behind the scenes, making him witness the blindness of actors and completed his demonstration. The lesson is that one must challenge his own perceptions and that anything can be coherent when the frames are changed. All that is absurd may well become logic: it suffices to change the system. Such is the power of innovation.
After this demonstration, which sometimes touched on philosophical thinking, Philippe Van Caenegem, presented a concrete example of the innovation process:‘Grenelle de l’environnement’. The different actors of sustainable development listed the already existing initiatives in terms of environmental friendliness and analyzed needs to set goals. Then they looked for answers in the form of applied ideas and actions that were then subject to government approval.
It was not yet the end of surprises for students. Philippe Van Caenegem decided to put them in a real-life situation: each one had to express an idea of innovation, which was then to be reformulated by his neighbor –exploiting some elements of method, such as analogy (that which does not yet exist here doesn’t already have its equivalent elsewhere?), and the absurd.
To complete symbolically killing Descartes, Philippe Van Caenegem showed that an almost impossibly feasible idea could become a reality: when Bertrand Piccard decided to tour the world with an aircraft powered by solar energy, researchers told him that it was impossible. How can Man make the impossible possible? Students launched several ideas: hover the aircraft up, use the updrafts, capture and convert the heat energy released inside … and even add wind mills … The reality is not so different from what was said, the path of the aircraft was optimized using a software taking into account the updraft, sunlight, and different sources of energy. A short film about the feat achieved by Bertrand Piccard ended the session, letting the students share the emotion tied to the success of an innovation. The lecture ended with deserved applause.
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