How to Foster, Encourage and Educate Innovation

3 min read
20 Sep 2023

roactive is a business consulting and education company focused on human-centered innovation, transformation and foresight. It helps companies large and small to prepare structurally for future business environments in a way that promotes the personal and professional development of employees.

proactive was founded by Patrick Rammerstorfer in 2004, and he has been sharing ownership and CEO duties with Katharina Ehrenmüller since 2021. Patrick’s whole career has been dedicated to entrepreneurship, as a founder, advisor and most recently as a business angel. Katharina specializes in human-centered innovation, with a background in economics, social business and a passion for the service sector.

At proactive, Katharina says, “Our concept of innovation is quite simple. For us, anything that is new and useful can be called innovative. Useful means anything that helps people solve problems. This is the ‘human-centered’ philosophy that is the nucleus of everything we do.”

Fostering innovation works differently depending on the size of the company. Patrick says, “We see two distinct models. At large corporations we see a lot of incremental innovation. Sometimes they struggle to be truly disruptive, so we help them to build a secondary ecosystem dedicated to innovation.” For example, this could be a spinoff venture company that invests into startups, new tech or other potential applications with more agility and freedom than if they were part of the primary corporation.

Katharina Ehrenmüller and Patrick Rammerstorfer, Co-CEOs of proactive

Startups have the opposite situation, they are already fast and disruptive. “What they need is foresight, so we work with them to develop a framework to prepare for alternative futures. There is no single future, rather we try to prepare for the many possible alternative futures or scenarios. We try to help both startups and large corporations to prepare for the future by thinking in scenarios,” says Patrick.   

In order to prepare for these scenarios, the first step is to look at trends and signals in your industry, proactive uses AI tools to help identify these. There are also universal problems facing everyone and every company, like a shrinking workforce and climate change. “Every company should consider how a problem like climate change will affect their business model in the next few years,” says Patrick. 

Katharina also mentions that, depending on the industry, many of these future scenarios are reliant on technologies that are still undeveloped or untested which can significantly alter the status quo or turn out to be duds. There’s no way to know for sure, only signals to go on and prepare for.

proactive puts this foresight into practice with startups and corporations, not only through traditional consulting, but also through their Learning Journeys program, where they visit and explore different ecosystems around the world and guide participants to learn from these experiences and connect with potential partners.

The guiding principle behind all the initiatives at proactive is to be “human-centered.”  “We try to empower people to actively design their present and future. We aim to empower people to feel their own strength, positivity and impact on both their own lives and on their surroundings. We truly believe this is a basic human trait; it’s always there. We don’t need to teach it, just help people reactivate it,” says Katharina.

This idea of helping people to reanimate or rediscover inherent traits is an important part of proactive’s human-centered philosophy and approach to innovation education. As these traits are intangible, they can’t really be taught directly. Rather, Patrick says, “you have to develop mindsets instead, develop culture. We focus on positive narratives about the future; if we can’t imagine a bright future, there will be no bright future.” 

Stay positive and hopeful! If we can’t imagine a bright future, there will be no bright future.

This positive mindset is an important tool in their work, and these methods have been vital in reanimating and developing an “entrepreneurial spirit,” not just in startup founders, but especially in people who may have lost their spark working in a big company. They do this through their nonprofit initiative Ministry of Curiosity & Zukunftslust, roughly translated as “zest for the future.” 

We started this initiative to raise optimism, courage and creative confidence in these challenging times,” says Katharina. “It’s been a big success so far, with over 200 ambassadors in just two months signing on to the new initiative, not only in Austria, but beyond. Ultimately, the goal is that everyone can participate in the program, and we hope that it will bring some of the positivity and human-centered philosophies that we work with to a wider audience.”

Katharina Ehrenmüller and Patrick Rammerstorfer, Co-CEOs of proactive

Most important tips for startups:

  • Prepare for alternative futures. This means being ready for multiple scenarios and possibilities, not one concrete future. Consider the trends and signals in your industry, possible technological evolutions and universal problems facing everyone, such as climate change. 
  • Always think about people. Being human-centered is more than just a philosophy, it’s also a guiding principle for developing your products and services, which should aim to help people solve problems.
  • Develop a mindset of positivity. The future is full of challenges, and even the most prepared company may get things wrong. That’s where having a company culture and personal mindset of positivity, curiosity and openness comes in. As Patrick says, “If we can’t imagine a bright future, there will be no bright future.”

Main Photo by: Antje Wolm