When I was a boy back in the Seventies, I loved to watch U.S. TV crime series like “Kojak.” Every time a murder occurred and the investigation got stuck, Kojak would say: “We’ve got to ask the computer!”
Then he and his team would go into a computer room and type in some clues on the crime, like male victim, brown hair, blue eyes, contusion on the back of the head caused by a blow with a blunt object.
Magnetic tapes in racks would spin back and forth and after a while the printer would start to rattle and print five or so names of suspects. Three of them would already have been in jail or out of the country and a fourth one probably dead at the time of the murder. Only one was at large. Kojak would tear the paper out of the printer — he knew exactly what to do next.
Of course, that all made a lasting impression on me. One night I asked my mother, “How did the computer know?” To my disappointment, she told me that computers didn’t know anything at all; they had to be fed with information first (as people used to say back then). My interest in computers vanished for a while after that, until I went to college.
As a computer science major in the Eighties, I bought my first home computer. Later, at my first job with a U.S. computer manufacturer, I worked as a programmer and consultant on software projects for major corporations.
That is when I began looking for a computer that would give me answers I did not have to enter myself in advance. Even if it seems so, I am not talking about Google or artificial intelligence, augmented reality or big data. I was looking for something completely different. And I finally found it: at Covestro.
But let me back up first: when I joined Bayer in 2000, I suddenly found myself in the midst of major change and was faced with many new challenges. It was the beginning of e-commerce and many industrial companies were racing to set up their own sales platforms on the internet. Bayer had just resolved to form a team of 50 people for this purpose, half of which was to be comprised of existing employees and the other half of new ones like me.
On this international and diverse team, I worked independently as a Java programmer and project manager, which included trips to Pittsburgh, United States, to coordinate activities with colleagues there. I did not expect to experience that kind of dynamism, openness and agility in an industrial company.
The sales platform was a success: for several years, our customers could use it to schedule, place and track their orders. We later used the same computer code again for other portals. But for me personally, the search I mentioned before continued.
After six years as an in-house “IT service provider,” I switched over to the client side. As a project manager in Business Engagement at Bayer Material Science, I mediated all project phases between IT and the IT program and platform users.
In 2009, we then launched our Social Collaboration and Networking platform, and I took the first, major step toward my goal. As a user of comparable platforms on the Internet, like Facebook and Twitter, I quickly got involved and became an active participant in a rapidly growing community. It was logical for me to be the one to answer those first inquiries that came into IT concerning the use and sense of such platforms. It was the beginning of an avalanche of questions and I started giving training classes all over Bayer on the hows and whys of social collaboration. After a while, I was released from my job at the time to work full-time on training and education in this field. I even went to Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai in this capacity.
What I never had thought possible before happened: based on my interests and inclinations alone, I had picked this new job myself, with the help of an employer who supported and promoted me along my chosen path. I began giving talks about our experiences and advancements in the field of social networking and collaboration at national and international congresses. Interest was very great among the professionals in attendance from companies, government agencies and other organizations, because many of them were either still waiting to see how things would develop, or had not had the desired success after launch and were in search of new ideas. I can well remember a talk in front of some 250 international professionals at a congress in Orlando.
This growing network of people at other companies is still a source of many new ideas for my job today, which is at Covestro, a young and exciting company. By “young” I mean not only physical age, but also the ability and willingness to constantly change, develop and question the status quo. Our CEO once called Covestro “an eighty year-old startup.” We can look back on a long tradition of invention and research, but by leaving the Bayer Group, we acquired the freedom we need to start afresh in many areas and tailor things to our needs.
Here at Covestro I have finally found the answer to the question I have been pursing for so long: where can I find a computer that can give me answers I don’t have to enter first myself?
While collaborating within our social network, we collect knowledge and ideas, and share opinions, but the result is often greater than the sum of the contributions of each individual participant. The network gives me answers to questions like “Who is a recognized expert in topic X?,” “Where can I find information on topic Y that was also helpful for other colleagues?” or “How can I, as a specialist, become visible to others?” – I can access all this information without having to enter it first myself.
The “computer” I was looking for is not a device full of electronics after all, but rather our company’s social network. But what sounds so trivial is of inestimable value to us.
Take the topic of innovation. Social networks and innovation are closely related to my mind, and this fact is also expressed in my further career. In addition to my responsibility managing Social Collaboration, I am now also head of IT Innovation. Apart from planning and supporting company-wide idea campaigns, I am currently preparing an idea campaign for over 480 IT employees worldwide, for example. Recently, I greatly enjoyed holding a guest lecture on innovation management at the Cologne Business School and also the Girls’ Day 2017.
In everything I do today, I naturally can build on knowledge and experience acquired in the past, but I mostly use my new-found “computer.” When it comes to “ideation,” meaning finding and developing ideas as a team, we at Covestro already have a well-developed culture of collaboration: the broad competence and high motivation of the participants encourages the finding of ideas, as well as commenting and voting on them. Our in-house counterparts to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as well as chats and video conferences, round out the options we have for collaborating. These platforms help me to select the right tools, depending on the task, and leave nothing to be desired. When they occasionally do, then I can develop and discuss new ideas with my colleagues.
So if I ever get stuck with something, like Kojak did, I just say: “We’ve got to ask the social network!”