How to accelerate the development and implementation of innovation – A conversation with Marieke Schoenmaker

Published by Access 2 Perspectives on

Marieke Shoenmaker has more than 30 years of experience in (e)Business Development and entrepreneurship. About 14 years ago, she founded her company Gamechanger the Lean Innovation Platform with Annemieke Gotzsch and Vincent Thamm, which has grown into a large network of Innovation Managers across the Netherlands. In today’s episode, Marieke and Jo talk about agile project management, innovation, and team dynamics amongst entrepreneurs, and how this relates to scholars and research teams.

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I love energetic teams that make progress and impact from their intrinsic motivation. Our focus is on accelerating the development and implementation of innovation with and for those teams.

Marieke Shoenmaker


Linkedin: /in/mariekeschoenmaker 

From the Game Changer website:

Which researcher – dead or alive – do you find inspiring? – Buddha

What is your favorite animal and why? – Jaguar, because of his colors, print, strength, resilience and speed.

Name your (current) favorite song and interpret/group. – The Greatest Showman

What is your favorite dish/meal? – Homemade Nasi Goreng

Please share anything else that will help prepare for our meeting. – I grew up in the jungle of Borneo and the desert of Oman.


Jo: Welcome back to another episode of Access 2 Perspective Conversation. I’m very glad to be joined today by Marieke Schoenmaker; the director at Game Changer, an Innovation Consultancy in the Netherlands. We’re happy to hear from you about the kind of work that you do. I personally also find research and innovation as closely connected, which probably means you have much more experience and real-life examples to present to us. So without further ado, welcome. Very warm welcome to Marieke. Thanks for joining me. 

Marieke: Okay, thanks, Jo, for inviting me to your podcast. And I’m looking forward to a nice, inspiring talk on innovation. And hopefully, I can add something for your listeners to your podcast series. Thanks.

Jo: I’m very sure you will. So jumping right into the conversation, could you share with us a little bit about your personal background, how you started into the job market? Maybe? What did you study at University, and how does your career path unfold to where you are now today with the consultancy? 

Marieke: Okay, nice question. I think I’m always going back to my youngest years because that was where innovation already started. I come from a pioneering family, as I see it, when I was at the age of five years, my parents and I, my little brother went to live in Borneo. So I really grew up in the jungle of Borneo. And later we moved houses to the desert of Oman, where I found a really different culture, looking back to, for example, Borneo. So later in my career, surprisingly

I really find myself as a fish in the water, working for different companies with different cultures and discovering different cultures because that was a skill that I already learned in my early days. So I think the pioneering mindset of my parents, together with figuring out how to find your way in new cultures, in new situations, being creative to make the best out of everything, and seeing chances in everything. That is where my background comes from. And that is a clear line throughout my whole career. So what I studied, I first wanted to become a nurse because my mother was a nurse. But after two years, I found out that I didn’t have the patience to become a nurse. And so the question then was what to do next? And then I thought, okay, I want to study cultural history. And then my father came to me and he said, why are you going to do that? Because I never found that you were interested in culture and history together. So he said, you can do it, but I will not sponsor that. 

Jo: Was that his profession?

Marieke: My father? 

Jo: Yeah.

Marieke: My father is an engineer. 

Jo: Okay. Just to come back to why you grew up in Borneo, which is atypical for a Dutch person.

Marieke: Because my father works for the Shell Company. He worked in the oil and energy business. And at that time it was very normal that when an engineer had to do a job abroad, the whole family moved with him. And yeah, I think that was really quite great for me as a child. It was really quite great to do that because all my friends in the Netherlands, they lived in the streets and in their houses, but I lived in the jungle. That was really quite an experience with monkeys and crocodiles and snakes and that kind of thing. So it was much more adventurous, I think, than when I compare it to others who were always raised here in their villages or in their

safe environments so to speak. But my father was an engineer.

Jo: Okay.

Marieke: At the end I decided to study economics. And so I did that. It was a commercial economy with an international management background. And in my early days, I think I was around 20. I wanted to combine my studies with a job. So I was 22 when I started my first job at a company called Martini and Rossi. And it was off the Martini Bianco and Martini Rosso. So maybe, you know it, it was in the fast moving consumer goods and we were making spirits and wines. And from that on, I really learned a lot about how to relate to customers well. Because I was in customer service in my first job, later I went to the sales roles. And so I was always fascinated by the dynamics between customers, the market and the company. I was not always very interested in the products we’re producing, but I was interested in building the relations with the company. But from there on, I went to another company. It was called Polygram and Polygram was a music company. So that was really different from drinking. It was a cultural company. And then I became aware that there were also dynamics between the inside and the outside of the company. But it was an older dynamic then, for example, between the things I discovered in Martini. So my next education was Imagineering. And so in the evening I became an Imagineer. And that is doing business innovation from a customer perspective, from an experience perspective. So that is my background a little bit.

Jo: It’s basically what they now call user centric design. 

Marieke: Yeah. That is what I learned over there. So, you know, probably design thinking, lean startup, that kind of things of processes and approaches to get people, your end users on board, how to figure out what their needs are, what their wishes are, what their problems are. That is what we learned in Imagineering. 

Jo: This is also what I’m personally passionate about and what we as a group of professionals with Access 2 perspectives want to facilitate into academia or postdoc academia when it comes to research projects. And it doesn’t matter if it’s basic research like explorative research or applied research. I think there’s an urgency to ask more whys. Why are we doing this kind of work? Who are the beneficiaries? What is the bigger picture and their design thinking and geocentric approaches and target audience or beneficiaries can also be in some cases ecosystems or animal species. And it’s about conservation biology. And that I think will also allow the design of research projects to be much more targeted towards the end result and the purpose that the research is being conducted for. This is again why I’m so excited to have you here today on the show to tell us a little bit about the kind of work you do and maybe some examples of projects that you’ve been working with. Some of the clients.

Marieke:  For example, I think where research and the business that comes great together is for example, in one of our projects for a Corporation organization, they wanted to discover things about how to improve our sustainable maintenance. They are in the Corporation. They have a lot of houses for people with lower incomes. And all those houses need to transform to energy neutral before 2030. So that is a huge transformation that we are facing here in the Netherlands. And all those companies are trying to figure out the best way to do that. What you see is that on the one side of research, there is a lot of research from universities on technologies that you can use to enable those transformations. Then you see a lot of commercial organizations who make those solutions and you see in the corporations that they need to implement those solutions. Then there’s the party that is involved and they are the residents. That is the  houses that people are, for example, isolated better, getting off the gas to supply electric heating and electric cooking only. So all the technology is there, all the research is there. But what we were facing is that why are residents so stressful, so full of fear for this kind of transformation? And that is where we as a service provider facilitate those innovations. We use, for example, design thinking in this process to figure out together with inhabitants how to use those technologies that are provided for electric heating, for example. What the really fears and the needs are that residents go through so that technical people can build better stories on it to get those people on board in those transformations. That is an example of where research corporate affair organizations and corporations inhabitants come together. And what we see is to integrate all those knowledge and all those things that can be done through the design thinking process to enable all the stakeholders to get into the right direction. Is that a little bit clear? 

Jo: Absolutely. Yeah. Would you agree with my observation that the biggest challenge for change is change of behavior. People are scared of doing things differently from what they’re used to. And then your job is to make it easy for them to transition, to adopt a new process.

Marieke:  That is what I think is really important in this kind of transformation. And that is also a little bit what we learned as entrepreneurs ourselves is also that the people with whom we work have their limiting beliefs. If you have limiting beliefs, then at the end you make decisions that are not always good for the result you are aiming at. And that is also with residents, they have limiting beliefs about, for example, isolation of their house. We faced, for example, a woman who really believed in building sustainable housing, and she wanted to experiment on that with a different kind of products and services. And we were at a certain time, we were at the front of her house for a day and the insulation in the roof had to be brought in. And then she found me and she said, I’m scared because I think that because of the isolation, there will be no fresh air anymore in my house. We learned from that thing that people have some beliefs that we were not aware of. So we thought we could do the job already. And then we figured out, okay, there is a limiting belief. But then the question was, what is then her limiting belief that there is no fresh air anymore possible in her house when the roof is isolated. So we were asking that from the design thinking process, okay, how do you normally get fresh air in your house? And she said, yeah, I always open my windows. 

Jo: That’s what I thought. 

Marieke: When I isolate my house, then there’s the rule that I cannot open my windows anymore because of the system that is implemented. So we said, okay, but let’s look at what happens when you open your windows and see what kind of fresh air is coming into your home. And this woman, she was living in Amsterdam or she lives in Amsterdam. And so we said, okay, we want to put as an experiment a ventilator in your home to see what kind of fresh air comes in. And to show you if this air is fresh or if it is not fresh, are you open for that now? She loved it when we wanted to do this experiment. So we installed the solution. And at a certain time, she opened her window and the system went all really red. And what happened was that the air that she thought was fresh was polluted by all the traffic that was near her house. So at that moment, we are still in the design thinking process. At that moment, we could show her the results of the measurements of the air and the pollution by her own action. And at that moment, she said, okay, now I’m ready to do the roof isolation and fix my house to make it without gas and for electric only. But I think that nobody in the group of technical people were aware of this kind of situation that happens in the heads of residents. 

So the learning in this experiment for the Corporation and the house builder was that they became aware that before starting to transform a street or a village, that you really should be aware of all the stress factors, all the fears people are facing. So you can provide better messages on that, helping people to go through this kind of thing. Because at the end when you do that, you really accelerate the transformation you’re aiming at. Otherwise, you are in the middle of nowhere. We are in the street to start building the solutions in the house, and then residents say no, and you feel behind that time. So I think a more scientific way of design thinking, human centered design gives insights on how to improve your processes for transformation.

Jo: Okay. So in the work that you do when you work also in the intersection with corporate partners and research partners, do you find a different way to approach the project from each group or where do you see how researchers and corporate people can inform each other for design thinking, exercises or practices? 

Marieke:  Yeah. For example, for other projects, we were starting to figure out how to improve sustainable maintenance in kitchens, because in the corporations the kitchen, there is a lot of maintenance effort needed into repairing kitchens, et cetera, et cetera. So that is a huge cost on the budget of a Corporation.

Jo: Is this for the electrical components like the stoves and microwaves and what or more for the corporation.

Marieke: It is everything in the kitchen without the microwave, et cetera. 

Jo: Okay. So the cupboards and the shelves and so on.

Marieke: We went through a process to figure out how to build not only how to reduce the maintenance cost, but also how to build a kitchen that is having a longer lifetime, that is built of circular materials, et cetera. So at the end, we figured out that was a good business case, a good business model. 

Jo: Just hold for a second, because people might not be familiar with the term circular economy or circular materials. It’s basically recycled materials, to have as little waste as possible and to repurpose materials wherever possible in the industry. 

Marieke: Yeah. So, for example, what you see is that in the current kitchens, in corporations, a lot of materials are not recyclable. The lifetime of a kitchen is 13 years out of my head, and then the kitchen is thrown away and the materials are not recyclable. So that is a pity, because then you cannot do anything with the materials. So we ask in this project, a party that’s a startup, for example, in circular solutions, making circular solutions. What kind of materials should we use in this new kitchen we are aiming at? I don’t quite know anymore what the materials were, but when you look, for example, at the kitchen that is made, I will send you some information on that. Maybe you can do it in the podcast. But in the end, together with the University of Delft and this circular design company who was active in kitchens, they built a circular kitchen. So all the materials now after their lifetime can get back into the process so they can make new materials from it, sometimes for the front ends of the kitchen, sometimes for the shelf of the kitchen. And sometimes they use it to make, for example, new tables. They were looking at that. You see that circular design thinking is a process, but it is not very business as usual already in the Netherlands. In this process, we use it as an experiment so you can find a lot of information about circular design thinking. And at the end we discovered the business model. And then the University of Delft together with this circular kitchen maker, they said, okay, we take the prototype, we are going to take the concept, build the prototype of it. And now this kitchen is tested in some houses to see how they can scale it up, for example.

Jo: Yeah. So we put the link to this website also into the show notes. So the University of Delft; Technical University of Delft has specialized in circular product design with various researchers and professors and early career researchers. It’s encouraging to hear how it’s so tangible to work with industry partners to actually implement more sustainable kitchen equipment and furniture and all kinds of products.

Marieke: I want to say Jo, now in the Netherlands there are some platforms rising and I will send you some links to that as well, where you see that the building sector is providing platforms to work together with universities on circular only buildings, circular only environments, et cetera. So that is maybe quite nice to add to your podcast. Maybe you can build from your field, build bridges between platforms worldwide and platforms in the Netherlands that already exist. 

Jo: Yeah, it’s always good to see such examples. And I think the innovation seen on a global scale is exactly targeted towards bringing sectors together, researchers with entrepreneurs and industry leaders, user centric, ecologically friendly or sustainable. Logically wise, we live in times of climate change, so there’s a high urgency to be ecologically sustainable and I think also quite exciting. And we can relearn a lot on how product design occurred. Also, before industrial times, everything was sustainable by nature because the materials that were used were mostly wood, which regrows relatively easily and then can also be composted or discharged off and repurposed by nature. And now I think with our learnings through industrial times, we have the opportunity to apply these learnings for material design and construction and in a way that’s more sophisticated and also ecologically.

Marieke: That’s right. Also in this kind of project, I like it that different approaches come together. So you have to do with, I think, more than the neuroscience aspects of these kinds of things because of limiting beliefs and how to handle them, to make at the end better decisions to come to other results. So neuroscience is a huge thing in it. Then you have making better products human centered. So design thinking is a process, but at the end, there always should be a sustainable business model. And for that we use, for example, maybe, you know it, the business model of strategist, Alexander Oswalder. Do you know him? 

Jo: No. 

Marieke: Okay. He’s one of the experts on business model innovation. He provides a lot of master classes on that and webinars on that. So it’s quite nice for your listeners, I think, to discover more on business model innovation because it provides a framework. Start thinking from what you discovered from your end users or your customers and then try to figure out, okay, what does that mean for the value proposition? What does that mean for the way you are going to earn money from it or save money from it? In our experience in the Corporation, it was how can we reduce the maintenance cost by building better? And in our case, it was a circular kitchen. So the kitchen itself is more expensive to produce. But due to the reduction of the maintenance cost at the end, there was no extra fee for the residents to get this circular kitchen in their house. So the business will also help you to think about, okay, if the customers want this and this is our new proposition and this is how we get money out of it or how we increase the impact of it, then the business model helps you to figure out, okay, how are we going to deliver that? Because at the end, when you want to, for example, deliver circular kitchens, you need other resources who have different skill sets and different competencies to learn how to do the maintenance of such a kitchen or breaking it off. It requires a lot of different processes to do so in comparison to the current kitchens that are there because no separations of the materials are needed at this moment. But in a circular kitchen, you really need to do that. And that’s another kind of process. So that business model really helps you to think that over. So in the end, it is a really great tool and a really great process to not only make a good product but also implement it in a good way.

Jo: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for pointing that out. We will put the website of the strategizer also into the show notes and the accompanying blog post for this episode. From the looks of it, the website is really rich and informative by itself with a lot of resources to discover along with it just explained for sustainability. Most of the listeners will probably be researchers, I assume given my target audience and the people that we most work with, not exclusively but primarily. However, I think it’s also important to consider the budgets for sure. As a postdoc and a PI leading a research group, you’re aware that you have a limited budget or certain budget to use for the research that you do with your colleagues. Also for PhD students, I find it important to consider what components in your research costs, how much money and to gain an understanding throughout the PhD course or duration of the PhD project to build an understanding of the cost implied into research project which then equips us for coming into a leadership position within academia or becoming an entrepreneur outside academia to start our own business like you and I did. And there are many opportunities to move from academic research into the entrepreneurial world. Focusing on that, with the work that you do now, what do you find not so challenging, but the opportunities that you saw unfolding as an entrepreneur adds intersection between these different sectors. Like what do you find most exciting about the work that you do? 

Marieke: Yeah, what I find exciting is bringing all those groups together because most people are focusing on their own peace. But the challenges we are facing with climate changes for example, or the energy crisis or things like that, you cannot solve them on your own. So I think it is great that in the coming years there is really a necessity to work more closely together with all kinds of stakeholders and research is a really important stakeholder for that. So what I see is, for example, that my brother works for a water company and he works one day a week for a high school in, how do you call it, University for Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. He works there for one day in a research Department and his role is to bring together the research into their working field of the water company. And what he is seeing now is a lot of research and I don’t know how you look at it, but a lot of research is done by universities or applied science schools used in a project as a pilot. But then it stops. And I think the challenge and the opportunity is how to bring that research and the learnings that research and pilot projects come up together, and bring it to the next projects. That is about knowledge building in those companies. And I think there is a really important challenge that business and University or science should work closely together to based on those pilots, build new curriculum for the future so you can teach students even better all new skills and competencies that are needed in the coming five years on really say huge challenges like climate changes, et cetera. So building together on a curriculum for future competencies and skills into organizations and bringing the knowledge into not only one pilot but towards many projects. I think that is the challenge. 

Jo: Yeah, it’s actually a huge challenge. And this is also what much of my work is focusing on how to open up research to other sectors of society. Also amongst researchers really to incentivize and support researchers in opening up their research in such a way that the knowledge accumulated within academia is reusable by researchers in a related discipline, by industry partners, by nonprofit organizations; the policy makers can also quicken and more easily learn from them. And the challenge lies for once in the packaging and accessibility of the research results, which researchers are trained to publish research articles, which are then very technical and research topic specific language, which is not easily comprehensible. But people are not specialists and professionals in that research field, necessarily. And then the way corporate partners or corporate people who do their own industry research, but they have a different lingo, different language, a different way to describe what they study and investigate and other products they develop. Now, the challenge is to and there’s a few professionals like science journalists or researchers turned journalists who try to bridge between these sectors. But there’s a lot of work to be done for researchers to learn how to make results reusable in a way. And for those of you listeners who have listened to previous episodes and other related episodes to this one, there’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of things that researchers can do on their part to make a research more applicable in real world and not just keep it hidden and shelves and repositories where they just sit to be knowledge collected. But yeah, oftentimes I also have colleagues who thought they were doing basic research and genetics to understand certain patterns and molecules throughout development of an organism. And then it turns out other researchers could make use of that knowledge to develop a treatment for a rare child disease. So you might never know what your research is capable of contributing towards or on material research. When you study the nature of what we discussed here today, the nature of materials and how to transform materials into different purposes or applicabilities that can then potentially be the next huge transition in more sustainable kitchen equipment.

This is really exciting, like in the work that we do with Access 2 perspectives, other colleagues in the open science ecosystem. And now with design thinking and product design, there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration and a lot is already happening thanks to the services that also you and your colleagues at Changemaker in Netherlands provide. So thank you so much for sharing some of your insights with our audience today. I would also like to cut this off abruptly. But is there, like, for some closing remarks, what else would you like to share with our audience today? 

Marieke: What I like to share is for researchers, think about how you can contribute in ecosystems, because in a lot of companies already, for example, at the Skipper Group, that is the airport of the Netherlands, at the innovation Department, they built their own ecosystem with different parties, also universities and scientists, etc. To work together in their case on a sustainable industry in the Airlines. And there should be a lot of transformation over there. But you also see that, for example, the Port of Rotterdam also builds their own ecosystem to solve together with scientists and universities and all kinds of entrepreneurs, the issues they are facing towards the future. So my recommendation to all researchers would be please try to get involved in those ecosystems where you really can provide your value, but also learn a lot from what is going into what is happening in practice. How can you apply that again in your research? So then you get the best of both words together. So that is what my recommendation would be. 

Jo: Yeah. And that also brings to mind, in my view, an opportunity to combine interest, the research interest with an interest for a hobby. For example, you mentioned Port. If you like sailing or I don’t know, boat cruises, then you might want to look at the suggestion to the Port ecosystem, like not so much the natural ecosystem, but ecosystems where you have industry partners and local challenges, different stakeholders, and then try to fit in your research interest into that scope of work or into a particular applied ecosystem or situation that you find exciting to explore further. So, yeah, that’s a nice takeaway and trigger for thoughts. 

Marieke: Yeah, it was nice to be your guest. Thanks again, Jo. 

Jo: You’re most welcome. It’s been a real pleasure for me and for you listeners. If you want to get in touch with Marieke, you can find a website associated with this episode. Just check out the show notes or go to our website where you find the blog post and more information and the LinkedIn profile for Marieke. And yeah, look up the resources that we compile in the list and explore. Design thinking is a huge world that’s informative for product design and also research design, really. And this is something that we also try to facilitate with Access 2 perspectives to bridge between these components, these approaches, different approaches to your research, and eventually also enable you to transition into different career paths. As Marieke has also shared with us, how you explore quite a variety of positions and work placements. Until now, you’ll find yourself being a solo entrepreneur or working actually in the team with your own company and being able to facilitate such exciting projects and changing the world to the better. 

Marieke: That’s what we are all aiming at. Thank you very much. 

Jo: Thank you again.  And see you soon. 

Marieke: See you soon. Bye.

References (related research articles)