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The Power of Innovation with IPG MediaBrands’ Ben Kwan


• Ben Kwan, CEO (Taiwan & Hong Kong), IPG MediaBrands, talks to The Mag about the power of innovation.
• Innovation has three components: time, skill and attitude.
• Innovative thinking can be nurtured by trying new things, reflecting on actions, talking to people outside of usual circles, and breaking from routine.


What’s the one thing that motivates you? “The Power Series” offers thought leadership insights from industry experts at Taikoo Place on the “power” of their initiatives in relation to everyday life. In June, we speak to Ben Kwan, CEO (Taiwan & Hong Kong) of IPG MediaBrands, about the power of innovation.

Our value as humans is the ability to innovate – to solve problems and to look at something and be able to reimagine what it is. With the rise of artificial intelligence, a lot of routine types of tasks are going to be done better by machines. What we bring, then, is our inquisitiveness – the foundation for innovation.

It is this inquisitiveness that drives me to explore the world. I started off as an engineer in the Silicon Valley. Later, I rolled the dice to pursue my entrepreneurial interest in Asia, where I was based in Shanghai for 10 years, doing mergers and acquisitions. The experience whetted my appetite in the marketing space, which eventually led me into the agency world, to Switzerland, before moving back to Asia to join IPG MediaBrands last year. I’m now based between Hong Kong and Taiwan. It’s been an eye-opening journey; I got to look at different problems from the perspectives of different parts of the world.

“As long as you have a clear direction, don’t fear failing; fear not trying. ”
Through this journey, I’ve also discovered that innovation has three key components: time, skill and attitude.

Everybody has a limited amount of time. How much time do you have to solve a certain problem, to get that innovation? If you consider climate change, that urgency for us to rethink the way we live, consume and experience is a time-sensitive topic. Or if you look at all the challenges brought upon by the pandemic, they have actually forced us to accelerate discussions that would have probably taken another decade to have. As a marketing solutions provider, we have had deeper conversations with our clientele to help them make use of technology to better communicate with their consumers during this unprecedented time.

The second component is related to resources, which include skills, time and number of volume capacity. It’s about asking “How?”, and then “What?”. Let’s say we want to reduce carbon emissions – how do we rethink transport and logistics? Perhaps, instead of commuting all the time, working from home can become part of the new normal. In this case, then, do we have the right resources in our skill set to deliver this innovation?

For marketers, e-commerce has been a theme of this past year. We’re asking ourselves: “How do we deliver products electronically? How do we establish a direct relationship with the consumers?” For our company, these questions led to a number of innovations in artificial intelligence, such as chatbots that act as virtual sales assistants. These new capabilities, or resources, allow us to engage the clients even more and predict changing consumer behaviours.
But to make all these happen, we also need people with the right attitude. That thirst, curiosity and desire to change are fundamental to innovation, which really starts at ourselves. Recognising the problem that we want to solve, and knowing that it’s potentially solvable, give us the confidence to go on and figure out the resources needed to achieve that change.

This attitude can be cultivated and nurtured. I have two young children, and my wife and I try to create an environment where they can learn how to fall and get up quickly. We want them to have the courage to go explore and try new things without worries of failing. This is something that we often overlook, especially in our Asian culture where we value discipline, conformity, and not getting out of line. But to stimulate that innovative thinking, we have to get away from that fear. As long as you have a clear direction as to where you want to go, don’t fear failing; fear not trying.

As grown-ups, we can become numb to new opportunities because we’re just so busy and tired. That’s why I ask my team to allocate 20% of their time each week to simply reflect on what they want to do, what they are doing now and what they want done next – which will ultimately lead to the question: “Why am I still doing the same thing?” We need continuous optimisation to drive a whole new freshness to what we bring to the table.

We also need to talk to people outside of our immediate domain to keep our minds fresh. This is actually why it’s so exciting for me to be part of this industry, where we have creatives working with technologists, who are usually very analytical. It’s not easy to break our own silos down and collaborate with people who are so different from us, yet it opens our eyes and unlocks true innovation.

Finally, innovation happens when we get out of the routine. Take a different route to work, experience something different – it forces you to take notice again and stimulates your mind. Sometimes we need a nudge to switch things up, so as a leader and an enabler, it’s my job to encourage and give individuals the opportunity to try something that they don’t normally do; something that taps into their talents and innovative minds. And that in turn inspires me to keep pushing forward to expand, explore and grow.

What else does it take to activate our innovative spirit? Read about the Power of 5G with HKT’s Natalie Chan.

Do you work at Taikoo Place and want to be featured in The Power Series? Get in touch.
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