Vedran Antoljak is one of the lecturers that will be attending this year’s Dubrovnik Summer School. He is also a management consulting expert and a managing director of Sense Consulting, the biggest Croatian company for business consulting according to Financial Times. In his 20-year-career, he successfully developed and sold his own company for consulting in ICT sector in Austria and he was a senior consultant in the leading global company for strategic consulting. Moreover, for four years he was at the head of the Croatian office of International Finance Corporation (IFC) and for five years he worked as regional private sector specialist of the World Bank. We talked about what topics he will cover at Dubrovnik Summer School and what students can expect to learn from him.
- You have had 20 years long career in management and consulting. Regarding that experience, what are the most important skills, knowledge and experiences that young people should learn or experience to become successful business(wo)men and why are they so important?
Since the beginning of my career the mix of most important skill of very good management consultant has changed along the lines with ongoing changes in the economy and our way of life. For example, 20 years ago you couldn’t get a job in management consulting without a degree of a good business school (local or international) and a set of analytical skills with strong emphasis on Finance. Today, the best school became less relevant as your education background, but wide and different experience, creativity and innovative approaches are required. The management consultant of the 21st century still has to have strong analytical skills, but also have to be able to apply intuition in creating the best solution for client’s challenges. Finally, the best consultant should have a high level of empathy and sense for design.
- Also, what are the three most valued characteristics that make the difference between a good and an excellent business(wo)man?
Nowadays, the imperative for every business(wo)man is to be a leader with a high level of empathy, great communication skills and be able to solve problems and make a decision in time. The best business(wo)man would also have a powerful network of people, a wide range of different interests, and sense for humor. Personally, I always appreciate business(wo)man that are able to challenge everything including its own suggestions, results or decisions.
- This year’s main topic of DSS is intellectual capital and business freedom. How does your expertise contribute to that topic?
The analysis are saying that, in general, the value of the best international corporation consists of 20% of tangible assets and 80% intangible assets i.e. intellectual. Intellectual capital is very important for any service industry, especially the knowledge industry such as management consulting. Sense Consulting, which I lead for last 8 years, is the first company in the southeast Europe with a license for IC Rating – world’s most used methodology for measuring intellectual capital. We also strongly promote the use of Evlia and SmarterCompaies methodologies for evaluation of future value potential of a company.
- Both in your lectures and workshops you reference innovation in business. Obviously it is an important skill, but to what extent do you mean innovation, do you think it is only preserved to people who are very creative or is it a skill that can be learned?
Business people just to think that creativity is reserved for other people and that rational i.e. analytical approach do not go along with creativity i.e. intuition. This is wrong! Everyone can be creative and it has become a requirement for business people to develop their creative skills in order to become better. In current complex times where professional and personal lives are integrated, where changes in the environment very fast, and where knowledge is developing like never ever before – a business people have to bundle their analytical and creative skills in order to find solutions for multidimensional challenges. This can be learned.
- If it can be learned, what is the best way to start the process of learning it and acquiring that “think outside the box” mindset?
We could not solve the problems we created with same approaches we used to create them. In last 5 years, Design Thinking has proven as very effective problem solving approach for modern business challenges where other traditional methods and tools have proven inappropriate or less effective. Design Thinking is the best approach that helps people on the systematic way to develop cooperation between their left and right side of the brain. The outcome of such approach is innovation. Design Thinking is not a linear process but a sort of guidelines on how to approach complex challenges from different perspectives and by using tools that are much more effective.
- In your workshop that you will be holding this summer in Dubrovnik you talk about design thinking as an important tool for future businessman. Without going in depth can you give us the basic concept of design thinking and tell us what makes it so important and unique to other cognitive problem solving tools.
What’s so attractive Design Thinking is that it allows us to combine “right-brained” creative thinking with “left-brained” analytical thinking. In this day and age where we know we need innovation and, at the same time, we know we need to run our organizations as effectively and efficiently as possible, Design Thinking offers us a process and a set of tools to bring the best of both worlds into our decision-making process.
- Also, do you have any real life situation where design thinking helped you to solve a problem that you thought you won’t be able to solve?
We in Sense Consulting are practicing Design Thinking for few years for finding the best solution for our client’s business challenges, but also as the tool for many internal issues within our company. The real life situation where we used Design Thinking approach was when a bank asked us to find solutions to attract more teenagers to use financial (banking) services. By engaging different non-banking people through the two-day workshop, three groups applied Design Thinking. Each group developed a completely different prototype and presented it to a banker responsible for new product development. The outcome was that two groups were invited to present their solution to bank’s management.
- To sum up, do you have any advice or something else you would like to share with all the students that will be attending this year’s Dubrovnik Summer School?
Life is beautiful! Don’t waste your time by trying to achieve somebody else’s dream. Pursue your own dream, learn all about it, challenge that knowledge and stay open for changing yourself all the time. Finally, try to be the best in what you do and don’t be discouraged by failures. Learn out of your mistakes as without them you can’t be successful.