My name is Arne Stjernholm Madsen. Since 1997, I’ve worked as an advocate and facilitator of innovation and new business creation in large corporations.
I bridge between industrial practice and academic research: I took a PhD at Copenhagen Business School on The evolution of innovation strategy in June 2012, and alongside my job as innovation manager I speak at universities as well as large corporations and industrial networks. You can read more here and invite me to speak at your organization.

Staging innovation

Increased globalization in business competition makes the ability to innovate and to redefine strategy crucial to a company. An interesting question however is if a management team can control innovation and strategic renewal of the company at all; or do such changes emerge, driven by external events or by bottom-up processes in the organization? This dilemma between control and experimentation is not only a key issue in innovation management; it’s also what makes the field so fascinating – whenever you catch the top, it stops spinning…

Credo for leading bottom-up innovation – from behind
In a short tale, Franz Kafka describes a philosopher who believes he could grasp the whole world if he could understand a single element in it. He is fascinated by children’s spinning top and hopes to be able to catch the top whilst spinning in order to understand it; but every time he succeeds in catching it, he stands with a daft piece of wood.
The tale can be seen as an image of corporate innovation: the organization spins from the energy of spontaneous ideas, but their directions are totally unpredictable. “We should manage this better” is the corporate response. Then scenarios are created, goals are set, strategies are formed and plans are made. As result, you end with a corporate innovation effort which is as predictable as a five-year plan in a communist state.
The middle way is to respect the yin-yang of innovation management between top-down foresight and bottom-up insight, between setting direction and letting go. Top-down visions are needed; but so is the relative autonomy of bottom-up initiatives. Top-down innovation management and bottom-up innovation leadership are two distinct disciplines; the first is oriented towards executing on goals and ambitions – the latter towards exploration and experimentation. We let Nelson Mandela speak:

  • “A shepherd stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind” (in “Long Walk to Freedom” – thanks to Emer. Prof. J-P Deschamps, IMD!)

Leading from behind is controversial to traditional management, where you show the way ahead and expect the organization to follow. Leading bottom-up innovation from behind requires top management to define the frame and the priorities; and then let go and be open for whatever emerges.
During the last four years, my role at Novo Nordisk Device R&D has been exactly to lead the bottom-up innovation from behind, using dialogue-based idea management and project onboarding. I shall be happy to share my experiences.

Forming the new innovation language

These years, innovation transforms from being a distinct corporate practice to becoming a deliberate discipline of Innovation Management. We can draw a parallel to the field of corporate strategy: there was no language to name what you were doing until the birth of Strategic Management in the 1960’s. In other words, you could see the practical results of your strategies, but there was no framework for reflecting and learning about strategy making. “You can’t tame what you can’t name”. It’s my professional mission to contribute to the creation of Innovation Management as a deliberate discipline – in other words, to form the new innovation language in the interaction between theory and practice.

I live in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I have pushed the development of the innovation discipline forward. First of all by founding the Danish Initiative for Creativity & Innovation in 2000, for which I served as a president until 2006.
I also served as a chairman of the planning committee for the 10th European Conference on Creativity & Innovation, ECCI X, held at Copenhagen Business School in 2007, as well as of other innovation conferences in Denmark. Last, not least, I’m a passionate networker and I share experiences and knowledge across companies and industries.

  arne stjernholm madsen

Personal definition
of innovation:


Personal slogan:





Arne Stjernholm Madsen (Copyright)
Fengersvej 7, DK-2500 Valby, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel +45 36 16 43 93