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Energy Solutions for New Generations: Design Thinking at Innogy

I first came into contact with design thinking when I needed an idea”, Itai Ben-Jacob explains. In 2015, he intended to explore one of innogy’s innovation focus areas, “urban mobility.” Together with fellow innovation hub members he organized a series of design thinking workshops to wade through the expansive topic of urban concepts – one of them focusing on mobility: “We wanted to understand urban mobility – what does it actually entail? What type of business should we start?

Itai Ben-Jacob and a colleague, a trained design thinking coach, prepared and facilitated the workshops. Participants came from different backgrounds – the team consisted of Innogy employees as well as external experts from mobility businesses, researchers, representatives of the municipality, and external start-ups. Together, the participants attempted to work out the scope of “urban mobility”: “We tried to understand which blocks this topic consists of, and which problems lie within these blocks. For example public transport – which problems exist here? How big are they? Who suffers from these problems?

In this problem definition phase, they approached the potential customer base: “We had experts who brought their experience in, and we spread surveys through our channels”, Itai Ben-Jacob explains. “We got good responses there”, he says, but his personal “Aha moment“ happened during the problem redefinition: “When we dissected problem areas into smaller ingredients and identified which internal resources we have. For me, something just clicked in that moment: On the one hand there’s a huge problem, on the other hand we have resources that are underutilized, and we can use them to solve this problem – and now we need to find a solution that connects all the dots.” The problem? The “chicken and egg” dilemma of eMobility. Energy providers don’t develop the charging stations network further because there are not enough e-cars. On the other side, car manufacturers don’t produce e-cars because there are not enough charging stations. By linking the existing – but underutilized – innogy charging stations network to the problem, Itai Ben-Jacob and his colleague Christian Uhlich developed the solution of eCar Sharing: A project in which innogy provides local communities, local businesses and citizens access to flexible, electric mobility solutions. Users can book eCars on the internet and pick them up at the innogy charging stations – an offer that’s especially attractive for municipalities or companies that wish to provide their employees with eco-friendly eCars but are unwilling or unable to maintain their own vehicle fleet.

Launching the innogy eCarSharing project: Christian Uhlich, Itai Ben-Jacob and Pavel Tomíček. (from left to right).

In the next nine months, Itai Ben-Jacob went from pitching the idea to assembling a team to developing a minimal type of proof of concept, which was „the moment we got someone to pay for this“, he explains. The team went back to the innovation hub management with this result: „It exists, it works, somebody pays for it – now we need the resources to scale it up and integrate it into the company.“ Being closely connected to existing resources in innogy, the eCarSharing project was established internally rather than split up into a separate company. In mid-2017, innogy’s eCarSharing operates in four German communities with more than 12 eCars and already saved more than 1,5 tons of CO2 emissions. The team, now also including eMobility expert Pavel Tomicek, finished the proof of concept stage and prepares for scaling up.


Innogy’s Innovation Hub

Innogy established their innovation hub in the second half of 2015, with the mission to „create a sustainable energy system for new generations to live in a world worth having“. Believing that an organization cannot support the mainstream customers and push for disruptive technology at the same time, innogy launched the innovation hub as an independent body within the company. Thereby, the hub could be embedded among emerging customers in need of disruptive technology.

Five Topics of Innovation

Innogy has defined five “focus topics of innovation” for their hub:

  • Smart & Connected: focusing on safety, security, connected business, independent living, contextual learning & behavior
  • Disruptive Digital: focusing on energy generation, trading, grid, and retail
  • Urban Solutions: focusing on citizen services, urban mobility, and urban energy systems
  • Machine Economy: focusing on the areas of track, transact, transmit, and transform in enabling machines to enhance the comfort, convenience, and security in human societies
  • Big Data: focusing on asset operations, consumer lifestyle, game changing Technologies, and privacy & trust

There are two ways to develop a business in the Innogy innovation hub: Venture developers either look for start-ups that work within their innovation focus areas, or come up with their own startup business model. Before long, on both of these paths the developers have to pitch in front of the innovation hub management – which either dismisses or approves the plan with proposals for improvements and milestone expectations. The goal of these developments is either to spin the startup off into a separate company or build it up internally.

Spreading Design Thinking Within Innogy

For Itai Ben-Jacob, design thinking is „a creative way to find ideas for solutions for problems that are worth solving, in a very efficient way. Otherwise you wouldn’t probably get to this kind of idea.“

Design thinking is a creative way to find ideas for solutions for problems that are worth solving, in a very efficient way.

While working with creative methods is the common mode in the innovation hub, employees in other parts of innogy are new to design thinking. They may explore the method through trainings, for example by booking workshops with LRN LAB (learn lab), a business unit within the in-house consultancy of innogy. Founded internally in the beginning of 2017, LRN LAB consults innogy employees as well as external customers in the context of digital transformation with the help of different methods and tools. “Design thinking isn’t the only method we do trainings on, it is one of several”, senior consultant Nadja Krombach explains. Agile, Scrum and Lean Startup are further topics that employees are eager to explore, for example in the innogy departments of IT, Human Resources, and Retail.

  • Design thinking workshops at innogy: The LRN LAB team does ‘train the trainer’ settings as well as courses where design thinking is applied with a real case.
  • Design thinking workshops at innogy: The LRN LAB team does ‘train the trainer’ settings as well as courses where design thinking is applied with a real case.
  • Design thinking workshops at innogy: The LRN LAB team does ‘train the trainer’ settings as well as courses where design thinking is applied with a real case.

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Competence Model

Tackling their own challenge in a design thinking method training, the LRN LAB team focused on helping managers handling insecurities or decision-making situations. Design thinking helped them to consider extreme user groups: Next to executives, the team interviewed pilots, air traffic controllers and extreme mountain climbers to learn about their decision-making strategies in stress situations. Based on these insights, the LRN LAB team developed a competence model prototype. The competence model demonstrates which competencies are crucial in decision-making situations and can be used as a basis for developing new training formats.


With an attitude of design thinking we push towards enabling a cultural transformation, towards a company that is more agile and has less hierarchies.


On the one hand, we do ‘train the trainer’ settings, where we train the innogy colleagues so they transport their knowledge into the company”, Nadja Krombach says, “and on the other hand we do workshops where we apply design thinking with a real case.” The LRN LAB crew aims to solve concrete business challenges with DT in these workshops, but the setting also depends on the time frame of the customer.

We want to initiate a cultural change in the company”, project lead Jumana Marji explains, who understands design thinking more as an attitude than a method. “With an attitude of design thinking we push towards enabling a cultural transformation, towards a company that is more agile and has less hierarchies.”

New #energy ideas at @innogy 's innovation hub!
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