Video Quick Take: KPMG’s Jens Rassloff on Curiosity Driving Creativity

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Julie Devoll, HBR 
Welcome to the HBR Video Quick Take. I’m Julie Devoll, editor of special projects at HBR. And today, I’m joined by Jens Rassloff, Head of Strategic Relations and Investments at KPMG International, to discuss how to turn curiosity into capability. Jens, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Hey, Julie. Thanks for the invite. Hope you’re doing well.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
Let’s start off with what fuels your curiosity?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Well, I guess curiosity is something you’re born with. For me, it is the motivational drive for learning, for understanding, for knowledge, and that you care about others. There’s a drive to explore. And for me, getting inspiration and stimulation from the outside world, from travel, from art, meeting other people in different businesses, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds.

Imagination and creativity are key drivers for innovation and change for us.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
How are you encouraging curiosity within KPMG?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Bringing together different parts of the business in KPMG is to encourage diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and bringing people together.

Creative ideas and innovative approaches emerge every day from all sorts of different people in our firm and in our network, regardless of their role, of their position, or which industry they are working in. So innovation is not done in a department. I don’t believe that you need to have a structured process to organize it. But innovation is happening everywhere. And what we have definitely learned is there is no innovation in isolation.

We try to take a very integrated approach to creativity and innovation. And I try, for example, to have a very mixed team with different backgrounds. So be it age, gender, nationality, education. So, for example, we have everything in our team, from a PhD in archaeology to mathematicians and entrepreneurs who did run their own business before. And I think that is what drives innovation and curiosity, and developing and enhancing an alliance ecosystem and a partner system to ensure we really work with the best people in the business and get them to stimulate us with new ideas, and then help to drive information, and complement our skill set.

We cannot be best in class for everything, but we can partner with people who are best in class, and vice versa.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
When you were a new leader, what were you most curious about, or what do you feel you should have been more curious about?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Great question. I spent a good portion of my career working in alliance areas, working in areas with third parties, with partners. And I now realize that this environment was actually very homogeneous in a good and in a bad way.

When you look on how alliance organizations are shaped today, they are very often designed in a very classic way. And then partner groups talk to partner groups. And then partnering for the sake of partnering doesn’t bring us forward.

So if we really want to innovate, and if we really want to drive something forward, I think we can really make a difference when we integrate the client into our partnership. We see many clients who are highly innovative and who rather want to be more in a partner and co-innovation position rather than be in a client situation.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
Jens, how would you describe the relationship between curiosity and innovation?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
I think you cannot have one without the other.

And I think you have to understand that if you’re curious and you see the dynamic nature of our world, that means innovation happens all the time, every day, everywhere. You just need to be curious to look at it, to find it, and then just not to be blind in your business. And many times, it is really a single person with a single idea that can make real big impact, and you just need to give them the room, and you need to give them the ability, and the structure, and sometimes the processes in big enterprises to bring that to daylight.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
I’m going to switch gears a little and look into the future a bit. What areas of technological innovation do you think have the most potential to change the world?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Wow. I think the future will be very technology and IT-driven, and even more now post-pandemic. But it is definitely still cloud. I think it will be the base for us to use the right compute power for digital transformation. And many, many firms embraced it, but there is still, in some areas, resistance. But there is no way not to embrace the opportunities you have working with the cloud.

The other one, which will be probably even a bigger impact—and I don’t think it is that far out—is going to be AI. So when you have seen what tremendous developments we went through over the last three, four years, I think that will just go up exponentially over the next years. And then what you see [is] that blockchain as a technology becomes used widely, not only around cryptocurrencies but in many other business areas as well.

And then, of course, I think the biggest change—and that might be a little bit further out—will be quantum computing. So when you see the massive investments the hyperscale providers put in that area, that will change the way we look at IT and then how we look at IT capabilities in an absolutely big way.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
What about data and analytics? What problems are you seeing that solving next?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
So when you look at data and analytics and the long way we have come over the last five years to democratize it, I think that worked well. So it’s way easier to use, and it’s not just some data scientists who can work on very complex stuff. It is being made, with the market leaders in that area, available in daily business applications. And I think you need to combine it with AI and how AI plays with big masses of data.

But I think in the energy area, it will definitely help us to be more efficient with our carbon footprint. So the more we know about how my building works, the more we know about how a city works, and the better we can analyze this data or work with AI technologies on this data, that will massively help us in our ESG agenda.

Health care is another thing [where we] see what happened over the last years in the research area, and that you need to have the right data available, and you need to be able to process the amount of data. And then, again, performing AI with AI technologies, performing on this data. That is giving us incredibly great results when you look at cancer research or in other areas. That will definitely change a lot in the next years.

So when you look [at] the masses of data we have available today, we need to work with them in a responsible way, whether this is enterprises or government. But it also, in a good way, gives us a lot of opportunities to make environments, to make applications much more safe than we have them today.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
I want to conclude with a question about the pandemic. Are you seeing us emerge more curious and innovative? And if so, what are some of the examples?

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
The world is definitely changed after the pandemic towards a more digital world.

What we have definitely seen is that collaborating and the sharing of ideas across broader teams, across broader regions, is definitely way more accepted. So it is basically now irrelevant in our firm where you are based.

And the other thing is definitely on the collaboration—when the pressure is really on, that we collaborate beyond economic interests. I think that is a positive move.

We really need to think about how we, in a responsible way—and technology can help us there with the right workplace analytics to take care of our workforce—that you don’t get into the spin if it is digitized, which is going faster and faster.

Julie Devoll, HBR 
Jens, this has been a great discussion. I want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Jens Rassloff, KPMG
Thank you.

KPMG and SAS partner to help customers across a variety of industries and initiatives including expected credit loss, risk management and Cloud. See how curiosity can spark meaningful innovation at sas.com/curiosity.

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