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Innovation - A Global Tournament

Maria Mileder, Global Head of Innovation

"If 20 random volunteers can pull off a tournament that now includes 1000s of employees with next to no budget whatsoever, then, you know, everyone else can do their small bit."

In this episode, we are pleased to welcome Maria Mileder, Global Head of Innovation at PayPal. As an expert in the Technology and Innovation space, Maria has been accompanying PayPal for more than 12 years now. Her mission: Enabling everyone to find their entryway into innovation.

Together with Maria, we take a look into PayPal's innovation toolbox and learn that innovation has less to do with titles but more with cultural values. The fact that innovation often starts small and is the result of the interplay of many individuals' contributions becomes especially clear when we talk about PayPal's Global Innovation Tournament. If you want to learn more about this concept to foster and enhance innovation, this is your episode!

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

Innovation: a cultural value

Chris: Hi, and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth and in this episode, I am thrilled to welcome Maria Mileder, Global Head of Innovation at PayPal. Maria focuses on building and scaling innovation and thereby enabling each employee at PayPal to make a difference. She also owns both PayPal's global innovation strategy and its execution and among many other things, she oversees the Global Innovation Ambassador Network, spread across more than 11 locations. I'm really excited to have you on the show, Maria. Thanks much for joining Innovation Rockstars.

Maria: Thanks so much, Chris. I'm really excited about our conversation.

Chris: All right. Let's kick things off with a 60 seconds introduction sprint. The sprint is all about you, your career, and your current role at PayPal. I have my digital stopwatch here. So for the next 60 seconds, the stage is all yours. Let's go.

Maria: So academically speaking, my background is in sociology and economics, which I think gives me a really broad basis to do whatever I want. And this is exactly what I did. I joined PayPal 12,5 years ago, very much focusing on the world of compliance from every possible angle, thinking that this is my career and my path in the future. When I entered the Technology Leadership Program, a two-year rotational program at PayPal, I realized that it wasn't. And what I had found for myself was the world of innovation. And I've never looked back since. And like you said, Chris, what I do in my day-to-day is lead the global program, try to give people the skills to drive innovation so they can be the innovators that they truly are in their day-to-day, which is enjoyable. It's a super complex problem, and I'm loving it.

Chris: Great statement. Okay, thank you. Now, as a next thing, here are three sentence starters for you, and I would like you to complete them. So let's start with number one: “I recently moved to San Jose because…”?

Maria: Because, personally, I was seeking a challenge, and that was the challenge on offer professionally. And Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation, not the only one anymore, but still. And coming from Ireland, the sun was a big perk.

Chris: It definitely was. Okay, number two: “A fun week for me means…”?

Maria: A fun week for me at work means hustle, and bustle, and a big challenge on the horizon that I don't know anything about yet. So I love spontaneous things mixed with some comfort. And comfort for me at work means working with my trusted colleagues and network, thinking about something new, and figuring something out that we want to solve. That is my comfort zone. And maybe even achieving some goals at the end. That truly is a fun week for me at PayPal, believe it or not.

Chris: Got it. Well, at least to me, that sounds fun. And finally, number three: “In my personal opinion, the next disruption will be…”?

Maria: The next disruption will be when we realize that we reach the curve of no return. So hopefully that won't happen to PayPal, but I feel there's still a lot to learn in that journey of innovation. When do we truly have to think about disrupting ourselves? How do we disrupt ourselves all the time? This is an ongoing thing. It's not a new thing, but I have the feeling that many of us have not yet fully grasped this idea. And in terms of technology, I know we talk a lot about blockchain. I think we need to look at this a lot more, also from an environmental perspective and whatnot. I still think that it can be a disruptor of the future, but in different ways than we're imagining today. Very different ways, actually.

Chris: Great insights. And I love the statement about disrupting ourselves or disrupting yourself. Thanks for that. Maria, you started off at PayPal as a compliance analyst back in 2009. And today, a mere 12 years later, you represent PayPal as its Global Head of Innovation. So, first of all, congratulations! Now, how to go from being a compliance analyst, which requires different skills, different mindsets, to leading the innovation program of PayPal? I mean, personally, I do not believe in linear career paths, but I'm just curious, what is your story?

Maria: First of all, thank you so much. Very kind of you to note and also to ask because I am so with you regarding linear career paths. You know, we always want to have a linear path. It makes a lot more sense. You can plan your future around that. But that's just not how life works. At least in my case, that's not how it worked out. And I'm glad about it. But I think upon reflection and thinking about my own journey, what I realized is really two things that always ring true, whatever I have done and I'm sure whatever I will do. The first one is I never cannot ask questions. There are always a million and one things in my head that I just would love to ask. And it's not for the sake of asking, not to be obnoxious, not to know every intrinsic detail. The detail always comes later for me. I'm painting a picture in my head about what a topic is all about, and what it means truly. And I want to get the context. So for me, that curiosity and asking questions is a recurring theme. This is where I truly find the different angles in a conversation. I don't want to jump to conclusions. And what I also don't want to miss out on is that personal element, the person I'm speaking to, where they're coming from, what it means when they're presenting that topic. So it's kind of like empathy and how it complements my curiosity. 

“Imagine how many roles you truly fit into if you just see yourself as a collection of the skills as opposed to a collection of tasks that you've done.”

And I think the second one is, and no pity, please, because it's not required, is never quite feeling like you fit in. I think I had that all my life. And I very much know now that what it means is that I always strive to be better, and strive to do better. I want to know more things. And with that, you just continuously challenge yourself. You know, it's not always a fun place to be. And I think a lot of us have been in the same position, especially when it kind of happens all the time. But I've learned to translate that into “This is good, you're onto something, Maria.” You know, persevere and keep on going with it. So this is kind of where it led me to trust myself, ask more questions, and get further ahead. And that's also where that feeling came from. However, for everyone who feels like they can't put up with always feeling uncomfortable, I've also learned to create my comfort space in the change. So to me, visually speaking, what that means is, if you have a lot of plates that are moving, I kind of find my place where the plates overlap. This is where I feel comfortable. And this is where I can hang out when I have to retrieve from all those vulnerable feelings. I think this is always where it came from. And ultimately, I learned how to translate the skills that I have into the spaces, the departments, that I've worked in, in the roles that I've learned about, and the roles that I've had myself. I don't see myself as an innovation manager or anything like that. I see myself as a collection of skills. And this is how I would always ask everyone else to think about it as well. Because imagine how many roles you truly fit into if you just see yourself as a collection of skills as opposed to a collection of tasks that you've done.

Chris: Yes, totally true. And you know, we do live in nonlinear times. So I think this is a really healthy mindset to be in. And following up on that, you know, is there a typical career in the innovation space anyhow? What would you say?

Maria: Personally speaking, I don't think so. And I think that makes it a lot more interesting for me. Of course, you can strive to have a career in innovation. If you study innovation management, of course, this is where you want to go. But I think it does limit you in the spaces that are out there. I get that all the time. Why don't you have more spaces on your team? Why are there not more of you across the company? Believe me, you know, that would be lovely, but that's also not how people operate. And I think a lot of other companies do neither. So to me, it is very much the journey of understanding what kind of skills you bring to the table and knowing that you can be an innovator, even if you don't have an innovation title if that makes sense. I know of a lot of people at PayPal and X-ray that I would consider as innovators and they're highly regarded as that. But they might be a product manager or an engineer or whatever their actual title is, because that's also where a passion of theirs lies, because they innovate on a daily basis, so to speak, and they're entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs or whatever, and just demonstrate those skills. So I know that doesn't sound as exciting maybe, but what it actually allows you to do, like it allows my colleagues, is if they have two passions - they're passionate about innovation and also passionate about social justice or whatever the case may be - they can combine those two and be known for both. 

Chris: Got it. And you know, frankly speaking, I guess there is absolutely an argument for saying just because you do not have innovation in your title, you're still, of course, innovating. You're maybe developing great products, you're strategizing, you're doing whatever tactical stuff, but it's innovative, it's new, it's something that was maybe not seen before. So, you know, don't go for the title bashing if you want to work in innovation, right?

Maria: This is it, but I know that the world is a very title-driven world. I understand that. I realize that it is easier to categorize, it's easier to screen from an HR perspective, but that's truly not the world we're going to live in going forward. I mean, the Instagrams of the world, you can create your own personal brand and that often doesn't have anything to do with your job title at all. So to me, it's almost like looking behind the curtains and forming your own opinion of that person as well if you can. It doesn't streamline your HR process, but it does make it a lot more interesting, I can tell you that.

Cut the noise, distill signals

Chris: Yeah, and it makes lots of sense. So let's now turn to PayPal. In December 1998, PayPal was originally established by Peter Thiel, Luke Nosik, and Max Levchin, formerly known as Konfinity. And then, somewhere in 2000, Konfinity merged with, which was an online financial services company founded by Elon Musk. And soon after, the merger was then renamed PayPal in, I guess, 2001 and then went public in 2002. And really, from day one onwards, PayPal was designed to be a disruptor. And now it's been well established for years, but of course, technological advancements are progressing rapidly. I mean, just think of no-touch payments, all the fintechs, but also cryptocurrencies given Bitcoin, the Lightning Network, Ripple Labs, XRP, or XTC, XLM, but also Stripe and Coinbase and things we heard from Twitter and so on and so on. So, Maria, my question to you is how to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological progress

Maria: You know, it's funny, I literally went on LinkedIn yesterday and a colleague of mine posted something in that sense that totally resonated with me and basically said, there's just so much going on. The pace is incredible. It nearly overruns you. You feel like you're railroaded every single time. And I think what matters here is trying to figure out how to reduce the noise in the industry and take what's valuable to you. And yes, that is subjective. Yes, that can only be one thing after the other, maybe some parallel streams, but I think it's so important to be clear in your head on what's going on. You just cannot be everywhere at any given time. You basically disarm yourself if you do that. So I think if you're passionate and motivated about something, you'll always start hyper-focusing anyway. For example, if someone tells you “Oh, I haven't seen a red car in ages”, the next thing that happens is you see three, four, five red cars, just because your brain then hones in on it. So I think allowing yourself to do that, going down certain rabbit holes and not all of them, that is one way that I go about it. So I trust my own alarm system if that makes sense. But what I do a lot as well is talking to my colleagues. What are they thinking about? What are they worried about? You know, where do they feel there's something going on? Because especially if you talk to colleagues from different departments, they're all linked in with their own industry. And eventually, you see a consensus. It's like customer research, I guess. Eventually, you see certain themes coming back all the time. And maybe the third one I'd say is to be careful with people just bringing back the news of the day or bringing back something they just read one-on-one. You want to have people who have reflected on something a bit more than just reading and sharing, if that makes sense, even though that's also an element, of course.

Chris: So cutting the noise, distilling the signals; that’s a highly subjective and a challenging task to do. Regarding the technological process, that's technology push, right, but is it the same for market pull, for ever-changing consumer needs, or would you say it's different there?

Maria: Yes and no. I feel because humans are so complex, there are just different ways how we have to hone in on what we're hearing from customers. First of all, we need to talk to our own customers on an ongoing basis. So establish a quick rapport with different kinds of customers so a product manager can kind of always be on a straight arrow. You do maybe a big customer research piece at the very beginning of product creation, but then it's more about tapping in throughout that journey to stay on top. And again, here, removing the noise and distilling is important, but you can't assume that what was true a year ago still holds true. So definitely consult with your ongoing customer base. Another one, though, is to always consider what are the non-customers thinking. Why aren't they using your service or your product? You know, what are they thinking about? I mean, most of the time, they prefer competitors. Why is that? But hear it from them, not just analyze the competitor, and then see if there's anything else about that.

“Humans are so complex, there's just different ways of how we have to hone in on what we're hearing from customers.”

And then my favorite one, which by far is the hardest, is to observe customer needs that a customer has but doesn't even realize that they have it. There’s a great author, Ben Bensaou, who wrote ‘Built to Innovate’, and I love this example because it resonates a lot with me as a tea drinker. Philips, the electronics company, wanted to figure out how people use their products, one of which was a water kettle/ water heater. And they realized that the customers in England had all these white bits floating in their tea because the line scale rate was so high, which they didn't like. So they all started filtering the water as they poured it out. Philips realized that that was something that everyone did, and not a single customer complained about it. They just substitute it. Because we do that as humans, we just substitute a lot without realizing, and figure things out to make our lives easier. They added a filter, and their numbers soared to no end. And this is where it gets interesting. No one needed an iPhone until we had an iPhone, and now we can't live without, for example.

Chris: That's definitely a growth hack. And I know this as trying to understand and also fulfill unmet customer needs, however, oftentimes, these unmet customer needs are also unknown, as you say, by the customers or consumers themselves. But certainly, if you kind of excel in that, I'm pretty sure this is a very, very powerful thing to do to fuel charge growth and your products and product development in general. So that's great. And now, before we look at how PayPal understands and embraces innovation on a global scale, let's play a quick game which is called Either Or. So that is a game of choice, Maria. And I will give you two options. You choose one and then spend one sentence each to briefly explain your choice, all right? So number one: Would you either stop working in innovation or stop working at PayPal, and why?

Maria: You went right there, did you? Oh, my God. You know, for me, it's innovation all the way. BUT as I said, there are lots of options that you can be an innovator in different roles. And I know that there is always a place for me at PayPal. So now I gave you both, and that wasn't allowed, I’m sure, but it has to be innovation for me for sure so I can share my skill set. But that does not exclude PayPal.

Chris: Yeah, that's okay. So number two: Would you either get a free ticket for the Wacken Open Air or Tomorrowland Festival?

Maria: Oh, Tomorrowland, all the way.

Chris: Okay, that was fast. And I got another one. The third one is: Would you either want to be able to see into the future or go back in time and change one thing?

Maria: Future. Definitely the future. I've learned from watching films when you change something in the past, you do not know what's happening when you go back to the present. And I do not regret what I've done. You know, there's a lot of learning, but I do not regret what has happened. And I'd rather know maybe what's in the future to a certain degree, not to a great degree.

The three horizon innovation model

Chris: Okay, interesting. Great choices. Now let's talk innovation at PayPal, especially on a global scale. We know innovation is a serious business and not just some PR stunt. You do not invest a significant amount of both human and financial capital in innovation just for fun, right? It has to have a significant impact on the business. So how does PayPal actually understand innovation?

Maria: First of all, PayPal does not have a centralized R&D structure. That's just not how we operate. We have a decentralized model where it's everyone's business to chip in, be innovative, and, you know, improve every day. But the way we see it is from the Horizon levels point of view, so Horizon 1, 2, and 3. So Horizon 1 is the innovation that happens on a daily basis in people's roles and jobs, and it's kind of like an ongoing usage of the toolkit that they have. Horizon 2 is one to three years in and around and sort of more forward-looking but still quite immediate. And Horizon 3 is definitely three years and beyond. I would usually say five to ten years if we try to motivate our employees. And that is a hard feat. You don't really know where that's going. But what it allows you at Horizon 3 is that you can stage this entire environment. You can make assumptions that might ring true in the future or not. And you can understand resourcing needs and the headcount that you might need. So you can understand potentially what the investment could be. And with that, you then set milestones against your critical assumptions, and then you see if you hit them or not. And then you understand whether you write off your investment very consciously. It has to be a conscious effort, not a side thing.

“We hear this too much everywhere that a project needs to be finished because too much money was invested already. And this is exactly what we shouldn't be doing.”

And we want to do that because we don't want to be at the risk of falling into sunk cost fallacy. That's something that we're really aware of because we hear this too much everywhere that a project needs to be finished because too much money was invested already. And this is exactly what we shouldn't be doing, especially as we're really trying to think along different lines. Because everywhere else, you can't really measure as much. Our involvement of employees in how to bring it into their day to day very hard to measure. Horizon 2 is slightly better. But the attitude should still be the same. 'Fail fast to learn' should be the motivation and the motto, not the money that we've put in. So this is really something that we're consciously trying to drive home. But as humans, we always want to go there, so it’s really hard. But that's where we're coming from at PayPal.

Chris: Interesting. So sunk cost fallacy certainly is somewhat at the center. Now, can we just have a glimpse into the toolbox of innovation at PayPal? So, specifically, when we look into Horizon 2 and Horizon 3, what are you typically working with? Do you work with, for example, creating scenarios and kind of projecting some change drivers into the future? Is it that, or is it more that you basically are on a fail fast, fail early, fail hard mindset, applying the metered funding to the projects and initiatives? How do you typically do that?

Maria: So, first of all, innovation is part of our cultural values alongside inclusion, wellness, and collaboration. So for us, it's definitely a cultural transformation, first and foremost, to then even get to all of the things you just mentioned. And the way we try to do this is to create a repetitive habit for people. And the way we do it is through celebrating rituals together. We want to entice them for innovation and what that might mean to them through competitions or hackathons. We do an ongoing author series, speaker series, just to see how you can play with innovation. Give them different topics they might be more interested in. So it doesn't always have to be hardcore technology and the likes. And then we get into space where we want to allow them to learn and practice the skills of innovation by way of using our own platforms and programs that we build in-house. So they have a safe space to fail fast, to learn, a safe space to build out their network, a safe space to enhance their skills that they already have, or try a completely different one. We want them to be someone else, go different places, kind of predict the future for themselves from that perspective. So they see what they're capable of and really push the boat out and challenge themselves and get comfortable with the change. So this is also kind of part of that schooling and that learning.

“Innovation is part of our cultural values alongside inclusion, wellness and collaboration.”

And then, as we want them to enhance their toolkit, there are multiple options. You can champion the skills; so you can become someone like myself, like an extension of my team, for example. Championing it as an innovation ambassador brings completely different challenges. You can be an individual contributor to create research centers, like smaller hubs for blockchain, like we used to do that. We had a little blockchain research team of actual headcount, but also loads of volunteers helping out and just really try and play with the different things. And then we also have a patent program and an intellectual property program, whereby we then really want people to start thinking about the five to 10 years. Where can that technology get you? This is definitely more advanced after you've kind of gone through all the other steps. Everyone's welcome. And we get some really, really great ideas. And what you can patent is incredible, and things that you never think come true. But that's what we thought about splitting screens and whatever else with the latest Samsung. We never thought we could make it happen five years ago. And then the final thing that I would say that we also do is we really put an emphasis on rewarding the people who do these things. It's so important. We have a few in-house built rewards and tokens to share our appreciation, but we also give them a little bit back. It's just that's what makes the world go round. A good old thank you. So this is all baked in for them to dabble in doing something different.

Chris: I agree. Thanks for the glimpse into the toolbox. And I do have so many follow-up questions, but just a couple ones specifically on the human side of all this. So you said, okay, connecting with them, engaging with them, and also rewarding, obviously, work and creativity. But the first step is how do you actually identify these individuals? How do you speak to them? How do you find them? For example, the experts for blockchain - how to find them among the about 30,000 employees globally. How do you do that?

Maria: You know what? I think it's finding a lot within themselves. So, first of all, I think what I do every day, all day is I'm a broken record in our vision and mission. First of all, I need to understand what is the journey that we're on as a company and what does it have to offer for them as well? Of course, we all want to be better, and do better for PayPal. But that doesn't directly always resonate with people because it's like, I get what you're saying. But where's my part in this? And this is where we come to what the program that I run is doing: Finding entryways and pathways into that innovation community for each and every employee. So we're definitely targeting a lot of folks coming into new or two different types of topics that might grasp their interest or attention, or formats like competitive hackathons and tournaments always resonate with people. And it's trying to tickle that topic that they're most interested in and the skills that most want to develop out of them. So this is what I spent a lot of time on because doing it is the truly hard part. We hear a lot, and we believe in a lot. And a lot of stuff resonates with us, but if you don't get a recipe how can I actually do it? For example, a lot of people might think, “This is super interesting” or “Blockchain is super interesting” - “Where's my place in this?”, “Or maybe I don't even have a place because I'm not an engineer.” And that makes me sad because that shouldn't be the case, but I understand where it comes from. So this is where I spent a lot of time on: How to enable people to do things by creating different ways that might resonate with them because we're all different. All of us.

PayPal’s global innovation tournament

Chris: Thanks; this is a great lesson in leadership. And I think you basically need this to run such a global program, right? In that sense: In 2019, people introduced what's called a global innovation tournament. A concept to foster and enhance innovation on a global scale, as you said, for everybody. And I learned it also has CEO support. Can you tell us about that? What is that tournament, and how does it work?

Maria: Oh, I'm happy to. The tournament has become a staple in the company for innovation and for the employees in general. And yes, Dan has been great. He has a little picture of the finale on his desk - we love to see it when we talk to him. And the point for us is that the tournament is much bigger than just a nice competition. It is, for us, a one-stop shop for how we see innovation at PayPal. It is bringing people on a journey from a little idea that had a two-liner tweet size to a fully fleshed business plan that they can actually pitch to investors, who are our senior leadership team, to try and see if they will pick them to get that idea built out. The journey entails a learning program. You know, do a practice, practicing all of these skills in a safe environment. And it really brings them to new heights. First of all, it makes them believe in what they're doing themselves. That it’s valuable. It's also a whole lot of fun, of course, but it also enables them to think bigger. It's literally from a small, narrow world to opening up the entire world and how to distill that information that we talked about earlier. All the input, all the feedback, and staying strong and creating that mission and vision for that business that they want to create or a product they want to build or whatever they're doing. And this is the tournament. It’s five months long, and it's three to five stages, depending on how we set it up that year. It contains business plan creation, prototyping, pitching to sponsors, and then making it to the final to pitch it in front of your investors basically.

Chris: OK, so I think you deliberately choose the word tournament. So it has some competitive component in it, right? And every journey has a start somewhere. So can you walk us through the journey of introducing the tournament to PayPal, as specifically the first year, I assume, was quite interesting, wasn't it?

Maria: It was very interesting. First of all, when we thought about this, the word tournament actually, it feels a bit like the Olympics. Yes, it's great to be part of it. And we all acknowledge it's great. But you also want to win. It still has that competitive element in there, exactly like you said. And we know that speaks to people. I think the other thing that we knew in 2019 is that we love being together to create something else, to have a shared purpose, and coming together for that purpose. So we knew that there's a good chance that this resonates with people. So we went and we pitched our hearts out.

“You don't want to have something that's too complicated because people will fall off the banner and not understand what's going on right away.”

Once we understood the why (that one-stop-shop) and once we understood the how (what kind of phases, who is judging when, and so on) - not in as much detail as you would assume - but solid enough to sell the message. And then we went out with the message, and what we realized is that it's a really easy one to share. People get it. “Oh, it's a tournament”, “Oh, yeah, you got to win something”, “Oh, yeah, there's a journey towards doing that”. It's really easy to explain. You don't want to have something that's too complicated because people will fall off the banner and not understand what's going on right away. So we plastered the offices with flyers. And last year, we did that virtually, believe it or not. That was interesting. And we also asked all our liaisons who we pitched to in different offices to do the exact same. In addition, people love to brainstorm. Not everyone may know how to do it, but if someone starts it, people come. And we have people rally all over the company to brainstorm against problem statements put forward. And also there's a bit of a perk meeting the sponsors, meeting our leadership, and meeting Dan himself at the end of it. So people just bought in, and believe it or not, the 20 volunteers who started this, we never even thought about what if it's not going to work out? Because we knew that if it didn't work out, we would spend a bit of money. We lost a bit of effort doing it, the time that went into it. And it'll be mostly disappointing. So no love is lost. So we might as well plow on. And we did. And we put all our heart and soul into it. And it became this grassroots movement that it still is today. And we're delighted.

Innovation is for everyone

Chris: Yeah, I got it. So you just did it. And I think these are truly impressive and also inspiring cases of how you could lead an organization down the path of innovation. And when we look now towards the future, what is next for innovation at PayPal? So what are some of the high-priority topics on your radar?

Maria: I think still the scalability, if anything, we're growing, which is beautiful to see. I think I want to make sure that everyone finds their entryway into innovation. Whether they start exploring that journey straight away because there's a lot of offer in our company and not everyone might choose innovation, but as long as they eventually double with it and try it out, see it from their colleagues. I think for us, it’s important how to scale this program, how to scale up our platforms that we've created for employees, and then ultimately, how to measure it in a way that is not taking away from the actual cause. We don't want to measure it in the sense of ROI, etc. We do not feel this is the right thing to do. It's not the right motivator. So how we do that going forward is going to be one of the biggest challenges, because, mostly, we want to give back to our own employees so that they feel that they're heard and seen in the right way. And that always shows on the outside and that always will make PayPal the company that people see as reinventing itself every once in a while, which is exactly what we should be doing.

Chris: Yeah. And keeping up the engagement certainly is a challenge in itself, but great to hear that. So if I would ask you, what is the one message you want to send out to the corporate world out there, so not only PayPal, but the entire corporate world out there? What would be the message?

Maria: I repeat this a lot: Corporates are not the death of innovation, not for as long as we all do it. Just do your part in every small step that you can, be a role model to others, and just show that it can be done. If 20 random volunteers can pull off a tournament that now includes thousands of employees with next to no budget whatsoever, then everyone else can do their small bit. It doesn't have to always become a movement. That's not the point. But imagine 30,000 people or bigger corporations all doing their bit. But I think it has to be something that we do consciously and that we talk about all the time.

“Corporates are not the death of innovation,
not for as long as we all do it.”

Chris: Got it. Okay, so that was kind of the future looking forward now. This is my last question already for you today: When you look back into the past, specifically on your professional career at PayPal so far, what would you say was your greatest innovation rockstar moment so far?

Maria: My greatest innovation rockstar moment must be the tournament. For me, it changed my career. For me, it changed my outlook. It unlocked me to understand what ‘fail fast to learn’ means because we failed along the way. Don’t get me wrong. There were failures, and also how to dream big and start small really resonates and how that really comes true. So this must be my ultimate innovation rockstar moment - because it unlocked so many things in me, and changed my entire career and the geography that I live in today. Notwithstanding all the amazing things the tournament will do in the future, being even better and bigger.

Chris: Straight into the hall of fame of the innovation rockstars. Congratulations. And Maria, with this, we already wrap up this episode. It was a pleasure talking to you. Thanks again for the inspiring insights and being a part of this.

Maria: Thank you so much! And thanks for having a hall of fame for innovation rockstars. It's been an honor.

Chris: You're definitely in there. And to everybody listening or watching, if you like the show, leave us a rating or a review and share the podcast with friends and colleagues if you wish. And if you want to get in touch, simply shoot us a message at Now that's it. Thanks for your time. See you in the next episode. Take care and bye-bye.

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Maria Mileder is Global Head of Innovation at PayPal.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!