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Meet the Trainer... Richard O’Donnell, Associate Director Strategy & Innovation at MCCP

Posted By Learning & Development Team, Monday 15 April 2019
Updated: Tuesday 9 April 2019


What does the Associate Director of Strategy & Innovation do at MCCP?

Within MCCP, our expertise spans Research, Strategy, Culture & Innovation and I work across each of these pillars as we believe business transformation requires each of these to be working together effectively. Within innovation, I lead projects across financial services, technology, retail, and transport. This involves working across several areas from customer ethnography, design sprint facilitation, to concept development and strategy implementation. My role is quite varied, so you need to enjoy thinking creatively, dealing with lots of ambiguity and digging deep into problems to like it.

What route did you take to this role, i.e. what did you study in college, experience on the way?

I completed a MSc in International Business in UCD Smurfit Business School and started my career working in venture capital investing which gave me a great start in business strategy development and assessing market opportunities. Following this, I moved into management consulting and then into digital strategy development. Prior to joining MCCP, I worked in Accenture’s Digital Innovation Hub, where I led design thinking and digital innovation projects for large global clients in the retail and healthcare space.

How important do you think continued upskilling and continuous professional development is to marketing? 

When I started my career, I worked for some very successful entrepreneurs and something I noticed is that they were always reading, learning and developing themselves. Sometimes progress can seem slow but over the years it all adds up and, in my view, continuous learning and development is what really sets people apart in their career.  Especially with innovation being such an emergent field, I feel it is critical to constantly keep up to date with the most effective methods and approaches, so I can keep providing greater value to my clients. 

What benefits can attendees hope to obtain from attending training programmes?

 Participants should be leaving training programmes with confidence that they can apply what they have learned within their own roles. Sometimes attending training can seem like a lot of effort but when you learn something that helps you solve a problem or provides you with a unique perspective, these are the nuggets that make good training really worth it and an invaluable ingredient to becoming more effective in your role.

What do you consider as the key criteria for training to be effective?

Trainers should be as practical as possible and ensure participants are working on challenges relevant to their roles. Effective training should be immersive where participants are solving problems for themselves and collaborating with their peers instead of being lectured to. Finally, trainers need to establish their credibility and ensure participants feel confident as they work through the session, so they have the confidence to apply what they have learned within their own roles and teams.  

What do you believe are the challenges facing marketers today?  

Marketing is an industry that faced significant disruption and in many ways lost itself trying to adapt to this change. Marketers need to be more cautious about the next big trend or piece of technology and become the customer champion within their organisations. They should do everything they can to get to know their customer’s needs, understand their pain points and uncover which of these needs are being underserved. They should then do everything they can to improve the customer experience and satisfy these underserved needs. If this means moving beyond the traditionally defined role of marketing they need to start doing this. A marketer’s role today should probably be less about communications and much more about satisfying customer needs.

What are the current challenges and opportunities that you believe businesses face around being agile today?

 As an industry we are getting much better at understanding customer needs, defining opportunities for innovation and coming up with good ideas. Where we have a lot of work to do is in bringing these good ideas to life and bridging the execution gap. Large companies are set up to reduce risk and create certainty in decision making, however innovation involves a huge amount of ambiguity and this can be a real challenge for larger organisations to leap into the unknown which is so necessary in innovation. Agile approaches such as design thinking, lean methodologies and sprints are a great way to get decision makers into a room, set constraints and quickly get alignment and commitment to overcome this barrier. However, this approach can work brilliantly in companies that are less bureaucratic but within slower companies this can be a radical way of working and can be too much of a shock to the system so more patience and time is required.  As with all innovation work, there is no cookie cutter approach as every organisation is different, so you always need to approach innovation strategically rather than believing process A or process B will be the answer to all your problems.  

And finally to whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

Innovation is still a relatively new field and new approaches are emerging all the time to overcome some of the big challenges faced by organisations trying to innovate. The Stanford D School has done great work in popularising human centred design and in making design thinking more accessible. Clayton Christiansen & Tony Ulwick’s work around Jobs To Be Done really put the focus on customers unmet needs over chasing trends and shiny new toys. Steve Blank & Eric Ries have challenged some of the optimism around ethnography and brainstorming and made a strong case for the importance of getting out and testing ideas early to really know if they have potential or not. Within innovation I feel these are the people who have really brought unique perspectives and proven themselves within the industry. 

Richard O'Donnell is the trainer on the Marketing Institute’s Innovating with Agility course, taking place on May 8th 2019. More details on


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