Beat the Unicorn: Atychiphobia

Jasper Schmeits

In 2017, I came into contact with KTC, a consultancy in the field of strategic design and innovation. During one of our discussions, I was asked if I would like to tell my story for the ‘Beat the Unicorn’ project. The idea of the project was to bundle the stories told by different sides into a book.

So... I had to find out what ‘my’ story actually was. What should I tell people? How? And how could I make sure that the reader would actually be interested? After plenty of musings, I realised my story could be summed up in a single word: Atychiphobia. The Fear of Replacement!


‘Unicorns’ are devastating start-ups that develop lightning fast in the market and then take over or disturb a particular market segment. Think about Amazon and AirBnB, for example: both billion-dollar start-ups, give or take. Can we defend ourselves against this, or will Google or Facebook be our biggest competitors in tender processes of the future? We are going to have to gather the data – probably a combination of open-source data with location-specific data by that time – but our competitors will already have this data, so they're one step ahead of us. If we want to survive in the future, we really need to take big steps where the digitisation of our processes is concerned.

Technological developments

In 2017, I launched the innovation theme ‘Sensing the Future’, in which we look at the technological developments with regard to data collection. Primarily to improve and renew our own processes, but certainly also to tap into new market segments and niches. The idea is to recognise and test technological developments and then indicate what opportunities they represent for the organisation. Examples include the use of multiparameter sensors for wastewater, the use of machine learning for the analysis of water chain data and the use of drones for batch testing.


My story

Working at Tauw, I realised that my actions were often based on gut instinct. But why do I do the things I do, is there any logic behind it? KTC's question gave me the opportunity to really look into this, and it encouraged me to find out the ‘why’ of my actions. Based on a number of conversations and some digging I finally found out that I (subconsciously) apply the 4 Ds: Dromen, Denken, Durven en Doen (Dreaming, Thinking, Daring and Doing). A theory developed by Voort & Ormondt in 2011. Instead of starting with the theory and then looking at real life, I started with real life (doing) and then looked at the theory and the power it has.

Inspiring stories

So now we have a bundle of 13 stories, all written from a different perspective. And I'm incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to join the other writers and be part of this wonderful collection. It is very recognisable that business development is being looked at in the same way from different market segments. No matter whether we're talking about the mobility assignments at Schiphol or Suzuki, or the developments within Erasmus University or at De Volksbank: they all come up against a certain kind of digitisation that they must embrace in order to remain competitive in the future. Every piece is inspiring in its own way!

Getting to grips with my own process

There are a few quotes from the book that I’ll definitely be incorporating into my own innovation process:

  • Innovation processes don’t fail because of a lack of talent or a lack of ideas related to technological developments. They fail due to a lack of commitment and diversity.
  • Make sure you don’t forget your customer service! Even in a digital world, your end user is still human, so make sure you treat him that way.
  • Good innovation is all about implementation, measurement, learning, correcting and starting over again. But be quick about it!

I hereby like to take the opportunity to thank KTC for giving me the space to tell my story. The process was great fun and I have truly managed to get to grips with the process I stick to myself.

Questions after reading this blog?