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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Maher Mezher.

Maher Mezher is an Innovation Expert who has been innovating for years across 25 countries. He is the inventor of the Innovators Tool, the First Engaging Innovation App Built on sound effects, music, 3D animated images, dynamic quotes, sonic and strategic tailored questions that guides innovators to spot ideas worth pursuing and transform them into successful innovations.

He is also the inventor of the Become An INNOVATOR methodology patented in 158 countries, the fertility loan and Stem Cells Loan to name a few.

Episode #238

Simplified, democratised innovation

Maria Franzoni (00:16): Hello and welcome back to The Speaker Show with me your host Maria Franzoni. Today, we’re talking to a dear friend of mine about innovation. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau for the world’s most successful organizations, providing keynote speakers for events, conferences, and summits. My guest this week is an innovation expert who has been innovating for years across 25 countries. He is the inventor of the Innovators Tool. The first engaging innovation app built on sound effects, music, 3d animated images, dynamic quotes, sonic, and strategic tailored questions that guides innovators to spot ideas worth pursuing and transform them into successful innovations. He’s also the inventor of the become an innovator methodology patented in 158 countries. The fertility loan and stem cells loan to name a few of his inventions. He’s the founder of Innovators League, a leading innovation consultancy firm in Geneva, Doha, and Lebanon. Away from work, he’s an opera singer, a tenor, plays a piano, the flute and the drums prepare yourself for a unique riding experience. As I welcome my guest, Maher Mezher. Maher, it’s wonderful to see you. How are you?

Maher Mezher (01:33): I’m fine. Thank you.

Maria Franzoni (01:34): Fantastic. So I know you quite well, actually, so I I’m enjoy, I’m gonna enjoy this. This is lovely. So what makes you unique is that you are not only an innovation expert, but you are an innovator yourself and as an innovator and an innovation expert, what’s the problem that you solve for people?

Maher Mezher (01:53): Well, Maria, you know, companies nowadays are facing a lot of challenges. We are gonna talk about three of them, which are uncertainty, employees engagement and growth. You cannot reach growth if you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have a direction, how to cope with the new normal, and you cannot grow if your employees are not engaged. I was reading an article that around 53 or 54% of the US employees are willing to resign from the jobs noting that most of them did not find the job yet. So here we are, again, talking about employee engagement. So what we do is that we come and help organizations engage their employees with the methodology and the interactive app that we have. We help them cope with uncertainty so they can grow, even if they are still facing all the challenges that they’re facing. So when they have a roadmap, a clear roadmap, what to do with innovation, cause that’s the problem. Again, with uncertainty, some of the companies and organizations, they decided that they need to implement innovation, but they don’t know where to start and what to do next. So when they see that we have a clear roadmap and a clear vision in line with their needs, then they can cope easily with uncertainty. They know where they are, where they are going and what are the results that they can achieve.

Maria Franzoni (03:37): And why is innovation so important? Would you say

Maher Mezher (03:41): Because one of the things is that digital transformation is transforming the world. That’s one thing, pandemic as well, economic challenges, high competition. So if you keep on doing what you have been doing for the last years and the coming two, three years, you might be out of the market. So you need to sit down, think how you need to reinvent your business. How can you in fact, reinvent your business, whether it is your business model, your processes, new products, new services, new events, you named so in order to be ready to cope with what we all call the new normal, that’s one thing, two competition is so high that you cannot make it out in the market. If you are not competitive, the client nowadays is well informed and they can have every thing online. They don’t even need to come to your offices and branches. So if you, you are not competitive, I mean even highly competitive, you cannot really cope with the competition. So with all the challenges that we are talking about, that makes innovation a top priority, where you need to sit down and not, not. When I say sit down, not, I’m not talking only about the leadership team. I’m not only talking about the senior management. Even the middle management should sit with their employees and think how they can reinvent their processes, their work, their business model, to come up with something that is really attractive to the client.

Maria Franzoni (05:24): Okay, cool. That’s brilliant. You, you mentioned earlier on that you have a model that you use. I think you call it a change model. Could you explain what that is? What it consists of?

Maher Mezher (05:34): That’s what we do, and that is the differentiation that we have compared to other innovation consultant or a trainer. Because as you know, I’m not only a speaker, I’m a consultant and trainer. Companies when they call us and they are, you know, in that uncertainty and that dark, they, they want to implement innovation, but they don’t know how to do it. And where to start. They need to see something crystal clear, like a roadmap, like steps that would guide them towards implementing innovation. So they need to see something tangible. It’s not a question of telling them, you need to think out of the box, you need to come up with ideas. This will not make things happen. Noting that most of the leadership and leaders in the world were sharing with me, that they spend a lot of money on innovation programs.

Maher Mezher (06:33): I’m talking about implementing innovation. I’m not talking about speeches mainly where they didn’t find a real tangible reason. So we said we spent money. We brought a consulting companies. We made few workshop. We didn’t see a lot of ideas or we saw ideas that never sold a light that never happened. So our change model is that by inventing throughout, the years and by implementing innovation, I came up with an innovation model that I called. They become an innovator. So the becoming innovator is built on three pillars, the innovation mindset and we really tell you what is the needed or required mindset to become an innovator. And on top of that, you are required as an employee in a company to do weekly acts. So we can see that you are taking initiatives and that you are trying. Two, it is built on the Innovators Tool.

Maher Mezher (07:33): The app that I have invented that is very engaging. It’s it on music it’s built on sound effects, record it. Institutes it’s built on 4d videos so the metaverse, so if you were the VR D you are in the metaverse that now we are talking about, we have done this quite the way in 2018 and 2019, and the world now is talking about the metaverse and it is built on the third pillar, which is the four habits that we have discovered throughout our years of experience. So if you apply the innovators mindset, the innovators tool, and you live the habits, you will definitely become an innovator. And when I say become an innovator, people tend to think that I’m talking about very big promise. If we are talking about corporations, then here, I’m talking about employees, simple employees who just have to spot areas of improvement, like their daily work, how can they improve their daily work?

Maher Mezher (08:37): Like, you know, make their processes more efficient, less cost, less time, and try to reinvent it. So we are not talking always about a huge new tremendous technology. We’re just telling the employees look at your daily work spot areas of improvement, apply the methodology, apply it on the app and come up with ideas of improvement, as simple as, as that. And that’s what I call the simplified innovation, because my purpose and my aim Maria was to democratize innovation, make it simple and accessible to everybody, even a small employee and a corporation.

Maria Franzoni (09:25): I like that simplified democratized innovation. I think that’s a really great phrase. And I love the fact that you’ve made it very simple. So you’ve got your need your innovation mindset. You need the innovation tool, which, and you have an app for it, which even includes the metaverse, which is amazing from already. So you are ahead of the curve and the four habits. Can you tell us what those four habits are?

Maher Mezher (09:48): Yeah. first of all, you need to have an exploring mindset and culture. You need to, to be curious, to explore new possibilities so that you can unlock new opportunities. Another one is perseverance, because usually when you start exploring something sometimes you don’t get the reasons that you want. So you feel, you feel down, you feel that I have been trying, and it didn’t work. I have been trying to achieve something, but I didn’t reach the point that I want. So you will feel that you will never reach what you wanted to. That’s why you need the perseverance. You need to be motivated so that you can pursue what you have been doing. And this second habit is called passion. So we call it passion. The third habit is listening and observing and why it is listening and observing because out of experience for the last 20 to 30 years, we are talking to innovators, that’s how we found the innovators habit.

Maher Mezher (11:12): We found the common ground that is most of innovators by listening and by observing they unlock new ideas. So when we used to tell people, we want you to be creative. We want you to come up with ideas. A lot of them used to tell me, you know, Maher, I work in the accounting department. So how come I, how gonna be creative? I’m not a creative person. I work in the boring industry, I’m in the IT, or I’m in the accounting department. And you want me to come up with ideas to create ideas. So when we came and told them that ideas are there, you just need to unlock them. They said, oh, that’s good. That might be useful that we can do. But how so then we told them, by listening and observing, what’s happening all around, you, you’ll be stimulated your brain will be stimulated and you will come up with ideas.

Maher Mezher (12:17): So, and when I say listening and observing the problem is that most of us are not really listening and observing. And I can tell you Maria, that during a day, during our 24 hours, there are millions of things and ideas happening in front of us, but we are not capturing them. So we have discovered that creative confidence is not only about telling ourself I can do it. That’s important. Creative confidence is about knowing how to capture ideas that are all around us. So we teach people how to listen and observing. And we have exercises coming from my musical background, where we play intervals. So people can really get a better listening and a better observing. And then we close their eyes and we play something and they have to tell us, what is it? Is it a minor scale? Is it a major scale? So this is coming from my musical background.

Maher Mezher (13:23): So that’s how we strengthen and make people listen and observe better. And by the way, before tackling the fourth habit, I think schools, I think universities should add a module about listening and observing. That’s how humanity will get better and better and better. That’s how human beings can become more empathetic. They can empathize, they can connect with people by listening and observing better. So I go back to the fourth habit, which is taking initiatives, because if you have a beautiful idea and you never take initiatives, nothing will happen. It will always be there as an idea. And only an idea. And that’s the majority cases that we, we face. We see a lot of innovators that have brilliant ideas, but either they are afraid to share it with their top management, or they think that their ideas are not good enough out of experience, Maria, even me who has been innovating for years and years, almost on a daily basis.

Maher Mezher (14:42): I can tell you that I never had a brilliant idea from day one. It was always a vision, like a small drop of water. And then I was refining, refining, refining, refining, refining it, and then launched it and made version one. Like the app, the app that you can see this version three now. So we have been doing version one, version two, version three, we still have two more versions and we get feedback. And it is by implementing your idea when the user can really try it, then they can tell you what is good and what is not good. So don’t be afraid to take initiatives and to launch your ideas. Even if your idea fail, you will learn from it, you will be in a better shape.

Maria Franzoni (15:36): Absolutely. So to sum up those four habits then are to be curious, to persevere with passion, yes, to listen and observe and to take initiatives. And actually, you know, that when you said about the listening and observing, I know that I can zone in and out of stuff, especially when I’m listening to my man, which is really naughty. I hope he’s not listening to this.

Maher Mezher (15:58): Yeah, we hope so.

Maria Franzoni (16:00): Because sometimes he, he goes so deep and complex, you know, he’s got brain, the science of a planet, and it’s like, I can’t follow this.

Maria Franzoni (16:08): So, and I do love that idea of teaching, you know, at school and university teaching you to listen, be curious because you’re right. We do need to be more empathetic. It’s so, so clear after what we’ve all been through. That’s fantastic. Amazing. I love that. That’s like a masterclass in an answer. And you’re quite modest actually Maher, because I know that you have, okay, may have started from a small drop, but you have made some incredible innovations yourself. And one of those innovations was when you were in retail banking and marketing. Tell us a little bit about that. About some of the innovations you brought into the marketplace.

Maher Mezher (16:47): You know Maria. I have worked for the banking sector for 20 years, 13 years after the 20, I was head of retail banking and marketing. So, you know, that’s the leadership role. And one day during lunch break, I was sitting on my balcony. I had a small balcony in my house and having lunch and an idea across my mind, Maher that’s how you wanna live your life? You just wanna be a number, how many head of retail and marketing in the world there are. And I thought like thousands hundred thousands of head of retails and marketing. And then I said to myself, is this what I want a big office with hundreds of employees under me directly or indirectly with a big title? Was I born just to sit in this chair and to tell people that I am a senior director with a big package, or I was born here to impact the world.

Maher Mezher (17:50): I said, what if I was never promoted? Would I want to do the same thing that I’m doing now for years? And the answer because I’m a crazy guy was no, you should Maher. You should do something about it, so when an innovator or wants to do something, they don’t know really what they wanna do, but they don’t. They need that. They know that they need to do something. And this is about agility before, you know, pursuing my story. Agility, Maria is about accepting that when you start working on an idea, you don’t have all the answers and you don’t know where you’re going. All of my ideas when I started them, I didn’t know that we will reach that point. I, I have the feeling that it’s gonna be brilliant, but I didn’t know that it’s gonna be reaching that point. So agility is about accepting that we don’t have all the answers when we start an idea.

Maher Mezher (18:47): And this is the uncertainty. When you start working on idea, the level of uncertainty is that much, but then the more you execute and implement. It goes down. So I said, no, that’s not what I want to do. I need to do something about it. So I started thinking I was living in Lebanon and I said, the best thing to do is the research. Something that has affected consumer behavior. And unfortunately in Lebanon, it’s the war. The war has been since 1975. So more than 40 years. And I was almost sure that living in a country facing war for more than 40 years, seeing your relatives dying in front of you would that affected our consumer behavior. And I said, what do you think, Maher? And that’s the mistake that all of us will do. Cause we think that we can just get answers like this.

Maher Mezher (19:41): Do you think because we were stressful 40 years now, we are consuming a lot more. Cause Lebanese people consume, spend a lot of money. I said probably yes. And that that’s the mistake we do. We should never answer. We should go talk to the client, talk to the youth. And I said, do you think, Maher, that, because we’ve, we were in the shelters for seven years now we want to live more. And that’s why Lebanese people dress well, eat buy big cars live in big flats because they don’t know when they they’re gonna die. And then I said, yes. I said, stop answering. I was talking to myself, Maher, stop answering my, your questions. Go ask the clients, do what Professor Philip Kotler said, go spot needs, search and listen to the customer. And by doing the research, I found Maria that 18.7%.

Maher Mezher (20:31): So almost 19 percent of the Lebanese couples cannot conceive without medical assistance. So I said, is this a high number or is it acceptable? So I wanted and search all over the world, all over the world at that time. Cause I’m talking 2006. So 15, 16 years back, the infertility rate was a one digit. So 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9% in one or two countries, 11 or 12%. We were talking about 19%. So I said, that’s a big number. Let me see what people are doing now. And we went and asked people if you needed infertility treatment now, and you didn’t have the means, what would you do? And all of them said, we talked to our parents, we talked to our friends and we get the money from them. Because in Lebanon you still live in your parents’ house till you get married. We’re not like Euro.

Maher Mezher (21:33): And even when we are married on a weekly basis, we go and spend time in our house where we were born. So the first persons that they thought about was the father, mother, brother, or sister. So we asked, would you go to a bank said, no, banks don’t grant fertility loans. They grant personal loan, they grant housing loan, they grant car loans. So we’ve asked the insurance companies, do you support infertility? They said, no. We went to the government said, do you support infertility treatments? They said, no, it’s not important. So, so I’ve discovered that no one is supporting these guys. And in my country, in Lebanon, especially at that time, when you reach the age of 30 – 35, if you are not married, so people will start telling you, your relative and friends, you’ve reached that age and you are not married. There’s something fishy.

Maher Mezher (22:28): There’s a problem. You don’t wanna have your own family. You don’t wanna see your kids running in front of you. So they start putting pressure on you. We are not like the west, you know, a different culture. So it’s a very important topic. So by finding that no one is supporting these people. I decided to kick off the fertility. No, I remember that I talked directly to the chairman because I knew that the committee, there is a committee that accepts the new products, the new loans, they would refuse it. It has been refused by the CEOs before that. And I left the first bank because the CEO said, if you launched the fertility loan, you will consider yourself fired. I left the second bank because he said, I cannot accept such crazy ideas. Then I found the CEO. He, he started in the UK.

Maher Mezher (23:19): So that’s why maybe he has, you know, an open mindset. He said, I love the idea. How are we gonna do that? I said, that’s the roadmap. That’s what we are gonna do. We just need to sign by launching the fertility loan Maria. I had in my office 167 radio, TV, magazine coming asking about the fertility loan. I remember when CNN called me. It was when I graduated. I saw a star singing star in Lebanon, on CNN. And that day I said, I wish one day I could be on CNN. So after few years, CNN calls from Dubai, cause it’s their regional office. And they say, Mr. Mezher, this is from CNN said, yes, How are you? I know you you’re from CNN said, we need to come and talk about the fertility loan. I said, give me a second. I need to check my diary. So I opened my agenda. It was a weekly agenda. Maria, I had five to six interviews on a daily basis. And look what I told CNN, that was a dream to me. I said, I’m sorry, this week I’m fully booked.

Maher Mezher (24:32): I said, what we are CNN. I said, you know, Shas I have on a daily basis, five to six interviews. Each interview is a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes. Plus I need to work. I’m running all the branches with said, but we are CNN. Can’t you replace one of those local? I said, no, I cannot. I have to respect what I given as a promise. I remember that they came the week after one more thing. And that’s not to brag. That’s to tell listeners what I’m gonna tell as a message by the end of this podcast is that if you have an idea and you believe in it your life will change. I remember BBC. When they came to my office, they were sitting when they finished filming, they said, you know, Maher, you know how we usually, what is the process to decide if we, if you want to film something, an idea or not?

Maher Mezher (25:24): I said, no. How would I know I’m a banker never worked in broadcasting and production. Say, we sit down and we talk either on lunch. Or when we sit down to meet and say, what are now the top stories in the world? They have a process. If we talk about the process, more than 15 minutes, we say, stop, let’s go film it. And that can, it was on a lunch break that we were sitting. Someone brought your idea, the fertility loan. We talked about it around 37 minutes. So the lunch break was done. And then we said, why are we still talking about it? Let’s go and film it. What I’m trying to say is that, you know, my father and most of our parents wanted us to become lawyers, to become doctors, to become engineers, to have high grades, to study well, well, I tell people today, this is important, but the most important is to have an idea to believe in it and launch it because this will transform your life, a successful entrepreneur ike you. You name it Jeff Bezos, Facebook and all the others entrepreneurs and innovators look where they are now versus any director or CEO who had high grades with all due respects. I was a director. I had high grades. Good, good university, good education and then you just have your salary. So now the new way of thinking, not because I’m an, I’m an innovator and, and I teach innovation is to have both have your education, have your good grades, but more than that, have an opportunity mindset, have an innovator mindset, come up with an idea, any idea, and then sell it, have your own startup, have your own business. Even if you are an employee, sell it as an entrepreneur, this will really accelerate your career and your life.

Maria Franzoni (27:23): Okay? So you’re not encouraging people to leave. You’re encouraging ’em to innovate within their role as an entrepreneur. We just wanna check that because that’s really important. That’s amazing that I love that story. I’ve heard it before. And I think it’s fabulous. Congratulations on that. And that story, that, that innovation became a case study. You mentioned Philip Kotler. It actually became a case study in Philip Kotler’s book isn’t it?

Maher Mezher (27:45): It is not any book, Maria. It is the textbook that I have studied an all business student in the world study. When they do business, it is the principles of marketing. It is a textbook used in all universities in the world. It is not a book that anyone can write. It is a book that all universities in the world study when they do their business studies or when they do their masters. So I can tell you now, because I came up with that idea, that idea, millions of students now, every day, they are reading about my story. So it is a textbook. And after that I was invited a few years after by professor Kotler to speak at the world summit. And now he invited me next year to be with him. And now we are looking forward to launch peer to peer.

Maher Mezher (28:39): So professor Philip Kotler, who was like a legend to me when I was a student to university studying in his book. Now he wants to have a peer to peer workshop, hopefully coming soon, you’ll know about it. So that’s when you have an idea, when you have an idea, you believe in it, and you have the passion, the perseverance, and you take initiatives, things will happen. You will go from here to here and you’ll look at yourself, say, look, you know, professor Kotler, he came to me, you know, throughout his office said, Maher now that you have seen your speech had been viewed by millions of people he wants to do with you a workshop. Professor Kotler is telling me I’m half of his age his 91 years. I want to do a workshop with you. And I was like, you know, this is really praised. This is the future, innovation, transformation, leadership this is the future.

Maria Franzoni (29:36): Yeah, absolutely fantastic. That’s wonderful. It’s wonderful that you, I studied his book too, but you weren’t in it at that time because I studied it way before 2006. And so

Maher Mezher (29:47): Yes, it was. Yeah,

Maria Franzoni (29:48): No, don’t yeah, no, don’t yes, it’s, it’s a bit of a blur. But that’s really cool when you end up being invited by somebody that you admire. I, I do love that. I think that’s wonderful. Only a couple more questions for you because I’ve taken a lot of your time, but you’ve recently been selected as a top 20 Asian entrepreneur by Partridge part of the Penguin Publishing House. And they’ve put you into a book called Greater Than Success. Tell us about that. Who, who, how did they choose these entrepreneurs? What is that about?

Maher Mezher (30:21): They had at four or five criterias on entrepreneurs, they were looking at Asian entrepreneurs that they have a business model. They have their own companies. And by applying those five criterias, they found that my business model, which is the becoming innovators methodology with the app, and my company will be one of the most growing companies in my industry in becoming five to eight years. So they had two type of entrepreneurs, the one that made great success financially. So they have a built an empire. And the one that came up with a model and the technology like me, the are that is really promising. And that they think that what we have done is the future. So I was really delighted when I received an email, an official in email and then a call informing me that I was selected as one of the top 20 Asian entrepreneurs.

Maher Mezher (31:20): The most they call it the most influential entrepreneurs. The book now is on Amazon. It’s Greater Than Success written by the author for those and they’re working now on a movie now why they did this, they want to inspire new entrepreneurs so they can learn from the 20 entrepreneurs. What were the challenges that we had to overcome? Because people need to know that, yes, I’m pushing them to think about something, make it different, believe in it and take initiative. But I promise it’s not gonna be also that easy. It’s not a click of a button. It’s not a walk in the park, but when you have the passion, that passion that we talk about, then you will pursue what you are doing. So they want us to inspire entrepreneurs. How would it overcome challenges how we made it successful and what is the advice that we give to young entrepreneurs? And now they are working on the book. Is there on Amazon? They are working on a movie where they will interview us so we can share our story.

Maria Franzoni (32:26): Fantastic. I look forward to that. Listen, we’ve come to the end. What would you like to leave our audience thinking about?

Maher Mezher (32:36): I would tell them, don’t thrive to be a genius, become an innovator.

Maria Franzoni (32:47): Oh, that’s good. I like that. Very strong message. Maher I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself. It’s flown past in terms of time. I really appreciate it. Hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Maher Mezher (32:58): I did. Thanks a lot.

Maria Franzoni (33:02): My absolute pleasure. Thank you everybody also for listening to The Speaker Show, and if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating on apple podcasts and you can keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is speakersassociates.com or your favorite podcast app. And if you would like to invite Maher to speak at your next conference or event, please get in touch with Speakers Associates in plenty of time to book him so that you won’t be disappointed. And I will see you all next week. So bye bye for now. Thank you.

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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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