Case Studies

Innovating Supermarkets – European Food Retailer

Leadership development | Learning journeys | Future Immersion


Maintaining the original entrepreneurial spirit of a company in a dynamic business environment is a hard balancing act— especially for a century-old company, growing beyond its traditional scope and scale.

With this challenge in mind, a mid-sized European food retailer was looking for an executive development program for their top 100 leaders.  Given their hands-on culture, they desired a highly experiential program to take them out of the classroom and prepare their leaders for a globalizing marketplace, and in the process, instill the capacities for discovery, exploration, innovation, and nimbleness in a rapidly changing world.  Another desired outcome: to identify projects that would help the organization be more adaptive and innovative— a way to put their new capacities and insights immediately into practice.

Not finding this approach in conventional business schools, this company worked with Adaptive Edge and its partners—namely, two respected academics from INSEAD, France — to develop a highly customized program to achieve these goals.   Capturing the imaginative spirit of the classics, the program was called “Ulysses”.


Tapping into Adaptive Edge’s expertise in learning journeys, the core of this program included two “future immersion” trips—one to Mumbai, India and the other to Copenhagen, Denmark.  In Mumbai, the learning goals: to ground participants in the realities of emerging markets like India, to challenge their cultural assumptions and worldviews, and expose them to the kind of adaptive mindset required to survive and thrive in these places. In Copenhagen, the intent was to learn from this country’s well-known design and innovation prowess, ability to create sustainable global companies, and with the “cartoon crisis” underfoot, to understand the local challenges in integrating its new immigrants in a homogenous culture, an issue the company was also struggling with internally.

Before the learning journeys, we prepared participants in three ways.  Firstly, by providing a “future primer” with relevant articles and background research.  Secondly, we designed a workshop curriculum that introduced key conceptual frameworks—from “adaptive leadership” to geopolitical trends. We also created an abridged “anthropology 101” to develop participants’ observation and exploration skills once in the field.  Thirdly, we designed a ½ day learning journey in Paris’ Chinatown, a diverse and contrasting place, where participants could practice these skills in advance.

After the learning journeys, we conducted a workshop to harvest the key insights, identify future projects, and prioritize them for implementation.


At an intangible level, the program was a transformative experience for almost everyone who participated— a “mind-blowing, once-in-a-lifetime journey”.

In terms of tangible outcomes, the program identified a number of innovative projects.  Two highlights include:

  • A supermarket program to increase their customers’ healthy eating habits, an idea inspired by visiting Novo Nordisk in Denmark, a pharmaceutical company that is “doing well by doing good.”
  • After seeing the benefits of empowering women in India, another project was to create a micro-credit program for lower-income women in France to improve better food consumption patterns.

More on Leadership Development and Learning Journeys, and Future Immersion.