Nov 15, 2021
Introduction: Maria Mileder is PayPal’s Global
Head of Innovation. Maria owns the innovation strategy and its
execution, she oversees the Global Innovation Ambassador Program
and she is responsible for driving PayPal’s contributions within
the financial services industry and the field of innovation in
general. Maria’s prior professional background is in Regulatory
Compliance & Risk Management. Maria lived and worked in her
native country Austria, Ireland here in Dublin, The USA in
California and The UK in London. She holds an MSc in Economic
Policy from Trinity College Dublin and a BSc in Sociology from
Karl-Franzen’s University in Graz Austria.
Podcast Episode Summary
PayPal lives by four values, Innovation, Collaboration, Wellness
and Inclusion. Maria gives us an incredibly candid insight into the
ways PayPal emplys its Distributed Innovation Model to bring this
value of innovation to life. The episode is littered with insight
and gems for any team. Maria shares her immutable
laws for teams, best practice insights she has gleaned from the
many Volunteers who have participated in her Innovation Labs over
the last six years.
Points made over the episode
- Maria starts our conversation by sharing her passion for
innovation and how she accidentally fell into this field
- Curiosity, Empathy and Resilience are core skills that most
people have and can be learnt & cultivated to support
- PayPal wants to be different in the Innovation space. It
employs a model it calls the Distributed Innovation
- PayPal has a belief that everyone has what it takes to be
innovative and it also shares a desire that innovation be
- Practice is key. In the innovation lab innovation skills are
discovered, trained and practiced.
- 30,000 employees at PayPal. Harnessing the innovation power of
every employee is part of PayPal’s mission.
- Three engines support the delivery of the Distributed
Innovation Model at PayPal. There are Innovation Champions with
innovation sites or Labs, The Innovation Ambassador Program and the
Global Innovation Tournament where all employees can
- The Innovation labs started about 6 years ago and at any given
time about 10 teams are working to solve Innovation problems all
manned with Volunteers
- Why Volunteers? PayPal takes innovation very seriously and
believe innovation is everyone’s business to cultivate. Volunteers
get an opportunity to practice the skills of innovation
- The first condition of success for Volunteer teams is passion.
Passion helps people prioritise and be sufficiently energised to
connect, contribute and be willing to fail.
- Some Immutable laws exist for teams to flourish.
- The context needs to be clear, getting clear on Mission &
Vision for a project. Teams do not necessarily find the exercise of
clarifying their mission and vision as sexy and often it is lofty
but it provides a North Star that gives direction
- Humans expect to be led, especially at the start of any
- Team Dynamics exist and are important to understand. The
Volunteers are not obliged to work with each other, they volunteer
their time so it is important that they are set up for success.
This means helping everyone know each other, their motivation for
the project, their strengths and weaknesses and their
- In the Voluntary space (and I would add in every space) you
have to display empathy, to be curious to get to know your
- Empathy is frustrated by a bias for action, premature action,
it is frustrated by fuzzy expectations or unspoken
-Maria shares an example of the difference between experts coming
onto a project and novice learners.
- Recreate the physical space in the digital space. The virtual
space has become transactional
- Encourage fun on teams-Maria shares an innocent Team Building
Exercise where asking a team of 15 people to come up with the
things they all have in common facilitated openness and energy, a
currency that lasted the life of a project and beyond.
- Give time and space for teams to learn, to grow and also to
rest. Allow time for being off.
- Silly or being silly is a great skill in innovation. The
innovation lab encourages this spirit. Important that Leaders show
the way, model behaviours that give people permission to be silly.
Similar norms or ways of doing things are important to be
- What surprised the most was the amount of personal development
people, volunteers got from the various programs they have been a
part & how people have been able to use that Personal
Development as a by-product of the program.
- Volunteers have been able to share the skills they have learnt
with their colleagues in their professional teams
- The Innovation labs and other engines together comprise an
important part of a cultural transformation at PayPal.
- Helping the Professional and Volunteer worlds to collide means
remembering we are human. Team dynamics are essential to the
success of a team. Time and space has to be given to the practice
of what Maria calls a team’s immutable laws.
- As a final thought Maria shared how she has learnt to become
outspoken and to be vulnerable. Teams are not going away and they
take time and work to make them successful.