I recently attended the Optimizing Innovation Conference in NYC as Planview was a sponsor. Initially, I was surprised that half of the attendees had traveled from Europe just for a two-day conference. Once the sessions began, I quickly understood their motivation. Speakers from Levi® Strauss, NASA, MTV Networks, Goodyear®, Mozilla, Kraft, and many other companies whose brands are household names offered insight into innovation challenges they've faced and the solutions they've discovered. The amount of transparency was truly impressive and the resulting discussions between participants around the tables matched the wisdom and honesty modeled by the speakers. I can't possibly sum up all that I learned in a blog (perhaps an article or a mini-novella is in order), but these quotes from attendees and speakers provide some valuable nuggets that will hopefully generate dialogue between you and your colleagues:
- "Celebrate doing, not perfection" and "Failure is not a word in our environment." Much discussion was had around how to create an innovation-friendly environment. Many attendees admitted that while lots of the ideas had merit, their organizations are risk-averse and cultural change is not easy to accomplish -- but without a doubt critical for breakthrough innovation.
- "Genius lives in all of us." The concept that innovative genius is cultivated rather than a component to one's DNA that is either present or not was propagated by Karen Freidt of NASA. She shared techniques she utilizes in her classes for the agency's Enhancing Your Creative Genius course, which truly stirs up even the most reserved personality types as they discover an inner creative spirit.
- "Copy and adapt with pride." Sometimes we only feel smart if we figure something out from scratch -- the result can be the old "reinventing the wheel" scenario. The sentiment recognizes that as so many great ideas and products already exist, quite often we just need to put our egos aside, learn from what already is and adapt it for our needs, goals, and market.
- "Don't steal babies." To encourage everyone in your company to contribute to innovation ('cause you never know where that next great idea will come from), employees must trust that they will be allowed to participate in the development process. Speakers from Danone, Mattel®, Fisher-Price®, and Motorola Solutions shared their collaborative ideation programs (including processes and tools) and demonstrated viable ways to keep innovators connected to their ideas.
- "By 2050 there'll be nine billion people on earth. We'll need three planets to provide enough resources unless we do something different soon." The impact of this statement was not lost to the participants in the room. There is a tremendous burden on today's companies not only to drive profits but to do so with a higher level of environmental responsibility than before. The need, however, is not just to develop products more responsibly but also to develop products that will solve problems.
The final speaker of the conference shared an approach to innovation that can give us all pause as we think about how we are solving problems. Live Well Collaborative is an innovation incubator that partners with the University of Cincinnati and member organizations to develop products and services to meet the needs of the 50+ population. This collaborative provides real-world experience for college students and utilizes their fresh perspective to come up with innovative solutions. Companies, such as Kraft and Boeing, leverage this opportunity to develop new ideas to real business and world challenges.
Spending two days with folks who are committed to finding solutions to not only their companies' business challenges but, in some cases, challenges our world is facing, was truly inspiring. I'm motivated to keep track of these companies and see how they continue to innovate and what fresh perspectives they bring to the process.
Do you have a fresh perspective on innovation? What problems are you looking to solve? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.