I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak on a panel this morning that focused on driving innovation in the mobile industry. The invitation only event was the Mobile Innovation Summit and was hosted by Ibotta. The event was awesome and included many amazing speakers (image below).
The title of the panel was: How are organizations driving mobile innovation? The participants on the panel other than myself were Cindy Schatz of Silicon Valley Bank, Kelly Shuster of Ibotta and Pamela Herrman of Create Buzz. All Three are total rock stars and if you get a chance to talk to them, you should.
The conversation focused primarily on innovation and some interesting items were discussed. I’ve done my best to summarize what I heard and what resonated with me
Innovation at the Individual Level – Innovation has to start with the individual. Period. But as a business, what exactly am I looking for. We all agreed that everyone has some creative spark in them. The question is, whether or not that spark has been encouraged or squashed by nay sayers? In regards to what to look for, I have always looked for two qualities when hiring.
- Someone who’s into “friction”. People that experiences business processes, technologies, etc and thinks to themselves; “There must be a better way.”
- Someone who’s intellectually curious. This person is better at Blue Ocean strategies. An optimist driven by possibilities.
Innovation at the Leadership/Management Level – What can the C-Suite do? What can middle management do? Well, we’ve all witnessed what a company looks like when the leadership is, for lack of a better way to say it; broken. To the point where Uber may actually become a verb for bad corporate culture. Travis Kalanick institutionalized bro culture at Uber and it not only lead to his ouster, but lead to just about everything else wrong with the company. (Shit rolls downhill as my grandfather used to say. That means that innovation also runs downhill.) But having an exec team that’s pro-innovation without the support of inter-personally-skilled middle managers, will produce zero innovation. That middle manager needs to be allow employees to utilize their cultural memberships (not only heritage but other cultural memberships like Fangirls, Foodies, snowboarders, cyclists, etc) to inspire other team members through empathy and “inspirational experiences”. Have your foodies take team members to the best place to eat in Denver. Take the team snowboarding. (Lessons for the n00bs.) These activities play on a intrinsic passion of a team member(s) while leadership works to facilitate innovation as the undercurrent of the event. This obviously takes real knowledge of who the team members are and what they’re into. Lastly, employees need to feel safe to suggest innovative things. We all know that.
Innovation at Scale is Hard – NEWS FLASH: innovation is hard for large companies. The truth is: Innovation is hard for everyone. It’s just harder the larger an organization gets. They’re into protecting the bottom line and their day jobs. How then, can a behemoth like Facebook innovate? Cindy shared thoughts around spinning off a separate entity to facilitate innovation and we discussed some of the issues around that. Kelly shared the issues of being technologically innovative after companies had invested large amounts of money in tech 5 – 10 years ago and were now realizing that they needed to upgrade again. (This point of the conversation gave me the chills since I have had to deliver that message. Not fun. I’m wondering how to turn that conversation into a Halloween costume. Send ideas!)
Innovation is Disruptive – Everyone is about as sick of the term disruption as they are the term big data, but that’s what innovation is. It is a willingness to pivot in directions that may make people in the organization less important and/or expendable. Business over the past 20 years has gotten much more efficient with a lot less people.
Hiring is the New Black – Because of this growing efficiency with less people, hiring is now more essential than ever. How do you find someone that is strong culturally, has a strong awareness of others, comfortable with tech, intellectually curious and/or into friction and can execute?
Relax – Unless you’re in the business of curing cancer, you’re not curing cancer. So lighten up a little. Business is serious in that we are feeding families. I take that very seriously. And a stressful environment never leads to great innovations.