As much as the word "Innovation" is used too much, the overuse is a direct reflection of the turbulent, exciting / scary times we're in.

Innovation has always been complicated as companies with finite resources and infinite options have historically been challenged to think through how they prioritize/focus efforts to create new value?

Thinking critically and creatively is hard enough, but when you throw in the explosive growth and developments in digital/tech/AI driven options over the last 2-3 years, the landscape is shifting/evolving so quickly that we're now in uncharted territory...

Given that back drop, I was STOKED to attend last week's "Strategy + Innovation World Forum" here in NYC. Over 2 days, we heard from a tremendous group of F500 Corporate Strategy, Digital, AI, Innovation, etc leaders doing "the real work" of meaningful innovation within the context of such turbulent times, day-in and day-out.

As you can see from the speaker list, it was a special room to be in.

While, the presentations, panel discussions and chats over coffee, lunch etc were enormously interesting, informative and valuable, it seemed to me the most valuable aspects tied to answering 2 key questions:

  1. What does it mean to become a "Digital Business"?
  2. How do I "Innovate" to become a "Digital Business"?

Seemingly simple questions but the devil is definitely in the details.

Below are a list of key learnings from the conference and I apologize in advance if I didn't attribute the insights/ideas the right way as there were so many great discussions!

1: Speed kills + the pieces are all available with today's tech/data infrastructure

  • Applying Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation and other AI technologies to compress the "idea" to "product in-market" cycles aka supply chain modernization by 50-75% reeks of the kind of value creation and net new revenue generation we're all looking for
  • Especially interesting presentations with some incredible stats from Hasbro's Blandine JeanPaul (Senior Director Global Brand Strategy), American Red Cross' Sajit Joseph (Chief Innovation Officer) and Ralph Lauren's Sirat Babbar (Director of Strategy, Innovation + Change Management)

2: Important to recognize the two flavors of innovation and prioritize accordingly

  • Internal (operations, infrastructure, employee oriented) vs External (customer facing)
  • Enabling / empowering your people to have greater impact on the business (i.e. democratizing access to data/insights to drive employee decision making "closer to the front lines") vs increasing the value proposition between you and your customers
  • NYT's Ejieme Eromosele (MD of Customer Experience), Wal-Mart's Nancy Liang (Head of Strategy + Operations, Entertainment Group, eCommerce), Turner's David Beck (Chief Strategy & Ventures Officer) and Barclays Ben Shaw (Open Innovation Delivery Manager)

3: Businesses/brands need to be more human, literally + figuratively

  • Whether you're a B2B or B2C business, your "brand" and "business" is really the sum total of collective experiences folks have across all physical/digital touch points
  • Target's Keba Gordon (Head of Organization Design) literally stole the show with his presentation that I've literally been thinking about every day since Wednesday but one specific thing he said was "Organizational health is how stocks will be bought and sold in the future" and his message on the mission critical importance of companies being WAY MORE human with "employees" was VERY well received by the room
  • Keba along with Prudential's Tracy Reilly (VP of Integrated Brand Strategy), Heineken's Bjorn Trowery (Director of Communications) and American Red Cross' Sajit Joseph (Chief Innovation Officer)

4: "Listening broad" is important but "listening deep" is even more important as that's where the big breakthroughs come from

  • Special shout out to Fifth Third's Michael Crawford (VP Digital) as he crystallized this concept when he talked about picking 3 "super users" and shadowing them for 3 days to develop deep insights that can then be used to discover breakthrough ideas that are consistently better than 100+ person focus groups, general social listening techniques etc when it comes to big ideas (i.e. Fifth Third's "Momentum" app)
  • Converse's Andrea Samuel (Director of Global Business Planning) and Mastercard's Zahir Khoja (SVP of Global Acceptance Product Development and Innovation)

5: Innovation no longer has a "place" in an organization, no longer has a "beginning and an end"...Innovation is a cultural thing and your company's culture either IS or ISN'T "Innovation"

  • Whether it was Google's Sean Ginevan (Head of Global Strategy, Android Enterprise) laying out their "10X thinking" (aka Google doesn't go for 10% incremental improvement, they go all in on 10X better than the best option in the marketplace today), Keba Gordon unleashing his blueprint for Organizational Design/Culture 2.0, NYT's Ejieme Eromosele or Uber's Meghan Joyce (Regional GM) articulating their deep commitment to the mission, this message came through loud and clear...
  • Innovation is culture, culture is innovation and if yours isn't...WATCH OUT

6: Starting with the tech vs starting with your customer/employee data is backwards...seriously

  • It was VERY refreshing to hear universal agreement on the importance of listening deep and as Mastercard's Zahir Khoja said, "Understand the problem you're trying to solve or the demand/opportunity you're trying to create and then apply critical and creative thinking to innovate."
  • There's more than enough technology available today to drive all sorts of meaningful innovation
  • Falling in love with one technology/application (i.e. Chatbots anyone?) and then innovating around it before going deep on what you know about your key stakeholders isn't going to deliver sustained innovation...
  • Define the problem/opportunity and then innovate around it to deliver MEANINGFUL / SUSTAINED INNOVATION

7: Don't worry, the tension + friction throughout the process is natural

  • Whether it's identifying which Proof of Concept (POC) to pursue, which POCs to scale or how much customer/consumer research to execute before investing in building a prototype/POC etc, the "Sustained Innovation Process" is FULL of trade offs and SUPER healthy tension / friction
  • Special shout out again to Fifth Third's Michael Crawford (VP Digital) when he effectively said that the process is full of tradeoffs and prioritization and that it's critical to figure out "Where you want to be GREAT and where you want to be GOOD as you can't be GREAT at everything".

8: "A fundamentally different kind of leader is needed to compete and win in the digital economy" (Target's Keba Gordon)

  • As I mentioned above, Target's Keba Gordon LITERALLY stole the show so this one is completely dedicated to him --> "Re-Thinking Leadership For Growth: We are infected by outdated mindsets and behaviors that undermine human growth. Decide to become a better leader."
  • The above statement is big and provocative but it has a ton of merit when you dig into it and I hope that I'll be able to share his presentation as it has "high impact" written all over it!
  • Keba has started a movement and the impact he's going to have on Target is going to be extraordinary...and I just hope he enables all of us to be a part of his movement
  • There's no doubt in my mind that Keba is going to be under the big white tent this September at The Nantucket Project as he's that LEVEL of passion/leadership

More to come on the above but anybody who appreciates BIG IDEAS, please check out my post from last year's The Nantucket Project as it's a movement 1000% worth getting involved with and it needs as many BIG thinkers + doers as possible!

TNP is changing the world. Literally.

E:; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin