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Chief Innovation Officer Summit SF – CINOSF Innovation Trends

As an entrepreneur living in San Francisco, I’m in the heart of the startup scene and all things tech. It’s hard to avoid these two cultural phenomena, and collaborating regularly with individuals in  these demographics has undoubtedly shaped my definition of what it is to innovate. At the Chief Innovation Officer Summit this week, I got a glimpse of innovation through the eyes of another group: the Fortune 500s. Although there were few startups in the conference hall, these budding businesses dominated the innovation conversation.

Some observations from presenters and audience members at CINOSF:

1. Give “disruption” a rest. 

In her recent New Yorker piece, Jill Lepore gave some convincing arguments for why “disruption” shouldn’t be the name of the innovation game. Many of the corporate innovation leaders at CINOSF were thinking in the same vein. During a panel on innovation and technology, one CINO from Comcast said within the innovation world,  ”disruption” is starting to be replaced with “reimagining.” This signature innovation term was also one of the major talking points during a technology and innovation panel featuring our Pro Speaker Matthew Waldman. And among the audience members, there was a lot of discussion about what “disruption” means in today’s lexicon. The moral of the story: if everything is described as “disruption,” then we ought to find a better word.

2. Invest in a startup. 

For the professionals in the field of innovation, the word of the hour wasn’t “disruption” — it was “startup.” And that’s only fitting, considering the conference convened in San Francisco, a city that had nearly 4,000 startups in 2012 (and even more now), according to USA Today. But the question is, what kind of startup do big businesses snatch up? One notable presenter, Andy Donner of Unilever, laid it out pretty clearly: “We go for startups poised to expand internationally.” I could almost hear my comrades at WeWork (the community workspace down the street in SoMa) pulling out their world maps and ramping up their global strategies.

3. Better yet, think like a startup. 

While some talk centered on acquiring startups, other C-level innovators went a step further by trying to infuse their companies with the startup mentality. Coca-Cola gave a presentation on its entrepreneurial spirit, describing the many ways in which the soda giant is trying for a little bit of that “small biz” feel. Some of their latest efforts:

- Startup Weekend: A 2 1/2 day event where Coca-Cola employees  conceive, develop and pitch product ideas. Think of it as a Fortune 500 version of a Hackathon. The company captured an awesome video with great testimonials from all the employees who loved this innovative weekend event, but said there was still some perspective changing to do: even though the Startup Weekend wasn’t held during business hours, many of the attendees still wound up developing new Coca-Cola products as if it was an R&D meeting.
- Community workspace: To engage its employees’ collaborative spirits, Coca-Cola built a community workspace in its headquarters where staff could brainstorm and mingle with people from other departments. But the idea proved short-lived when the only people who used the space were freelancers who didn’t have any other seat in the building. A few months later, the room was turned into an event space. It just comes to show that you’ve got to create the overall environment in which new ideas flourish, not designate one room for innovation. If you build it, they do not always come.
- Failure Conference: This is another strategy Coke has employed to increase acceptance of new ideas and risk-taking culture. Employees from across departments came to the conference to hear their coworkers and bosses discuss their professional failures. GD of Innovation Carrie Davis said many of the C-level execs didn’t really share failures at all during their presentations. 
These strategies are valiant efforts, but the fact is that the startup culture is about a lot more than just creative collaboration and risk-taking. Transforming corporations into places where ideas are exchanged freely and innovation is truly embraced will take more than just a single conference or collaboration room.

4. Just say “yes.”

While many of Day 1′s early presentations focused on management systems for innovation, one presenter challenged this notion with a simple word: yes. That presenter was Stuart Jenkins, VP of Innovation at Deckers Outdoor Corporation.

Here’s his signature story:  At age 18, he set out to create a better running shoe for runners like himself. This running shoe with “air” in it would later spawn Nike Air and other lucrative shoe lines; but to get there, there were an awful lot of rejections. Stuart’s tech was turned down by 94 sneaker companies before it was finally purchased by Reebok, who sold so much of the sneaker that the line’s revenue was larger than the total revenue of 80 of the “no thanks” sneaker companies combined. Using this story as a launchpad, Stuart drilled home his main theme: “great innovation never starts with ‘no.’” When he asked the audience, “Can you think of anyone who ever got fired for saying “no” to a great idea?” I looked around the room and didn’t see a single hand go up.

Where’s the risk of saying “no?” Just ask Blockbuster (who said “no” to Netflix 3 times) or the head of Kodak (which said “no” to digital photography until it was too late). Stuart’s “say yes” culture had the audience energized and, more importantly, poised for action. I surveyed dozens of the attendees, and the majority not only found Stuart’s message the most captivating, but said they would share this philosophy with their teams once the conference was over.

5.  Create high-impact content.

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At Pro Speaker Content, strategic content is at the heart of our branding philosophy. And at CINOSF, more than a few innovation executives were speaking our language. Donner of Unilever said, simply, “Brands need to create content that engages their global audience.” And the true brand engagement guru of CINOSF, Shelley Kuipers of  Chaordix, outlines seven simple steps to increasing brand participation. One telling statistic she shared: 80% of Lego’s YouTube channel content is uploaded by its fans. That content drives major page views and fosters a brand community, without Lego having to pay a dime. As content continues to play center stage in marketing and branding, PSC is excited to usher in a new era of high-impact content for the professional speaker industry.

A note on the CINOSF summit videography: We were glad to see they had video testimonials and a Content On-Demand service, but we wish we could have seen a cinematic event video that really captures the feeling of being at the conference.

6. Foster internal collaboration.

All around the conference, the underlying theme was collaboration. Attendees discussed their frustration with innovation software that keeps new ideas trapped inside software, not out in the office. Although I was disappointed with Whirlpool’s presentation, they did share one interesting finding: the professional speaker series at the Whirlpool headquarters was rocket fuel for innovation because it brought new perspectives to ignite the dialogue. To foster that cross-departmental collaboration, leaders from Coca-Cola organized a Failure Conference that promoted the culture of risk-taking among employees of all rank, department and title.

 As an innovative startup that works with some very innovative individuals, hearing the Fortune 500 perspective on organizational innovation was invaluable and, in many ways, surprising. Although we weren’t captivated by a lot of the presenters, we left the conference  filled with new ideas. And when it comes to innovation, that’s a step in the right direction. 

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