Last week’s Front End of Innovation (FEI) Conference brought together today’s brightest innovators to showcase designs, discuss developments, and. . .build marshmallow towers? (More on that later.) This three-day event provided countless opportunities to discuss innovation in today’s marketplace. Here are our top 5 takeaways:
1. Be prepared to pivot. Peter Koen, Director of the Consortium for Corporate Entrepreneurship, kicked off opening night by having teams build a freestanding structure from marshmallows and wooden sticks. Although my team didn’t win, we did gain some insight into how using a learning strategy can enable quicker reactions to any issues during a process. Setting up processes for reacting efficiently and effectively after failure is becoming increasingly important for companies looking to keep up with the fast-moving marketplace.
2. Be a hero. Dustin Garis, Founder of LifeProfit, gave some great examples of brands (such as Coca-Cola and Expedia) that are becoming “heroes” for consumers by breaking up the mundane routines of our everyday life. Given that 80% of millennials prefer experiences over “stuff,” brands that can create an experience will have a much better chance of having top-of-mind awareness with younger consumers.
3. Fail fast. Deborah Arcoleo, Director for the Innovation Center of Excellence with The Hershey Company, reviewed some key points to remember when incorporating innovation into your corporate strategy. Her motto? Fail fast, fail cheaply, and make sure you capture the learnings. Innovation is often an iterative process. By catching failures early, companies can prevent costly failures further down the pipeline.
4. The innovation paradigm is shifting. Eric von Hippel, a professor of innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management, drew our attention to the shifting paradigm of producer innovation and user innovation. Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” While producers and manufacturers were considered primary innovators in the past, users are taking an ever-growing role in the innovation landscape. Users are developing products on their own and taking advantage of open source programs to spread and build upon ideas. Even producers themselves are getting in on the fun by providing users with the tools to innovate.
5. Follow your passion. Miki Agrawal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Wild, THINX, and SUPER SPROUTZ as well as author of Do Cool Sh*t, had a wake-up call when she slept through her alarm on September 11, 2001 and didn’t make it to work on time. From that point on, she dedicated her time to following her passions, including opening a health-conscious pizza restaurant and creating a children’s television program dedicated to healthy habits. In each of her ventures, Agrawal identified her strengths and weaknesses, and she built teams that complimented one another to achieve her goals, rather than taking on the venture alone.
While the face and pace of innovation may be changing, one thing remains clear—incremental change leads to incremental growth. It’s time to start pushing the envelope.
Blair Bailey and Hannah Russell are Associate Researchers at CMB and recent graduates from Boston University. Personally, they prefer egg drop competitions to building marshmallow structures.