Innovation is essential — not just to survive but to thrive as organizations.
And of course, not all innovation initiatives are successful.
If you want to make sure that your new projects have the best chance of 1) taking hold, and 2) making a major impact in your company and industry, you need new ideas. You need to know what’s working today and how the most innovative leaders are making change work in this chaotic and uncertain business environment.
That’s why, for the second year in a row, HIKE2’s Innovation Summit brought together thought leaders, technology enthusiasts, and business innovators from across industries to discuss ideas on how to successfully execute innovation initiatives.
November’s summit featured a wide variety of speakers from different verticals. But no matter what your industry, there were some valuable common threads that have the potential to help all of us as we move into 2023 and beyond.
Following are highlights from four thought-provoking sessions.
Innovation Through Simplicity
When we think of nuclear power, we may automatically associate it with huge facilities and potentially catastrophic incidents like Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island.
Opening keynote speaker Dr. Sola Talabi, Principle and CTO of Pittsburgh-Technical, described how innovative thinking has helped the nuclear industry eliminate the possibilities of these accidents in the future.
1. Think differently
There will be a significant demand for energy in the next 20 years, especially from developing countries. At the same time, we need to reduce emissions and expand clean technologies.
Energy distribution systems have limited grid capacity and are also vulnerable to storms and other natural disasters.
When current approaches are insufficient, we have no choice but to think differently.
2. Play to your advantages
Modern nuclear plants are smaller and more easily deployed. A reactor the size of a large conference room can now power a city the size of Pittsburgh, without refueling, for 10 years.
Smaller plants also mean fewer power lines and less potential for failure. Plants can be placed on barges or tractor trailers and shipped to sites during natural disasters.
Nuclear plants can also complement renewables and power heating systems, hydrogen production, seawater desalinization, and medical isotopes.
What are the advantages of your products or services? How can you make the most of them?
3. Don’t be afraid to tackle big problems
Google offers quick, authoritative answers to any question.
Amazon offers fast, reliable delivery of nearly anything.
Smaller nuclear plants reduce proliferation concerns and are safer and more sustainable to deploy and operate.
Identify your industry’s biggest problems and face them head on.
4. Learn from history
Think about how you can leapfrog technology. For example, in developing countries, rather than installing landline phones (at a high infrastructure cost), they skipped directly to cell phones. It took only 8 years for phones to reach 65% of the population in Africa.
Are there past approaches you can adapt to your current challenges?
5. Smaller systems are easier to manage
Smaller nuclear plants mean that the tech can be simpler, effectively managing or even eliminating risk. Then gravity can trap the spread of radioactive material, with no fans or pumps needed.
Can you harness smaller systems for simplicity? Can you eliminate some processes completely?
7. Rethink scale
Consider diseconomies of scale. Can you build a big solution by starting, or continuing, small?
For example, it’s cheaper to build many small nuclear plants than it is to build a single large one.
How can you break a large project into more manageable and cost-effective bite-sized pieces?
8. The end goal is simplicity…
But that doesn’t mean your journey will be simple!
Rely on and trust technology. The way you get there doesn’t have to be simple — imagine what goes on behind the scenes at Amazon to make the buying process look seamless.
Focus on demonstrating the simplicity of the solution to overcome resistance to change. This is key.
9. Learn the principles of simplicity in a complex world
Remember these five principles in every project:
- Practice empathy. It’s all about what your customers and clients need and want, not what you have. Think about the objective and not the ongoing activity.
- Look at scale. Can you get big by starting small?
- Remember that form follows function. Start with the end function first, then decide what it will look like. Remove features instead of adding them.
- Rely on technology. Demonstrating simplicity is key.
- Use an interdisciplinary approach. What can you learn from other experts?
Driving Actionable Innovation
Even positive changes don’t always stick. It’s often too easy for people to go back to the old ways of doing things.
Here are some ways to prevent that from Ian Gotts, founder and CEO of Elements.cloud.
10. Know what makes change stick
The top 3 reasons change doesn’t last include:
No obvious reason why it’s necessary.
Solution: Identify a clear catalyst.
Lack of change management skills in the organization.
Solution: Focus on developing strategic thinking and effective planning capabilities.
No senior champion.
Solution: This one’s so important that you may want to skip any projects that don’t include a sponsor from the beginning.
11. Know when innovation makes sense
Avoid change simply for the sake of it. Innovation must result in competitive advantage, improved productivity, or reduced costs — and be driven as a measurable, repeatable process.
Only undertake innovations that you can turn into actionable change in the workplace.
12. Reframe change
People are generally resistant to change. A study from the University of Toronto showed that only 25% of employees have a favorable view of innovation.
That means leaders need to highlight the benefits of innovation instead of allowing it to generate fear.
Ignore the people who don’t want to change — concentrate instead on the ones who are excited. The uncertain or moderately interested will get caught up in the enthusiasm and jump on board.
13. Make innovation a way of operating
Despite the popular misconception, innovation almost never results from a single spark of genius. Instead, it’s a consistent flow of ideas, process improvements, and 1% incremental changes.
Focus on keeping people engaged. Workshops are a great way to do this.
The National Park Service decides where to build new paths by watching where people walk through freshly fallen snow.
14. Create the right environment
An innovative work culture encourages risk taking.
One of Elements’ core values is trust — trusting yourself to make mistakes as well as trusting the organization not to keep reminding you of them. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Learn from mistakes and move on.
Kill off blame culture in your organization and celebrate mistakes. Nothing stifles innovation like being punished for it. Check out the book No Rules Rules for the story of Netflix’s reinvented work culture that encourages and empowers people to do the right things.
15. Increase your speed to adoption
Simplify before you automate. Don’t optimize processes that shouldn’t exist.
Create detailed requirements before anything else, and produce models before building full scale solutions.
One of Salesforce’s strengths is that it’s so easy to build things — but that same strength can also be a weakness.
16. Prioritize actionable data
It can be difficult getting innovation to stick. You need the right insights to grow efficiently.
Gong.io is a great example. The software analyzes sales calls to see which techniques work best, then helps organizations create new work process instructions.
Small changes can make big differences. In one case, taking a photo of home buyers standing on the spot where their new house will be built resulted in a 30% better close rate.
17. Capture ideas in the moment
Encourage users to add their suggestions directly into Salesforce using the comments function, or the equivalent if you use a different system. Then have a process in place to regularly collect the feedback and act on it. This turns giving feedback into a daily habit that drives incremental change.
Tips for Innovation in Uncertain Times
So how do companies thrive amid uncertainties like inflation, interest rates, Covid lockdowns in China, or the war in Ukraine?
This panel discussion takes a stab at answering these tough questions.
The session was moderated by Audrey Dunning, President and CEO of AMP Growth Advisors. Panelists included Greg Wilson, CIO of Centimark, William Fortwangler, CIO of Dollar Bank, and Michael Janney, VP of Industries for Salesforce.
18. Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean austerity
Despite the challenges of today’s business environment, companies are growing — including many of the summit’s attendees.
Some of the most notable innovations come about as reactions to “interesting times.” Don’t make the mistake of thinking all growth slows during economic downturns.
19. Realize that tech innovation continues
Even advances in seemingly unrelated industries can have indirect impacts or applications in your organizations.
All innovations — including self-driving vehicles, advances in nuclear energy, and AI — help to put new products and services, optimized business processes, doing more with less, and cutting costs within our reach.
20. Think automation, integration, and repetitive tasks
William Fortwangler from Dollar Bank likes to joke that they’re automating tasks employees have been doing since 1855.
The reality is that every organization has a lot to do and many repetitive tasks that can be automated. Make the most of the tech you already have.
Use AI to make innovations look seamless. Efficiency equals integration — and with AI it’s now easier than ever.
21. Focus on efficiencies
When it’s hard to find employees, make data your goal. Integrate systems to create a seamless customer experience.
Three times a year, Michael Janney looks at what Salesforce customers are looking for in manufacturing, fintech, etc.
How do you leverage technology to do more with less, not just to compete but to lead? The right data helps your teams succeed.
22. Think about targeted impacts
What’s “best in class” in your industry? For example, in financial services, customers can do any transaction on a mobile device in 3 minutes.
In construction, visual AI can collect data, integrate with related apps, and allow companies to sell data to large property management organizations.
Leverage integration to make a more targeted impact.
23. Accommodate a hybrid work model
The jury’s still out on where we’ll settle long term when it comes to working remotely.
Where will the workforce end up — at home, in the office, or some hybrid model?
It’s a balancing act. Any solutions you adopt should be able to flex for any eventuality.
24. Don’t rest on your laurels
Competition comes from all sides today, but we can still drive change.
Even in uncertain times, the competitive appetite to stay ahead hasn’t diminished. Some may scale back certain capital projects, but there’s still pressure to do more tomorrow. Challenges in hiring make us rethink ways to streamline and simplify.
Innovation can bring products to life for customers and visually tell a story about their value. Why is one roof better than another? Create messages that connect.
25. Have a strong pipeline for professional services
Job candidates are hard to find, and they now spend as much time interviewing potential employers as they do being interviewed.
This makes partners a critical extension of an organization’s capabilities for high-level skills.
Companies need to value their partner networks like they do team members and screen them similarly to employees. Nurture and manage those relationships. Their value will become more evident over time.
26. Innovate from the shop floor
How can you help your people in the trenches?
Look at both external and internal voice of customer (VOC).
The channels you’ll use to hear VOC will differ:
- Your users will give you valuable feedback. This can make a huge impact — with virtually no effort on your part — and you can continue to grow.
- Internal customers, on the other hand, will give you insight that no one further up the chain in the organization ever could.
As part of encouraging change, William does one-on-ones with each of his 150 team members. He examines down, looking at what they are doing day-to-day to gain valuable insight.
Continuous Innovation on Salesforce
Innovation is key to staying ahead of the competition and keeping your customers happy.
But according to Mike Speer, Business Strategy Director at Salesforce, the tech piece is really the least important aspect of innovation. Technology is the mechanism, but it’s not how we innovate. That comes from the context we work in, including the people and situations.
27. Know the 3 key attributes needed for innovation
Organizations that want to nurture innovation need to focus on:
- Grit — From the book by Angela Duckworth titled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, we learn how organizations can tap into people’s natural passions.
For example, most of us want to help people — and technology is a great way to do so. Be persistent and stubborn. Keep driving through and when you trip, get back up and keep going.
- Curiosity — Keep a beginner’s mind. Look first at what the organization is currently doing and how. Next, define how they want to work. Start every new project with a clean slate, approach them like you’re learning from scratch.
- Humility — Let go of the need to know everything. Be okay with researching something and coming back to it later. Let yourself have stupid ideas. Reframe failure as a good thing, because innovation happens in the shadow of failure.
28. Know the most important aspects of innovation
Nothing can beat the people you work with and the partnerships you create between business and technology.
We need partnerships and relationships to innovate. There are no brilliant ideas without interaction.
Build on your joint experiences working through problems, including the small, incremental changes in tech or process improvements in that contextual situation. You’ll start seeing the same things over and over, just a different flavor.
A formula for innovation
Innovation occurs just outside your knowledge base. Think of it this way:
Innovation = technical certainties (what works and how) + assumptions + creativity
Have conversations. Listen to random stories about how people use Salesforce and other tools — which can give you different perspectives.
29. Reframe the technical focus of innovation
Technology changes quickly. You can only know so much, and that’s okay.
Check the Salesforce release notes, research best practices, and accept that you will forget things. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know or you need to check on something. Let the client know you’ll research it, figure it out, and get back to them.
30. Follow these recommendations for incremental innovation
Mike’s top suggestions:
- Collaborate more, tap into the hive mind on a regular basis. Have design jams. Talk through problems and share what everyone else has done.
- Realize there’s a lot of benefit in non-thinking activities like walking, taking a shower, or driving. It’s common to have lightbulb moments when you least expect it. Be willing to give your brain time to absorb issues and marinate on them.
- Be present as much as possible and don’t multitask. Let yourself be in conversations.
- Finally, be Icarus — don’t be afraid to fly high because you never know what will resonate or stick. Shoot for the moon.
Continue your innovation journey
In all, each session provided many great ideas, but you can take the lessons that are most applicable to your business and apply them in 2023.
Continue your journey by viewing the on-demand videos from Innovation Summit 2022: