Innovation Across Generations

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I recently participated in the St. Louis American Cancer Society’s “Society Talk” Leadership Speaker series focused on the topic “Innovation across the Generations.”

Joining me on the panel were Patrick E. Smith Sr., Assistant Vice President – Division Operations, of Ameren Missouri and Carter Williams, Chief Executive Officer, of iSelect Fund Management, LLC. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Rigdon, Manager – Event Strategy, of Edward Jones.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the panel, and learned a lot from the other panelists and attendees in the room. This is a great speaking series to have on your radar as many industries and fields of work are represented in the room from many successful St. Louis companies. You can view the dates for the 2017 Speaker Series here.

Below is a recap of my questions and answers from the panel. I am already looking forward to attending the events in 2017!

Q: What was the last app you downloaded?
A: Snapchat. I was very very late to the party on this network as I’ve been immersed in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and IG, but now I love it and understand why all the middle schoolers and high schoolers are addicted. I’m still working through how it would be effective for business use in my industry.

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Q: Favorite creative or inspirational space in St. Louis?
A: CIC, or the Cambridge Innovation Center. It’s St. Louis’ largest innovation community with co-working space for all stages of startups and existing businesses. If you have not been up to their Venture Café on a Thursday night, you are missing out.

Q: Who is your favorite innovator?
A: Of my time, I liked watching Steve Jobs’ and the Apple product journey. Steve and his team were able to consistently produce products and services that we didn’t even know we needed. And now it would be a challenge for many of us to live without them.

Q: Who most inspires you today?
A: I continue to watch Elon Musk and Tesla. Tesla has all the technology and research for electric car production, but they know that they cannot produce the cars fast enough to address the energy crisis. Tesla’s patents and research are freely available to all that would like to use it to advance electric car production.

Q: What if any “key” do you have to unlock your creative thinking – like a song, favorite place, exercise, journal?
A: For me, it’s running and venti Americanos… but not in that order. There are days where I can sit and focus at my desk, but other days my best ideas are born on the road when I am less focused on coming up with great ideas. I just have to remember to write they down as quickly as possible!

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Q: Tell us a little of your back story. How did you map your career to get to where you are now?
A: My career background has been in financial services consumer marketing and advertising. I made a switch a few years back to helping brands attract top talent to open job roles. This space is called “employer branding.”

It’s a pretty new concept, but many companies now have teams dedicated to giving candidates a great digital experience, similar to your online experiences as a consumer. I’m currently leading the Recruitment Marketing team for Scottrade, working to attract candidates to headquarters and nationwide branch roles.

Q: How do you manage the fear of failure, channeling risk in a positive way within an innovative environment?
A: We cannot move forward without failure. Leaders need to let their teams know that failure is an option, or they will continue to produce at the status quo. Status quo is no longer acceptable with the amount of technological advances going on around us. We must be running at all times to keep up with the tech changes affecting all of our businesses.
One of the best business examples on this is Kodak. Kodak’s leaders just could not picture a world without film and printed pictures, so they did not work to innovate into the digital space quickly enough. I think we all know where this story ends.

Failure is acceptable and to be expected. We set measurable goals for all of our new projects so we know if we were successful or not. Even if we fail, we learn what changes we need to make for next time or we just totally abandon a concept. If you cannot remember any recent failures, you’re probably not innovating.

Q: How does an organization adapt to change and create an environment for innovation?
A: First, leaders must recognize the need to change and innovate, and be vocal and supportive of building an environment for innovation. There’s much more than just saying “we are going to be innovative now.” Your innovative teams must be broken off from your “business as usual” functions and be given more liberty around work hours, work style, budgets and metrics. They must also be given a communication line with your consumers so they can converse with the people who would be using your new product and services to make sure they are making relevant strides for your business.

Their projects must be thought of as long-term investments, and innovators cannot be micro-managed or constantly asked for status updates on their work. Just get out of their way. Your highest performers just need the opportunity to do their job. Often times we bombard our great performers with processes, reports and meetings, and they cannot really do what they are hired to do. Five million jobs are to be replaced by tech by 2020. Are you allowing your people to re-tool their skillsets and be ready for the changes they will be seeing in their jobs soon?

Q: What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far, and why?
A: The most innovative physical device is hands down the cell phone, but then came social media, and it changed everything. I think the latest stat is that we check social media something like 17 times a day, and spend 5 hours a day on our phones. It has changed advertising and how we do business, but ultimately it has forever alerted global communication as we know it. Millennial or not, you are affected by social media. Facebook is now the largest country on earth from a user perspective. It is giving everyone a platform to publicly share their opinions, whether they should have such a platform or not.

Cell phones have taken over the dinner table, and we have become less comfortable with face-to-face communication and are more comfortable communicating via text and social, in which there is much less context provided to both parties, which is dangerous.

Q: What are you doing through your leadership role and work that allows you be a servant leader?
A: For me, it is essential to allow your team to develop so they can perform their role to the best of their ability. As a leader, you must be serving the highest priority needs of your team, and not getting in their way. Make sure you have them working on inspirational projects, and not always buried in the weeds of their day-to-day work.

Listen to what they are looking for in their role and future career, and empower them to get there. Set goals that are reflective of their interests and career path, and don’t hold them back when they are ready to go. Your best work as a leader is getting your people to their next level.

Hope to see you at the next event!

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