Although it is rare, every now and then, I get to just sit back and listen to leaders talk about innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the last two weeks, I had an opportunity to keynote at a Nestle/Purina meeting in St. Louis and a Sysomos meeting in Toronto.  Here is what I learned.

#1 – Local Innovation is Important to Monitor & SharePete Blackshaw, global digital chief of Nestle, showed example after example of social media/digital/paid media innovation from India, Pakistan, Turkey and many other countries.  It made me reflect on the past and remember how many times leaders have shared examples from the largest countries, rather than the most innovative.  Pete is a born innovator who identifies what’s next and then shares it better than anyone I’ve seen to help his team build a unique advantage.  Internal center of excellence focus matters and Pete and his team are a great example.  Plus, there is A LOT of innovation occurring in the media world in Asia and in emerging countries overall.  We need to keep an eye on this to learn ourselves, particularly in the US where we navel gaze too much. 

#2 – Being an Entrepreneur Takes Guts Jim McKelvey, creator and founder of Square along with Jack Dorsey, provided this analogy.  He showed a picture of a car on a road where it was snowing.  You can’t see ahead at all.  He said “this is what it is like being an entrepreneur when you are really innovating.  You can’t see clearly ahead.  You can’t stop your car because the plow will hit you from behind.  You aren’t sure if you are going straight, but every mile you see a marker and you are ok for a second.  You keep going straight…..or think you are….your gut is you are right…..and then finally, after you have run scared for what seems like a long time, you see the landscape.”  He said that he has been scared to do every great thing he’s done.  But he did it anyway and ended up creating some pretty cool companies.  He’s right.  Innovation can be a lonely, frustrating place.  If you can stay focused long enough, the windshield will clear and the trip will be worth it.

#3 – We Can Innovate Far Faster Than We RealizeBen Kaufman, founder of Mophie, dropped out of school and still did ok.  He now leads Quirky.  They crowd-source ideas for new products and produce three new products each week!  They built a new air conditioner for GE in 140+ days.  A new smart lightbulb in less time.  His message is that if you really crowd-source views and care about innovation, you can greatly accelerate what you create.  He was pretty clear that companies move way too slow, point to bureaucracy, wait for others to make decisions and they are actually the real problem.  Ben said “you need to overpromise and over deliver to unlock innovation.  You need to set very ambitious deadlines to get things moving.”  We experienced the power of crowd-sourcing with IdeaStorm when I was at Dell.  Why don’t we see more of this?

#4 – Patterns Matter in Analytics – Cynthia Storer, one of the original six members of the CIA’s analysis team (all women) tracking Bin Laden from 1988 through recent times, outlined the importance of looking for clues, finding patterns and then determining what to analyze.  If you closed your eyes, you would think she was working with us.  Great analytics has the same intensity.  We always assume there is another clue to find, another pattern we missed.  We can learn a lot from listening to how Cindy’s team operated. 

#5 – Digital Media is now the Mainstream Media for Major CompaniesRob Norman, Chairman/CEO of Group M and board member of WPP spoke.  Rob clearly stated that strategy starts with digital and that is where the focus is for WPP.  Rob said “every plan at WPP now has a significant digital component”.  He also said that “ecommerce is changing.  Point of sale is determined by consumer choice, not brand”.   We are now in a world where it is normal for 40-60% of marketing spend to be digital worldwide. 

#6 – Facebook is a S²aaS firm – Facebook understands that software is optimally used when you combine education, training, ideas and the software.  I see their teams at every big company these days.  They are highly dedicated to their client’s business and they make a difference.  It makes me wonder why every SaaS firm doesn’t get this.   Software does not sell itself in a marketing environment.  Kudos to John Patten and friends at Facebook.   

#7 – The Future looks like Buzz Feed – publishers will move closer to the Buzz Feed model where the publisher works with you on how to leverage your ads.  They help create content with the advertiser.  It is past due for the advertisers of the world to ensure they also become relevant members of the conversation.  We have a lot of evolution ahead in the ad space. 

#8 – The New Celebrity Looks like Us – people are not connecting as much with celebrities these days.  Instead, they are connecting more often with the emerging stars on YouTube and other channels who are more like them.   We now have more potential spokespeople…..

#9 – It’s Hard to See Change & Embrace ItGuy Kawasaki pointed out how companies too often hang on to the models of the past and make excuses as to why they can’t change.  This works until they become obsolete, over and over again.  Couldn’t help but think he was referencing the advertising world as he said this.  He said “the key is what is the core question we are solving for and why?  What is the next curve?”

#10 – Great Innovations Polarize People – Guy said that when real innovation is occurring, it can divide before it unites, since so many people hate change.  This from a guy who used to work for Steve Jobs. 

#11 – Don’t be a Bozo – Guy told the story of how he turned down the CEO job of Yahoo! in the early days.  He didn’t make the time to figure out the opportunity.  And it passed him by. He figures he lost about $2 billion.  His point is that great ideas and great opportunities are often right in front of us…….but can we see them or do we refuse to see them?

#12 – Make Decisions with SpeedLindsay Sparks, new CEO of Sysomos, talks about how the need to make quicker decisions outweighs having perfect information or waiting for a scheduled call/meeting.  Our world is moving too fast and demands better/faster decision-making.  As Lindsay said “if someone can’t make a decision, I’ll make it for them”.  I love that.  What it really means is that we all need to work at how to become more empowered and make our own decisions earlier. If we’re waiting for leaders to break the tie, we are part of the problem. 

All of these insights can apply, in some way, to our daily lives.  My advice is to think about it…..and think of how we can each improve the company or organization we work at today.

All the best, Bob