While innovation is increasingly recognized as a collective effort rather than a product of one genius, it is still driven by passionate and visionary leadership. Inspired by iconic leaders like Thomas Edison, YPO -- the global peer network of more than 24,000 business leaders in more than 130 countries across the world -- recently embarked on an unprecedented initiative: the inaugural YPO Innovation Week.
YPO Innovation Week included more than 50 discussions designed to explore what drives innovators to create a lasting, positive impact in their communities and organizations. Throughout the week-long interactive conference, YPO members learned via live-streaming global conferences, in-person events and virtual conversations with leaders in different continents (including a tour of the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center led by YPO member Young Sohn, President of Samsung Electronics) that while ingenuity comes in many forms across the world, it invariably starts with understanding the changing business climate and questioning boundaries at home and abroad.
1. Collaborate to innovate.
“Innovation thrives most in an atmosphere where academic and business leaders consider each other partners in finding ways to translate new technologies, products and services and then commercializing them into the world’s markets,” said CHAMP Private Equity Executive Chairman Bill Ferris (who is considered the founding father of private equity and venture capital in Australia) during YPO Innovation Week’s kick-off event in Sydney, Australia, which was broadcast globally.
During the same panel discussion, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stressed the importance of government involvement in supporting business growth and creating a culture that embraces risk.
“Creating a more innovative, agile and unrelentingly entrepreneurial culture is a key focus of my government,” he said. “We’re boosting investment in innovative, high-growth businesses. We’re making it easier for startups to access early-stage capital by providing generous tax incentives for investors.”
The prime minister underscored two needs: to tackle the fear of failure, and to reform Australian insolvency and bankruptcy laws that focus too heavily on penalizing failed businesses. “We’re committed to encouraging entrepreneurship,” he said. “Experimentation is a critically important part of leadership in the 21st century.”
2. Innovation is not a business process.
At YPO Innovation Week panel discussions in the U.S., entrepreneurs confirmed that ingenuity can come from almost any source, including what you eat. For Bulletproof Coffee Founder and CEO Dave Asprey, food as brain fuel is always top of mind. “It’s not about health; it’s about business performance,” he explained during the YPO Innovation Week event in Santa Monica, which was also broadcast worldwide.
Asprey, a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur who spent two decades and more than $300,000 to hack his own biology and lose 100 pounds, developed the Bulletproof philosophy using systematic thinking, science and self-experimentation to take control of and upgrade his mind, body and life -- and help others do the same. “Innovation itself is absolutely not a business process,” said Asprey. “It only happens when you create an environment for it.”
He explained that most people (and companies) have a default mental and cultural firewall that prevents them from executing new ideas. This, he said, is the company’s “immune system,” a mode of preservation (i.e. protect the bottom line) that does not leave room for any new (i.e. risky) ideas. Learning how to consciously overcome this reflexive obstacle is key to embracing original ideas.
Additionally, Asprey shared that one way to begin building a better company is to change employees from the inside out. Adjusting the biology inside of employees’ heads by providing them with healthier foods will lead to them becoming stronger innovators. “You will always win if you have higher-quality food for your employees,” he said. “They will be more productive and your healthcare costs will go down. When you have things for your employees that supercharge their brains, everyone wins.”
3. Move from ‘faith-based’ to ‘evidenced-based’ innovation.
In a global conference call from San Francisco, YPO member Jim Hornthal, chairman of LaunchPad Central, noted that successful innovation requires flexibility and the capability to adapt quickly, as well as a shared desire to get to Plan B (or Plan C or Plan D) as fast as possible.
Traditionally, many companies and entrepreneurs have embraced a “faith-based” approach to origination, which Hornthal described as “a gateway to the past,” often relying on blind faith in an idea, a technology or a market and assuming that very little will go wrong on the way to success.
However, faith-based innovation is a major reason that the vast majority of startups fail.
“If, on the other hand, we consider an ‘evidence-based’ approach, we would focus on deploying new tools, metrics and techniques to transparently and actively manage the innovation process,” said Hornthal. “Evidence-based innovation means realizing that Plan A is most likely not going to work, and getting as quickly and inexpensively as possible to Plan B, C or D, that might work, becomes the imperative. Getting there is where the magic happens.”
4. The upshot
An extensive study by the Product Development Management Association revealed that the top 25 percent of product innovators outperform the bottom 25 percent by 12 times. Therefore, the mindset of the risk-takers and thought leaders who participated in YPO Innovation Week is a crucial component of business success. As Brett Wilson, YPO member and Chairman of Prairie Merchant Corp., put it, “We aren’t rolling the dice and getting a thrill or jumping off a cliff blindly. We are not taking risks for the sake of risks; we just have a higher threshold for pain.”
Kevin Fallon is CEO of Pivotal Innovation Inc. and Chair of YPO Innovation Week.