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The Innovation Imperative: Three Trends from the Chief Innovation Officer Summit

A buzz was in the air as innovation thought leaders from some of the world’s most reputable companies assembled recently at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in New York City. We heard from CIOs, CKOs, head strategists and innovation experts from NASA, Boston Children’s Hospital, Disney, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Kraft, Chrysler and many others about their perspectives on the concept and business impact of innovation.

As we listened carefully, three central themes emerged. 

For businesses today, innovation is not a cliché, a buzzword or even a nice-to-have – it’s imperative. Innovation must be etched into a company’s DNA if it has any hope of succeeding at creating something new and useful that generates profit and improves the lives of customers. But innovation, and all the wins that come with it, doesn’t just happen overnight.

Would Amazon, ranked 49th on the Fortune 500, still be around if they didn’t have an absolute commitment to continuous product and service innovation? Probably not. They’ve instilled an innovation culture into every aspect and detail of their business strategy, from technology and design right down to marketing, logistics and everything in between – drone and grocery delivery included. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and Washington Post owner, once said, “What we want to be is something completely new. There is no physical analogy for what Amazon.com is becoming.” Indeed, Amazon’s entire business is built upon pushing the boundaries of innovation.

To make maximum business impact, innovation takes co-creation. This concept is nothing new, but its importance can’t be stressed enough. Allow those who have the most invested in the success of your brand, product or service – internal staff, external clients and advisors, and, above all, consumers – to help influence change that matters.

Businesses thrive when they collaborate with their consumers, forge relationships with them, learn their unmet and ever-changing needs and tap into their creative minds to help move business forward. Consumers also win when the intimacy gap narrows; their ideas and purchasing power pushes businesses to deliver mutually beneficial innovation that makes their lives better.

That said, there will always  be tension between finding the innovative change and bringing it to life. The key is to harness this tension between two opposing forces, work through the issues together and meet business challenges head-on. This creates a breeding ground for innovation.

Modern society has become obsessed with breakthrough business innovation. Given how fast the world around us is moving and how interconnected we have become, the buck should not stop at the breakthrough alone. If companies like Amazon or Apple had stopped at one breakthrough, they would have long ago faded into irrelevancy. Business that’s rooted in breakthrough remains progressive through constant innovation. The biggest and most challenging job we have as innovators is to keep going. An always-on world deserves nothing less than always-on innovation.

As innovators, our role and responsibility is to move away from being just “ideas people” toward becoming change agents, working together with staff cross-functionally and with customers collaboratively to generate new thinking and approaches to business strategy. So, innovate, co-create and be “always on.”

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