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The Innovation Equation

Everyone’s chasing it: a new idea that resonates. It could be building a company where everyone wants to work, a product that meets unmet needs, or a piece of content that elicits emotion. In a world where change is happening all the time and innovation is a buzzword lacking an understood meaning across trades, finding a way to break through can be complicated. Yet, at a recent American Advertising Federation Kansas City event with leaders from VML and Hallmark, maybe the solution to the innovation equation is within reach if we’re willing to invest in it. The potential key? Diversity and inclusion.

Itself a facet of business that’s changing quickly, the need for diversity and inclusion isn’t lost on most people. As Phil Polk, Vice President of Multicultural Strategy at Hallmark explained, the way to foster diversity and inclusion throughout a company is to “teach the organization to fish”. For Hallmark, Michael Gonzales, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, explained that this meant giving business leaders a comfort level with saying they don’t know everything. Hallmark even created a Center for Diversity & Inclusion, said Gonzales, to help the organization focus on moving from transactional to strategic thinking when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Subashini Nadarajah, Director of Design at VML, noted the existence of diversity and inclusion in VML’s work existed, but was not pronounced. Her perspective on fostering more of it included the company embracing their work around diversity and inclusion and making it public.

Yet, when an organization doesn’t know where to start, some leaders jump to looking at data and metrics to guide diversity and inclusion strategies. Polk said data and metrics can be good at helping those outside the frame of reference get comfort with new ways of doing things and to him, showing data and metrics is a way of hand holding and helping people understand. Brian Yamada, Chief Innovation Officer at VML added that most companies are risk averse, but metrics data and testing help boil down the ideas to a help create the new experience. He also explained though, that diversity and inclusion has to be part of the habit: people inside an organization have to step into other people’s shoes. Gonzales went on to explain that we can metric or statistic too much. Sometimes, he said, we just need to gather insight from diverse employees and go with a gut feeling.

Working at organizations that have gone through the development of centers of expertise around diversity and inclusion, the leaders at VML and Hallmark also offered thoughts on what not to do. Polk’s guidance steers organizations away from keeping its head down and taking the same route for 20 years. He notes that young people today are not the younger versions of who he and his colleagues are: they’ve changed. He also added that organizations sometimes focus on diversity, but not inclusion. Organizations that bring in diverse people, but don’t give them the ability to share their experience or make an impact are examples of this lack of inclusion, said Gonzales. Nadarajah, though, challenged those in attendance to voice insights from their own authentic and true self in helping organizations evolve. She even shared a story about when she had to put her foot down on creating a logo for the beef council due to her Hindu upbringing. Rather than caving to the request that clashed with her culture, she came up with a solution to the challenge and stayed true to her identity at the same time. Yamada didn’t stop at just the organization and employees of an organizations evolving, though. He further guided organizations to consider the external impact they can have on the community by focusing on diversity and inclusion. For him, this meant understanding how others would react and how ideas would resonate across all dimensions.

Consumers and organizations will continue to diversify across all spectrums. Race, gender, sexual preference, religion, economic situation, marital status, and a variety of other factors contribute to people’s lives.  When thinking about diversity throughout employees, organizations, and communities, everyone must contribute to the broadening of diversity, but also to a culture of inclusion. Organizations must be aware of the changing audience landscape and meet people where they are, as both the organizations and people continue to evolve.

Why do I work at AWG? “I value the opportunity to work with family businesses. My dad owned his own business for 35 years, so it is what I know and cherish. Plus, I love food, so thinking about it everyday is a huge plus.” -Kate