Highlights from November on Culture Audits, Budgets, and AI

By Lilly Milman |  December 2, 2020

As the end of the year approaches and we enter a holiday season unlike any other, it’s time to reflect on a year of challenges, surprising opportunities, and innovation.

We resolve to listen to continue to listen to our members, and to create the best content that we can. Last month, the team at InnoLead released the fall issue of Pointers, our Thought Leadership magazine, filled with innovation do’s and don’ts. We also released our “Benchmarking Innovation Initiatives in Financial Services” report at the request of our members, which digs deep into the state of innovation in 15 large financial services companies. 

Read the best pieces of recent advice we’ve been given by innovators in our live show, report, and other online coverage.

1. Everyone Should Be Thinking About the Future

When it comes to creating alignment with CEOs, John Hancock CEO and President Brooks Tingle suggests that innovators make sure they’re talking about the organizational vision and values. “I’m always going to listen more to someone that gets that vision, gets that set of values, and is doing work aligned with that,” Tingle says. 

While innovators should keep company values in mind, conversely, leaders should also keep collaboration in mind when discussing innovation, Tingle shares. He prefers when people collaborate on new initiatives and offerings, rather than passing the buck to the R&D department: “I expect all of my leaders — and I certainly expect myself in my role — to be thinking about the customer, thinking about the future, and bringing new ways to add value.” 

To learn more about how Tingle gets initiatives over the finish line, read the full interview

2. Before You Start Trying to Impact Culture Outside the Company, Look Inward

According to Converse CEO Scott Uzzell, as a brand that’s obsessed with youth culture and progressive ideas, Converse has a responsibility to respond to social unrest and social justice movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. And that begins on the inside, with a culture audit, Uzzell explained.

“Before we start acting on the outside, we need to be focused on what’s going on inside the building. Because we say to ourselves that our brand is inclusive. Our brand stands for so much to people around the world,” he said. “We still have work to do. That’s everything from increasing representation to making sure that we’re driving the most inclusive workforce that makes sure that people have a voice… That we bring that same vigor [that we drive towards product and innovation] as we think about driving the right culture in our building. And we’re doing that every day.” 

Uzzell was a keynote speaker at our Impact Conference in October. Watch the replay and read the highlights of his talk to learn more about how Converse is building a forward-thinking brand. 

3. Things Are Going to Get Better — Invest In Your Future

In so many ways, 2020 has been defined by sudden, dramatic change — from the shift to remote work, to changing buying habits, to the national dialogue around racial reckoning, to the aftermath of the presidential election. 

In an episode of our podcast, Innovation Answered, IL’s CEO Scott Kirsner and Senior Researcher Alex Slawsby dive into the four research reports our editorial team released this fall and explain the data. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, budgets were tightened or cut, layoffs ensued, and optimism was hard to find. Now, people are slightly more optimistic that their 2021 innovation budgets will grow, Kirsner explains. 

“I think we do see some organizations within those hard hit sectors saying, ‘Well, this is the time to get ahead. And this is the time to prepare for leadership when things do come back,'” Slawsby adds.

4. Your Team is the Symbol — Not the Destination — of Innovation

“When your team tries to gain attention with operating teams, they will face rejections, and they will be challenged,” writes Mohan Nair, Chief Innovation Officer at Cambia Health Solutions. “Keep them focused and motivated on the goal to transform the company and its people. I remind my team that we exist because the problem exists. Produce only to engage others and avoid making your team a silo, unless your charter demands it.”

Over the past decade, Nair has been crafting a successful innovation team and culture at Cambia. Now, he’s sharing the 10 laws he followed over the past 10 years to get to where he is now. Read his full article to find out his innovation musts.

5. Leverage Technology to Do Better With Less 

When people picture what artificial intelligence looks like, they tend to think of what Karim Lakhani calls “strong AI” — the type of futuristic machines that appear in science fiction movies. But the technology that many companies are already leveraging today is called “weak AI” — and this type of machine learning is much more cost-effective.

An example of weak AI in action can be seen at, the largest retailer in China. When tasked by the Chinese government to create financial products for farmers, leveraged a number of algorithms and existing facial recognition technology to create a program that would count livestock. This removed a time-consuming, expensive, and potentially dangerous manual process and replaced it with a more efficient system — and with it discovered an entire new market for the company.  

Lakhani was a keynote speaker at our Impact Conference in October. Watch the replay and read the highlights of his talk to learn more about how weak AI can cut costs while also enabling your company to offer a superior product.