Highlights from September on Finding Digital Solutions

By Lilly Milman |  October 1, 2020

The fall, even when you are long past the days of going back to school, always brings with it a renewed sense of productivity and focus. Innovators feel the same way. With only a few months left in the year, innovation leaders are still busy observing and analyzing trends, and trying to create the tools that we need to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Last month, the team at InnoLead published a digital-first special issue of our magazine, called “Innovation Matters More,” where we turned to expert contributors to answer questions about the future of their industries. It is available on our website, as well as on Amazon as a Kindle and paperback edition. Later in the month, with the help of our sponsor Startgrid, we published our “Digitizing the Innovation Team” research report, where we asked innovation leaders about what tools they used to adapt to today’s remote landscape.

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

1. Digital Tools for Innovation Can’t Just Be “Vitamins”

For digital tools to be effective, they must be properly integrated into a company’s processes — and vetted well before they are used, according to Beth Devin, Strategic Consultant and Advisor at HearstLab. Devin compares digital innovation tools and platforms to startups. 

“I think there are a lot of innovation leaders who simply don’t recognize that they have a problem that needs solving, and so they see those tools and platforms as vitamins — perhaps as things that are nice to have, but not essential,” she says. 

We interviewed Devin as part of our “Digitizing the Innovation Team” research report, published with Startgrid. To learn more about Devin’s approach to digital tools, read the full interview

2. During a Crisis, You Need to Trust the Foundations of Innovation Thinking

“As innovation leaders, our core responsibility is to provide guidance on how to navigate moments and markets of high uncertainty,” David Lee, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at UPS, writes in the special issue of our magazine. “It is first nature for us. We know how to uncover customer needs, build makeshift prototypes, and plan for pilots with low risks but high learning. When there is a crisis, and you don’t know what to do next, the innovation mindset is perfect for formulating a response.”

Lee addresses the biggest barriers to innovation, and how to get over them, in a contributed article as well as in a special episode of our podcast.  

3. If You Need to Pivot, Take Decisive Action and Commit

When the innovation team at the engineering and construction company Black & Veatch realized that a pivot to coronavirus-related innovations was necessary, they acted quickly, despite the fact that they had been planning an accelerator program with a completely different focus. 

“We sent a quick message to our CEO and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to drop everything we’re going to do for innovation this year. We’re going to 100 percent focus on this,'” Ryan Pletka, VP of Innovation and Strategy, recalls. “[The CEO said], ‘Sounds great — go for it’ [on the] same day.”

Three days later, the team published an announcement on the IgniteX website officially kicking off the COVID-19 Response Accelerator. Read our full article on Black & Veatch about the team’s rapid response to solve challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Transition from Brick and Mortar to E-Commerce

Ocean Spray, a company known for its juices and cranberry products, is in the middle of a pivot to the health and wellness sphere. And they’ve already launched four products under this new umbrella — three of which came out during the pandemic. This was made possible because of the agile innovation team, and acceptance of digital solutions. 

For example, addressing gaps in the supply chain has become a top priority. While the initial plan was to get Atoka, the first of the four new products, on shelves in brick-and-mortar stores by March, the company shifted to direct-to-consumer online sales. Read the full article for more details on how these brand launches were made possible and to learn about why Ocean Spray is upgrading its brand. 

5. It’s Important to Have “A Lot of Irons Burning in the Fire”

In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s completely possible for a company to find itself “in a business which doesn’t exist anymore,” says Jerry Gupta, Digital Catalyst at the reinsurance company Swiss Re. When it comes to preparing for the future, Gupta stresses the importance of “a wide ranging set of competencies…[and] a lot of irons burning in the fire.” 

Gupta was a guest on “One Quick Thing,” our weekly web show for innovators. Watch the full episode for more advice from Gupta on proving the value of intangible assets, the best practices for working with Big Data and AI, and more.