Elaine @ O2 ideas room

If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse

Innovation – Unlocking Future Growth Breakfast, WXN Breakfast

By Elaine Knowles

When asked to write a piece on my experience at this month’s WXN Breakfast seminar, I was delighted. Then I realised it was on Innovation. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for innovation but the problem is, it’s very hard to be ‘innovative’ when in this country, I was nervous I would be queuing for bread as the IMF arrived that very day.

But I pulled myself out of bed on the cold Thursday morning of 18th November and headed to the Conrad and thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. As always, WXN put on a great event. There’s no painful waiting around and none of the small talk of some business events. Just genuinely, interesting business people, who happen to be predominately female.   Here’s some of the best bits I picked up.

Kicked off by Maeve Donovan, former Managing Director of the Irish Times, and WXN advisory board member, she gave a glowing background of the panellists and listed the accreditations.

First up, Damini Kumar, a multi-award winning designer who is also the EU Ambassador for Creativity and Innovation, as well as Director of Design and Creativity at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. If that’s not enough to make you envy her, she’s also invented the world’s first non drip spout, which might come in handy for all sorts of things from teapots to petrol pumps.  This combined with her being the beneficiary of a heap of awards, it’s made me wonder what I’ve been doing with my career to date!

 Next up was Irene Murphy from Magic Connections, a UK Based consultancy working with top clients like L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Jaguar and Ikea to name a few. Irene has the tools to give organisations the get up and go in terms of development, branding and communications, and has lots of tools, theories and methodologies to do this, which she happily shared.

Double whammy in the success stakes.

And finally, Sally Storey took to the stage – Sally is Vice President and General Manager of Pharmaceuticals for GlaxoSmithKline Ireland. With the longest list of senior roles behind her in a complex industry, that can take 10 years and €1 billion funding to develop a new product, I was impressed with her calmness that only comes with experience. These are very successful business people indeed.
So with a panellist like that and chaired by the multi talented Paul Farrell, Group Commercial Director of the Irish Times, I thought I might leave feeling slightly deflated about my lack of career achievements to date. But I needn’t have worried. With the wealth of knowledge and experience, the insightful opinions and tools on how to be more innovate, I’m happy to say that I walked away a more energised and focused individual, which is exactly what the WXN network is there for.

Maeve Donovan had opened with her thoughts on innovation. Not to always be associated with high tech industries, true innovation, she described, can be as simple as continuously adapting to meet changing needs at all opportunities. This was the sentiment that was reflected throughout the discussion.

Damini Kumar had some very interesting views on innovation. She believes the core driver for innovation is around creativity and curiosity. Her thoughts firmly rooted in the belief that creativity is a skill you can learn. Yes some are better than others on it but our current education system leans too heavily on teaching memory skills and ‘right answer’ syndrome. She challenged us to be wrong and work through and understand why we were wrong. That way curiosity kicks in and drives us to find the right or better solution.

An interesting point which I fully agreed with, but it did play on my mind; how particularly in times like these, we can afford to make mistakes and get away with it?

Other points discussed were back to the labelling of creative types who drive innovation and change.   Irene made some excellent points around organisations she’s been consulting into, whereby during a creativity exercise the Financial Controller said ‘oh that’s for the marketing people’. This got the audience going and you could tell who the marketing people were with the assuring nods, smiles in acknowledgement of having come across this sentiment before.  She fundamentally believes that for an organisation to be innovative, creativity must come from all areas of the business and not only be supported but driven from the board regardless of their respective disciplines. De Bono’s 6 hats came up a lot as a good solution to this.

Another valid point of discussion brought up Sally, and again at a later stage by an audience member, was the flexibility of innovation. We can all be innovative, get projects scoped out, go for the finish line but the one big issue that so often arrives, is that a team of people are so caught up with getting something ‘live’ that they may miss the opportunity to make adjustments, which may mean the success or failure of project.  

And then the discussion moved onto implementation. Businesses can be two sides of the innovation fence. On one side, you’ve businesses that do ‘what they’ve always done’. Which isn’t particularly innovative – where’s the curiosity, where’s the challenge? But on the other side, there are businesses who are full of ideas, blue sky innovation, but don’t actually implement them, at pace or otherwise. This was a key point reflected by all panellists. It’s no good having a great idea unless you can activate it and make some money out of it.

Damini was particularly passionate about this. Her view is to define a problem in the first place, make it clear that this challenge can be solved and solve it with a diverse team, working together. She also warned about looking at users needs. And not just what they want from something you present to them, but also, they’re unmet needs – what they don’t know they even want. This is holy grail innovation in my view and put perfectly by moderator Paul Farrell who quoted Henry Ford : ‘If I had asked my customer’s what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse’.  But back to the real world and this is something WXN events are good at doing. The breakfasts are about audience participation, and the questions flow around specific areas of industry, blockages to innovation and even thoughts on how we innovate both money and confidence back into our economy through Dublin city. All of which were answered by a very knowledgeable panel.

We need more of these discussions to bring us out of the negativity of the news and WXN consistently provides a great line up with good humour, valid commentary and topical issues – I promise you’ll be inspired.

Check it out at wxnetwork.com

Elaine Knowles is Marketing Manager for the business segment at O2

Tags: , , , ,

One Comment

  1. 1.

    Claire Dunne – HR Consulting and Executive Coaching

    Excellent summary. I attended the WXN breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed the discussion – really brought home that everyone is /can be creative and how pigeon-holed we can become by associating creativity with certain sectors or job titles. Terrific panel – I agree with Elaine, I did wonder also what I had been doing with my time on hearing of the many achievements of the panelists. Professional articulate introduction by Maeve Donovan and seamlessly moderated by Paul Farrell – huge amount packed into a breadfast meeting.

    Tuesday 7th December 2010, 9:37 am

Add a comment