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Every year, IdeaScale hosts innovation leaders and creative thinkers from around the world in a global summit that shares innovation best practices. These leaders share success stories, failures, challenges, and solutions as they get to know each other so that they can call on one another throughout the year (long after the event is over).

Each year, it’s interesting to see which themes emerge throughout the day. Here are the top themes from Open Nation 2019.

Innovators, It’s Your Duty to Find the Problems to Solve. Most innovation leaders face a puzzling (but also obvious) challenge: they have to find problems before they can find solutions. But it’s not always easy to pick the right problems or convince those that do have a problem to ask for help. If there was one refrain that stuck out from the NASA presentation, it was that you should “be a Sherpa.” This means that you’re helping leaders in your company seek help from the rest of the organization. This doesn’t mean that innovation leaders can’t make that process repeatable though. NASA also provided a worksheet that can be used by innovation program leaders to help business managers articulate their program to engage the crowd. Thanks for that resource, NASA!

Creativity Can (and Should) Be Nurtured. One of the most popular talks was from the Credit Union of Colorado, who built an Innovation Ambassadors program. By tapping into their existing emerging leaders program, they invited a twenty-person cross functional team to build the toolkit for innovation. We also had a wonderful presentation from Allen Gannet, the author of The Creative Curve, who shared his insights into how anyone can foster what appear to be “flashes of genius.” This all feels like part of a much larger conversation on mentoring and professional development that is a part of innovation programs.

The Innovation Labs Are Arriving. And along with them… best practices on how to do this successfully (or poorly for that matter). Some Open Nation speakers already had an innovation lab (like TriHealth) – others were just getting started. What this means is that the window dressing of innovation (throwing a few 3D printers in a room and calling it an innovation lab) isn’t going to work anymore. It requires an investment in the people and processes at an organization to deliver lab value – then maybe the technology.  So first think about the training and gaining buy-in, then think about the space and the tools that you’ll need to empower anyone to succeed.

Innovation Isn’t All About Glory. There was a lot of talk about how innovation seems like the coolest department or job title in the world… until you have to start getting business units to cooperate or asking leaders to invest in self-cannabalizing lines of inquiry. There’s often a lot of push-back and unexpected coalition building. But when it works, it makes businesses better, smarter, faster, it can change lives, even save lives, so it’s worth the grunt work of pushing on. Some felt they risked their credibility (even their careers) being that gadfly voice of progress, but as Erwin Godoy of Freddie Mac stated “One step shy of crazy is to be outstanding or extraordinary.” It was a favorite quote from the summit.

To view all the content from Open Nation 2019, download the videos and presentations here.

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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