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Edge of Innovation

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Innovation Interview: Chris Mailander, Author & CEO

In our innovation interview series, we recently sat down with Back End of Innovation 2019 speaker Chris Mailander, who is also Author of “The Craft: Secret Codes and Methods for Unlocking Exponential Financial Potential” and CEO of Ironheart Corporate Advisory. He has led corporate growth strategies across nine industries and five continents.

Here’s what he shared with us: 

What is the biggest innovation of 2019?

Mailander: The biggest innovation in 2019 is the product of something happening at the intersection of consumer behavior and evolving business models:  an emerging new attitude amongst consumers about how their data is used by companies and on what terms. Consumers are increasingly attuned to what they are willing to give to and get from companies in exchange for providing reams of valuable data about who they are, how they think, and what motivates them.

Historically, this exchange was based upon an asynchronous exchange whereby consumers were largely unaware of the real monetary value of what they were giving relative to the value they were getting (e.g., free access to an Internet search engine or a social media platform.) Now that the value of their data is known (due to the ongoing controversies involving Facebook, Google, and other data acquisition platforms), individuals will gradually come to demand more (or withhold more) until they believe they have achieved a more equitable exchange of value for more insightful and more sensitive data. Interesting use cases are already emerging in the genetic testing and pharmaceutical sectors. More use cases will emerge in other verticals as the digitally-sophisticated, societally-jaded Millennials exercise their phenomenal buying power and reshape markets.

Those companies which are able to architect a new exchange for value with consumers – the kinds of exchange which will result in even more effective personalization through a deeper understanding of the socio-demographic and psychographic dimensions of those consumers, but on terms acceptable to the emerging generational powers – will successfully differentiate themselves in the marketplace. This innovation – a new, more meaningful exchange between consumers and companies in an increasingly digital world – promises to reshape trillions of dollars of future spend.

What is a piece of advice you have for organizations looking to innovate today?

Mailander: Innovation is on the lips of all CEOs and boards these days. This is a good thing. It is also a hazard. When innovation becomes the corporate imperative, organizations then do what organizations do. They give it structure. They organize the people. They appoint a leader or steward. They set the metrics. The hazard is that innovation often bubbles up from unusual places. Like the factory line. Or, in the machine shop. Or perhaps in the quiet quietest cubicle on the floor by folks who decidedly do not want to be part of a high-profile corporate innovation initiative.

Innovation is born of thinking differently. Often that kind of thinking means it is outside the structure and parameters the organization otherwise wants. You want to look for innovation in these kinds of places – unusual, quiet, different, unstructured.  You want to capture the innovation from where ordinary people are doing extraordinary things, which is often outside the structure of a formal incubator, innovation lab, accelerator or purpose-built innovation initiative. Finding innovation requires knowing where to look, what to look for, and how to engender it throughout the enterprise as part of its routine daily rhythms.

As organizations implement their mandate to innovate, it is imperative to ensure they understand the underlying DNA for how innovation truly happens – sometimes in very quiet or unexpected places.  Places where they think differently than the corporate structure anticipates.

What is the biggest challenge to innovation? How can it be solved?

Mailander: The biggest challenge to innovation is not a financial one. It is a psychological one. It is the perception of risk. Every individual who is part of an innovation team has an individually calibrated tolerance for risk. Some love it. Others do not – maybe a little bit, maybe a lot. This is the thing. Everyone’s tolerance for what they perceive as risk falls somewhere on a gradient scale. Then, when this risk tolerance is amplified by each individual’s actual power in an organization or the interpersonal dynamics that come into play with an ‘innovation’ team, with some individuals obviously being much more influential than others over corporate decision-making, select individual risk tolerances come to significantly shape the larger enterprise's own risk tolerance. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot.

The remedy is to put this psychological dimension of individual risk tolerances transparently ‘on the table’ so that the team can acknowledge it. Be frank about it. Acknowledge that everyone’s individual neurology works a bit differently. Then work through it openly as a team, fully aware of this ever-present but oftentimes subtle or even subconscious influence on your innovation initiative’s trajectory and success.

What is the most important takeaway from your session at BEI?

Mailander: Innovation is a product of how we perceive, react and think. It is about whether we can see, sense, feel, or think about new things. New twists. New paradigms. New dimensions. As part of my session at BEI, the audience will receive my three-step methodology for getting a read on the conditions for their innovation initiative, and then how to create the conditions to help their teams break through to that something greater. Creating those conditions which enable others on your team to be at their greatest is really your noblest pursuit as a corporate innovation leader. In my session, attendees will discover how.

What are you most looking forward to about BEI 2019?

Mailander: The length of time that any corporation can bank on a particular revenue stream continues to get shorter and shorter. No business gets the long arc anymore. All must create, reinvent, adapt, and innovate faster and faster in order to grow and protect their enduring enterprise value. Those charged with innovating the path for their company’s future enterprise value will be at BEI 2019, and I can’t wait to exchange ideas with them.

Want to hear more from Mailander? Attend BEI 2019 taking place November 5-7, 2019 at The Mirage in Las Vegas, NV. BEI is THE event that Innovation, R&D, and Product Development executives rely on as their annual best-practice roadmap. Learn more here!