October 12, 2021 / CPOVs

Fast Company Innovation Festival Takeaways: Personal and Professional Best Practices

Brandy Shabowich, Assistant Marketing Manager & Coco Rich, Marketing Manager

The 2021 Fast Company Innovation Festival has come to an end. With its roster of A-list speakers, like Drew Barrymore and Robin Roberts, and thought-provoking sessions, we’re coming away inspired with new ideas. Here are our top takeaways, many of which resonate with who we are and how we approach our work at Connelly Partnersto protect brands from self-importance, to amplify their heartbeats, and to embrace empathy over entertainment.

A title is not what’s important. In the session, “The Case for Optimism,” Drew Barrymore discussed how titles may be necessary for context, and organization, but they also keep people in a lane, or a silo. Building integrated teams that utilize people’s strengths and passions creates a better functioning environment. At the end of the day, Barrymore stressed that “people only want to do what they want to do.” And they can be truly unstoppable if a fire burns within them. Let’s consider integration beyond department-diversity, and instead, strive to build integrated skill set/strength teams too. You’ll be amazed at the magic that happens when you allow people to use their creativity and work together in different ways.

Be a bright spot, not a blindspot. Another piece of wisdom we learned from Drew Barrymore is that we tend to believe that optimistic people are in a constant positive state, but that’s not the case. Seldom is optimism found easily⏤ and the kind of optimism that has merit requires fighting through the day to reach that ideal state of belief, hope and happiness. When faced with a mountain, don’t let your mind tell you that you can’t climb it. Turn around and look at the mountains you’ve conquered before. It’s easier to be pessimistic about life’s challenges, but working hard to look to the bright side will be even more rewarding. It might sound trivial, but by simply being as kind to yourself as you are to others and forgiving yourself like you forgive others will do wonders.

Stop treating ‘no’ like a stop sign. If you’ve heard of Good Morning America then you know journalist and anchor Robin Roberts. However, you might not know that she also owns her own production company, Rock’n Robin Productions. In “The Anchor: A Conversation with Robin Roberts,” she explains that a major lesson that she has learned through this business endeavor is to learn how to hear the word “no,” a lesson, she emphasizes, everyone needs to hear. And Roberts is not the first person to experience this. Just look at some successful people from the last century. They had to hear “no” a number of times. Take Walt Disney, JK Rowling, or even Stephen King for example. They were rejected and told “no” over and over. But, their resilience to keep trying instead of giving up paid off. 

In the  “Mastering Scale and Creativity with Reid Hoffman and June Cohen,” discussion, June Cohen, CEO of media company WaitWhat, emphasized the importance of being able to “interpret those no’s in a different way.” No can mean “not yet,” or “not quite,” or “not entirely sure.” It doesn’t have to be the end of the idea, or the end of the conversation. 

You only die once, you live everyday. When describing her outlook on life and finding her purpose, Roberts rebuked the idea of “YOLO – you only live once.” Instead she said, “You only die once, you live every day.” We are always becoming and evolving until the day we die. Knowing that we’ll be called to step up and lead at one point or another⏤ whether it’s in our personal life, professional life or both⏤ we are all leaders, regardless of our job title. Roberts believes good leadership requires understanding “three C’s and one E”: Confidence, Courage, Clarity and Empathy. 

We took away that being a good leader means being authentic and sincere and acting defiantly human. Roberts stressed the importance of this by explaining that, “people don’t care that you know [about their lives and situations] until they know that you care [about them].” Start listening to people more, checking in on them, and being there to support them. 

Process over product. You’ve probably heard the phrase,“It’s about the journey not the destination.” Never underestimate the journey. When we are going about our daily lives we typically find a groove. Allow your creativity to take you outside of that groove and explore new facets that are authentically you. In the “This Is Your Brain On Art” session, renowned American artist Judy Tuwaletstiwa calls this “finding new textures in yourself.” Instead of focusing on the finished product, Tuwaletstiwa stresses the importance of paying attention to how you’re getting there: the questions you’re asking yourself, the perspectives you invite in and the ways potential mistakes and pitfalls lead to discovery. 

Utilize the whole brain, not half. We need to be able to learn and move quickly to perfect our ideas and always be on the lookout for new inspiration to strike. June Cohen explained that, “not every creative person scores big – or even at all…[they] have loads of ideas, but don’t know how to channel them.” She believes that it is the entrepreneurs who help breathe life into those ideas. You need to be able to utilize both sides of the brain and always be ready to adapt. In the same session, the host of the Masters of Scale Podcast, Reid Hoffman, stated that, “you have to have a differentiated contrarian, but right theory, and your go-to-market theory and your product theory and your service, you have to  be constantly adjusting.” Changing our way of thinking by listening and moving quickly is something that is possible for anyone. 

Bottom line here is to always be on the cutting edge:  be ready for any new ideas, learn quickly from your mistakes and failures, and try again. Creativity and strategy are equally important to utilize together to achieve positive results for your ideas. If you are only relying on one side of the brain then you’re only reaching half of your potential. Surround yourself with right and left brain thinkers. 

Do your homework. In the “Inclusive by Design” session, it was made clear by innovative fashion designers and data experts, that not understanding your customer results in market segments being completely neglected and ignored. The fashion industry is a perfect example of this. If you juxtapose the plus size rack with the straight size rack, it is clear to see that fashion labels have not done their homework and do not know their customers. There are some fashion-based, data driven brands that are starting to ask the right question: “what do my customers actually look like?” Brands are looking for data now to assist with the design process. We are seeing technology that sites use to personalize and fine-tune the shopping experience. The answers to various questions allows for a personalized experience for the customer and the brand gaining valuable data to help understand the market. Instead of using size 0 mannequins to design with, many companies are utilizing data as well as 3D technology to understand the body and create products that better fit their customers. Though we don’t design clothes here at CP, we practice and preach the importance of gathering data to analyze and help optimize our work for clients. 

To sum all this up in just a few words: learn and create in all that you do. Try working with people you’ve never worked with before. Embrace the left brain and defend the right brain. And even when life tests us, optimism is always worth fighting for. 

For further reading about these sessions, check out the following articles:

(Image source: https://www.eventbrowse.com/city/new-york/event/fast-company-innovation-festival-2021/)