Earlier this week at the World Innovation Forum, some of the foremost experts on innovation discussed trends in corporate and social advancements. Here’s my rundown of the five concepts that stood out above the rest.

Grassroots development

Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, talked about the grassroots model of innovation, citing that innovations are often the result of smaller organizations entering a market at a low level and committing to improving a core competency and/or product little by little. Giving the example of solar energy in Mongolia, Christensen suggests that green technologies may be coming from small regions and markets currently using this technology out of necessity, and committing to improving it incrementally. Toyota, Sony and others have adopted a similar model — introducing very simple products to underserved markets, and then slowly growing a base for them as they’re developed and perfected.

A passionate and motivating culture

Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, is well known for leading his organization with an emphasis on culture and happiness. Far from your average CEO, Hsieh spends time studying the psychological elements of happiness and incorporating them into the Zappos culture. Through the Zappos structure, employees have control over their daily lives and larger career, are engaged in opportunities to progress, and are actively connected to the meaning of making other people happy. Zappos invests tremendous effort in training individuals, including a $4,000 bonus to new hires who quit after recognizing a poor fit with the company.  Incidentally, Dan Pink, author of Drive, asserts that human beings are most motivated when they are involved in systems rich in autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The human element

Paola Antonelli, curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, discussed how designers incorporate technology and innovation by addressing human interests, needs and hopes. Similarly, James DeJulio from Tongal taps into a human desire to be creative while pursuing individual dreams by offering performing and production opportunities to anyone interested in collaborating with a larger online team (for example: commercials, acting, film). Finally, Greg Hall, CEO and owner of Drillers Supply and the one who is credited with drilling the hole that saved the 33 Chilean miners, said he was motivated to take on the risky job that experts said was impossible because of the hope of saving those men. The takeaway from all these speakers: Effective innovations echo and reflect humanity.

Honor individuality

With technology and interconnectivity, innovation can cater to the individuality of every prospective consumer. M. S. Krishnan, professor of information systems and innovation at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, provided numerous examples in lecture and print ( The New Age of Innovation ) that remind us that human individuality can be the impetus for disruptive innovation. Catering to the individual by providing customizable content has been the springboard for brands ranging from iPod to Netflix, and it’s continuing to drive innovative concepts. Larry Huston, Wharton fellow and managing director of 4iNNO, asked, “What’s the most important thing in innovation? Who the consumer is.” Then said, “It’s so rare that I walk into a company that really understands their customer.” 


As both consumers and innovators, we’re all different and need to partner with others in order to leverage our strengths, a point both Krishnan and Huston made. Other organizations have unique strengths that can highlight and compliment your core competencies, making innovations possible and profitable. By expanding your network and inviting others to help, you can increase your organization’s capacity while also broadening its knowledge and idea base. Whether partnering with other organizations or simply tapping into the ideas of employees, innovations are best developed and implemented in teams.

If you attended the World Innovation Forum or have been following it online, what did you think were the best takeaways?

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Recommended reading:

World Innovation Forum dispatches

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Ushering in a new era of innovation at the Defense Department

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