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Career Advice from the 2010 World Innovation Forum

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On June 8th and 9th some of the world’s leading experts on innovation gathered at the Nokia Theater in New York City for the 2010 World Innovation Forum (Twitter hashtag #WIF10).

The list of speakers was impressive, and WIF10 blogger Stu Miniman wrote an excellent post summarizing the speakers and their backgrounds.

I also attended the conference (as a blogger) and wrote about my motivations for attending in an introductory blog post. My hope was to hear some of the latest trends and techniques for innovation at large corporations.

For those of you interested in pursuing a career in innovation, I’ve created the following list of advice, with links to the speakers included. Keep in mind that my definition of innovation is “innovation = idea + implementation”, with a strong emphasis on the implementation piece (how to build and deliver new ideas).

Here is a summary of the career advice presented at the conference:

  • Innovation is not limited to engineers. Bringing great ideas to market can best happen when every person in the process becomes a designer. Whether your job is engineering, customer support, testing, or marketing, every stage of the process requires people using strong design skills. This advice was given by one of the top technology designers in the world: Robert Brunner.
  • When it comes to finding innovative jobs, the place to go looking is for corporations that are producing green (or sustainable) products and services. Corporations are looking for individuals that can generate (and deliver) energy-saving and environmentally-friendly ideas. Joel Makower highlighted several such corporations in his talk, including Coke, Waste Management, and UPS.
  • Ursula Burns of Xerox related that employees who know how to “dream with customers” are highly valued. The best source of ideas is often birthed through conversations with customers about their needs.
  • The most valued employees of the current decade will be artisans, and the most successful companies of the current decade will be the businesses that allow their employees the freedom to innovate. Seth Godin encouraged employees to take risks in their job by morphing their work habits to be more artistic: give gifts, do work that matters, and make a difference.
  • One of the more critical innovation skills for an employee is the ability to be a change agent. Chip Heath described the psychology of change and presented some steps for introducing change into an organization.
  • One of the final pieces of advice for an employee was given by Andreas Weigend. Andreas claimed that the most successful businesses will be those companies that know how to leverage communities of people (and the data that they create). It is critical for employees to involve themselves in social media and social media data mining.

Health care and education were also discussed as critical areas needing continued innovation focus (excellent career opportunities). For more information on these areas, refer to Michael Howe’s discussion of the rise of MinuteClinic, and Wendy Kopp’s presentation on Teach for America.

Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Read more tech career advice from Steve his Vault blog: Innovate with Influence

Extra Insight: Check out Vault’s coverage from the World Innovation Forum

World Innovation Forum: Seth Godin

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Early in his presentation on day two of the World Innovation, Seth Godin made a point that may be comforting to those stuck in companies that don’t seem like they’re going anywhere, and that definitely presents opportunity for those interested in making a career out of effecting change and grasping new opportunities.

The premise: that we’re in the midst of a revolution in which the traditional methods of marketing—mass appeal, repeated messaging and so on—are no longer effective.

The message: That “revolutions create losers before they creates winners.” Broken down further, the core of his suggestion is that every company out there is struggling with the same issues when it comes to competing in a rapidly shifting marketplace. And that some companies will provide lessons for others by failing. The reason that may be of comfort to those at organizations that seem to be treading water: your company still has the potential to end up a winner. The better news: that it may come down to you.

The opportunity for individuals that Godin’s message represents should be obvious: that there is significant potential for individuals to shape the future of their companies through innovation.

On that note, Godin spent a long time talking about the automation of workflow, and delivered a message that should frighten many people: If you (or someone else) can write down what your job is, someone else will be able to do it cheaper. That’s the reality that manual workers faced in the era of industrialization, but according to Godin it’s one that is making its into white collar fields as well.

Value to organizations, he says, comes from employees who don’t spend their time repeating the same actions day after day. Accordingly, those who can innovate, create and provide new value by doing new things are the most important  in any company, and tend to be remunerated accordingly. Or, as Godin puts it: “The more time you spend following instructions, the less you get paid.”

The problem that many employees will have with Godin’s message is that carrying it out often relies on doing things without permission, and risking failing in public. Add in the rigidity of life at many major corporations–something that Godin acknowledges but dismisses as a barrier to those truly determined to lead change–and it’s easy to see where some companies could get left behind in a rapidly changing world.

Above all else, Godin is immensely quotable on his chosen subject areas. Some further examples from his presentation:

“Your job is a platform. It is not as platform for you to do what you are told. It is a platform for art.”

“Genius is a human who brings his real self to bring change.”

“This idea of obedience is bogus. There is no company today that would do better if employees were obedient.”

“You don’t lead because you have charisma. You get charisma because you lead.”

On Twitter: Don’t be fooled by numbers and metrics. The only one that matters is: “How many people would miss you if you stopped showing up or talking?”

World Innovation Forum: Day 2 Lineup

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As I write, we’re two minutes away from the start of day two of the World Innovation forum here at New York’s Nokia Theater. We’ll be live-blogging and tweeting throughout the day, so stay tuned here, on @Vaultcareers and @Vaultpinkslip. You can also follow all the tweets from the event by checking out the #WIF10 hashtag.

The full line-up for the day is as follows. Click the links to read more about each of the presenters and their subject matter.

2 – 2:45pm
2:45 – 3:30pm

Written by Phil Stott

June 9, 2010 at 7:09 am

World Innovation Forum: Social Media Tips

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The final two speakers on day one of the World Innovation Forum had a lot in common in terms of message. First up was Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist at, with a message for companies that the world they are operating in has changed completely—from a world in which they used to give information to customers to one where customers give information to one another, regardless of the company. As a result, the major takeaway he had for anyone interested in tapping into modern technology for business purposes was as follows: listen to what customers are saying. His chosen methodology: data mining search queries.

Probably by design, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was up next, for a moderated discussion in which he fielded a lot of questions about how people should use his service properly. His answer: people should “find their own path.” And how they should do that? “Start by listening” before jumping in.

Stone cited an example from Jet Blue, a company he said was not having much success using Twitter to issue press release-style information. The company’s “epiphany” came when the CEO asked on the company’s Twitter stream what kind of tweets they would like to see. Cue a torrent of suggestions, and the birth of a successful social media strategy.

Of course, that’s all well and good for a major company—or someone employed in a social media function at a company—but the takeaways needn’t be all that different for anyone seeking to use social media tools* to build a personal brand, which can be an important component of career management and the job search process.

That’s it for the day. We’ll be back bright and early tomorrow morning for Day Two. The one thing we’re hoping to see more of: suggestions for where we might be headed in terms of innovation in established career fields like consulting, finance and law.

*Note: Stone says Twitter isn’t social media; it’s more of a news/information-sharing service. But the term is convenient, so I’m sticking with it!

Written by Phil Stott

June 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

World Innovation Forum: Q&A with Jeff Kindler, Pfizer CEO

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Jeff Kindler, CEO of Pfizer, opened the afternoon at the World Innovation Forum with a Q&A session, during which he spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to keep up—and stay ahead of the curve—in a changing world. Among the points he made are that companies have a big role to play in creating a culture in which employees don’t fear failure. Because without that kind of culture, says Kindler, people won’t take appropriate risks.

Of course, empowering people to try new things and not fear failure is only part of the equation in attracting the right people: remuneration continues to play a big role as well. During the Q&A, Kindler dropped the following statistic about the pharma and biotech industry: it employs over 3 million people, most of whom earn over $90k.

Other nuggets from Kindler’s Q&A:

  • Velocity of business today is faster and more ruthless, that puts a premium on an organization’s ability to get faster and faster.  You can never be done and be satisfied.
  • You must have agility and adaptability—the world is changing, somebody is trying to destroy my business, and how can I make sure I am as fast, innovate, and thoughtful as my competitors and the ones I don’t yet know about.
  • Challenge for Pfizer (and other companies): Create a culture in our organization of people who think this way.

Written by Phil Stott

June 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

World Innovation Forum: Q&A with Michael Porter

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In a wide-ranging Q&A session to close out the morning of day one of the World Innovation Forum, Michael Porter touched on everything from politics to Wall Street to the state of the health care industry.
While the majority of the Q&A was spent on healthcare—unsurprisingly, given his presentation earlier in the morning–he was perhaps at his most illuminating when talking about wider issues in the economy and business world at large. Below are some of the better points he made on those issues:
• Wall Street’s value is to enable companies the ability to invest and prosper. Instead it is focused on itself now. See Goldman Sachs.
• We’ve defined capitalism too narrowly. Companies need to be efficient in the way they use resources. Sustainability!
• Companies have defined themselves too narrowly recently. Thus, companies thought that protecting the environment wasn’t part of their job. Food companies thought that providing healthy food wasn’t part of their job. The world is changing, and some companies are waking up to the fact that they need to provide products that have deeper social value. Key quote: “Companies that provide products that are not good for their customers in some deep social sense are ultimately not going to survive.”
• We are not reinvesting in our science and technology base. Education in those areas is failing. Let’s not hold back the rest of the world. Americans need to step up and be more dynamic, aggressive, and innovative.
• He’s worried about short termism—particularly in financial markets. His suggestions for dealing with that include providing incentives for long-term thinking. One example: cutting capital gains tax, but requiring organizations to vest the gains for years.
• After two years of cost-cutting, companies and leaders need to sit down with their team and make sure they still have some kind of strategy.

Written by Phil Stott

June 8, 2010 at 10:37 am

World Innovation Forum: Michael Porter on Healthcare

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Professor Michael Porter opened the 2010 World Innovation Forum with his thoughts on innovation in health care. Taking the audience on a whirlwind tour of global health care delivery outcomes (well, those in Germany and Sweden, at any rate), he attempted to draw some lessons that can be applied within the U.S. system.

The message he had for employers was a simple one: that they should demand that their health plan provides value. In fact, “the cost of poor health is much greater than the cost of health benefits.” For that reason, employers shouldn’t skimp on health benefits.

He places much of the responsibility for improving the health care sector on big business, stating that companies should have on-site clinics for preventive care, as the best results go hand in hand with access and proximity to care. He had no word, however, on how to handle the situation for unemployed people.

The need for innovation in the sector, says Porter, is acute—and highly pressing. The reason, he told the audience, is simple: it has the highest customer demand of any business in the world. That’s because “all of you are going to be customers of the healthcare system; it’s just a matter of time.”

That reality brings with it a set of challenges. Within the U.S., the healthcare industry has seen “breathtaking innovations in science,” but no corresponding innovative leaps in terms of organization, structure, and measurement of care. That, says, Porter, leaves us in a situation where “[t]he problem in healthcare today is in management”—especially when it comes to how we use the technologies at our disposal.

The core message behind most of Porter’s presentation: that by measuring results and organizing health care around conditions, the problem of “provider silos” is reduced. That causes costs to drop—by as much as 50 percent in some cases—and outcomes to rise.

Porter also suggest bundling payments for health care, rather than paying each provider of services separately. And he’s an advocate of multi-location hospitals/health care centers—he says the current system of non-networked local hospitals is akin to a “Mom and Pop” model.

One final takeaway from Porter’s presentation: when it comes to healthcare “Sweden is nirvana.”

Written by Phil Stott

June 8, 2010 at 8:35 am

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