Participants and presenters alike came away with a wealth of ideas and insights gleaned at Frost & Sullivan’s 16th Annual Growth, Innovation and Leadership: The Growth Pipeline Experience event held in San Jose, California last month. While it would be difficult to encapsulate all the strategies and tactics discussed in one brief piece, the event concluded with an Insights and Ideas Roundup session attended by several thought leaders. This article will recap what, amidst all the ideas, case studies and lessons shared, resonated most with them.

Are you asking your customers what they want?

Moderator Ethan Smith, Vice President, Global Client Leader, Frost & Sullivan, opened the discussion by noting that most of the sessions he attended emphasized putting the customer at the center of it all – your company’s value proposition, mission and strategy. Smith reminded participants that change champion Hari Abburi, Managing Partner, The Preparation Company LLC, said, “We must be at the speed of the customer” and David Frigstad, Chairman, Frost & Sullivan, stated that “the customer experience is our most important role.”

All the thought leaders agreed that customer needs should drive strategy and tactics and shared their own insights and action items from the event. Top takeaways included the need to better leverage data to make more informed decisions and to advocate for AI and ML technologies. While echoing the importance of providing true customer value, Natalia Andreyeva, Senior Manager, Product Management, Carrier, reminded everyone of the importance of defining their corporate strategy and aligning department goals behind it, lest leaders move in different directions.

Rick Hammond, Director, 3M Connect, keenly observed that, “If everything is about the customer, I didn’t hear enough about asking the customer.” Stating that although his organization regularly sought customer feedback, he wasn’t certain that they – or many other enterprises – were asking their customers how they would like to interact often enough. He considered this an important challenge he would take from the event.

Scott Brindamour, Head of Product Innovation, Edge R&D and Platform Enablement, Lumen Technologies, noted that customer centricity should drive rapid prototyping and that solving customer problems should be a top priority, as it is at his company. He emphasized the importance of having customers review prototypes as part of the product validation process. As stated, solving customer problems often brings revenue.

Are you enabling employee innovation?

Ethan Smith referenced a survey shared at the event indicating that many companies find business model innovation the most challenging kind of innovation. Connecting sustainability to business model innovation was also discussed. As one panelist stated, “To me, what is missing is business model innovation. How can we create and test new sustainable business models? This will allow us to find sustainability.” Will sustainability become table stakes for all companies?

Referencing the popular Critical Issue session, The Labor Crisis: Breaking Through Significant Barriers to Innovation and Growth, Hammond asked, “Are we encouraging our own people and teams to innovate effectively?” Are there everyday opportunities for employees to submit ideas and participate in the innovation process? Hammond shared that at 3M employees are expected to dedicate 15% of their daily work activities to innovation efforts. Clearly, the days of innovation being a purely top-down initiative should be a thing of the past. As Hammond summed it up, “Innovation needs to be part of your company culture, enabled by the leadership team and should be encouraged throughout your organization.”

Looking beyond core business operations for growth opportunities was another key event takeaway. As discussed, short term growth is important, but an ongoing focus on long term opportunities should not be overlooked. Being laterally focused on innovation can help spur growth.

In closing, Hammond, a Growth Innovation Leadership Council Member, noted that he particularly enjoyed the Council Meet ‘n’ Greet activity. As he summed it up, “We had the opportunity to interact with each other on all types of topics – even those we haven’t covered in the past couple of days.  This allowed me to reflect on how we can be better, and how we can adopt new things that can generate incremental growth for our company and possibly yours as well.”

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