Chicago Ideas Week: Creativity and Innovation in Business

October 13, 2011

Chicago Ideas Week is making its debut this week throughout the city with more than 100 speakers and big thinkers from forward-thinking companies brought together to discuss innovation. On Tuesday, a few members of our team attended the two-hour Creativity Session hosted by Fast Company. The panel of speakers consisted of a range of innovative leaders from a variety of disciplines. Each person had stories and insights to share from their industries—technology, culinary, hospitality, sports, healthcare, architecture, and non-profit—on the importance of creativity and innovation in business.

Chuck Salter, a Senior Writer at Fast Company, moderated the event and opened with a quote from Daniel Burnham which reads, “Make no little plans.” This quote rang throughout the entire event as a range of Chicago’s innovators spoke about the importance of focusing on your mission and always thinking about the next big thing.

From left: Chuck Salter (Fast Company), Robin Willner (IBM), Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group), Alison Weber (Levy Restaurants), and Jeff Semenchuk (Hyatt Hotels)

The speakers tended to agree on a number of things when it came to innovation, one of the most prominent being the importance of sharing ideas among a group of people in order to form the best solution—whether it be chefs, business professionals, clients, focus groups consisting of the end-consumers, etc. Jeff Semenchuk, Chief Innovation Officer at Hyatt Hotels, said that the goal of every business is to get out of the “sea of sameness.” Everyone needs to find a way to differentiate themselves and offer something that other companies don’t have.

Paul Kahan, Executive Chef & Partner of One Off Hospitality Group (Owner of Blackbird, The Publican, Avec, and Big Star), spoke about the differences between working for a large corporation as opposed to a small partnership. In a partnership, there is less fear in trying to break the mold of the “sea of sameness” due to the fact you don’t have a large group of people that you need to convince to buy-in to the idea. As far as what has made his company so successful, he says, “Our success comes from creating polarizing spaces.”

Listening to Doug Ulman, President and CEO of LIVESTRONG, speak about his foundation reiterated the significance of social media and the end-consumer in helping to shape today’s businesses. The name, LIVESTRONG, was created through a series of focus groups made up of cancer survivors. In addition, he said that the number one way people contact the foundation is through Facebook, and the second way is through Twitter. Over the past few years, he said that social media has completely changed the way the business is operated.

Homaro Cantu, Executive Chef at Moto Restaurant, also used social media to further his business. He showed an image of him stretching noodles and said, “In China, you have to apprentice for two to three years to learn how to do this. But we managed to do it by watching YouTube videos.” This shows the prominence of social media in today’s world and how it is helping to create, and expand, a growing number of businesses.

From left: Emily Biuso (Fast Company), Nimesh Jhaveri (Walgreens), Carol Ross Barney (Ross Barney Architects), and Homaro Cantu (Moto Restaurant)

The other speakers—Hank Adams, CEO of Sportsvision; Robin Willner, VP of Global Community Initiatives at IBM Corporation; Alison Weber, Chief Innovation Officer at Levy Restaurants; Carol Ross Barney, Design Principal at Ross Barney Architects; and Nimesh Jhaveri, Executive Director at Walgreens—all had great things to say. Hank Adams showed us how technology has changed the world of sports, while Carol Ross Barney and Nimesh Jhaveri showed us their way of designing an experience.

Overall, the speakers all led with the same philosophy—it is essential to have a strong vision to lead your innovation, and it’s also important to be tenacious in order to have your voice heard. Change is an essential part of growing as a company, but you have to know who you are and what made you successful (or unsuccessful) in the past in order to build on it and inspire creativity and innovation.

It was a great event and we look forward to attending again next year!

Up Down