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4 Key Takeaways from Fast Company’s Innovation Festival

Walker Sands Staff

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to travel to New York City for Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. During the four-day conference, we trekked all around the Big Apple to take part in conversations and activities around the latest innovations in the tech industry. Featuring over 150 speakers and plenty of networking sessions, the second annual Innovation Festival was grounded in the theme of “Find Your Mission, Deepen Your Purpose.” From the keynotes featuring celebs like SJP and Cher to panel discussions centered around diversifying tech recruitment, this mission was ingrained in all of the sessions we attended.

Not only did this conference expose us to some of the biggest names in business and technology (and even a little bit of pop culture), it also provided several valuable lessons. Here’s a look at some of our favorite sessions and key takeaways:

  • Trust your intuition: Professional golfer Jordan Spieth and Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank discussed how taking risks and honing their intuitions have contributed to their success. In just 20 years, Under Armour has become a major player in the highly competitive athletic wear business. The company made early bets on Stephen Curry, Misty Copeland and Jordan Spieth, all of whom have gone on to become household names. When selecting these athletes, Plank said Under Armour has followed its intuition and selected athletes based on their personal connection and attitudes. This a reminder that when making decisions, it’s sometimes best to simply trust your gut. IMG_5914

    Plank also said the only thing that will get you fired from the company is to say, “But, that's the way we've always done it." Plank credits this culture of innovation as a core driver behind Under Armour's success.

  • Question your current process processes: The future of human resources and hiring was another major discussion point at the conference. General Assembly, the global education company specializing in 21st-century skills, educates individuals and helps companies source talent, discussed how companies can unlock access to top talent by focusing specifically on skills-based hiring practices that expand the talent pool beyond those found through traditional screening methods. The two presenters discuss how companies need to blow up the “Top 20 School” paradigm, and explore other methods for finding the right talent. One suggestion was to assess the talent you’re getting differently and look where you haven’t looked before. For example, when dating, singles that look for dates through multiples avenues - social events and organizations, friends and dating apps - increase their chances of finding someone. Similarly, hiring managers that seek talent through a variety of methods - recruiters, references, hiring websites, networking events and educational institutions - open themselves up to a broader range of talent.

    Another panel consisting of Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, Pinterest’s head of diversity Candice Morgan, and Global Citizen Year founder Abby Falik explored the type of tech knowledge, leadership skills for hiring and managing diverse workforces that companies are going to need in the future. The group discussed a number of challenges holding companies, especially tech organizations, from having a diverse workforce. One challenge they touched on was the confirmation bias, which is when people favor information that resonates with their established beliefs. For example, when an interviewer forms a distinct opinion about a candidate based on information like the college they attended before the actual interview. Based on these biases, some candidates may not make it to the interview or be perceived as less competent than others. To prevent confirmation bias from impacting their chances of hiring great candidates, Morgan of Pinterest discussed how they’ve implemented rules requiring hiring managers to interview a set number of women and a set number of ethnically diverse candidates for each position. By setting these parameters, companies open up their talent pool and gain a more diverse perspective. Morgan said these rules are part of how the company found its new head of engineering.

  • SJP.Tim ArmstrongTaking risks is key: In a panel discussion moderated by Fast Company editor Robert Safian, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and actress/entrepreneur Sarah Jessica Parker touched on the importance of taking risks in search for growth in our careers and personal lives. SJP stressed that people want something original, authentic, and personal from brands -- a reminder all PR and communication pros can use to effectively tell our clients’ stories. SJP, who has recently ventured into the shoe and fashion business, is the epitome of a risk taker. She’s migrated from her comfort zone as an actress to a successful businesswoman through risk-taking. By taking risks, SJP said we can hone our decision making for the future. Armstrong echoed SJP’s thoughts by telling the audience full of young professionals and entrepreneurs that they should “take 30 risks in the first year” of their careers. After attending this session, we have made a pact to take more risks in and out of the office!
  • Big companies should think like VCs: Virtual and augmented reality have invaded almost every industry, and we learned that the beauty space is no exception. L'Oréal is paving the way for beauty companies looking to integrate emerging tech like virtual reality into their products and services. During a session called “Placing Bets With L'Oreal: How Companies Decide which “Next Big Thing” to Invest In,” L’Oréal’s VP of Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Rachel Weiss discussed how she goes about seeking innovative partnerships with leading startups, entrepreneurs and digital companies. Joined by VR startup 8i (L’Oréal’ partner) cofunder and CEO Linc Gasking, Rachel discussed the importance of forging relationships and placing bets when searching for the right partners.

Overall, the conference reiterated how innovation, whether it be in technology, hiring or marketing, is necessary for success. Without taking chances, companies risk being left behind in our fast evolving world.

This post was contributed by Claire Deneen and Kellie Flaherty, Senior Media Relations Specialists at Walker Sands.