WHAT I LEARNED AT THE FAST COMPANY INNOVATION FESTIVAL WITH MY MOM
I like hanging out with my mom. We always go to interesting movies together and find ourselves in heated debates about issues like whether Justin Trudeau is doing enough to fight climate change (for the record, he is not). But I live in London and she lives near Toronto, so these hang out sessions aren’t as frequent as either of us would like. When I told her I was going to fly to New York for the Fast Company Innovation Festival, to us it made perfect sense that she’d come too. So, what if she is almost 70 and still uses a Nokia flip phone, that doesn’t mean we can’t go to watch panel discussions about humanizing Blockchain, right? So we’ve spent the past week checking out start-ups like Wealthsimple, cutting edge agencies like R/GA and hearing keynotes from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.
While I imagine a few people we met found the “Hi my name is Cameron, I run an innovation consultancy…oh and this is my mom” a little odd as an introduction. The conversations my mom and I have been having shed light on what really matters about innovation.
The innovation space can be a bubble, and I’m as much to blame as the next guy. I get excited about new start-ups no one has heard of and proclaim that autonomous vehicles will destroy the insurance industry by Christmas.
But while I am busy telling people about the democratization of blah blah blah there are people like my mom, who might not get a chance to be a part of those debates.
Innovation should be inclusive and solve actual problems for everyone. Dave Gilboa, one of the founders of Warby Parker was on a panel. During the discussion, he mentioned that Warby Parker’s online business now makes up 3% of the eyewear market in the US. 3%, that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, they are a huge success and it is one of those ideas that I really wish I thought of first. But 97% of glasses are sold somewhere else.
So maybe declaring that all products in the future will be sold via subscription and all retail stores should become pop-up ping pong bars is still a bit premature.
Another speaker who stood out was Tristan Walker, the founder of Walker and Company, which makes health and beauty products for people of colour. He said he often gets asked, “Beauty products for people of colour. Isn’t that a bit niche?” To which he had the near perfect answer, “Well we do make up 40% of America and the majority of the world, so I think our business case will stack up”. Why shouldn’t people of colour be able to buy a razor made for their needs at whatever store they want, without shopping in the “ethnic” aisle?
By the final event, which was a great panel discussion with 3 amazing drag queens about creating a personal brand on social, there’s my mom talking to Target’s head of sustainability about how they should really be looking into Blockchain, because it could revolutionize their supply chain. (For the record he informed her they have been looking into it.)
If innovation is actually about progress, then obviously we’re going to get a lot further if more people have the opportunity to get involved.
Cameron Maxwell is a partner at Two Igloos, who loves to drop ‘democratization’ into conversation and is used to being less popular than his mom.
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