Innovation Festival: Beyond a Good Idea


Last week, we headed to the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Hosted in New York City, the conference gathered thought leaders ranging from the automotive, technology, education and design sectors. Panelists shared insights into how they’ve navigated untraveled paths to achieve their goals.

How do you create regulations for self-driving cars that don’t exist yet? How do you bring fresh, utilitarian design to untouched, historic neighborhoods? How can you convince a stubborn adversary to join your environmental cause? These were just a few of the questions posed throughout the day that prompted stellar insights. We left impressed by the inspiring new ideas, but even more impressed by the panelists’ candid reflections on how to bring your idea to life. Our top takeaways from the Fast Co. Innovation Festival are below.

Takeaways from Fast Co. Innovation Festival:


Cross-collaborate to maximize impact. When it comes to successful innovators, there’s no such thing as a one-man show. From major automakers sitting at the table with the Department of Transportation to talk autonomous vehicles, to architects visiting town halls to encourage debate and participation around public spaces, sparking an open dialogue is essential to not only following through on your vision, but making the necessary edits along the way. Likewise, a UCLA theater group developing a play starring an AI discussed teaming up with AI experts to combine their storytelling prowess with technical expertise to develop a compelling narrative.

Let others in on the journey. Finding a group of “believers” to advocate and amplify your message for you makes an innovative idea all the more powerful. Jaime Nack, the director of sustainability operations for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, shared how when approaching hotels and venues about reducing their carbon footprint and waste, she learned that through assigning them leadership roles she was able to quickly gain trust and enlist them as active participants. In a similar vein, FedEx’s social responsibility team understood that instead of trying to tackle challenges alone, by empowering global entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to solve societal issues, they could make a bigger impact.  

Tap into your environment. With so much of today's advancements focused on the future of cities, it's important to realize the opportunity that comes from living in an experimentation hub. Whether designing the future of public spaces or transforming the future of transportation, panelists highlighted how cities are breeding grounds for innovation and urban dwellers the core group of early-adopters. Acknowledging the power of cities and tapping into the resources at your fingertips in your own city can push your ideas further.

Lead with your strengths. Identifying your strengths and running with them is a tried and true tactic. We heard this repeatedly, from environmentalist Jaimie Nack who married her event planning background with her passion for sustainability to develop an entirely new kind of eco-friendly event, and Rose Flenori, manager of social responsibility at FedEx, who challenged us to ask ourselves, "What are we gifted at? What are our competencies?" when embarking on a new project.

Communicators today face a myriad of obstacles, and our task is to bring client stories to life and connect with audiences in ways that produce results. To do that, marketing, public relations and communications professionals must tap into the evolving set of digital tools, but not forget the soft skills and strategic thinking that go beyond technology. Whether brainstorming big campaign moments around new, innovative products or considering how to best accomplish team goals in our day-to-day work, we’ll keep these best practices top of mind to ensure our good ideas are realized. 


This post was authored by Mary Kate Fields and Anna Behr