Innovation was the catchword last Thursday at an event co-sponsored by LeBow College and KYW Newsradio titled “Leadership for Innovation: Connecting Ideas and Business Strategy.”
“Innovation is needed to sustain competitive advantage,” Donna DeCarolis, Ph.D., associate dean for strategic initiatives at LeBow, who moderated the discussion, said before a packed house at KYW’s Market Street Studio. “The paradox is that innovation is so critical to competitive advantage, yet it is elusive — it is very difficult to sustain that innovation.”
Together with LeBow Executive MBA alumnus Olakunle Ekundare, a former student of DeCarolis who serves as director of standards at Comcast Cable Communications, DeCarolis addressed the role of innovation in business as a lifecycle that begins with a culture of creativity where fresh ideas are cultivated by savvy management that recognizes the power of the new.
According to DeCarolis, creativity is only part of the equation. Maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit while growing as an organization is key. To remain vital, companies must distill innovation from culture — and culture must come from the top down.
“At the core of innovation is creativity that leads to profits and sales,” DeCarolis said. “Companies that are paying attention to innovation understand that its not just the generation of ideas – it’s the follow-through. The climate supports innovation.”
Ekundare offered insight into how companies — from small businesses to large corporations — can align themselves to foster innovation, citing how Facebook and Google have set in motion a sea change in innovation at the corporate level.
“The 90’s changed how we looks at business,” Ekundare said. “Companies like Google and Facebook are creating an environment for people to feel comfortable to start developing new ideas.”
It’s incredible what happens in 6-months — a year. The wind blows and the business environment completely changes.”
Both Decarolis and Ekundare agreed that, above all else, leadership is crucial.
“If you’re a leader, then you have to follow innovation,” Ekundare said. “And it may not work. Apple took a leap into the Smartphone industry. Everybody else became a fast follower. And we’ve seen what happened as a result of them leading the pack.”
“You can have a team of really great people, but if they’re not given the … support and buy-in, then it’s doomed,” DeCarolis said.