October 7, 2023


Innovation is everywhere.🌎

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Fast Company's Innovation Festival in New York City. 🗽 

The theme of the festival this year was “innovation everywhere” — a theme in total alignment with my beliefs - innovation is for everyone and innovation should be everywhere. 🥳

My client portfolio reflects this. This year alone, I’ve worked with clients in food, CPG, education, government, nonprofit, paperboard packaging, medical, property management and retirement.

It’s truly a delight for me to teach innovation everywhere. One of my favourite teams I worked with this year was with Waterwater Operators from the Wastewater Department from the Town of Midland. Yes, everyone needs innovation!

So this year, with this theme in mind, I was excited. And true to the promise, I heard about innovation in unexpected places. Here’s some of my favourite sessions, in no particular order:

➡️ Session: Disrupt or Be Disrupted: Rethinking Commerce with Next-Level Consumer Engagement, featuring Lauren Antenucci, Manager, Loss Prevention, Puma North America; Toby Gabriner, CEO, Bitly; Chuck Lasley, IT Director, Application Development, Dillard’s; and Carrie Wilkie, SVP, Standards and Technology, GS1 US.

They talked about barcodes... yes barcodes. Barcodes have existed for decades but no one innovated them for the longest time.

Today, with 2D Barcodes (QR codes), scans don't simply have to be for product pricing anymore. They can be hyper-personalized. Based on different factors, you can create a personalized micro site based on YOU.

You can even have the same 2D barcodes be scanned by different target groups and get different info from it.

You can also have geo-targeted barcodes... if you're in one location, you get one experience. If you scan it somewhere else, you get another experience.

Imagine what you can do with this....! There are five trillion barcodes out there.

I never knew a conversation around barcodes could be so interesting… and I love that innovation has touched barcodes. 🥳

➡️ Session: Innovating on democracy: Finding new ways to power the people

This session featured Claudia Chwalisz, Founder and CEO, DemocracyNext; Kevin O'Neil, Managing Director, Innovation,The Rockefeller Foundation; and Laura Wood, VP, Democracy, Local Policy Lab

This conversation was FASCINATING to me. This was about how innovation has impacted democracy and how people can get more involved through these new innovative concepts.

I was introduced to new concepts of participatory budgeting, citizens assembly , rank choice voting and citizen juries. 💡

Participatory budgeting was particularly interesting - it allows regular people to vote on how the government budget is spent. In New York City, people aged 11 and older can participate in a participatory vote. This creates so much accessibility for people to have impact. 🙌🏻

Innovation in democracy… YES YES YES!

➡️ Session: Creating Cross-Reality Design Solutions with Journey, featuring Cathy Hackl, Chief Futurist, Journey; Constance Nuttall, Lead Producer of Squint/Opera, Journey; Michelle Schrank, Director of Designers of Icrave, Journey; and Stacy Shoemaker Rauen, Editor-in-Chief, Hospitality Design

This session talked about crossworld design. Other people may refer to this as multi-modal design. These designers shared their experiences of working with the physical and digital world.

Something that one of the speakers said was… if you’ve ever been limited to the physical world before, now you’ve got other options. Isn’t that great? For example, in the physical world, you’re confined to gravity and limited space. If you want to break through those confines, you could consider leveraging augmented reality or virtual reality instead.

While none of this was particularly new to me, the interesting part for me was the conversation about it… that there are MORE options, MORE tools at our fingertips that we CAN leverage.

With Meta’s recent announcement about their new Ray-Ban AI Smartglasses, the integration between the real world and augmented reality will soon be much more seamless. Instead of having to pull out a device like a smartphone in your hand to see augmented reality, the tech will enable it to be a seamless experience.

➡️ Session: Sonic Secrets: An Immersive Journey into Audio Branding with Made Music Studio, featuring Lauren McGuire, President, Made Music Studio, and Troy Williams, Head of Brand Design, Wells Fargo

This session was mind-blowing for me and my hands-down favourite of the entire conference. Innovation in sound! 🤯

I’ve never heard of the concept of audio (sonic) branding before until this session. All of us know what visual branding is like… so imagine that, but on the sound side. 🔊

Sound can literally influence all of our senses… including triggering our memories. The team took us through experiential experiences to really open our ears and minds up to the world of sonic branding.

We did some experiments of how sound affects our taste. Simply by listening to different sounds affected how the food tasted to us. What..!?

One of the engineers showed us how they designed a spatial environment called a soundscape.  The soundscape was mapped in a 3D visualization and you could literally choose where the sound moved from, what happened to it and so forth. It was incredible.

Then we talked about sonic (audio) branding. When you’re thinking about your customers, how do you want people to FEEL when they think about your brand? What’s the emotional core that you want? Based on those would determine what type of sound they hear and you can make that your audio footprint for your brand. What a fascinating conversation.

They shared an incredible example of the power of sonic branding through the work they did with Tostitos. It’s SO much fun. Here’s a fun video about how their work: 

This whole discussion was so innovative. I’ve never heard (literally) about anything like this before.

If you were wondering, there was of course, a lot of discussion about AI and innovation. That wasn’t a surprise. AI is something that’s here to stay and while I think there’s a lot of power in how it can help us with tasks, I do not, for one minute think it can ever replace our ability as humans to innovate and create. And besides, that’s the best parts of being human 🙂

These were my major highlights as I couldn’t possibly summarize the entire conference in one post. 

➡️ The last major point I want to make about the conference was that although everyone talked a lot ABOUT innovation, there wasn't any conversation about HOW to innovate at this conference. This was surprising to me. It seems to me that we expect innovation from our employees and expect it to be part of the norm, but the problem is, innovation is NOT a mindset and skillset that's pervasive in our organizations. 

Why? Research shows that 75% of companies say innovation is a priority, but only 20% are actually ready and equipped to innovate. There's a learning gap here.

I want you to reflect on this: Is innovation everywhere in your organization? Are your people actually ready and equipped to innovate? If they're not, send me a DM or comment with "let's actually innovate, Leo". This is my expertise, so let's have a conversation! I'd love to help you. ❤️

I hope you found this article interesting and inspiring! 💡

What are your thoughts?

About the Author

Leo is a people and heart-first entrepreneur who believes everyone can be an innovator. An innovator himself, with 55 US patents and over 20 years of experience, Leo has come alongside organizations like Chick-fil-A and guided them to unleash the innovative potential of their employees by transforming them into confident innovators.

Leo’s friendly, joyful and enthusiastic demeanour makes the journey to innovation exciting and attainable. Leo’s also a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® trainer & facilitator who believes unlocking innovation takes new approaches.

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