Surprising Lessons on Innovation
Written by Mariam Awara
Throughout my degree, I witnessed my university increasingly talking about fostering innovation and entrepreneurship as part of their larger strategy and priorities. Yet I always wondered, what does innovation even mean?
After becoming involved with the League of Innovators (LOI) as a Connector, I was given the opportunity to attend LOI Unplugged in both Calgary and Toronto: two events that showcased stories of various entrepreneurs and really challenged my preconceptions of what it meant to be innovative. As a Connector, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my own entrepreneurial experiences, and better understand how innovation can be applied to my ideas and the role it plays in our society.
In this article, I share with you my three biggest learnings about innovation:
1. Age is just a number
The idea that age is not an indicator of capability, but rather a proactive mindset, was proven by Lauren Voisin at the Calgary Unplugged event. Lauren started her company, Robots Are Fun, at age 8, borne out of an unmet need she had to find a simple way to learn how to build robots. When she didn’t find an existing solution, she took the responsibility herself to build robotics kits and enable anyone to learn, no matter your age or gender. Her mandate was to find fun & inexpensive entry points for kids to experience science and technology.
At age 12, she had already made significant impact, not just through her business, but also on the quality of education in the country as a member of the Education Ministers Youth Council. Now, Lauren is expanding her company’s verticals by looking at ways to incorporate fashion and technology in creative ways.
Robots Are Fun is a prime example of how a proactive mindset, not age, is key to building creative and innovative solutions to solve an unmet need.
2. Team Culture Feeds Company Innovation
At LOI Unplugged Calgary, Andrew Chau, Co-founder of SkipTheDishes, expressed that building a strong foundation of trust within their team was key to productivity and execution of new ideas. The team culture they built prioritized trust, agility and hard work.
Similarly, at LOI Unplugged Toronto, Michele Romanow declared that, as a leader, she builds her teams and treats them like entrepreneurs. When scaling a company, she emphasizes that it is akin to a marathon, so she ensures that her team feels ownership & pride over their work and are given the space to take care of themselves. She trusts them to deliver despite giving them unlimited vacation pay and flexible work hours, as long as they know that some days, they will “have to sprint.” Some days will be a crunch and all hands must be on deck, so if the company culture wasn’t flexible and rooted in trust, those times where sprints need to happen wouldn’t be executed properly.
The speakers suggest that innovation is something that must be intentionally fostered and nourished within their companies. A team that can iterate and share diverse perspectives in a trusting environment allows for innovation to grow as part of the culture.
3. Iteration is innovation
At the LOI Unplugged Toronto, both Michele Romanow and Manny Padda expressed that entrepreneurs had to “be scrappy.” Padda reminisced on how he grew up selling lemonade and taking up odd jobs to make money. He recalled how he was known as the “class clown,” a title he now takes pride in for making him a good entrepreneur.
Romanow added that she thought class clowns were the perfect embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit, because they found ways around the rules. She reminisced on her past experiences as a straight-A student, constantly aiming for perfection, and declared that in order to become successful in her business pursuits, she had to learn to shed that perfectionist mentality and embrace one that prioritized quickly testing, failing and pivoting on ideas until they found an opportunity fit that addressed a specific need.
Thanks to my experiences and conversations as a LOI Connector, my reflections have led me to realize that innovation isn’t an end-product, but rather an iterative process. Having a proactive mindset that prioritizes resourcefulness, team alignment and constant feedback is key to innovative problem solving!