November 11, 2016

Innovation Festival Sparks Some Much-Needed Inspiration


While glued to CNN and social media this week during and after the election, I found myself mentally paralyzed at work, trying to get things done. In an effort to get back some of my productive mojo and just comfort myself, I spent today reflecting and reminding myself how inspired I was only one week ago during the Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. The festival’s theme, “Find Your Mission, Deepen Your Purpose,” strongly resonates with me as a business owner and entrepreneur now more than ever, and I am so glad I made the time to soak in several sessions last week.

As a lover of podcasts, one of my favorite stops on my journey was visiting the Brooklyn spaces of Gimlet Media to get “Inside the Cultural Arrival of Podcasts.” I am a huge fan of Gimlet’s co-founder Alex Blumberg, of This American Life, NPR’s Planet MoneyStartUp and Reply All. In Brooklyn, Alex and his fellow co-founder Matt Lieber discussed strategies behind their ability to so quickly become a leader in the industry with their award-winning narrative audio stories, and gave attendees a preview of an upcoming show. My own crush on Gimlet Media stems from not only its rapid growth, but how readily I relate to their narratives and characters. After listening to Alex and Matt through my earphones for hours every week, I feel like we’re all best friends, and that they should be showing up to my house for Thanksgiving.

Creating that connection has to do with demonstrating a sense of empathy, and producing compelling narratives that aren’t duplicated anywhere else. While a magical mix of market demographics and technology has podcasting companies poised for growth (Alex and Matt cited an opportunity to convert 270 million radio listeners to podcast listeners), their biggest challenge is the acquisition of talent. I too struggle with finding people you trust with the brand that you’ve built—people who are as committed as you are to your mission and possess the skill set and drive to execute on that mission. “We do not ever want to put out a product unless it is perfect,” the Gimlet hosts said. That first client experience has to be extremely positive.

Similarly, at the session with Warby Parker’s co-founder Neil Blumenthal and restauranteur Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack and several of my favorite New York City restaurants, the focus was on talent—finding people who are not only empathetic but proactive, curious, driven, passionate and self-aware. Self-awareness, in particular, has value because it is not easily taught. Rather than wasting time waiting for direction from outside sources, the best employees already possess the values and instincts to create solutions that will surprise and delight clients.

I also found it incredibly interesting how Warby Parker is leveraging technology to make those customer experiences as personal as possible. Neil has renamed Point of Sale (POS) to POE: Point of Everything. POE systems elevate the salesperson’s ability to make each interaction as high-value and personalized as possible, by understanding the customer’s behaviors and experiences.

The session “Design the Work You Love” with Ayse Birsel did an amazing job of illustrating how life is really a design challenge. Ayse used a series of exercises to show us how we can apply design principles to help us get to maximum career fulfillment. We began by studying and sketching the person seated next to us, which forced our perspectives to see through someone else’s eyes. Next, we were tasked with deconstructing our lives into things we truly loved, placing them into either an emotional, physical, intellectual or spiritual quadrant, and then analyzing the quadrants as a whole.

Lastly, Ayse asked us to identify our heroes—those from whom we gather inspiration. Our heroes are a reflection of our own values, she said, and our values are the building blocks of doing the work we love. I wrote down my four heroes and discovered the connecting thread among them: they all are courageous risk takers with a lot of drive, who have merged their businesses with their passion and seem to have a balanced life that includes self-care.

At another session from the festival, “How to be Your Best Self at Work,” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, had us examine our values another way. She asked us to think about who we envy, and then told us to turn that envy into a positive, revealing what we want in life and what we want to work on.

A good friend of mine reminded me yesterday that we should never wait for other people to change our lives for us, not even a president-elect. Each of us has to create the life we want. We need to be optimistic, empathetic and committed to bringing your best self every day to make it all happen—at work, at home and in your community, more so now than ever.


-Marisa Ricciardi

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