#BeyondtheBox 5: 4 things to never forget as an innovator

Original Post

How do you stand out in an industry that is changing so rapidly?

A lot has changed in media. It wasn’t so long ago that morning newspapers and evening news were the best ways to get the latest news. Today, everyone who has the internet and a free social media account can express their opinions. You can read the latest news on Facebook, learn how to cook international cuisines with Youtube videos, apply to jobs on LinkedIn, and learn about the deadliest international crisis via popular hashtags. Thanks to technology, access to information are becoming easier, cheaper and faster.

However, as a result of these trends, it's becoming harder for us to find quality news and easier to get overwhelmed by unnecessary information. More users are creating content to simply get attention online for marketing purposes. Our attention span is getting shorter as we get constant alerts from our social media accounts. Overall, we forget to appreciate how much work and dedication are needed to create high-quality content. In August 2016, comedian John Oliver reported on Last Week Tonight that simply ignoring these trends in media hurts us rather than helps us in the long run.

To stand out and produce quality results in such an industry, one needs a lot of dedication, persistence, creativity and strategy. These were the consistent qualities we found in our speakers at #BeyondTheBox focused on “New Media.”

On September 1, 2016, InnovatorsBox and WeWork co-hosted the fifth Beyond The Box speaker series to debunk people’s perception about media.

Four innovative leaders joined us to explain how creativity can be the source to stay grounded, bring new ideas, and consistently generate powerful results. Our goal for #BeyondTheBox is to demystify people’s perceptions about innovation in five industries, learn from local innovators about how they effected change and innovation, empower participants to embrace creativity and celebrate small milestones to bring greater change.  

I am excited to share key insights from our conversation.

 

#5 New Media, September 1, 2016

Journalism has been a key part of DC business as a city centered around politics. However, we often forget that there are many layers to media beyond news reporting. We invited four speakers to learn how they use media creatively, outside of traditional news reporting, to educate others, address societal challenges, and help others in need.

Meet our speakers:

  • Kushaan Shah is an IBM Consultant and Founder of Social Rise who is focused on closing the digital divide and empowering marginalized communities to learn social media through workshops and advocacy. He is an advocate for social entrepreneurship, digital equity, and innovation in the social technology space.
  • Lucy Bradlow is the Director of Public Relations at Bridge International Academieswho manages Bridge’s international and local communications work, including media relations, stakeholder engagement, and government relations. She is working to democratize the right to succeed through education in Africa and around the world.
  • Sonya Gavankar is the Manager of Public Relations at the Newseum who uses dynamic storytelling techniques as a spokesperson, television and podcast host, filmmaker and social multimedia content creator. She brings a cohesive voice to the Newseum’s 250,000 square feet of exhibit and interactive programming.
  • Zachary Kidd is the Founder of DupontStudios who is supporting companies that wish to engage with their stakeholders and expand by influence through informative film production. Zak has founded several technology companies and splits his time between DupontStudios and SwingSpace.

Already, at a quick glance, I learned that while their relationships with and journeys to media were different, they share many values, insights, and passion for the industry. Our 2-hour conversation kept our 30+ participants glued with curiosity and excitement to learn more about how these innovators’ paths to creative leadership made a difference in their industries.

This is what I learned:

 

1. Celebrate your uniqueness and be ok with being different.

 

Sometimes the biggest hurdle we have to go through is ourselves. We tend to choose careers, relationships, friendships, and lifestyles that society says is right for us instead of seeking what we really believe in. Along the way we forget our uniqueness and what we really want in life. Sonya first learned the importance of appreciating her own unique viewpoints to situations in her early childhood math class. When Sonya wrote “1+1 = 3,” her teacher was puzzled and scolded her for not knowing math. Her parents urged the teacher to ask Sonya why this was her answer. Sonya explained, “One plus one is three because mom and dad can make a kid so that makes a family of three.” She never forgot this day, it’s a reminder to not be afraid to speak her true opinions instead of saying what others think the right answer is. By honoring her uniqueness, she permitted herself to take paths that others would not take and find new opportunities and build new relationships in unseemingly places as a creative. Kushaan also talks about how it’s important to have a “What if” mindset in front of challenges instead of “oh well.” The more you let your true being out, the more quality deliverables you will be able to produce.

 

 

2. Appreciate the real small wins instead of worrying about 100% buy-in.

 

When we have a great idea, one of the biggest fears we often have is being judged, especially by our colleagues. Even though some colleagues may like the idea, we fear others will ridicule us, talk behind our back, and think we are too stupid. But innovators know how your attitude to challenges influences your window of opportunities in the future. While it is hard to smile in front of disapprovals that make you feel down, how you handle those moments will hugely impact your next steps. This is why Kushaan constantly reminds himself that “it’s always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Every “yes” from a colleague is a new candle that can light up the room and a step closer to getting rid of the darkness. When we focus only on getting all stakeholders’ approval, we can forget the small wins and proponents who are ready to support us. Before you get discouraged, really take a look around and see who are your candles that can help light up the room. Only then will you have a chance to light up the room with a solution. This kind of approach helped him not only find unique ways to build Social Rise but also manage his workload as an entrepreneur and full-time consultant at IBM. If you waited until you have 100% buy-in, you may never get there.

 

 

3. Provide content for quality, not for attention. And to provide great content, you have to understand your audience very well.

 

Media is produced for others to read, learn, watch, and consume. Without readership, your influence as a media channel can diminish. This explains why so much media focuses on strategizing how to get more clicks, more views, and more shares. And sometimes they focus a lot more on getting your attention than generating valuable content for their target audience. All speakers emphasized that more media and business owners need to focus on creating valuable content than strategizing for retweets. When you produce valuable content, you can produce something useful, helpful, and inspirational that can really help someone in their next steps. For instance, in order to understand how to generate the right content for your audience, Zak encourages business owners to ask themselves what the goal of the message is, who the message is for, what are the best ways to share the message, and why is now the right timing to share the message. That’s how you would know whether a video or a press release will be more effective to communicate your message.

Lucy also emphasized how their best content was produced after diving deeply into understanding their audience’s mindset and lifestyle. Africa’s internet and social media culture are different from the West, so they had to seek out new ways to explain the complex notion of why an innovative education system was critical for their children and country’s future. After noticing how many people spent hours outside in the streets, they decided to visually explain their message through street art on city walls. Now, not only are more people able to understand the value but more are aware of Bridge International Academies’ work and are interested to learn more. It’s important to not be carried away by what others think is important. Focus on how your audience can digest the information you want to share and providing quality content.

 

 

4. Have a creative outlet to unplug and recharge regularly.

Finding your own creative outlet to recharge regularly is critical to your ideation. The more you unplug, the more resources and energy you will have to generate new ideas that will be fitting for your solution. For instance, Zak takes walks to unplug for hours and takes a couple days offline to recharge. The more he unplugs and disconnects, the fresher and more fun ideas he generates for his colleagues. Lucy loves to play sports and spend time outdoors. As an active listener and observer, she gains new perspectives and ideas as she discovers new insights during her exercise and unplugs. Sonya also makes time to read and spend time with her family to recharge. Kushaan allocates time to play and attend events where he can experience fun, reflection, silliness, and friendships. For each person, our best creative outlets will be different. Take time to explore, identify, dive into, and find a way to regularly practice it. Whether that is family time or a scheduled time to take a walk outside, a good 10-minute rest can help you with your next couple of hours.

 

 

At the end of the day, everything you are doing is all part of a long journey of being a creative leader.

Providing great quality is one thing. As Sonya said, focus on building experiences for users, not attention. Ask yourself what would my user feel when they read my information? By taking a deeper dive, you’ll be able to find better solutions. Furthermore, doing your best at all times is another level of dedication and persistence. As Zak highlights, we live in a privileged time when we are better off than our ancestors, where we have the opportunity to pursue anything. We have so much more resources, cleanness, and information at our fingertips, so we can choose to either be idle or productive. But if you want to make change, you can’t expect it to happen if you spend all your evenings watching TV. Therefore, if you continuously strive to do your best, you can make a lasting impact. But you have to believe it, and you have to put in the hard work.

In all, what I’m reminded of is that being an innovator means there is no one path. It’s a journey where you have to be persistent, work hard, intentional, true to yourself, and be open to learn at all times. When the conversation ended, we all left with a big warm smile knowing that we too can have the courage to become better creative leaders, now equipped with this new wisdom. And I can’t wait to hear how these insights will help you in your journey as well.

 

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Thank you for reading our insights.

This is our last #BeyondTheBox summer speaker series with innovators in 2016 with WeWork DC. We hope the series was useful and insightful. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section. We hope to continue this series in 2017.

For friends outside of DC, we are excited to do a pop-up speaker series this Fall in New York, Chicago, and potentially San Francisco. You can read about our upcoming events here. If you are interested in collaborating or attending, please send us a note here.

Thank you for your support! We look forward to seeing you at our future events.