#BeyondTheBox Technology | How Innovation is a foundational element in Technology

Written by Aakriti Pandey. Photos by District Dodger.

Technology has been making leaps and bounds for quite some time now, especially over the past decade. We now live in a world that has donned an electronic skin, where devices, gadgets, and sensors have outnumbered people. We used to go about our lives without smartphones just over 15 years ago - but today, technological advancements have moved, paced, and shifted our lives in a melodramatic fashion. And it can be difficult to catch up with the way the technology is making herculean jumps.

Technology is not only evolving and advancing in itself, but it's changing the face of many other industries through innovation and creativity, and by bringing novelty into old concepts. 

As a final event in our #BeyondTheBox Spring 2017 series, InnovatorsBox® hosted #BTB Technology in WeWork White House on May 4th and invited four distinguished leaders from the technological arena to speak on the panel and share their insights. 

Monica Kang, Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox, hosted a series of Q&A to the speakers to dig deep and find out in what ways technology is evolving and how innovation and creativity can play a foundational role.

From left:  Tony Cappaert ( Contactually ), Steve Taylor ( Lyft ), Khuloud Oleh ( Urban Institute ), Monica Kang ( InnovatorsBox ), and Ximena Hartsock ( Phone2Action )

From left: Tony Cappaert (Contactually), Steve Taylor (Lyft), Khuloud Oleh (Urban Institute), Monica Kang (InnovatorsBox), and Ximena Hartsock (Phone2Action)

Why are innovation and creativity helpful in technology?

Steve says with innovation, you can take the age-old ideas and concepts and scale it with technology. For example, a concept of having the underutilized asset and creating something new from is not a new notion. As a General Manager at Lyft for DMV region, Steve draws attention to the fact that people spend generously in motor vehicles which then sit under-utilized in their garages being depreciated by the day. 

Takeaway: Great innovations come about by simply looking at the old concepts and finding ways to make it efficient and scalable.

Ximena, a technology advocate and a co-founder of Phone2Action shared that innovation, not only in technology but in every facet of life, is not just a concept - but in today's day and age, it's a way of living! Technology empowers everything. From how we work to how we live and play. And innovation and creativity have a distinct place in technology in that it amplifies the old concepts to create something novel and ground-breaking.

Takeaway: Novel ideas and inventions can only be introduced by accepting innovation and technology as a way of life than merely a concept.

Khuloud, VP of IT and CIO at Urban Institute, shared that Innovation is everything she did in her Undergrad, Masters, and Ph.D, and that the appreciation of innovation in technology came even strongly to her as she entered the technology career. Khuloud shares that to her, innovation looked more like a survival skill rather than an option and she believes it's an optimal way of doing things that only gets better by the day. "Growth, Impact, and Quality are three elements of innovation", Khuloud says, " and that there'll always be another optimal way to solving problems and improving the quality of life every day.".

Takeaway: Growth, Impact, and Quality. Increasing impact, fostering growth, and improving quality are three key metrics of any innovative efforts.

Tony is a Co-Founder and COO at Contactually, a CRM product that helps you stay in touch with people better - automatically, systematically, and in an engaging way. Tony shares that Technology, in general, is to see a problem and solve that problem - and innovation is a source leading to that solution. Innovation is also about having limited resources and being able to utilize that to achieve things faster and better, get ahead of the competition and stay ahead with efficiency. Not only that, but innovation goes beyond just businesses and competition, and helps empower people to live and work better.

Takeaway: Being innovative means finding ways to bring about change with limited resources. It's an art of utilizing little resources to create big changes.


For the first time entrepreneurs, what are the ways to have the team to be and remain innovative, in addition to having innovative products in itself?

InnovatorsBox | BTB Technology | Ximena Hartsock

Ximena says that there are three stages of innovation in entrepreneurship that a leader goes through: Idea stage, funding stage, and growth stage.

The first stage is about coming up with a novel idea. There'll be setbacks, but with perseverance, you can push through and figure out a way to come out stronger. For the first time entrepreneurs, going back to regular paycheck is always tempting as you're in a survival mode. But this is what makes you more creative and able to use all the skills you've ever learned before.

The second stage is about finding unique and sustainable ways of sustenance. When people see success, they only see the tip of the iceberg, but not all the heavy lifting. In today's age, everyone seems to be an entrepreneur - but it's key to think hard about "what am I best at?" and doing that, and hiring talents to complement you in things that you're not great at.

The third stage is to know the right things to capitalize in. You need to be able to remain vigilant and be able to identify the right opportunities as they come about and invest & capitalize on them.

Takeaway: 1. Perseverance. 2. Understanding the talents - your own and others'. 3. Finding challenges and opportunities, and connecting the dots.


What are some of the lessons on 'being innovative' at Lyft that others can potentially learn from?

InnovatorsBox | BTB Education | Steve Taylor | Lyft

Steve says there's two framework he uses to make sure the team is innovative. First is to always keep the mission statement visible, and ensure everyone innately understands what the mission is. Then to also make sure that every newcomer needs to not only listen to everything around them but also to consciously pay attention to what's not working. The second framework is "start-stop-continue"; i.e., deciding what we're going to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. He shares that "as we add more people, more programs, and more projects, there's more need to shed something and gain something else".

Regardless of how far you're in your career, realize that you've done and experienced a lot, and know how to leverage that in your current endeavors. "It's also crucial to not doubt yourself", Steve says, "and you don't need to be any older, any more successful, or have more money. If you're ready to do something novel, just go ahead and do it". 

Takeaway:  Don't wait around for more money or more muscles. If there's an innovative idea and an urge, just go ahead and do it. 


What is the key element that makes employees stay excited and motivated, and willing to contribute more? What tangible things help people to action things better?

InnovatorsBox | BTB Technology | Tony Cappaert

Tony says that transparency helps people be more enthusiastic about what they do as it helps them understand why they do it. The total transparency - from the cash flow, to burnout, to organization's top priorities, to its limitations and challenges - they help people know what they're working towards. This makes them more motivated to make efforts, to not only meet the metrics but also see the reasoning behind the metrics. Quarterly or annual retreat helps avoid burnout as people stop and get away from the never-ending to-do list.

Also, it's important to pay attention to the macro. Trying to please and be a platform for everybody is never going to work. There is always going to be a niche, and finding that sweet-spot helps everyone in the organization to understand where to focus. 

Takeaway: 1. Be transparent - it helps people be intrinsically motivated. 2. Offer company retreats to avoid burnout and help rejuvenate. 3. Pay attention to both micro and macro environments. 


Bringing different sets experiences and perspectives, working across various industries and countries, and seeing many trends along the way, what are some of the lessons you learned that we can draw from?

InnovatorsBox | BTB Technology | Khuloud Oleh

Khuloud says that one of the lessons that she learned was that technology alone does not solve every problem if the 'people' aspect is ignored. It takes teams, customers, suppliers, consultants - and good interactions and relationships across the board - for any innovative efforts to work. After all, it's people who create and innovate. The world has changed because of the same very innovative people. Bit by bit, it is people who bring about change, whether the change is at the team level, organization level, community level or society at large.

Thinking about how we bring teams and users together to ideate, innovate, operate and function is mind-blowing. 

Takeaway: Technology does not innovate in itself - it needs people. So it's important to always put people first. 

Overall, it was a lively event that opened up with meaningful networking over beer and champagne; then the diverse audience of over 80 individuals who came from different industries listened and interacted with our panel; and the event wrapped up with ample insights, intelligence, and tangible takeaways!

InnovatorsBox | BTB Technology | Audiences

Last but not least, technology is very much relevant to what WeWork is all about, and as we wrap up the Spring '17 series with Technology, we would like to extend a lot of kudos to WeWork DC teams for providing the spaces and extending the support in helping us set up our #BeyondTheBox Spring '17 series!

p.s. Check out an infographic below with more insights and nuggets from the event for you to take away!

Learn more via video and photos!


InnovatorsBox | BeyondTheBox Tech | Infographics