Where does innovation begin? At this summer’s Global Women in STEM conference, female innovators offered their advice for moving innovation forward. (If you missed our first two posts, you can find them here and here.)
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to drive an idea but isn’t sure how to move forward?
Grace Francisco, VP, Developer Relations at Roblox: It’s about solving problems and bringing new ideas. It’s about the execution. In that execution, you have to have sheer willpower and persistence because these problems are difficult. So you have to be persistent and not let the naysayers get you down. Stay focused and keep driving forward, always forward.
Martha Galley, Vice President, Customer Success at Salesforce: You don’t have to look too far to find a problem. Think of any problem that you believe has resonance in your community, whether in your company or outside your company. Start small and collaborate away.
Mai Le, Head of Business Platform Engineering at Uber: For me, it’s about continuous learning. If you need ideas to get going, go out and learn. Talk to people, read, look up things, join groups, and forums. Find out, “What are people in the space doing? Who are the thought leaders and what are they doing?” Always learn because everything is constantly changing.
Ellie Powers, Group Product Manager at Google: I do improv comedy in my spare time. I think that can be helpful for innovation.
One of the ideas I take from improv comedy is that we’re going to turn off our judgement. We’re going to just turn it off. I’m interested in all the ideas, the good ideas and the terrible ideas. We’re not going to judge the ideas. We’re going to generate as many ideas as possible. It opens the atmosphere of people thinking, “Well I don’t want to raise that idea because I can already see problems with it.” Maybe those problems can be overcome. Let’s not judge your ideas, and then later we’ll come in and pick the ideas that we think are best.
Once you have your idea, what do you do? And that really comes down to your appetite for risk-taking. Again, I go back to my improv background. When you do improv comedy, you’re used to failing a lot. You’re used to getting up on stage and having people laugh at you but not always in a good way. So what I’d say is that if you want to be an innovator—and I hope that you do—get comfortable with risk. Make friends with risk. Feel that feeling that you get in your stomach when you’re about to take a risk and say, “There’s the ‘I’m about to take a risk’ feeling.” People ask me, “When does that feeling go away?” They want to feel 100% comfortable with taking risks. And I say, “That feeling will always be there. It’s about how you embrace it. It’s about recognizing, ‘Oh, that’s the risk feeling. That’s my body telling me I’m about to take a risk. But I’m going to do it anyway.’”
Azita Arvani, Head of Innovation at Nokia: It’s about not focusing on being an innovator. It’s about solving a problem — and trusting yourself that when you see a problem, you can solve it. Then you experiment and tinker with things. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep working on it. Look at it from different angles. Don’t wait for someone else to solve it. Trust yourself to solve it.