Melissa Adams, Division Head & Chief Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Officer
What does innovation mean to you?
Innovation means looking at things differently, and trying to find better ways to achieve either the same or a desired (or more desirable) result. While the innovations that are larger, and seen as more transformational, get more of the attention (such as Lyft and Uber), there are smaller innovations that happen every day that can change a business, improve a process, streamline work and the like.
What makes your company/organization innovative?
People come up with innovations all the time – like ways to streamline a business process. What makes an organization innovative is the openness to not only seeking out which of those are truly ‘best practices’ and can be shared across the company, but also encouraging people to come up with and share their new ideas. We never want to say ‘that’s the way we have always done things, and its good enough’ to the next great idea.
What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
There are so many great innovators and many of their respective breakthroughs are characterized by two key attributes that I try to model -- perseverance and collaboration. One of the most inspiring moments I had in the last ten years was sitting down for dinner in Berlin with Hasso Plattner, the founder of SAP and a leader in the development of ERP software. Hasso spoke of the importance of ideation and the creative process which included collaboration, in particular thinking about problems from the perspective of the customer. These elements of innovation were front and center the next day during a visit to the Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Pottsdam where dozens of D-School students were energetically applying human-centered design and technology solutions to an array of everyday customer problems.
What about Greater Washington has positioned us as an innovative region?
Washington, DC has two great attributes that make it so innovative. First, it is the nexus of government, business, academia and the not-for-profit sectors. That’s a combination of people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, all coming together. Add to that the fact that this truly is an international city with thousands of people from all around the world working here - across all four of the sectors I mentioned earlier. You put that together and you have a perfect recipe for new ideas, synergistic thinking and problem-solving.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Do not be afraid to ask questions. I know that sounds clichéd, but if you get to know the business or organization you are in and understand, as much as you can, its culture and history, you’ll be able to figure out what makes the organization successful. Chances are, even if things don’t make sense to you right away, there is a reason why. Then find out what problems the company is trying to solve and offer those solutions first. Once you have the reputation as someone who understands the organization and has come up with good solutions, you’ll have more opportunities to be more creative and innovative, digging deeper into organizational needs and solutions for community and customer problems. And once you find your “solution,” be sure to periodically give it a reality check -- the only constant is change!