I had the opportunity to interview Gerard Cox, organizer of the the inaugural Second Line conference. The event is an interactive conference celebrating the New Economy successes and strategies with disruptive innovation, value creation, and sustainable social impact. Set in New Orleans, they brought some of the world’s leading innovators to demonstrate how design, experience, strategy, and technology can be applied to create new markets, exponential growth, and sustainable social impacts.
Here is text of the interview:
1. Why is innovation so important to organizations in New Orleans?
- Most recently the city had innovate to address the social needs required as a product of Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans was swarmed by an extremely generous group of volunteers who really inspired locals to take control of our community and develop new social ventures to address our citizen’s needs. It is well known in social innovation circles that New Orleans is the center for social entrepreneurship in the US.
- Over the last 20 years we’ve had to reinvent ourselves due to the flight of the oil industry from the city. Many citizens welcome this change because it will require us to create a more diverse economy. Big Oil is not an industry you want to depend on for your existence. New Orleans is positioning itself as a center for innovation for new energy sources. I expect in 20 years we will be one of the world’s hubs for sustainable energy.
- New Orleans is a unique world city with a distinct culture and a unique relationship with its citizens. The city defines who we are. Not everyone can live in city like New Orleans. To prosper in New Orleans you must have an open and mind and willing to reinvent yourself in the mold of the city.
- New Orleans historically has needed to recreate itself several times in its history. The city started out a French colony, was transferred to the Spanish, back to the French, and then sold to the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase. All of these changes required citizens to innovate to adopt to the shifts the created by these drastic changes.
2. Are there any unique challenges that organizations in New Orleans face in their quest for innovation?
- Unfortunately, yes. We could use better support and understanding from state and local politicians. They have the purest intentions but don’t realize the goals of public/private partnership are to develop community and align resources for value creation. There are several efforts that seem to be creating some positive traction on the public/private front. I am anxious to see where they end up.
- We making drastic improvements in our education system. We still have a ways to go. I think the future workforce will be well-prepared to support the burgeoning New Orleans economy.
3. What are some of the unique assets of New Orleans that might cause companies to locate there?
- The culture! It is amazing. New Orleans has a unique food, music, art, architecture, clothing, etc. It is amazing to see how 300 years of history can generate such a diverse and vibrant culture.
- The people are amazing. I have never been around a more giving community. We all work together to make each other successful.
- We have all the benefits of a large city (e.g., NFL, NBA franchises, 5-star restaurants, great public transportation, etc.) but the charm and feel of a small community. We are so lucky!
- Most people are surprised to find we have a very well-educated work force. We have thousands of consultants based in New Orleans who work virtually. We truly have an industry of minds. We also have some great small companies who do awesome work.
4. What are you hoping to achieve with the Second Line conference?
- We are working with New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation because a fusion of our mission and theirs would provide the perfect platform for promoting innovation for media, technology, business, and social ventures. It would be an alternative or compliment of events like Austin’s South by Southwest (SxSW).
- We also want to promote New Orleans business environment. We have an amazing, evolving, innovative, and creative business community. We want to recruit people to the city who would be willing to do business with New Orleans. We think New Orleans is a fantastic and unique business environment that provides a fantastic opportunity to create value for companies willing to invest in the community.
5. What can city politicians do to help innovation thrive in New Orleans?
Reduce political barriers and align the business community around economic development. The political environment for business innovation has improved greatly in New Orleans. I am huge fan of the new mayor, Mitch Landrieu. We are now on par with any other city the size of New Orleans. I challenge our political leaders and business community to come together to promote the unique value New Orleans offers businesses. Businesses need to work with and elect political leaders who create an exceptional political environment for businesses. One of the goals of Second Line is to demonstrate that businesses can work together to do economic development. But we still have a gap of understanding between business leaders and politicians. My concern is the business leaders with the most political capital still have the most access and the ear of political leaders. Sometimes these are not the right people to be making recommendations for business development.
6. What are some of the biggest barriers to innovation that you’ve seen in organizations?
I think the real challenge for American businesses today is recognizing the biological aspects of an organization. Organizations are like people. They have emotions, they have a lifecycle, and they have a soul. Management and leadership should always consider the human aspects of an organization when developing strategy and making decisions. My recommendation to CEOs is to reassess your strategy and operations using design principles. Design principles account for human emotion and perception. Create an organizational canvas and let your leaders, employees, partners, and customer paint a glorious future.
7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?
Managers must create an environment where ideas are discussed and respected. They should also empower employees, partners, and customers to experiment with new ideas. I love when an employee comes to me with an idea. I give them the resources and time to development and prototype their recommendations. If there is value, we invest more, if not, we move on. Innovation can be that simple!
8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?
We need to create more project-based curriculum. This requires students to work toward a goal. The process of completing the goal requires to student to innovate, create, test, and track down resources from a variety of sources. This is how the real world works!
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.