Innovation And Inclusion: Ideas From South By South Lawn

An incredible range of thought-provoking and challenging ideas were packed into one short day.

I had the great privilege of joining some of the most exciting thinkers, artists, innovators, and leaders of our time at South by South Lawn at the White House. Billed as a “festival of ideas, arts, and action,” SXSL grew out of President Obama’s conversation on civic engagement earlier this year at Austin’s South by Southwest.

I was inspired by the creative buzz and diversity of featured participants—from urban designers and social change makers, to comedy writers and inner city artists, to the President of the United States. An incredible range of thought-provoking and challenging ideas were packed into one short day.

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Here are two immediate conclusions I came away with:

First, if you’re going to succeed in today’s digital world, you need to be able to innovate outside the four walls of your organization.

Any enterprise—large or small—needs to be able to partner effectively with others who can complement their strengths and add to their offering. At SXSL, I heard conversations of people exploring how they could bring their capabilities together to build something better.

What gives this sort of collaboration the best chance for success? Three elements come to mind:

  • Modular, exportable capabilities—If I want to talk with you about creating a new version of my technology that runs in your industry, I have to include APIs and hooks that allow you to build on it. I need to use open standards that will ensure compatibility. All the new technologies and applications I saw at SXSL—from virtual reality to robotics—were designed to be connected, built from the ground up for partnering, ready for the value-add that comes from collaboration.
  • 100% alignment of purpose—“Co-opetion” is no longer a “thing”—if it ever was. To succeed in building something new together, you can’t cooperate in one area and compete in another. You have to be aligned in purpose and vision to focus on your common mission.
  • Co-creation—Successful co-innovation also requires the attitude that we’re going to build something together—not that I’m going to sell you something that I’ve tweaked with your input. The best co-creation happens when each party brings something to the table that the other one needs to complete their solution.

My second big takeaway from SXSL is inclusion as a powerful driver of innovation.

And what do I mean by inclusion?

  • Full participation—No matter who you are, you can be in the room. So by its very nature, inclusion means diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experience—the very things that can spark off each other to create new ideas and possibilities.
  • Tools to participate—From my viewpoint at Uptake, it means using data analytics to reach out and connect in a meaningful way, using data to make the experience enriching and productive.
  • Next-generation collaboration—It’s one thing to say, “I’ve brought together 10 diverse individuals,” but it’s another thing to give them the tools they need and to have every single one engaged and contributing.

It’s this kind of “radical inclusion” that can really drive leaps in innovation. As a transplant from California to Chicago, I’ve seen first-hand that innovation is alive and well outside of Silicon Valley. Chicago’s inclusive community has enabled some unsung innovations—including the world’s first Ferris wheel, the world’s first skyscraper, and the first steel rail road in the United States. More recently, Chicago has become one of the top 8 tech cities in the nation, with a large and fast-growing tech community, including 29 venture-capital-backed companies in the Inc. 5000.

It is that vibrant and inclusive community that is the wellspring of the innovation I see every day here at Uptake. My visit to the White House last week sparked some new ideas in my mind. But it also reminded me of some of the reasons I’m proud to be here at Uptake where we tap into a diverse community to create products that are meant for partnering.