The Hard Work of Innovating

Bob Priest-Heck, president and COO of Freeman, on what holds us back from executing on creative and fresh ideas at our events.

Rock climber

If you want to be seen as innovative, you have to innovate.

Pretty much every organization on the planet wants to be seen as innovative. But fewer want to do the hard work of actually being innovative. If only it were as easy as showing up with an Apple Watch strapped to our wrists. But real innovation involves work, risk, and, even worse, failure.

Innovation is the corporate equivalent of being physically fit. We all want to have a ripped body with six-pack abs — we may even invest in a gym membership or a personal trainer. But when push comes to shove, there are too many practical things that get in the way of our goal.

True innovation requires thinking beyond conventional wisdom and embracing change. For example, at Freeman we occasionally get pushback from conference presenters when we offer second-screen technology. They are uncomfortable with the idea of inviting people to engage with their mobile devices while they are speaking. But the truth is, people are increasingly looking at their cell phones whether or not you give them permission. Second-screen technology simply leverages the audience’s preferred channel to invite interactivity and share relevant content in real time.

Successful organizations continue to invest in technology and resources that support innovation. But this is like the gym membership. Ultimately, we Paint8[2][1]just have to exercise that part of our brain that lets us innovate. Ironically, one of the things that inhibit innovation is worrying what others will think. Fear of failure can paralyze the intellectual muscles we need to keep creatively limber. That’s why it’s important to stretch ourselves — to push beyond our comfort zones. True innovators don’t worry about being one of the cool kids. They just get on with it.

Follow Bob on Twitter @bpriestheck.


Bob Priest-Heck

  • Ed Bernacki

    Bob, this hits home with me. As a speaker on innovation at 250 conferences, I realized I was speaking on topics of collaboration, idea generation, being innovative, etc — none of which was happening at the conference. I decided to reinvent the way conferences are designed, starting with the core assumptions.
    I read meeting planning books and realized most focused on objectives for learning, networking and motivation. This is very basic. I decided that every conference should include elements of collaboration which focus on ideas and innovation. My book (2007) defines planning rules to change the way we think about conferences, Seven Rules For Designing More Innovative Conferences. In today’s jargon, I applied design thinking to reinvent how we approach an event…..
    Rule #1 – the true experts at a conference are in the audience, not on stage.
    Rule #5 – always harness the expertise of the audience in some way during the event
    This can completely change the way we shape content to engage people.

    Just when my smug and arrogant self thought I was original, I discovered a book, Conference Leadership in Business and Leadership. It is reminder that conferences are opportunities for people to ‘confer’. This book offers excellent insights for engaging audiences to achieve results. ES Hannaford wrote this book… 1948.