March 09, 2012 by Sandra Petri
An associate dean of the LeBow College of Business facilitated a discussion March 1 at the KYW News Radio office about the importance of innovation in the modern business environment.
Donna DeCarolis led the program, titled “Leadership in Innovation,” with LeBow Executive MBA alumnus Olakunle Ekundare, who now is the director of standards at Comcast.
The event was attended by more than 50 business leaders from around the Philadelphia area, who were provided with an inside look into a large company that has proven to be very innovative. “Leadership in Innovation” focused on innovation, which is complementary to LeBow’s overall focus on entrepreneurship.
Ekundare explained that large companies like Comcast have to adopt a small-business mentality in order to foster innovation among employees.
“You start having companies like Google, like Facebook, that are creating environments where people are comfortable developing new ideas. Where you don’t have the companies that have been around for 300 years saying, ‘Well, we don’t really do that anymore,’” Ekundare said.
He discussed his own experiences at Comcast in terms of innovation, saying that even though it’s a very large company, it functions like a small one in some ways. Because of this, employees feel comfortable being creative and working toward new solutions, products or ideas.
Some Comcast employees are paid simply to think — to come up with innovative, plausible ideas. Ekundare also recommended that businesses bring in outsiders to help create new ideas.
“You bring somebody in from the outside who … is a good thinker but is thinking about the new space that you’re in. We’ve been fortunate to have senior leadership really think about bringing folks in. Maybe their [project] was Facebook or social media, and [we consider] how we can leverage that as a company and take advantage of it,” he said.
DeCarolis also discussed the importance of creativity and innovation in the business world but clarified that generating ideas and encouraging creativity doesn’t guarantee success.
“You can have companies that fumble up hundreds of ideas, but nothing ever gets done. Or they throw money at all of these ideas, but they’re not effective. They don’t bring profits. The advice I always give is that innovating is not just about creating ideas; it’s also about screening those ideas,” she said.
DeCarolis explained that it’s important to search for the perfect balance between managing and allowing employees room to think creatively. There must be some sort of order, otherwise good ideas will slip by undetected and great sums of money could be wasted on bad ideas. Screening teams should be created to sort through concepts in order to find the ones with the most potential for profitability.
But ideas for innovation don’t always have to come from employees. Technological progress has opened up new lines of communication between companies and customers, which are changing the way companies create and market their products or services.
“There’s that evolution that has to happen because we’re in a different age now. Companies are no longer telling customers what they want. Customers are telling us what they need, and we’re delivering based on what they need,” Ekundare said.
DeCarolis believes that in the modern business environment with a shaky economy, being able to think like an entrepreneur, take risks and embrace innovation are vital qualities that every student needs to learn. These traits aren’t just being taught to LeBow students but also to students in the College of Engineering and students within the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design.
“[We’re] not only teaching our students the skills needed to start a new company — [it’s] much broader than that. Being entrepreneurial, being innovative is a skill that students need for the rest of their lives, particularly in the 21st century when they’re not going to have [the same] job for 20 years. They’re going to be moving from job to job, They may be self-employed,” she said.
KYW and LeBow have established an ongoing relationship, so future co-sponsored events are likely. DeCarolis is featured on the radio station every Sunday, weighing in on topics in business, and the station often contacts professors at LeBow for comments on topics such as innovation or the lending environment for small businesses.
Although Thursday’s event was not aired on the live radio, LeBow posted a recording of the discussion on its website. It can be accessed via the podcasts tab at lebow.drexel.edu.