Course Teaches Executives The Difficult Art Of Innovation

Course Teaches Executives The Difficult Art Of Innovation

Inventours is designed to take people on field trips to large companies to engage with thought leaders and find new ideas

Ido Lechner, Home Editor
  • 15 march 2017

Designed as a five-day crash course in innovation, Inventours is a one-of-a-kind startup on the hunt for ‘random associations of brilliance.’ Founded by Michelle Greenwald, a former marketing VP at Disney, Pepsi, Nestle and JWC, as well as an esteemed marketing professor at Wharton, Columbia, Cornell, NYU Stern, IESE, HEC and more, the company flies executives out to countries known for disrupting the status quo, where they sit down with world-renowned innovators to discuss insights and best-practices. Coming up, Inventours’ Barcelona Immersive Innovation Program promises to meet with thought leaders in mobile, tech, fashion & retail, food, architecture, sustainability and more. For a preview into the insights traveling execs will garner on their trip, PSFK sat down with Greenwald in an exclusive interview to discuss how attendees come out of the experience with a profoundly new take on what innovation is and how to achieve it.

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“Unlike a TED talk where you sit in an audience and it’s a one-way communication, I wanted to go visit these people in their physical labs, studios, environments, to see how their physical environments informed their mental processes” says Greenwald. “I wanted to create a systematic way to innovate, that was deeper than just throwing a bunch of ideas around.”

When you book a tour with Inventours, you’re provided a checklist of 60 different ways you can innovate within your organization. ‘Have I flipped the current business model on its head?’ ‘How (if at all) do my brick and mortar retail sites deliver promote an experiential vibe?’ The list makes sure to tap multi-disciplinary approaches to monetization, marketing, HR, organizational structures, products and so forth as a means of getting the creative juices flowing, a brainstorming technique Greenwald touts as a critical recipe for innovation.

The Barcelona course will naturally kick off with a visit to Gaudi’s Casa Battló, followed by tours to Spanish sneaker giant Camper (which previously collaborated with Barcelona’s homeless to design one of its store layouts), Desigual Fashion Design Studio, a chocolatier whose decadent creations are inspired by the city’s famous architecture, a series of world class accelerators and a pioneer in fair trade, sustainable carpets made from recycled materials like bicycle inner tubes. There’s going to be a meeting with one chef in particular who specializes in food design, which Greenwald points out is not just making edible stuff pretty, but is an actual reinvention of how people eat. He’s 3D printing an entire restaurant over the course of 2 years, furniture and all, and has created a 35-course meal with each cuisine incorporating a different utensil.

Inventours will also make its way to a socially-minded design studio called ‘La Casa de Carlota,’ which integrates people with Autism and Down Syndrome into creative teams because their way of thinking is far removed from mainstream logic, and is therefore seen by the company as uninhibitedly creative.

“To innovate, you have to cross-pollinate new thinking” Greenwald tells PSFK, emphasizing the need to experience new things as a means of distancing oneself from everything that’s been done before. “You have to think multidimensionally, not unilaterally, and have plenty of stimuli if you plan on rethinking current norms. That’s why Barcelona is such a perfect place to set our sights: it’s where molecular gastronomy originated, home to the top two restaurants in the world and is a trailblazer in mobile technology. It’s a furniture design leader, an architectural mecca for both classic and avant garde designs, and a video game capital. It’s an ideal city to observe new innovation thinking and be inspired.”

Back in 2008, Michelle Greenwald published a piece on world-renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s seemingly ludicrous practice of closing up shop for half a year every year to have his team travel the world scouting recipes. At the time, Greenwald was teaching in IESE, a Catalonian university ranked quite high despite its esoteric status, and decided to run a piece on innovation in the culinary field following the publication of a thought piece on innovation by one of her coworkers. Apparently, over the course of a single work year, Adrià lost nearly half a million dollars by sending his people across the globe, a custom which ends up culminating on a plate in vibrant, daring, highly experimental and nonconformist way – arguably one reason why he’s touted as one of the best chefs in the world.

Fast-forward nearly ten years later, and this inkling of boldness has been instilled in Greenwald’s daily life. Coming full-circle, it’s easy to see why Greenwald makes no attempt to conceal her eagerness to fly to Barcelona, where her idea for full sensory immersion in innovation was born.

“Over the course of running this business I’ve encountered so many different approaches to thinking differently, its truly outstanding. This one headphones company from Copenhagen, AIAIAI, believes in ‘extreme users,’ and decided to test its product specifically with the hearing impaired to see what insights they could extract. They also decided to sell their products through a different distribution channel—fashion retail—so they started marketing their headphones in clothing stores” says Greenwald. “The founder of Pinterest caught butterflies as a kid while his parents were at work and framed them to hang up on the wall, which primed his grand vision for the content sharing platform” she adds.

Admittedly, speaking with Greenwald is in and of itself an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Few people possess the depth and caliber of knowledge when discussing what the overly rehashed phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ truly means—enough to cite a Louis Vuitton ‘apartment store’ for high end clients and compare that touch point to food activist Claus Meyer’s opening of a cooking school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. But between dialogues about parking lots with diagonally-sloped elevators, and the NBC president’s exercise of hiring TV ad writers for their concision and efficacy, Greenwald seems to employ a well-established and time tested formula for curating these radical journeys.

“I try to pick cities that have a lot going on simultaneously, across many different industries. After my first stab at it in Copenhagen, I decided that I liked the format of a five-day trip with a diverse group of tastemakers, artists, brands, inventors and so on” she reflects. “There’s been an outgrowth where I build teams, or take people around locally [NYC] either on full or half days. In this case I hone in on a certain area of interest—it can be about customer engagement, fresh marketing techniques, organization structure or what have you.”

In addition to the educational value it provides, Inventours also offers a personalized reflection as a take-home for heads of product, marketing and creative endeavors to highlight which parts of their respective company’s processes are most in need of improvement. Pre-work exercises, feedback sessions, one-on-one consulting and a tour debrief, alongside a copy of Greenwald’s book Catalyzing Innovation offer attendees actionable insights for improving their firm’s ability to construct physical and mental environments that foster creativity.

The reason why innovation is so difficult for large corporations and small companies alike is because it seems random. Inventours is a chance to remove the branded chaos ordinarily found in labs, workshops, studios and offices in favor of unearthing the many unconventional concepts hidden in previously unexplored spaces. If you’re a fan of ‘unprecedented access and insights’ to highly creative yet lucrative metropolises, consider looking in to Inventours for what’s been described as a ‘brainfood overload in the most healthy way.’


+michelle greenwald

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