Creating a Culture of Innovation

 In Innovation, Musings

We can do things in three days, spending $300 vs. three years and $300,000 or whatever it might happen to be. People can get stuck in a cycle of analysis paralysis and it’s hard to get out of that.

Paige Mullis

Paige Mullis is considered Glen Raven’s innovation expert, responsible for fostering innovation and creativity at the 140-year-old textile company. This includes creative culture development and innovation programming on a global scale, curating innovation partners and resources, leading and implementing Design Thinking practices across the organization, supporting commercial growth through innovation driven projects, serving as an in-house creative partner for the company’s leadership and customer base, and developing specialized communication to foster collaboration internally and externally.

I sat down with Paige recently to learn more about Glen Raven’s commitment to innovation and what she has planned for her upcoming presentation at 2020 Product Innovation Summit.

Paige: This conference is rooted in innovation. I will be talking about culture and creativity in an organization and how that can help drive innovation that is core to a company’s vision.

Teresa: Please tell me why innovation is so important for a 140-year-old textiles company.  

Paige: Textiles dates back to the early Egyptians. Because we have been around for so long, we have to continue to innovate. We can’t just sit back and do things the way they have always been done. Textiles are such a part of our everyday life – what we wear, what we sit on, etc. We have to think about today’s technology and what has been going on over the last 20 years, and look for opportunities to integrate those into what we do.  Most people might think that textiles haven’t changed much, but how fabrics are created and delivered, what they look like, and how they function continually change. We know that, as a company, we need to continually innovate in order to survive and thrive.

Teresa: Glen Raven has made a lot of investments in innovation. Let’s talk about some of those innovation investments.

Paige: A good place to start would be our Glen Raven Concept Group, which was created when Glen Raven decided to remap their vision about 10 years ago. As a result, we decided we really wanted to have a physical representation of our commitment to innovation. The Concept Center is a physical space, a creative space, an experimentation space – for employees, customers and guests. They can come in to see the tools in Glen Raven’s toolbox, but it is also a representation of our own commitment to innovation. We have grown from one concept gallery space to six spaces around the world, at different Glen Raven locations. That space and that toolbox are such important resources for all of our employees and customers around the globe. Innovation doesn’t belong just in one place.

We knew we needed to have a network of people around the globe, to help us amplify the innovation message and keep that vision of innovation, so we created our Innovation Ambassador program. It’s not a project, it’s not a campaign. It’s more like a movement within the company. It’s something we need to cultivate and grow.

We also put an ecosystem in place for all employees to share ideas across departments, business units, demographics and languages. Each year, we have more than 30 different ideas that are submitted and reviewed by an internal group. At the end of the year, we have our annual pitch day. We just finished our fifth one. It is kind of a “Glen Raven-esque” version of Shark Tank. Our participants are on stage at our headquarters, and we stream live to all of our locations around the world. They pitch for seed funding, and the potential to have their ideas move into our advanced projects incubator. That has been really successful. This year, for the first time, we conducted a reverse pitch. The executive team teed up a specific challenge that we wanted to crowdsource 3000 brains around.

Our team is responsible for looking outside our core business, to see what is happening outside our world that may influence or impact our business in some way. The Innovation Summit is a culmination of the research our team has done around those trends and technologies outside the spaces that we serve. We invite those thought leaders in, to give a TED-style talks to our customers, about their business and what they are doing.

We have had NASA come in to talk about how they innovate within their organization. We have had Disney come in to talk about branding. Locomotors presented on autonomous vehicles powered by IBM Watson.

We also featured a member of our own team who has a PhD in Materials Science from MIT. She demonstrated a wearable sensor technology she had invented. The sensor provides real-time neuromuscular feedback, intended to help trainers and physical therapists make micro-adjustments and small corrections in movement of athletes, dancers and others. We had a New York City Ballet dancer wear the sensors during a ballet performance to track her movement, and we tied it back to how our customers can improve operational safety in their business.

It’s definitely thought provoking. It gets people thinking outside the world they live in every day. We hope to inspire our customers to do new things, to truly innovate. We love being able to bring all of these bright minds together, and you never know what connections they might make. It is a great way to help elevate idea flow.

Teresa: Why do you think so many companies seem to struggle with innovation?

Paige:  Innovation can be this huge scary word. Some companies might not know where to start and scared to start down this long road and having it not work out. I am not saying Glen Raven is immune to that, but we try to embrace change and are always looking at different ways to tackle things. We put in processes to foster that, like Design Thinking, design sprints and low-resolution prototyping to help minimize those risks. We can do things in three days, spending $300 vs. three years and $300,000 or whatever it might happen to be. People can get stuck in a cycle of analysis paralysis and it’s hard to get out of that.

Teresa: If you had to narrow it down to three key pillars of innovation that any company should keep in mind, what would they be?

Paige: As a leader, you have to communicate your vision and make sure every employee knows what your vision of innovation looks like. You need to tap into the doers – the people who are interested in and excited about doing more. I think you also have to create or give space for your employees to innovate. It might be a physical space for that creativity, or maybe it is permission to go outside their core business to look for ideas and inspiration.

Teresa: Is there anything you else you might like to share with our conference attendees?

Paige: When I think of innovation, I think of it as being open to new people, new ideas, new processes. I would encourage all attendees to come to the conference with that mindset – taking an almost childlike approach with intrigue and curiosity. 

Join us for the 2020 Product Innovation Summit, February 26th, to hear more from Paige.

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