From September 27 to October 1, 2021, we attended Fast Company’s Innovation Festival - an annual event that brings together thousands of forward-thinking creators, makers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and emerging leaders from across the country and around the globe who are embracing change, blazing new trails, and moving our world forward.
This year’s speakers included Actress, Entrepreneur, and Executive Producer and Host, The Drew Barrymore Show, Drew Barrymore; Actor, Filmmaker, Musician, and Activist, Cohost of Coupledom, Idris Elba; and, Model, Actress, Philanthropist, Cohost of Coupledom, Sabrina Dhowre Elba.
All three spoke about innovation in business realms that we wouldn’t typically describe as innovative. In her talk, Barrymore spoke about innovation in optimism in regards to her experience launching her eponymous talk show during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Sabrina and Idris Elba spoke about building healthy relationships in the workplace and the innovation of getting and giving good partnership advice.
We took a break from technology-focused topics for a beat to learn about the topics that power the best products and services in the world: a positive mindset and meaningful relationships. See our highlights below.
The Case for Optimism: A Conversation With Drew Barrymore
1. “Opportunities and obstacles”
Barrymore spoke at length about the challenges her and her team faced in the launch of The Drew Barrymore Show at the start of the pandemic. She named a phrase her Executive Producer, Jason Kurtz, would say when they encountered roadblocks: “opportunities and obstacles.”
When production on the show first began at the height of the pandemic, their team was informed they would not be able to tape with a live audience. They were then told that they couldn’t have producers in the studio. In fact, all producers and staff had to film the show via Zoom. The result of these restrictions was programming that didn’t fit the script of a typical daytime television show. The show fit the zeitgeist and staffers took creative risks because they couldn't produce programming that took a traditional approach.
“I think that we actually have a better show because of the limitations we had starting it.
In the famous words of Rahm Emmanuel, then chief of staff of President Obama “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Capitalize on limitations and restrictions and use them to fuel a product that is unique in nature and authentic to the times.
2. Replace “my” and “I” with “ours” and “we”
When asked what advice she gives to young staff members on her team, Barrymore discussed the importance of shifting towards a group-oriented versus an individually-oriented mindset.
“You never get to any mound nor mountaintop by yourself.”
She advocated consistent positive acknowledgement of every team member’s contributions. To Barrymore, this is not only important to make teammates “feel empowered and appreciated and included,” but also to embolden them to bring their out-of-the-box ideas to the table.
Think of everything you and your team develops as a group effort. As Barrymore put it bluntly: “if you don’t have [the happiness of the people you work with] as a high priority as a co-worker, then I don’t understand you.” Invest in the happiness of your teammates via positive feedback to create a culture of free-flowing innovative ideas.
3. Don’t care about a title
Barrymore discussed the importance of forgoing titles when it comes to aligning teammates’ passions with their responsibilities.
“Utilize people’s strengths and passions and what they’re good at or what they’re growing in.”
While titles might provide necessary context in certain situations, it can also pigeon hole team members into roles they are not as interested in and, therefore, will not excel at. An ongoing theme in Barrymore’s talk was the importance of doing what you believe in.
When you’re passionate about the work you’re doing, you’re unstoppable. On the other hand, if you’re not passionate about your role, when an inventive, out-of-the-box idea is thrown your way to try, you won’t run with it. This saps innovation in your output, on your team and in your product.
Don’t depend on titles to define the right role for you and your team members. Let passions shape duties and responsibilities, not one’s position in your company’s hierarchy. This will propel the passionate execution of innovative ideas.
4. “Unless you are working on your personal life, your business journey will suffer.”
Another theme of Barrymore’s talk was a focus on understanding that you really can’t do it all. The minute you stop working on yourself as a person is also the minute you stop investing in crafting a sustainable business journey.
Reorient your mindset to intertwine work and life holistically rather than view them as separate realms. Remember that if you stop investing in your own happiness, your business will suffer (and vice versa).
4. Be a bright spot, not a blind spot
Having launched a show in the midst of a pandemic, Barrymore knows a thing or two about shaping content that is both realistic and hopeful. She did not want to hit a tone that was “optimistic for optimism’s sake” but, rather, communicated an optimistic narrative “that was not found easily that day” and was rewarding to have fought for.
Barrymore found a way to integrate the light and the dark of the world’s news in her show’s programming for a more balanced narrative.
“That was me also putting balance into work. I couldn’t have the show skew one way too far in any direction. I wanted it to be the mood board of life.”
This also highlights the point that optimism might be the most innovative and important content strategy in an ongoing time of crisis.
Your content and brand narrative should acknowledge the goings on of the world that we live in. It should also include a positive tone; not for the sake of blind positivity but for the sake of balance.
Coupledom and Beyond: A Conversation With Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba
While Drew Barrymore spoke about the importance of integrating positivity and balance in your work life, Sabrina and Idris Elba focused on the importance of creating healthy relationships. The couple currently hosts a podcast titled Coupledom, where they interview famous couples of all types for advice on how they balance their professional and personal relationship with each other. Notable guests have included Ben and Jerry and Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian. The couple also recently launched their lifestyle marketplace community, Sable Labs.
1. “No man [or woman] is an island.”
The Elba’s noted that the initial idea for their podcast resulted from ongoing conversations they would have about the centrality of relationships to the human experience.
“We found ourselves discussing humanity’s partnership with the world; Our partnership with our family members...our siblings...with addiction...with success … we found ourselves going ‘wow this is a very vast subject.’
Even if you don’t work with your partner, understanding the importance of building healthy relationships is key to good business.
Your relationship with your work life and your relationships in your work life affect every other part of your life too. Even if you work in a solitary capacity, you have relationships that affect your work.
2. You are one half of a partnership so build a healthy relationship with yourself
“Self-care” is an overused term in today’s wellness-obsessed world. On a basic level, self care is simply appreciating and respecting yourself.
If you do not have a good relationship with yourself, then you’re unlikely to have a good relationship with another person or entity. Therefore, the first step in cultivating a healthy partnership is a robust self care routine that makes you feel happy and balanced.
“We want people to realize that there is a relationship with your partner but you’re the other half of it and looking after yourself is part of that - mind, body and soul.”
If you’re unhappy with your relationship(s) to work or at work, start by taking care of yourself. Once you are happy with yourself, you can start building healthier partnerships in your work life.
While relationships and a positive mindset are not the first things that come to mind when you discuss the topic of innovation; in many ways, that makes them the topics the real trailblazers focus on. Seventy-one percent of consumers today buy from companies that align with their values; and, in fact, 60% of Millennials and Gen Z - the top up and coming consumer groups - believe health and wellness is the key priority for lasting societal change. Do you want your app to succeed in the post-pandemic world? Then, align your company’s values and operations with that of your users.