Community X Innovation Breakfast: "Innovation" Titles Are Not Required

Wow, we're still feeling so inspired from our Community X Innovation Breakfast! Last Wednesday, Loyal and collaborator CMYK Ventures  teamed up to host an intimate breakfast discussion on a topic that's been top of mind. With innovating leaders from IBM, General Electric, American Express, Adobe, Planned Parenthood, Etsy, Vimeo, Maven,, Domino, NYC Media Lab, Foosa and IDEO in attendance, the discussion was lively!

Delicious breakfast from Oro Provisions and BlackSeed thanks to our breakfast sponsor,   Vanilla ! 

Delicious breakfast from Oro Provisions and BlackSeed thanks to our breakfast sponsor,  Vanilla

The idea for this breakfast came from a sprint with an innovation client that Amrit Richmond of CMYK and Loyal collaborated on together last year. Loyal has seen over time how our work in listening to, getting feedback from and collaborating with customers is powerful for innovation teams, and Amrit and I wondered who else was working on communities that they innovate with, specifically in ways that deviate from the norm. And, then last fall, Loyal was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek of new research demonstrating that community is one of the primary catalysts of innovation, resulting in up to 37% increase in company performance. Now that this research is live, we thought it was about time that Loyal and CMYK hosted this conversation to see how we could all learn from each other. 

This breakfast was made possible by the generosity of Vanilla, a community platform that powers over 3 billion interactions between brands and people yearly, as our breakfast sponsor - thank you! For those of you looking to engage your community for new ideas, be sure to check out Vanilla's newest ideation model. Thank you also to IDEO for hosting our conversation in their lovely space.

Here's what we learned from the Community X Innovation Breakfast:

A culture of listening to customers is critical.

Between all of the innovators in the room, there were endless ways to leverage community to innovate:

  • support issues feeding into the product roadmap
  • community advisory boards
  • early access to potential new features for testing and feedback
  • bring a community member "in resident" for a period of time
  • rapid feedback sessions
  • plugging into communities on brand new platforms, e.g. the latest app
  • using data from content performance to drive new conversations
  • face-to-face co-design sessions

The key to all of this was listening deeply and always to what the community needs. For some teams, this process was formalized through routine processes, though for others, they're still trying to figure out what works best. However, the most successful teams had a significant advantage: it was part of their company culture to engage directly with customers and community members to learn and listen.

"Innovation" and "community" titles are not required.

Our breakfast guests had roles ranging from Community Director and Audience Development Manager to Product Manager and Business Development Lead. We couldn't help but notice that not a single guest had the word "innovation" and only a few had "community" in their title, yet all were tasked with such. And, even the ways in which they were innovating were cross functional - leveraging community for innovation is everyone's job! 

Lauren Cucinotta of digital women's clinic Maven said it best with, "Community is just how I view things. It's a way of thinking." And, that community way of thinking can be applied to just about any role, especially in the context of innovation.

Use magic words for buy-in.

It was clear from our discussion that while community is critical for effective innovation, buy-in can still be challenging. Towards the end of our conversation, Amrit prompted the room with the question, "Does anyone have a magic word that has helped them get buy-in?"

Here's were the magic words:

  • "case studies"
  • business terms, and generally translating "community" into more traditional business language that less progressive stakeholders understand
  • "scalable"
  • "first mover"
  • "engagement experiments"
  • "no," turning down many ideas so that saying "yes" to the right ones is credible
  • "another round," using extracurricular activities to win people over ;)
  • revenue

Innovation requires a constant flow of new ideas. 

Last but not least, we concluded the conversation with the thought that none of us can afford to stay inside our companies and industries to look for new ideas. And, even conversations with our communities and customers can become limiting over time. The key to constant innovation and reinvention was to look outside of our immediate work for inspiration. From urban planning and  walking tours, to interviewing other people about their jobs and researching other industries, we found innovation inspiration from many sources. After all, innovation takes place at the seams of industries. 

Interested in learning more about this topic? Start the conversation with Loyal here.