Creating New Ways to Facilitate and Drive Collaboration is the Key in Any Business

Collaborative external partnerships and integrated internal innovation best practices are vital in solving complex problems, and driving effective disruption for an organization.

CEOs look future in the eye at Economist Innovation Forum

by Meg Graham and Cheryl V. Jackson

The future — with artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and all — will affect business sooner than we think, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman says.

But it might not always be the way we expect.

Hoffman joined other innovators and executives from Chicago and beyond at the Economist’s Innovation Forum on Thursday to explore how topics like automation and cybersecurity could affect their companies. The forum drew more than 250 attendees to the Four Seasons Chicago.

Hoffman said he wasn’t concerned about artificial intelligence or automation replacing too many jobs with robots. He gave the example of mobile apps that diagnose whether a skin lesion is cancerous.

“Does that mean doctors are all going to go away? Not necessarily,” he said.

Instead of taking the place of doctors, such an app might serve as a crosscheck for a doctor’s instinct, he said. “That allows doctors to focus on a lot of other things, or have higher touch with their patients and so forth. It doesn’t mean we’re going to have all robot doctors.”

Though driverless cars will undoubtedly replace the jobs of taxi drivers, many advancements will change the nature of jobs rather than replace them, Hoffman said.

“If you actually look at most of these technological developments, they tend to be oriented toward how … you amplify productivity for individuals,” he said.

Later in the morning, Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Deerfield-based snack giant Mondelez International, said big companies have it wrong when they think of innovation as something that happens in a vacuum. Mondelez owns brands Oreo and Cadbury.

“In the past we would have been guilty of this,” she said. “There’s always been a debate — particularly in packaged goods — about whether or not there ought to be a separate innovation group that understands the disciplines of introducing a new product. … There’s real value in it being integrated.”

She established global integration teams at the company to quickly distribute ideas from one part of the world to another.

“It allows us to understand a variety of cultures. It allows us to move much faster,” she said.

The strategy resulted in a successful launch of the Oreo brand in China, after a previous failure that didn’t take into account the desire in that market for a thinner cookie and smaller packaging, she said.

Mondelez is even allowing the recently purchased Enjoy Life Foods, an allergen-free food-maker based in Schiller Park, to operate as a stand-alone company, figuring the larger entity can learn from the startup.

“Because they’re small, they can test and fail a lot faster than typically our guys do,” she said. “And I think they learn a lot from us in terms of food safety and guardrails.”

In a panel about creating power partnerships, executives discussed how collaboration with other organizations can boost efficiency and spur growth on both sides. Brad Keywell ⇒, CEO and co-founder of Uptake Technologies, said partnerships have been crucial for his predictive analytics company.

“The opportunity to effect change and at the same time build a company with speed is one we could take on independently, and try to disrupt from the outside — which is more our method of building,” Keywell said. Instead, “we’ve really created a model I’d refer to as collaborative disruption, versus blunt disruption. Collaboration allows us to really do what we’re built to do, which is create value and solve big problems.”

Keywell touched on Uptake’s collaboration with Caterpillar to take on fuel optimization and predictive maintenance. He said while Uptake brings speed, technology and talent, Caterpillar brings industry expertise, insights and data — which allow both companies to solve problems in a smarter way.

John Flavin ⇒, executive director of the Chicago Innovation Exchange, said companies are more likely to take an open source approach than in the past, sourcing ideas from different places. The CIE, for instance, connects large companies with ideas from the academic and entrepreneurial communities.

“To compete, we need to be able to move at that scale and that speed,” Flavin said.

In a session on the “Rethinking the Global Supply Chain,” Joshua Claman, chief business officer at 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys, said technology has changed design because engineering students are no longer constrained by the kinds of parts they can make.

“I think today, they are realizing they can make it as complex as necessary,” he said. “You can print parts that previously were inconceivable.”

Nicole DeHoratius, adjunct professor at the Booth School of Business, said the availability of 3D-printed parts means companies using that technology can be more responsive than those reliant on overseas manufacturers.

“We’re likely to bring some things closer to home and shorten out lead times,” she said.

And later, panelists in a session on cybersecurity agreed that a 100-percent unhackable company is unrealistic.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as 100 percent secure. I don’t think that exists,” said Jay Kaplan, chief executive at security firm Synack. “Everybody’s vulnerable. Whether you’re one of the largest companies or a small startup … you’re going to be the next headline eventually.”

And companies shouldn’t rely on passwords for security, he said, urging a second form of authentication — which can include biometrics like a fingerprint or eye iris scan. “Passwords make no sense to me,” he said. “I can’t believe passwords are something that still exist.”

Jamil Farshchi, chief information security officer at The Home Depot, suggested focusing protection efforts on the company’s most sensitive information.

“Just assume you’re breached,” he said. “Looking through that lens will put you in a much better position against the attack.”

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