This year, my expanded focus on innovation begins with CES 2014

Enshrined in a museum’s video exhibit

I spent 2013 innovating within our graduate program by adding a second degree emphasis, even as I helped tell the story of innovation by partnering our Four Peaks television show with founder Jeff Bezos’ new Center for Innovation. The reviews for that high-level project have been good. I was especially taken with this critic’s observation about one particular exhibit where we took a few creative chances (including inserting me as on-camera “Crossfire”-style interlocutor as depicted above):

The most interesting portrayal of innovators is a video that imagines a hypothetical debate between the modern environmentalist Denis Hayes, the president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, and R.H. Thompson the civil engineer responsible for transforming early Seattle’s sewers and roads at the turn of the 20th century. Both discuss the innovations they brought to Seattle, but they come into conflict regarding the straightening and deepening of the Duwamish River. The envisioned Thompson proudly hails this act as a necessity of urban growth, but Hayes chastises it for lack of environmental regulation and warns to consider all the effects of our potential innovations.

Clearly, our region punches above its weight despite its relatively short modern-day history and size. As the Seattle Times just observed, we’re a “Beta” city that has spawned a disproportionate number of global brands that have changed the world: from Bezos’ online giant to Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco and so much more. No wonder that as Bloomberg Global Tech recently surveyed innovation across the United States, it put Washington State at the top of the list.

Why does this matter? Because globalization tied to technological advances have raised the stakes for every city, region, organization and even individual. We are in a constant state of disruption: it’s as much about not getting left behind as it is about getting ahead.

All this attention has been paid to world cities because of their rise in importance in a globalized, complex and highly interconnected economy. They are where the most talented people and capital go, where the key decisions are made. In many ways, they are eclipsing national governments in influence. [Jon Talton, Seattle Times]

I would encourage a 2014 focus on what innovation means to you and your organization. I’m starting with the so-called Superbowl of technology, as I join 152,000 other consumer tech heads at CES in Las Vegas all seeking the figurative tea leaf that will reveal our future. Yes, once again we will hear about 4K TV’s, wearable gadgetry, the connected car & home and 3D printing. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Farhad Manjoo notes, the recent proliferation of smart devices, cloud computing, sensors, artificial intelligence and even mounting privacy concerns sets the foundation for exponential change over the next few years.

This has profound consequences for those of us in the “engagement” industries. This will only expand the role of communications practitioners who will need to get involved at the outset of any product cycle — from the point of ideation with engineers, data scientists, and designers.

It begins with incubating a spirit of innovation within and not just relying on technology as the driver. As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told me during our interview:

Every organization has to have the DNA inside the organization of understanding what it means to be an entrepreneur. And an entrepreneur is linked to seeing around corners and having curiosity. And curiosity sparks innovation. So we want to use a parallel track of pushing towards innovation and not embracing the status quo as much for our people as we do for our customer.

I sometimes wish that I could rest on the laurels of the status quo. But that’s no longer realistic in this age if I want to succeed, let alone survive. So I resolve to spend this year telling a greater story of innovation by connecting locally, nationally, and maybe even globally to help inspire this now seemingly essential state of mind.

For (an overly?) positive take on all of this, see How the United States is reinventing itself yet again:

Because the United States continues to lead the world in its ability to adapt to, incorporate and develop new systems and new technologies, we are uniquely poised to reap a disproportionate share of the benefits of these shifts. Even better, these advances will remedy the very weaknesses that have straightjacketed the U.S. economy and confined economic growth to the upper classes while causing income and life expectancy to stagnate for the lower 70 percent of the country’s population over the past three decades.

As I descend upon CES, it’s perhaps instructive to reflect on the origins of the devices and delivery systems that will get me through the next 36 hours. My technology is largely conceived in California (Apple, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Evernote, WordPress), Korea (Samsung) and Japan (Sony) with Seattle-sourced support via retail (Amazon, REI), communications (T-Mobile, Microsoft) and aerospace (Alaska Airlines, Boeing 737). All as usual, subject to change.


  1. Timely post. The new year calls for a new resolution for the U.S.: “Innovate or die!” And we have an interesting moment with: a resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S., crowd-funding, small scale production highly customizable and the sharing economy. I think those are forces that are converging to bring out a new era in our economy, but it’s up to each organization to cease the opportunity and embrace the new values that come in with this new era. On our part: Check the new innovation program I’m leading at Artefact

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