Here’s the biggest signal yet that corporates are taking a hard look at innovation

Photo: Fe Lumsdaine | TEDxSydney

For an event which is based on ideas and inspiration, a good portion of the few thousand attendees at TedX Sydney on Thursday were corporate types in suits. It was the shift to a midweek event which brought in a wider corporate audience to sit along side the usual hipsters, startup reps and academics.

The CMOs, CEOs, lawyers and bankers all listened to the sounds of West African oral historian Sibo Bangoura, the haunting voice of Lisa Gerrard (one half of the cult band Dead Can Dance and best known for The Gladiator soundtrack), and contortionist Captain Frodo.

Captain Frodo. Photo: JJ Halans | TEDxSydney.

They heard about the impact of international law on wars and the treatment of women, as well as from the great great grandson of Charles Darwin, Chris Darwin with his fake stuffed eagle perched on his shoulder, in hope they would be inspired by the expansive work of these people.

Chris Darwin | Nature Conservationist. Photo: JJ Halans | TEDxSydney

It’s an example of corporate Australia opening up the shutters and looking at different ways to innovate and places to search for inspiration.

Derek Laney, Salesforce head of product marketing, Asia Pacific, said he had seen a trend of some of the country’s top execs looking for new ways to bring innovation into their businesses.

Salesforce Head of Product Marketing, Asia Pacific Derek Laney.

“I think there’s a real hunger in organisations where in the past were quite walled off, to open up and part of that opening up is enabling the organisation to take in ideas from areas that weren’t traditionally taken from,” he told Business Insider.

With the likes of neurosurgeon Charlie Teo explaining the role hope has to play in modern medicine and the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary Susan Butler using the word “charity f**k” as an example of how tech is changing the English language. It was multidisciplinary learning in action.

“It’s looking at it from different perspectives so it might be the perspective of an artist, of an humanitarian, the perspective of a scientist or a technologist. These types of different perspectives of a problem that they see every day can enable them to come up with new ways of thinking,” Laney said, adding new ways of thinking can go a long way towards making an organisation move faster.

Using the example of dealing with a torrent of emails on a daily basis and what that monotonous task can do to the brain, Laney explained the decisions you make are going to be based on that stimulus.

“The brain starts to slow down, it starts to become very functional and stops being creative. By opening up your mind to stimulus from different, non-typical means it enables you to go to a different level of creativity,” he said.

Photo: Gary Compton | TEDxSydney

“It’s this torrent of modern life that is making us less creative and for CMOs or CEOs of large organisation, they’re constantly facing a fear of disruption of something coming along that they don’t see. They’re required to think big and think to the future, but how can you do that when you’re mind is on a torrent of information about day-to-day?

“It’s important that we open ourselves up to this type of stimulus through social media, through listening to our customers, through listening to our employees rather then optimising for short-term shareholder value.”

Corporate Australia is increasingly looking to the startup community for direction and ideas that may either disrupt their operations or fit nicely within them. It’s a concept which financial services and the big banks have executed on with internal innovation programs and support of fintech hubs like Stone and Chalk in Sydney.

Traditional financial services is having to balance a culture which is designed to control risk and to be compliant to make sure our money is safe, with the idea of opening up to drive innovation.

“By being in the same mindset as fast moving, agile organisations they’re hoping to generate the next wave of innovation inside their organisations,” Laney said.

“When they think about innovation, they need to be careful that they don’t move away from this strong grounding in trust in order to do something that moves them forwards.

“There’s a healthy tension between those who want to maintain trust and security and those who want to drive innovation.”