"Future of Work: Innovation" Event Highlights Resiliency and Opportunities

Ivan Rahman, Digital Product Manager

Nov 6, 2020

What comes to mind when you hear the word innovation? I'm willing to bet it's something that would be on the cover of WIRED magazine or some highlight coming out of the next Silicon Valley startup. What if I told you it was something more profound?

At a recent "Future of Work: Innovation" event held by an organization I co-chair called Speculative Futures MKE, Abim Kolawole, Vice President of Digital Innovation at Northwestern Mutual, described innovation as "a way to create value to consumers through a repeatable process."

Whether you agree or disagree with that definition, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted organizations worldwide to evaluate their existing priorities and business models. This has manifested in an increased demand for innovative practices to define new ways to adapt to a changing environment. Whether it's a one-off idea that improves a current business process or something more disruptive in nature, innovation practices around the world are being asked to have the foresight and the willingness to explore the unknown to create value for the people we serve.

During an hour-long discussion about the future of work held on Oct. 6, panelists Abim Kolawole; Chuck Swoboda, author of The Innovator’s Spirit; and Ryann Foekler, Design Strategist at American Family Insurance, delved into today's most pressing issues and how the practice of innovation has adapted to this new environment.

Several key lessons emerged from the conversation during the “Future of Work: Innovation” event:

Crisis fuels innovation: Times are uncertain, and the landscape is constantly changing around us. When confronted by a situation where we have unknown obstacles ahead of us, we need to employ greater latitude and thinking. Every panelist agreed that while the pandemic has created hardship worldwide, it has also fueled the fire of innovation, even when it comes to how we work.

As a mutual company, long-term value to customers will always be our focus: As Abim said during the event, innovation is about value to consumers. Northwestern Mutual has a very long-term vision of how to play a role in securing our clients’ financial well-being. We must have a futurist's mindset so we can innovate in ways that provide benefits to both our current and future clients.

Collaboration on innovation works across companies and industries: The “Future of Work: Innovation” event wouldn't have been possible without working closely with our colleagues at American Family Insurance and Marquette University. The event itself exemplifies how innovation doesn't just happen in a silo. If we're going to come up with solutions to highlight the benefits of Milwaukee on a global stage, we need to work collectively across all domains, including the corporate sector, nonprofits and education.

Post-pandemic, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zone: While COVID-19 has forced every company to innovate and adapt to the new realities of remote work, Chuck led the panel in a lively discussion of how human nature tends to revert to the norm after a crisis. We have to be willing to have a perspective that may not be comfortable or the safe play, but enables us to ideate new and better ways to serve customers.

I want to end by saying thanks to everyone who participated in the “Future of Work: Innovation” event and worked with me to help organize it – including Mary Burton, User Experience Manager at American Family Insurance; and Kyle Hagge, Innovators on Tap Producer at Marquette University. More Speculative Future MKE events will be coming up – with topics like the future of work with global talent, training and education, as well as an event on young professionals and the creative industry.

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