Fresh off the Economist Impact Business Innovation Summit in London, where our own Julie Baker participated in roundtable discussions on digital transformation and the impact and opportunities of virtual worlds, she’s given us her quick take on a few discussion topics of consequence from the event.
Innovation doesn’t happen without sustainability.
This was a clear message underpinning every discussion from AI-embedded agricultural processes in food and beverage cos (multiplier effect on sustainability) to decarbonization through digital transformation. Founders and execs from existing or aspirational cross-industry net zero organizations like AllBirds, Innocent Drinks, L’Oréal, Infineon Technologies, Diageo, and Deutsche Bank spoke passionately and challenged others to set serious goals as part of their innovation efforts.
Benefits of embedded AI are clear for business, while trust questions remain for the consumer.
Companies like Mars, PepsiCo Foods, and Pernod Ricard talked about the real business impact AI is already having on agricultural return (AI and predictive analytics in weather forecasting more accurate yield), supply chain efficiencies (as part of manufacturing to predict and avoid cost of a line going down), sales (using AI for promotion accuracy and intensity + front line associates – next best action, product pairing) – both on and offline. While the positive impact of AI on the business is clear, there were some interesting open questions about its direct relationships with their consumers and how to deploy responsibly as this emerging technology matures.
Employee engagement is more critical than ever for innovation.
There were strong cases to support not only DEI as the fuel for creativity and innovation, but deep dialogue about employee disconnection and mental health (or really, ill-health) overall. Employers are taking clear action, including Cigna’s impressive 5% Pledge as a mechanism for organizing industry leaders to focus on employee well-being. Geoff McDonald, former Unilever exec and founder of Minds@Work questioned passionately “work should be life enhancing, what have we done to it?” And as a parting thought, Jennifer Moss, author of The Burnout Epidemic and Unlocking Happiness at Work, advocated for a change in mindset around regaining “control” post-pandemic, including where people are when they work to who employers allow them to be, “If you set really high targets and let people be who they are, they will do incredible things.”