by Jeremy Brown

Last week I immersed myself in the mind expanding world of the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York. I wanted to get a read on the innovation zeitgeist. Talk with industry leaders, innovators, and the early adopters of new ideas. I’m pleased to say that this objective was achieved. There was an overwhelming amount of content: keynotes, panel discussions and fast tracks.

Here are my five highlights…


1) Why grandmothers should design airports.


Being older and wiser is back in fashion. Chip Conley from Airbnb talked about Modern Elders and how the satisfaction score of people using Airbnb properties is higher than those using regular hotels. He puts this satisfaction performance down to the team dynamic and the perspective that age and experience brings when you include this in a team. This supports our view of The Sense Network, life experience and age are as important as other diversity factors but often overlooked. Suzanne Noble, The Sense Network member behind Advantages of Age will no doubt be pleased to read this!

In the panel discussion, The Future of Design is You, Jessica Tillyer of SY Partners shared a story about waiting for a delayed flight. She observed many disgruntled passengers. But then noticed an oasis of calm in the gate area: a grandmother had built a fortress of suitcases for her several grandchildren to play in. This is a great example of how to creatively reframe a negative situation and make it positive; and why the inclusion of many voices in the design process is critical.


2) When you take a selfie, you always take the same side of your face.


According to Pharrell Williams during the Creativity and Collaboration session, this statement is true. Selfies are always the same picture. Maybe you are wearing a different hat, coat or sunglasses but it’s still the same side of your face. How many of us are prepared to look at the other side? The side that some don’t choose to publicly share; our creative side.

Channeling your ‘otherness’ unlocks innovation. This approach was championed by Alain Sylvain, who moved beyond the well trodden arguments of diversity and inclusion to make a case for the inherent and unique value in taking perspective from the margins. As innovators, early adopters and creative outliers in The Sense Network we already knew that, but good to know that our long held beliefs are being adopted into the mainstream.


3) The best things in New York happen on the back seat on an Uber XL.


At Sense Worldwide we know that the best conversations happen at the fringes; just before meetings or as people are leaving workshops. The Fast Company Innovation Festival was no different. There are over 50 venues, three of which have shuttle services. With New York traffic doing its best to scupper plans, the subway and uber were also options. Enroute to 92Y for the Scooter Braun session, a wonderful act of serendipity took place.

Worlds collide; an activist, musician, philanthropist, publisher and man of ideas. Amanda Smith Publisher of Fast Company, Jennifer Peagler, Arabella Advisors, Jeff Suttles JMS Company (previously of Mass Appeal fame) and yours truly. Great people, great conversation and it would not have happened had circumstances not conspired for us to pile into an Uber. It felt like a fast track Sense Supper Club. Watch this space for a new 2019 Fast Company Innovation Festival brand sponsorship opportunity – Carpool Collaboration anyone?


4) Pioneers with Purpose: Creative education is broken


This subject is closest to my heart. Too many people have had their creativity educated out of them. According to Pharrell Williams, kids are being groomed to be trained. Arts and music is disappearing. The educational system is broken. I believe that if there is one thing Sense Worldwide can do in an age of automation, machine learning and AI it’s to ensure that our human CI (creative intelligence) is nurtured, developed and valued by business.

Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is a pioneer with purpose. She created a dating app that is all about empowering women. Bumble is changing society’s attitude. The business is now taking this purpose around the world as it expands into India. Similarly in The Sense Network we want to empower creatives: help them to see the things in themselves they maybe cannot see themselves. Build confidence and provide feedback on the weirdness of creative process.

Here’s some weirdness shared by Mr Williams.
  1. Pharrell had never written a film score before writing Despicable Me.
  2. The song Happy was the ninth song that he wrote trying to create empathy for a villain: Gru.
  3. The true test of the songs success was whether he and his producers would want to drive around in your car for hours on the weekend listening to it.
  4. He never intended for Happy to be sung by him, but by Cee Lo Green.
  5. Initially radio stations didn’t want to play Happy as it wasn’t EDM. It took six months to get airplay.

This is a great example of the unpredictable twists and turns of the creative process and why creatives at all levels need the trust and encouragement of great producers like Chris Meledandri. None of us want to replicate what we have done before, but get out of our comfort zones and break new ground.


5) Early Signals: It’s little boys we need to focus on.


I have a new role model, Diane von Furstenberg. She’s hugely successful, glamorous, entertaining and humble. She is also not shy of telling it like it is – this is an important value for Sense Worldwide. “I have spent my life empowering women,” she said. “But now I’m beginning to say, you know what? We should also worry about the little boys… if we are not careful, no man will get a hard on again.”

DVF was not the first person at the conference to mention the need to watch out for young boys. The amazing Asmau Ahmed of Plum Perfect also raised a point about girls-only after school coding classes. As the mother of a son, she is concerned what effect this signal may have on a generation of young boys being omitted from these lessons.

I’m the father of two daughters. I know there is a long way to go before we achieve the fairness and equality that, in our human hearts, we know is right. But as the debate progresses and corrective actions are taken, keep an eye on these early signals for the next generation’s needs.

Let’s make sure that when we innovate, we create a better future for everyone.

– Jeremy

We’d love to hear your thoughts, drop us an email at if you’d ever like to continue any of these conversations.

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