Inspiration for innovation: Connecting senior execs with best-in-class innovators creates ‘excellent breeding ground for innovative idea generation’


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Innovation in action: Interview with Michelle Greenwald, Inventours

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From Nike’s Bill Bowerman being inspired by a waffle iron, to studying the behavior of herding cows for the redevelopment of Times Square, cross-pollination of ideas from different fields can generate big rewards.

A new educational venture is building on this premise, and also pulling executives out of the classroom and putting them into the dens of creativity of leading innovators.

Developed by Michelle Greenwald, Inventours’ city programs have been hailed as “an excellent breeding ground for innovative idea generation”​.

Greenwald knows what she’s talking about, with her resume boasting senior level positions at Disney, Pepsi-Cola, Nestle, and J. Walter Thompson, as well as stand-out teaching positions. She is currently an NYU Stern and Columbia Graduate Business School professor.

She has also taught at Wharton and leading European, Asian and South American graduate schools.

Her new venture – Inventours – allows senior level execs to meet and learn from best-in-class innovators in product design, food, technology, architecture, fashion, sustainability and hospitality.

“It’s about a cross-pollination of ideas,” ​she told us during visit to FoodNavigator-USA’s New York offices, and giving participants an intimate understanding of how physical and mental environments can impact creativity and collaboration.

Inventours promises eight benefits: The meetings take place in the practicioner workplaces; they have a focus on the innovation process & creativity improvement; participants learn directly from highly successful practitioners; stimuli is provided from a broad range of disciplines; additional learning is achieved from participant interaction; the practical application to the participants' own business is emphasized; the innovation perspective is global; and sustainability innovation examples are woven throughout the program.


Despite Inventours being in its infancy, it and Greenwald already have some big name supporters:

“The best innovations happen at the interface between different disciplines and experiences,”​ Chris Thoen, Sr. V.P. / Global Head Science & Technology for Givaudan Flavors Corp, told us.

“The broadness of the groups Michelle Greenwald pulls together is an excellent breeding ground for innovative idea generation.”

Michelle Greenwald, CEO, Inventours

Thoen first met Greenwald while working as the managing director of the Connect & Develop Program at P&G, before moving over to Givaudan about two years ago as Global Head Science & Technology in the Flavors Division.

“Several things attracted me to the proposition that Michelle was developing,”​ he said, “including her broad personal experience, which includes Disney, PepsiCo, and academia, and her passion for entrepreneurship and driving innovation to a new level.”

Greenwald has a totally different approach to driving innovation in a company, added Thoen, which focuses on the leadership in the organization, involves hands-on experiences versus just lectures, and includes multi-sensorial and multi-dimensional experiences.

“I am a strong believer that innovation at companies has to come both bottom-up but also needs to have the leaders really be committed via personal engagement,”​ he said.

“The network capability from being together amongst high powered individuals in a ‘non-traditional’ setting I believe is a great way to build and expand one's personal network.

“Ultimately, innovation is still a people's business and these Inventour programs are great opportunities to forge strong personal connections between innovation leaders from a wide variety of companies.”

Inspiring innovation

Interviewing Greenwald is like listening to an audio who’s who of creativity. She is a huge fan, and friend, of Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. Indeed, Inventours’ Barcelona program includes time with the man widely considered the most creative chef in history. Time is also allotted with Telefonica’s director of R&D; Agatha Ruiz de la Prada - one of Spain’s leading fashion designers; world renowned furniture designer and innovator, Jaime Tressera Clapés; sustainable design expert Petz Scholtus; and many others.

The Copenhagen program includes meeting with Claus Meyer - partner in #1 global restaurant Noma; Nodes Digital Agency; the Copenhagen Tower, the #1 hotel globally for sustainability; smorrebrod; Summerbird Chocolate; The Danish Fashion Institute, and many more.

“So much executive education is about sitting in a classroom with faculty,”​ she said. “It’s much better to meet with best-in-class innovators in their environment.”

The Inventours programs are designed to provide Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Innovation Officers, Heads of R&D, Product Designers, and other creative people, with actionable insights they can take back to their offices to improve and refresh their own company’s innovation processes and techniques.

To find out more and to contact Michelle Greenwald, please visit:​   

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