Article

Innovation Incubator

group of professional workers sitting in a circle looking at a colorful graph on the floor
By Stefanie Rupert, CIE

4 minutes

Strategic Innovation Institute breaks down barriers and opens up possibilities.

With much anticipation I headed to the airport to catch my 5:30 a.m. flight. I had mixed emotions about attending my second segment of Strategic Innovation Institute™ only because work was absolutely crazy busy and I was giving up a week of my summer. In Iowa that really means something. While I had heard great feedback from other participants, I was still consumed with all the other tasks and projects on my to-do list. Spoiler alert! The course was amazing!

Off to Innovate

The flight was smooth sailing and to top it off I was upgraded to first class seating. An earlier discussion with a friend had primed me for the possibility of going via Uber to Stanford University’s campus. While I was fearful at first, I downloaded the Uber app when I reached the airport after looking at what appeared to be the longest taxi line ever. Since I was attending an innovation class, it seemed only fitting.

The Uber driver was uber friendly. We chatted all the way and the time just flew. Occasionally I would look out the window and see all things tropical. The stress of my task list disappeared. My mind switched gears. I was ready to engage in learning. It was only later I discovered that as part of the Uber experience I was being evaluated by the driver as well as me rating her. How revolutionary.  Thank goodness I was my cheerful self and she couldn’t have been more pleasant.

The Schwab Residential Center at the Stanford Graduate School of Business check-in process was a breeze and the executive housing staff was friendly. It had been years since I lived on a college campus. The setting was so feng shui with courtyards, water features and native plants. “Am I on vacation?” I thought to myself. When I got to my room, I unpacked immediately and settled in. I was anxious to see my old friends from the first segment of the institute.

The itinerary indicated lunch was provided and to meet in the lobby. Boy was I glad I re-read the instructions because, and much to my surprise, it required casual clothes and comfortable shoes. My interest was piqued. The team building exercise was incredible and definitely provided a spring board for creating the right learning platform for the rest of the week. While I experienced some bewilderment with this instructor-led, outdoor workshop, rest assured that it’s well worth arriving in time for it. Not to worry, it’s not a ropes course or a circle of trust, but instead the foundational building blocks for a great week, plus a stellar way to grow collaboration and share ideas quickly.

Up and at ’em! A personal training team led an early exercise program each morning from 6-7 a.m. outside by the basketball court. The morning workouts were optional of course, but when in Rome do as the Romans. Many of us made it a daily routine. What an incredible way to start the day. Dinners and lunches were provided by amazing chefs. As a vegetarian, I often have limited options, but the choices here were colorful and plentiful.

Setting the Stage

Why do I tell you all of this nonsense? Strategic Innovation Institute is all about creating an environment of broad thinking. It’s about breaking down barriers and removing obstacles to everyday problems. It’s about possibilities. It’s about trying new experiences. It’s about failing often, fast and moving forward.

You would expect me to boast about the faculty and with good reason. Stanford University’s line up is most impressive. Short of Condoleezza Rice walking in and teaching a section, it was perfect. Starting off with Hayagreeva Rao, “Huggy” is well known for his recent co-authored book with Tom Sutton, “Scaling Up Excellence”. Standford Professor Hau Lee spoke about global value chain innovations, supply chain management, global logistics, inventory modeling, and environmental and social responsibility. And finally, we heard from Stefanos Zenios, the main architect of Startup Garage, which works with entrepreneurs in early stage, high-growth companies to attract investment and get out of the “garage.”

The curriculum was phenomenal. Each day built on the last until we ultimately had the opportunity to take the teachings and apply them to ordinary problems in the design center. This is the business of harnessing the collective intelligence of others and stretching the capacity for continuous improvement through developing organizational leadership skills.

This course is expensive, but certainly many of your board chairs and directors like mine feel you are all worth the investment. It’s our bravery and stamina that will carry the credit union mission to unbelievable heights, but not without continuous lifelong learning.

CUES member Stefanie Rupert, CIE, is president/CEO of $980 million Collins Community Credit Union, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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