Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

BEYOND THE BOX | COURAGEOUS BLACK INNOVATORS

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February is a Black History Month and this year it marks the 45th anniversary of celebrating the many accomplishments and achievements of the Black Americans.

Every year in February, America reflects on the continued struggle for racial justice. We add a social media post, follow along on trending hashtags like #blm or #blackhhistorymonth, and maybe even change our profile pictures to solid black for a day. But while those social gestures do help amplify the collective efforts of diversity initiatives, the systemic racism still persists in our communities and workplaces. 

There’s no better workplace than a diverse workplace. When I moved from nuclear weapon security to government to innovation, one of the things that constantly inspired me was how important it was for us to surround ourselves with different people. What truly inspired me was realizing that what drove me and who inspired me were people who constantly went out of their ways to do something different and were intentional about it.

And for the national recognition of black stories and perspectives, this month in our #BeyondTheBox series, I wanted to create the intentional space to highlight and celebrate the voices of Black innovators who are doing wonderful things in their spheres of influence and share their stories of persistence, resilience, creativity, and innovation, and how they are paving the way for the next generation of Black Innovators.

"Black history is American history. What innovation is to this community, and what we may have to navigate because of our identity gives us a unique lens, and we can leverage it in ways that are unique to us."

Host:

Monica H. Kang – Founder & CEO, InnovatorsBox

Panelists:

Terri B. Williams  – Founder of MovementMaker

Corey Ponder – Policy Advisor at Google, and Founder of Empact Strategies

Deshuna Spencer – Founder & CEO of Kweli TV

Derrin Slack – Founder & CPO of ProAct Indy

 

What it means to be an innovator?

When I asked Terri B. Williams, Founder of MovementMaker, what it means to be an innovator, she shared with us the two things she carries in her metaphorical ‘backpack’  which are key ingredients to innovation. Those are faith and fortitude.

Terri says, “Both are tied to innovation. Faith is knowing that you are producing something that is much bigger than you. And fortitude is just knowing that there’s always a way.

 

“Many times we think about innovation as just being something that’s really big, flashy and bright, but the real innovative parts are the ingredients that are inside of you. ”

In a similar lens, Corey Ponder pointed out that innovation is more like ‘playing the infinite game’.

He says, “we are always trying to compete against someone. But with the infinite game, the only opponent is yourself.” And this served as a great reminder for us to just be better than what we were yesterday, and to continue innovating ourselves. To look at ourselves and do the things that we think we cannot do. 

Corey also reminded us that innovation can help address unique issues in our communities – “it’s very important for us to really disrupt and innovate how people serve and how people interact with each other to really address difficult and unique social issues in our community.” He added, “when we innovate, the simple thing to do is, encouraging people to think broader about how they can serve in unique ways, and serve other people that are vulnerable.”

“Really think about - have I asked myself the question, "how have I been intentional around my own journey of innovating"?

Leading and innovating in a different way

At InnovatorsBox®, we certainly think a lot about the topic of innovation and creativity. While going the tried-and-tested route may promise reliability, innovative route is a worthwhile experiment that can give us an edge, propel growth, as well as help us solve problems better. And we were curious to hear from Derrin Slack, Founder & CPO of ProAct Indy, on his journey of innovation. 

Derrin shared with us that when he started ProAct at the tender age of 22, he heard NO probably a hundred times a day. He said, “we were growing so fast that I allowed pride and ego to take priority over my passion and purpose. That pride and ego allowed me to put up walls with my wife, my family, and people at work.

And the turnaround? Derrin shared that the secret is in vulnerability and transparency: “since I learned to be open and vulnerable, ProAct in the past few years has been the best organization that’s ever been… because we now know that it has the power to help others open up their hearts.”

"The power of vulnerability and the power of transparency are the key to innovation."

Finding the innovation

There’s been countless studies done on innovation — what are the key ingredients, how do you inspire innovation, and how one can be and remain innovative. But is innovative mindset that elusive? We asked Deshuna Spencer, founder of Kweli TV who reminded us about the power of curiosity and trust.

Deshuna shared, “When I thought about kweliTV, I was literally flipping through a bunch of cable channels looking for a streaming service with this type of content and I couldn’t find any. Since I didn’t see what I wanted to see, I thought, ‘maybe I’ll start my own streaming service’, which is insane because I didn’t know how to do that!” Reminding us how curiosity can ignite change, she shared, “then I just became open to learning what the next steps would be.”

“Innovation is about understanding where things are going and testing where things could go. Finding innovation is being open to what possibilities 'could be'."

The event was immensely powerful that was packed with some great insights and takeaways. It helped us discover ways that we can bring out a different level of innovation and quality, not only in how we lead, but also in the impact we create. 

Missed it? Intrigued to learn more and hear it all? You’re in luck! We have the full event video for you to watch below. Also, follow us on our YouTube channel and get your popcorn out – you can binge on it all!

P.S. Join us at our next event. We’ll continue on these conversations with female innovators and how they innovate differently from a whole different lens. I’ll be moderating that in March. 

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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