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Leading Women In STEM Share Five Keys To Unlocking Innovation – Forbes


NASA Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings wants to help everyone—not just NASA—make their way into space. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Chief Medical Officer Gwen Nichols is hoping to soon launch a pediatric leukemia master trial to further curative efforts for the disease. Their goals might be vastly different, but there’s a common factor that’s driving their paths to success: innovation.

In a panel moderated by ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath at the 2019 Forbes Women Summit, Ridings and Nichols, alongside fellow trailblazers Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of the virtual women’s healthcare clinic Maven, and Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo, took the stage to share what it means to be innovative and how the mindset has benefited their respective companies.

“Innovation is about the simplest and most fundamental solution to a problem,” says Sud, a sentiment that the other three women echoed in their own words. Here are five innovative ways these women are fostering company growth:

Thinking Outside of the Box:

In the first two years, Ryder was finding that it was difficult to showcase Maven’s strengths—like the fact that with over 300 providers, Maven has the largest maternal mental health network in the country—and she didn’t have the money to advertise. Instead, she implemented therapist speed dating: customers were encouraged to test out therapists in a series of free 10-minute appointments with the hope that they would eventually book the one they liked the most. “It was such a wild success,” said Ryder. “We built it in and we continue to do it.”

Understanding Individual Strengths:

Passion is important, but skill set is just as vital, says Nichols. When it comes to her team at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a priority is “recognizing what people are capable of, what they’re good at and making sure that’s what they’re doing,” she says. “Just because you have a title under your name or you have a degree in a certain area doesn’t mean that that’s the right thing for you to be doing.” As a leader, Nichols sees herself as a facilitator: she’s there to understand and direct people toward what they are good at while at the same time making sure that their original passion for the cause remains intact.

Turning Competitors into Partners:

For over a decade, Vimeo’s biggest competitor has been YouTube. Instead of getting combative, Sud and her team have decided to embrace it. “What we ended up doing was actually building a partnership with YouTube to help our creators natively publish their videos to YouTube and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter,” she says. “What it unlocked was actually a totally new strategy for our company…one of the biggest value-adds in our product, and it all came from flipping the script in terms of how you think about whether someone is a competitor or a partner, and prioritizing the problem you want to solve.”

Anticipating Problems Before They Happen:

Ever heard of Murphy’s law? It’s that theory that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. A lot can go wrong at NASA, from engine issues to human error. Ridings recognizes this and aims to anticipate what will go wrong before it actually happens. Then, she “tries to make that footprint as small as possible,” she says. “Even though we like complex problems, keeping the design simpler, even if that’s a space engine, is a very smart thing to do.”

Being Self-Aware:

In 2014, Sud became the Vimeo’s director of marketing. Three years later, she was named CEO, “with no direct experience,” she says. But she didn’t let that deter her. “I stepped into the role very acutely aware of the things I didn’t know,” she said. In the process Sud was able to see the benefit in self-awareness: “I see my lack of experience as an advantage; by that I mean—we are trying to innovate, there’s no playbook for the market…the fact that I don’t have preconceived notions about what is true or not true means that I can often question things and maybe I’ll see something someone else won’t see.”

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