Innovation, redefined: disruptive advances that are meaningful and sustainable

6 years ago

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Real innovation is about more than making something cool and trendy. It should be about listening to people, finding unmet needs and improving lives. By Mark Stephenson.



"Innovation" is a buzzword now used to describe advances in nearly every industry. From healthcare and energy to business and media, everyone is talking about what’s disruptive about their ideas, products and solutions. 
 
But what has become apparent to me at Philips, as I spearhead our "Innovation and you" campaign and experience the incredible work that inspired this vision, is that innovation can be a powerful mantra when it describes something more than creating technology just for the sake of technology. 
 
When I see LED lighting technologies enabling a blind child to experience shapes, colors and shadows for the first time, when I learn about the use of our ultrasounds in remote villages that give young women the chance to have a safe, healthy pregnancy, when I experience connected home solutions talking to wearable technology that allow a patient with ALS to turn on the TV without moving a muscle, I am reminded that true innovation is meaningful and sustainable, not just trendy. While many of today’s bright and shiny technologies capturing the attention of the public are fleeting, the innovation I see and experience puts people at the center of it all. 
 
People-centered approach
 
True innovation puts the needs of individuals at the heart of everything – the technology is created with the primary goal of transforming lives, not dominating industry. Take the LED lighting solution mentioned above. 
 
My colleague Catherine has a beautiful little girl, Alexis, who is blind. In most ways Alexis’ condition does not hold her back – she’s funny, vivacious, kind, mischievous... everything you want in a daughter. Not long ago Catherine had an idea – why can’t our engineers adapt some of Philips’s lighting products so they can benefit her daughter and millions like her?
 
We accepted that challenge. Our innovators worked tirelessly; they carried out studies with our specialist partners; tested products and eventually created a special laptop-like solution with bright, color-changing lights paired with clever programs that allow blind children to see shapes, colors and shadows. 
 
The solution brings rewards to the child, the teacher and the parent. Now able to react to light, a child can playfully hit a big, round switch which enables a therapist to assess how much a child can see. The assessment not only helps teachers construct individual learning programs, but it also encourages parents to engage with their visually-impaired children in emotionally-satisfying ways. 
 
But we didn’t stop with our initial success. A close friend of mine works with severely autistic children – could this solution help them, too? After a few emails and some revelatory trials, we successfully adapted the product that Catherine’s daughter was using so that children with learning difficulties on the other side of America could enjoy school in a way that had previously been impossible.
 
The innovation demonstrates just what we are capable of doing when we listen to people and then strive to improve their lives. We innovated because we found an un-met need.
 
What innovation means for Philips 
 
Philips has a rich history of creating solutions with our partners that make people’s lives easier. We like to say it’s in our DNA. This year, Fast Company named Philips as one of the top 50 innovative companies in the world. In 2014 we are also celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the creation of our first Research and Development Lab – a reflection of our commitment to bold innovation and our desire to seek the unknown – a commitment that has produced more than 165,000 granted patents over those 100 years of research. 
 
Our teams are driven by a burning desire to solve the fundamental needs of people – not just in America, but in the poorest, harshest, darkest parts of the planet. For instance, our heart monitors are now used in some of the world’s most deprived areas and our solar-powered LED lighting systems help children in distant African villages attain even greater qualifications at school. 
 
We are delivering solutions to the challenges of healthcare, lighting and people’s well-being, all with the future of our planet in mind. 
 
For Philips, innovation is not a term used to characterize a hot new gadget. We look at innovation from a different lens. While others focus on what innovation does, we focus on what innovation does for you – the parent, the patient, the public official, the entrepreneur. 
 
The word innovation makes sense for Philips – it embodies not just what we do, but what we envision for a safer, healthier and happier future. 
 
What innovation means for PR
 
The word innovation can also make sense for PR professionals. While we often try so hard to avoid the words that everyone else is using – to creatively alter the language in a way that differentiates ourselves and our clients – sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to avoid the trend. 
 
We are in an exciting time for communications and for industry. Progress cannot even begin to describe the transformation spurred by technologies connecting people to products, services and information unlike ever before. 
 
Innovation may be overused, but the innovation that I know, that Philips creates, is the best way to describe the technology revolution that is changing people’s lives. 
 
A buzzword can lose its luster quickly when attached to things that do not truly live up to its definition. But when it’s applied to meaningful experiences, to ideas and stories and people’s lives, a buzzword like innovation can symbolize a lot. 
 
Author’s Details
Mark Stephenson was named to his position as Head of Brand, Communications & Digital at Philips North America in February 2011.  He has overall responsibility for developing and implementing programs that enhance the brand and reputation of the company.  Mark directs a team that has responsibility for managing all external outreach programs to the media and key stakeholders throughout the region, as well as managing all internal communications related to employees, HR policies and programs, and labor market branding.  He also directs the Philips sustainability and social responsibility initiatives for the region.  
 
Mark has over 25 years’ experience in political affairs, government affairs, brand and corporate communications.  He has led corporate communications teams for Fortune 100 companies in such diverse industries as healthcare, chemicals, steel, financial services and technology.  He is the recipient of the prestigious David Ogilvy Award for creating a best-in-class international brand campaign that had measurable business returns. 
 
Prior to his corporate experience, Mark served as a presidential appointee for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in various communications roles including Assistant Secretary of Communications at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.  At the invitation of the Clinton Administration, Mark served as a communications counselor to the then new democratically elected government in Romania, including the Office of the President and Parliament.
 

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Mark Stephenson

Mark Stephenson was named to his position as Head of Brand, Communications & Digital at Philips North America in February 2011. He has overall responsibility for developing and implementing programs that enhance the brand and reputation of the company.

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