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Innovation, Technology and Women: How Innovation Has Changed Worldwide

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From Left to Right:J. Pulitzer, Assistant VP Origination, Energy Financial Services; S. De Poli, CEO Israel & Italy; Jacky Brull, Israel Operations Manager; B.Comstock, Corporate Marketing Officer & Senior VP; M.Maroko, CEO AGAM; S.Shuval, Head Horticulturist Danziger Flowers; N.Rimon-Polevsky, AGAM Administrator; O.Meirav, Manager GE Global Research-Israel Technology Center; Y.Dolev, Business Development Manager, GE Global Research-Israel Technology Center.

Israel is a prime location for creativity and proactive business minds. This year, 2,800 senior executives from around the globe voted Israel the fifth country with the highest optimism for innovation in GE’s Second Innovation Barometer.

Beth Comstock, the Chief Marketing Officer at GE, travelled to Israel to meet entrepreneurs and talked to them about their ideas; where they find inspiration, how they target their customers and how they have changed their business models based on the creative innovations they have achieved. 

Comstock says she loves the startup “ethos” of Israel and hopes to learn from entrepreneurs there. Innovation means understanding trends and knowing where the world is going. “Business model innovators… that’s the kind of innovation I love” she said on the entrepreneurs that inspire her. 

So that businesses can compete, Comstock thinks that it’s important to know your client. “Technology is critical. You’ll know what people need and are able to deliver it to them.” Inspiration can be gained from hands-on experiences; seeing clients and identifying their needs helps to create innovation that truly responds to what customers need. 

In a way, innovation is about gaining inspiration from the world around you. Businesses need to be resilient, especially when faced with hard times. “The world is facing tough situations and we don’t have all the answers,” says Comstock as she talks about the GE Cancer Commitment, an open innovation challenge to develop new solutions to fight cancer. We said ‘Hello World, help us come up with ideas for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.’ It’s amazing, the ideas we’ve been getting.” 

In relation with the current global economic turmoil, Comstock says: “People are feeling the effects of the recession around the world. Innovation is at risk, and that is a worrying thing. It’s our responsibility to invest in the future if we want a better future. Businesses need to be resilient, especially when faced with hard times.”

Women in companies

Comstock says that is great to see that there are more women in the workplace than when she started, and sets an example of how increasingly women have more important roles in big companies: “Something like 90 per cent of GE aviation employees report to a woman. That is great progress.” Comstock says seeing a new generation of women in leadership roles continues to inspire her.

Passion and commitment have added to her experience. “My advice is to remember that you are the boss of you. It’s all about developing yourself and going to companies that want to develop you. You have to be thoughtful about what you want to do and where you want to be. You have to be fulfilled. You have to follow your passion.”

It is essential that companies value the benefits that having a varied working team can provide. “Diversity is about variety of thought and style, and in a global marketplace it means different people with different cultures, functions. Innovation happens best when you have different minds together.”

Innovation through Social Media

Many companies are thinking about jumping on the social media bandwagon. Comstock says “Businesses, the Government and society are learning to be more transparent, and that’s a good thing. It creates competitive pressures.” Companies are able to watch what their competitors are doing on a level that wasn’t available before. It also helps to strengthen the company-customer relationship. When asked about how to manage her private and work persona on social media, Comstock says she tries to be herself, but is aware of her duties as a company representative.

“You are starting to see more business people using Facebook, there are interesting applications, like health applications, which I think will connect the profession to the consumer through Social Media.” Comstock says GE uses social media platforms to come up with new products with their customers.

Background on Innovation

Companies still consider innovation as the engine for economic growth and job creation but the current economic instability means that companies are less willing to invest in R&D, and that it’s harder to access capital to be able to make new investments.

The Innovation Barometer, whose results were released to coincide with the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, created a unique platform for WEF discussion and allowed GE to gain a deeper insight into global business perceptions of innovation. The results showed that 92 per cent of those surveyed thinks that innovation is the lever to create a more competitive economy, 9 out of 10 of those surveyed thinks that global uncertainty inhibits innovation, and that investing in innovation is probably the best way to create jobs. The majority of the executives from this survey also think that the US has the best reputation for innovation.