Last updated on July 7th, 2019 at 02:43 pm
With each career move Shaifali Puri has made, she has found herself in foreign territory, facing steep challenges she felt ill-prepared to conquer in the moment.
Rather than build her career in pursuit of C-Suite titles or functions, she has constructed a career map based on skills – and the continuous pursuit of new ones – under the direction of a trusted mentor.
Puri’s open approach to evolving her career has led her to report for Fortune, serve as an assistant solicitor general for the New York State Attorney General, work as a senior advisor to the president of the Empire State Development Corporation, run the nonprofit Scientists Without Borders, and help lead the Nike Foundation as its executive director for global innovation.
Now a visiting scholar at New York University, Puri shared her insight on cultivating innovation to advance a career path, build a business and solve global challenges during Tempo Milwaukee’s 10th annual Leadership Event (see photo gallery) on Thursday.
Puri served as the keynote speaker of the breakfast event.
Keeping an open mindset has driven innovation in each of the organizations Puri has worked for as much as it has driven innovation throughout her own career path.
That innovation has taken the form of open-source innovation, in which Puri and the teams she has brought together have tapped the expertise of a cross sector of professionals to find solutions for global issues.
“The best ideas don’t come from the experts,” Puri said during her address.
“It’s the nontraditional perspective that drives innovation,” she said, adding that technology has amplified the number of nontraditional perspectives that can be introduced to a challenge.
For instance, while working for Scientists Without Borders – an organization that aims to solve large-scale development issues – Puri helped devise an open contest offering a $10,000 prize to anyone who could come up with a solution for folic acid deficiency in young women in developing countries.
The month-long contest drew more than 60 responses from teams in more than 40 countries. Among the winning ideas was a solution to triple fortify salt with folic acid and essential nutrients.
The contest opened up new channels for people of all disciplines to pose solutions for a challenge that they may not have otherwise been able to weigh in on.
Puri also cited the need to create the physical space and time for people to collide and collaborate on innovative solutions.
“We know that ideas, when they collide, tend to lead to innovation,” she said.
Often, companies and people frame innovation in terms of “blue sky innovation” – innovation with a focus on the bigger picture and broader future – but most organizations with leadership challenges around innovation cannot wait for blue sky innovation, according to Puri.
“Eureka” moments are very rare, she said.
“Usually, innovation is driven by the combination of existing ideas and the recombination of existing ideas,” Puri said.
She pointed to the millennial generation as a workforce eager to converge on ideas and share solutions on open platforms.
Leaders of the next generation are native connectors, digital natives and seek open networks, she said.
Puri closed her keynote with the revelation that innovation can breed innovation.
While helping head the Nike Foundation find ways to empower and educate girls in the developing world, Puri sought solutions from startups and companies who grew to become strong advocates of her work.
If you create a platform for nontraditional ideas to combine, she said, you can also amplify the number of people who care about your cause as you invite them to contribute to your mission in a meaningful way, Puri said.
That, in itself, is innovation, she said.
BizTimes Media served as a sponsor of the Leadership Event.