Exploring Disruptive Innovation

Young Alumni Roundtable Discusses Opportunities and Challenges of Innovation in the Workplace

On November 8, the Yeshiva University Office of Alumni Affairs and Sy Syms School of Business co-hosted a Young Alumni Roundtable panel discussion on “Disruptive Innovation,” hosted by Accenture. Moderated by Laizer Kornwasser ’92SB, four YU alumni took on the task of exploring career opportunities and risks in a fast-changing world: Dani Eckstein ’06SB (director of communications in media and technology at Accenture); Batsheva Goldstein ’00SB (director of client advice and management at BPN); Eli Hamburger ’08YC (director of the Aladdin Product Group at Blackrock); and Zvi Weiss ’71YC (certified IT specialist at IBM).

(l-r) Eli Hamburger, Laizer Kornwasser, Dani Eckstein, Bathsheva Goldstein and Zvi Weiss
From left to right:  Eli Hamburger, Laizer Kornwasser, Dani Eckstein, Bathsheva Goldstein and Zvi Weiss

Kornwasser kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists to define innovation. Hamburger distinguished between automation and innovation, describing the former as the attempt to make existing processes more efficient while the latter involved a “new vision” that changed fundamentals. Weiss agreed, saying that innovation involved “breaking out of accepted ways of doing things,” and Goldstein added that innovation involved “new tools.” Eckstein noted that within an organization, “innovation is everyone’s business.”

The discussion shifted to how to promote a culture of innovation within organizations, with the consensus being that change, if it happens, will come through a combination of pathways, including top-down mandates from the CEO, suggestions moving upward from staff, consumer responses and a relentless emphasis on re-education, behavioral flexibility and a mindset, as Weiss pointed out, of “thinking about what people aren’t yet thinking about.”

Innovation, of course, has its risks, and oftentimes being innovative does not necessarily mean being the first out of the gate with an idea, product or process.  Kornwasser noted several times that Apple, seen by many as an innovator, in fact often innovates later rather than first, shaping product features and the “experience” of the product rather than manufacturing something entirely new. There are advantages and drawbacks to being on what Weiss called “the bleeding edge,” and companies need to know themselves well enough to decide whether the innovation they pursue is wholesale or incremental. But, as Kornwasser pointed out, “innovation in any organization is always a matter of when, not if,” and all organizations need to cultivate an attitude of growth and improvement.

Each of the presenters had targeted advice for the audience. Goldstein urged them to constantly pursue their own educations, in a drive to be “flexible and adaptable.” He also pressed them to find a way to embrace failure and to prevent any fear of failure from impeding their career goals. Eckstein reminded alumni that they all “have a voice” within the organizations where they work, and that they need to become allies of people in their networks who are taking innovative approaches.

For more information about alumni networking opportunities, go to yuprofessionalnetworking.com. Alumni can also join ALUMinate, an alumni-centric professional networking site where members can share information and opportunities.