When I climb into a car from a ridesharing service, I see it as more than a way to get from Point A to Point B. For me, it’s also an opportunity to talk with the driver and gather valuable intelligence. What does the driver like to do when he or she isn’t driving? What is their family like? Where do they shop? What’s on their mind, economically and politically?
Maybe it’s an occupational hazard, or maybe it’s just how I’m wired, but I see everyone I meet as a node in the great, interdependent human network in which we all live and work. And I can’t learn enough about it.
“Ecosystem” is a word you hear a lot in business, and it usually refers to all the players in a given market sector. But to me, it’s something much greater. The way I see it, we’re all part of the ecosystem. Because, really, there are no boundaries between a market sector and the rest of life. One shapes the other. Call it “ecosystem 360.” And for anyone interested in innovation and what’s coming next, understanding and engaging that big, broad, 360-degree ecosystem is the way of getting from Point A to Point B—from the most urgent problems in business and society to the disruptive ideas that will solve them.
That big-picture view will be crucial in my new job as the general manager and vice president for Avery Dennison’s Label and Graphic Materials business in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Because right now, the state of our industry reflects the world at large—lots of change, lots of challenges, and a lot of uncertainty. COVID-19 is just the latest variable in the mix; our industry was already evolving rapidly well before January 2020.
In the coming months, my team will be focusing on two platforms for innovation and disruption that mirror trends in the world at large: intelligence and sustainability.
By intelligence, we mean innovating within the context of the ever-expanding Internet of Things, where appliances, products, and everyday objects are connected and accessible online through RFID technology. At Avery Dennison, we’re developing new ways to infuse connectivity and a million new possibilities into non-digital items, through digitally-enabled labels, packaging, and other means we haven’t yet invented.
On sustainability, we’re engineering products that are themselves sustainable and also improve the sustainability of whatever they’re a part of. Our intelligent labels, for example, offer the potential for huge gains in sustainability by enabling far more efficient supply chains and better communication with consumers about proper recycling. In addition, we are designing our products in a way that takes their entire lifecycle—and that of the products they’re part of—into account, to ensure that our “sustainability” doesn’t come at the expense of the next link in the value chain. We are developing products for a circular economy in which raw materials, once extracted, stay in use and out of our water, air, and soil. And because sustainability is a team sport, we’re reaching out across the vast ecosystem we occupy to collaborate and bring solutions to life at scale.
Breaking new ground in intelligence and sustainability requires us all to expand our idea of our ecosystem and adopt 360-degree thinking, with the understanding that game-changing ideas can come from anywhere. It also demands a rich mix of minds and perspectives—something that I’ll talk about more in a future post on diversity.
For me, it all comes down to curiosity—an insatiable interest in the world, the people in it, and how the proverbial flutter of butterfly wings on one side of the globe can generate a hurricane a hemisphere away. That curiosity is what has propelled us at Avery Dennison since Stan Avery started playing around with glue back in the 1930s. It is what has kept us at the forefront of our industry decade after decade. It is one of the reasons I came to work for this company, and one reason I’m so excited about my new job.
I’d love to hear how you keep your own fires of curiosity stoked, and how you stay engaged in the big, messy, non-linear ecosystem you’re part of. And when it’s safe again to summon a rideshare, don’t forget to chat up the driver. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.