Lessons Of Leadership From Fast Company’s Innovation Festival

Lessons from the world’s top innovators and cultural luminaries–from Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts to Nike CEO Mark Parker.

Lessons Of Leadership From Fast Company’s Innovation Festival
Mark Parker CEO of Nike, pictured with Serena Williams and Fast Company editor Robert Safian onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York. [Photos: Samantha Casolari, Melissa Golden, and Michael Greenberg]

The Fast Company Innovation Festival last November was an extraordinary, weeklong meeting of some of the most creative minds in business. Scroll through the images below for a glimpse of the insights today’s top leaders revealed at the event.


1. Forge Your Own Path: “Look at the things that everyone else believes to be a bad idea. If you’re chasing something that everybody else believes to be a good idea, there are probably a hell of a lot of other people chasing that same thing.” –Tristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company Brands

Tristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company Brands. Photo: Samantha Casolari

2. Collaboration Is King: “It’s all about choosing your [creative] partners wisely—choosing partners who are additive.”–Darren Star, creator and executive producer, Younger

Darren Star, creator and executive producer, Younger. Photo: Melissa Golden

3. Push In New Directions: “If you’re being given a number of takes [while making a film], trust that the thing you were trying to do—you kind of did it. Why not try something else? You could take that idea and [apply it] to life.” –Cynthia Nixon, actress, director

Cynthia Nixon, actress, director. Photo: Melissa Golden

4. Reach For The Unexpected: “Great tension comes from trying unusual combinations—like a hybrid between a museum, a bridge, and a sculpture.”–Bjarke Ingels, architect

Bjarke Ingels, architect. Photo: Michael Greenberg

5. Seek Disagreement: “Surround yourself with good people who like things you don’t like.” –Garance Doré, fashion blogger

Garance Doré (right) fashion blogger with Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp. Photo: Samantha Casolari

6. Respect The Details: “We don’t do anything without an intention. Sometimes our intention is just to have some fun. But there definitely is some soul-searching done on every decision we make.” –Sheri Salata, copresident, Oprah Winfrey Network

Sheri Salata, copresident, Oprah Winfrey Network. Photo: Melissa Golden

7. Question Your Goals: “We have to think of retail as less about a box that sells things and more about a box that brings people together in interesting and creative ways.” –Rosie O’Neill, cofounder, Sugarfina

Rosie O’Neill, cofounder, Sugarfina (left), pictured with Rebecca Minkoff, CEO Uri Minkoff, and Nordstrom director of creative projects Olivia Kim. Photo: Michael Greenberg

8. Choose The Right Cause: “What makes you cry? Start there.” –Christy Turlington Burns, founder, Every Mother Counts

Christy Turlington Burns, founder, Every Mother Counts.Photo: Melissa Golden

9. “It’s About Looking At The World In A Different Way”: “I had to get out of Silicon Valley to gain perspective and see the world in a different way.” –Nest CEO Tony Fadell

Read More: Jared Leto and Nest CEO Tony Fadell On Creativity, Art, And Commerce

Nest CEO, Tony Fadell. Photo: Samantha Casolari

10. Embrace Diversity And Complexity: “When I talk about positive portrayals of black people and women, I’m saying complexity. I’m not saying goody-two-shoes, everything’s okay. No. The positive view of me is to see me as I am: the ‘good,’ the ‘bad,’ the gray. That is a positive portrayal.” –Ava DuVernay, director

Read More: How Director Ava DuVernay Challenges The Conventions Of TV And Hollywood

Ava DuVernay, director. Photo: Samantha Casolari

11. “First Of All, Just Listen And Learn”: “[Apple employees] don’t feel like they’re just somebody over here working with customers. I don’t see them as retail employees. I see them as executives in the company.” –Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail, Apple

Read more: Apple’s Angela Ahrendts On What It Takes To Make Change Inside A Successful Business

Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail, Apple. Photo: Samantha Casolari

12. Open Your Mind–Not Just Your Wallet: “It takes me a while to get to rejection. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. I like to hear people out and see if there’s something there. When I first got pitched Uber [as an investor], I thought it was the dumbest idea ever. I get on the phone with Travis [Kalanick], and once he explained it, then I got it. I’m definitely a risk taker. Being an entrepreneur, naturally you take risks.” –Troy Carter, music manager and investor

Troy Carter, music manager and investor. Photo: Michael Greenberg

13. Think “Thumb Stoppers”: “Almost every designer I work with now is like, ‘What’s the Instagram moment?’ What is the piece that everyone’s going to pick up? What’s the thumb-stopping moment when everyone’s like, ‘Oh, I have to capture this on Instagram!’? It’s amazing, because now you have an audience of 400 million to play with versus a small, insular group. Now you can have your message spread to everyone.” –Eva Chen, Instagram

From left: Jack McCollough, Eva Chen, and Lazaro Hernandez. Photo: Michael Greenberg

14. “No” Is A Powerful Tool: “We were given some great advice early on: Strategy is what you don’t do. Whenever we do anything, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this true to Warby Parker?'”–Neil Blumenthal, co–CEO, Warby Parker

Neil Blumenthal, co–CEO, Warby Parker. Photo: Samantha Casolari

15. Try, Try, Try: “The fastest way to create culture change inside the bureaucracy is by demonstrating that things can be done differently. It’s impossible to innovate from on high.” –Hayley van Dyck, cofounder, United States Digital Service

Hayley van Dyck, cofounder, United States Digital Service (far left), pictured with fellow government tech leaders Lisa Gelobter, Todd Park, and Hillary Hartley. Photo: Michael Greenberg

16. Know Your Purpose: “It’s not that fun to start an organization unless you feel like you’re solving a problem.”–Barbara Bush, cofounder and CEO, Global Health Corps

Barbara Bush, cofounder and CEO, Global Health Corps. Photo: Michael Greenberg

17. Keep It All In Perspective: “A strange and astonishing fact is that you and I are made of the stuff of the cosmos—exploded stars and other rogue material. The fact that you and I are made of stardust is one of the ways the universe knows itself.” –Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Photo: Melissa Golden

18. Consumers Have The Power: “As audience members, vote with your pocketbooks and time. Watch things that are good, and don’t watch things that are not good. The more you consume great content, the more likely it will get made.” –Franklin Leonard, founder, The Black List

Franklin Leonard, founder, The Black List. Photo: Melissa Golden

19. Less Is More: “Every industry has its own opportunity where you can dramatically simplify the experience. It will take outside-in thinking.” –Aaron Levie, cofounder and CEO, Box

Aaron Levie, cofounder and CEO, Box. Photo: Michael Greenberg

20. Celebrate Difference: “If you want innovation, you want diversity. We often hire people like us, and the actual answer is to hire the person who is least like me—who is going to complement me. There’s a real art to that.” –Beth Comstock, vice chair, GE

Beth Comstock, vice chair, GE (left), pictured with Sallie Krawcheck, owner and chair, Ellevate Network. Photo: Michael Greenberg

21. The Path To Success Is Unpredictable: “Six years ago I would’ve said we’re going to outsource engineering, operations, and dry cleaning. Now those are the three largest parts of our business.” –-Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO, Rent the Runway

Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO, Rent the Runway. Photo: Melissa Golden

22. Never Stop Improving: “When I hear people say, ‘Well, that’s just not the way we do things,’ my hair stands up. You have to be careful not to let success breed a one-dimensional way of thinking.” –Mark Parker, CEO, Nike

Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, pictured with Serena Williams and Fast Company editor Robert Safian. Photo: Melissa Golden

23. “Pressure Is A Privilege”: “It’s a privilege to be in that situation where you actually have pressure on your shoulders, as opposed to not having that pressure.” –Serena Williams, tennis star

Read More: Nike CEO Mark Parker And Serena Williams On Competition

Mark Parker, CEO, Nike; Serena Williams Tennis star. Photo: Melissa Golden

24. Make Marketing Smarter: “If you purchase a car, you probably don’t want to see another car ad anytime soon. If you want to see anything, it might be an ad from the car company welcoming you and telling you how the car works. Consumers want you to add value to their experience. Otherwise, you are noise.” –-Carolyn Everson, marketing VP, Facebook

“The relationship people want to have with brands… most of the time they don’t want to be advertised at, interrupted. When you bring utility to people’s lives, that’s where you have an opportunity.” –Marc Mathieu, CMO, Samsung Electronics America

Carolyn Everson, marketing VP, Facebook (left) and Marc Mathieu, CMO, Samsung Electronics America(right). Photo: Melissa Golden

25. “Think Crazy”: “There’s something beautiful about ignoring all realistic constraints.” –Anne Wojcicki, CEO, 23andMe


Read More: 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki Sees Big Value—And Challenges—In Making A Difference

Anne Wojcicki, CEO, 23andMe. Photo: Michael Greenberg

26. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt: “Starting with the premise that consumers are smart and their needs will continue to change is the only way that we will not become a victim of our own success.”–Katia Beauchamp Cofounder and CEO, Birchbox

Katia Beauchamp, cofounder and CEO, Birchbox. Photo: Melissa Golden

27. “Younger” And Wiser: “I think it’s important to follow your instincts of what pleases you.” –Patricia Field, Hollywood costume designer

Patricia Field, Hollywood costume designer. Photo: Melissa Golden

28. Demand Excellence: “Mediocrity drives me crazy.” –Debi Mazar, actress

Debi Mazar, actress (right), pictured with costume designer Patricia Field. Photo: Melissa Golden

29. Engage With Discipline: “To stay relevant, you have to be a brand. But there’s this inner battle we all struggle with: How much do we share of ourselves and give away? How many selfies can you post? It’s exhausting.” –Hilary Duff, actress

Hilary Duff, actress. Photo: Melissa Golden

30. Go Big: “We’re working on 100-year, 200-year, 300-year, 1,000-year questions.” –Casey Gerald, cofounder and CEO, MBAs Across America

Casey Gerald, cofounder and CEO, MBAs Across America. Photo: Michael Greenberg

31. Get Invested: “Obsession is the biggest driver of innovation. It gnaws at you. It pushes you beyond what other people have tried.” –Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits

Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits. Photo: Michael Greenberg

32. Controversy Can Be Good: “‘Conscious uncoupling’ broke the Internet. I’m glad that happened. It opened a discussion.” –Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and chief creative officer, Goop

Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and chief creative officer, Goop. Photo: Melissa Golden

33. Be A Something/Something: “The ‘slashie’ is someone doing everything they love, and along the way maybe it became money-making.” –Joe Zee, editor-in-chief, Yahoo Style

Joe Zee, editor-in-chief, Yahoo Style. Photo: Michael Greenberg

34. Ignore The Doubters:“There wasn’t a blueprint for my kind of career. When I made the transition into Hollywood, it scared a lot of people.” –Dwayne Johnson, actor

Dwayne Johnson, actor, with WME co–CEOs Ari Emanuel (center) and Patrick Whitesell. Photo: Melissa Golden