Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Hearts and Minds of Unicorns


The Hearts and Minds of Unicorns

A BEI 2015 Talk By Porter Gale, Former VP of Virgin America


Porter started with a few questions, “Is it easy or hard to innovate in your company?” “Can you recognize unicorns?”

Then she asked, what is a unicorn? Biggest mistake is that people are looking at things that are too obvious when innovating. It takes a special person to see potential, to notice a unicorn. Box.com, Lyft, HINT water, and others were highlighted.

Questions for culture: What is the tonality of the culture? Do you know what your company stands for?


Innovation is happening at a rate of acceleration that is unimaginable.

After getting a pink slip at an ad agency, Porter landed a job at Virgin America.

“Create an airline that people love,” this simple mantra from the founding CEO drove the company’s action, processes, decisions, and people choices.

The CEO had a deep love of aviation. He tested products at home in his garage.

Virgin changes the interior experience of a plane by focusing on lighting and material for seats. A purple light created a better mood for all parties. Food-on-demand solved the old problem of the cart blocking the bathroom.

Virgin also created WIFI on planes in 2008. It was a $100,000 per plane to outfit the technology. Virgin had 28 planes at the time. Their goal was to launch this feature before JetBlue.

The moments of experience themselves became the best advertising.

Failure was also an important and deep learning at Virgin American. Virgin America started a Reality Show called Fly Girls. It got CEO sign off. When Porter asked the crowd who had seen the show, not one hand was raised. Again, a failure, “a disaster.”

Here’s what was learned. If the risks are communicated upfront, the company will support you.

Question for crowd: Who can you bring on the innovation journey with you?

“Because we were lean, I asked my team to capture stories. Our mantra became travel with your headphones off.” We got to know our customers and each other.  Because of social networks, we are down to 3.2 degrees from everyone else.

As a final test, consider three core values for your company. At Apple, it is Simple, Useful, Beautiful. What are the three things from your organization that you really value? Can you distill it down to three things?

Lastly, remember that fighting mediocrity is an inside job. What are you fighting against? Can you do this fight on an individual and business level?


Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.


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