According to a recent article by hackerearth.com, each year, over 80% of Fortune 100 companies conduct hackathons to drive innovation. These one-off occurring events take place in hopes of driving crowdsourcing of breakthrough ideas for a specific pre-defined problem or to innovate.

Hackathons do not always drive innovation the way an organization may hope because often, the parameters set forth will prohibit the creativity process needed to come up with breakthrough ideas. Creativity and innovation, in its’ purest form, are connecting existing information and ideas in a new way. For a company to continuously innovate, they must be set up from an organizational standpoint to allow the full innovation process to take place, every day.

“But we have always done it this way.”

KPMG recently took a deep dive into corporate innovation and found that 43 percent of innovation-related programs have fewer than ten full-time equivalents dedicated to them. Furthermore, “company culture or entrenched attitudes” was one of the top obstacles cited by innovators in this year’s Benchmarking Innovation Impact 2020 study. Culture wars flare up when a department learns about a new idea the innovation team is working on because they were not brought in from the start. Too often, companies do not have the proper systems in place to support new ways of doing business and innovation will fall wayside. Support from leadership is critical for innovation teams to succeed and cut through the turf wars and the “we have always done it this way” comfort zone mentality. For a company to win, innovation must be rewarded, not hindered.

Kaizen: Change for the Better

Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “change for the better.”  Toyota is a classic example of Kaizen. Kaizen is one of the core principles of The Toyota Production System, a quest for continuous improvement and a single word that sums up Toyota’s ‘Always a Better Way’ slogan. Within the Toyota Production System, “Kaizen humanizes the workplace, empowering individual members to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions.”

I had the opportunity to learn the Kaizen mindset first hand while working with one of our existing clients, UAW-GM, during my tenure at HA-LO, Creative Concepts in Marketing. So what does a promotional products company have to do with continuous improvement? Absolutely everything. 

“Champions are pioneers, and pioneers get shot at. The companies that get the most from champions, therefore, are those that have rich support network so their pioneers will flourish.” – Tom Peters

UAW-GM did away with the notion “we have always done it this way” by launching a program called the “UAW-GM Suggestions Program” in which General Motors employees in North America are not only encouraged, they are rewarded for challenging the status quo by submitting suggestions that drive operational efficiency, health, and safety within the plants. A suggestion can be submitted on a paper form or through the electronic system, GoStars. Often times, the ideas submitted not only get evaluated, but they also got implemented because they remove waste, solve a problem or give an improvement in an existing process. The employees who submitted a “suggestion” were then recognized with points that could be “cashed” in for a reward such as fine china, luggage, high-end jewelry, all union-American made, of course, sourced by my team and me at HA-LO Creative Concepts in Marketing. 

The simplicity of this program was brilliant. It effectively broke down the “we have always done it this way” mentality by rewarding people who broke the status quo.


  • Ilana Frenkel Kearns

    Strategic Business Operations and Communications Leader Connecting the Dots to Drive Process Improvement and Organizational Success | Chief of Staff


    With over a decade serving alongside top executives at global Fortune 500 and privately held companies as their trusted business partner and advisor, I provide strategic support for all operational efforts to relieve them of administrative functions, allow them to focus on strategic and tactical responsibilities, and achieve key business outcomes. The following are highlights of the value I’ve brought to organizations: Developed and lead and partnered with C-level executives to design and execute company-wide strategic initiatives, including working with department leaders to define, manage, and track their priorities. On-dollar projects, including new space build-outs, flagship events, and multiple-day offsite events to create team cohesion. Researched, prepared, and coordinated corporate communications and marketing programs to build awareness, and collaborated closely with internal and external partners to drive unmatched results. Guided companies towards increasingly sophisticated and effective use of technology, including effective remote work at the onset of COVID-19. Collaborated to produce and write articles, blogs, social media posts, and communications to build both professional and personal brands, increased partnerships, and boost revenue. Served as a Community Relations Strategy Leader for a multi-million-dollar corporation building relationships with 10+ unique nonprofits across the city of Atlanta and galvanizing volunteerism, sustainability, and people-driven community service. Reach out and connect with me here on LinkedIn so we can discuss the challenges you face with managing daily operations. I’d love to show you how I can lend my expertise to help solve them. Strategic Planning | Risk Management and Mitigation | Cross-Functional Leadership | Stakeholder Engagement | Corporate Communications | Project Management | Meeting and Event Management| Policy and Procedure Management | Collaborative Leadership | Workplace Culture | Resource Optimization | Conflict Resolution | Transparent Communications | Business Case Writing | Corporate Social Responsibility | Inclusion and Diversity