Breaking through the scattering of silver-lined rosy pink clouds on the horizon on this invigorating Autumn morning, the sunrise over Lake Michigan bathed downtown Chicago in a soft amber glow reflecting off the peaks of its soaring skyscrapers as they stood out against the bright blue backdrop of the firmament above. It was early on this November morning – not even 6:35 AM, but already the streets and sidewalks were starting to fill with motivated Chicagoans and out-of-town visitors looking to get a jumpstart on their day’s activities.
Both the U.S. and general global economy were enjoying a second year of robust growth. While the early part of the recovery, which officially began early in the 3rd quarter of 2009, had gotten off to a slow and somewhat rocky start, few back then had foreseen how strong the U.S. economy would come roaring back, and how pronounced innovation was being credited with in accelerating this economic expansion.
For those associated with the gleaming new Networlding Innovation Center in Chicago that had opened the year before in the prominent location formerly occupied by Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue, the fact that innovation had played such a key role in reinvigorating the US economy wasn’t really all that much of a surprise. They knew that the effective management of business and technology innovation could yield enormous benefits for virtually any company and industry. And the unprecedented confluence of global recession, capital market lock up, stock market crashes, failure of hundreds of once iconic companies plummeting real estate values and rising unemployment had prompted a countercurrent increase in the level of effort and resources being dedicated to innovation by a growing number of government, academic and private sector leaders. Their efforts were now paying off in a large way.
Melissa Giovagnoli and I were sitting at the Einstein Espresso bar on the 3rd floor of the Innovation Center, sharing an early morning cuppa java and reminiscing about the period of time leading up to the opening of the Center on October 10, 2010. The last couple of years had seemed to roar by in a blur of fast-paced decisions, chance meetings, not-so-coincidental coincidences, memorable events, unexpected setbacks, and exhilarating triumphs. Not to be overlooked was the herculean amount of hard work that had been done by an ever-expanding team of dedicated innovators who embraced the vision for this Center as their own — and had truly made it a success beyond anyone’s expectations. And now, exactly a year, a month and a day after the formal opening of the Center, we had set aside time on this early Friday morning to reflect back on how far we’d come and recounting the sequence of events during the early conceptualization and planning phases of the Innovation Center.