Like many successful efforts, the genesis of the Chicago Innovation Center was an improbable series of chance encounters, unlikely events, and the coming together of a disparate group of individuals who barely knew each other – if at all – but had certainly never worked together on anything like this before. And there was a long period of time when it surely looked like the Center would never become a reality; but this only provided the founders with an even greater level of resolve to beat the odds and manifest their deeply held and shared vision for the future.
We each selected and self-dispensed our preferred caffeinated concoctions at the Einstein Espresso bar. By popular demand, Innovation Center members had a generous number of free beverages included in their annual membership dues. Coffees of various kinds, in particular, seemed to be especially popular with the innovator set, and they had created a whole menu of selections named after famous business and technology innovators: Job’s Java Jolt, Moore’s Macchiato Melt, Edison’s Electrifying Ethiopian and Wozniak’s Wicked White Mocha, among others. Melissa took a hit from her Bezos’ Brazilian Brew while I savored a sip from my Da Vinci’s Daily Double.
I mused aloud about Melissa’s choice of beverage. “Ironic, isn’t it, how Jeff Bezos is partly responsible for our being here – in a backhanded sort of way.”
Melissa smiled, and said, “Absolutely – as the founder of Amazon.com, his singular innovation – online book sales – really accelerated the decline of the retail bookstore. They just couldn’t compete on price – and most of them couldn’t figure out how to turn their brick-and-mortar buildings into a competitive asset, rather than a liability. But surely if he hadn’t commercialized selling books on the Internet, someone else would have.”
“True,” I answered. “But he got there first with the right combination of customer features. He might not have invented the concept of online retailing, but he put all the right pieces together. We might not have invented the concept of the innovation center, but we’ve managed to pull together the right combination of location, people, capabilities and services to launch the most successful innovation center of its kind in the country – maybe the world.”
“Well…” she began, “Before you give us too much credit, don’t forget the amazing inputs, ideas and suggestions we got from the tens of thousands of people who read our blog. We wouldn’t be here today without them. And hundreds of those readers are now members – and are still the main source of our new ideas.”