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Why This PVH Exec Told SXSW Innovation Is Like Free Ice Cream

Innovation is like free ice cream, according to PVH Innovation Next group vice president Barry McGeough. Everyone loves it until they get a flavor they don’t like.

“The promise is great and the possibility for disappointment is great,” he told attendees at SXSW.

On his second day as innovation lead, McGeough said the brand president for Calvin Klein, a PVH brand, came into his office and demanded a big new idea that would make him a lot of money, and quickly.

That mentality is indicative of how many people harbored misguided notions about innovation, which McGeough described as the “Wild West.” He subscribes to the notion that “innovation is the future, delivered.” But some people are paralyzed by the idea of delivering a bad future instead of the utopia that will solve all ills. “The failure model is not readily understood in the apparel industry,” he said. “Our model is: if you fail, you’re fired.”

The PVH exec takes cues from science fiction influencers like Star Trek and Blade Runner to get ideas for how to predict the future. While Star Trek inspired the design of the iconic Motorola flip phone, Blade Runner 2049 envisions a world with just a single tree remaining. But other innovations like AI, robotics, flying cars and augmented reality either have arrived or are not terribly far off in the future.

“We take this idea of inverse innovation and we’re looking at the major supertrends that we see coming down the pike,” McGeough said. “Most people in apparel are doing their day jobs, putting together the spring ‘19 collection because we need to pay the rent.”

Executing innovation effectively in the enterprise requires a three-pronged approach: pipeline management, innovation management and change management. New innovative ideas must be flowing in all the time and “not from one smart person in a corner somewhere,” McGeough explained, “because when their ideas dry up, innovation dries up.” To keep the ideas coming, he recommended partnering with incubators, startups, universities and factories.

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The mistake a lot of companies make is not managing innovation appropriately. While it’s great to have dozens of promising ideas, most businesses can’t possibly bring them all to market at the same time. “You wouldn’t have the money to market 28 ideas, but maybe you could market two,” McGeough said. “You have to commercialize innovation into products that actually make money. In our case we have fiber, supply chain solutions, machinery. It has to have ROI, otherwise you’re not in business.”

And the last but equally critical piece of the puzzle is ensuring that the wider company outside of the “innovation bubble” is on board with these new ideas. “If nobody wants it, you will fail,” McGeough said. “People have to be accepting that ideas will come from outside of their part of the organization.”

Given how quickly the world is changing, apparel companies must keep an open mind to all of the new technologies and innovations arriving near daily.

“There’s a saying that the future comes faster than you predict and never in the way that you think should,” said McGeough.