Oct 14, 2015

Breaking out of the SILO

GreenLight innovation workshops and adidas

We call it SILO - Slides Instead of Learning Opportunities, and it’s something you may have experienced before. During lunch time break, several dozen audience members gather in a lecture hall. They eat sandwiches, sip coffee, and surreptitiously check their email on their phones. Meanwhile, in the background, a leader from an exciting business or organization delivers a slide presentation to a distracted audience.

When we first arrived at Yale two years ago, we were thrilled by the great speakers that came to visit. But every time we experienced SILO, we left wanting more. More engagement. More interaction. A more productive and satisfying use of everyone’s time. The convening power of a place like Yale creates tremendous opportunities for students and visitors to learn from one another, so we created GreenLight to capitalize on those opportunities.

GreenLight is a series of interactive, fast-paced innovation workshops launched in 2014 with the guidance and support of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale. GreenLight asks visitors to leave the slide deck at home, and instead bring a challenge they are facing in their work at the intersection of business and sustainability. A GreenLight workshop is a structured innovation session where students get hands on experience with real world problems and clients benefit from the creativity of Yale students.

When Elizabeth Henry Turnbull (SOM, FES ‘11), the Senior Manager of Energy and Environment at the adidas Group, was planning a recent visit to Yale, she shared our desire to avoid SILO. So we asked her what we ask all of our GreenLight clients - What’s the trickiest problem you’re working on right now? Working with Elizabeth and her team at Adidas we chose the following question: “How could adidas bring its social and environmental commitments and achievements to life in the retail store experience?”

Forty participants from SOM, FES, and several alums from the joint SOM/FES program worked in teams to tackle adidas’ challenge. We facilitated a process of loosely structured innovation: reframing the challenge, and then filling whiteboards and walls full of post-it notes with hundreds of potential solutions. Teams rearranged and studied this swirl of ideas until themes and patterns emerged, and turned those themes into 90-second pitches that they delivered to the entire group. Throughout the process, Elizabeth was circulating from group to group, providing feedback and insights and gathering ideas. adidas has come back to GreenLight and even asked one team to pitch their idea to a their retail design group.

Our goal with GreenLight is to create more meaningful, productive, and fun interactions between Yale students and the companies and organizations that come to visit. With adidas, we achieved these goals. Students got the chance to get their hands dirty working on a real challenge facing a real company. Our visitors got a day’s worth energy and ideas from creative minds at Yale, and a chance to meet and interact with potential interns or employees. While the individual sessions are always a fun time, there’s a bigger lesson here – there are more exciting and productive things to do during a visit to Yale than just presenting slides. So far GreenLight has gotten past SILO with five clients with a combined market cap of over $40 billion – and we’re ready for more.