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Which Innovators Inspire the Innovators? (Some May Surprise You)

Some of Innovation Congress’ speakers talk about their inspirations.

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BY Jeremy Goldman - 07 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Whether you work with chatbots, programmatic advertising, artificial intelligence, or any other emerging field, it's hard work being an innovator. That's part of why I launched Innovation Congress, a conference July 18th-19th in New York - for some of today's top innovators to get together and discuss innovation.

But, who inspires the inspirational among us? I wanted to get a sense of who today's top innovators look to when they want to get inspired, so I asked some Innovation Congress speakers. Some of the responses were expected; others surprised me. Here's what I found.

Karlie Kloss

Jen Rubio, co-founder of luggage startup Away, finds Kloss, the fashion model and entrepreneur, "endlessly inspiring."

"She could easily have had an incredibly impressive career modeling and left it at that," says Rubio, "yet she's interested in learning new skills and empowering others to do the same through projects like Kode with Klossy." Kloss is "not satisfied staying in one place"; instead, "she's a true learner of life." For Rubio, Kloss is "worth looking up to" as someone "who makes that kind of an effort at continual growth when they've already found success."

Kloss is inspirational not only because she's good at what she does, but also because she's not afraid to try her hand at something new -- an important lesson for any would-be innovator.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is "especially inspiring as an innovative leader", says Jason Keath of Social Fresh (the co-organizer of Innovation Congress), "because of his personal pursuits" as well as his businesses successes. Branson's "Virgin collective of companies is a great case study" of a person who is "addicted to innovation." For Keath, Branson's appeal comes from the fact that he "is constantly testing, investing, and failing. His entire outlook on the world is 'can we do that better?'"

Whether Richard Branson is "driving a tank through Times Square or flying a balloon around the world", or trying to make space travel accessible to us all, Branson is most definitely a luminary to be admired.

Jeff Bezos

"I've long admired Jeff Bezos," says Peter Weingard, Chief Marketing Officer of WNYC, the most listened-to public radio station in the United States. "I admire his tenacity, his unwavering commitment to the customer and his philosophy of making bold investments and his comfort in the knowledge that some of those bets will fail, and fail big." For him, Bezos "has had an authentic, legitimate claim on having changed the way we live." His leadership has led to Amazon upending "whole industries and [changing] our digital landscape" -- which is exactly "what innovation looks like."

And what does innovation sound like? "Hey, Alexa, play WNYC."

Nancy Lublin

While there are a number of innovators who really inspire Sharon Feder, Chief Marketing Officer of The Muse, she puts Nancy Lublin at the top of that list. Lublin is the founder and CEO of Crisis Text Line "is at the top of that list." Nancy has been a consistent innovator for nonprofits for a while now, founding Dress for Success, an organization that provides professional clothing, accessories and guidance for women. She was also the CEO of DoSomething.org for many years, but her latest venture is a free, 24/7 text message-based crisis hotline created "to support people in crisis." The hotline is staffed by trained crisis counselors, who "leverage data science to serve their users and also release open data on crisis trends to combat mental illness. "

Needless to say, Nancy Lublin's example is one that many innovators would do well to emulate. As for me? I'm confident I'll probably pick up a few other inspirational innovators to look up to when I head to Innovation Congress in a few weeks, and I hope to see many of you there.