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Inspiring Optimism to Innovate (INTERVIEW)

Leslie Dance, VP of Brand Marketing at Kodak
Alexander Lam
September 4th, 2013
Leslie Dance found her way to Kodak while looking for a challenge, and she found it. After leading the marketing charge at Burberry and Motorola, she was ready for a new challenge. Today, Dance is the VP of Brand Marketing and Communications at Kodak, where she molds the troubled firm’s brand as it moves into different markets. Her experience working on Broadway, navigating the PR industry and reinventing Motorola has equipped her to guide the firm as it transitions.

Four Questions with Leslie Dance

1. Do you have specific rituals for re-setting your team to be creative?

We launched monthly off-sites at Kodak where we could travel and have different experiences. Anybody can come up with an idea and that’s facilitated by making sure people get out and explore. It's good to get out to the right conferences or be on the ground somewhere instead of being in a meeting. If someone were out at a foreign country for meetings, I would tell them to spend a week to explore.

Another ritual is our policy that the answer should never be no. If it's the right thing, then you should figure out how to make it happen. There was a culture of negativity of Kodak and we had to work to change that; it's about getting people to turn their minds around a little bit and constantly being an explorer. We had strategy labs where I would bring in my favorite agency people and spend two days to create the communications strategy for the following year. The goal here is to create a sense of optimism and make people believe what they're doing can make a change.

2. What is the biggest obstacle you face when innovating?

People that are risk-averse, people that are afraid to make a change and people that are shutoff from new ideas are big obstacles. I've seen great ideas that have been shut down and shut off because they weren’t going to make us enough money. You have to able to listen to your colleagues and consumers while being open. It's an ongoing journey to create a sense of "we want to win." What you have to do is try to anticipate and get ahead of the curve as much as possible or as much as your brand allows you to. People who don't do that get in the way of innovation.

3. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?

The first of my tenets is that you should be listening to gain trust. Translate what you gather from listening to where you take the business and the brand. You have to create that emotional connection. The second is influencing collaboration. A great leader can influence others effectively and know when to lead and know when to follow. My final tenet is to generate an atmosphere of hope and optimism. Makes sure everyone believes that they're a part of the change. They have to believe that they can make a difference. Create a purpose and a vision that people can rally around.

4. Looking to the future, how is Kodak going to be a leader in innovation?

Kodak is now in the graphics communications world. Printing of the future is not just ink on paper. Things like 3D-printing are taking off and Kodak is looking to expand. We're also helping our partners become more digital in the functional printing markets. We’re able to do this because of our printing expertise from our film days. There's so much going on in the functional printing area. We're working on some amazing touchscreen sensors and that's all print based. There's going to be a lot of opportunity to recover under the right leadership and the proper investment. It's going to be a very exciting time for Kodak. It's going to be a different Kodak, but a Kodak that has a lot of potential.
References: kodak, youtube