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The Dos & Don'ts of Effective Innovation

Executives from Sheetz and Google share their insights at the 2023 NACS Show.  
Linda Lisanti
NACS Show General Session

ATLANTA — Cultivating innovation was the focus of day 3 of the 2023 NACS Show.

Emily Sheetz, vice president of innovation and IT at Sheetz Inc., and Vish Ganapathy, director of customer engineering retail at Google, discussed how their respective organizations approach and assess innovation during the Oct. 5 general session at the show.

Talking about common mistakes that organizations make when they're trying to innovate effectively, Sheetz pointed to the importance of really understanding what your customer wants and what they need, not what you think they want or what you're good at.

She also said a major misconception people have about innovation is that "it's this big nebulous thing that only great inventors like the Steve Jobs of the world can do effectively." But in reality, that's not the case.

In fact, Ganapathy shared that he's found the best ideas come from the bottom up. As he explained, "the people on the front lines, the people who are working with your customers, the people who are doing the job every day, they're best to know what's going to work."

At Sheetz Inc., innovation is viewed as something that's part of everyone's job, to an extent. 

"Is innovation just like creating this brand-new business model? No. It's about how do you do your job day in and day out better. How do you continue to look at what your piece of running this company is and say, How can I do that better today?" Sheetz noted.

Both she and Ganapathy also touched on the need to create a safe environment for innovation — a space where people are not afraid of losing their jobs because of failure.

"We did a survey in Google a couple of years ago and we do this regularly, and the question we ask the entire company is what are the things that need to be in place for you to innovate more? And the No. 1 thing they talk about is we need a safe, nonjudgmental environment because innovation takes risk," Ganapathy said. "So, I think you have to know the customer, which gives you an understanding of the tone of the innovation you want to establish. But how you go about doing that requires that safe environment to fail."

Similarly, Sheetz Inc. cultivates a culture where failures are reframed as learnings.  

"We have found success in innovating when we are open to learning, and open to learning allows us to experiment. So, you don't go into those [experiments] knowing what you'd want and what the answer's going to be. You go in there with this sense of curiosity about what could happen, and you could be wrong, and that is great because that's a learning," Sheetz said.

"It's kind of a reframe … to instead say, I'm not failing, I'm learning and not going to make the same mistake again. I'm going to keep building on that learning,” she continued. "I would say what does make a good culture for innovating is a good dose of curiosity and a great dose of humility. You're not always going to be right in innovation, but you can always learn."

The 2023 NACS Show kicked off Oct. 3 and wraps up Oct. 6 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Over the course of four days, this year’s event will deliver more than 45 education sessions and 430,000-plus square feet of exhibit space showcasing 1,300 exhibitors across six categories: Merchandise; Candy & Snacks; Technology; Facility Development & Store Operations; Fuel Equipment & Services; and Food Equipment & Foodservice Programs. 

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