What is Innovation?

An innovator is someone who looks at the world through the lens of opportunity. Everything around us is opportunity, and that is what the best innovators do. (Heather Emerson, IDEO)

Heather Emerson and Sally Madsen, Designers and Project Leaders at IDEO, presented the Keynote Address at our symposium for women and girls on March 30, 2013. It was an amazingly informative talk on “what is innovation?” Heather and Sally also generously conducted a design thinking workshop for the girls!


Sally Madsen is a designer, project leader, and a leading thinker in social innovation at IDEO. Her work focuses on creating impact at scale—spanning across the realms of education, energy, social enterprise, and design for emerging markets. She brings a holistic view to innovation in products, services, and systems. She’s also a collaborator and design coach at IDEO.org. In 2003 she founded Cosmos Ignite Innovations, a start-up based in India that provides solar-powered lights as a replacement for kerosene. She holds BS and MS degrees from Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering, and is an adjunct professor at the Stanford d.school. Outside of work Sally spends much of her time indulging in craft. She’s an avid sailor, with a busy racing schedule in the San Francisco Bay. And she’s an enthusiastic globetrotter, traveling with open eyes (and open mouth) and a camera around her neck, immersing herself in the experience.


Heather Emerson is a project manager and content lead at IDEO. With an expertise in human centered research and brand strategy, Heather focuses on  designing holistic experiences that marry serving customer needs with inspiring desire. Since joining IDEO in 2005, Heather has worked on a breadth of challenges including: designing financial services, creating new brands, choreographing retail experiences and reframing peoples’ relationship to their homes. The theme that ties Heather’s work together is a love for context. Heather brings her passion for cultural trends, community interaction and storytelling to framing large, complex problems in surprisingly simple, yet sticky ways. Heather holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from Art Center College and brings 3 years experience in cultural sociology from the University of Michigan to her unique approach to the discipline.


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Photos by Julie Yoo Photography