RTRX: 3 insights into leading, motivating, innovating
RTRX: 3 insights into leading, motivating, innovating
07 AUGUST 2017 8:54 AM

Speakers at Rock the Road Experience 2017, an event that raised $1 million for cancer research, shared what leadership and innovation mean to them and their companies. 

COLUMBUS, Ohio—At an event that raised $1 million for cancer research, hotel industry executives heard from speakers who put an exclamation point on leadership and innovation, especially as a means to make a difference, not just at their companies but in their communities.

Rockbridge hosted the sixth-annual* Rock the Road Experience (RTRX) event, which was the brainchild of Rockbridge CEO Jim Merkel in 2011, at the Columbus Convention Center. In that time, RTRX has raised roughly $3.2 million for Pelotonia, a three-day cancer research fundraiser in which donors and fundraisers participate in bicycle rides of between 25 and 180 miles.

Speakers at the event included Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Bill Walton, who is also executive chairman of San Diego Sport Innovators, an organization dedicated to “bringing businesses, entrepreneurs, research, resources and ideas together to move San Diego’s sports industry forward,” according to its mission statement.

Here are three takeaways on leadership and innovation from the speakers:

Be a forklift
“Leadership … one of the elements of this most critical thing, which is generally defined as making people better, making things better is: Visualize yourself in your job and your role in life as being a human forklift,” Walton said.

“… What does a forklift do? … It picks people up and it puts them in their better place.”

That lift is also about overcoming obstacles—in life and business, and obstacles to innovation, Walton said.

“We didn’t transition out of the Stone Age because we ran out of stones,” he said. “We got smarter and we got better.”

Walton added that leading and innovating requires an understanding of what it takes to get the job done. Most of the time that includes collaboration.

“The surest way to get to where you want to go is to ask somebody who’s on their way back,” he said.

Alex Fischer, president and CEO of nonprofit Columbus Partnership and moderator of a panel on innovation, said that innovation also requires perspective.

“One of the leadership traits of innovators is curiosity,” Fischer said. “What’s happening in other cities around the world? … ‘We’ve got something we think is great, but what are we measuring it against?’”

Rockbridge Co-Founder and CEO Jim Merkel, center, presents Rock the Road Experience 2017 Difference Maker sponsors John Belden, president and CEO of Davidson Hotels and Resorts, left, and Bill Stadler, CIO of Aimbridge Hospitality, with basketballs signed by basketball hall-of-famer Bill Walton during the event in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo: Robert McCune)

Switch the system
Fischer said that “far too often, innovation gets confused with technology.”

But, he said, innovation can happen in all aspects in business. Often, he said, innovation to the thought process is the most important innovation there can be in business.

Carla Bailo, assistant VP of Mobility Research and Business Development at The Ohio State University, said she has three mantras:

  • “Never give up,”
  • “Why not?” and
  • “Can’t never did anything.”

That’s “what drives innovators to innovate,” she said. In her experience, whenever “the usual naysayers” started coming up with reasons to kill a new idea, “fortunately, there was always someone at the top who said, ‘I know all of that … let’s find a way to make it work.”

With anything new, she said, there’s “no precedent … no insurance package … but we’re going to do it anyway and beat those problems down.”

Go big and allow failure
Bigger is better, and innovation requires risk, said Dan Pallotta, owner of Advertising for Humanity, a California-based corporation that has helped to raise $582 million in nine years for causes that include cancer, AIDS and breast cancer research.

Referencing his own company’s philanthropic efforts, he said, “People are tired of being asked to do the least they can possibly do on the behalf of causes that affect them profoundly and deeply.”

Meanwhile, the ability to try something new that can make a difference is often hampered by the fear of failure, he said.

“Innovation comes down to … if you prohibit failure, you just killed innovation,” Pallotta said. “The most powerful innovation comes not from bringing a new idea into an existing system, but from questioning the systems themselves within which we are expected to create new ideas.”

Editor’s note: Rockbridge paid for one night of accommodations. Complete editorial control was at the discretion of the Hotel News Now editorial team; Rockbridge had no influence on the coverage provided.

Correction 7 August 2017: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the age of the event. 

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