Yaromir Steiner, founder and CEO of Steiner + Associates, knows about innovation. He came to Columbus and created Easton nearly 20 years ago. People were unsure of a guy from Miami who proposed an open-air project in Columbus, which gets 20 inches of snow every year, Steiner says.
But open-air projects in Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angles and other cities became legacies of Easton’s success.
“What we did here gave people the courage and the reference point,” he says.
Connect the dots across sectors
For Steiner, innovation is about connecting dots that aren’t in a straight line. He follows patterns and transplants ideas to a new location.
For example, from his background — born in Turkey and educated in France — he’d been in cities with street life and outdoor restaurants. He knew people in Columbus liked to get together, to eat and go outside, but there was nothing for that, until Easton.
Today, Steiner is active with agencies addressing transit issues.
“We need to think very different. It’s not about putting in bus lines and making sure people (use) them,” Steiner says. “We need to make sure what form of transit we want. What is the impact of shared ride technologies? What is the impact of autonomous vehicle technologies? We know the buses will have no drivers after a while, and so you wonder do you even need buses?”
He believes a public transit agency shouldn’t decide the future of public transit.
“To innovate, you need to have people who are involved in technology, computers and electronics,” he says. “Innovation happens by crossing disciplines.”
While some think innovation can happen online, Steiner considers it important to physically gather people of different expertise when looking at an issue. Even at his company today, he and his team set time aside to brainstorm.
Innovation is also about having visionary partners. Steiner says he couldn’t have built Easton without Les Wexner.
“In Columbus, it seems every road leads to him, ultimately,” he says.
Steiner needed someone to validate his ideas and add credibility, but even with Wexner’s involvement, some remained skeptical.
“There’s a fear that what comes up might be worse than what we have because when you are exploring, you are never certain,” he says. “To be a good innovator, you have to be willing to live in uncertainty.”
Focused, but flexible
One way to deal with those fears is to organize the community to create its own vision, Steiner says. Consensus building promotes ownership.
Before you innovate, though, focus on the organization’s mission, not a perfunctory mission statement. If your organization didn’t exist, what would the region miss? What are you uniquely qualified to deliver? How does that mission improve the well-being of your employees and community?
“Being able to clearly state this and have the whole organization aware of this, from the top to the bottom, is an essential part of any innovation. If you don’t know what you stand for, you cannot innovate,” Steiner says.