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Q&A | Justin Jarvinen, Head of Execution Strategy & Innovation

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Justin Jarvinen is a successful entrepreneur and innovation practitioner with more than 20-years’ experience partnering with global brands, investment companies, and startups to help identify and capitalize on opportunities to differentiate and grow. His unique, high-energy approach to problem-solving brings teams together in an environment that’s both fun and rewarding: his work has led to more than 40 creative, technology and innovation awards and he’s been featured in more than a dozen publications, including Crain’s Chicago Business where he earned 40 Under 40” honors. According to WDHB, Justin is one of the most fascinating and dynamic entrepreneurs we’ve met” after his presentation titled Fostering a Culture of Innovation” given by Justin for the senior-most leadership team at Airbus Group SE, the world’s largest defense and aerospace company. 

Q: Where did your long history with innovation begin? 

Funny, probably earlier than I know. I’ve always thought about things differently… always had an awareness and a curiosity about life around me. And I was never afraid to try new things — to experiment. So, after running around a track at the gym — recognizing that the music must have somehow paced my workout — I took my curiosity about the innate characteristics in music and went on to develop a new model for the music business. To me, it wasn’t the fact that I liked the songs, which I did, but rather, what about the music caused me to run faster, and with less perceived exertion than what I would have experienced with a different song — or with no music at all. This led to research in healthcare, correlating music to beats-per-minute for use in fitness apparatus, matching algorithms that delivered music based on preferences or psychographic information, and a whole lot more.

Q: What are signs of companies in need of innovation? 

Well, in my humble opinion, everyone needs innovation. Some companies do it well and others need some help. Because innovation can happen anywhere — at the brand level, with the technical tools you use, how you service your customers, employee engagement and satisfaction, your environment.…. literally, anywhere, it usually starts with a simple conversation about what problems or business challenges you have. Innovation, done properly, can address all of it. And then there’s the obvious: a business or industry where, as a consumer of their product or service, I’m not in love with what they offer or how they offer it every time I use it. I think of legacy taxi companies and Über as one of those examples. 

Q: What are the skills or competencies an organization and its employees need to be an innovative organization? 

To me, Innovation is a little more about mindset and culture than specific competencies. To us who do it for a living, it all comes pretty naturally, but being aware, asking questions, probing, being unstructured, getting comfortable with experimenting, understanding things from someone else’s perspective, seeing around corners…these are all foundational elements of a successful innovation process. And then you need to make sure you’re delivering tons of value. That’s where a partner like Salt Flats can be so impactful.

Q: What will be your role at Salt Flats? 

I see myself as a catalyst — someone who’s available to our Members and clients when they need a fresh approach to solving their business challenges. In my day-to-day role, I’m a full time strategy and innovation resource for our startup and large corporate clients, and I’m at the ready with a full compliment of whip smart strategists, prototypers, designers, developers… heck, even a chef!

Q: How will you be working with Members? 

How would they like me to work with them? Kidding aside, my goal is to help our Members create massive value through the discovery and implementation of world-class ideas. So, whether my team and I are disrupting an entire industry or delivering something as simple as a new feature, our goal is to be always available, fully caffeinated, and ready to rock. 

Q: What has been your favorite project or business venture to date? 

Anything where I have close to zero previous experience is particularly interesting to me! I had the huge pleasure of delivering a rebrand and strategic plan to a large regional mortgage company with nearly 50 offices. The opportunity for disruption all throughout that busniess is incredible, and the sense of accomplishment I felt knowing that I had helped a very operationally vanilla business recognize its full potential was what I live for.

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