Cultivating the Innovation Mindset: Celebrating Uncelebrated Pioneers — Lorraine Marchand

Point of View
3 min readFeb 16, 2024
Photo from Freepik

In celebration of Black History Month, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion (see video below) with Columbia Business School alumnae, Renu Vitale and Gretchen Meyer, where we delved into the vast contributions made by women to innovation. This panel highlighted the significant strides made by women in business and served as a source of inspiration, advocating for equity and recognizing the impact of our alumnae. The Women’s Circle, a cornerstone initiative for leadership and support, stands as a testament to our collective commitment to nurturing a community that celebrates and propels women at every stage of their professional and personal journeys.

The narrative of innovation, often dominated by familiar figures, overlooks the diverse array of minds that have shaped our world. Among these is Marie Van Brittan Brown, an African American woman whose pioneering invention emerged from the necessity of ensuring her family’s safety in 1960s Queens. Her story is a testament to the power of the innovation mindset, which can serve as a profound catalyst for change regardless of one’s background.

Brown’s legacy offers a critical lesson in innovation. It recognizes the importance of identifying a need and harnessing creativity to meet it. Brown, working as a nurse, needed a way to feel safe when she was home alone. She devised the first modern home security system, a feat that required not just ingenuity but perseverance against the odds.

Brown’s journey to innovation was not straightforward. The development of her security system, which included a camera, a two-way microphone, and remote door locking, encountered the typical hurdles of funding and familiarity with the patent process. Yet, she persisted, her dedication eventually culminating in a patent in 1969. This achievement, however, was only part of the journey.

Her invention laid the groundwork for a sector now valued in the billions, proving that the seeds of significant change can sprout from the most personal concerns. It was an innovation born out of the immediate need for safety and the foresight to create a system that could one day be used by millions.

Brown’s story is especially significant because it challenges the prevailing perceptions of who can be an innovator. It reinforces the message that the ability to innovate is not the province of a select few but a potential harbored in all, waiting to be ignited by circumstance and nurtured through effort and resilience.

The innovation mindset reinforces the notion that the pace of change in recognizing the contributions of women, especially those of color, in innovation is not sufficient. As discussed in the panel:

“Women in general, as they pursue innovation or careers as entrepreneurs, face a common theme of challenges. They are often caught trying to figure out what resources they need, how to build a network, how to know what they don’t know, and how to anticipate future hurdles to achieve success.”

These challenges persist today, underscoring the issue that recognition and support for women in innovation are still lacking. My work aims to accelerate this recognition and provide guidance for those embarking on the journey of innovation. Recognizing innovators like Brown and advocating for a more inclusive approach to innovation honors their legacies and inspires a new generation.

It is imperative for future innovators to realize their potential for impact and to cultivate ‘the innovation mindset’. In doing so, we not only honor the contributions of women to innovation but also pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse future in this field.

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Point of View

A point of view is the angle of considering things. It’s a platform for people with a vision and a story to tell.