This week, 352 hosted our client and friend Scott Sanchez, Chief Innovation Officer at Nationwide, as our guest for an Off the Record conversation. Scott is a seasoned innovator and leader who has built the Nationwide innovation practice from a team of 6, to the current team of 150, over the past two and a half years. Robert Berris, SVP of Innovation at 352, moderated an insightful conversation about the current challenges leaders and innovation teams are facing, and his personal approach to creating flexible solutions during a crisis, including:

The Challenges in Innovation Evolve as You Scale

The initial challenges that Scott encountered as the first Chief Innovation Officer of Nationwide are not the same challenges he faces today. As he started out, he needed to focus on creating processes amongst a new team, and defining the language that Nationwide would use around innovation. He had to define what “innovation” meant, as the word had different meanings to different people. Over time, Scott has solidified Nationwide innovation’s common intent as “delighting customers and meeting their needs.” 

Comparatively, today Scott and his teams are facing more complex challenges. The team is not just creating innovation, but also supporting the functions of a business after launching new products into the market. Additionally, he’s facing the challenges of scaling an innovation practice with 13 teams managing their own portfolios, while bringing the rest of the organization along and managing leadership expectations.

Get Back to Basics to Survive and Thrive

As Scott pointed out, there’s no playbook for what we are going through today. There was no way to rehearse, and no experiences that leaders can draw from. So Scott has relied on listening to his teams, taking what he is hearing to heart, and trusting his gut to make good decisions. His leadership style has been stripped back to core values, enhancing his own people-first approach.

“You Can’t Save Your Way Out of 2020”

Scott has been hearing a wide spectrum of how businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis from pausing all innovation to doubling down, but most organizations are somewhere in between. His advice is to stop trying to expense-manage everything, though be more mindful of innovation expenses. The balancing act of prioritizing the work that really matters now and what will matter long-term has never been more critical, and innovators need to take a hard look at what they want to keep doing, and what they want to stop doing, but keep moving forward.

Say It With Me – “Innovation Through Collaboration”

We loved hearing Scott talk about how critical it is for innovation leaders to manage stakeholders, especially during times of uncertainty. His personal mantra has been and continues to be, “Innovation through collaboration,” which has helped him set the right tone. He stressed the importance of empathetic listening and speaking the language of the business units leaders to gain buy-in. 

“Show them what they need and then show them more,” Scott advised based on his experience. He said that he has found that stakeholders care less about how you approach innovation and more about how you’ll be able to help them achieve their business objectives.

Does Working From Home Live in The Innovator’s Future?

Scott delighted everyone with his question, “How do we get metaphorical sweatpants in the office?” At the heart of his question, he is exploring the possibility of achieving the heightened level of empathy and comfort we are growing accustomed to at home once businesses return to an office setting. Scott shared that he views working from home as a new tool in the innovator’s tool belt. And while sometimes there’s no substitute for being together and whiteboard solutions, his teams have found that for certain tasks, working virtually is more useful than in person, and that is likely to continue in the future.

Check out these resources to learn more:

Please join us next week on Tuesday, May 5th at 9AM EST as we host Marc Gorlin, CEO of Roadie. You can RSVP now. We look forward to seeing you there!


352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.