by Adrienne N. Wartts
Elizabeth Talerman '85 has formulated her approach to innovation into a step, a stretch, and a leap.
"A step is what we want to accomplish in the next three to six months," she said.
"A stretch envisions where we want to be in two years, and mapping the path to that. And a leap may be five to 10 years out, something quite ambitious, or possibly disruptive. I begin with defining the leap and then make a plan so that each step and stretch support the ultimate goal or vision."
When Nucleus Strategy founder Talerman was three years old, her family moved from New York to Medfield, MA. She paid her way through the Charlton College of Business, built a marketing career as a pioneer in digital marketing, and ultimately became a successful entrepreneur in her native city.
Talerman, who earned her BS in marketing, was marketing director at Harvard Business School in the mid-1990s when she got excited by Gopher, the precursor to the World Wide Web, and decided to put all of the school's Executive Education programs on the Internet platform that was only starting to reveal its potential.
Her early adoption of digital technology caught the eye of Ogilvy and Mather, the iconic global advertising agency, and she relocated to the Big Apple to help create a digital marketing strategy for Big Blue, as IBM was known.
She had reached a pinnacle as a marketing professional, working at one of the world's leading agencies, yet it didn't take long before she realized that she needed an inventive approach to achieve her ultimate career goal. Rather than make a slow, long climb up the corporate ladder, she decided to strike out on her own.
"I felt confined and constrained in traditional hierarchical organizations, so it felt natural for me to start my own company," she said. She left Ogilvy to start a digital agency where she worked with clients including some of the world's most recognized brands, including Gillette, NBC, Credit Suisse, and the New York Knicks.
That work led her to focus on how binding relationships form between people and brands. So five years after arriving in New York, her practice evolved into a brand consultancy that in 2008 became Nucleus, reflecting the collaborative spirit of her business. With her two strategy partners, she assembles teams of anthropologists, historians, futurists, ethicists, psychologists, designers, and writers to solve clients' toughest challenges.
"Our job as strategists is to look at relationships between people, concepts, products, or ideas, and gain an understanding of the emotional triggers and language that creates connections, and the ways in which this informs or inspires behavior," she said.
The Nucleus roster of clients includes organizations such as Martha Stewart and Fisher-Price. For Johnson & Johnson, Nucleus "helped them understand the ambitions of a new generation of parents and evolve their product portfolio and communications away from the fear and uncertainty of 'no more tears' toward the ambition of making progress every day," she said.
A current client is N Square, an initiative to stimulate innovation in the fields of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. "We created a messaging tool kit that provides them with better methods for reaching people born after the Cold War who have little understanding of nuclear threat," she said.
Talerman said her firm uses an evidenced-based approach to strategy, working with professionals from a variety of age groups, as well as disciplines.
"It's not just about coming up with new ideas," she said. "Clients rely on our methodology to gain a better understanding of the people they serve and how those people think, react, and behave."
Her interest in innovation is not new. As a student, she recognized an innovative spirit in the work of architect Paul Rudolph when she was applying to what was then Southeastern Massachusetts University.
"I chose SMU because of the architecture. As I walked across campus on my first day of orientation, I wondered why all the steps were so wide, and short in height. I later learned the architect designed them that way so it would take us more time, give us time to think about our learning here."
Today, she is widely recognized as an innovator and was recently named to the board of directors of PopTech, an organization that encourages global collaborations between innovators in fields as varied as public health, computer science, and art. One of its initiatives with Microsoft examines "The Changing World of Work."
"Innovation might be quite incremental," she said, "but I think the important part is that we imagine the future that we want to see for ourselves, our organizations, and for the world, and we carefully consider the steps it will take to get there."