Friday, November 12, 2010

Drucker Innovation Forum

I spent the bulk of this week in California, where I attended a forum on innovation convened by the Drucker Institute at Claremont University Graduate School.

I came to the event with a fair degree of skepticism and trepidation. It was a small gathering (about 30 people) that included a handful of non-profit types and academics sprinkled among executives from major corporations: Coca-Cola, Boeing, Intuit, Lockheed-Martin, Herman Miller etc. The purpose was to share wisdom about management and innovation.

While part of the appeal in attending was to be with a slightly different audience than I usually interact with, in all due modesty, I wondered what on earth I might contribute that would be of value to business executives who are responsible for tens of thousands of employees. And vice versa.

The upshot is that what we had to offer each other was mostly empathy. While the content, size and context of the organizations around the table varied enormously, if you took a step back, everybody was grappling with the same issues: how do you take things that work on a pilot basis to scale? How do you spread new ideas/products/practices to resistant audiences? How do you create a work environment that stimulates employees to innovate? And how do you create mechanisms so that your organization is being thoughtful about learning from its failures and the failures of others in its industry?

I don't know whether its good news or bad news, but it turns out there are no simple answers to these challenges. But it was a rare pleasure to get to compare with professionals from a variety of disciplines who are all struggling with similar problems.