All of Our Innovation Barriers Are Self-Inflicted – Reflections on the Drucker Forum

The books of the Global Drucker Forum

What should management look like today – and tomorrow?

I just got back to Australia from the 6th Global Drucker Forum that took place over the weekend, where these two questions (and others!) were addressed. Drucker was a great thinker, and one of his pieces inspired the title for this blog – so I was excited to go to the event.  Richard Straub and his team put together a great event this year.  I learned a lot, and, more importantly, got to spend some time with some awesome people over the days that I was there.  Here are some of my thoughts triggered by the event.

Highlights from the Sessions

I liked a lot of the things that happened during the formal presentations:

Clayton Christensen gets off the stage to watch Roger Martinmy favourite moment on day one came when Clay Christensen walked off the main stage so that he could see Roger Martin’s talk.  This was also my favourite talk on the day – Martin was one of the few that talked more about what he’s working on now and his latest ideas, rather than going over his greatest hits (Pankaj Ghemawat was the other that did this). I loved Christensen’s move, because it showed respect for the ideas of others – it was generous, and set the tone for the rest of the Forum.

During the discussion after the first set of talks, Martin had a great quote on some of the issues around managing solely for shareholder value:

Every incredibly stupid theory has a core that sounds good.

The Creative Economy is here: Steve Denning, Dan Pontefract and Bill Fischer had a great session looking at how we’re making the transition to the Creative Economy: here’s Dan’s description of the session. One of the highlights here was the focus on actual examples of firms taking action to distribute leadership and build innovation.

Dan Pontefract, me, and the gorgeous ceiling in the Hall of Sciences in Vienna

Dan Pontefract, me, and the gorgeous ceiling in the Hall of Sciences in Vienna

Julia Kirby quotes Jim March: Julie Kirby opened the management and innovation session (the best one of the Forum) by quoting Jim March’s key idea on exploration versus exploitation. This is a core innovation idea – the responsibilities of management are split between exploring for new advantages, and exploiting existing ones.  Balancing the two is tricky, and that’s one of key challenges in managing innovation.

The balance now needs to shift towards exploration: Rita Gunther McGrath talked about her research, which shows that the lifespan of competitive advantages is rapidly declining (a point that Nilofer Merchant returned to as well). McGrath cited research on what people report as barriers to innovation – then she said:

All of our barriers to innovation are self-inflicted.

Social isn’t just social media: Next up was Nilofer Merchant. I’ve seen plenty of talks by both McGrath and Merchant, since they are two of my favourite management thinkers, and I have to say that their talks at this event were by far the best I’ve seen from them.  It was a great session. One highlight from Nilofer came when she stopped and asked us to “do something social for one minute.” Of course, very few of us tweeted – instead, we talked, and connected – leading her to say:

What we do to connect with each and build ideas – that’s social.

Nilofer nails it.

Nilofer kills it.

What does collaborative leadership look like? Herminia Ibarra gave a great talk on leadership. Her killer line was:

Our collective imagination has no real alternative to the heroic leader.

She then went on to discuss what collaborative leadership looks like in an effort to start building a more productive set of ideas on this topic.

Organisations should be flatter! In a talk that would have fit well in the Creative Economy session, Vineet Nayar discussed his experiences in making HCL Industries a flatter organisation. It was great to hear some of the issues in making flat organisations work – particularly since HCL wasn’t built that way, they had to reconfigure on the fly.

"Great ideas are great, but without execution they don't work."

“Great ideas are great, but without execution they don’t work.”

It’s Not All About the Content

One thing that the Forum brought home for me is that we focus too much on content.  The agenda was absolutely packed with talks.  On the one hand, this was good because the lineup was awesome.  On the other hand, this format also has some serious limitations.  One is that when we’re hearing so many great ideas, we need time to discuss and reflect – we need to do those social things that Nilofer talked about.

It reminds me of my executive education courses.  When people are new to lecturing, the tendency is to pack in as much content as possible.  But over the years, I take out big chunks of content every time I deliver my innovation course, and that always makes it better.

We need to do this at conferences too – an idea I learned from Johnnie Moore.

Day one ended with a monster 2 hour session, and by then my attention was shot. So, while I got to meet John Hagel in person (yay!), I wasn’t able to give his talk the attention it deserved (boo!).  However, meeting leads to my real highlights of the Forum, which were:

  • Lunch on day one with Rita Gunther McGrath, Nilofer Merchant, Dan Pontefract and Jamison Steeve. The conversation was thought-provoking and fascinating.  It was a great group too – Nilofer is a friend, Dan is a friend that I was meeting in person for the first time, I’ve admired Rita’s work for years, and I didn’t know Jamison at all before this, and he’s terrific too.  Later, Rita and I both tweeted about the enormous value of meeting people face to face.
  • Speaking of which, at lunch on day two I finally met Bill Fischer in person. Like Dan, he’s someone that I’ve been interacting with online for years.  But it was wonderful to meet face to face. We’re hatching plots together now too.
  • Many other personal encounters throughout the event were also memorable. Distance still matters.  Interacting in person is expensive, time-consuming and causes a ton of jet-lag if you live in Australia – and it is completely worth paying the price to have the experience.
I meet Bill Fischer!

I meet Bill Fischer!

We need to build our events to take advantage of the magic that happens face to face.  Content is fine, but it is only part of the story.

We Need More Jazz

My favourite part of the formal program was the end – the least scripted part of the event.  We finished with eleven of the speakers coming up and giving a five minute summary of their reflections on the Forum, followed by a short Q&A with the editor of the Harvard Business Review and Chair of the Forum, the quick-witted Adi Ignatius.  You can see Steve Denning’s summary here to get a flavour of them.

This was a great session.  Some of the people struggled with it a bit, and ended up giving versions of their normal talking points.  But the people that really engaged with the process were fantastic.  They were thinking on their feet, and the whole session was exciting – no one knew what was going to happen next.

It was quite a contrast to many of the formal talks, which were exactly that – formal.  Many of them were like classical music concerts – live versions of things we’ve heard many times before.  Sometimes, this can be magic, but it can also be a bit stale.  The final session was more like jazz – there was improvisation around a theme.  This format is dangerous, because you can bomb.  But it’s also more exciting, and, ultimately, more rewarding.

We need more jazz in our events.

And now I’m back in Australia.  Tomorrow I give a talk of my own for the International CFO Forum in Sydney (check out the cool set of videos that we made for this).

I’m trying to figure out how to get more of the magic of social, and more jazz, into the event. That’s all part of figuring out what management should look like today – and tomorrow.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

14 thoughts on “All of Our Innovation Barriers Are Self-Inflicted – Reflections on the Drucker Forum

  1. Tim- many thanks for the terrific summary, I had meant to go, then it slipped my mind, I got caught up in some client work that got cancelled last minute then we have been on ‘flood’ alert here in Locarno for ten days so it is best to stay around. Luckily the water got to other side of our street and stopped (twice) but it certainly made us nervous. Now to return and catch up- need to try and view some of the material if available to this conference of terrific people. Such a lost opportunity not to have gone!!

    • Thanks Paul – it would have been great to see you there. Maybe next year!

      Glad to hear that your avoided submersion. We had similar experiences in Brisbane a few years ago, and I know that it can be highly stressful.

  2. Tim, thanks for that summary. Although I could only participate using the life stream, I felt the great atmosphere and really enjoyed the spirt.
    What came to my mind seen all hose brilliant people there was to address Richard for adding a voluntary open space day after the Forum. That would allow to dig much deeper into the ideas and have strong and meaningful conversations.

    • Thanks for stopping by Guido. I agree that your idea could work. Ideally, I’d like to see more open space embedded into the Forum itself. But one way or another, it could definitely use more time for reflection and building ideas collaboratively.

  3. Excellent summary Tim – thanks for sharing it with those of us who weren’t there. It’s always fun to meet online collaborators in person for the first time. It’s as interesting to read about those experiences as it is getting the content highlights. And I agree – once again, Christensen shows he’s classier than many of those who idolize him.

    • Thanks Ellen. I really enjoy people that I only know digitally – it’s consistently interesting and rewarding. I’ve got mixed feelings about much of Christensen’s work after the first book, but I came away from the two days enormously impressed with him – he showed a great deal of curiousity and respect for the ideas of others, despite apparently not being in great health over the two days. He also didn’t simply give his talk then go, as several others speaking on day one did – he opened the Forum on Thursday, and was the last one to give his summary on Friday. Definitely a class act all the way through.

  4. Hi Time, thanks for sharing. I like the way you captured the details and small things that make these things special. I was on holidays but hoping to watch the videos on youtube.

    Drucker has been a big influence to me like others and its good to see his legacy being continued.


    • Hi Suhit – thanks for the comment. For me, the talks that I highlighted here were my favourites, along with the one by John Hagel. I think they’re all up on the Drucker Forum site now…

      Hope you’re doing well!

Comments are closed.