October 22, 2013
WOBI: Big Visions, Little Strokes and Everything in Between

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The Heart of Innovation is happy to publish the following guest post from Lynnea Brinkerhoff, Idea Champions' Empress of Organizational Development, reporting on the June, 2013 WOBI conference in New York City.

Lobby crawling at the World Business Forum (WOBI) in the famed Radio City Music Hall amid thousands of clean-cut global corporate sophisticates, I feel a strange remembrance of the world that launched me.

While suit cuts and hair styles have been updated, many of the ideas have not. I find this both comforting and strangely disquieting.


Egged on by former Governor Jeb Bush and the offbeat authors of best-seller, Freakonomics, the audience is encouraged to lose its love affair with its own barriers to breakthrough.

Four thousand world business leaders sit at seeming attention as we are reminded, again and again, through parable, to embrace radical solutions during these times of massive disruption.

We are called to progress, to have courage, to transform our organizations beyond what we think is possible -- called by Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser Busch to maximize performance and culture, functionality and elegance -- to attempt what we are not sure we can do.

Nancy Koehn, of Harvard. offers a historical view of leadership and highlights a story about the perilous, ultimately victorious journey of Edgar Shackleton, told in exquisite detail and infused with undeniable lessons for every leader in the room.

She reminds us that, once the mission is clear and embraced, once resources are secured and the gaze of glory is fixed on the future, giving up is not an option.

One of my perennial favorites, Winston Churchill, would certainly have agreed -- that, when records are broken, unchartered territory discovered, and national pride gained, we must follow his simple edict, proceed. While touted as viable journeys, however, they are not the only ones worth making.

Ben Franklin said it best (unfortunately, he did not make an in-person keynote at WOBI this year). "Little strokes fell big oaks."

These are the two sides of the coin these days. We need massive, BHAGS (big, hairy, audacious goals) focused on blue sky thinking AND we need people willing to make small changes -- eyes open to what is being called for, moment-to-moment, on the ground. 220px-Alec_Ross_at_Berkman.jpg

We need people who can take bold action amidst the kind of disruptive future that Alec Ross, media and technology director for the Obama campaign, declares is coming our way AND we need people making stealth interventions to help sustain a gentle momentum in a positive direction over a long period of time.

Progress or protect? Transform or continue? Courage or caution?

The only answer to these seeming polarities, explains thought leader Barry Johnson, is YES, beseeching us to find a creative way to seek something beyond EITHER/OR --- the lens we usually look though to examine yesterday's problems -- assuming that only one answer rules.

It doesn't.

Claudio Fernandez Araoz, global talent specialist. reminds us just how far past those days are past with one mind jamming sentence: "In such times as these, even the past is uncertain."

Ubiquitously discussed at WOBI is the vital need for today's leaders to exercise the forbearance of cultural icons and unsung heroes -- leaders like Abraham Lincoln who persevered through unprecedented losses, depression and doubt. Obama today exercises this quality amid unthinkable complexity.

Jack Welsh, a man not necessarily known for his forbearance, reminded us to lead with the generosity gene and show gratitude for those who serve our mission -- though he still narrowly refers to winning as the only point of business.

One thing I found missing from two-day WOBI conference was the unspoken impact of global business on the environment.

If we only get what we measure, as Jack never ceases to remind us, then the imperative to regenerate the natural places that nourish us as we extract commodities to add to life's conveniences seems germane.

Means do not always justify the ends.

It seems to me that only resilient, thoughtful, broadly considered decisions made by stakeholders in a well-choreographed, trust-infused dialogue, does justice to means and ends.

It's as close as we can get these days to a solution that honors the complexity of our modern day dilemmas, or VUCA as the military specialists like to call it: Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, and Ambiguity

Measurement? Why not measure that which makes for a better life?


The piece de resistance of the conference? Maestro-Mensch of the 21st Century, Ben Zander, as hands on as it gets (the keyboard of a piano!), who turned us all onto our own muses -- and the inspiration at the root of all creative ventures.

"Who am I being that the eyes of my employees are shining... or not?" he asked us, explaining that his job, as the conductor of an orchestra for the last 37 years, has been to "remind the players of the rhythm of transformation and to remove obstacles to their playing their best sound".

Reminding us that we always have three choices -- resignation, anger or possibility -- Zander invited the rapt audience to chose the third.

We can resign when we die. For now, life is for the living and leadership's job is to ensure further life by cultivating sustained health in the organizations and ecosystems in which we serve.

Disruption or not, the way through all of the ambiguity before us is the daily recommitment to polishing our best selves and surrounding ourselves with those who are aspiring to the same kind of excellence.

And that is the task WOBI has taken on -- reminding senior leaders to be worthy examples of the very best of what it means to authentically lead during these times of radical change, dislocation, and opportunity.

A big THANK YOU to Fallon Prinzivalli for inviting us to the WOBI conference. Much appreciated.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at October 22, 2013 09:51 AM

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