Archive for the Tag 'World Business Forum'

Lencioni: Arguing for Innovation

Point: Teams that create the best innovations know how to disagree about ideas without interpreting the disagreement as a personal affront.

Story: “I feel good when I see that engineering, advertising and manufacturing are really surfacing and talking about their differences,” said the VP of Technology at a successful $100 million firm.  “It’s my job to keep the dialectic alive.”

When we see companies moving swiftly, anticipating changes in the marketplace and developing new products or services to meet the change, we’re tempted to think of the company as moving in harmonious agreement toward that new product or service.

But the surprising fact is that companies that innovate the fastest are actually those that invite debate over ideas.  It’s not aPatrickPhoto destructive conflict, but an airing of different views on a topic.  Whereas conflict based on personality differences is destructive, healthy conflict focuses on refining a proposed idea. Healthy conflict gets a team out of group-think. It tests and challenges assumptions. Team members share different points of view.  As Patrick Lencioni, speaking at the 2009 World Business Forum said, “productive debate over issues is good for a team.”  Disagreeing on issues make things uncomfortable but it builds clarity. “If you don’t have conflict on a team, you don’t get commitment,” Lencioni said.  “If people don’t weigh in, they won’t buy in.” When team members challenge assumptions and point out the flaws of an idea, they improve the idea; the end result is a more robust idea.

To ensure that the conflict stays at the level of idea, not personal attack, Lencioni advises using a team assessment.  Using an instrument like Myers-Briggs, team members learn their own communication styles and the styles of others. Knowing each other’s personality style helps avoid personal conflict. If you know that Joe is generally quiet or that Jane always bulldozes in, you’re less likely to take offense at what is actually that person’s communication style.

* Don’t suppress or circumvent conflict – the best ideas are forged during the “working out” of such conflicts.
* Give the team an assessment tool like Myers-Briggs to help member understand each other’s styles communication styles, strengths and weaknesses
* Encourage healthy debate.  Peter Drucker recounted  how Alfred P. Sloan, legendary CEO of GM, handled this:

“Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here,” Sloan said. After everyone around the table nodded affirmatively, Sloan continued: “Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

3 Comments »How-to, Innovation

Bill Clinton & Bill George on Leadership (World Business Forum #wbf09)

Point: Leaders must communicate and connect, which means providing vision and revealing vulnerability

Story: At the World Business Forum last week, former President Bill Clinton was asked about his lessons on leadership.  His answer was threefold: ClintonPhoto

  • It begins with a vision of where you want to go: you have to articulate where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there
  • A leader has to continually communicate and sell the vision
  • Leaders need to understand people, not just policies

That last point about leaders needing to understand people was the comment that was most retweeted during the live-tweeting of Clinton’s talk. It was the point that resonated the most deeply with the audience.

Fittingly, Clinton’s closing comments provided the perfect circle back to Bill George’s opening keynote the day before.  Bill George, former Medtronic CEO under whose leadership the company’s market cap grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, spoke about authentic leadership during a time of crisis.

Being authentic builds trust and helps people understand who you are as a leader.  “In a time of crisis, you bill-georgeBlogPhotoneed people who tell you the truth,” George said.  Authenticity requires strength because it means, at times, revealing vulnerabilities. Although revealing vulnerabilities seems counterintuitive and very hard for leaders who want to seem all-knowing, George has said:

“When you open yourself up to others and share your fears and shortcomings, you connect with people at a deeper level.  Exposing your vulnerabilities is an open invitation for others to share openly with you. In the process, you gain a higher level of support and commitment from people, as well as their respect.”

How much do you share? Bill George offered an example from his own life:  As Medtronics’ CEO, he regularly sent out emails to all the employees about the state and health of the company. In 1996, seven years into his tenure as CEO, George’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.  George found himself writing an email to employees revealing his wife’s personal health rather than presenting the company’s financial health.  To George’s surprise, 18,000 employees (more than half the company) replied to his email, offering their support and sharing their own stories of loved ones who had battled cancer.  “It was a personal connection,” George reflected. “We’re hungry for those connections.”


  • Build personal connections with those you lead
  • Create, communicate, and cultivate a vision
  • Be authentic, revealing both weaknesses and strengths

For More Information

Bill George is the author of the new Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis and bestsellers Authentic Leadership
and True North

Bill George’s blog is at

[Bill George shared the email story during a pre-forum reception he held for World Business Forum Bloggers on Oct. 5, 2009]


2 Comments »Case study, CEO, How-to

Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs Innovation

Point: Open innovation can accelerate new product development

Story: When Irene Rosenfeld took over as CEO of Kraft, she saw an anemic innovation pipeline. IrenePhotoThe company had 2000 corporate R&D staff — scientists, engineers and chemists — but new products weren’t flowing rapidly enough.   Her solution to encourage innovation?  To get everyone to “Think of Kraft as a $40 billion start-up,” she said at the World Business Forum on October 7, 2009.  One way to emulate start-up thinking is to be open to new ideas from anywhere and quickly turn them into something valuable. Kraft reached out beyond its corporate R&D to enlist the help of employees across the whole company, as well as suppliers and partners, to spur innovation.

For example, Kraft runs an online “Innovate with Kraft” program whereby anyone can submit product ideas.  Although skeptics call such programs gimmicks or fads, Rosenfeld maintains that they’re not gimmicks if the programs and the ideas generated from them are being used.

Kraft’s recent new product introduction, Bagel-fuls (frozen bagels pre-filled with Philadelphia brand Cream Cheese), for example, came from an unsolicited idea from a third-generation bagel maker in a niche market. The idea was a win-win for both companies: it solved some technical challenges that Kraft had faced in delivering a bagel and cheese combo, and it expanded the bagel-makers product beyond his niche.

Rosenfeld also mentioned the value of platform-based innovation (ideas that span multiple brands and geographies) in the innovation process.  Now, “Our innovation pipeline is quite full,” Rosenfeld remarked, with new products coming out in four core areas: Snacking, Quick Meals, Premium and Health & Wellness.


  • Look for ideas in the corners: reach out to employees and suppliers, especially niche people, to uncover obscure ideas that merit more widespread use
  • Celebrate the use of submitted ideas to show the value of participation in innovation submission programs.

For more information:
Irene Rosenfeld at the World Business Forum on Oct 6, 2009 #wbf09

Staggs, Sandy. Foster Innovation at Kraft Foods, Oct 27, 2008.

New York Times, Sept. 9, 2009

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