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Impact - A Blog by INM

Innovation Stories at BIF-6

September 30, 2010 by Vahe Kassardjian
BIF-6 Logo

Earlier this month I attended an interesting conference called BIF-6, hosted by the Business Innovation Factory.  This was the sixth installment of this event, held in beautiful Providence, Rhode Island. The organizer, Saul Kaplan, and his team did an excellent job pulling this event together in a very appropriate matter - comfortable enough, but not overly extravagant.

Each speaker had 15 minutes to tell a story related to innovation. Some speakers used support images, but PowerPoint slides were strictly forbidden. In general, the speakers were excellent. Some of them took certain liberties in extending personal experiences into doubtful generalizations, but most stayed within the limits of recounting their stories or connecting them with established knowledge.

There were so many great stories, that I won’t even attempt to list them all. However, I will say that John Maeda (RISD), Peter Menzel & Faith D’Alusio (Material World, Hungry Planet), Don Tapscott (Wikinomics), Dale Dougherty (Make Magazine),Richard Satava (DARPA), Gerard Van Grinsven (Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital) and Carmen Medina (ex-deputy director of CIA) all gave outstanding talks on topics ranging from Media to Ethics to Management.

The best session of all was the one held at BIF’s headquarters on Friday morning. Organizer Saul Kaplan spoke about the concept of “Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast”, which emphasized the importance of iterative business model experimentation.

The most surprising talk at the conference was Len Schlesinger’s. Len is the president of Babson College, a top-notch private business school in the US. He was fast in deconstructing 20th Century recipe-based management. “If you are here for a structural solution,” he said confidently, “I have none. It cannot be done.” He underscored the importance of connecting every effort in an organization with fundamental objectives through a process of “creative destruction” of routine tasks and through an attitude of openness, simplicity and precision. He spoke out against pompous concepts and convoluted categorizations, and insisted on the importance of delivering results regardless of how they comply with pre-established procedures.

A key point was his position on change, a position I fully relate to:  change is unavoidable, and we must embrace it.  But it is not true that everything is changing around us.  The perception of what we have held as the truth in the past 40 years is indeed collapsing, but the fundamentals remain. 

In essence, both speakers were advocates of agile management (although the term per se was never pronounced) and was very refreshing to realize that the real business world is finally joining a philosophy considered marginal only a decade ago.