Thoughts from the Drucker Forum 2016

This year’s Drucker Forum, which focused on The Entrepreneurial Society, brought together global thought leaders on the practice of management and the role of the corporation in society. As usual, the conversation was enlightening and the ideas were thoughtful and thought provoking. I was reminded of how prescient Peter Drucker was in his work. Drucker wrote, some thirty years ago, about the critical need for institutions to remain flexible, self-renewing, innovative and entrepreneurial lest they be ripe for revolution. Peter Drucker was a man who saw leadership and good management as a response to authoritarianism.  It is hard not to see the wisdom of his words as 2016 draws to a close.

Building off of that theme of innovation and entrepreneurialism, several aspects of the Forum stood out. First, MPI Institute Director Roger Martin and his fellow panelists kicked off the event with an outstanding panel on the nature of entrepreneurialism. There was an outstanding conversation on how innovation sometimes calls on you to admit that you have no clue, but that you have a process to reduce uncertainty and risk over time, thereby improving the lives of your customers. At the same time, the panel warned against “innovation theatre”, an apt term for innovation in an organization that has no possibility of growth or scale and, therefore, has no power. Sadly, many innovation processes in both the public and private sector likely fall into this category.  How can an organization avoid this trap? Make sure your organization is serious about innovation by putting real funding, incentives and accountabilities around innovation – Are managers and/or employees measured on idea generation, speed of implementation, success rate or ability to learn from failures? If not, innovation may be merely a side show rather than a driver of change.

One of the more memorable discussions at the Drucker Forum this year was the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in government.  A spirited discussion between international luminaries Marianna Mazzucato and Adrian Wooldridge left the audience with much to think about, particularly for those of us intrigued by the interplay of democracy and capitalism. At the heart of the debate was a fundamental disagreement on the capacity of the public sector to play a role as entrepreneur and in creating entrepreneurialism. MPI will be following the work of both of these thinkers as we move forward with our own projects.

Finally, and not surprisingly, the audience was inspired by the words of MPI Design Advisor Tim Brown. The IDEO leader spoke of the need for creative competitiveness, wherein you compete on who is the most innovative, as opposed to operational effectiveness. Tim argued eloquently that this type of approach required new qualities of leaders, wherein one sets the conditions, practices and environments for creativity within the organization, setting a tone of exploration rather than command and control.

We at the MPI are still absorbing the thoughts generated and lessons learned at this year’s Drucker Forum, but there is little doubt that they will help us move our work forward in the year ahead.