A couple of months ago, 17 executives responsible for innovation at a leading high-tech company came to Claremont to learn more about—well, innovation.
If we’re honest, we anticipated their arrival for this two-day Drucker Innovation Retreat with a mixture of excitement and anxiety—heavy on the anxiety. After all, what could we possibly teach these folks that they didn’t already know?
In one sense, nothing. But what we could provide, we quickly discovered, were several valuable resources that all of us might remember to tap as we strive to move our organizations forward.
First, we gave them a chance to get back to the basics. By having the group systematically look at their own products and services through Peter Drucker’s seven sources of innovative opportunity—shifts in demographics, changes in market structure and so on—it was a chance to make sure they weren’t overlooking any potential sweet spots. By giving them a checklist of Drucker’s innovation do’s and don’ts (“Start small,” “Don’t splinter your efforts,” etc.), we forced them to take a hard look in the mirror.
Often, “the fundamentals tend to be taken for granted,” Drucker wrote. “But the fundamentals deteriorate unless they are being managed carefully, consistently, conscientiously and all the time.”
Second, we took them outside their Silicon Valley silo by visiting with some Hollywood executives and a renowned social entrepreneur. The goal: to help them think about innovation from different vantages. “Many changes that have transformed enterprises,” Drucker observed, “have originated outside the specific industry of that enterprise.”
Finally, we led them through a series of exercises—most of them driven by asking a few provocative questions—that were aimed at getting them to do something many of us tend to neglect: focus on the biggest opportunities.
“What is presented to most managers are problems,” Drucker noted. “Of course, problems have to be paid attention to, taken seriously and tackled. But if they are the only thing that is being discussed, opportunities will die of neglect.”
How about you? What benefits might you and your team reap if you made an “innovation retreat” of your own?
Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director