Halfway through a Chandler classic I was interrupted by the sound of a meeting breaking up. Chairs shifting, voices murmuring. The doors to the conference room burst open and a flood of people exited, cell phones pressed tightly to their ears, giving me the distracted once over before hurrying off down the corridor to conduct their private seances with disembodied voices. Nothing is more urgent to an executive than stepping into the breach by responding to urgent voicemail.
Bill Thompson emerged, talking with Fred Phillips and another executive. Thompson caught my eye, acknowledged my presence with a nod and continued talking with Phillips. I waited patiently for Thompson and Phillips to finish. Tim approached.
“Bill asked me to help you set up for your presentation to the executive team. Could you follow me please.”
I stuffed Chandler and his hardboiled detectives into my bag and followed young Mr. Executive into the boardroom of the Excelsior. This room was the size and shape of a squash court, long and narrow with high ceilings and a bank of windows overlooking the valley. I’ve seen the seniors at the rec center play shuffleboard on platforms far smaller than the conference table, which gleamed dully from the waxing and polishing, barely visible underneath the folders, water bottles and coffee mugs and other detritus from the recently adjourned meeting.
“If you need a projector I’d recommend connecting here” Tim suggested. “The screen is to your right, and if you care to we can offer you a lavaliere mic.”
“No thanks” I said. There were about 20 people in the room. I was fairly confident I could project for them to hear. I started up my laptop and jacked into the LCD projector. While I waited for the interminable boot process, I pulled out my notes to review my previous conversations with the Accipiter team.
“The break should wrap up in five minutes or so. I’ll introduce you to the rest of the team, and then you’ll have 45 minutes for your presentation. I’ll give you a signal when you have five minutes left before we’ll need you to end.”
“What’s the signal” I said, certain it would be a slashing move across the throat, reminiscent of my chances of winning work with Accipiter. Or so it seemed.
“I have a small sign in the back of the room. I’ll raise it with 10 minutes left and with 5 minutes left to go.”
“What happens if Thompson or another executive wants to extend my presentation?”
He frowned as if I’d spoken in a foreign language. “I doubt that will happen.”
It’s never failed before, I thought, but I left him to his own assumptions. With the PC finally warmed up and convinced I am who I say I am, I started my presentation and prepared my notes. Executives were filtering back into the room. Phillips caught my eye and nodded. Briggs entered, glanced in my direction and scurried toward the other end of the table. Curious – did he not want to be associated with innovation, or was he worried about seeming overly interested in innovation? Typically any HR initiative is looked at with suspicion by the rest of most management teams. Perhaps he was concerned about appearing too interested.
Tim hurried out into the hallway and with the care and urgency possible only when a young executive is herding older and senior executives into the final section of an all-day offsite, he managed to get the vast majority in the room in just a few minutes. Herding cats should be so easy.
He took the podium and said “We’ll conclude our meeting today with a brief presentation on innovation by Marlow Innovation. We’re pleased today to have Sam Marlow, the founder of Marlow Innovation, here with us to provide an overview of innovation and what that could mean for Accipiter. Mr. Marlow has over ten years of innovation experience, working with a number of Fortune 500 firms in a wide array of industries. I hope you’ll give a warm welcome to Sam Marlow and give him your full attention.”
He nodded and left the podium to me.
“Thank you for the introduction” I said.
“I was asked to come and speak with you about innovation” I began. “For the next 45 minutes or so, I’ll be challenging your assumptions about innovation and educating you on what we believe – no, what we know – is the difference between successful innovators and firms that aren’t successful.”
Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project.
Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” a book that encompasses much of the OVO Innovation methodology, and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities. In 2010 he chaired the Innovate North Carolina conference and was a keynote speaker at Queen’s University, University of the Pacific, UNC and several other colleges and conferences. Jeffrey has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia.