TIME Innovation

3 Simple Words to Revolutionize the World

Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

A business philosophy as old-school as it gets

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This is one of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18

How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.

To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says.

She explains her network this way: Her consultancy, Mills-Scofield LLC, is her livelihood and passion; venture capital firm, Glengary, where she is a partner, is her way of giving back. She helps entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground by connecting them with clients and collaborators who are hungry for innovation. Furthermore, she mentors a small army of students at her alma mater, Brown University, introducing them to opportunities where they can help “kick things up a bit.”

Each connection Mills-Scofield makes is an iteration of her business philosophy, which is as old-school as it gets: she believes, simply, in “paying it forward.”

“Your network is not about you. A network is to be shared,” she maintains. “Networking is about people: seeing what makes them tick, and connecting them to someone to help them.”

She admits to being selective in networking, but her criterion is humble: “I only help people who are willing to help others.”

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Mills-Scofield grew up in Rumson, NJ. She and her sister attended public school, but every Tuesday, her mother took them into Manhattan to visit the museums. The girls were also encouraged to take another day off every week — to stay home and play.

“Right from the get-go,” Mills-Scofield says, “my model for education was that it is a personal responsibility.”

At Brown, she created one of the country’s first undergraduate majors in cognitive science. She went on to work for Bell Labs, where she was responsible for engineering the most lucrative messaging-system patent in the history of AT&T Lucent.

Long before corporate America started to sloganeer its rebellion, before “Work is Personal” and “All Business is Social,” Deb Mills-Scofield did business the only way that made sense to her — with curiosity and compassion. She called herself a “troublemaker.”

“Part of what I bring when I’m consulting is the fact that I care about you as a person, and not as your function,” she says.

In conversation, Mills-Scofield asserts a motherly kind of authority. She is frank but affectionate; she genuinely asks after your family. She doesn’t miss anything.

Her consultancy helps companies humanize their practice. “Any business that wants a return on investment needs to focus on how it impacts its community,” she says.

Mills-Scofield urges CEOs to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. “Have you ever tried to buy from yourself? Have you ever called your own customer service line?” she asks them. She teaches leaders to trust their employees’ desire to learn and create. “Treat them like adults!” she insists. “Give them the autonomy to innovate.”

Fundamentally, she believes that management’s job is to exercise “stewardship” over the organization, not control. “Business strategy is a living, breathing thing,” Mills-Scofield claims, “It’s not a plaque on a shelf, which is where most companies have gone wrong.”

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When Mills-Scofield visits the Brown campus in the fall, she will hold her “office hours” in the cozy kitchen of the student community service center. Over the years, the guidance she has offered her “kids,” as she calls them, has made her a household name within the institution.

This September, she looks forward to introducing her mentees to one of the greatest resources within her network: the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

In 2009, Mills-Scofield connected with Saul Kaplan, BIF’s founder, to encourage a student’s interest in local business innovation. She and Kaplan struck up a friendship, founded on their belief in the better nature of business, and he invited her to speak at the BIF Summit.

“We desperately need to see real examples of world-changing innovation and the “ordinary” people who come together to create it,” Mills-Scofield says.

“I call the BIF Summit a ‘wedding.’ It is better than any other conference at creating connections among strangers at a profoundly human level, because it provides the space — physical, emotional, and intellectual — for you to challenge yourself to think differently, surrounded by other people who are willing to take the risk with you.”

“I came to the BIF-6 Summit, and my network has never been the same since,” she says. “It’s a gift. I’ve been to every one and I can’t wait to go to BIF10.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

TED’s Revered Founder Shares Secret to a Good Conference

Richard Saul Wurman
Richard Saul Wurman Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

The splendid exile of the genius Richard Saul Wurman

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This is one of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

In Newport, RI, lives an old magician in splendid, self-imposed exile.

Richard Saul Wurman, best known as the founder of the TED conference, has made it his job to produce clarity out of the complex.

His eclectic body of work boasts over 80 books, including the original Access city guides, the bestsellers Information Anxiety and Information Anxiety II, as well as esteemed companions on all topics from football, to estate-planning, to healthcare. He has founded 40-odd conferences and chaired numerous information-mapping projects.

In conversation, Wurman speaks with unapologetic honesty, which one comes to appreciate. He has light eyes and a hawk-like profile. He describes himself as “abrasive, but also charming.”

Wurman lives with his wife in a 19th-century mansion on eight high-walled acres. They have few friends in Newport. He admits they prefer it that way. “I live reclusively behind a fence,” he jokes, “The town put it up to keep me in.”

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Outside of Newport, Wurman is someone who enjoys what the New York Times describes as “a happy notoriety as a connector and king-maker.”

“My interests are only apparently varied,” he claims. “I’m Johnny-one-note. My passion is less the subject, and more the patterns. Everything connects and can be mapped, and the mapping of that is fascinating to me.”

Of his business philosophy, Wurman says he sees “every book, every conference, every design” as an experiment on how he can get people closer to “telling the truth.”

When asked about how he developed his mission, Wurman reflects on his college days. He had been an accomplished student of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with the highest honors. Despite this success, he eventually came to realize that he “didn’t actually understand anything.” He claims, “I realized that just because somebody told me something, it doesn’t mean I understood it. And that was terrifying.”

“I’m not very bright intellectually, but I’ve decided to not by humiliated by my ignorance,” he says. “What a joy it is, to really not know something and slowly fill it in with things you understand!”

Wurman claims to be consistently self-serving.

“I use myself as the basis,” he says. “Every time, it’s a journey from me not knowing, to knowing about something.” Nor does he believe in complicating his goals by worrying over how people will receive his projects. “If you try to have that effect, it affects your own work. I don’t want to change my work. I already have a client. That client’s me.”

His latest project is Urban Observatories, a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian (complete with its own app), dedicated to providing an intuitive platform to compare live-population trend maps of major cities.

“I’m just trying to understand things,” he says, “I’m not trying to change the world.”

Yet he acknowledges that the implications of the project are immense. From enabling governments to make use of the failures and successes of other cities, to helping families decide where to take root and companies where to relocate, Wurman’s project explodes the potential of comparative cartography by conducting its study on an unprecedented scale.

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Richard Saul Wurman coined the term “information architect” to describe his particular set of talents.

It is easy to see how his architectural background continues to influence his work. Wurman’s projects deal deftly with questions of experience design, structural integrity and intention and result.

The 18-minute TED Talk had been his answer to question of how to deliver the “Next Big Idea” in an age pressed for time. He sold TED in 2002, after which, he claims, the conference became “appalling—it’s edited and teleprompted now.”

In 2004, Wurman advised his friend Saul Kaplan as Kaplan’s nonprofit, The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI, was designing its first annual Collaborative Innovation Summit. As Wurman mentored Kaplan, they worked by subtracting from the usual style of business conferences.

They eliminated the podium and numerous projection screens in favor of a simple, well-lit stage. There was no dress code; “I don’t own a suit,” Wurman says. They requested from their speakers personal stories of transformation, not speeches or pitches.

Wurman looks forward to returning to the BIF Summit in September. The summit, he claims, “unequivocally attracts smart individuals who tell a fresh story about their passions, ideas and failures.” He adds, “Looking in the gray area between these stories is where good, inspiring concepts will arise.”

Wurman shares his secret to hosting a good conference: “Have a dinner party,” he says. “Invite people you’re interested in and have conversation with them.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

On the Internet, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

How the myth of connectivity hurts us all

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This is the second of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at theBIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

Ethan Zuckerman’s job is to see the Internet for what it is.

As the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, Zuckerman studies civic engagement within digital infrastructures. He has made the case that we are not as connected as we appear to be.

Zuckerman’s research explodes what he calls the “myth of connectivity.” As he claims, “The world is more global. Our problems and economics are global. And though we are inundated with content, the media is getting less global.”

He believes it is important to expose and rectify this fallacy; after all, “this leads not only to shocking ignorance about the world, but also to missed opportunities for marketing and collaboration.”

As it turns out, Zuckerman says, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

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“Atoms are more accessible than bits in many occasions,” Zuckerman says. “Fijian water is easy to access, but Fijian culture is not.”

He attributes the myth of connectivity to a lack of demand rather than too much supply. With the explosion of personal publishing and the “read-write web,” the issue isn’t so much the lack of stories told from other parts of the world, but rather, that these stories have been filtered out by the American attention span.

One of the problems of “free market journalism,” Zuckerman says, is that it relies on user behavior to recommend content. This filtering mechanism is deeply susceptible to what he calls “homophily.” Meaning “love of the same,” the concept is also known by the truism “birds of a feather flock together.”

Homophily explains the tendency of news coverage to cater to the lowest common denominator, or, speaking within the realms of Zuckerman’s research, of the disappearance of international or investigative reporting.

“What we need are new systems to help us stumble over things, to jog us out of ordinary reality,” Zuckerman says.

Zuckerman claims the key to integrating international or hard-hitting perspectives into domestic discourse is to provide relevant context. Fundamentally, he says, “What’s most important to you, is ‘you’ and ‘yours.’ If we’re not giving people some way in which they can interact with content, we’ll be missing giant opportunities.”

He forecasts that content recommendations of the future will be able to determine an audience’s interest and the “information rut” that they’re stuck in, before bridging that gap by suggesting novel, yet unexpectedly useful content. For instance, “following your interest in US mobile phones, you might find yourself reading about Chinese phone technologies, or about how much disposable income the mobile market captures in East Africa,” he explains.

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“I was never in love with the narrative of the Internet startup,” Zuckerman says.

“Dot com” entrepreneurism did not excite him as much as the question of the Internet’s potential to transform the world.

Yet, for all his reluctance to view enterprises as one-stop fix-its for society’s ills, Zuckerman looks forward to returning to speak at the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

At the Summit, Zuckerman intends engage the BIF community — which he knows to be composed of unconventional tinkerers and seasoned social entrepreneurs — with a critical question he has been wrestling with: how to innovate journalism.

The BIF Summit has been a site of meaningful connections for Zuckerman in the past. He recalls meeting his MIT colleague Neri Oxman there, and marveling, from her talk about her first encounter with snow, Oxman’s intuitive thought process as a materials scientist.

“What I value so much about BIF is this notion that you’re not there to give a presentation, but to tell a story,” Zuckerman says, “With stories, the interesting motivations are never completely rational. That irrationality, that underlying passion, is to me what’s fascinating about anybody who’s trying to change the world.”

He believes that in BIF’s passionate community, he will find a receptive audience. “Storytelling is hugely underrated as a form of human communication,” he says, “It’s really hard to make money while doing good, investigative journalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

“Ultimately, I think we need to be having a deeper conversation about what public goods we should be willing to pay for, that the market isn’t good at provisioning,” Zuckerman says. He recognizes, “Those tend to be fighting words in the United States, but I think this notion of having really high-quality information is something that we’re not talking seriously enough about.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

Something Is Wrong With the Way We Aspire to Success

StephanieAlvarezEwens

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This is the second of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at theBIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

“If you’re in business today, you’re running for office every day.”

So says Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and a progressive Democrat who recently conceded his bid for governor of New Mexico.

Webber promoted an education-focused, pro-jobs campaign platform that leveraged his background in social business. The only candidate in the race not formerly involved in the state’s government, his supporters valued his outsider perspective and resistance to local political cynicism.

Running for office may seem to be a tricky venture for a media entrepreneur with a blunt, provocative journalistic record. But to Webber, running for governor was a natural culmination of his career-long mission to understand and transform broken systems.

Webber’s talk at BIF9, last year’s Collaborative Innovation Summit, articulated the broken place he sees now in both business and politics. In both systems, he claimed, “something is wrong about the way we’re aspiring to success.”

In his talk, Webber recounted an article by entrepreneur Mark Fuller, published in Fast Company’s first issue. “It asked, ‘How did the United States manage to win every battle in Vietnam, and lose the War?’— because they lost track of the point of the exercise.”

To Webber, the same is true for American business and politics. “Every 10 years, we drive the economic car into the ditch,” Webber said, “It keeps happening because our systems are designed to create this outcome.”

At the BIF9 Summit, Webber’s ideas were welcomed. “Some conferences give you a feeling that all the talks were written by the same person, memorized, and then delivered as a Forrest Gump-ian box of chocolates,” he reflects. “The BIF Summit is different. The design specs are human-centric. With BIF storytellers, you get the feeling that there’s actual alignment between who they are and what they’re doing.”

Webber and fellow Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor used their magazine to rally for a major cultural shift in business, a phenomenon that Webber referred to in his BIF talk as “the disappearance of the man in the grey flannel suit.” The concept of the company man who put himself aside so that he could put food on the table was no longer sustainable.

“Work is too important to be alienated from your sense of self,” Webber maintained.

Fast Company used the conceit of the worker drone to criticize America’s toxic work culture. The magazine aligned itself against an economy built upon principles of pure financial return at the expense of sound business practices.

Fast Company wasn’t a business magazine,” Webber notes. “We had a business model, but we also had a philosophical agenda and a political sensibility about what makes for a good life. It wasn’t articles; it was a curriculum.”

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Alan Webber is tough to interview.

He refuses set questions. “Let’s have a conversation,” he insists. He openly shares what he’s struggling with and compels the same. He compliments generously, but does not endorse. He has deep laughter lines.

Yet, when prompted to talk about his new home state, his eyes light up. He tells many stories: of what he learned from meeting an education specialist at the local coffee shop, of listening to the stories of struggle of 16th generation Acequia stewards, of the privilege of having an audience with Pueblo heads of state.

He talks about his state’s resilience and cultural richness. “Santa Fe’s the oldest state capital in the United States, but you rarely hear about the history of Spanish exploration living at Plymouth Rock,” says the former Boston resident.

Webber claims he has no plans to disengage from public service. In his letter of concession he maintained, “It was not only a campaign to elect a candidate — it was a campaign to make an argument about New Mexico.”

The state, under the administration of Republican governor Susana Martínez, ranks 50th in the country in overall child well-being and job growth.

“When you’re number 50, you have no time to waste,” Webber says. To him, it doesn’t matter whether the case for New Mexico is made from the business, political or ethical angle “because today, they are increasingly the same.”

“Politics is not something you’d wish on your worst enemy,” Webber jokes. Yet, he also says, “I think running for governor was the right thing to do. I have met an amazing group of people through the campaign, people who’ve asked me to help them with their projects.”

He adds, “It’s a real a blessing when people think you can help them.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

This Is Why Religion Is Just a Technology

Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

bif10-600-sq-info

This is the second of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

This is part of a series of conversations with transformation leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

Irwin Kula is an eighth-generation rabbi known for his fearless attitude about change — a rare quality among religious leaders who tend to adhere closely to tradition.

Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL) in New York and the author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, has dedicated himself to opening up the wisdom of his 3,500-year-old faith to be in conversation with the world.

Kula preaches the “highest possible institutional barriers between church and state,” with the “lowest possible communication barriers.” He welcomes intermarriage and interfaith dialogue. He recognizes God not as a “Seeing Eye,” but in “experiences of love, caring, and connection.”

Many consider Kula progressive; others, disruptive. But Kula maintains that institutionalized disruption is essential to adaptation and growth.

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Rabbi Kula looks like the wise man of children’s books. He has a handsome widow’s peak, and speaks with homiletic pauses and animated hands. When asked about how his beliefs developed, he answers in stories.

At 14, Kula was thrown out of the private parochial school he attended for challenging the Torah. “I would ask a class of 25 students questions which were probably a touch ‘teenagerish’,” he recalls. “I’d ask, ‘You don’t really believe this — God splitting seas? Come on, this is not what this is actually saying’.”

This rebellious streak would come to define his practice.

The problem with most religious leadership, Kula claims, is that its mission is to convert the non-affiliated. “Religion is not about creed, dogma, or tribe,” he counters. “We need to stop judging our success by membership dues — this isn’t about how many hits. First and foremost, religion is a toolbox designed to help human beings flourish.”

Kula claims that he finds himself often at odds with the concept of “God” as commonly invoked in the American public arena. To him, this is the God of touchdowns and wars, an intervening God who “casts out” unless one “buys in.” “No religious or political system has a hold on being moral,” Kula says. “Systems are only as good as their people.”

For most of his rabbinic appointment, Kula kept these views to himself. Only after the September 11 attacks did he begin to more openly preach what he himself practiced.

“I was very unnerved, knowing the religious impulse compelled that,” Kula says. After the tragedy, he shut down his teaching for three months to reevaluate his role as a spiritual leader. When he returned to the synagogue, he had made the decision “never to teach Judaism again simply to affirm the group’s identity.”

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In 2013, Irwin Kula recounted the narrative of his spiritual conversion to a packed theatre of global business leaders at the Collaborative Innovation Summit, an event hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI. On stage, the rabbi made an ambitious appeal to his audience, whom he knew to be composed of astute tinkerers and serial entrepreneurs: He asked them to join him in his mission to innovate religion.

Kula is a fervent believer in accessing insight beyond the religious tradition. “It’s really important to speak to non-incumbents,” he maintains. “The less you speak exclusively to your own ‘users,’ the better shot you have of keeping your own practices from becoming incredibly distorted.” His CLAL runs a program called Rabbis Without Borders, dedicated to fostering open dialogue across cultural and religious barriers.

Stories of innovation often feature “two kids in a garage.” Kula’s goal has been to tell an innovation story from the cathedral. “Religion’s just a technology,” his BIF talk began. “How the hardware of humanity gets used will depend on the software.”

His talk covered how the rapid advancements of the digital infrastructure age demand that we broaden our ethical horizons: What are the new crimes? In this new order, who is included and what are their rights? As we redefine morality, the need to innovate faith becomes especially pressing.

“The most interesting businesses ask ‘impact on society’ questions, which are more complex than ‘killer app success’ questions,” Kula reflects in hindsight. “At BIF, I asked, ‘What would happen if we applied innovation theory to religion, to compress the resources it takes to create good people?’”

Kula looks forward to returning for BIF10 in September.

“If a homily is 15 minutes in church, it’s 18 minutes at BIF,” he says. “As conferences go, BIF embodies total equality between the storytellers and their audience. In many ways, it’s the best of what a spiritual community is — we’ve got to bottle that.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

TIME Innovation

This Is the Antidote to the Dark Side of Technology

John Hagel argues "we have to collaborate to survive’

bif10-600-sq-info

This is the first of a 10-article series of conversations with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.

John Hagel speaks with satisfying precision. He has kind eyes and stern glasses, which together dominate the screen during a Sunday-afternoon Skype conversation.

As co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, Hagel hunts for unexploited capability on the “edges” of business and makes the case to include them on the CEO’s agenda. “The edges are most fertile areas for innovation,” he says. They are an important place to watch, because what happens at the edges transforms the core.

Hagel’s research encompasses geographic edges (overseas economies), demographic edges (younger generations entering the workforce, their unmet needs), and the edges of technological discovery. If there’s anything his work has taught him, it’s that the manual is less of an asset than the “ability to respond to unexpected events.”

Hagel believes that we are approaching fundamental revaluation of the role corporations play in our lives.

Corporations in the first half of the 20th century were built around what Hagel calls the “push” business model. The greatest asset of these vertically integrated, gargantuan structures was their knowledge stock — aggressively protected trade facts and formulas that allowed them to forecast with reasonable accuracy which direction to “push” operations.

However, this push model is failing in the face of expanding digital technology infrastructures, Hagel claims. Reinforced by long-term policy shifts toward economic liberalization, barriers to market entry have been significantly reduced on a global scale. The pace of our transactions has increased, the lifespan of knowledge stocks has decreased and competitive intensity in the US economy has doubled in the last 40 years. Hagel calls this “the dark side of technology” — a counter-narrative to the Silicon Valley script of dazzling possibility.

But Hagel sees an antidote to this volatility: openness. “People are realizing that they need to collaborate to survive,” he says, “You have to give up your secrets, your competitive advantage. It’s the only sustainable edge.” Hagel calls this new order the world of “pull,” and he describes it in his book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.

“Pull,” a splendidly iconoclastic antidote to traditional American corporate culture, means moving away from hub-and-spoke networks where knowledge was selfishly guarded to mesh networks that favor collaboration. Pull rejects claims to have all the right answers and instead favors asking smart questions.

“When people come at you with a façade as if everything’s under control, it does not generate trust,” Hagel says. “Admitting you don’t know something is a prerequisite to making progress.”

Rather than showing strength, influence in an uncertain economy paradoxically comes from expressing vulnerability. Yet Hagel says he had to learn the value of vulnerability. As a boy, he was often subject to his mother’s hostile temper.

“The key lesson that I took from my childhood was that my needs did not matter,” he explains. Upon his entry into management consulting, Hagel readily embraced the maxim that the client’s needs had to come first. “For the first part of my career, I was a servant of others,” he says. “The idea that others could help me was completely foreign to me.”

Hagel attributes the shift in his thinking to a talk he gave at the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

“Saul Kaplan invited me to be a storyteller at BIF6, and I’ve talked a lot and in various conferences and settings, and that seemed perfectly fine,” Hagel says. “But then he said, ‘We want you to talk about a personal experience and what you’ve learned from it,’ — and that was very scary.”

“Stories are not my thing. I am a person of reason and analysis,” began Hagel’s BIF6 story. But sure enough, he shared two tales of formative childhood experiences in a passionate expression of his business philosophy that later became the story of that year’s Summit. “It was the first time I ever got on stage and talked about myself,” he reflected in hindsight.

The experience was an incredible catalyst. “It really unleashed a tremendous sense of potential and possibility, that by sharing my personal experiences, by talking about things I didn’t know, and I connected with people in a way that I would never have had I just given my standard speech. I can’t wait to be a storyteller at BIF10 in September.”

“The key lesson I got from the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit,” Hagel says, “is that innovation is ultimately not about ideas, it is about personal connection.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. He is the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence and blogs regularly at It’s Saul Connected. Follow him on Twitter at @skap5. Nicha Ratana is a senior pursuing a degree in English Nonfiction Writing at Brown University and an intern at The Business Innovation Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @nicharatana.

 

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