Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pulp Innovation Chapter Sixteen

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 over the cell phone.

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. A younger executive, noticing Thompson acknowledge me walked over.

"Mr. Marlow?"

"Yes, I'm Marlow."

"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 left as detritus from the recently adjourned meeting.

"If you need a projector I'd recommend connecting here" young Mr. Executive 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 only 25 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?"

"I doubt that will happen."

It's never failed before I thought, but I left him to his own considerations. 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 overly interested.

Mr. Young Executive, who I later learned was named Hank, 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.

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."
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:16 AM


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