Our Journey to 21st Century Conference Innovation

Assembly LineThe first decade of the 21st century has been charged with storms of change.

We were emerging from decades of success where compliance, replication and continuous improvement ruled supreme.

Six Sigma, a business management strategy first developed by Motorola in 1986, focused on the removal of defect causes. No more than 3.4 defects per million units became the new standard. Business leaders delivered growth, backed by Six Sigma stability and predictable results.

Then, "stable and predictable" started to lose their luster. Revenue forecasts weren't nearly as accurate as they once were.

Globalization. Offshoring. Commoditization. Declining margins. The housing market crash. The recession. Economic uncertainty. The war on terror. Congressional battles. Endless stalemates. Growing debt. Healthcare woes. Technology and Web 2.0. Social mobile. Data on demand. Live streaming. Cars that talk.

(Feels like I just wrote another verse to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire)

After all the turbulence, new opportunities bubbled up, but this time, innovation was the force driving new and more profitable ventures. Meanwhile, "stable and predictable" industries who didn't reinvent, fell behind. Some disappeared.

Look at today's most successful firms. Many didn't exist before this change storm. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon -- they weren't improving the current widget. They blew it up and created something new.

Back to Conference Innovation

While I'm not advocating that you blow up your conference model and build anew, today's conference playing field demands faster change cycles and bolder innovation moves. Adding just a few new items to your usual conference agenda won't cut it.

Bring on the conference innovators. The good news? 

  • Innovators aren't genetically endowed. Discovery skills can be acquired and nurtured. This book is a great place to start: The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen
  • If you've been diligently building (& feeding) your social networks, you already have a talented pool of folks who are happy to pitch in and help you test and perfect that next big idea.

To learn more about innovation, read The Secret to Successful Meetings? Prolific Discoveries and Selling Conference Innovation to Your Low-tech Boss.

(photo by pickinjim2006 via Flickr)

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