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innovation and its strategic importance. He met Laituri, whose background includes product design and development and crowdfunding, through a mutual connection, and started Forg with him in 2014. “We were drawn to each other because we were completely different yet collectively passionate about helping big companies survive,” Slawsby says. Companies rightly develop and reinforce the capabilities that make them successful in the first place, Slawsby says. But if they’re to do anything differently it comes down to leadership—senior leaders who can be role models for change. Leaders need to encourage the right type of experimentation and risk-taking, he says. He points to a handful of CEOs who understand this including: A.G. Lafley at P&G, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Reed Hastings at Netflix and Larry Page at Google. “Bezos is a great example becauseAmazon started off doing a very specific thing—selling books—and it’s moved so, so broadly beyond where it started,” he says. “Bezos was given a lot of room to continue to experiment by Wall Street, which can be a big inhibitor of all of this because investors get restless. Investors are a big reason why it’s very hard to focus on this uncertain future. “In the end it’s all about talent. Within talent, it’s about leaders and how they set the right example for how to go about innovation in the right way.” Slawsby gives an example of getting it right at Marsh & McLennan, a multibillion-dollar company with many divisions. When he was with Innosight, he and his colleagues were brought in by the CEO to help the organization get better at innovation. They led an innovation challenge where they coached a couple of teams from each business unit through a lean start-up process, identifying customer problems, testing solutions and building business plans. “We said, in a couple of months let’s see if we can apply best practices to quickly develop new businesses or kill ideas if they don’t make sense. And do this without core 32 Nobles FALL 2016
business constraints,” he says. “One of the teams I coached was from Mercer, the talent consultancy [division of the company], and the team developed an idea for how to use gamification to help talent showcase their skills and abilities so employers have a better measuring stick to figure out if candidates are good fits.” They created a mobile app, Mercer Match, that simulates relevant work challenges designed to indicate what a candidate’s on-the-job performance might be. The app, which broke new ground for Mercer, would never have seen the light of day without support from the company’s leaders and strong innovation team leadership who knew how to manage both up and down. “These big companies have got to figure out a way to reinvent parts of themselves. You’ve got little start-ups who are saying, ‘We’re going to take a chunk out of that opportunity and do it from the ground up the right way.’ It’s causing these big companies to think, ‘Wow, okay. How are we going to respond?’” Slawsby says even his own venture has evolved over two years. Forg aims to meet its mission by coaching leaders to understand these innovation realities while also building the software tools companies need to successfully develop new and different products. Slawsby has also collaborated with Mariel Manzone ’03 who has a cognitive psychology background and similar passion for helping companies develop innovative talent. “In the end companies will survive if they have the people in place who understand what it takes to be sustainably innovative and also the right capabilities to work in different ways. What new and different products will really succeed? Can innovation-aware leaders use software tools to engage more deeply with their customers and to more broadly leverage data analytics to figure this out? We believe it can absolutely be done.” —HEATHER SULLIVAN
*Steve Bergen’s obituary will run in the next issue of Nobles.