Friday, June 8, 2007

How IBM Leads Leaders

Yesterday the IBM Business Leadership Forum concluded in St. Petersburg. Business leaders from 75 countries discussed innovation and the challenges facing those driving sustained innovation in their organizations.

IBM’s power and resources were in full view: With 355,000 employees in 170 countries, 700,000 business partners, and their impact on business, industry, government, and academia around the globe is immense.

I admired many aspects of the forum. Two speakers in particular stood out:

  • Sam Palmisano was accessible, energetic, and engaging. I watched him while an uncomfortable business partner tried to educate him about his business. Sam kept his eyes locked on him and projected genuine interest.
  • Irving Wladawsky-Berger was intense and Spock-like because of his logical mind and analytical capabilities. He was a very good panel moderator.

During the forum IBM asked attendees to complete a survey. Half filled it out, and the results were illuminating:

  • When asked which kinds of innovation they were considering, a majority said business model innovation.
  • A majority said expertise is the major factor that brings about improvements to their organization's workflow.
  • Two-thirds said the main reason behind business model innovation was creating a sustained advantage in a commodity market. (Last year's answer was creating a competitive advantage.)
  • Ninety percent said that access to key skills affected their ability to innovate.

As with every other conference I've attended, there were a few unconvincing notes. The subject of globalization got a little tiresome because of the generalities, but there were two retail case studies that were interesting. And more social networking and community (vertical) exercises would have been helpful. Services innovation also did not get enough attention.

All in all, though, I came away from the forum with much food for thought.

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