Summit Preview: Hearing the Unique Voices of Innovation

Posted By: Michael Burke Global Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

Leadership, innovation, creativity, the customer, and the competition: They’re all top of mind for most organizations—or they should be. They’re certainly front and center for organizations that derive significant value from partnering.

Which is why one of the highly anticipated keynotes for this year’s ASAP Global Alliance Summit is titled “Breaking Through: The Construct of Leadership Starts with Individuals,” and the speaker will be Brad Anderson, former CEO of Best Buy.  

I spoke with Anderson recently to get a little flavor of what he might touch on in his keynote when we convene in Cape Coral, Fla., April 29–May 1, 2024.

Individual Innovators in an Organizational Context

“For me the fundamental challenge most institutions face is, how do you stay in alignment with your customers and get your people to outperform your competitors?” Anderson explained.

Companies’ “systematic pattern of success or failure” involves connecting with the customer at one end, he suggested, but at the other end starts with individual performers and how their creativity gets harnessed and drawn into the broader vision of the organization—or doesn’t.

“Where do we know historically that innovation comes from?” he asked. “The individual. But you have to hear that individual, promote their vision, and bring it into the organization. It sounds obvious but it’s incredibly difficult, and most companies don’t do it well.”

Anderson said he would illustrate his thesis about individual contributions to organizational success with anecdotes from his own experience at the helm of Best Buy, as well as research from Gallup and elsewhere.

Listen to Understand—and Avoid “Corporate Death”

During his time at Best Buy, Anderson was known for instilling a customer-centric, collaborative culture into the company and the way it did business—but again, this is easier said than done.

“As individuals’ contributions tend to be more unique, it’s harder for any other person to understand [them] in any depth,” he said. “So the organization smooths off the edges [of individuals’ creativity and innovation], and that leads to corporate death.”

As a leader in an organization that wants to succeed, he said, “you have to have the curiosity to even hear it—to say, ‘This is something I may need to listen to.’”

Anderson cited Clayton M. Christensen’s 2011 book The Innovator’s Dilemma in the context of how hard it can be for organizations and their leaders to truly listen to “dissonant voices,” despite their “gravity” or the implications they may paradoxically have for organizational success and growth. He also recalled being “lucky enough” to work with innovators like the late Steve Jobs, who he said “destroyed an industry” but created something wholly new.

Such innovators tend to be “unpredictable” within organizations, he acknowledged. But, he added, “if you do it better than your competition, you’ll win. Failure to do it is suicidal for an organization.”

“You Need the Brain”

Anderson further noted that whereas a hundred years ago Henry Ford said he wanted just workers’ “hands and arms,” not their heads, today that would lead to “a frustrated employee—you need the brain.” All individuals have the capacity to innovate, he said, and a healthy and innovative organization is one that creates an environment in which everyone can be heard.

But the road to innovation, creativity, and success is not always smoothly paved, as Anderson’s own experience suggests. Since leaving Best Buy in 2009, he has happily served on the boards of several organizations, but he admits that being in the public eye as a CEO or even a director can be uncomfortable. These days he contributes his time and money to organizations “on a smaller scale now, as an intellectual gadfly,” including advising CEOs—out of the limelight.

And what has he learned?

“What ‘everyone believes’ is almost never true,” he said. “So can I hear the voice everyone rejects? It’s probably part of the solution for the company. I have a chance to utilize the talents of that human being. It sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s rare.”

ASAP Global Alliance Summit attendees will get the rare chance to hear Anderson expand on these and other thoughts about leadership and innovation when he speaks on May 1. For more information, to download the agenda, and to register for this year’s Summit, don’t wait—go to today and secure your spot!