Back to School
I am returning to the Tuck School after a two year assignment with General Electric as their first Professor in Residence and Chief Innovation Consultant. It has been a transformative experience indeed!
First, I got a front row seat to witnessing a great company implement breakthrough innovation. Given my interest on this topic, it was extraordinary. How many academics are lucky enough to watch real people in real companies make real decisions in real time?
Second, I assumed that one person cannot make a difference in a large company like GE with 300,000+ employees. I didn't have anyone reporting to me, I was not a P&L leader, nor I had any positional power. Despite all of this, quite to my pleasant surprise, I found GE to be a learning company- soaking up good ideas wherever they come from. As an outsider, I had one key advantage that an insider doesn't have- I am objective. When I said something in a meeting, it was the truth as I knew it. People may disagree with what I said but they never questioned my motives. I had no ax to grind. That gave my voice a good deal of influence even though I didn't have formal authority. Many of my ideas have been implemented. For instance, my 3 Box framework is now part of GE vocabulary. (See the January 2009 Harvard Business Review article by Steve Prokesch where he describes my impact inside GE.).
Third, I went to GE as a teacher- to tell them what I know about innovation. After two years, I have been humbled and I am returning to Dartmouth as a student! There is so much I don't know!! There is so much to research and uncover. Based on my work with GE, I have already published an HBR article with their CEO Jeff Immelt. But this is just the start. I have so many new ideas that I can research and write about for the next 25 years! Right now I am busy working on a book on Reverse Innovation for HBS Press. The book will draw heavily on the insights I gained working with GE.
The GE experience reinforced my strong belief that business school faculty must closely collaborate with the world of practice- it is a symbiotic learning partnership where both win.