Nilofer Merchant Innovation Speaker

Speaker, L&D

Nilofer Merchant

Bestselling Author on Innovation and Collaboration

A bestselling author on innovation and collaboration, a TED speaker, and a business leader with 20 years of experience, Nilofer Merchant challenges audiences to do more than just think differently—she helps them to do what it takes to succeed in modern times. Merchant has personally launched more than 100 products that, in total, havenetted 18 billion dollars. Her leadership and business models encourage innovation and growth, and she collaborates with teams to create this enduring advantage. Offering prescient guidelines for taking the future into your own hands, Merchant brings her world-class pedigree to any stage.

Merchant’s recent book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, was named by Fast Company as one of the Best Business Books for 2012. It follows her previous bestselling book on collaborative work, The New How, which has been widely praised. It shows how to close the proverbial “Air Sandwich” gap between strategy and execution.

In 2013, Merchant received the Thinkers50 “Future Thinker Award,” beating out a crowd of seven other internationally notable management thinkers on the shortlist. To put this in context, Clay Christensen is the top management thinker of the day, and Nilofer of the future. In 2015, she was shortlisted for the Digital Thinkers award, recognizing her ability to turn zeros and ones into insights that matter.

Merchant’s experience ranges from working with Steve Jobs at Apple, to defeating Microsoft in an epic industry battle, and advising the C-Suites of GE, IBM, Logitech, and more. Corporations such as Symantec, Yahoo, Google, and many others have also turned to her for guidance on the social era, how to design new product strategies, enter new markets, defend against competitors, and optimize revenues.

As a speaker, Merchant has headlined alongside Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, Arianna Huffington, Margaret Atwood, and other inspirational individuals. She has also delivered for clients such as ICBI Fund Forum, Credit Union Executives Society, Symantec, and AT Kearney. She’s been invited and spoken on the TED main conference.

Her famed TED Talk, titled, “Got A Meeting? Take A Walk” has been seen by over 2 million viewers to date. The talk posits that “sitting is the new smoking,”and encourages sedentary office workers to be both healthy and productive by walking, rather than sitting, at meetings.

Onlyness: Make Your Ideas Powerful Enough to Dent the World

We all want to make a dent in the world.

Perhaps big dents like clean water for everyone in the world, or to address patriarchy so women are treated equally, or reforming education to be relevant for the 21st century. Perhaps “small” dents, such as helping your city be healthier, or keeping kids in your city safe.

But, not all of us feel like we can make a difference.

In truth, that feeling has great validity. It used to be that to make a dent, you had to already be powerful. You got things done because of the authority granted by your organization, or rank, and more than likely, money. You had to already “be someone” to get things done.

But, no more.

Today, denting the world is becoming something anyone of us can do, even on a few hours a week. Well, that’s true but ONLY if you know how. While tech platforms get all the press, they are just the mechanisms.

To dent the world requires a crucial component: Onlyness. You’re standing in a spot that only you occupy; it is a function of your history and experiences, visions and hopes. By it, everyone can serve the needs of the world.

Learn from real-life inspiring stories of seemingly-powerless people making a dent, and a difference. Be inspired by them. Learn from them. And, maybe even become like them, that change agent you want to be…

The Success Equation for Leading in the Social Era

Based on her bestselling book, The 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, Nilofer Merchant discusses what leading in the social era means for you.

As a leader, you now have to both manage the present and invent the future. On its surface that seems obvious, until you consider what “the present” is–dynamic, ever changing, and unpredictable. Add to this one big complexity: Business tenets that once stood the test of time, don’t. Sustainable, competitive advantages aren’t sustainable anymore. Value creation requires new leadership. And knowing how to bring out the very best in people. While these changes might be enabled by technology, the transformation is not a technological one. Instead, it’s driven by people, and new ways to come together to get work done.

This session will show you how to tap into leadership strategies to fuel exponential results. You’ll learn the context necessitating change:

  • What are the factors driving growth and innovation in modern times?
  • Ways “social” works in business strategy, across all parts of the business with case studies.
  • What this means for advantage
  • How to lead in this collaborative and community-driven world
  • Why your people – those things that walk out the door every night—are your biggest asset and how to bring out their best
  • How to get your smart people to be smarter, together. The challenge of managing is bringing people together in such a way that the sum of their collective work is greater than the individual parts. Instead of simple math (i.e. 3+3+3 = 9) you get exponential results (3^3 = 27) because of how people work together.
  • Ways to cultivate a genuine sense of purpose.
  • Understanding the central aspect of what allows people to collaborate together
  • Why it’s necessary to stop building in “Air Sandwiches” into how you set direction.
  • Learn the # 1 thing you can do improve performance on teams.
  • How to tear down the silos that keep innovation from happening.

Walk out of this session with tools, ideas, and steps to lead, and mobilize others like never before.



Managing the Present While Inventing the Future

Background and Context:
Today’s successful leaders have to both manage the present and invent the future. On its surface that seems relatively obvious until you consider what “the present” now looks like — dynamic, every changing, always on, personalized everything, unpredictable, all the content, all the public opinion, all the conversation with minutes to react/respond.

As much as this is true in the consumer marketplace, it holds true in the commercial market places also. Business tenants that once stood still, don’t. “Sustainable advantages” have gone from 40-year time horizons, to 12 years in slow-moving industries and 5 years in fast-moving ones. The rules of creating value in the social era often use a different set of business models and mindsets.

Often, maybe even always, leaders take the standards they have for their current business and use that to measure the new model. This limits growth and innovation. To manage the present, you must optimize for today, and create efficiencies. To invent the future, you must take risks, and be bold. You don’t get to pick one or the other. Yet, to do both, is by definition, a paradox. It takes more than being willing to innovate or having the necessary budget (though these two are, of course, necessary).

One of the most difficult tasks for corporate innovators is to learn how to unlearn the legacy business models and mindsets they have perfected. This modern-day challenge will not go away by itself. Rather we must face into the paradox and resolve it.

Workshop Goals and Outcomes
To develop leaders more able to innovate, we must build the muscle of organizational courage to change that which needs to be changed. To do so, we’ll create a multi-sensory high impact workshop tailored for an executive leadership team. Outcomes include:

  • Shared understanding the cultural norms that limit innovation today.
  • Develop a perspective on how market trends necessitate a change
  • Defining what the organizational leadership needs to ‘unlearn” (1-3 items)
  • Mastering the art of unlearning for (minimum) 1 agreed-upon item.
  • Increase in organizational motivation and overall enthusiasm to change that which needs to be changed.


Workshop Structure:
This workshop kick starts that process of unlearning by explicitly recognizing what metrics, methods, or assumptions are from the past and not necessarily useful for the future. We’ll also use stories, artifacts, and discussions that happen in the moment to build organizational courage and fearlessness. Workshops are a private and safe way for a set of leaders or colleagues to work through things and enact new choices.

Five Phases of Workshop:

  1. Cultural Barriers to Innovation via Artifacts.
  2. Discussion of current culture and leadership.
  3. Social Era Framework & Discussion, “what could it mean for us?”
  4. Developing new Artifacts as representative of cultural shift.
  5. Action Planning.


Identify your Cultural Barriers to Innovation Module 1
  • Participants are asked to bring one artifact (could be an object, picture, story but ideally a physical thing etc…) to describe the current state of innovation at the firm. Humans are hard wired to think in terms of stories, and artifacts make the current culture tangible.
  • Each participant gets to share their artifact, and what it signifies to them. Engagement starts early.
  • Acknowledge/celebrate your current state includes accomplishments, strengths, abilities, passions, and values.

  • Developing shared understanding of “present state”.
  • Making cultural aspects tangible and named. This gives language to facilitate change.
  • Creation of innovation assets because working from a place of strength encourages risk taking to change.
Reflection / Discussion Module 2
  • Pair up with someone they don’t already know.
  • Do a 15-20-minute walk ’n talk around property to reflect on what they learned (what shifted or what they can now name) about the current culture. Introverts can choose to do a solo quiet walk.
  • Come back into group to discuss what — if anything–  they would change to create a culture of innovation.

  • Development of shared effort happens in small group.
  • Commitment level to change starts by explicitly saying what they believe needs to be changed.
  • Start to map change factors into Talent (who), Purpose (why) and Culture (how).
Innovation in the Social Era Module 3
  • Share the role of collaboration within an enterprise, and with the marketplace as central to value creation in the Social Era. Case studies include more established firms such as IBM, Apple, REI, Zappos, but also lesser known companies like Quirky, TED, and Singularity University. <Nilofer Merchant presents content>
  • Discuss the ethos and underlying cultural frameworks that are fueling innovations by others.
  • Identify useful cultural norms that are already used  as well as those that are not used today.


  • Identification of new frameworks and shared language.
  • Development of new options.
Fuel your Innovation Roadmap Module 4
  • New artifact exercise – what is it that will symbolize culture of innovation?
  • Identify what needs to be managed to create change? What metrics, assumptions, beliefs …

o    for personal courage.

o    for organization courage.


  • Shared envisioning / ‘our company ‘ as fearless culture of innovation.
  • Artifact identification as symbols of change. *
  • Identify the frame that resolves paradox of managing current business while inventing the future.

< overnight break recommended>

Action Planning Module 5
  • Discuss any reflections / observations.
  • The dos and don’ts of building trust within the organization, which is key to taking risks, and being vulnerable to change.
    <Trust module is presented by Nilofer Merchant>
  • Identify next steps.


  • Commitment.
  • Understanding of trust constructs that enable organizational courage.