Polly LaBarre

Polly LaBarre

Co-Author, Mavericks at Work | Founding Member, Fast Company Magazine

For nearly 20 years, Polly LaBarre has worked to embolden and equip leaders to ramp up originality, invention, and game-changing disruption. Co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win and founding team member of Fast Company magazine, Polly is an energetic speaker who leaves her audiences with actionable lessons from organizations and leaders who are transforming their cultures and industries. She inspires people to engage and reimagine the challenges they face, become fearless experimenters, and rethink the work of leadership.

As a founding member of Fast Company magazine, Polly played a central role in the remarkable success of a magazine that recast the conventional wisdom on power, competition, work, leadership, innovation, and change.

Currently, she is the co-founder of Management Lab (MLab), the think-and-do tank where she consults with top global brands. Along with her partners at MLab, Polly has developed a pioneering method and platform for changing how large organizations change. They run large-scale, real-world experiments in “hacking management” to build the deep organizational capabilities crucial for thriving in a creative, disruptive world: adaptability, innovation, and inspiration.

In addition to running global “management hackathons,” MLab has also built the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), the world’s largest community of management innovators; created a clearinghouse of management hacks and innovation stories; and launched a series of events.

Polly is the co-author of the award-winning book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, which was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller. Polly’s writing has also appeared in a variety of publications, including Fast Company, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune.com, the McKinsey Quarterly, and she has served as business and innovation correspondent for CNN.


The Human Edge

For every leader unsettled by rampant disruption, unbounded competition, relentless commodification, and the specter of automation, there is a powerful antidote already inside the organization: the untapped audacity, imagination, energy, resourcefulness, curiosity, intuition, artistry, and playfulness of its people. Those fundamental human qualities are the engine of the creative economy—the source of all value. And yet, too few organizations are designed to unleash, mobilize, and amplify that human edge.

The good news is we can learn from the inspiring and innovative organizations that are relentlessly clever when it comes to experimenting with how to inspire and unleash those human qualities. In this presentation, Polly takes audiences on a journey to the far front edge of organizational life and offers a look deep inside the “positive deviants” gaining advantage from their human edge. This diverse set of organizations and leaders is inventing richly varied approaches to: building passion-forward organizations, expanding autonomy, practicing radical transparency, inviting dissent and difference, promoting collaboration across boundaries, and cultivating community.

The lessons Polly draws from their success will inspire organizations looking to transform their cultures and position themselves for the future.

A Maverick Agenda for Inventing the Future

When the world stands still, size, strength, and stability offer an advantage. But in a world of relentless change, hyper-competition, and omnipotent customers, it’s agility, ingenuity, and audacity that invent new markets, win customers’ hearts, and create outsize value. In a creative and disruptive economy—it’s the most creative and disruptive organizations that win.

The challenge: most organizations are programmed to safeguard the status quo. They clamp down on deviations from the norm, enforce meticulously crafted policies, and sequester people and information in functions, levels, and silos. They’re more likely to guard the past than to face the future. So, how do you unleash your organization’s inner insurgent? How do you build a company with the drive to disrupt the status quo and the capacity to change ahead of change – creating a company that’s endlessly resilient and adaptable?

That’s a question Polly has been investigating for years, most recently with her colleagues at the Management Lab, where they run real-world large-scale experiments in hacking management and building deep organizational capability for innovation and adaptability. In this presentation, Polly shares what she learned about how to shape-shift from an organization where innovation is a sideshow to one where it is an everyday, everywhere practice. She unpacks a set of actionable strategies drawn from her research and work inside some of the world’s most successful and innovative organizations.

Audiences learn how to lay out the welcome mat for new (and dissenting) ideas; how to involve and equip everyone in organization to hack the status quo; how to build the capacity for fearless experimentation; and how to rethink the work of leadership. The result is a completely new mindset on managing change in organizations.

Turn Your Company into a Lab

Catching the future depends less on planning for what will come next and more on continuously experimenting with what could come next. To stay relevant, an organization must invest pre-emptively in developing alternatives to the status quo—playing with new ideas, testing new technologies, exploring new markets. In other words, in order to innovate and adapt in this creative, disruptive economy, every organization must develop the capacity (and the appetite) for experimentation and even failure.

Despite the life or death stakes, this is not natural behavior for most organizations. When it comes to making decisions about whether and how to venture into new territory, most leaders tend to rely on endless analysis or personal judgment. The problem is, those methods tend to produce conventional results.

Experimentation, on the other hand, maybe the most powerful lever when it comes to building your organization’s capacity to innovate and adapt to disruptive change. A well-designed experiment quickly tests the merits of your ideas, generates new and relevant insight into the deep needs and behaviors of your customers, and opens new avenues that weren’t apparent before. It also has the benefit of being a lot faster, cheaper, and more risk-bound than launching a meticulously designed battle plan.

Polly shows how the best companies today manage this. Her rich stories and practical perspectives and practices show how you can spread the mindset and methods of experimentation. Audiences leave knowing the five strategies for turning their organization into a lab for perpetual innovation.

Liberation Leadership

The era of the heroic, all-knowing, all-powerful leader is over. In an age of global unrest, plummeting trust in institutions, and the radical decentralization of authority, the established way of leading, ruling, governing, and managing is not working anymore.

If the leader is not in charge, not the central authority, not “the decider”, then how do things get done? The first thing to understand is that leadership is no longer a function of your title or where you sit in the organization. It’s a function of your capacity to get things done with other people—to animate and energize people, to unleash and amplify their impact.

In this presentation, Polly shows what this looks like in practice at bold and successful organizations that have transformed their leadership mindset and reaped the rewards. She offers fresh and practical approaches using vivid storytelling that will put you on a path to: “leader-proof” your organization with a new set of principles and practices (from peer review to term limits to coaching and curriculum); design a compelling architecture of contribution to engage the hearts, minds and guts of everybody across the organization; foment a productive uprising of organizational activists to lead change; and retrofit yourself. You’ll walk away understanding the most important things you need to do to rethink how leadership works in your organization.

The Mind of The Innovator

If you want to create the future of your organization, your industry, or your profession—there’s no better place to start than supercharging your own creative capacity. The good news is that creativity is a fundamentally human capacity. We are all born with the ability and the drive to tell stories, draw, paint, sing, make things, and change the world for the better. We are all, in fact, born with creative genius. The tougher news: as we advance through our achievement-oriented, data-driven institutions—where expertise, conformance, and standardization trumps creativity, originality, and imagination—we tend to grow out of our creativity rather than into it. As the visionary inventor Buckminster Fuller put it: “Most of us are born geniuses and just get de-geniused rapidly.”

How can you re-kindle, fortify, and grow that creative capacity so many of us have lost along the way? How do you make creativity less of a happy accident and more of a habit? Or, to borrow from Fuller, how do we re-genius ourselves?

That’s a question Polly has been studying and sharing with leaders at every level, in every kind of organization. In this captivating presentation, Polly will introduce the core creative mindsets and habits that set the greatest artists, inventors, and creators apart. She’ll share a wealth of strategies and portable practices to help you see more, see differently, find answers in the most unexpected places, experiment fearlessly, productively challenge the status quo, and tap into your powerful intuition. The goal: to embed the mindsets and practices of creativity so deeply in your DNA that they engage automatically and powerfully every time you approach a problem, tackle an assignment, try something new, or interact with the important people in your life. In other words, to help you turn creativity into a way of life.

Moderator, Interviewer, Emcee and Sense-Maker

Polly LaBarre has designed and hosted events, led panels, interviewed celebrated thinkers & doers on stage and on television, and earned accolades for her ability to connect the dots and draw out valuable insights during her interactions.  Whether hosting, interviewing one-on-one or moderating a panel discussion, Polly will help create a lively and informative forum for the issues you want to explore.