There are a bunch of things in life that money can’t buy such as friendship, health and happiness. They are all achievable, but not without thoughtful and sustained investment. I would put achieving a sense of genuine community with a group of people into a similar basket. Whenever a group comes together, no matter how aligned their interests are, it takes investment of time, soul and energy to arrive at that place that we would all recognise as a community.
In early December I was involved in an event that felt like a turning point for a community that I have been part of this year. Most of us met for the first time at the Corporate Innovation in Action event in March, where we immersed ourselves in two days of presentations and workshops on the topic that is central to our professional lives. Many people came out of the event in March saying they felt like they had “met their tribe”, but the question was how we could turn this one off event into something more sustained and with more depth - to create a community for innovation professionals?
My colleague Fred Etiemble and I have been grappling with this question of how to foster an Australian innovation community for several years. In 2019 we convened a traditional “pizza and beer” style Meetup in Melbourne. It attracted a decent number of people, and some interesting conversations were had. However what we found was that the people who attended had a highly varied level and type of experience - from seasoned professionals through to curious university graduates. This prevented us from getting beyond the superficial themes and into the meaty topics of exploring the real challenges that people were grappling with in their work.
There were other attempts, such as in 2021 we organised a pub dinner with a selected group of corporate innovators. The discussions were deeper, but the pub didn’t feel like it was going to be the right ongoing setting for the interactions we had been seeking to foster.
Now, after years of trying to foster this community, it feels like the pieces have finally come together.
In the six months since the in person Corporate Innovation in Action event, a consistent group of around 15 people have been coming together for online gatherings once a month. We have used the “Lean Coffee” format to facilitate these sessions, whereby at the beginning of the session everyone proposes topics for discussion, and then the group votes on those which are of most interest, and then we spend 5 -10 minutes deep diving on the top few.
There are several subtle characteristics of the Lean Coffee format that I feel have really helped us build community:
Shared responsibility While there is some light process facilitation provided on the calls, there is no one standing out in front delivering presentations or asserting thought leadership. Rather, everyone has equal opportunity and responsibility to bring topics to the table every month, and to contribute to the dialogue.
Everyone speaks (if they want to) My favourite part of these sessions is just before the voting happens, where every person gives a brief description of the item they propose. There is something special and different about having people speak to the items that they raised, rather than just letting everybody passively read the list. There is a visceral sense of engagement and personal investment, as each individual's voice adds depth and context to their ideas, transforming abstract concepts into tangible, shared experiences.
Enables pattern recognition It is always interesting to see what topics are presented each month, and those which get voted for deeper discussion. We often find that similar topics are raised each month. Rather than viewing this as repetitive, I see It as a genuine pulsecheck to hear what is on people’s minds, in reflection of the market conditions in Australia and the state of corporate innovation here. It's a nice antidote to our algorithmically driven world where it is hard to understand or trust why certain topics cross our radar. These are real people, who we have come to know and trust, sharing topics which are actually present in their work and are on their mind.
For a peek into the topics that were covered this year, check out these posts from community member Jodie Granger here and here that provide great summaries, and my article here that does a deeper dive on portfolio thinking. And Part One of this series provides an overview of the topics we delved into when we came together in person, where we had a depth of conversation that was only possible because of the high degree of shared experience and trust amongst the group.
I am looking forward to seeing how this community of corporate innovators evolves and grows in 2024 as we continue our monthly calls, and hopefully some in person get togethers. We already have plans to share our insights and to build up some uniquely Australian shared resources, and there may be another event on the horizon where we can come together to explore business ecosystems.
Please reach out to me if you feel like you would have something to gain and to offer by being part of this community.
This post is Part Two of a two part series. Part One outlines the insights and key themes that emerged from the first in person meeting of this community in December 2023.