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Words from Charlie - Foreword to the 2016 Roundtable on Institutional Innovation Report

For nine years, the annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on Institutional Innovation convened leaders from diverse organizational perspectives to discuss challenges that organizations face as they operate in new business environments characterized by continual change, rapid iterations, global competition and a reliance on digital technologies. The most recent iteration of the annual Roundtable, which took place in Aspen, Colorado in summer 2016, built on the dialogue from the 2015 meeting on exponential business models. This report, written by rapporteur Richard Adler, takes an in-depth look at how organizational change can occur. In addition to focusing on the corporate perspective, it also explores how governmental and non-profit organizations navigate change.

To offer some context, this report delves into the fundamental mechanics of change, using the fascinating example of how General Stanley McChrystal transformed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to fight more effectively against a network of largely independent bands of insurgents that no longer fought by conventional methods. The account of how he implemented an entirely new operations strategy is very impactful, and elements of his story, such as increasing transparency and empowering individual units, have applicability across all industries.

Along with McChrystal’s unique military illustration, this report also features accounts of how large organizations are overcoming hurdles, innovating at the edge and reinventing their leadership and business strategies. National Geographic, Art Basel, T-Mobile, Target and GE all have powerful stories of change that offer valuable lessons for others contending with new strategic pressures.

I encourage you to seek out the earlier volume that precedes this report titled, “Making the Invisible Visible: Redesigning Business Processes for Exponential Organizations,” and to read the two reports in succession. The reports can be found on the Aspen Institute website, Together, these volumes are a vital tool for designing organizations for exponential growth and success.

On behalf of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, I want to thank the Deloitte Center for the Edge, specifically John Hagel and John Seely Brown, for sponsoring this Roundtable. Without their innovative thinking and leadership, this exchange of ideas would not be possible. I also want to acknowledge the work of Ann Pendleton-Jullian and Stanley McChrystal, who have worked apart from this roundtable to document the innovations that General McChrystal brought to the JSOC, and from whose work this report has greatly benefitted.

Additionally, the Program extends its gratitude to Richard Adler, our rapporteur, for capturing the very nuanced discussions and once again translating them into an engaging, thoughtful report as he has done for every iteration of this roundtable series. As is typical for our roundtables, this report is the rapporteur’s distillation of the dialogue. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of each participant at the meeting, or their employers.

Thanks, also, to Sarah Eppehimer, Project Director, and Tricia Kelly, Managing Director of the Communications and Society Program, for their work on the conference and bringing this report to fruition. Finally, none of the content in this report would be possible without the insights and expertise of the Roundtable participants. We thank them for their valuable contributions to this project.

Charles M. Firestone
Executive Director
Communications & Society Program
The Aspen Institute
June 2017

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