Polly LaBarre


For nearly 20 years Polly LaBarre has worked to embolden and equip leaders in every realm of endeavor to make their organizations more resilient, innovative, inspiring, and accountable. As a founding member at Fast Company magazine, Polly helped to shape the remarkable success of a magazine that changed the way leaders at all levels think about working and winning.




“Fit for the Future: Creating Adaptable, Innovative, and Inspiring Organizations”

We live in a world where change is relentless, disruptive, even shocking. Success has never been more fleeting, and the ability to adapt more important. In this context, one of the most important questions leaders face is: Are you changing as fast as the world is changing? If your answer is “No, not really,” you’re not alone. The “modern organization” was designed over a century ago not to adapt but to preserve the status quo, not to invent the new but to clamp down on deviations from the norm, and not to unleash people but to control them. How to change the DNA of an entrenched organization? Polly LaBarre has been exploring that question for nearly two decades. A captivating storyteller, Polly offers fresh perspectives to cast the most fundamental challenges for leaders and organizations in new light. Audiences walk away with mind-flipping insights on how to evolve their management model—the most powerful source of competitive advantage today – and to build an organization that is truly fit for the future: endlessly adaptable, relentlessly inventive, and genuinely inspiring.

“Innovating Innovation: Making Innovation an Everyday, Everywhere Capability”

What company today doesn’t put innovation at the top of the agenda? Yet few have devoted the energy and resources it takes to build innovation into the values, processes, and practices that rule everyday activity and behavior. No wonder. That disconnect is a product of organizational DNA – productivity, predictability, and alignment are embedded in the marrow of our management systems. But it’s experimentation, risk-taking, and variety that produce game-changing innovation. Polly demonstrates how to make every management process a catalyst, rather than a wet blanket, for innovation. She shares how the world’s most innovative organizations and leaders are strengthening their innovation DNA—and shows audiences how to lay out the welcome mat for new (and even dissenting) ideas, upgrade the innovation skills of every person in the organization, build in the crucial space and slack needed for innovation, develop a robust set of innovation metrics and tools, leverage new social technologies in service of invention and bust bureaucracy and promote experimentation.

“Human Organizations for Human Beings”

For too long, the ruling ideology of too many organizations has been control—control people, control information, control deviations from the norm. That’s exactly the wrong design for generating the innovation and engagement required to thrive in the 21st century. Today, leaders must shift their focus from controlling their “resources” to mobilizing and unleashing the full imagination, passion, and initiative of every person inside the organization. Those fundamental human qualities are the engine of the creative economy. They cannot be commanded, only inspired. In this presentation, Polly LaBarre shares how to create an environment and systems for work that unleash more freedom, creativity, and contribution—how to create an organization that is as human as the people who work inside it. Polly takes audiences on a journey deep inside the “positive deviants”—the organizations and leaders riding the waves of change, mastering the competition, and surprising their customers and partners by busting bureaucracy, instituting radical autonomy, rethinking the work of leadership, promoting artistry and creativity, and cultivating trust and well-being.

“Building the Social Organization (From Web 2.0 to Management 2.0)”

In the coming years, the Web will have as profound an effect on management models as it has had on business models. The social Web is a seedbed of new organizational forms where coordination happens without centralization, all ideas compete on equal footing, contribution counts for more than credentials, mediocrity gets exposed, communities form spontaneously around shared interests, power comes from sharing rather than hoarding, and intrinsic rewards matter most of all. Polly LaBarre shows why organizations today must radically rethink how they mobilize people and organize resources to productive ends. She looks at progressive companies that are already using the new social technologies and undergirding principles of the Web to reinvent how they do strategy, allocate resources, make decisions, lead, engage, develop, and reward people. Learn how to expand the scope of employee freedom – to connect, to contribute, to create, to choose, and to challenge – open up the organization, trade hierarchy for meritocracy, cultivate community, build collaboration, and court serendipity. Polly shows new ways to build a truly social organization that doesn’t sacrifice scale, efficiency, and discipline.

“The End of Leadership as We Know It”

The era of the heroic, all-knowing, all-powerful leader is over. From the citizen activists of Arab Spring to the protestors of Occupy Wall Street to the emergence of Pirate Parties across Europe and the increasingly vocal disgruntled passengers of many an airline, the message is clear. The established way of leading, ruling, governing, and managing is not working anymore. But if the leader is not in charge, what is the work of leadership today? Polly LaBarre’s presentation builds on the key theme of the new era — 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. You’re a leader today because you have followers—not the other way around. This means that, at some point or another, everybody in the organization has a chance to exercise his or her leadership capability. Polly gives audiences practical ways to embed 21st century leadership capability across the organization by:

– Redefining what it means to win
– Articulating and guarding a distinct set of values
– Breaking down bureaucratic barriers and making connections
– Designing systems that maximize engagement and collaboration
– Practicing humility
– Cultivating curiosity
– Banning orthodoxy and welcoming mavericks, misfits, and heretics

“A Maverick Manual for Success”

The future belongs to the mavericks. If we want originality, invention, game-changing disruption—if we want our organizations to keep up with the times and stay ahead of the pack—we need to fill them with people who ignore the rules, flout convention, defy the gravity of the status quo, question constantly, and experiment fearlessly. In a world of non-stop competition and rampant commodification, mavericks are the people who invent the future and create the most value. In this talk, Polly LaBarre shows that you don’t have to be a born maverick—or a disruptive startup—to push your organization, your industry, or the world into the future. You just have to think (and act) differently. That’s easier said than done. Polly offers audiences a “maverick manual” for individual success and organizational revitalization and shows how to:

– Replace rules with values
– Hack the status quo
– Embrace and connect misfits and troublemakers
– Frequent the fringe, invite the subversives in
– Make a system-wide impact—even when you don’t own the system
– Practice “humbition” (humility combined with big ambition)

Moderator, Interviewer, Emcee and Sense-Maker

Polly LaBarre brings a world of experience to the stage when she engages panels and guests to explore the important issues facing business. For nearly two decades, she has designed and hosted events, led panels, interviewed celebrated thinkers and doers on stage and on television, and earned accolades for her ability to connect the dots and draw out deep insights during the course of an event. At Fast Company, Polly co-created and hosted Real Time, the magazine’s 600+-person signature events; developed and hosted the Women’s Leadership Summit; and created and moderated the televised Fast Talk series. She has moderated and hosted a number of high profile events, including: IBM’s Centennial event (keynoter, interviewer, and panel leader); HSM’s World Innovation Forum and World Business Forum (emcee and panel leader); SXSW panel leader; NYU Social Innovation panel leader; Wavelength events (interviewed and moderated panels with progressive CEOs and leaders from the social innovation world); PopTech (series of interviews with thought leaders and sense-making for live stream); CNN interviewer/moderator. Whether hosting, interviewing one-on-one or moderating a panel discussion, Polly LaBarre has a talent to create a lively, informative and memorable occasion.

Polly LaBarre is a bestselling author, speaker, and entrepreneur who has worked for nearly 20 years to embolden and equip leaders in every realm of endeavor to make their organizations more resilient, innovative, inspiring, and accountable. She is an inspiring and provocative voice on the big ideas and important questions that will shape the future of organizations, work, and success. In her speeches Polly showcases her brilliant storytelling ability and takes audiences on an inspiring journey – bringing to life the people, organizations and ideas on the fringe that are creating the future.

As a cofounder (with Gary Hamel) and editorial director of the MIX (Management Innovation eXchange), Polly is putting her passion for making the realm of human endeavor more productive, creative, and fulfilling to the test. The MIX is a pioneering open innovation project dedicated to reinventing management for the 21st century. The initiative, which aims to leverage the collaborative power of Web 2.0 to accelerate the development of Management 2.0, gathers celebrated thought leaders, in-the-trenches innovators, and maverick entrepreneurs from around the world to share breakthrough practices and advance important ideas about the future of organizations, work, and strategy. Supported by several leading institutions, including McKinsey & Co, Red Hat, and Gartner and partnered with Harvard Business Review and Fortune, the MIX hosts the world’s leading idea contest in the field of management (the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Innovation) and an annual gathering of the vanguard of management innovators, the MIX Mashup (which Polly designs and hosts).

She was a member of the original team of Fast Company magazine, where she was senior editor for the better part of a decade. More recently, Polly has been a business and innovation correspondent for CNN where she produced regular segments on big ideas and best practices from the world of business and beyond.

A sought-after speaker, moderator, and interviewer, Polly has delivered hundreds of keynote addresses around the world and her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Fast Company, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review online, Fortune.com, the McKinsey Quarterly, and The Huffington Post. Her widely syndicated blog, the Fresh MIX, convenes important thinkers, progressive practitioners and agenda-setting ideas about 21st-century organizations. Polly has presented her ideas in forums ranging from a regular commentary on PBS’s Nightly Business Report to CNBC’s “The Business of Innovation” series to frequent segments on ABC’s World News This Morning and Good Morning America.

Polly’s most recent research centers around social innovation and sustainable capitalism—what it means to win when good is the new measure of great. She serves on the board of advisors of TakingITGlobal, the leading online community for connecting and empowering young people to make a difference in the world. A graduate of Yale University, Polly lives in New Haven, CT.

Please call for a quote for Ms. LaBarre’s Keynote fee. 1-800-443-9979

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