Organizational Culture and Innovation at PMI Global Congress

Last week, PMI held its Global Congress 2011 North America at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX.

Nearly 5,000 project managers and project manager hopefuls descended on a city already packed full of sports fans from across Texas and Missouri for the Dallas Cowboys/St. Louis Rams football game as well as for the 107th World Series, which pitted the Texas Rangers against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cowboys trampled the winless Rams 34-7 at Cowboys Stadium, and although the Rangers won games 4 and 5 in Rangers Ballpark, they finally struck out against the Cardinals this week in St. Louis.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is huge, and every road around the place is under some stage of construction, though I didn’t see one construction worker the entire time I was in town.

Despite the craziness, the Global Congress went off without a hitch. Last year in DC, the PMI keynote address featured none other than former US president Bill Clinton, so this year’s keynote speaker had some XL boots to fill.

PMI made an excellent choice in best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, who was up to the task. Though “Organizational Culture and Innovation” wasn’t the most compelling title, his keynote address proved to be the highlight of the Global Congress.

A former Washington Post reporter and current New Yorker magazine staff writer, Gladwell’s presentation was more casual story-telling geared to project managers than it was a serious address on the aforementioned “Organizational Culture and Innovation.”

For any organization to succeed over time, chances are their corporate culture has to change. Today’s corporate leaders don’t have the capacity to admit they aren’t doing it right, Gladwell said. Project managers who recognize that change needs to occur in a corporate culture can’t do so unless management allows it, he added.

Gladwell told how the world’s greatest technological successes came about, not by the first person to introduce the concept, but by the first person to get the idea right for the masses. He explained that many times innovators and inventers have great ideas and may even in some cases be the first to market. But they fail to succeed. That’s where the “tweakers” and “followers” enter the story as they are able to take these ideas, though the ideas are not their own, and make them better and more marketable.

Gladwell noted that Google was not the first search engine, and Facebook was not the first social media site.

He told the tale of all the great ideas that came out of Xerox PARC. Also known as Palo Alto Research Center, it was a division of Xerox packed with its brightest researchers and developers. Founded in 1970, Xerox PARC was the home to a number of ground-breaking technologies that are well-known today. Laser printing, ethernet, GUI (graphical user interface), bitmap graphics, the WYSIWYG text editor, and the PC itself all had origins at Xerox PARC.

The problem was Xerox was unable to take full advantage of any of these ground-breaking technologies, said Gladwell. He reiterated the point that you don’t have to re-invent or even invent the wheel when you can simply find an idea to tweak and make better. You just have to find the right existing idea.

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