Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

Oxford Women, and some men, discuss Innovation and Entrepreneurship

on Sunday, January 20, 2013
Dhaval Patel, myself, Mariya Sklyar and Lauren Weiniger flank the pennant of Balliol, my Alma Mater

It was an honor to be the launch speaker at the NY chapter of the Oxford Women's Leadership Community, under the able leadership of Mariya Sklyar and Lauren Weiniger.  

It was a diverse group, including senior pharma executives, young entrepreneurs, bankers - women and men. I was reminded that I hadn't been in the Oxford University  North America Offices in a while when I saw the tasteful offices, with the room we were in having a great view of the Empire State Building. 

A kind introduction from Dhaval Patel (VP of the NY chapter of the Oxford Business Alumni organization) set the frame of the discussion as a celebration of innovation and leadership. 

I'd gathered, during drinks, that attendees had a multiplicity of interests, and so kicked us off with a survey of the group on key questions on their minds. I'm don't capture them all here, but in essence, they spanned a spectrum as diverse as the group:

  • How does one drive innovation within a large organization? Are skunkworks still the way to go to drive results?
  • To what extend is a rich career the result of luck?
  • How do you behave in innovation-oriented ways when surrounded by those more focused on the status quo?

A review of the serendipity that has molded my life and career helped me illustrate that to some extent, we all are surrounded by those moments of sheer luck. However, it's the choices we make and chances we choose to take that drive our paths. 

Starting from the absolute serendipity of birth, with parents who opened up the encyclopedia to the Cecil Rhodes page which set off the domino effect that led to my becoming India's 100th Rhodes scholar, to having made a great friend at Oxford who passed my resume on to his friend who would go on to be my first boss... these were all steps that evolved a fun and exciting life and career for me. 

However, there is an element I can and do take ownership of - the moxie I have shown off and on as I take that leap, not ignore the article but sit down to research an imperial adventurer, chose to take a bike ride with a new student to watch an artsy movie, make a trip over to NYC to meet someone I didn't know, but turned out to be a hugely transformative thinker. 

That action-orientation has been an abiding influence in my life - and without it, no amount of serendipity would have helped!

The twists and turns of my career have helped me meet some inspiring people. Each time, understanding their priorities, and their passions and becoming part of their solutions helped open whole new avenues for me, too. 

My experience in strategy, technology and innovation were driven by my being able to meet and work with some great people and evolving plans together. So in the case of the attendee who wondered how one makes it to the next step, my guidance was based on my luck in meeting the folks on the innovation team, being able to be part of their weekly meetings, and beginning to contribute to that team helped make my transition to the team. 

It's extraordinary how some of the best organizations will welcome and evolve new spaces for those who will reach out and engage. I was lucky that way, and I wish that luck on others as well.

And finally, while I've watched skunkworks with interest, despite all the effort put into them, I believe they continue to leak innovation. I believe that innovation is best delivered by teams that are well integrated into the broader organization - and ideally, those organizations are oriented to innovation through inclusive behaviors and processes. Skunkworks struggle, peel off, and whir along as little spark plugs, rather than the great engines they could be. 

What have been your experiences with driving innovation in your organizations? Share your thoughts here.


Post a Comment