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Polly LaBarre    

Founding Member of the Fast Company Magazine, Co-Founder of the Management Lab & Co-Author of "Mavericks at Work"

All change goes against the rules. Polly LaBarre arms leaders with a Maverick Manual to hack the status quo and ramp up originality, invention and game-changing disruption. The true work of leadership, she says, is inspiring, unleashing, and amplifying human creativity, passion, and resourcefulness - creating a cultural DNA where the response to change happens almost as fast as change itself. Co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win and founding team member of Fast Company magazine, Polly is co-founder of Management Lab, the think-and-do tank where she consults with top global brands. Polly is also a top speaker who leaves audiences with actionable lessons from organizations and leaders who are transforming their cultures and industries by breaking the rules and harnessing the human element. She inspires people to engage and reimagine the challenges they face, become fearless experimenters, and rethink the work of leadership.

Along with her partners at the Management Lab (MLab), Polly has developed a pioneering method and platform for changing how large organizations change. They run large-scale, real-world experiments in “hacking management” to build the deep organizational capabilities crucial for thriving in a creative, disruptive world: adaptability, innovation, and inspiration.

In addition to running global “management hackathons,” MLab has also built the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), the world’s largest community of management innovators, created a clearinghouse of management hacks and innovation stories, and launched a series of events.

Polly has traveled the world to work with the courageous contrarians, management mavericks, and pioneering progressives who are inventing the future of organizations and business. While these are organizations of every stripe that hail from every realm of endeavor, they do share a common credo: that the most winning organizations are animated by an utterly distinctive and deeply-felt point of view – a set of ideas with the power to fundamentally reshape the sense of what’s possible; that work is personal, values rule, freedom is a bigger game than power, and nobody wins unless everybody wins.

Early in her career, as part of the founding team of Fast Company magazine, Polly played a central role in the remarkable success of a magazine that recast the conventional wisdom on power, competition, work, leadership, innovation, and change. The magazine introduced the world to a new universe of organizations and leaders whose management models were as distinctive as their business models were disruptive.

Polly is the co-author of the award-winning book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, which was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller. Published in over 20 territories, Mavericks was a “Business Book of the Year” for the Financial Times, the Miami Herald, and The Economist, which called the book "a pivotal work in the tradition of In Search of Excellence and Good to Great." CNN, CNBC, and GMA all created series around the book.

Polly’s 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 she has served as business and innovation correspondent for CNN.

Speech Topics


No One Is as Smart as Everyone

In this eye-opening keynote, Polly LaBarre connects the dots between the spread of open-source technology, the rising tide of distributed creativity, and a new, more open, more collective approach to innovation. She introduces the audience to a set of compelling initiatives already underway in a variety of industries and business settings. The real bottom line: you have to generate the best ideas from the most people, and turn those ideas into decisive action.

Strategy as Advocacy & the Next Business Agenda

The only sustainable form of leadership is thought leadership: What ideas do we stand for? And how do those ideas challenge the accepted ways of doing things in our business? Originality is the acid test of strategy. In this inspiring presentation, keynote speaker Polly Labarre offers an inside look at a new generation of leaders, a special breed of companies, and an exciting mix of disruptive experiments that represent a remarkable force for growth.

Unleashing the Best

Why does the human side of business remain the last item on most leaders' list of strategic priorities? It's one of the great mysteries - and painful hypocrisies - of life inside most organizations. To create a truly distinctive organization, you need to design a distinctive approach to the workplace. In this spirited talk, business speaker Polly LaBarre describes how the most distinctive (and winning) organizations not only cast their companies with star performers, but create robust systems for unleashing the best from each individual and maximizing collaboration.

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.

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