Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 2014

Unleashing Josh Linkner

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

The entrepreneur and author of the new book The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation will present a General Session on “Unleashing Creativity” at the PCMA Education Conference in June. Recently he talked to Conveneabout the power of creative disruption, the coming of the three-part speaker experience, and what we can learn from the “arc of Detroit.”


When you think about the [meetings] industry as a whole, it's really in the midst of massive upheaval. There are new technologies, new formats, new ways that events are coming together, and so [at the Education Conference] I'm going to really focus the message for the audience on what can they be doing to be reinventing themselves, in their own careers and also in their organizations, for the future.

We live in a world that is changing at a rate like none other in history. And so, how do we adapt and in fact be proactive to embrace those changes, rather than waiting until things get bad and then having to recover from them? There has been so much that has been written about turnaround and how people are responding when things get bad. The problem is, if a leading company gets to the point where they have to do a turnaround, they only regain their leadership position 10 percent of the time. So what I want to really focus the audience on is unleashing their own gifts of innovation and creativity, and directing it toward reinventing themselves and their organization for the next chapter, rather than just clinging to the status quo.

You think about [almost] any industry, and there are incremental growth spurts in it and then there are transformational ones. People in the buggy industry, they're working hard. And this guy has got a new, little bit better buggy. And someone else has a little better buggy. And then all of the sudden, the car comes along and completely disrupts the industry. That, to me, is what creative disruption is all about — serving a particular need in a radically different way. The idea of creative disruption is the concept of always being in a state of constantly challenging conventional wisdom, and constantly reimagining what can be instead of just focusing so much on what is or what was.

We live in a world you might want to say is a disrupt-or-be-disrupted world. One of the myths is that when people are successful or companies are successful, they've cracked the code and it's a permanent condition. But you can look at the turnover of how long an average company stays in the S&P 500, and it's not that long compared to how it used to be. What is happening now is that success happens in a moment in time, within the context of a whole bunch of external circumstances that are constantly changing. So the minute that any of us reach a point of success, it's our responsibility to be thinking about, how can we disrupt ourselves? How can we proactively be putting ourselves of today out of business?

There's one conference that I recently participated in. It was called Open Code, where instead of everyone coming to the conference in one location, people went from venue to venue, and they were exploring companies in their own native environment. So they turned the idea of a conference upside-down.

We're seeing a lot more stuff with virtual conferences. And with technologies, you've been getting into things like holograms and artificial experiences — sort of augmented-reality experiences. I think that the idea of conferences is really going to change. It doesn't mean that it's going to go away completely. I believe there will still be important events. But the way that you experience those events may be very different. You maybe seeing a speaker, and the experience of that speaker is maybe a three-part experience — one part is a live experience, and another part might be an augmented layer that is technology-driven. So while you're watching the speaker, you might look through a device — maybe it's your laptop, phone, or tablet — and you get expanded content and other information. And there maybe an after-event experience as well.

It's not a matter of if you embrace those changes; it's a matter of when. The people that embrace those changes early become the market leaders and create extraordinary wealth. The ones that play catch-up like everybody else — those changes happen, but it becomes more of a zero-sum game. The message that I will impart on the audience is, if you're going to have to make those changes anyway, you really stand a very huge advantage by making them sooner rather than later.

My first book, Disciplined Dreaming, was all about a systematic approach to creativity for organizations and people. And to a degree, [The Road to Reinvention] is a follow-up book. What happened was, I was getting so frustrated with companies doing a turnaround. And so often, these are easily avoidable mistakes that cause them to be in such a world of hurt. So I thought if we could provide a systematic approach to reinventing someone in a position of strength earlier on, proactively, it can help people and organizations.

The other thing that's interesting is that I'm from Detroit. I cover Detroit a lot in the book, because the arc of Detroit is very interesting. For a couple hundred years, Detroit was a poster child for reinvention. It went from a fur-trading industry and then we became the pioneer of the American manufacturing industry. When we were doing that, when we were very innovative and creative, our city prospered. We were known as the Paris of the Midwest. And then what happened is, we stopped doing all that. We became stuck in our ways. We had a sense of entitlement, and bureaucracy ensued. And then our city just collapsed. That's because we got so far away from innovating.

But now what's happening is, once again we've reconnected those entrepreneurial roots, and our city is in the midst of this incredible, positive transformation. So I cover that arc of Detroit, both the good and the bad, throughout the book. Because I think it's very relevant for all of the readers that when you're in that groove of reinventing, positive things happen. And when you stagnate, tragedy can really strike.

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