Create and believe in the future – interview with INSEAD Professor Nathan Furr

Now more than ever, leaders and board need to take charge and help create a new and better future.

Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity not a threat “– Steve Jobs

We were fortunate to discuss leaders & boards role for corporate renewal with INSEAD Professor Nathan Furr, even prior to the outbreak of CORONA-19 and the following pandemic crisis. And what truly strikes you when you listen to the podcast is how well he described the needed actions and leadership treats, that is in even more demand now, that will bring companies into a better future.

Transformation may be one of the hardest things leaders are called to do. By transformation, we mean seeing the possible, valuable futures for your organization and then successfully overcome the barriers to create that future”  explains Professor Nathan Furr

You find the interview in podcast form with professor Nathan Furr here.

Nathan has outlined an excellent and relevant process for leaders and board members to follow to ensure they lead the way, fully relevant for most companies going forward from the current crisis and the pandemic. The process entails

  • Envisioning the future
  • Break the bottlenecks 
  • Navigating the unknown 

Envisioning the future

To envision the future, leaders and boards needs to break out of the ordinary and IMAGINE what is possible. Take the time (fence the time for the board and leaders), ensure INSIGHTS (bring forward insight about the trends from technology, political, geographical and demographical changes) and ensure IMAGINATION (help the organization to explore a valuable future for both the organization and it’s stakeholders).

This need to be closely followed by creating a way to BELIEVE in the future (create narratives on how the future will look, and find ways to tell it in an engaging way). There are many ways and tools to do this, some are described in Nathan Furr’s book Leading Transformation, (Harvard Business School Press, 2018), based on years of research and client engagements, with some example shared in the podcast episode. Including such novel ways as working with Science Fiction!

Nathan also points out that the process is as relevant for individuals as for organizations.

A great question posed by Nathan to consider is

What stories motivates you to take action?”

Break the bottlenecks 

Breaking the bottlenecks is both an internal and an external process. In many ways it is closely related to culture and the way that processes has been fermented in organizations with little flexibility to change even when needed.

Considering revisiting decisions maps both formal and informal, but also look into the language and adapt closely to your company (“Are you an engineering company or a design company?). How have you aligned incentive, or even better, taking care and protect your change agents?

Navigating the unknown 

Navigating the unknown is about prototyping the future. You need to construct as best you can an artifact trail from the future and backwards, and try to map them out in as tangible actionable steps as possible. You also need metrics, so you know what outcome you are trying to get, and measure the progress. And to ensure that you have bias for action, and start acting today. Get going and make sure you allow for experimentation, not all insights and solutions will be there from the beginning.

Keep your eyes on 

Professor Nathan Furr believes there are many organizations to get inspired by.

He points out Amazon as one example, for the reason that innovation is about, people, process and philosophy. And that Amazon have ´managed to implement both impressive culture as well as governance structure to make innovation happen. Which means that they are not dependent on individual top leaders for either facilitating new ideas, nor for evaluating the ideas.

Nathan also points to Pepsi, who through their purpose and sustainability focus has managed to start their shift to healthy foods.

Roles of boards and leaders

We discussed specifically the roles of board members and leaders. And Nathans view is that the role of boards and leaders are very important, as they need to give the guidance and help the organizations to see further, get outside of their short term mindset and operational issues.

Nathan believes boards and leaders need to help push the organization by asking:

What else is possible? Where else can we go?”

Boards and leaders need to know that there are new toolkits for innovation, to innovate in a digital world is different, and that you can get more innovation with higher throughput of valuable  ideas to a lower cost.

Advice to Board Members and Leaders 

Nathan believes all leaders need to be a bit more of a Chief Experimenter. To help create the environment in the organization where you can discover and nurture new opportunities. And to do the same for yourself.

Where in your own environment can you discover and test new insights?”

Learn more

Read the books published by Professor Nathan Furr as

Innovation Capital (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019),

Leading Transformation, (Harvard Business School Press, 2018),

The Innovator’s Method (Harvard Business School Press, 2014) and

Nail It then Scale It: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation (NISI Institute, 2011).

You can also read related articles authored by Professor Furr as

Growing resilience in uncertain times (INSEAD Knowledge 06/20)

Looking to boost innovation – partner with a startup (HBR 05/20)

Innovation Capital the secret ingredient behind the worlds most innovative leaders(Forbes 09/18)

INSEAD Corporate Governance Center Executive Director Sonia Tatar shares insights on Corporate Governance Paradigm Shift.

Learn more from Digoshen

If you are a practicing board member that want to find a safe ground to discuss the boards guidance of corporate renewal, welcome to join the open

Digoshen International Live Exhanges and you can also apply to join the

Digoshen International board Exchange Membership,

You will meet several of Digoshen’s Impact Partners, all practicing board members, and several are thought leaders on the topic of innovation and boards.

At Digoshen we have ongoing research

  • exploring how boards are contributing to corporate renewal and innovation, together with KTH Professor Mats Magnusson and INSEAD professor Ludo van Der Heyden. Read the first article published “Innovation and Corporate Renewal also Disrupt Boards” with examples of transformative boards good practices
  • exploring how chairman practices differentiates per country and where they contribute more to corporate renewal with INSEAD professor Stanislav Schekshnia, in continuation of the research already published by Professor Schekshnia in the book Leading a Board: Chairs’ Practices Across Europe and the HBR article  How to be a good Chair

You are welcome to explore more of Digoshens regularly updated content as recommended podcasts and digital magazines on Innovation

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This blogpost was also shared at Digoshen Insight Blog

Posted in digital leader, digital transformation, innovation, INSEAD, insights, inspiration