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Words From Charlie - Foreword to the Roundtable on Institutional Innovation 2013 Report

The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Institutional Innovation is a series of annual roundtables that address how organizations can strategize for success in the constantly changing digital environment. Each year, 20 to 25 diverse business and academic leaders bring their vast knowledge and experiences to arrive at new insights on the particular focus of that year’s session.

Against the backdrop of the many changes wrought by the digital disruption, “Fragmentation and Concentration in the New Digital Environment” maps the effects of the digital revolution on the business environment, the nature of work and the role of leadership in navigating the organization through the constantly changing landscape.

From John Hagel’s dissection of the functions of a firm (infrastructure management, product innovation, customer service management or CSM) to Thomas Malone’s “design, make, sell,” participants explored how to account for the twin forces of concentration and fragmentation. Hagel sees the first and third functions (infrastructure and CSM) as concentrating due to economies of scale and scope, while the product innovation function appears to be fragmenting. Similarly, but in different terms, Malone sees infrastructures concentrating while delivery of services are fragmenting.

Using example after example, author Richard Adler explores each of these concepts. He then recounts presentations on how two large companies, Salesforce and Google, have tried to stay nimble and innovative—growing rapidly while staying true to their corporate cultures and values. These stories and concepts all move towards a description of the emerging collaborative economy of platforms and new ecosystems. In this new world, trust and reputation are indispensable ingredients. Leaders understand this and evangelize these and other core values to their organizations to guide them through the turbulent digital waters.

I would like to thank the Deloitte Center for the Edge for being our senior sponsor for the Roundtable and in particular, John Hagel and John Seely Brown for their leadership, suggestions and assistance. In addition, we thank Richard Adler for weaving the Roundtable’s dialogue, background readings and his own independent research into a concise and coherent report.

Finally, I thank Kiahna Cassell, Senior Project Manager, who managed the Roundtable throughout, and Tricia Kelly, Assistant Director of the Communications and Society Program, for her review and help in producing this report.

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