Innovating from the Boardroom

Innovating from the Boardroom – Cultivating a future quotient

Amplify talk by Lucy Marcus

This is my second blog post from the AMP Amplify festival. The speaker for this session is Lucy Marcus. Some background:

Lucy is the founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting which helps build sustainable success for funding organisations. She is also Professor of Leadership and Governance at IE Business School focusing on corporate governance, ethics and leadership. Lucy writes an opinion column and hosts a TV show, “In the Boardroom with Lucy Marcus” for Reuters on the intersection of boards and leadership.

She is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek, Huffington Post, CSRWire, and other global publications.

Lucy starts the talk with a good description on the traditional view of the boardroom is a bit like the King Arthur and the round table. She says that this is a good aspirational view, but it is not always the case.

To future proof the boardroom consideration needs to be given to the types of discussions that are had, and how we ground those discussions.

Tickbox vs Stargazing

Boardroom discussions are usually in two camps, the tickbox stuff – day to day operational concerns and then there is stargazing – looking 5, 10 years or more into the future. All boards do some mix of this, and getting the balance is really important.

Future Proofing the Organisation

Lucy puts forward five areas that board members need to consider to future proof the organisation

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Technological
  3. International
  4. Communication
  5. Balancing Continuity and Change


All businesses have a lot of old stuff, old buildings, old equipment, etc. Lucy says it is important to a balance between corporate social responsibility and being green.


“Technology is at the heart of a lot of the things we do”

Boards need to be up to speed on what is going on. At the board level there might be things that they’re not aware of, especially if they have been board members for a long time. Things like social media, cloud, and big data. Board members need to know what they are doing in these areas.


Regardless of where you work, whether your company is international or not, no company can be completely internally focused. Globalisation is having a large impact on the future generations, how they think and who their friends are. Lucy says that even if your business is local, you need to understand what is going on in the outside world. She recommends that international experience is important at board and executive level.


Effective and dynamic communication is critical. You need to ask hard questions. She says it is a bit like being a parent. Setting the bar that little bit higher than peoples comfort level. Love employees enough to push them a little bit harder. Communicating this effectively is very important.

Most board members don’t really understand how social media is changing the worlds communication. Lucy tells a funny story of a manager searching for information on his company in twitter, only to be very shocked at what he found. She says that at a minimum companies need a google alert on their company. They need to have their finger on the pulse on what is going on.

Lucy cautions around ‘group think’ at the board room table, or individual members with personal agenda’s.

Balancing Continuity and Change

There is a role on the boardroom table for someone who is acting as the ‘keeper of the flame’ someone who thinks about where the company has come from, what the company is about, and where the company is going. Innovation is fantastic but needs to be driven by a real need. It’s about having a balance between being driven by the old stuff and the new stuff.

Innovating from the Boardroom

So how do we achieve this? Lucy says that board rooms need diversity, and by this she doesn’t just mean gender balance – demographic diversity – age, experience, culture, skill set and so on.

Lucy finishes the talk saying that board members need to work harder, they need to push those at the table work harder, and that all are adding to the discussion. She also says that board members need to think a bit differently to the traditional view. Don’t stay for ever, contribute and build stronger organisations, and then move on. Staying on and on, could come at a cost to the organisation. Contribute, leave it better than it was when you arrived and then move on to contribute in another organisation.

In Q & A time, Lucy mentions that the board should not be locked up, in some ivory tower, they should be able to walk around the business, and really know it. Don’t keep board members in a box. Make them more accessible. She also mentions that it is really important to not have board members who are ‘over boarding’ where they are on too many other boards.

Effective board members need to synthesise data very quickly. It’s hard work being a board member, there’s no short cut. There is no skipping around hard work.

A great question from the audience – How do you get on a board if you are young, but have not climbed the ranks yet? If you are interested in being on boards, you get on community boards, get some ground level experience in being on a board. Practice it, and keep aspiring forward. Lucy says that the way she learnt about board room and the people on it was by watching people that she respected and learning from them. Look for role models, and observe. Look for opportunities for mentorship.

Another cool question, from the internet – what does Lucy think about the idea of a crowdsourced board? She laughs and makes a reference to democracy. If there are so many voices it’s hard to hear them all, so someone would need to control the crowd. This model may make it actually easier to be a dictator.


Thanks Lucy, a great talk on Innovating from the Boardroom and future proofing organisations. Personally it was very interesting to hear her talk briefly on the human side of being a board member, how hard it is, but also, how important it is. It was also great to see AMP board members (past and present) in the audience.

Another great Amplify session. Thoughts, comments? Hit me up in the comments below..

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