Last week’s Council on Innovation (COI) event was an opportunity for our students, faculty, and esteemed industry leaders to come together, share ideas, and collaborate on critical issues related to the future of leadership. This year’s event welcomed executives representing Fortune 50 companies, including heavyweights like Coca-Cola and Mercedes Benz, as well as leading tech companies, consultants, organizational psychologists, and non-profit leaders. The day commenced in 3North in our Upper School building with introductions from 19 leaders across various sectors, setting the stage for insightful discussions and collaborative working sessions.

The Genesis of the COI

Mount Vernon Ventures, the School’s transformational R&D unit, developed the concept of the event several years ago. Now in its seventh year, the event consistently welcomes between 20-25 top external executives, inviting them to collaborate with Mount Vernon School faculty, staff, and students. These industry experts bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, aligning the COI event with the school’s strategic plan. The aim is to nurture growth and scale our educational endeavors as a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact.

At Mount Vernon, diversity of thought and outside perspectives is an essential component of the way we learn and evolve as an organization. By connecting our students with esteemed professionals, we create valuable pathways for real world insight and opportunities for collaboration, while giving students a voice in shaping our strategic path forward. One notable example from a past COI event involved a UPS executive discussing the concept of “reverse mentoring,” which evolved into our students’ use of design briefs which has become an integral part of our Innovation Diploma (ID) program.

2023 Agenda

Dr. Brett Jacobsen, CEO of The Mount Vernon School Organization, kicked off the day by providing insight into Mount Vernon’s growth strategy over the past decade. Using McKinsey’s article The State of Organizations as a foundation, Andy Walker, Managing Director and Head of Talent at WTW, a parent and board member, facilitated an interactive discussion among the panelists. As part of the introduction, Andy shared a relevant statistic – out of the 7.8 billion people on the planet, 3.3 billion work in an organization.

Various themes emerged around the importance of organizations to effectively manage human capital and the challenges in doing so, among them:

  • The impacts of hybrid work on an organization
  • Managing a multi-generational workforce (Boomers, GenX, Millennials, and Gen Z)
  • Employee emotional health and well-being.

“More than once, one of the executives turned to our Innovation Diploma students mid-conversation to ask their perspective – that blew my mind. With all of their collective experience and pedigree, these well-respected leaders needed and wanted the perspective of our students, the last of Gen Z.” Matthew Neylon, The Mount Vernon School Chief of Talent and Experience

Students felt like valued participants and echoed the sentiment Mr. Neylon shared.

“It felt, not only like we were part of the Council on Innovation but like we saw eye-to-eye with all of these executives and they were interested in OUR ideas.” Locke Dimmock, iD Grade 12

One of the most exciting aspects of the event was the collaboration between the Council members and our Upper School students. Together, they worked on a Design Thinking Flashlab, aiming to design the future of leadership. Brad Droke, Upper School Dean of Students and former Director of Innovation Diploma explained how students develop intergenerational social capital and problem-solving skills while executing design briefs for companies and organizations. This was followed by students brainstorming potential futures and crafting narratives for what future leadership might look like.

The idea of Social Capital is central to Target 2: Relationships and Networks, in the School’s new strategic plan, The Impact Ready Project. In small groups, both students and executives brainstormed and prototyped their ideas. Both the process and the outcome delivered a significant impact on the students and the executives.

“Most of the time I’ve been to the C-suites it has been to present, but it was fun to get to hear these leaders and executives speak and share ideas with us as equals.” Stephan Yazvinski, iD Grade 12

“I learned that executives at the top are not as intimidating as I thought.” Herris Fentress, iD Grade 11

Towards the end of the event, participants began sketching and defining our current leadership paradigm, envisioning what it could become in the future. The group shared insights and captured trends using an empathy map from the Compass Design Thinking Field Guide. Industry executives were truly inspired by our students’ ability to present with clarity and solve problems collaboratively.

Head of School, Kristy Lundstrom, closed the event by emphasizing the significance of investing in our students and schools. She encouraged the participants to integrate the ideas and prototypes generated during the event into their work environments.

With the exchange of ideas, the synergy of thought, and the commitment to innovation, the Council on Innovation event has proven its significance as a driving force in the ongoing dialogue about the evolving landscape of leadership. The future is in the hands of those who dare to envision it, and COI 2023 has set the stage for a brighter, more innovative, and inclusive future of leadership.

For more in-depth insights on the Future of Leadership, be on the lookout for Mount Vernon Ventures’ next quarterly Transformation R&D report, coming out January 2024.