For more than 35 years Innovation Associates has been helping people in businesses create their highest aspirations. The firm was founded by Charles Kiefer in 1976 to help large, technology-based companies improve their innovation processes. The firm’s initial clients were Exxon, Union Carbide, Digital Equipment and other Route 128 high-technology firms. The company’s work led to dramatic improvements in both the level of innovation and in reducing innovation cycle times.

High Performing Teams and Shared Vision

In 1978, the company determined that the key factor in innovation success is the development of high-performing teams. Joel Yanowitz joined the company to help develop Visionary Planning, a three-day educational program that enabled teams to achieve high performing states. It was in this course that the concept of Shared Vision was first introduced. In 1979 Charlie Kiefer and Peter Senge received the George and Cynthia Mitchell Prize for a paper that included the first report of the use of shared vision in business organizations.

Leadership

Visionary Planning was a great success but the company discovered that high performance could be amplified and sustained through great leadership. As a result, in 1979 Charlie Kiefer conceived of a new approach to leadership training. He collaborated with Senge and Robert Fritz to develop Leadership and Mastery (L&M), a three-day, experiential course that grounded leadership as a state of being based on personal vision and understanding systemic structure. L&M met with great market acceptance and over the next 20 years, by word of mouth alone, “graduated” over 8000 alumni from publicly offered versions plus thousands from in-house versions that were offered by companies such as Procter & Gamble, British Petroleum, Coca Cola, Kraft/General Foods, Norwest Bank (now Wells Fargo), WW Grainger, and many others.

Organizational Learning

Throughout the 1980s, the firm pioneered the body of concepts and methods which Kiefer and Senge initially termed Metanoic Organizations in their Mitchell Prize winning paper.  These methods enable large organizations, across all industries, to innovate and change from being driven by circumstance and managed through compliance, to being characterized by aspiration and deep commitment.

In 1990 Senge published his landmark management best seller The Fifth Discipline; The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization based, in part, on the work of IA staff, and on which, IA’s consulting and training work continued through the 1990s. Over this period Senge and others published a number of successful sequels to The Fifth Discipline and, in addition to Senge, Fritz and Kiefer, the firm attracted many other thought leaders in organization development, most notably Richard Beckhard, Dave Berlew and Roger Harrison.

Going Global

By 1995, IA had a staff of 60 people and offices in the United States and Canada. It was then acquired by the worldwide consulting firm, Arthur D. Little, Inc. and after a couple very successful years operating as a relatively independent subsidiary, it was folded in to ADL’s Global Management Consulting activities. In 2002 Kiefer retrieved the Innovation Associates name from ADL. IA’s classic Learning Organization work continues under the leadership of Michael Goodman and The Society for Organizational Learning, founded by Senge.

Entrepreneurial Thought and Action

In 2008 Len Schlesinger, a Leadership & Mastery alumnus, became the 12th president of Babson College. He and Kiefer conceived of a course and a book based on IA’s work in Organizational Learning and Kiefer’s work in Insight Thinking and the emerging and revolutionary academic research of Saras Sarasvathy of The University of Virginia and other Babson faculty. You can find out about this work at Just-Start.com

If you are one of the ten thousand alumni of Innovation Associates courses before 2009 and you want to get back in touch, please contact us.