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Andrew C. Boynton: An interview by Bob Morris

Andy Boynton is Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. At Boston College, he works with terrific faculty and staff to build a business school that creates knowledge and shapes leaders for the future. Prior to joining Boston College, Boynton was a professor of strategy and leadership at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland and on the faculty of the business schools at the University of Virginia and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Andy is passionate about how expertise – perhaps the most important (but squandered) asset in most firms today — is deployed at all levels in organizations to help seize competitive advantage. His books and articles have frequently addressed issues of managing and leading expertise. His latest book, The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make them Happen (Jossey-Bass), is co-authored with Bill Fischer and William Bole. His previous books include Virtuoso Teams: Lessons from Teams That Changed Their Worlds (Financial Times-Prentice Hall) and Invented Here: Maximizing Your Organization’s Internal Growth and Profitability (Harvard Business School Press). 

He is a 1978 graduate of Boston College. Boynton earned his MBA and PhD at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He has served on the MBA faculty at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business and at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia. In addition to his publishing career and role as Dean of the Carroll School of Management, Boynton has over twenty years of experience speaking and designing powerful executive education sessions and seminars for firms around the world.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Andy.

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing The Idea Hunter, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?

Boynton: That’s a tough one. My life is very family-centric and I gravitate to the family members who all influenced me along the way. How’s this for an answer!? I’ll say -– St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church. I went to Boston College as an undergrad. I’m not even Catholic, but it was love at first site. I knew it was the right place for me when I was 18 (I’m a proud alum) and now that I’m back, it still is the right place. I think many of the Jesuit ideals that spill into daily life at Boston College influenced my whole person when I was young and still do so today. Without Ignatius, there would be no Jesuit order, and without a Jesuit order, there would be no Boston College! How’s that for circuitous? But without Boston College, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So Ignatius really is the right answer, for me.

Morris: Greatest impact on your professional development?

Boynton: My friend, colleague, and co-author, Bill Fischer. Of course, this isn’t something I want anyone (much less Bill) to know about! I’m certainly not the most influential person in his life and he drives me crazy at times, but here’s the story. When I was an MBA student, there was Bill Fischer. A Ph.D. student, there was Bill Fischer. When I got to Switzerland, soon after …there was Bill Fischer. Bill’s a guy who has more energy, is more global (he lived in China with his family in the 1980’s!), more curious, and more talented than anyone I know. He loves ideas. I love ideas. We were like combustible fuel in the classroom for over 15 years together —team designing and teaching terrific executive education and workshop experiences. What a team! That has now translated to two books we’ve written. We learned from each other all the time. At the end of executive workshops in Europe (they had no idea what we were showing!) we’d show a video of the Abbott and Costello “who’s on first?” routine in the room to everyone. The executives got it! That video was us. We just clicked in the classroom and with our idea development. I was constantly learning, and having fun. Of course all the great ideas we had were mine!

Morris: Was there a turning-point (if not an epiphany) earlier in your life that set you on the course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Boynton: When I was earning my MBA at UNC Chapel Hill, I got to know faculty members. We ran together. I’d hang out in their offices. We had beers on Friday afternoon at the end of a long week. I was just interested in the stuff they did. It fascinated me-the research, writing, reading, teaching. I met several that turned the wheel on my life. One was Dick Blackburn. A terrific organizational behavior professor at UNC Chapel Hill. Here’s what happened–I was working on my dissertation. I was sort of the PhD student “all star” in some ways. Dick took my first draft of my dissertation and ripped it to shreds sitting with me at a table. I saw a year of my life go up in flames. He did it publicly to boot. The room was full of students and professors. He wasn’t malicious but he was point blank with me. No holds barred. And, he was right. It stunk. That one event taught me much about standards and what’s good, and what’s not. It was sort of an electric shock in a positive way. The other professor was Bob Zmud, information systems. We were co-authors when I was a graduate student. Bob loved working with ideas and treated me like a colleague. We had a great time thinking and writing and did some pretty innovative research together. Collaborating with Bob gave me a real jump-start to my career. He let me soar and never lorded over me. I was lucky to have mentors like that.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to your career and, more specifically, to what you do now?

Boynton: Very valuable! At Boston College and UNC Chapel Hill I learned to think! (or at least think better!). I also got exposed to a wide range of disciplines, concepts, theories, and topics; from the world of management, and the arts and sciences. And both places were rigorous. I never sailed through and it was tough sledding. Fast forward: As a dean who leads a school. As an author. As someone who consults occasionally with leading firms. On all fronts, I see threads back to my formal education. I was very lucky to land in the places like BC and UNC Chapel Hill!

Morris: Here’s a two-part question. What is DeepDive™ and what differentiates it most significantly from other methodologies that share the same objective, helping executives harness the power of teams to significantly improve problem-solving speed, innovation and results?

Boynton: It is the ultimate in flexibility and simplicity, yet deceptively so. From a dozen executives in a planning session to hundreds of managers at an offsite or conference, DeepDive works to shape breakthrough ideas and actionable results that any organization needs and it does it through focused teamwork. DeepDive takes an important problem and first defines a “design challenge” which bounds the focus for the conversations and problem solving. The DeepDive helps organizations create solutions, prototypes fast — often in hours instead of weeks. The DeepDive is a combination of brainstorming, prototyping, testing and feedback merged into a carefully choreographed experience for managers.

With the DeepDive, a firm gets the most from the expertise and experience its talent has to offer and will derive the maximum ideas from the people — all focused like a laser beam on the specific design challenge. It just works great for a host of reasons. It can take half a day or a day. The process can be completed anywhere. No special technology is needed.

The DeepDive methodology creates a lively marketplace where the best ideas that address your business challenge will thrive while ideas of lesser value fall by the wayside. Teams will expand their ideas and solutions, and then narrow the window — resulting in a convergence of solutions and a few valuable prototypes that will shine at the end. This powerful idea solution shaping exercise will accelerate any organization towards a solution that gets it 90% of the way to its destination.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Bob Morris is an independent management consultant based in Dallas who specializes in accelerated executive development. He has interviewed more than 100 business thought leaders and reviewed more than 2,200 business books for Amazon. Each week, we will add to the Networlding Business Bookshelf abbreviated reviews in which he discusses a few of his personal favorites. You can contact him directly at [email protected].

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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