By Alan Murray and David Meyer
September 25, 2018

Good morning.

I’m in Chicago, where Fortune’s newest conference, Brainstorm Reinvent, got underway yesterday. It’s dedicated to the notion that, as former Cisco CEO John Chambers told the group, all companies today are technology companies, and “if you aren’t disrupting you are being disrupted.”

My task for the afternoon was to interview Allstate CEO Tom Wilson, whose industry is viewed as snooze-inducing by most. But Wilson has catapulted his 87-year-old firm to the leading edges of technological change. Among other things, he is experimenting with car insurance that’s priced based on real-time data on how you are actually driving. He believes legacy companies like Allstate can beat out digital natives if they have proprietary data and loyal customers. The key is creating a culture of innovation—which was the focus of much of the day’s discussions.

Other tidbits from the conference:

—WW (formerly Weight Watchers) CEO Mindy Grossman said a common mistake made by new CEOs of troubled companies is to assume they have bad people and fire a lot of employees. “In most cases, it was the leadership that wasn’t good.”

—Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said “real success comes when you bring together (talented) people and create an environment where they can perform to their potential.” That requires alignment on goals. “When you are not aligned, it doesn’t matter how much energy everyone is exerting.”

—Frances Frei of HBS talked about celebrating failure and learning from it. “What we usually do when people fail is avoid making eye contact.” Instead, you should “give them all the Scooby snacks.”

—Microsoft’s Peggy Johnson described Satya Nadella’s reinvention of the company: “He said, ‘I need to change the mindset of this company…from a ‘know it all’ culture to a ‘learn it all’ culture.’”

—Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby said the coming age of AI “has to be built on trust. We need a new social contract.”

—Siemens U.S. CEO Barbara Humpton talked about the apprenticeship program her company is building in the U.S.: “It’s not white collar or blue collar. It’s that new collar, middle skills section of the economy.”

—General Stanley McChrystal closed out the day with a preview of his upcoming book on leadership, and ended with a pitch for a program of one-year universal national service—either in the military or in programs like Teach for America: “Citizenship carries rights and responsibilities. Where do you learn the responsibilities?…We need to create a new idea of leadership where everyone feels invested.”

You can read more from the conference here. Other news below.

Alan Murray


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