Future Leaders Forum to Help Engineers Think More Creatively

Speakers from Coca-Cola, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Pinterest to share leadership advice

3 May 2016

The first of its kind, the IEEE Future Leaders Forum wants to break the rules when it comes to engineering conferences. It’s bringing together renowned innovators not just from the technology and business worlds but also from the worlds of music and science fiction. The goal is to teach young engineers that good ideas can come from unexpected places.

The forum, to be held in New Orleans from 28 to 30 July, includes workshops on leadership and innovation, as well as opportunities for attendees to network with accomplished innovators. Young engineers can hear speakers from LinkedIn, Microsoft, MIT Media Lab, and other groundbreakers share their experiences.

“Engineers are trained to be specialists, but the Future Leaders Forum will help participants also become creative thinkers,” says IEEE Senior Member Guru Madhavan, vice president of IEEE-USA Professional Activities and forum chair and curator. “Having a broad range of skills is critical for leadership, and the forum will instill that philosophy.”


The three-day event kicks off with remarks from IEEE-USA President Peter Eckstein, followed by IEEE President Barry Shoop who is expected to share lessons he learned as a leader facing uncertain conditions, mainly during his years as an officer in the U.S. Army. Shoop is now a professor of electrical engineering at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, and is head of its EE and computer science department.

“Shoop has a unique style of leadership,” Madhavan says. “Leadership emerges in different ways, often due to challenging situations. Shoop’s talk will add a powerful perspective to the conversation.”

Four “Ideas forums” at the conference are designed to help attendees “think about how to think about problems in new ways,” Madhavan says, adding, “The core idea behind these forums is to have speakers share their life experiences as they moved up in their careers—which is largely missing in technical conferences.”

One Ideas forum, called “Solve,” will include top managers from Coca-Cola and Intel Security Group (McAfee), who are expected to discuss creative ways they have overcome challenges, Madhaven says.

The “Empower” Ideas forum will have a panel of software developers—including Tracy Chou from Pinterest and Lisette Titre-Montgomery, a video game developer who has worked on Sims 4 and Transformers. The “Adapt” and “Lead” forums are slated to include speakers from Accenture, Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn, and Microsoft.

IEEE Fellow Vinton Cerf, chief Internet evangelist at Google, who is known as one of the fathers of the Internet, is scheduled to deliver a keynote presentation.


During the event’s five “leadership labs,” attendees can participate in problem-solving activities.

In the Imagination Lab, for example, Jonathan Chew and IEEE Member Leo Szeto, engineers at Walt Disney Imagineering, will discuss ways to overcome creativity blocks.

And IEEE Member Bruce Hecht of semiconductor manufacturer Analog Devices, who is vice chair of the conference, will discuss how to develop products from scratch on a shoestring budget in the Prototyping Lab.

And Deborah Finkelstein, who coaches speakers for the TEDx, the local community events that are aired on the Web, will run the Storytelling Lab, in which participants learn to improve their communication skills.


Attendees can discover what jazz and other types of music are able to teach about leadership. Musicologist Chris Washburne is slated to lead a performance that demonstrates how spontaneity and cross-cultural influences have resulted in some of the most celebrated music, and how that can be applied to engineering. And science fiction author Cory Doctorow plans to offer lessons on innovation.

“The goal of the Future Leaders Forum is to break down the barriers so we can collectively learn from one another, regardless of our specialties,” Madhavan says, adding that he also hopes attendees pick up practical lessons on becoming better leaders, particularly by learning to be adaptive.

To register, visit the Future Leaders Forum website.

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