Innovation Junkies Podcast

1.07 BONUS: Making Innovation a Core Activity

The Jeffs talk about sharing the keys to making innovation a core activity. Can’t-miss topics include: the role of celebrating & storytelling in an organization, why recognizing failure matters as you innovate, & how to adopt a framework or methology for innovation.

Jeff Standridge: This is Jeff Standridge and this is the Innovation Junkies podcast. If you want to drastically improve your business, or improve in growth strategy to generate sustained results for your organization, you’ve come to the right place. Over the next half hour we’re going to be sharing specific strategies, tactics, and tips that you can use to grow your business, no matter the size, no matter the industry, no matter the geography. We’ll be talking about everything from sales and marketing to organizational, operational and leadership effectiveness, to innovation, digital transformation, everything in between.

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Jeff Standridge: Hey guys. This is the Innovation Junkies Podcast. I’m Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine: And I’m Jeff Amerine.

Jeff Standridge: And we’re the Jeffs. Welcome to today’s bonus episode, where we’re going to be talking about how to make innovation a core part of the DNA of your organization.

Jeff Amerine: We got to work on that intro, Jeff. We sound not nearly as cool as Wayne and Garth on Wayne’s World.

Jeff Standridge: Exactly.

[crosstalk 00:01:43]

Jeff Amerine: Exactly. We’re going to have to work on that.

Jeff Standridge: Yeah, we don’t sound near as cool as we think we do, huh?

Jeff Amerine: Exactly. [crosstalk 00:01:52].

Jeff Standridge: Let’s talk about.

Jeff Amerine: Let’s talk about it.

Jeff Standridge: How do we help organizations and how, how can leaders that are listening to us today, make innovation a core part of the DNA of their companies, their organizations.

Jeff Amerine: I think celebrating and storytelling is a big part of that. So why is that? Historically, in many organizations, innovation was viewed to be the purview of information technology as an example, or engineering. And like it or not the propensity of people in those organizations, they may tend to be more introverted.

They do fantastic work, but they don’t typically and innately and naturally want to talk about what they’re doing or want to celebrate it. That’s just not something that’s typically core to the organization, but it’s so important. In order for an organization to understand why innovation matters. You have to not just celebrate the successes, but do the storytelling on the things that didn’t work quite as well, that you went across. Just because if you want to truly have an organization, that’s going to embrace the breakthroughs, the incremental changes that’s disruptive changes. People got to know about it. So I think it’s crucially for an innovation culture to stack.

Jeff Standridge: I think also recognizing that failure is a core part of the innovation process. And so learning to fail faster, learning to fail less expensively, and learning to bounce back from that and adapt. I always say there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback. If you take every setback and you use it as feedback to adapt your heading or to adapt your direction or adapt your approach, then it wasn’t failure at all. It was just feedback to help you refine. It’s only failure if you quit. Right?

Jeff Amerine: Well, and that can be part of the lore in the storytelling, is if someone gets to a point where they get to a gate and they said, the economics of this are not going to make sense based on the customer discovery we’ve done. They need to know that that’s success. You’ve kept the organization from spending money and resources on a solution that nobody was going to benefit from, or nobody was going to buy. So often we look at that and we say, well, we didn’t do something, right. No, you did everything exactly right, because you got to a point early where you can make a decision to kill a project that wasn’t going to have a future.

Jeff Standridge: One of the things I like about making innovation, a core part of the organization is the process of helping the organization understand it, needs to identify the problem or opportunity. First, I was involved in Axiom a few years ago and we were in the middle of a proxy battle, and it was a pretty tumultuous time for us as an organization, and I had a task from the leadership table that I sat around, which was a nice to have task. But it wasn’t going to produce a lot of business impact in the environment. In good times it would have been great and a great project to actually see come to fruition. But we were literally fighting for our lives as a publicly traded company, and I remember sitting around the table and every week on the agenda was it was time for me to come to the table with an update on where I was.

It was like, ‘yeah, I hadn’t had time to work on that. I hadn’t had time to work on that either.’ And finally, I walked into my leader’s office at the time and I said, ‘what’s the problem we’re actually trying to solve here. We’re in a fight for our lives. We’re asking me to spend time on this particular thing, and I’m not sure I can even articulate what the problem is.’ And that was pretty much a defining moment for me.

Too often, particularly in organizations, people come up with great ideas. They’re great ideas, and they would be great to do in a really cool environment when the pressure is maybe a little less than it is today, but they really can’t articulate,’ what’s the problem they’re trying to solve,’ or ‘how big is the problem?’ ‘Does it affect enough people to be worth the effort?’ ‘Is it real?’ ‘Can we win?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ And so making sure that you build a discipline in the organization to force your innovators to articulate the problem they’re trying to solve, or the opportunity they’re trying to seize, I think is a critical part of making innovation part of the DNA.

Jeff Amerine: And that’s really part of the storytelling too, right? Part of the story is how well you communicate what the base truths are that you’ve come across. Getting the point that you have an organization that can accept brutal honesty about something, to where people are not worried about, ‘they have to cover their backside,’ but they’re really going to be candid and forthright about telling the story as to why ‘we need to kill this, and here’s why,’ and that is celebrated rather than looked down upon.

I think so often. And in fact, a good example on this is, this is nothing obviously confidential, but under Jeff Immelt’s leadership at General Electric, they got away from some of that candor that had made GE a great company. There was never an opportunity to bring forth bad news. One of the things you’ll have in an innovative culture is incremental bad news that ultimately leads towards success. And you’ve got to be honest about it. It’s got to be communicated. The fact that you’re going through the process has to be celebrated. It’s not that you celebrate major business failures, it’s that you celebrate all that feedback and learning you’ve made by trying things, incrementally along the way.

Jeff Standridge: Well, the whole idea is to have these incremental failures by failing faster, and less expensively, so you don’t have these major businesses.

Jeff Amerine: Yah, precisely. That’s precisely it. I think it’s crucially important. And I think equipping highly technical people with the ability to tell good stories that are going to communicate accurate information, good or bad without jargon, is another part of it. Breaking it down to communicate things in a simple way so that people who are not steeped in whatever technology or subject matter you’re talking about can understand it is also another key part of it.

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Jeff Amerine: And adopting a methodology. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Actually giving people a framework through which to actually innovate within the organization. We talk about the lean canvas and the lean startup a lot, and that can be adapted to a corporate organization. We’ve actually, as an organization, taken the best practices of lean startup, design thinking, human centered design, organizational transformation, and change management, and built an innovation leadership blueprint that distinctively provides a distinctive framework, rather, for organizations to fuel innovation within their organizations. It starts with the problem or opportunity identification and the validation of that. It then moves into the human centered design elements of it, making sure that the solution is technically feasible, that it’s desirable by enough people to produce enough of a business outcome to be worth the effort. ‘Is it real?’ ‘Can we win?’ ‘Is it worth the effort which we call the Real-Win-Worth test?’ And then finally the execution component of that by selecting the right team, creating an opportunity for them to be successful, and then building a platform to generate sustained results. So giving that framework, that’s a critical part in educating the team into that framework so that they’re all approaching innovation in a similar fashion, is important as well.

That’s a common language. It’s a common language that’s well understood, and if you, if you adopt that kind of thing, there’s less chaos and less reliance on personal heroics in going through the process. So often it’s like, ‘there it is, there’s the target,’ and then you hope that you line enough people up and somehow magic will happen from where you start to where you finished, or something good will happen. Having this kind of framework that includes best practices on lean canvas and design thinking, and also takes into consideration the human element is a huge advantage. And I think that’s the only way it can work candidly. It can’t just be about the mechanics and the plumbing. It’s got to be organizational change as part of it as well, and that’s something that you’ve, I think, articulated better than most in putting that framework together, Jeff.

Jeff Standridge: I learned a long time ago, I believe it was Stephen Covey who said, ‘with people slow is fast and fast is slow.’ If it involves people and organizational change generally involves people, if we try to move fast, it’ll take us a lot longer to get to our intended destination. But if we back up, get people on board, give them a framework, nurture them through the process, celebrate their successes. But also, post-mortem, if you will, their failures, accept those failures as feedback in the process, then you’ll move faster to the intended destination of innovation a lot quicker.

Jeff Amerine: Based on your experience, Jeff, because I know you’ve studied this at all kinds of levels and have implemented it, when a person that’s trying to impart innovation process on an organization, runs across a group that would be negative. Sometimes you would even call them saboteurs for whatever reasons. What’s the best practice for overcoming a saboteur to a new process, a new product, a new innovation within an organization?

Jeff Standridge: So I’ll use a story. Back in some days when I was doing some volunteer fundraising, which I still do today for various organizations, whether it’s a university foundation, or whomever. Someone told me that if you want advice, ask for money. And if you want money, ask for advice. And so I’ve taken that and I’ve changed the word money for currency because in an organizational change environment, the urgency you want is not necessarily numerical or financial in nature. It could be buy-in. And so, I like to anticipate who those potential saboteurs are on the front end, and then go to them in advance of a major initiative, and ask their advice. Because many times, not only will they provide advice that would enable them to get on board with it, but they will also provide a bit of a different perspective that will cause me to change the approach, in a way to enable more people to get on board as well.

So I think that to answer your question, the best way I have found is to anticipate those saboteurs, go to them before a launch, ask their advice, and take that advice onboard in order to get them in the boat with you.

Jeff Amerine: Sometime we’re going to have to do an episode on lateral thinking and Edward de Bono’s the Six Thinking Hats, because it forces someone to take that role of the negative, to question it. And sometimes I think we look at influencers that may be outspoken as these are just malcontents,’ ‘they’re are people that don’t want to do something.’ A lot of times they could be in an organization where they’ve never been listened to, and that is a symptom of them not being engaged in exactly the way you just described. So I think that’s a fantastic story, and a great tip.

Jeff Standridge: And there’s another one, Edward de Bono, right? The Six Thinking Hats. Another guy we need to get in here to the Innovation Junkies podcast. So Edward, if you’re listening, give us a shout, or if you know Edward and want to make an introduction, we’ll have our people contact his people. [crosstalk 00:13:33] We are name-dropping. We’re doing that a lot. So just to summarize, if you want to make innovation a core part of the DNA of your organization, have a framework, educate your people on the framework, anticipate the potential saboteurs, and seek their advice and get them in the boat with you. Identify the potential positive influencers and do the same. Don’t be afraid of failure. Celebrate successes, do a post-mortem on the failures and figure out how you can use those failures to adapt your approach. And that’s the quickest way to cultivating that innovation DNA.

Jeff Amerine: That’s a great recap.

Jeff Standridge: All right. Guys, thank you so much, and we will see you on the next episode.

Jeff Amerine: See you next episode.

Hey listeners, this is Jeff Amerine, and we want to thank you for tuning in. We sincerely appreciate your time. If you’re enjoying the Innovation Junkies podcast, please do us a huge favor. Click the subscribe button right now, and leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us. And don’t forget to share us on social media.

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