Innovation Junkies Podcast

Greg Satell on Movements that Drive Transformations

The Jeffs chat with transformational change expert Greg Satell. They go deep into: what a movement looks like and how to create one, how to change fundamental beliefs, & a better approach to tackling innovation.

Jeff Standridge: This is Jeff Standridge and this is the Innovation Junkies Podcast. If you want to drastically improve your business, learn proven growth strategy and 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 and no matter the geography. Weekly, we’ll bring in a top mover and shaker. Someone who’s done something unbelievable with his or her business and we’ll dig deep. We’ll uncover specific strategies, tactics, and tools that they’ve used to help you achieve your business goal. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies Podcast.

Hey guys, if you’re looking to put your business on the fast track to achieving sustained strategic growth, this episode is sponsored by the team at Innovation Junkie. To learn more about our growth DX, go to Now let’s get on with the show.

Jeff Standridge: Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. My name is Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine: Hey, and this is Jeff Amerine. Glad to be back for another episode. What do we got happening today?

Jeff Standridge: Well, we have a gentleman by the name of Greg Satell. He’s a transformation and change expert, international keynote speaker and the bestselling author of Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change. His previous book, Mapping Innovation, was selected as one of the best business books of 2017. He’s a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and he’s been in other A-list publications like, Barron’s, Forbes and Fast Company. He’s consistently ranked as one of the top five of the top 40 innovation bloggers in the world, Greg Satell. Greg, glad to have you with us today.

Greg Satell: Thanks so much for having me, Jeff and Jeff.

Jeff Standridge: We’re the Jeff’s.

Jeff Amerine: Yeah. You only have to remember one first name on this deal. We try to keep it simple for our guests.

Greg Satell: Yeah. And you both have beards and glasses… If you guys had a caricature, you wouldn’t be able to tell each… You know those characters were artists-

Jeff Amerine: One of us is younger and better looking, right?

Jeff Standridge: Well, and contrary to a lot of people’s assumptions, even though we’re both named Jeff, we’re not related.

Jeff Amerine: But if we were in West Virginia, there’d be some doubt about that.

Jeff Standridge: My name’s Jeff and here’s my brother Jeff, so.

Jeff Amerine: That’s right. And while we’re on the lighter side of things, Greg. One of the things we like to do as an ice breaker is to have a random using. And so today the random using is, what is your favorite junk food?

Greg Satell: Well, it’s a little bit… Well, there’s a little bit of controversy there because I’m from Philadelphia. So we eat cheese steaks, but in Philadelphia they’re not considered junk food. They’re considered one of the major food groups.

Jeff Amerine: Right.

Greg Satell: But Hey, I always tell people if you’re ever in Philadelphia, the best cheese steak in town is on me. So it’s you ever find yourself here. [Crosstalk 00:03:21]

Jeff Amerine: You guys with or without.

Greg Satell: You got to have them with, I don’t see the… I mean absolutely.

Jeff Amerine: And that’s what, the peppers, right?

Greg Satell: Onions.

Jeff Amerine: Onions, okay. It’s been a while since [inaudible 00:03:40]

Greg Satell: But I don’t like the whiz. I don’t-

Jeff Amerine: No cheese whiz.

Greg Satell: And don’t go to Pat’s or Geno’s, that’s just for the tourists or when it’s sort of late night, after the bars close, when you’re good and drunk you-

Jeff Standridge: No, offense to Pat or Geno.

Jeff Amerine: They won the teacher’s spot.

Greg Satell: Funny enough I grew up with Pat. Well, my mother knew the family of Pat Barry, but they’re long dead of course.

Jeff Standridge: Oh, I got it.

Greg Satell: But-

Jeff Amerine: We haven’t offended them too bad-

Greg Satell: Not to speak ill of the dead.

Jeff Standridge: So I would have to say probably one of my favorite junk foods and I can’t go to a Mexican restaurant and actually eat a meal, because I fill up on the chips and salsa or the chips and queso. So I could sit and eat and much around on those things all day, every day.

Jeff Amerine: Yeah. This is a hard one for me, because I’ve got a three way tie. And so I’m going to indulge here and talk about all three. One is traditional greasy, salty popcorn that you make at home, not with an air popper, I love that. Gigantic chocolate chip cookies that probably ought to be outlawed because of the number of calories provide. But one of my all time favorites, and this is both the south of the border US and Canadian thing, we would call gravy fries and my Canadian buddies would call it Poutine-

Jeff Standridge: Poutine-

Jeff Amerine: I love that.

Jeff Standridge: Yeah.

Jeff Amerine: I could eat an entire salad bowl full of that stuff, so.

Jeff Standridge: You actually have a fourth one, Bourbon.

Jeff Amerine: And Bourbon. Well, that was the controversy before the episode. I said, well, does Bourbon count as a junk food because that would be high on the list for sure.

Greg Satell: Well, I’m a big Bourbon guy. And the interesting thing is that I spent a good deal of time in the former Soviet union and Eastern Europe. So of course everybody knows that vodka’s very popular there-

Jeff Amerine: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Greg Satell: But bourbon is considered very fashionable. So if you drink bourbon, it’s very sophisticated and of course, very American and very new. Nobody drank bourbon in places like Ukraine or Moscow or Kiev or Warsaw or any of those places 30, 40 years ago, so it’s sort of-

Jeff Amerine: You make lots of friends with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, I guess.

Greg Satell: Yeah. But they’re actually very sophisticated with… You see a lot of Blaton’s over there and so we’re exporting American culture very-

Jeff Standridge: Efficiently?

Greg Satell: Very effectively, yeah.

Jeff Standridge: Yeah. There you go. Well, let’s talk-

Greg Satell: You get segregated innovation, right?

Jeff Standridge: Yeah. There you go, that’s right. Let’s talk about, Greg you and your background a little bit. I talked about your short bio, if you will, but give us a little more depth into Greg’s Satell and who you are and what you do.

Greg Satell: Well, I spent about half my adult life running media businesses in the former Eastern bloc countries.

Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Satell: And then for the last 10 years I’ve been really writing and speaking and consult about innovation. But more recently, more focused on transformation, so getting change adopted and scaled.

Jeff Standridge: So your book-

Greg Satell: And overcoming resistance.

Jeff Standridge: Yeah. Your book Cascades, talks about creating a movement that drives transformational change. So talk to us a little bit about this concept of a movement, what it looks like, what it is and how you create a movement.

Greg Satell: Well, essentially movements are about empowerment, right? Rather than planning and direct, but what’s sort of more interesting is kind of how I came to the cascade research which was, I was running a major news organization during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. And so I experienced those events in a almost unique way in that as a foreigner, I was something often considered less than a full participant. But in my role, running a major news organization, certainly more than a casual bystander. And what I remember most about those times is this feeling of incredible confusion. Nobody seemed to know what was going on or what would happen next. Not the journalist I would speak to in the newsroom every day, not the other business leaders and not the political leaders.

There was just this mysterious force that nobody could really describe, but nobody could deny that was moving things along. And what amazed me is how thousands of people who’d ordinarily be doing very different things, would all of a sudden stop what they’re doing and start doing the very same thing all at once in perfect unison. And I thought to myself at the of time, gee, I’d really like to be able to do that. Here I am running this big company, I’ve got thousands of potential customers all buying different things, but I want them to buy the one thing I’m trying to sell them. And I had hundreds of employees that were smart, ambitious, bright people full of their own ideas, but I wanted them to embrace the one or two initiatives that I thought needed to be priorities.

But of course I had no idea how to do any of that. But I had the feeling, if I could just bottle what I saw on the street of Kiev, that would be really powerful. And then a couple of years later, I came across some papers in network science. And I found that the scientists had known for years about this mysterious force and even had a name for it. It was called a network cascade and because of some recent breakthroughs, we now know exactly how these things work. And so that’s what got me hooked on learning more about movements and applying them to organizations and then I met my friends for Jah, who overthrows country pretty much for a living that’s his job. And he had created this repeatable model for overthrowing countries.

And I said, “well, what if we tried to apply that to a business context, to organizations and corporations and institutions and that’s what became the cascades research. And what I found is, not only does that work and very well, it seems to be the only thing that does work. And I didn’t realize at the time that there was this transformation crisis where 70 or 80% of organizational transformations fail and they don’t fail because people don’t understand the change. But if a change is important, there’s always going to be certain people who don’t like it and they’re going to work to undermine it in ways that are often dishonest and underhanded and deceptive. So that’s what you need to overcome if you’re going to really drive any transformational initiative within your organization. And so that’s what became Cascades and that’s the work that we do.

Jeff Amerine: It’s very interesting and we see that. We think about power maps and we think about strategic selling and different things that we advise on there’s always an element of informal leadership that can be either positive influencers and champions or saboteurs. What did you learn about how to turn those people either turn or neutralize them when you want the movement to take hold? What are some key insights there?

Greg Satell: Well, so I’ll throw a couple of things out very fast and then we can unpack any which one you want. The first is that movements are about empowerment, right? So you want to start with people who are as enthusiastic about the idea as you are. One of the things that we see and one of the problems we see with traditional change management, is they usually start the initiative with a big communication program like a big bang. The idea is to create a sense of urgency around change. And of course, that can rally people to your cause but it also alerts those saboteurs that they better get started undermining you or might actually happen. So you want to start with… The mantra of the book is small groups, loosely connected united with a shared purpose.

So you want to start with a small group of enthusiast and help them empower them to be successful and to bring in others who can bring in others still. So, one of the things we say is you always want to start with the majority, even if that majority is three people in a room of five. Majorities, don’t just rule, they also influence and you can always expand the majority out. As soon as you’re in the minority, you will immediately feel pushback. I mean, almost like a car in whiplash and we’ve all felt that. You walk into the room and all of a sudden that idea is not okay anymore and when that happens, you’ve gone too far and you have to retrent. Another really important concept is focusing, identifying on shared values. So, great example of this is with agile transformations.

So when people want to drive an agile transformation within an organization or evangelize agile methodology, more time than not they start with the agile manifesto. Which of course is what makes people in the agile community passionate about agile, but means almost nothing to people, outside the community and can seem more than a little bit strange and can turn a lot of people off. So instead of focusing on those differentiating values, you want to focus on shared values like, better quality projects done faster and cheaper becoming a high performing organization so that’s the second point, is shared values. And a third point is you want to create coaptable resources. So things that allow people to take ownership of this change initiative and make it their own. And we have some tools as well, like the spectrum of allies and the pillars of support, but I’ll stop there in terms of concepts.

I think for your types of your client, I think those three concepts would all be very useful. But I’d also like to give you something to avoid, because this is something we see all the time. And that is that somebody high up in the organization comes up with an idea for change. Usually somebody in the C-suite, so they want to drive through a change initiative, they tap somebody like a high potential employee to lead this change initiative. They tell them that they’ve got the full backing of the board or the executive committee or whatever the powers that be, and they’re given a budget and they’re told to go forth and really push this through because it really needs to happen. And, and damn the pool torpedoes, all full speed ahead.

And this person they start, they do what they think they’re supposed to do, which is go out guns blazing, start with a bang, have a big kickoff meeting the whole thing and about six months later… Six to 12 months later they realize that they’ve been undermined this whole time. Everything’s sort of ground to a hole. This change initiative that they thought was going to move their career into the fast lane, now threatens to derail it. That executive sponsorship has dissipated their on the hook for getting blamed for the whole thing and that’s usually when they come to us. And at that point, most of the time we actually can save them, but sometimes we can’t and it really doesn’t need to happen that way. If they start planning, doing actual change planning from the start.

Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, We’ll be right back with the episode. But first we want to tell you about a limited opportunity to take advantage of our growth DX. For a limited time, we’re offering a free strategy call to see whether our unique diagnostic tool is right for you. Go to to learn more.

Jeff Standridge: You talked about shared values, Greg and in your process you have this concept of a genome of values. So unpack that concept of values a little bit further, you talk about you’ve got to change fundamental beliefs. And so talk a little bit about that a little more if you would.

Greg Satell: Yes. Okay so first of all, values is probably the over most overused term in business, especially when there’re consultants in the room, right? So we always ask, “okay, what are your values?” And they say the usual thing, well, the customers, we value excellence, we value all these very nice things. And then we ask, what do these values cost you? Because if they don’t cost you anything, if they don’t act as real constraints, they’re not really values they’re just platitudes. One of my favorite examples of this was Lou Gerstner, during the IBM turnaround in the 90s, where he really needed to be credible. And I’d interviewed over the years, probably a few dozen people from that period from every levels of the organization. And all of them mentioned one thing, he said he valued the customer but even more importantly, he made it clear he was willing to forego revenue on every sale.

And that was the only thing that made it real. That’s the only thing that made it credible, not only internally, but externally to customers and partners and everybody else. And I never met a single person who worked in IBM from that time who thought that IBM would still be in business today if it wasn’t for that. So, that’s the super important… That’s the first step is to identify what your values really are or in other words, how are you willing to constrain yourself. What costs are you willing to bear to achieve your mission, to fulfill your purpose? Because if you don’t know that, you haven’t really thought it and other people. Nobody else quite frankly, is going to take your change seriously much like Lou Gerstner. If he hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

Shared values is something different. So shared values is a subset of your values, so when you think of… And we call this the spectrum of allies. When you think of the map, the terrain upon which the battle for change will be fought. And to be clear it will always be a battle, if the change is important and has the potential to affect people. So you want to map out who are your most active supporters, who are passive supporters, who’s neutral, who’s passively opposed and who’s actively opposed. And you want to think about what of those values will be shared out by at least four out of those five groups and that’s where you want to sell. Very much like when we were talking about agile. Serving the customer is a shared value being a high performing organization is a shared value. Delivering projects on time and on budget is most of the time a shared value.

But one of the things that we found that’s really interesting is, one of the best ways to identify shared values, is actually listening to your most active opposition. To the people who hate the idea and who are trying to kill it. And here’s the trick, and here’s a discipline. You don’t actually want to engage with those people, because remember they’re trying to undermine what you want to achieve and that is most likely not going to be an honest engagement. But what you do want to do is you want to listen to them, because they will clue you in very often to what the shared value is. Because they’re trying to convince a lot of the same people you are. So that’s how you identify shared values and then that’s what you want to focus on, so if it’s… I’ll stick with the example of an agile transformation. If it’s an agile transformation, not on those differentiating values of the agile manifesto, but those shared values of performance and service and excellence and so on and so forth.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. Go ahead, Jeff.

Jeff Amerine: No, I was just going to say, I had not-

Greg Satell: When you say, go ahead, Jeff. Are you sure you’re not talking to yourself?

Jeff Standridge: I’m never sure of that-

Greg Satell: Because sometimes I’m like, Greg, we got to get this going. We got to…

Jeff Standridge: Yeah.

Greg Satell: I’m trying to psych myself up.

Jeff Standridge: I’m never sure of anything I say.

Jeff Amerine: But what I was going to say is, I’ve never heard anybody capture in the way you did. The idea of really considering what you’re willing to sacrifice.

Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Amerine: For a particular value. And it made me reflect on tough decisions we’ve had to make in another organization we run, about what funding to pursue. Because we pursue a lot of third party funding for some of the stuff that we do in the startup venture ecosystem world. And what we’d have to sacrifice if we took it versus what we really valued in the long run. And ultimately we came to the conclusion that, based on our vision and our purpose and our mission, there was some funding we just weren’t going to take because it didn’t align. And we were willing to sacrifice what would’ve been an easier road, because the funding would’ve been secured for a number of years, to stay true to the value that we had, which was to enable and empower innovators and entrepreneurs.

And in some ways it was freeing. Even though there was the angst and the worry that, how are we going to support this thing going down the road? It was liberating to actually just make that decision and stay true to our purpose and our mission and not give up the autonomy. So maybe the value was the autonomy to choose our own direction, at the behest of a funder that wanted to have a lot to say about what we did. So anyway, I mean, you articulated that better, that particular point better than I’d heard it before. It’s really a good point.

Greg Satell: But I screwed everything else up, right?

Jeff Amerine: No, not yet. But we’ll let you know if you do.

Jeff Standridge: Well, what I want to do, we’ve been talking about creating movements that drive transformation. I’d like to talk a little bit and give our listeners a little bit of a glimpse of your preceding book called, Mapping Innovations. So talk a little bit about the premise of that for our listeners as well.

Greg Satell: Yeah. So as I mentioned before, I spent about 20 years running organizations and like most people who run organizations, I felt an incredible pressure to innovate, but I wasn’t quite sure on how to go about that. And whenever I looked for answers it seemed like everybody had their own way of innovating. And when you looked at what one person did you would look at, let’s say design thinking and you’d say, “oh wow, that really seems good,” because Steve Jobs apparently loves it and IDEO has built this fantastic business around it and Stanford has an entire school dedicated to it. So that must really be the best way to do it. And then you look at it and it says, okay, well you identify your user’s needs and then you work back and you rapidly prototype and iterate towards a radically better solution.

And you say, “wow, that really seems smart that must be how you do it.” Until you read Clayton Christensen and Disruptive Innovation and the Innovators Dilemma. And he says, that’s exactly how good companies go out of business, because they listen too much to their customers when the basis of competition has shifted. And say, “well, how can those two things be right?”` And then there’s, open innovation and lean startups and basic research and on and on. And what I found was that, if there was ever anybody said, this is how you do it. So somebody else who was equally or even more successful did it in a completely different way. So what I finally came up with was that, innovations really about solving problems and there is many different ways to innovate as there are different problems to solve.

And along the way, I came up with an idea of innovation matrix in a method for classifying problems, so that you could identify the solution best fit to solve them. And in doing the work, what I found is that most organizations have one particular way in which they innovate. And they do pretty well, for a while until they come up with a problem that doesn’t fit and then they just spin their wheels. And they’re not sure why because this was the particular solution that had worked for them often years, sometimes decades. But what they had inadvertently done was, pick the solution and tried to make the problem fit that solution, rather than the other way around of identifying and classifying the problem, and then adapting the solution to that. So we still do that work, we still work with clients on that. But our focus has, has somewhat shifted to the transformation where it seems today the greater need is on scaling and getting solutions adapted and scale.

Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Very good. Well, it’s been a pleasure hearing, you talk about the movements that drive transformation and then also getting a glimpse for our listeners of your Mapping Innovations work as well. One final question I have for you is, maybe a short anecdote or what have you of… You talk about, you get called in a lot of times where executives thought they were going to be on the fast track. Their change initiative has stalled and they see themselves hanging in the balance, or their career hanging in the balance. Any particular anecdotes of maybe a particular situation, no names of course and how you guys walked in and helped them salvage that particular initiative.

Greg Satell: We basically, go back to the beginning and restart how we start. But they always get out in the same way. You need to find somewhere someplace that you can actually show that this change works. And you need to identify people who are enthusiastic and want it to work, who will actually help you work through the inevitable glitches.

Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Satell: One of the concepts we like to talk about is, the hair on fire use case. So you don’t want to look for… In marketing class, we were all told to look for the largest addressable market, where if you’re doing something new and different that can often kill you actually. You want to find somebody who has a problem they need solve so badly, they almost literally have their hair on fire. And if you can work on with those people to actually make this change successful and solve a problem they actually have, then you have a base that you can build from and you start there. So the first thing that you want to do is scale back.

Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Satell: Where you’re not going to transform an entire organization all at once. Scale back, find that small piece, wherever you can find it, where you can actually get a foothold. Find people of like mines who are enthusiastic, want it to work and can actually make it work somewhere and then you can build from there.

Jeff Standridge: Fantastic. Well, Greg, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today. We appreciate you for taking the time out of your, I know hectic and busy schedule to join us here on the Innovation Junkies Podcast.

Greg Satell: Well, thanks for having me guys. And anytime you’re in Philadelphia, best cheese steak in town is on me, but don’t go to Lincoln Financial Field wearing a Dallas Cowboys Jersey, that’s…

Jeff Standridge: Yeah. I hear you.

Greg Satell: That might be innovative, but it’s not a path to success.

Jeff Standridge: I got it. Well, Greg, thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. Thanks for joining.

Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, this is Jeff Amerine. 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, please leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us. And don’t forget to share us on social media.

Change The Trajectory Of Your Business

Our GrowthDX package has been responsible for massive improvements in many companies. Some thought they had it figured out but had blind spots, while others knew they were missing the mark but had no idea where to start.

This is your chance to make significant breakthroughs in your organization. Don’t miss out!