Innovation Junkies Podcast

Josh Linkner on “Big Little Breakthroughs”

The Jeffs talk with Josh Linkner, an innovation expert and New York Times best-selling author. Don’t miss the discussion on: the relationship between innovation and high-growth leadership, how to empower creativity within a set of guidelines, & how to drive innovation on a work team.

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 will dig deep. We will uncover specific strategies, tactics and tools that they have used to help you achieve your business goals. 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 innovationjunkie.com/growthdx. Now let’s get on with the show.

Jeff Standridge: Hey guys, Jeff Standridge here.

Jeff Amerine: And this is Jeff Amerine, here for another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast.

Jeff Standridge: Glad you’re here, glad you’re here. We’ve got an awesome guest today. Jeff, I’m very excited to bring him on and visit with him a little bit. His name is Josh Linkner. A few highlights about Josh, he’s a five-time tech entrepreneur. He’s a hyper-growth CEO, a New York Times best-selling author, a venture capitalist. Started his career as a professional jazz guitarist that I want to spend a little bit of time talking about, and he’s the host of the Creative Troublemakers podcast. He is an expert on innovation, disruption, and hyper-growth leadership. Josh, great to have you with us today.

Josh Linkner: Thank you so much. Great to be with you.

Jeff Standridge: Fantastic. Well Josh, we like to start our podcast episodes when we remember to do so and we’re going to remember today with just a random musing. Just something for us to talk a little bit about. The random musing today is generally provided by Kevin and Reagan who help us to produce the show. Our random musing is what’s your favorite food that when you consume it you tend to overindulge? Or in other words it becomes your guilty pleasure?

Josh Linkner: This one is easy for me. I’m a pizza junkie, man. It’s like one of the four food groups for me. I have a slightly odd obsession in fact with pizza. By the way all types, thick, thin, medium, whatever. Any topping, it’s great for breakfast. To me it’s the ideal food. You can hold it in one hand, it’s portable, you can put anything you want on it. It’s like a creative canvas waiting for expression. So [inaudible 00:02:42], but by the way, I will say that the best of all, I have to show a little love here for my hometown of Detroit, is Detroit-style pizza, which is sort of like half the thickness of Chicago deep dish. The cheese goes all the way to the edge and the sauce goes on top of the cheese. A little different but really good.

Jeff Standridge: I have to try that. I have to try that. Jeff, what’s yours?

Jeff Amerine: Well I was sitting … I overindulge in all types of food but I would say my favorite are giant chocolate chip cookies. Most people will just eat one, if there’s a whole panful, I’m going to eat least 12 every time. So I mean it is … It’s like a food race to type II diabetes with those giant chocolate chip cookies. But I love them.

Jeff Standridge: Chewy or crunchy?

Jeff Amerine: You know, I like both. I like it a little bit crunchy maybe on the outside and then kind of chewy in the center. So love it.

Jeff Standridge: I like mine just a little bit burned on the bottom side. Not burnt but just very, very brown on the bottom side. So very crunchy but a little bit brown, but my favorite or guilty pleasure food or favorite food, my mother cooks lunch for the entire family every Sunday, just about every Sunday. Pre-COVID, it was nine Sundays out of ten, post-COVID it’s maybe once or twice a month. But it’s good old South Arkansas food, fried okra, fried squash, potatoes, some kind of a meat, and two or three different desserts. So it doesn’t matter what the menu is, it’s a guilty pleasure and I always eat too much.

Jeff Amerine: So here’s a question, a follow-up question, Jeff. When you have chicken-fried steak, is it white gravy or brown?

Jeff Standridge: It’s white gravy.

Jeff Amerine: Oh well done. You passed. You’re legit.

Jeff Standridge: And on biscuits in the morning, it’s either white gravy. It’s any kind of gravy. White gravy, red-eye gravy or chocolate gravy if you’ve never had that, so …

Jeff Amerine: Wow. Southern cuisine.

Jeff Standridge: That’s right. Well hey, let’s cut to the chase. Josh, tell us a little bit about Josh Linkner and help us understand a little bit of who you are.

Josh Linkner: Well first of all I really appreciate being with you and I appreciate your focus on innovation. I have this core belief, and maybe you share this, that there are seven billion people on this planet who in one degree or another have dormant creative capacity, me included, and I study human creativity.
So I believe that the things that we crave the most, whether it’s progress in our business or better outcomes in healthcare or education or environment, the answers are inside of us, and if I can help people liberate their creative abilities, if I can help them build skills to be more innovative on a daily basis, I just think the world is a better place. So that’s really my passion in life.
But as you pointed out, I started my career as a jazz guitarist and I feel like I just play jazz every day. First I did that playing instruments and I played all over the country and I still perform today but then I switched and I was playing jazz with business and I was playing jazz writing books and so I still consider myself a jazz musician at the core and I was using different instruments these days to try to create as big of an impact as I can.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. So I actually went to college on a music scholarship until they realized that I was not innately talented, I just worked hard. So that ended my career there I guess.

Josh Linkner: Was it a particular instrument?

Jeff Standridge: It was wind instruments, it was low brass wind instruments. I was in a military band for a period of time and a college band and thought I might want to do that in a teaching capacity but like I said they figured out that I just worked hard and the innate talent was on a relatively low scale.

Josh Linkner: Well I highly doubt that. The nice thing about creativity … I’ve been studying human creativity, read every research paper you can imagine, et cetera. And the research is crystal clear that all of us have creative ability, all of us. I know you’re being very modest about your talent but talent in general is less important really than like you said the hard work and the same is true with creativity of any kind. It doesn’t have to be an instrument or painting on canvas, it could be creative in your business or in sales or in any aspect of our professional lives.
The good news, I always like to say that creativity, it’s more like your weight than your height. So for me I’m a pretty short guy and try as I may I won’t grow a foot by next month. But my weight I can control based on my input and diet and exercise, nutrition, et cetera. That’s exactly how people’s creativity is. There’s no such thing as an uncreative person. Like we’re hard-wired to be creative. That’s our natural state, and if people are open-minded and they’re willing to put in a little bit of work, it’s a skill that can be absolutely grown and expanded and put into use.

Jeff Standridge: Very good.

Jeff Amerine: You know, I have a kind of follow-up question. I read a stat a few years back that something like 40% of all the Division I marching band students, music students, were also either science, technology, engineering, math, STEM majors. Very high crossover between people that have musical talent and those people that tend to pursue things that are highly creative or maybe even highly mathematical. Given the fact that both of you are really musicians, talk about that a little bit. I don’t have a musical background but I was a STEM major but I thought that was really intriguing. How has the music informed your path towards being innovative and creative?

Jeff Standridge: Go ahead, Josh.

Josh Linkner: Well for me, it was by a main teacher. I mean I’ve taken business classes but really jazz was my learning lab. I think there’s a lot of crossover. You’re right, I mean it takes sort of precision. When you’re playing an instrument there’s both the technical aspects, being able to perform effectively, and then there’s also the creative aspects. The thing I love about jazz specifically is that it’s sort of this dangerous art form where every day when you play the same song it’s always different. Just like our conversation is unscripted where we’re just kind of riffing off of one another. That’s very much what jazz is, a live conversation with other musicians and of course the audience that you’re in front of. To me it’s cool because it’s the only art form where you’re composing and performing in realtime, it’s simultaneous realtime innovation.
So I think there’s a direct corollary. I’ve seen that many times. I’ve hired about 10,000 people over the years as I built tech companies and very often you’re right, some of the best coders happen to be musicians because they recognize patterns, they’re problem solvers, they know how to execute with precision, they also know how to … Where and if to bend the rules a little bit in order to drive their desired outcome. So I think it’s actually a wonderful training ground for many pursuits in life.

Jeff Standridge: Yeah, I would agree with that, and I think it is the perfect intersection as you said Josh, it’s the perfect intersection between the technical aspects of the counting and the mathematics and the theory kind of elements behind music and the creative aspects, right? So I was more of a methodical musician. Less on the creative side. Now think about my wife and I today. I consider myself to be fairly creative on putting a business deal together, selling a solution to a client or what have you. Put me in a blank room and I can’t see anything visionary-wise into the room. Now reverse that and put my wife into the room and she can decorate phenomenally, but don’t ask her to put a business deal together. So it’s interesting, we both have creativity, but it just stems from different bases so to speak.

Josh Linkner: I’m so glad you said that because we tend to have a fairly narrow definition of what is creativity. We think it involves painting on a canvas or playing an instrument or whatever. But I like where you’re going with that because there’s lots of flavors of creativity, and those not only range in the types like for example maybe you’re better at one particular challenge than your wife is, but also [inaudible 00:10:28]. For some reason we tend to say that innovation has a minimum threshold. Like if it’s not a billion dollar idea, it doesn’t count. But I’m really fascinated by micro innovations. I call them big little breakthroughs, which are far less risky and far more accessible to us all. The point is that creativity doesn’t have to only look and act a certain way. It can be lots of different types of creativity, it could be lots of different magnitudes as well.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. I want to talk a little bit about this concept of innovation and hyper-growth leadership. Jeff and I in our practice with Innovation Junkie Consulting, we focus on helping organizations develop sustained strategic growth and innovation is one of the tools that we help them leverage to get there. Talk a little bit if you will about this relationship between innovation and leadership, particularly high growth leadership.

Josh Linkner: Well yeah. So first of all, I would argue [inaudible 00:11:23] leadership front that cultivating the creativity of your team members is sort of project number one. In other words, I can’t think of anything more important. It’s a shame too because we often hire these talented, amazing, smart, creative people, and then force them to just keep their head down and do what they’re told as opposed to express themselves and be a contributor to the overall masterpiece that’s being built. So I think that a leader’s job is to create a safe environment. Think about like a greenhouse for a second where a greenhouse has the optimal conditions for plants to grow. I think leaders need to create a greenhouse for creativity really. So creating a cultural construct with the right rituals and rewards that support and enable the creative process as opposed to restricting it.
With respect to growth, I mean I would say this. That many of the growth drivers of the past have become commoditized. You can no longer control geography or price or information, and today we live in a world of dizzying speed and exponential complexity and ruthless competition. Especially coming out of COVID now where many patterns of the past have been broken, I feel like the world has hit a giant reset button. So the one thing that to me is crystal clear is that we can no longer simply rely on the models of the past and expect the same results. So growth doesn’t come from compliance. Growth comes from originality and from pushing the creative boundaries.
In fact, many of the things that we used to win on, the “hard skills”, have become commoditized and outsourced and automated. So you say, “What’s left?” How can you delight clients? How can you drive growth? How can you attract and retain the best and brightest people? To me all roads lead back to human creativity and using innovation as a manageable resource to fuel growth.

Jeff Standridge: Interesting. So what do you see when you talk about empowering so to speak people to be creative. How do you do that within the construct of a framework or guidelines so to speak? Because creativity for the sake of creativity in a business sense doesn’t produce the outcomes we want but creativity within the confines of a standard or a set of boundaries or expectations, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Josh Linkner: Yeah, excellent question. I mean when I played jazz, even though only 1% of the notes are on the written page, those markers are really important. The chord structure, the tempo, there are some … Otherwise it’s chaos, so I do think that some structure and technique is really important. The way that we do that as leaders though is that I think job number one is creating a safe environment. It turns out the single biggest blocker of creative output is not natural talent, it’s fear. If you think about it, it’s this insidious force that basically robs us of our best thinking. You’re exactly right by the way. Not creativity for the sake of it. I definitely don’t want people running down the halls, drawing on the walls with purple crayons. It’s using applied creativity, creativity to solve problems and seize opportunity.
So anyway, it gets back to me to rituals. So rather than speaking in abstract, let me just give you an example. One of the people that I interviewed for my new book which is called Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results. I actually spent over 1,000 hours in research and interviews with CEOs, billionaires, celebrity entrepreneurs, Grammy award musicians, all kinds of cool people.
One guy that I interviewed, he has a pretty cool ritual. I was asking him at his company, “How do keep your people leaning into change? How do you keep them taking responsible risks?” He says they do a ritual. Every Friday, they have F-Up Fridays. They see the whole world, I’ll just be polite here, but F-Up Fridays go like this. Full company brown bag lunch, and one by one each person has to stand up and share what did they F up that week and what did they learn from it.
Then when someone inevitably didn’t F something up, everyone’s like, “Well why not? What are you going to try next week?” Just think about the message that that simple ritual drives into the DNA of this company, that innovation is part of the job, that we have your back in failure as much as success, and that taking responsible risks. That’s required activity for you.
So again a simple ritual like that can make all the difference in the world in liberating the creative capacity of your teams.

Jeff Standridge: 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 GrowthDX. For a limited time, we’re offering a free strategy call to see whether our unique diagnostic tool is right for you. Go to innovationjunkie.com/growthdx to learn more.

Josh Linkner: Bringing it back to music, the period before the classical period in music, before about 1700 or so, was fairly static. There were a few masterpieces but the creation of the chromatic scale that occurred in about 1700 or so led into the classical period of music which was one of the most prolific periods of creativity in masterpiece generation. So the institution to your point of some basic guidelines and some basic frameworks, some markers if you will, actually spurred innovation versus stifled it. Or creativity versus stifling it.

Jeff Standridge: 100%.

Josh Linkner: Yeah, and when you study it as I have for 20+ years, the rituals, mindsets and tactics of the most innovative people, it’s the right balance between some structure and some room for freedom. You don’t want to cookie cutter ideas, but nor do you want to just have complete chaos.
One example of a technique. So many of us, when we try to generate ideas, we brainstorm. Brainstorming though is a terrible technique. It’s way outdated, it was invented in 1958, and it just generally yields mediocre ideas. So there are better techniques that drive better results. One fun one I’ll just share with you is called rolestorming, R-O-L-E. So rolestorming is brainstorming but in character. In other words, you are pretending that you are somebody else.
So Jeff, let’s say for example instead of you being Jeff in the next brainstorm session, you’re playing the role of Steve Jobs. Well no one’s going to laugh at Steve for coming up with a big idea. They might laugh at Steve for coming up with a small one. So because you bear no responsibility for that idea, you are totally liberated to say anything you want. It’s the simplest technique, everyone in the room chooses any character they want to be. You could be a supermodel, a villain, a sports figure, a literary artist. You could be Picasso, you could be a four-year-old child or an alien from the future. But the idea is that you have to stay in character while you’re taking on an actual, real-world problem, and that simple twist to an idea jam session can yield disproportionate results. It’s really very powerful.

Jeff Standridge: Jeff and I have talked before about Edward de Bono and his six thinking hats approach, just kind of reminded me of that when you were talking about stepping into a role that’s not necessarily your own.

Jeff Amerine: Very similar lateral thinking methodology where one person sticks to just the facts, one person is devil’s advocate, one person is blue sky and optimism, and I mean it seems like a very practical way to do it to avoid groupthink where you have dominant players in the group, you have some people that are more introverted and quiet and never say a word. That role-playing, that’s strong. That’s really cool.

Josh Linkner: It’s funny, I did this with a group of executives one time at Sony Japan. I met this guy, he was like the stiffest human being I’ve ever met. Dark suit, white shirt, the tie is strangling him. Anyway, we got him rolestorming as Yoda. I’ve never seen a personal transformation like this. This dude’s jacket’s off, his tie is undone, he’s like leaping around the room, and the whiteboards were filled with ideas. Critically I didn’t teach him to be creative, he had that inside him all along, as do all of us. But he was in a role that historically forbade it and put him in a new role and again he was able to really release this incredible superpower that we all have and we all share.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. Let’s talk about how we drive innovation on a work team. So you’ve got a work team, they’re facing a big problem. Do you have a specific process that you take them through to actually help them formulate the problem and work through to an ultimate and desired solution?

Josh Linkner: Yeah. So my first book was called Disciplined Dreaming, and it’s a five-step process. In there I start with what’s called a creativity brief and sort of really studying the problem at hand. You kind of fall in love with the problem before you get onto a solution. One fun thing is to ask 20 questions about the problem. So before you … [inaudible 00:19:52]. It’s easy to leap and like, “Oh, let’s come up with an idea.” Then you become sort of dogmatic in that idea and tunnel vision. Whereas it is better to actually study the problem and really frame the problem and understand the nuances and what are the blockers and what’s been tried historically and sort of set the stage way before you really get into jamming mode.
The other thing that’s good is to sort of assemble ingredients. Like think about going to the farmer’s market, “Oh, this tomato looks nice. Oh, this cucumber.” And you’re not even sure what you’re going to cook with it yet, and so this notion of hunter-gatherer type stuff, sort of gathering and bringing back ingredients that may or may not ultimately go into the creative dish that you’re looking to whip up, that’s also helpful in preparation before you get into some techniques for idea jamming which is my preferable word to brainstorming.
So I think that a lot of things, one of the blockers often that happens is that we’re so quick to come up with an answer, we discover the quickest, easiest, fastest idea, historically based and safe, and then we are tunnel vision against it as opposed to kind of letting the creativity unfold. Because often it’s not that first idea, it’s the idea that leads to the idea that leads to the next idea that is the killer one that we’re looking for.

Jeff Standridge: What do you see the role of the customer or the key stakeholders in that creative process or that problem-solving process?

Josh Linkner: Crucial, and I know you follow de Bono works and I’m sure [inaudible 00:21:14] and others but yeah. That’s the other problem that we often … Busy executives think they’re their own customer and how would I enjoy this product for a 13-year-old girl, well I’m a 50-year-old man, like that’s a stupid thing. So how do we really connect with empathy to those customers?
It’s funny though that we can turn that switch on pretty quickly. There’s a study, I wrote about it in my new book, Big Little Breakthroughs, conducted by University of Chicago, and they brought a group of people together, similar backgrounds and such, and the assignment was to come up with new ideas for new potato chip flavors for pregnant women. But they divided the group in half. One group was given instructions that said use your logic and reasoning to come up with the most logical potato chip flavors. The next group was given empathetic instructions. They said, “Okay, before you start, close your eyes and spend one minute imagining what is it like to be a pregnant woman? What does it feel like? What emotions might you be having?” That was the only difference in the instructions. Then they had to generate ideas and the ideas were later judged by a panel of experts.
The empathetic group blew away, like crushed, the logical group, just by spending one minute of kind of connecting empathetically to the customer. They came up with fun names like pickles and ice cream potato chips and there was margaritas for moms because obviously pregnant women can’t drink. There was sushi and wasabi chips because pregnant women are supposed to abstain from raw fish so anyway the point is that even a little empathy can go an enormous way in driving better creative output.

Jeff Amerine: Empathy is a big part of design thinking and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, the ideal customer, is part of that, but it’s also important to not just talk to them but to observe. What’s your take on the need to actually observe what people do because sometimes the feedback you get from a customer or a stakeholder can be misleading.

Josh Linkner: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I mean if you can observe people sort of in their natural habitat, far better and sometimes what people might self-report is different than what they actually do or want to do. Sometimes it’s not that they’re lying, they might not be able to articulate accurately what’s going on. So no question about it. I mean whether it’s an internal customer or an external one, if you can get them touching and feeling and having a tactile experience, so much better, so much better.
By the way, one of the things that I think we were talking about, where do people trip up some times. We often think that the process goes like this. Idea generation, okay there’s my idea, now I’m just going to like roll it out globally. So you go instantly from like initial idea to wide-scale execution. That to me is problematic on a number of fronts. First of all it’s wildly risky. What if you’re wrong, and you’re betting the farm on it so that you’re taking too big of a risk, et cetera. So I am much more of a fan of ideation, narrow your list down perhaps to a few ideas, but then rapid prototype it.
So to me it’s all around experimentation and you start with more ideas. So instead of coming up with one idea and betting your life on it, come up with like 30 ideas, narrow the field down to 10, and then test those 10, and you can test them I recommend to start testing in the most low cost, fastest way possible. I think of them as crude, low fidelity experiments. Test it with one customer on a Tuesday afternoon with some Play-Doh, and if it’s rejected, great, you learn quickly. If it’s not, don’t go crazy. Then double the size of the experiment and over time you sort of marshal ideas down a very deliberate process where the experiments become higher fidelity and more intricate and more realistic in terms of the real state that they will ultimately be on. So by the time you actually go to launching an idea, you have significantly de-risked it through a series of experiments.

Jeff Amerine: Yeah, fail fast and early and iterate the kind of core to link startup, link canvas methodology and to that point, it seems counterintuitive to some extent, the rise of the venture and startup studios versus accelerators and incubators, where the first step is let’s kill as many of the ideas we come up with as we possibly can, and those that survive are the ones that go to the next step and get assigned teams and they found that it’s a much more efficient way to do it because you’re forced to be a consultant to your own ideas rather than falling in love with it.
Interesting, interesting paradox. It still goes back to some of the things that we saw when we transitioned from waterfall methodology for software development to what we called spiral in the old days and now agile, the idea of that incremental iterative de-risking and spiraling through a process.

Josh Linkner: 100%, yeah. So I spent time as a venture capital investor. I’ve been involved in the launch of about 100 startups and so you’re exactly right. The venture studio model, for those that don’t know, is basically where the fund itself is generating its own ideas, [inaudible 00:26:01], prototyping them, getting rid of the ones that they don’t like and then when they hit something that shows promise, only then do they hire a professional team of leaders to actually build the company. I’m a big fan of that model and we actually did that several times and we enjoyed some terrific results.
The other thing too is back to this agile and small step thing, back to our jazz, classical conversation for a second. So Jeff, you talked about classical, that age being this incredible wild expansive creative era which it was for the composers. And I’m not trying to dismiss the instrumentalists that play their music but there’s less room for interpretation. Like the goal in many cases is to play the notes on the page exactly as they were written. So if we’re conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra where I have the privilege of being a board member, they’re playing a Beethoven piece, it tells you how loud to play each note and when to attack it and what the timbre is. There’s room for creativity to be clear but it’s pretty instructional. So now you’re exhibiting the creativity of Beethoven.
I like jazz because jazz is more democratized. In jazz it’s not just the composer or perhaps the conductor. It’s everybody. Everybody is part of the creative process. Everyone is involved, and that’s kind of how I think the modern workforce needs to work. Small messy teams that are passing the baton of leadership back and forth, that are taking responsible risks, that are making mistakes and course correcting quickly. And everybody gets to contribute to the masterpiece each and every day, and you’re making decisions in the face of ambiguity. Because let’s face it, it would be a luxury that we don’t have any more to be able to just play the notes in front of you. But we’re living in a world that’s too complex and fast moving. We have to perform in the business world without the notes in front of us. We have to improvise, we have to play jazz. So I think it’s actually really a powerful metaphor of what we’re facing in today’s world, whether it’s a startup or a later stage business, that we all need to really tap into the creative might of every single person on our team.

Jeff Standridge: Great perspective and great insight there. So tell us about a day in the life of Josh Linkner. How did you spend your time today?

Josh Linkner: Being a jazz guy I like variety. So no two days are exactly alike. I do a ritual though. I do a creativity ritual every single day. I’m happy to share it. I literally spend like less than five minutes a day on it and it sets me up. It’s sort of like a B12 shot of creativity that lasts for 16 hours going forward. So I would start my day with that. I do a lot of learning. They always say this in software engineering , you want to change the outputs, you got to change the inputs. So I do … Obviously we all focus on our outputs but I also try to focus on the inputs and I try to read and absorb and take in a bunch of content to a degree of professional leaner. So I spend a lot of time learning, I spend a lot of time teaching, and I spend a lot of time creating stuff. Those are my three favorite things to do.
But back on the ritual real quick, just to give people a tactical tool. When you were playing music Jeff, you didn’t just show up on stage, grab your instrument out of the case and go. You’d practice, you’d warm up, you’d kind of do some breathing exercises, get ready to perform. So that’s what I do every day for creativity and I’ll just give you a couple of real quick ones. One thing I do is back to the input concept, I spend one minute, literally one minute, set a timer, guzzling the creative input of others. All I do is bathe in others’ creativity. I might watch a YouTube video of a band playing. I might stare at a painting for a minute. Read a poem out loud. It is just simply absorbing the creative energy of other people to kind of prime the pump.
The other thing I always do is I give myself an unrelated challenge. I think of this as like jumping jacks for creativity. So instead of a challenge that matters to me, like how am I going to sell more books or whatever, I look in the news and I might see, “What’s a challenge going on right now?” I like to pick a big one, like how about racial injustice. That’s a big one. But I don’t try to solve it with one idea. I say if I had to chip away at this, if I had to come up with 15 little teeny ideas that won’t solve the problem but might make a dent in the problem, what might those be?
So all I’m doing is giving myself a creative challenge that has nothing to do with my own personal life. It’s not a directive, it doesn’t affect my family, but I’m giving myself practice solving problems, little micro innovations at a time. So just a couple of those rituals like that every morning really do go a long way.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. What are you reading? What’s on your reading list right now?

Josh Linkner: Man, I’ve been reading a lot of great stuff. I just read Rethink by Adam Grant which is terrific, highly recommend it. I just finished Soundtracks by Jon Acuff which is also terrific. I just finished How To Change by Katy Milkman, also a Penn professor which is terrific. And I just started reading this book called … I think it’s called Decoding Greatness, and basically it is around reverse engineering the creative process.
So instead of sort of this ground-up blank page approach, sort of reverse engineering how people achieve masterful things and learning from it. I’m only halfway through it but it’s a terrific book.

Jeff Standridge: Very good. So you shared a copy of your book with us a few moments ago, Big Little Breakthroughs, why don’t you show that to our viewers again and tell our viewers and listeners where they can find it and where they can connect with you.

Josh Linkner: Sure. So it’s called Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations, there it is, Drive Oversized Results. The whole principle behind it as I tried to take what we most often think of innovation and flip that upside down. We most often think of like these giant moonshots that change the world and this is the opposite. It’s a much more deliberate and pragmatic approach to chipping away one little micro innovation at a time. So it’s cultivating high velocity of small daily innovations as opposed to waiting around for the one, the silver bullet approach, and it’s way less risky, it’s more accessible, it builds critical skill and these little ideas really add up.
Furthermore it really democratizes it. To me I always get upset when I think of innovation as some exclusive members only club where they are no longer accepting applications. Like only people wearing lab coats or hoodies to be creative. Forget that. This is like innovation for the rest of us and I wanted to write a book that any one of us, whether you’re a dental assistant or you’re a stay at home mom or you’re running a sales organization, whatever your path may be. We cultivate and build creative skills to drive better outcomes and that’s what the book is all about. So you can learn more about it if you’re interested at biglittlebreakthroughs.com. Of course you can buy the book there. The audio book by the way I read it but I also played some jazz guitar in between all the chapters so it’s a little fun. But even if you don’t buy it, I would recommend checking it out because there’s a whole toolkit. There’s downloadable worksheets, there’s the creativity assessment. All that’s free by the way. So if you want, check it out. It really can be a nice partner for those looking to take their innovation, their creativity to the next level, and once again that’s just biglittlebreakthroughs.com.

Jeff Standridge: Excellent. Thank you for sharing that with us. Jeff, any parting questions from you?

Jeff Amerine: No, just an observation that embracing the idea that incrementalism is a pathway to being innovative. Louis Patler is another guy that we’ve had on that’s written some books about breaking the model and whatnot and he kind of makes the point that if you want to have a culture of innovation that sticks, you can’t have the innovators off in the skunkworks somewhere and hope that somehow it osmotically kind of seeps out. So I love that. I mean that’s accessible and approachable. I think that’s a fantastic insight that more people ought to take to heart till we get out of this sort of view of the statistical outliers in innovation theater and into making it everybody’s business in an enterprise. I love that, it’s great.

Josh Linkner: I totally agree with you, and if you have 10,000 people or 10 people or 100,000 people, why not have all of them be innovators in their own way? Again, I’m not saying do something inappropriate or take stupid [inaudible 00:33:35], of course not. But I believe that we can all drive better outcomes when we harness human creativity, and again, that doesn’t only apply to the C suite, that applies to us all.

Jeff Standridge: Josh, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today.

Jeff Amerine: Yeah, thanks very much for coming on. Great insights.

Josh Linkner: Well Jeff and Jeff, thank you and I really celebrate the work you’re doing. You’re making the world a better place. I admire your program here and am grateful to have had a conversation. Thank you.

Jeff Standridge: Thank you, and please check out Josh’s book at biglittlebreakthroughs.com. Did I get that right, biglittlebreakthroughs.com.

Josh Linkner: You got it.

Jeff Standridge: Thanks so much. See you on the next episode.

Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, 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 please 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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