Innovation Nation
Innovation Nation

Episode · 1 year ago

A Mountain Climber’s Guide to Innovation w/ Liz Fendt


It sounds like the start of a joke: What do corporations and Kilimanjaro have in common?

Quite a lot, actually, when it comes to mental toughness, agility, and a growth mindset.

In this episode, I interview Liz Fendt, Global CMO and Cofounder of Women’s Network at TUV SUD, about innovation, climbing, and advocacy.

We had an amazing conversation about:

  • Undertaking preparation for mountaineering… and not making the summit
  • 2 reasons women don’t step up to opportunity
  • Developing a fixed vs. a growth mindset
  • Co-founding the Women’s Network and the importance of people

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Innovation is all around us. In fact, everyone innovates, often unbeknowns to themselves. Many mistakenly assumed the innovation is either a big capital project, a figurative bolt of lightning that brings inspiration, or the province of some exceptionally gifted person. This is the myth of innovation. But you can innovate as well. You are listening to innovation nation, the podcast where top executives and industry experts are sharing their insights on harnessing the power of innovation. We're here to help you stay ahead of the curve by driving your own innovation. Here's your host, Jasmine Martyr Rossen. Hi, everybody, this is to sit innovation nation. Your host is Jasmine March rous in. Our guest today is Lis fend she's the global CMO of to Zood, which is a very global organization with over a thousand locations and about three billion in aial revenue in US dollars. Liz, as global CMO and I'm very fortunate to know you in person. I know that you scale heights, both at a corporate level and physically mountains all over the world. So I'm just wondering, does that have anything to do with innovation. How does that help you do integrate the two activities? Somehow can you share with us? Yeah, okay. Well, first of all, thanks very very much for having me on. It's a great pleasure. And in pepper ration for this, I was sort of in my mind considering all their parallels and I think I came to the conclusion that absolutely there are. There are parallels between scaling heights in your career and, in my mind, scaling or ambition for mountaineering, and there are definite parallels between mountaineering and innovation. So first of all, just to sort of said a bit of context and for everyone to hear who I am and what I've been doing. So I started very young. So my father is a mountaineer. He took me along with him when I was at thirteen, fourteen years old and I started for real for myself and my s and I think this is probably where they the parallels start. So I set myself some targets. So in the S I said, okay, I definitely want to achieve the highest mountains in North Africa and Central Africa, the Highest Mountain in Europe, and you know. So I set myself those ambitions and in doing so, I started realizing, after some successes and failures, that there are a few things you need to do, and I think this is where I would like to draw some comparison between mountaineering and the corporate world. So I think first and foremost, you've got to be bold, right when it comes to innovation, when it comes to your career, when it comes to mountaineering, you need to set yourself some stretch targets. It's not going to be a situation where you walk out of the dog say right, today I'm going to clamp my Fuji. You know, you need to be bold, you need to set yourself something where you do sort of start thinking, you know, you do have sleepless nights, and I was to have sleepless nights in my corporate life sometimes, where you feel you know you are definitely in a stretch environment and that's good. That that's good. It sets you adrenaline and it gets you. You get to your mind and your physical capability going. Second thing I think is it enables you to be more agile. I mean, I've had so many different things happened to me on a mountain. I mean my tent flew off once, the ten got flooded. I had somebody pointing a gun at me in one situation. You know, you you have to be prepared for the unknown, and I think that's something you can also correlate to work. Right you know, if you have a project, it doesn't doesn't necessarily go to plan, but if you have an entire suite of experience from a completely different part of your life, you know it. You realize that you know the ten floor off the entire mountain. And there I was with my sleeping bag exposed to the elements. But life goes on. I still the next morning, I got up, I sept through the rest of the night, I was soaked through and I submitted and that was an incredible experience. So, you know, translating that back to the team, when we know set up to to achieve some pretty good projects, some things go wrong and...

I think it's important that you look at that with an open mind, that you keep Agile, that you keep flexible and you also retain a sense of fun and it has sense of spirit. So there's Mac girls gotta be some mental strength. That's also needed right to take that next step each time to meet that's also innovation, because you may not see the entire staircase. Yeah, as you know, how do you deal with that? What you do to motivate yourself to have, in essence, almost the faith to yeah, going on? I think there's a combination of a few things. I think first and foremost, you do need to be very aware of what you need to do to prepare, so you know you can't go at it cold I think preparation is is key and you know, if you look at an Alex honold's scaling in the the documentary, he basically said he tried every single foothold combination. And the same is, you know, in the case of Kilimanjaro. It was my first major amountain and what I did was said, okay, I need nine months to prepare for that and I broke those nine months down in two months and within the months, the weeks or what I wanted to achieve to prepare for that. So that preparation for me for mountaineering consisted of nutritional preparation, changing my diet, preparation of physical tenacity. So you really do need to build your physical capability and you do need mental tenacity. You need to prepare yourself mentally for the fact that it's going to be tough. So my runs got longer. The pain, you know, threshold increased over time. And it's the same for innovation. You know, as you say, you can't see the entire staircase. But if you mentally prepared and you know that you can push some limits, then I feel in a corporate environment and innovation you will achieve a lot more. An example for you would be I did a high Catholon. It was fifty kilometers. It was a cross about I think six different mountains in Hong Kong. I'm telling you, Jasmine. The last twelve kilometers would just literally mental strength. I was exhausted and, you know, I would sing to myself, I would just keep fixed on the fact that I have ten kilometers go and I count myself down. I told myself stories, I took myself to a different place, you know, and it's amazing mentally what you can do to prepare yourself or to strengthen your mind to get to that end goal. And I really don't know how I did it. I look back and I think, my goodness, and I got myself over the end go. But after that I had this incredible unleash of energy. So you do. You know, you do have more energy than you actually think. You do also, mentally, well, just the whole idea of what we'recoming that difficulty right, that's inspiration. So I'm that last twelve mile, you know, section. Would you tell yourself as you can do it. Absolutely. And you know what is also really important, you almost go into a tunnel mindset. You say you keep very, very focused. You know, you set yourself yourself for the next kilometer. You break it down into semi goals and I think in that respect it becomes somehow more manageable. That is so true. I mean I do that myself, breaking down into a smaller party. I don't just about anything. I remember having a long commute and mentally I would overcome that our long drive by thinking of it as achievement in sections. And it's interesting. We don't think of people in the court operation as athlete, but in essence we are or bring athletes. Right. Yeah, I think something I wanted to talk about today was the sense of disappointment and failure because, let's be honest, not every single innovation goes well, and you know that isn't a bad thing. You know you you know there's a lot of talk around the topic of you learn more from failure than you do from success, and I also wanted to talk a little bit about failure and disappointment, also in the context of mountaineering, how that's helped me in my corporate world. So, going back to the topic of Killimunjaro, I prepare for nine months. I thought I was physically capable and I add something bad the night before and that's something you...

...can't prepare for and I was very, very ill on the mountain and I end up getting altitude sickness. So I could see the summit. You can imagine how frustrating that was for me. I could see the summit and I knew I couldn't take a another step because I would be extremely sick, and the guide said to me, Liz, you have to go down, and the hardest two steps I think can my entire life were turning and walking down that mountain seeing the rest of the group summit and I knew that I had the capability physically, but I just couldn't manage it. And you know that made me more than my result, even more for the next summit that I did. So you know, I thought Crikey, I'm going to prepare better. I'm definitely going to make sure that I, you know, ensure that my nutrition is right right until the last moment. And sure enough, five years later I summitted a higher mountain and had no issues whatsoever with altitude. And I think if I had not have had that experience, which was very humbling, I would not probably have been, let's say, more resolutely, more fixed, more determined than ever to achieve greater heights. So I know you bring your family with you very often, your two daughters, yea, and right now they may not necessarily quite like it's just the way you were as a child, but similar of the I know that it to suit. You've been paving the way for women by CO founding the women's network. Can you please tell me a little bit how that that's also an innovation, that idea king to you. I think what what what happened was the first time I stood in front of the Management Conference. I think I was early s and it goes again back to, I think, the topic of mountaineering. member. I remember distinctly standing in front of an audience of messed up being about a hundred, hundred and twenty people in that room and all I could see were male faces, you know. And after years I'm standing in front of the same audience thinking, well, actually is not that much has changed. And you know, to suit as a fantastic organization, but we do some really good things and we have some fantastic women within the organization and I think you get to a point in your career and in your life where you really want to give back and for me I realize that there was an opportunity. There's definitely in need and I think when you talk to women, one of the main reasons that they probably don't step up is that they don't have enough role models. Another reason they don't step up is that they feel that they don't have a sufficient network, they don't have people championing them and perhaps they don't know how. So it happened almost by chance. I was sitting with two other colleagues in the canteen and Munich. The other two ladies were feeling the same way and we said, well, let's start simple, let's let's build a lunch network in Munich and let's start getting ladies to to meet each other that don't know each other and let's start building a small community and that was, you know, a way it started and then, slowly, but sure need to be honest, it took off so quickly we were amazed, and then we started building some structure around that and then we started building some pillarts. So the more you get talking to women, the more you have a clear understanding of what the needs are. So we started thinking, okay, there are three foundations that we need to put in place to really support women into suit. One of them was mentoring, the other on was networking and the third one was role modeling. So I heard you share some fascinating research once would sign more successful women that had scaled hides at the corporate level too. Having calm and can you share the highlights of that research, please? Absolutely. I mean it's been a fascinating journey with the women's network because I've had the opportunity to speak to both female leaders and successful women within the organization and the men who champion them. And, you know, after interviewing several women, I started realizing there are some common threads throughout. So to share those with you now. Interestingly, you would think that by rights, perhaps most successful women would have a career plan and most of them didn't. I spoke to they said, you know, they didn't necessarily start off...

...that ambitious and the ambition didn't manifest itself immediately and they don't mostly have a career plan. Instead, you know, they saw opportunity, they seized opportunity and they put themselves in a situation where they said, Hey, I can do this or this is a this is an area of need. You know, I could do this, and they basically put the hand up and said Hey, you know, put me in. Second thing is they all identified the fact that they were successful due to the fact that they had mentors, male or female mentors, and somewhere within the organization, somewhere outside of the organization, somewhere former mentors, somewhere informal mentors. But the role of mentors was extremely important and I feel that they they explained that there's a gray area between mentoring and championing. Some of those mentors automatically champion them, put them forward for the roles that they then took, and others had a very clear definition of you know, some people champion and some people literally just mentor them from the side. I think first and foremost was the their mental attitude. They all had this can do attitude, this sort of glass half full. And lastly, they seize the opportunity. They definitely said that they stepped into situation is whether they were geographic, whether it was a role where it wasn't necessarily comfortable, they were willing and able to step out of their comfort zone. That's excellent, fascinating and to me you spoke very interesting about having a plan, not having a plan and opportunity. If you look into the journeys of very successful men to it's usually when they recognize the opportunity. In fact, sometimes some people make plans and then opportunity knots and they never really recognize it. So that's a very interesting distinction. Any thought, I think it's a question of a fixed and a growth mindset. So I once met a lady had a ten year life plan and you know, this life plan consisted of her having a child at date x and it didn't work out for her like that and I felt that she was then so fixed on that idea became so disappointed with it that almost she was entrapped by that plan she had, and I explained to her that maybe, you know, it's a great idea to have a plan. Maybe she should ditch the plan and, you know, instead live her life and see what opportunities come up. And sure enough, things started to change for her and now she's a happy mum of too, and she's also managed to career that could, you know, climb the career ladder. So I I think a growth mindset it an ability to be flexible, to really say, okay, I'm going to keep my eyes and my ears opener wits about me to see what opportunities come up. I think enables you to then identify what the right time is, what the right place is, who the right people are to contact if you see an opportunity to come up. So I feel that having a high level of IQ is important as or Equo as important, and it's good to have a plan for you equally needs a certain amount of flexibility. So it's about a jewelry, right. I think a Jul it is now key to marketing as well. Absolutely husband. For a while, absolutely so, some key preparation. You talked about, you know, preparing yourself mentally. Where does visualization come into three or do you use it at all? Yeah, I do use it. I've increasingly used it. The more I read about visualization, the power of visualization, the more I use it. That fifty kilometer hike is an example. I definitely use visualization. I could literally see the finish line. I I you know, twelve kilometers ahead of it. I could see it. I could mentally prepare myself running through the finish line. I've used it also. I've taken I've guided women up mountains. A take my own children up mountains and I can tell you this. When you're taking and a you know, and a nine and eleven year old up a pretty high mountain, you need to make sure that you're visualizing what you're going to do with them at the top. The might not necessarily be a summit. It's that warm cup of hot chocolate at the summit. You know, enabling the people who you with to visualize the goal is equally as important and I think taking that example...

...across to a team, it's important to not just have a, you know, a visual goal for yourself. And it's seldom the case that I literally climb by myself. I'm often climbing in a group and send, you know, sometimes I'm leading a group. Sometimes that group is extremely experienced, other times they're less so and I think it's very important that you have a shared goal and the you also talk with excitement about what you're going to do at the top. Make It, you know, a sense of achievements celebrated. You know, have a body of champagne at the top, or have some chocolates or have hot chocolate, you know, whatever it is, and, in a corporate sense, celebrate success because you know, you work really hard to get there. And I think it's important then, that you celebrate and that you rest and that you give yourself some time to really, you know, you know, enjoy that moment before you go you take on the next challenge. That's a very important reminder. We race through life at such a high speed that very often all of us forget to pause and celebrate. Yeah, and you know, you share that, you talk to the team and you bring your vision to the team. Do you have any tips on how people can do that effectively, because, again, that helps them drive the innovation and be on the same page. I think, particularly in this year, it's been an interesting year for me leading a team. I have the you know, the wonderful experience. I need a team, you know, which are which consists of two groups of people effectively across two very different continents, very different cultures, very different race and you know, trying to find an ability to bring that team together and have a share, a common vision for the global marketing team and then the larger team with all of the regions included. I think what the most important thing is is that you articulate clearly as a leader, where you want to get to and that you also include every single one of those people in that vision. And you know, and as an example of what I did recently before Christmas, is we shared what we felt were our team achievements. So we enabled every single person on the global marketing team to talk about their year and I think everybody then feels that they are contributing and they are contributing to a common goal. So, as a leader, yes, it's important that we have an umbrella message and that we talked about it, but it's important in my mind, that everybody sees that they are a component of that vision and that everybody has a very important contribution to make. That's very, very, very important. So would refer to say that when you started your career, something's very accomplished. You would not necessarily see yourself where you are, but you also responded to opportunities. Absolutely. I was thinking that actually before I came on today. You know, I obviously I didn't start off early s with the vision to become the Global Cmo of this company in order. I set off eight years ago to cofound a women's network. I mean again, it's a situation where you you develop over time and, to be honest, I think the more, and it's example for myself, the more I've stepped out of the comfort zone, the more I believe in myself, the more I feel I can achieve the next step and things start opening up for you. You know, and I give you one example, when I was when I was thirty two, I had an option. Had the option to stay where I was and it was a very comfortable place. The second option was a very uncomfortable place and for me it meant getting on an airplane, leaving the comfort zone and traveling the world by myself for a year. And I chose the second option and I can tell you one thing. I have never ever looked back. That was the most amazing experience of my life. It taught me so much. You know, is in incredible situations. I scaled. That was where I scaled mountains by myself. I can for myself for the first time. I worked in a Sari Shop, I worked in India. I actually bought a horse and rode across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia by myself. I encount my very first stand storm, you know, the most amazing collection of experiences. I learned tango and Buenos Aires and each of those experiences contributed to the person I... today. And then I came back. So, after a year of all of this, I you know, I came back to the office and I realized I changed so much and I had this incredible, you know, wealth of experience and my mindset had changed that I realized that I ha I can do so much more, and I think that's when I started taking bigger leaps. And then the more you do, the more you realize you can do, and it's it becomes a collective now and as well, I think, for the team. The more we do, and I include you in that, Jasmine, the more we know we can do and then we become more convinced that the greatness of who we are collectively. So it's a very exciting team prospect. That's a fabulous statement. The more you do, the more you realize you can do. And I know some people are probably puzzled. So you said he had an important choice. Stay in the comfort zone or go into extreme discomfort but very great adventure. So what was propelling that question? I think the the question for me was I could see it I got there, I could visualize if I stayed in the comforts of what my life would be like. I mean it played out in front of me in various permutations when I saw my friends, and they're wonderful people and they made a choice as well. But for me I kept thinking what if, what if, and this voice inside me in a what if. What if I went out, what would I see? And I think my curiosity definitely started to build inside to a point where I thought I can't ignore this voice inside me, I need to follow it. And I remember distinctly the fear I had what I left when I took off. I took a plane too. It was a one way ticket to Buenos Aires. I had nothing else planned at all I wanted to do is travel overland throughout the entire South America for six months. Then I picked up all my mountaineering gear and then climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest and then I walked. I took a walk by foot from Vietnam to China. I watch a long way through China and then I bought this horse and then took the horse through through Mongolia, and then I took a train through Siberia and lived in Siberia for a while. So, as you can probably imagine, you know I had a better had it again, I had a general plan, but the detail, you know, only started filling out, as in when I started on this trip. And I can tell you this thing. There's no way out of said in January of that year I'm going to be buying a horse, I'm going to be going across the Mongolian desert on this horse. No Way. But again, you build confidence, you build selfbelief and there's suddenly this excitement and you realize you know, there are some fantastic people in this world and you know it depends on how you are and how you behave really how the world echoes back to you. So that became a very interesting journey. The people I met were probably the most important, interesting part of that journey. That's such a fantastic and inspirational story is, and you ended with saying the people that are amazing people in the world. So it's the ability to also hardness, that power of positivity right. I think we can all bring out the best and the worst in people, but again it's a mindset. Looking for the best really yields very different outcomes and I honestly think that that experience and all this combined travel, I think I've traveled to about over eighty countries now, because made me very acutely aware of the fact that if you have a diverse team of people, you can achieve very, very great things and it might not be a comfortable thing. There's something called a homofully trap. I'm not sure if you've heard about it or not. Basically it it makes people generally hire people who are similar to them, and to break out of that hormawfully trap, there are various things that you can do and you can consertively say I want to make sure I populate this team with different opinions and different ideas, because we're talking about innovation and if you have a diverse group of people who start sparking off each other, it might not be comfortable but I'm telling you, you get some very, very interesting divergent opinions and that where that's...

...where the music is and I think that that travel and the experience with the different, you know, array of people, and I actually was, you know, preparing a book at the time and I was asking women around the world the same question, you know, what are your dreams, what are your aspirations, and it was very interesting to see that everybody had, you know, you whether they lived in a mud hut or whether they lived in a, you know, a desert, the general pensensus was that they wanted to have a good quality of life. To bringing that back across to the team, you know, we have a I have a very diverse group of people working for me in the global marketing team and the greater team, and but we all want the same thing. We all want the same sense of success and achievement and performance and I think with those different, you know, mindsets and cultures and you know, that could be geographic, that could be cultural, that can be national, it really it generates more, I think, a large diverse group of people, whether that's a gender diversity or religious diversity or nationalities. I think it generates a g greater, you know, outcome than where we all to be the same. I could not agree with you more. You know I have a shared passion for travel and I found that it's invigorating to see both the differences. Learned from them. Have different world who's and perspectives, but at the same time I found that most people are on the world want the same things. You know, we have far more in common. So sometimes the fear of diversity comes from the fear of the unknown. Yeah, but you know what I've also realized over time is if you put people who have that fear into a context where they experience it firsthand, they become staunch advocates by diversity. Have quite a number of people who have. I've said to them, you know, what you really need to do is to move to country a and experience it. You know, it's wonderful to travel, it's wonderful to go on holiday, but I'm telling you to actually live and experience firsthand a very, very different environment would make you start seeing things from a different perspective. Will make you understand people in a different way. You know what they do, what they do at the weekend, what kind of food do they eat? How do they think and you know, ultimately they come to the same conclusion that we all want the same thing. And again, in a similar situation to the one I just describe for myself, those people have come back and they have changed, and they've changed in such a positive way. They have this wonderful broad mindset. Usually, you know, it's accompanyed by increased language capability, get that self confidence to travel, which they then translate back into the corporate world. You know, they achieve more and they have a greater propensity to take on more. It's interesting. I just real call the small episodes where I was telling a young man who was at career across worlds, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do. I said, look, you know, you're an American, you speak English. Just maybe spend a year in Asia to teach English and you'll find yourself in his response was like Jasmine, you think I have to go that far to find myself? Sometimes, yes, just pushing ourselves outside the comfort zone could give us better insights, and it doesn't necessarily have to be geographic. I mean, I'm an absolute proponent of lifelong learning and I think that in many ways it's academic pursuit of more knowledge, to reading through taking courses. I have a KPI for myself that every year for five weeks of study and I study something completely different. And I also have a KPI for myself that I learned something new. So, you know, two weeks ago I tried snow showing for the first time and I'm about to start doing cross country skiing. I mean, whatever that might be. Taking yourself into a situation where you learning new skills, no matter what age you are, what capability, will only, I think, lead to something very positive. If nothing else, you can laugh at yourself. That's a brilliant phrase, right. You don't hear too many people say I have a KPI for myself. Do you encourage your team members still also said personal growth goals like that? I do. In fact, I just have my kickoff meetings with my my sub team leads, and most of the meetings are say so, have you made a news resolutions? And they're say yes, I know,...

...and I would tell them. I'll talk quite openly about, you know, some of the ones that I've set for myself, and I think that's all about leading by example. If you know, and I structured them into you know my academic kpiyes into my physical kpiyes and you know there are certain things that you know, I don't enjoy doing, and I've no issue by saying that. Cooking is something I least like doing and I've decided that I'm going to learn set ten survival dishes this year. It's so not and it's fun right in it. I think it also enables people in my team to see that the list consists of more than have corporate capability of mountaineering adventures. But she also has areas where, you know, she has weakness and she has no she's not afraid to tackle them. All this is, ever, you're absolutely, you know, inspirational and fascinating. It always a joy speaking with you. Is there a question that you wish I had asked and I did not, that you'd like to share some insets on? No, I think we've covered all the points well. Again, thank you so much for joining the podcast and always every interaction I have with you I lie feeling inspired. Thank you. Well, thank you very much. As know, it was a fantastic opportunity. Thank you very very much. You've been listening to innovation nation. For more, subscribe to the podcast in your favorite podcast player or connect with us on Linkedin. Thanks for listening.

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