Innovation Nation
Innovation Nation

Episode · 3 months ago

What to Do When Innovation Stops Being ​​Enticing w/ Robyn M. Bolton


Some companies want to innovate, but it’s a struggle. That’s because innovation is hard.

Find ways to actively encourage curiosity. At the beginning of an innovation journey, you’ll have to make an effort to highlight curiosity, reward it, and make it an unquestionably good thing within your culture.

In this episode of Innovation Nation, I interview Robyn M. Bolton, Founder & Chief Navigator at MileZero, about how she coaches companies that desire to innovate but feel disillusioned about what it will take.

Join us as we discuss:

  • When town hall enthusiasm becomes companywide disillusionment
  • Creating incentives and motivation beyond the scope of employee tenure
  • The importance of risk management while taking action
  • As Michaelangelo is to marble, Robyn is to PowerPoint
  • Embracing curiosity

Check out these resources we mentioned:

Tune in on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Innovation is all around us. Infact, everyone innovates, often unbeknowns to themselves. Many mistakenly assume the innovationis 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 ofinnovation. But you can innovate as well. You're listening to innovation nation, thepodcast where top executives and industry experts are sharing their insights on harnessing thepower of innovation. We're here to help you stay ahead of the curve bydriving your own innovation. Here's your host, Jasmine Martyr Rosen Hi. Welcome tothe new episode of Innovation Nation. This is your host, Jasmine MarchRossian. Joining me today is our guest, Robin and Bolton. She's the founderand chief navigator at mild zero DOT IO. Welcome, Robin. Thankyou, Jasmine. It's a pleasure to be here. Great. So Robinis actually based in Boston and she does innovation consulting for a large and mediumsized organizations, and so obviously you steeped in everything innovation and would love tohear your views. Where do you start? Let's say you're coming to a bigcompany. What what does innovation consulting involved? And it is a greatquestion. It starts first off with, you know, the company recognizing thatthey are struggling to innovate and however they define it and that they want todo better. And oftentimes companies have tried lots of different things. I meanthere's so many amazing books out there, tools, all sorts of advice andthey've tried it but they're not getting the results they want. And so Istart with them, usually kind of at the most fundamental level of just saying, okay, you want help with innovation. What is innovation? Innovation is abuzzword. So when you say that, what do you mean? And usuallyeveryone around the table has a different answer to that question, which rightthere, when everyone's going in different directions with different expectations, you're going tohave a challenge. So we start off with what is innovation and what doesthe company need from it, and then we build from there. And whenit comes to innovation, what types of patterns do you see? I seevery regularly there's always great enthusiasm at the beginning. You know, executives areexcited, the staff is excited, employees are excited and there's a real energyand enthusiasm and usually there's some kind of events that kicks everything off. Youknow, it's a town hall by the CEO, it's a hackathon or ashark tank, there's some event that kicks everything off and then within three tosix months it is all petered out and now everyone is sadly dissolutions like,oh, that was just another flavor of the month. You know, there'sall this talk about innovation, but we've gone back to doing everything the waywe've always done it. There are no results, nothing has changed, andit is a common pattern. It happens basically at every company that I've everworked with, and it's also really understandable because innovation is really hard. Changeis hard and things don't change because you had an event exact or town hallmeeting. It takes time and it takes effort and it's not at all sexyand glamorous. So how do you keep sustained momentum? In No, sinceyou talking about change management, to change management is a huge component. TheWay to maintain momentum is is you actually have to take a really practical viewof what you're doing, so you have to view innovation as you would aproject or as a discipline. And so,...

...let's say you started with an event. You know, let's say you started with a hack of thon,okay, you know, you have the teams come and present. What happensnext? You have to start with the end in mind. And so whenyou start with an event, if to say, how do we keep thisgoing? What is our plan to fund the ideas to come out of it? What is our plan to allocate resources to this? How do we showthat we're in this for the long haul? Because what I've seen time and timeand time again that innovation is not an idea problem. A lot ofcompanies like we need more ideas. You have more ideas than you know whatto do with. Innovation is a leadership problem and it's a resource allocation problem. You know, also talking about prioritization. Yeah, very much so, andI get it, like I have a lot of empathy for for seniorexecutives when it comes to innovation, because they let's just talk about money andpeople on their teams and they a dollar spent on innovation is a dollar notspent on the current business and innovation is a lot more uncertain than the currentbusiness and most leaders, their kpis what they get measured on, what theyget their bonuses on, are tied to the short term and so they makevery logical decisions of I'm going to invest in the thing that is more certainand that I'm going to get rewarded for, and that's not innovation. I'm hearingyou say that short term goals and objectives stifle long term innovation and longyeah, mothiness, some yeah driving, yeah, very much so, andit's it's far more acute in public companies, as you'd imagine, than in privatecompanies, but certainly private companies aren't immune to that short term ism either. And you know, the way you address it is you create incentives thatmotivate people to invest in innovation. The other thing, in the far trickierthing, is incentives that reward people for making an investment now that's not goingto pay off until after they've left that role, and that's really tricky tojust manage from like an hr a comp standpoint. But when you think that, you know what the average tenure in a role is, somewhere between liketwenty four and thirty six months. An investment in innovation is going to takemuch longer to pay off, and so you have to, you know,essentially find a way to reward people for investing today to get a benefit thatthey won't see, and that's really, really tricky. No, I canimagine, especially now with post pandemic. Well, it's not over, itstill going on. But going to resignation, resignation and all the different trends thatwe're seeing in the market phase, it's almost like long term thinking.He's even more revolting. Yeah, yeah, especially I think you make a greatpoint with the great resignation, and you know, it's the long termthinking as much harder. I think the great resignation is also a sign of, you know, employees wanting to work some more where they feel valued andfeeling empowered to to leave if they're not getting what they want. And youso many studies show that people part of feeling valued as feeling heard and feelinglike they're contributing, and innovation is an incredible way to do that, whichis why I think so many companies invest in hackathons and Shark tanks and brainstormingsessions, and that's why you get so much enthusiasm, because people feel like, oh, finally I found a place that the rewards and values my creativity, and that's why then kind of a hangover, the innovation hangover, soto speak, is so acute. So you mention at one point that it'snot just about generating more ideas. Right,...'s about more having the rigular anddiscipline to execute and see through the ideas. Yes, yeah, it'sideas are a dime, a dozen decisions are perfection, but action is priceless. You have to act on things and there are ways to do it thatso many companies, rightfully so, are very risk averse and so it canfeel like, oh, we have an idea, and then companies and belike, okay, you know what we do well, we do big thingsreally well. So we're going to take this little idea and we're going tomake it big and we're going to scale it and we're going to launch toglobally and it's going to be huge. And that is incredibly risky because iswhen you have an idea, that's all you have. There are so manymore unknowns than notes, whereas you know, if you take an idea and yougrow it little by little, you can of learn your way there itwill get big or you will be able to stop it, but it killedthe idea. Put they and move on to the next one. And soreally becomes about risk mitigation because again, there's there's so much about innovation thatis leadership, resource allocation, risk management, fear management. I could not agreemore with you that tendency to go big. Again, I think itcomes from generally people's desire to do something big with an impact, but youhave to really be willing to start small. Actually, I learned a great lessonwith that and in the weeks museum in Amsterdam. You know, wewill know beautiful rules through his gigantic canvases, but there is a room, likethere's a huge hole would all these beautiful gigantic canvases and kind of hiddenbehind is a small room which shows how he played all of those out onso small scale. And when I saw this it was like a light bulbfor me because I've been working on some global projects and we'd started with thebigger ones and then with gone to smaller ones and it would have been somuch better to start small. That is that is such an amazing story.It's like it's the perfect illustration of how innovation should be. I mean Iremember at this the start of my where I was a practical gamble as inbrand management, was working on developing and launching swiffer and s for for whatchat. So we're putting Swart for what, Chad into target markets, and thetarget market was Canada and Belgium. Like, those aren't target markets,those are countries. So you know, I myself, I too am guiltyof like, Oh, we're going to test something small in Belgium, whichis really like two cultures at least right. Yes, Oh, it's not evenlydifferent market to testing. No, but you know, big global companythose, those seem like small countries, like, oh, that's small,tastes it. No, small is, you know, one town in theUS. But we all learn, we do. We all learn. That'sthe beauty of it. You talk about it's a memorable line. That's MichaelAngelo had marble, which will know he didn't wonders with. And then youhave powerpoint. ME, how do you use powerpoint to deliver the magic ofwhat Michaelange eluded with marvel? Well, I certainly cannot claim to be MichaelAngelo or even, you know, a shred of Michael Angelo's genius. II got to use it as a joke because, you know, everyone knows, consultants come in and you know there's pages and pages and pages of powerpoints and usually it's pretty mind numbing. So, even though I spend mylife and work in innovation, I still use this very non innovative tool tocommunicate. But what I try to do...

...with powerpoint some sil of what MichaelAngelo and the great artist try to do. What their art is to evoke afeeling and to evoke curiosity and emotions, because so much of what we doin business, you know, it's left my left brain. It's logic, and the thing is we don't stop being humans when we go to workand we can't shut off our emotions and our aspirations and our fears. Andso I try to use use the medium I have, which is powerpoint,to talk to all of those parts, to talk to the head, theheart and the guts leaders to talk to their logic in the left brain andto talk to their hearts, you know, their emotions, their aspirations, theirfears, and talk to the guts to be like no, you cando this and here's how we're going to do it safely. So makes thempowerfully. Can Say I try. Yeah, he's you use it as like abackground canvas and then you paint the picture. Yes, beautifully. Putwhere you going to steal that line. So that's important because, frankly,I think we, all of us, have sapped through a share of powerpointswhere, like dance, sentences are laid out in front of an audience allof them can read and then then quickly read and then the speaker is repeatingexactly what's on powerpoint. HMM, and it defies it's like the antithesis ofinvading. Yes, and it's just it's so mind numbing and boring because you'reright, like you sit there, you've read it. Now you have tolisten to somebody say it to you and the whole time you know what I'vebeen in that situation. You're like, couldn't you have just said this asa pre reach? We could come in and talk about this, like it'sso much more interesting and important to discuss and to share ideas and to askquestions, and that's what moves things forward. powerpoints don't move things forward. Theygive you can a foundation to start from. But then it's the humanelement and the conversation that moves things forward. So earlier in this conversation you talkedabout how a lot of leaders rely on brainstorming. Yeah, to driveinnovation. Now, if you ask me, I think most of the brainstorming isdone, hopefully wrong, because that dominant idea emerges. I mean,please agree with me if I'm wrong on this, but you know what I'mtalking about. A dominant idea merges. Then an hour or two our spenttalking just around that idea. It's go free story. HMM. Yes,and you get lots of colorful sticky notes all over the room and it feelsvery exciting and then you leave the room and ten minutes later you're like whatjust happened? And so, yeah, it's it's tough because brainstorming sessions,there is a purpose to them, but it's rarely the purpose that you thinkand to the way when I do brainstorming sessions, because I do believe inthe power of, you know, diversity of thought and the collective, isactually start off with what I call silent ideation, and so everybody silently writesdown their ideas, precisely what I'd yes, and then you have everyone share theideas, because that make sure everyone gets hurt, because you know,introverts and extroverts, and I'm an introvert. So ideation sessions I find very drainingbecause they're loud and people are shouting things across it like, Oh,I just I need time to think that. You got to get hear from everybody. So I start with the silent ideation and then again, kind ofgoing back to what we talked about with hackathons and shark tanks. You don't, I don't do an ideation session until...

I know the here, the stepsof what we're going to do afterwards. So this is what we're going tobe able to do in the brainstorming session. But there's a lot of work thatcomes later to make sure that the idea we talked about the most,like you said, doesn't buy a default become the idea we pursue. Maybeit should, but maybe there's an idea we didn't talk about them. Weactually take a step back and think about it, it's better position to deliverwhat we need. And so there's, you know, thinking and prioritization andthen, you know, action planning that happens after the session to make surethat momentum continues. Absolutely and and actually I think you get better buying becausepeople feel hurt. Yes, silent ideation, like I'll ask folks to each rightthree ideas, and you collect more in the end and people really feelbecause part of the process. Yes, supposed to being bystanders in it,but yeah, yeah, I know it's it's so true. And because theyfeel part of the process, they're more likely to be an advocate as thingsgo on, versus just kind of leaning back and like well, whatever,I don't know, I don't care. They're invested exactly. So goes frombeing a flavor of the month initiative into something that sustained. Now, thinkingof sustained, you've referenced Taking Action Several Times. How do you build theculture that takes action, that innovates them taking action? Yeah, building thatculture takes time and you got to start right. You got to start theprocess, and there are people in every organization who who do want to takeaction and who are comfortable working in ambiguity and taking risks, and so it'sstarting off by finding those folks and then it's all about creating proof points andhighlighting that to be like hey, we ran this experiment, whatever it is, and this is what we learned. And oftentimes that experiment you will notlearn what you expected to learn or you will not get the results you expected. And when the team talks about that and shares that openly and the organizationsees that they're not punished, they're not fired, the initiative is and shutdown that they're allowed to take that learning continue to work. That starts toshow others it's safe to take action when you're uncertain. But it takes timeafter time after time of showing the safety in learning to really kind of getit to percolate throughout the organization. You raising a really good coin being opento really acknowledge new facts when they present themselves rather than just ignore them becauseit was not in the original plan. Yeah, yeah, that's what Imean. One of the Silicon Valley Mantras we've all heard is fail fast,and I always laughed. Is like, you know what, nobody wants tofail. It doesn't matter what speed you fail at, nobody wants to doit. And so we need to reframe it, because what's really meant byfail fast is to act and to learn, and so it's not about failing fast. It's about learning fast, and the best way to learn is bydoing. Actually, assurance was running and add every cool. That's it.Nobody's planning to fail, they just fail to plan. How to plan,yees. So it's almost like plan to, you know, experiment. Yeah,let's look a lot of times that, you know, I talk to workwith my clients and like just worry about the next ninety days. Whatare you going to be smarter about ninety days from now? Doesn't mean youhave to have all the answers, but you want to be smarter and aquarter. What are you going to be smarter about? And why does thatmatter? Move you closer to the goal? Because even especially in innovation, yearsan eternity, but ninety days.

Ninety days feels both long and shortat the same time, and you can always get smarter in ninety days.So let's focus on that. So when you talk and getting smarter, inessence you're also talking about changing your mindset. Right. You have to have adifferent cool to you. How do you entice and encourage people to dothat? Yeah, part of it is is building that safety that you knowit's okay to be wrong, and part of it is, again, findingpeople. I think we are all born naturally curious. You just look atkids and kids are curious and for some people it's easier to tap into thatcuriosity than others. So find the people who are curious and they will instinctivelykind of gravitate to the action and to the learning, and then you usethem as the examples to show that it's safe to other folks to be curiousand to learn. Absolutely we Francesco Gina has done some amazing work on curiosity. Yes, amazing, amazing work. I actually like proactively share those arebecause with everyone, because it's so important. It's so important and it's not aword that like routinely comes up in business. CITTYS. No, Imean people, I think, especially when you think about with kids being curious, I always think like curious George, you know, the monkey from thechildren's books, and how he was curious and he got into a ton ofmischief and trouble, and so sometimes we can have negative connotations, but reallycurious he's just asking questions and asking why and seeking to understand. But thenalso, you know so often the companies, you ask, well, why dowe do it this way, and the answers. Well, it's alwaysbeen done that way. Well, that's not an answer and we still likehere. That's so often curiosity killed the cat. I mean the whole freezeaction actively discourages. Yes, curiosity, Yep, yeah, and so that'swhy it's so important to find ways to active the encourage curiosity. And atthe beginning it's so much about rewarding it and highlighting it and and making itsomething that is a is obviously unquestionably a good thing, absolutely so. Imean no company that I can ever think of will ever say and we're goingto become non creative and we're going to become not in any like. It'snot in anybody's plan. Right. Yeah, ever, but it happens routinely allthe time. And then entire industries disappeared because they fail to innovate.M Yeah, it's the classic. It's the INNOVATOR's dilemma. You know,I won't I worked at Clay Christensen's firm for for almost a decade and soyou know, saw it time and time again that even when leaders were incrediblyconscious of the innovator's dilemma and they knew exactly why it happened, you knowwe'd be sitting in meetings and saying, okay, you know, you're doingthe same thing better, better and better to your best customers and you're seating, you know, the lower parts of the market and like yes, that'swhy you're here. We want to do destructive innovation, says, okay,all right, destructive innovation is doing something that's lower quality, you know,lower cost to your customer. It seems not good enough by most people andthey're like, we absolutely do not want to do that, let's never talkabout that again. And it's like, okay, this is this is thechallenge. And you know, to some extent it is. I've been workingin this space for far, far too long, I think. For bigcompanies, you know what they're there safe spot, where they feel comfortable iswith incremental innovation and with moving into adjacencies, and that's innovation and those two typesof innovation are really important. But... expect them to completely redefine themarket they work in, to redefine the industry, it's just it's too hard. And so, while you know CEO's need to say that the we're goingto disrupt ourselves, and investors need to hear it, I don't think it'sthe best course of action for most companies. It's you know, do what youdo better, move into adjacent spaces and be as successful as you canfor as long as you can. But change is going to come, clothsays, you either innovate or you were Innovat do doubt it's going to happen. Yeah, yes, and he founded the north face, so he obviouslyknows anovation. He knows innovation. Yes, and it's true and it's it's ahard truth, but I know. I think it's reality. Any closingthoughts that either should keep in mine to kind of keep the innovation gene activein a lot. It's a great question. I think I go back to someof the things we said at the start. But innovation is hard andit is uncomfortable. It seems really sexy the way it's portrayed in the media, but if you're doing it, if you're really doing it and you're reallycommitted to being innovative, it is hard, hard work and it takes patience andit takes people who maybe don't kind of fit the norm of the company. So it takes curiosity, like we talked about. It takes people whoare a little more comfortable with risk. It takes people who ask questions andembrace them and embrace the discomfort, because if you're comfortable, you're actually probablynot innovating. And if you can get comfortable with if you get comfortable withbeing uncomfortable, you're going to make progress. Well, excellent points. Thank youfor joining us today. This was Robin and Bolton, father in chiefnavigator will zoo dot Io, and this is your host, jazz and moreto us. You've been listening to innovation nation. For more, subscribe tothe podcast in your favorite podcast player or connect with us on Linkedin. Thanksfor listening.

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