Innovation Nation
Innovation Nation

Episode · 7 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

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Innovation is all around us. In fact, everyone innovates, often unbeknowns to themselves. Many mistakenly assume 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're 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 Rosen Hi. Welcome to the new episode of Innovation Nation. This is your host, Jasmine March Rossian. Joining me today is our guest, Robin and Bolton. She's the founder and chief navigator at mild zero DOT IO. Welcome, Robin. Thank you, Jasmine. It's a pleasure to be here. Great. So Robin is actually based in Boston and she does innovation consulting for a large and medium sized organizations, and so obviously you steeped in everything innovation and would love to hear your views. Where do you start? Let's say you're coming to a big company. What what does innovation consulting involved? And it is a great question. It starts first off with, you know, the company recognizing that they are struggling to innovate and however they define it and that they want to do better. And oftentimes companies have tried lots of different things. I mean there's so many amazing books out there, tools, all sorts of advice and they've tried it but they're not getting the results they want. And so I start with them, usually kind of at the most fundamental level of just saying, okay, you want help with innovation. What is innovation? Innovation is a buzzword. So when you say that, what do you mean? And usually everyone around the table has a different answer to that question, which right there, when everyone's going in different directions with different expectations, you're going to have a challenge. So we start off with what is innovation and what does the company need from it, and then we build from there. And when it comes to innovation, what types of patterns do you see? I see very regularly there's always great enthusiasm at the beginning. You know, executives are excited, the staff is excited, employees are excited and there's a real energy and enthusiasm and usually there's some kind of events that kicks everything off. You know, it's a town hall by the CEO, it's a hackathon or a shark tank, there's some event that kicks everything off and then within three to six 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's all this talk about innovation, but we've gone back to doing everything the way we've always done it. There are no results, nothing has changed, and it is a common pattern. It happens basically at every company that I've ever worked with, and it's also really understandable because innovation is really hard. Change is hard and things don't change because you had an event exact or town hall meeting. It takes time and it takes effort and it's not at all sexy and glamorous. So how do you keep sustained momentum? In No, since you talking about change management, to change management is a huge component. The Way to maintain momentum is is you actually have to take a really practical view of what you're doing, so you have to view innovation as you would a project 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 happens next? You have to start with the end in mind. And so when you start with an event, if to say, how do we keep this going? 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 show that we're in this for the long haul? Because what I've seen time and time and time again that innovation is not an idea problem. A lot of companies like we need more ideas. You have more ideas than you know what to do with. Innovation is a leadership problem and it's a resource allocation problem. You know, also talking about prioritization. Yeah, very much so, and I get it, like I have a lot of empathy for for senior executives when it comes to innovation, because they let's just talk about money and people on their teams and they a dollar spent on innovation is a dollar not spent on the current business and innovation is a lot more uncertain than the current business and most leaders, their kpis what they get measured on, what they get their bonuses on, are tied to the short term and so they make very logical decisions of I'm going to invest in the thing that is more certain and that I'm going to get rewarded for, and that's not innovation. I'm hearing you say that short term goals and objectives stifle long term innovation and long yeah, mothiness, some yeah driving, yeah, very much so, and it's it's far more acute in public companies, as you'd imagine, than in private companies, 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 that motivate people to invest in innovation. The other thing, in the far trickier thing, is incentives that reward people for making an investment now that's not going to pay off until after they've left that role, and that's really tricky to just 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 like twenty four and thirty six months. An investment in innovation is going to take much 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 that they won't see, and that's really, really tricky. No, I can imagine, especially now with post pandemic. Well, it's not over, it still going on. But going to resignation, resignation and all the different trends that we'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 great point with the great resignation, and you know, it's the long term thinking 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 and feeling empowered to to leave if they're not getting what they want. And you so many studies show that people part of feeling valued as feeling heard and feeling like they're contributing, and innovation is an incredible way to do that, which is why I think so many companies invest in hackathons and Shark tanks and brainstorming sessions, 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, so to speak, is so acute. So you mention at one point that it's not just about generating more ideas. Right,...'s about more having the rigular and discipline to execute and see through the ideas. Yes, yeah, it's ideas 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 that so many companies, rightfully so, are very risk averse and so it can feel like, oh, we have an idea, and then companies and be like, okay, you know what we do well, we do big things really well. So we're going to take this little idea and we're going to make it big and we're going to scale it and we're going to launch to globally and it's going to be huge. And that is incredibly risky because is when you have an idea, that's all you have. There are so many more unknowns than notes, whereas you know, if you take an idea and you grow it little by little, you can of learn your way there it will get big or you will be able to stop it, but it killed the idea. Put they and move on to the next one. And so really becomes about risk mitigation because again, there's there's so much about innovation that is leadership, resource allocation, risk management, fear management. I could not agree more with you that tendency to go big. Again, I think it comes from generally people's desire to do something big with an impact, but you have to really be willing to start small. Actually, I learned a great lesson with that and in the weeks museum in Amsterdam. You know, we will know beautiful rules through his gigantic canvases, but there is a room, like there's a huge hole would all these beautiful gigantic canvases and kind of hidden behind is a small room which shows how he played all of those out on so small scale. And when I saw this it was like a light bulb for me because I've been working on some global projects and we'd started with the bigger ones and then with gone to smaller ones and it would have been so much 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 I remember at this the start of my where I was a practical gamble as in brand management, was working on developing and launching swiffer and s for for what chat. So we're putting Swart for what, Chad into target markets, and the target market was Canada and Belgium. Like, those aren't target markets, those are countries. So you know, I myself, I too am guilty of like, Oh, we're going to test something small in Belgium, which is really like two cultures at least right. Yes, Oh, it's not evenly different market to testing. No, but you know, big global company those, those seem like small countries, like, oh, that's small, tastes it. No, small is, you know, one town in the US. But we all learn, we do. We all learn. That's the beauty of it. You talk about it's a memorable line. That's Michael Angelo had marble, which will know he didn't wonders with. And then you have powerpoint. ME, how do you use powerpoint to deliver the magic of what Michaelange eluded with marvel? Well, I certainly cannot claim to be Michael Angelo or even, you know, a shred of Michael Angelo's genius. I I 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 power points and usually it's pretty mind numbing. So, even though I spend my life and work in innovation, I still use this very non innovative tool to communicate. But what I try to do...

...with powerpoint some sil of what Michael Angelo and the great artist try to do. What their art is to evoke a feeling and to evoke curiosity and emotions, because so much of what we do in 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 work and we can't shut off our emotions and our aspirations and our fears. And so I try to use use the medium I have, which is powerpoint, to talk to all of those parts, to talk to the head, the heart and the guts leaders to talk to their logic in the left brain and to talk to their hearts, you know, their emotions, their aspirations, their fears, and talk to the guts to be like no, you can do this and here's how we're going to do it safely. So makes them powerfully. Can Say I try. Yeah, he's you use it as like a background canvas and then you paint the picture. Yes, beautifully. Put where you going to steal that line. So that's important because, frankly, I think we, all of us, have sapped through a share of powerpoints where, like dance, sentences are laid out in front of an audience all of them can read and then then quickly read and then the speaker is repeating exactly what's on powerpoint. HMM, and it defies it's like the antithesis of invading. Yes, and it's just it's so mind numbing and boring because you're right, like you sit there, you've read it. Now you have to listen to somebody say it to you and the whole time you know what I've been in that situation. You're like, couldn't you have just said this as a pre reach? We could come in and talk about this, like it's so much more interesting and important to discuss and to share ideas and to ask questions, and that's what moves things forward. powerpoints don't move things forward. They give you can a foundation to start from. But then it's the human element and the conversation that moves things forward. So earlier in this conversation you talked about how a lot of leaders rely on brainstorming. Yeah, to drive innovation. Now, if you ask me, I think most of the brainstorming is done, hopefully wrong, because that dominant idea emerges. I mean, please agree with me if I'm wrong on this, but you know what I'm talking about. A dominant idea merges. Then an hour or two our spent talking 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 feels very exciting and then you leave the room and ten minutes later you're like what just 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 think and to the way when I do brainstorming sessions, because I do believe in the power of, you know, diversity of thought and the collective, is actually start off with what I call silent ideation, and so everybody silently writes down their ideas, precisely what I'd yes, and then you have everyone share the ideas, because that make sure everyone gets hurt, because you know, introverts and extroverts, and I'm an introvert. So ideation sessions I find very draining because 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 of going 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 steps of what we're going to do afterwards. So this is what we're going to be able to do in the brainstorming session. But there's a lot of work that comes 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. Maybe it should, but maybe there's an idea we didn't talk about them. We actually take a step back and think about it, it's better position to deliver what we need. And so there's, you know, thinking and prioritization and then, you know, action planning that happens after the session to make sure that momentum continues. Absolutely and and actually I think you get better buying because people feel hurt. Yes, silent ideation, like I'll ask folks to each right three ideas, and you collect more in the end and people really feel because part of the process. Yes, supposed to being bystanders in it, but yeah, yeah, I know it's it's so true. And because they feel part of the process, they're more likely to be an advocate as things go 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 from being a flavor of the month initiative into something that sustained. Now, thinking of sustained, you've referenced Taking Action Several Times. How do you build the culture that takes action, that innovates them taking action? Yeah, building that culture takes time and you got to start right. You got to start the process, and there are people in every organization who who do want to take action and who are comfortable working in ambiguity and taking risks, and so it's starting off by finding those folks and then it's all about creating proof points and highlighting that to be like hey, we ran this experiment, whatever it is, and this is what we learned. And oftentimes that experiment you will not learn 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 organization sees that they're not punished, they're not fired, the initiative is and shut down that they're allowed to take that learning continue to work. That starts to show others it's safe to take action when you're uncertain. But it takes time after time after time of showing the safety in learning to really kind of get it to percolate throughout the organization. You raising a really good coin being open to really acknowledge new facts when they present themselves rather than just ignore them because it was not in the original plan. Yeah, yeah, that's what I mean. One of the Silicon Valley Mantras we've all heard is fail fast, and I always laughed. Is like, you know what, nobody wants to fail. It doesn't matter what speed you fail at, nobody wants to do it. And so we need to reframe it, because what's really meant by fail 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 by doing. 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 work with my clients and like just worry about the next ninety days. What are you going to be smarter about ninety days from now? Doesn't mean you have to have all the answers, but you want to be smarter and a quarter. What are you going to be smarter about? And why does that matter? Move you closer to the goal? Because even especially in innovation, years an eternity, but ninety days.

Ninety days feels both long and short at 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, in essence you're also talking about changing your mindset. Right. You have to have a different cool to you. How do you entice and encourage people to do that? Yeah, part of it is is building that safety that you know it's okay to be wrong, and part of it is, again, finding people. I think we are all born naturally curious. You just look at kids and kids are curious and for some people it's easier to tap into that curiosity than others. So find the people who are curious and they will instinctively kind of gravitate to the action and to the learning, and then you use them as the examples to show that it's safe to other folks to be curious and to learn. Absolutely we Francesco Gina has done some amazing work on curiosity. Yes, amazing, amazing work. I actually like proactively share those are because with everyone, because it's so important. It's so important and it's not a word that like routinely comes up in business. CITTYS. No, I mean people, I think, especially when you think about with kids being curious, I always think like curious George, you know, the monkey from the children's books, and how he was curious and he got into a ton of mischief and trouble, and so sometimes we can have negative connotations, but really curious he's just asking questions and asking why and seeking to understand. But then also, you know so often the companies, you ask, well, why do we do it this way, and the answers. Well, it's always been done that way. Well, that's not an answer and we still like here. That's so often curiosity killed the cat. I mean the whole freeze action actively discourages. Yes, curiosity, Yep, yeah, and so that's why it's so important to find ways to active the encourage curiosity. And at the beginning it's so much about rewarding it and highlighting it and and making it something that is a is obviously unquestionably a good thing, absolutely so. I mean no company that I can ever think of will ever say and we're going to become non creative and we're going to become not in any like. It's not in anybody's plan. Right. Yeah, ever, but it happens routinely all the 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 so you know, saw it time and time again that even when leaders were incredibly conscious of the innovator's dilemma and they knew exactly why it happened, you know we'd be sitting in meetings and saying, okay, you know, you're doing the 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's why 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 and they're like, we absolutely do not want to do that, let's never talk about that again. And it's like, okay, this is this is the challenge. And you know, to some extent it is. I've been working in this space for far, far too long, I think. For big companies, you know what they're there safe spot, where they feel comfortable is with incremental innovation and with moving into adjacencies, and that's innovation and those two types of innovation are really important. But... expect them to completely redefine the market 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 going to disrupt ourselves, and investors need to hear it, I don't think it's the best course of action for most companies. It's you know, do what you do better, move into adjacent spaces and be as successful as you can for as long as you can. But change is going to come, cloth says, you either innovate or you were Innovat do doubt it's going to happen. Yeah, yes, and he founded the north face, so he obviously knows anovation. He knows innovation. Yes, and it's true and it's it's a hard truth, but I know. I think it's reality. Any closing thoughts that either should keep in mine to kind of keep the innovation gene active in a lot. It's a great question. I think I go back to some of the things we said at the start. But innovation is hard and it 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 really committed to being innovative, it is hard, hard work and it takes patience and it 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 who are a little more comfortable with risk. It takes people who ask questions and embrace them and embrace the discomfort, because if you're comfortable, you're actually probably not innovating. And if you can get comfortable with if you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you're going to make progress. Well, excellent points. Thank you for joining us today. This was Robin and Bolton, father in chief navigator will zoo dot Io, and this is your host, jazz and more to us. 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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