The following is a conversation between Scott Anthony, Co-Author of Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: Most companies and organizations would admit they have failed to create a truly innovative culture, one where the processes that spur innovation just come naturally. My next guest draws on behavioral science to provide a system for empowering individuals and teams to be their most curious and creative every single day. And in the midst of this pandemic, couldn’t we all use that? He is Scott Anthony, a senior partner at Innosight and author of Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside your Organization.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Scott!
Scott: Denver, it is a pleasure to be here.
Denver: So why do companies and organizations that endlessly talk about the importance of innovation, the urgent need to create a culture of innovation, seem to struggle so mightily with it?
Scott: I think the simplest answer is that they’re fighting the wrong battle when they try to encourage innovation.
They know that they need to do it. It’s very well understood. The technical answer to innovation is also very well understood. The specific things you need to do to successfully innovate… no mystery. People know the basic things they need to do.
But the area that they don’t focus enough time on is understanding that if you are to encourage people to innovate, which we define as doing something different that creates value, the biggest enemy is your own organization because organizations are designed to do what they are currently doing more effectively and more efficiently. They’re not designed to do something different. In fact, they are designed to strangle doing something different.
So, we had met the enemy, and it is us. That’s where the energy really needs to focus if you are to encourage it, and that’s where people haven’t invested enough time.
Denver: Walk us through that five-word definition you just gave us of innovation.
Scott: Something different that creates value. And there really are two phrases that matter in that. Something different is intentionally vague. We often think that innovation is about big bang technological breakthroughs. So, we think about hypersonic planes. We think about world-saving vaccines. We need these things, of course. But we also need to relish the day-to-day, everyday improvements that make life just a little bit better.
Something different reminds us innovation is not the job of the few; it’s the responsibility of the many. Then, creates value reminds us that innovation is different from its inputs, its precursors, things like invention and creativity. Those are absolutely critical, of course. But until you turn that into revenues or profits or improved engagement or whatever, in our eyes, you have not innovated. So that’s the two key phrases in our definition.
Invention really is the beginning. And so, whether you call it creativity, whether you call it invention, whatever, you’ve got something that’s truly novel that has possibility in it. And the innovation is the translation of that possibility into the tangible creation of value.
Denver: So what is that difference between innovation and invention? Because I think a lot of people conflate the two, and they shouldn’t.
Scott: No. So invention really is the beginning. And so, whether you call it creativity, whether you call it invention, whatever, you’ve got something that’s truly novel that has possibility in it. And the innovation is the translation of that possibility into the tangible creation of value. So, these are kind of kissing cousins to a degree because they certainly are related, but there is an absolute difference between the beginning of the journey and the end, which, again, in our eyes is the creation of value.
And kind of the simplest way that I use to reinforce this is: I go back to the light bulb, and I ask people: Who invented the light bulb? And people will often typically say, “Thomas Edison.” And if you study the historical records, you know that it’s a little bit mixed. There’s a bunch of people who can claim credit to the technology.
The reason we remember Edison is not because he was a genius inventor. He was, but he was an even better innovator because he was the best, not just with the technology, but with the provision of light. And that line of his — “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration” — is the thing we have to remember when it comes to innovation. We need the spark; we need the inspiration; we’ve got to sweat it out as well.
Denver: That’s a great distinction.
What about data and innovation? Because I look at a lot of organizations, Scott, and they look at their data all the time; and data’s looking good and they keep on sailing along. One day, the data doesn’t look so good and they say, “You know what? It’s time for us to innovate.” Is that a good way of going about it? Or has the horse already left the barn?
Scott: You have to be careful when you use data to make decisions about anything. Our co-founder Clayton Christensen was very famous for talking about the limits of data and said that “God did not grant data upon man. Data is really something that is almost always manufactured.” And data shows what happens, not what will happen. So, if you’re making decisions driven entirely by data, by definition, you’re driving backwards because the data is historical.
So, the general guidance we give people is: Of course, be informed by data. You want to make sure you’ve got information when you’re making decisions. But make sure that when you’re dealing with innovation, it is data-informed, not data-driven, because if you wait until the data is conclusive, well, by the time the writing is on the wall, everybody can read it, and that’s not really an interesting time to go and act.
Denver: I think a great example you’ve cited has been Blackberry, Research in Motion, correct?
Scott: Exactly right. There’s a great YouTube video. If you Google “CBC interview, Jim Balsillie, 2008,” you can go and see it. And it’s the co-CEO of Research in Motion, now Blackberry, Jim Balsillie, describing his view of the world in April 2008.
This is after the iPhone has launched. This is after the Android operating system has come into the market. And he’s smug to the point of being dismissive saying that, “Yes, we’re a very poorly diversified company. We either shoot to the moon or we crash to earth, but we’re going to the moon pretty well so far.”
And it’s easy to laugh at what he does, but then if you go and look at his financial statement… so you go and look at Blackberry’s financial statements, 2008 record year, 2009 record year, 2010 record year… so grow, grow, grow, grow, grow until you stop. So from 2007, when the iPhone comes out, to 2011, revenues triple over that time period, but then they fell off a cliff. But by the time you see that you’ve begun to fall off the cliff, it’s too late to do anything about it. And that is one of the big challenges of disruptive change.
Doing nothing sometimes can be the riskiest thing that you do.
Denver: I was so glad in the book that you mentioned a couple of nonprofit organizations because we have a lot of listeners from nonprofits, so we’re going to get to those in a moment. But let me ask you a general question about the mindset of nonprofit organizations, which I’m very familiar with. And when it comes to innovation, there’s a couple of things that get in their way.
Number one, it’s not their money; it’s other people’s money. It’s donors’ money. So, can they really innovate with somebody else’s money? Secondly, there’s a tremendous fear that if we spend this money and we fail, for goodness sakes, donors will not support us in the future. And the third concern is: do no harm; that these are people, these are beneficiaries, and they’re not for me to experiment on them. So I’ll continue what I’m doing, and I’ll try to do it a little bit better, and 1we’ll leave it at that. What are some of the faults or challenges in that kind of thinking?
Scott: So, I’ll make a couple comments about it, Denver. The first comment is a general one. One thing that I’ve observed is no matter who you’re talking to, they will always look to someone else and say, “If I was only in that circumstance, things would be easier.” A for-profit company will say, “If only I had the mission orientation of a not-for-profit,” and a not-for-profit will say, “If only I had the commercial…” whatever. So, the grass is indeed–
Denver: The grass is always greener.
Scott: Always greener, always greener. But to this specific point, one of the interesting thought experiments that we heard from a CEO for a for-profit company at one of our client events a couple of years ago really stuck with me.
The thought experiment is about risk. It’s a great big company. You know the company, but we can’t say the company’s name. He said, “What happens if we invest in innovation? Let’s just do the thought experiment. The best thing that happens is we get it right, and we’ve got this huge success. We’ve got unlimited upside. The worst thing that happens is we get it wrong; then we write off the investment. And that’s the most that we can possibly lose.” “Let’s say,” he then said, “We don’t invest in innovation. Well, we know exactly what our upside is. It’s zero. Our upside is that. What is our downside? If we miss a big shift in our industry, we miss a big inflection point. The downside is Blackberry. It’s Eastman Kodak. It’s Sears. The downside is the demise of our organization.” So he said, “I don’t view innovation as risky. I view not innovating as the risky activity.”
So this idea of: How do we reframe risk? How do we think that often the risky thing is standing still, that if we’re smart about it, we can manage the risk in the right sort of way? That’s the way that we try to help people think through what you described here. Although it’s a very real issue, and I certainly get the not-for-profit perspective– that there’s a lot of reasons to suggest you want to at least be smart about how you do things… but doing nothing sometimes can be the riskiest thing that you do.
The enemy of innovation is the inertia inside organizations, which at extremes can be an addiction to the status quo.
Denver: I think one of the risks they run is not going to be from other nonprofit organizations because there really isn’t as much competition, if you will, in the nonprofit sector. Not to say that it collaborates. It’s going to be from these social good businesses that are going to get involved and are going to come up with solutions that are going to displace a lot of what the nonprofits are doing.
And I think that’s something that they really need to think about in terms of just standing still because, you know and I know, a lot of nonprofits really haven’t changed the way they deliver their service for years and years and years. It’s pretty much the same way.
Scott: And again, it gets back to what we talked about. The enemy of innovation is the inertia inside organizations, which at extremes can be an addiction to the status quo.
And, you can also look at it just in terms of the opportunity costs. You can say in today’s world where we have the rise of digital technologies, where we have all sorts of innovative business models that have been proven, we have the ability in any sector, in any business, in any organization to do so much more, to reach so many more people, to do so much more good. It is almost our obligation to rise up to the challenge of innovation, to do what our mission compels us to do.
Denver: Exactly. Well, one organization that does not have inertia inside of it would have been UNICEF, is UNICEF. Tell us a little bit about what they have done in the innovation field.
Scott: I found the UNICEF example just to be fascinating. Just a brief origin story. So one of my, I guess you would call it kind of a side gig is I will participate in programs that are put on by Harvard Business Publishing’s corporate learning arm.
So, they’ll have me come in as their expert lecturer on innovation and related topics. And typically, this is for for-profit companies, but I did one for UNICEF a couple of years ago, and I just remember being blown away. I have a prompt question that I will ask usually in the early part where I’m just trying to get the foundation set about innovation. And I’ll give my definition and I’ll say, “Give me an example of something innovative your organization has done.”
And usually, there’s a pregnant pause, and people try to think about an example and all that, but UNICEF, it’s just rapid fire — all these things people have done in different markets to go and help the children that they’re trying to serve. And it was just awe-inspiring to see what they do. I mean, of course, it’s a large organization. It’s got bureaucracy; it’s got all the issues you’d have, but it really has done some amazing things. And the thing that I’ve found really remarkable about it is it is structured in a smart way internally to take what sometimes can be a limitation of the organization — it’s very decentralized, it operates in hundreds of different countries — and turn that into a strength.
There’s a program we described in the book called Upshift. This is something that started in Romania where the idea was, “Let’s go and take some of the disaffected youth in particular markets that are finding it hard to find employment opportunities — they might be refugees, they might be in minority communities — and let’s essentially run what the business community would call a “hackathon,” where we find ways to get them in small groups, to have them come up with ideas to increase employment, to increase engagement and so on.”
So, it starts in one market, and then the UNICEF infrastructure allows that to spread to the point where today, it’s operating in about 30 different markets, helping children all around the world. And that’s something that I just think is really cool, where you see the power of innovation start locally, spread regionally and globally, in ways that are helping people live better lives.
Denver: So intentional and so well-thought-out.
Talk a little bit about the problem of when people are listening to this… when I think about innovation, I start running to the solution, which is probably not the way to do it. Talk a little bit about how we need to really unpack and think about the problem before we set off.
Scott: Absolutely. So in the book, we define five behaviors that increase the odds of doing something different that creates value, and these have been pretty well studied in the academic field and validated through our fieldwork.
And the first two — curiosity and customer obsession — those really are things that help make sure that you’re focused on the right problem. After all, you can’t create value if you don’t find a problem that’s worth solving. Curiosity starts the quest because you’re questioning the status quo. You’re saying, “How might we do something different? Why couldn’t we do it this way? Why are we doing it that way?”
And then customer obsession — and you can strike out “customer.” You could put, if you’re UNICEF, “child.” If you’re in different environments, you could put “stakeholders, supplier,” whatever. But the focus is on the person for whom you’re actually innovating. Trying to understand the job they’re struggling to get done, the problem they’re trying to solve, the itch they can’t scratch — that helps you identify a place to focus your innovation energies.
The mistake people make is they think innovation is all about releasing constraints. Hundreds or thousands of flowers blooming? I’ve never seen that work. Never seen it work. Instead, you identify the problem; you focus the energy, and off you go.
Denver: Innovation is very disciplined, and organizations that do it well have really high standards before you go off and innovate. It’s just not throwing out seeds and things of that sort.
And I really liked what you said about customer obsession because that is something… again… nonprofits have been a little bit late in the game because the customer for them is the beneficiary. And so often, you see organizations, Scott, who bring in experts, and they’ll speak to their donors and they’ll speak to their board, but it’s really the beneficiary who sometimes gets overlooked. And getting that feedback, that beneficiary feedback, they know what’s working and what’s not working. It’s good to see that more organizations are beginning to try to get that input from them.
Scott: And the great thing these days is: it’s never been easier to understand and unpack it. So, you don’t have to go and hire a market research agency and pay them hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Instead, you could look at the digital breadcrumbs that people leave if they’re active on the internet. You can go and spend time with them. You can go and have conversations with them. You can engage with them through mobile devices and so on.
There are a ton of ways that you can learn about customers, and beneficiaries, and donors, and other people if you want to learn about them. All of which, if you’ve got this mission and mantra of trying to find places where you can do something different that creates value, just gives you that intuition, that we go here, versus going there.
Great innovators recognize that magic happens at intersections when different mindsets, backgrounds, and skills collide.
Denver: Absolutely. So these five behaviors that drive innovation, we have “curiosity,” and we have “customer obsession.” Tell us about the other three.
Scott: So the third one is collaborative. The basic idea here is great innovators recognize that magic happens at intersections when different mindsets, backgrounds, and skills collide. So they recognize that they’re going to have the best chances of coming up with that spark to do something different that creates value if they park at the intersection… so diverse inputs, working with diverse people, and so on.
The fourth behavior is being adept in ambiguity. Innovators recognize that every idea is partially right and partially wrong. And you’re not going to find success through thoroughly studying; you’re going to find success from trial and error, experimentation. Not everything’s going to work. And that’s okay. If you decide to execute the right experiments and manage that process, that’s the way you ultimately find the path to do something different that creates value.
And then the fifth and final behavior is being empowered. It’s almost a syllogism, I guess. You can’t do something different that creates value unless you actually do something. So this is not creating PowerPoint slides and endlessly talking about things. It’s actually going and taking your idea and putting it into action in some way. Asking for forgiveness, not permission, as you go, and breathe life into it somehow.
Denver: I enjoyed every aspect of your book, but no aspect any more than BEANs. I loved your BEANs, those direct and indirect ways of enabling behavior change. Talk to us about what…what are BEANs?
Scott: So this is an idea, the old Picasso line that Steve Jobs was a big fan of — “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” We sold this very shamelessly. This is an idea that is borrowed from the behavior change literature. So I said before that the basic problem is innovation is something different. Organizations are not set up to do something different. They’re set up to do something the same. So you have to fight against inertia. If you’re going to fight against inertia, it is a multi-front battle.
BEAN is an acronym for behavior enablers, artifacts, and nudges. Front One is the behavior enabler. This is where you’re going after the conscious, the rational mind, what Daniel Kahneman would call System 2 thinking. So you’re giving people checklists and guides to help them go and do something different. Artifacts and nudges, that’s going after the unconscious, where we make decisions without even realizing we’re making decisions, System 1 thinking.
So, this is indirect ways to encourage new behaviors. This is the picture on the wall that kind of soaks into your soul and influences you without you realizing it. This is getting a leaderboard, borrowing from gamification principles, where you see you’re consuming a lot more electricity than your neighbors, and you don’t like that. So you want to find ways to change your behavior. It’s drafting on those principles to encourage people to have habit change that sticks and scales.
Denver: You have 101 of them in the book. Let me ask you about a couple, starting with MOJO.
Scott: MOJO is one of people’s favorites. So MOJO comes from DBS Bank here in Singapore, the largest bank in Southeast Asia.
So MOJO was an effort by DBS to address a vexing problem. A few years ago, DBS said it needed to shift from being a stodgy, regulated bank to function like a start-up at scale. One of the things it said it needed to do was to be more agile. To be more agile, its meetings needed to be more collaborative. Its meetings weren’t. Its meetings were like meetings at any place around the world. They start late; they end later; no decisions are made and so on.
MOJO is a ritual inside meetings. The MO is the meeting owner. The meeting owner calls the meeting to order, makes sure that everybody’s present, makes sure that everybody participates, makes sure that there’s a clear decision when the meeting ends on time. The MO also appoints the JO, the joyful observer. At the end of the meeting, the JO gives public feedback to the MO. Did they do their job well? And also, if people get digitally distracted during the meeting, the JO can say “Time out..” we’ve got to make sure we’re all present.
This is something that is done with a great degree of seriousness; it’s done in every major meeting. At the end of the meeting, there is an app where people can give feedback to the MO and JO. They get rated on how they’ve done, and it works. Before DBS… get this… 40% of people said meetings were collaborative; today, the number is 90%. And DBS has saved at the end of 2019, it estimates, a half-million employee hours by making meetings more efficient.
So, it’s a brilliant little hack that has had big impact and helped DBS do a bold transformation from being that stodgy, regulated bank, to really being a highly entrepreneurial company.
Denver: And they did it all for free, not a big investment or anything like that. As you say, just a MO and a JO.
Scott: Yes. And it is important to note. So DBS, in the book, we’ve got, I think, six or seven BEANs like this from DBS. There’s a lot that DBS did. So MOJO is a great program. I hope people steal it. I hope people use it. It’s not enough.
So one of the things I always worry about is people hear BEANs; they sound cute. They hear MOJO; that sounds cuter. They say, “I’ll just do that.” Yes, please do, and also recognize there’s a lot of things you have to do to make culture change stick and scale.
Denver: Absolutely. Well, one that doesn’t sound cute is a postmortem. Tell us about that.
Scott: So we have both sides of it in the book. We’ve got the postmortems from Pixar and the premortems from Atlassian, and these are both ways to improve your ability to be adept in ambiguity. Mortem involves death.
So the postmortem is after you have done something, trying to understand what didn’t work when you did it. So, this is being willing to say, if you’re Pixar, the most successful, you can argue, movie company in the history of the world, certainly the most successful animation studio, that everything that we do has imperfections in it. So let’s understand, even when we’ve had a movie that’s a big smashing success: What didn’t go right so we can learn from it?
Then the premortem from Atlassian, which is the other side of the coin, I maybe like even more. So postmortem is when you’re done. A premortem is before you begin. Atlassian’s an Australian software company, and the premortem is essentially a thought experiment. You’ve got this idea. You think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. A premortem says, “Well, what if it’s not? What if it turns out that people don’t want their bread sliced? Or what happens if they want it sliced this way versus that way? Or the knives don’t work or whatever.” You imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong.
There are two great things that come from a good premortem. Number one, you almost always surface a risk you hadn’t been thinking about. Number two, you condition yourself for the reality that when you innovate, failure is an option and that’s okay as long as you fail in the right sort of way, because you’ve identified the risks; you’ve experimented around it, and it turns out that you were just wrong. That’s a fine outcome, as long as you do it the right way.
Denver: I love that container, too, Scott, because sometimes those concerns are there, and if you don’t have that container, people can be looked upon as being negative. But when you set up a structure where people can play Devil’s Advocate, it makes it a constructive conversation, as opposed to somebody saying, “Oh, you rain on every parade.”
Scott: I think that is exactly right, Denver…this idea of: How do you essentially objectify ideas? So, this is not Denver versus Scott. This is “Let’s put the idea in a container, and let’s create a holding space for it so we can go out and beat it up a little bit.” And I don’t take it personally, and you don’t take it personally.
One of the things that I see people struggle with is when they’re talking about ideas, it turns into a battle of beliefs. So I believe this; you believe that. Those are very hard to adjudicate because it’s like talking about religion or politics. Nobody can get into that space. If you’re able to talk about battles of assumptions that say “What I believe to be true is X versus Y,” well, you’ve got that space to say, “I don’t know. Let’s go and run an experiment.” The experiment decides, not us.
Denver: Let me ask you about one more. ”Cheers to failure.”
Scott: Cheers to failure. And this is one of these moments where I am happy because you never know: Are you going to ask me about number 79 that I wrote about, I don’t know, 15 months ago, and I don’t remember exactly what it is, but “cheers to failure,” I can handle quite nicely.
So cheers to failure is from the Finnish gaming company, Supercell. So Supercell, now owned by Tencent in China, is working on new games all the time. Sometimes they succeed. The game gets out. It gets to the app store, gets to Google Play. Everybody gets together. They crack open a beer.
Sometimes they fail. They say, “You know what? We’re never going to make it.” They have a ritual. Everyone comes together. They pop open a bottle of champagne. They say, “Cheers to failure!” Note the reward for the failure is better than the reward for the success. You can debate that depending on your view of beer and champagne. I think both things are great.
Denver: That’s another show.
Scott: Exactly. But it says a couple of important things. Number one, it says a good, not bad thing has happened here. We need to keep pushing the frontier. And number two, it’s a really good way to signal that we are done with this. It makes sure that a zombie project doesn’t get spawned.
This is one of the biggest enemies we see inside organizations’ innovation — the zombie project, the walking undead, the project that if you are serious about, it will never have material impact, but it shuffles and lingers on, sucking all the innovation life out of the organization because everyone is so afraid to put a project down.
When you say “cheers to failure”, you say, “That’s it. We’re done. There’s no zombie project. We can make sure our efforts focus in the right direction. And you reap the rewards of innovation.”
Denver: You really free up a lot of psychic RAM in the organization instead of having these things limp along because people sometimes are afraid to say “I failed” or “It failed,” and it just continues and “we’ll pass it onto the next guy or the next gal.”
Scott: And it is amazing to me to see the games that people will do and the mental gymnastics that they’ll do to convince themselves that it still has hope or to play games. There was one organization in Singapore that said: You will never find zombies here because we’ve got the most rigorous budgeting process you’ll ever see, but it took five minutes to realize the way the game works. The budgeting process is really rigorous about you meeting your cost commitments for the next 12 months. So, if you spend less than you said you were going to spend, you’re fine.
So what the people would do if they wanted a project to live on, they would say, “Year three. That’s where we’re going to make a lot of money. Year one, we’ll lose a little bit.” They lose a little bit less than that. And the next year, the budget, they say, “Year two, we’re going to lose this much. Year three….” and every year they say the same thing. And because they never lose more than they said, people just keep letting the project go on, and nobody ever says, “Well, we’ve been doing this for 73 years now. Maybe it’s time to realize that this isn’t going to work.”
Denver: You have said that the greatest untapped source of energy is the innovation locked up in these organizations. And I want to ask you about one place, which a lot of people don’t think about, and that would be the procurement department. Why is that a hotbed of innovation?
Scott: It’s a really interesting question. And this is a–I cannot remember the place where I saw this, so it’s going to bug me. But there was an academic study that showed that the procurement department is statistically one of the highest sources of innovation inside the organization. I can’t remember exactly what study it was that highlighted this, but to some degree, it makes sense because procurement, it’s in the market. It’s talking to people all the time. It’s talking to outside vendors all the time.
And I think there’s this kind of thing where as humans, we’re kind of naturally creative and curious. And if you’ve got a job that involves doing a lot of things that are mechanical — whether it’s procurement, whether it’s legal, whether it’s finance — you’ve got this itch that you kind of want to scratch. So I think within many procurement officers, maybe like when Einstein was a patent officer, I kind of feel like there’s kind of a hidden artist or painter inside many of them that gets this big signal of something interesting in the market and is able to say, “You know, what we’re hearing here is something that you might not have expected.”
So, I don’t know. I want to study this more because I think it’s a really interesting phenomenon, this thought that you can find the artists in unexpected places in your organization. But generally speaking, the people who are closest to the action, they hear things. They see things…
Denver: That’s exactly right. It’s a grapevine. No doubt about it.
I had Rosabeth Moss Kanter on recently from Harvard Business School, and she wrote a book called Get Outside the Building. And probably, when you look at the insulation of all of us inside our organizations, the person who’s closest to the edge of the building is going to be the procurement officer because they’re out there talking about everything that’s going on in the market and learning about what they would want to bring into the organization. So, in that sense, it does make sense. They’re just well-informed, and they’re not just talking among themselves as we all do inside our own organizations.
Scott: I’m smiling, Denver, because that book, I read a review of it a couple of months ago. I picked up a copy. I’ve not read it yet, I have to admit. But my daughter, my 13-year-old daughter, saw it sitting on my desk. She said, “That looks interesting,” and she’s now about a third of the way through it. And this is one of the reasons I love kids. I don’t think in any universe, I would pick up a book like that when I was 13, but she just thought “Interesting. I’d love to learn more about social entrepreneurs and some of the things they’re doing.” So, she gives the book two thumbs up, and I’ll read it after.
Denver: Well, maybe I got myself a future guest here, you know?
Scott: Absolutely. I could go on talking about my daughter.
I think there is no limit to what can be done with the energy and exuberance of youth, and I think tapping into it in large organizations is a massive opportunity.
Denver: Speaking about your daughter, talk a little bit about the younger staff of organizations who get really overlooked very often when it comes to innovation, or even an opportunity to show what they know and present. How do organizations need to tap into that brainpower?
Scott: You’re beginning to see some organizations do this thoughtfully, and it’s really important because you know the old William Gibson line, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” Your younger staff is already living in the future with the things that they’re doing on whatever comes after TikTok and so on. And if you’re not tapping into that, just like you miss things with the procurement officer, you’re missing things here.
So, you see organizations do a couple things. You see some that set up reverse mentoring programs where you will have people who are a generation or two older learning from younger staff. You will have some organizations go so far as to set up shadow boards of directors where they’ll say, “We’re going to get some of the younger people on our staff, and we’re going to have them essentially function in a more formal advisory capacity.” Or they’ll put people in places where they’re on stretch development assignments where they say, “We need to do something different and novel, and we want to tap into all the energy you have.”
And I think there is no limit to what can be done with the energy and exuberance of youth, and I think tapping into it in large organizations is a massive opportunity.
Denver: I couldn’t agree with you more. Let me close with this, Scott. A lot of people are talking about the new normal or the new abnormal. I love the way you’ve coined it as the “new better,” and that is going to be what this post-pandemic world might be like. Talk a little bit about what some of the companies and nonprofits can do to innovate now and be prepared for that future.
Scott: And again, just stealing shamelessly, it’s Aon that first coined, that I first heard the “new better” from– the insurance company. I thought there was a much better phrase than the “new normal” or “new abnormal,” which makes me mildly depressed.
Denver: Just along those lines, I was speaking to somebody the other day about social distancing, and I never liked “social distancing.” And they should have called it “healthy distancing” because some words or phrases have bad connotations and some have good. And I have to say “new better” has good.
Scott: In Singapore, they call it “safe distancing.” So, they very consciously did not do “social,” they did “safe,” which I think is a small but important language shift.
Denver: I agree with you.
Scott: It feels a lot better. And just like “lockdown” is a horrible term, too. I mean, there’s lots of other words that you could use to describe it than lockdown. That’s just about as antagonistic as you can get. It’s a separate point.
So what can organizations do now to get ready? You know, I think the biggest thing, the biggest thing is to look back at history and recognize anytime we’ve had a big thing like this — whether it’s other pandemics, whether it’s a big recession, whether terrorist attacks, other geopolitical things — there are massive opportunities, massive opportunities for those who think and act in the right sort of way. No one knows exactly what the future’s going to hold. I’m not here to make any predictions, except to say that there will be tremendous space for people to innovate and grow.
And I think the thing that people have to do is, yes, recognize there’s still lots of bad things. There are lots of parts that feel like a crisis. We have to make sure we handle that. We got to make sure our people are safe. You have to do all these things. But an eye has to go up. It has to look at the horizon, has to look at the future because now is the time where if you take the right set of actions, you’re creating the next generation of success for your organization. The opportunities are there for those who think and act in the right way.
Denver: Well, you can almost say that the cement is wet right now, and it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity because it’s really hard to change an organization from a standing start. This is not a standing start. There’s a lot of energy around it.
What would you do or advise to make some of the positives that have occurred during the pandemic, make those permanent within an organization?
Scott: This is something that DBS, I’ve mentioned before, the bank in Singapore, what it has done is said, “OK. We’ve essentially come up with this idea, BEANs, to try and encourage new behaviors. We can also use it as ways to reinforce some of the positive things that we’re seeing.” So that’s a very short answer.
You say, “OK. What are the things that we’re doing during the pandemic that we like more?” So we might have leaders who are showing up as being more authentic and being more vulnerable. How do we make that something that is a formal ritual that we turn it into a BEAN, where it isn’t just something that once we get back to whatever the new better looks like, and more people are in offices or whatever, all of a sudden, we never see our leaders again? Because they only did this virtual thing when it was in this crisis situation. How do we think about coming up with something that formalizes the things that we like?
And that might be the greater authenticity and vulnerability. It might be the greater humanity inside organizations. It might be that we move faster. It might be that we encourage more flexibility within our workforce. It might be that we threw out our old assumptions and we try to do different things.
I’ve got a friend who’s a top leader in a consumer packaged goods company who said, “This is the best time of my career because 52 cards have been thrown in the air, and I’ve got a chance to just reorder them however I would like.” And that kind of positivity and spark, we still need a lot more of that in the world today.
Denver: Can’t agree with you more. Tell us about the website of the book. And I know on it, people can take a self-assessment to gauge the innovation at their own organization. Talk a bit about that.
Scott: So eatsleepinnovate.com. We’ve got a few things out there. So we have the Bag of BEANs. So we have 101 beans that are downloadable, kind of in playing card format, so you can print them out or send digital versions of them around or whatever to inspire you. We’ve got some assessment quizzes where you can go and assess: To what degree does your organization follow some of the behaviors we’ve talked about here. We’ve brought a virtual book club where we had some of the protagonists from the book come and join us in discussions.
I had the amazing privilege to talk with Ed Catmull from Pixar. And I would listen to the whole thing, but the last five minutes in particular, the last five minutes in particular, it just dropped this beautiful chestnut at the end. So we’ve got a whole bunch of resources out there for people to go.
And Eat, Sleep, Innovate. The title of the book, for those of you who are wondering about it — you eat every day; you sleep every day; you ought to innovate every day as well. We hope that the tools on the website can help people do that.
Denver: And that is the title of the book. Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization. And not only is it an informative book, it’s actually a lot of fun to read, which you don’t say about books like this very often. Thanks, Scott, so much for being here today. It was such a pleasure to have you on the program.
Scott: Denver, it was my treat. Thank you very much.
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