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Ross Chapman
Ross ChapmanRoss Chapman is a product strategist, public speaker, and consultant living in Southampton, UK.

We recently spoke with Elvin Turner, an award-winning innovation expert and associate professor of innovation, entrepreneurship and marketing for MBA and executive education programmes.

His book, "Be Less Zombie: How great organisations create dynamic innovation, fearless leadership and passionate people" came out earlier this year, and in it , Elvin distills 10 years of field research amongst some of the world’s leading innovators into a pragmatic, actionable toolkit. We invited him on to the Etch Podcast to talk about the innovation particle, leading by experiment and what needs to be true for innovative products to fly through an organisation.

Learn how Etch Horizon can disrupt your business and wider industry.

 

Ross Chapman
Elvin, thanks for coming onto the podcast today.

Elvin Turner
Thank you for having me. It's a delight to be here on a chilly Monday morning.

Ross Chapman
Absolutely. It's nearing the end of 2020. What have been your highlights this year?

Elvin Turner
Well, I guess the book coming out inevitably was going to be one that was a labour of love. And to see that out and getting the feedback that it's getting has been gratifying and great to see that it's been helpful to people. Lots of good family highs with kids going through transitioning into different stages of life, which has been fun. I have to say, though, I've just started a project, which I'm already calling a career highlight even though I'm only a month into a six month assignment! Oh my goodness, it's it's ticking all the boxes for me on working with an organisation that is highly purpose led, really trying to change the world. And they want to build out innovation infrastructure, and they asked me to help. So what's not to like? So yes, lots of good stuff this year, lots to be thankful for.

Ross Chapman
Incredible. And I'm also joined by Seth Campbell, who's the Head of Innovation at Etch. Welcome, Seth, what have your highlights been this year? so far?

Seth Campbell
It's a bit been a bit of a year, hasn't it? Turbulent, doesn't even get 1% there. I think, I guess, thinking, you know, we're here to talk about innovation. I think that this kind of shock that is that has cut across the world and, and everyone's personal lives, and also business lives as well has, I guess, just really put into focus how dealing with change is. It was always important, but it's just really brought into the foreground. I think all the conversations that we've been having, having at work, and personally, you know, has been illuminating. If you can get a silver lining out of something so difficult.

A lot of constructive conversations about change, I think has been has been a sort of a theme over the year, partly just from this kind of forced experiment we've all been in. That's definitely been a highlight. Seeing a little bit of traction in some of the concepts that have been hanging around in innovation, for decades, and in some cases, having some clients that are really looking for new ways to innovate new ways to experiment and be bold, in a challenging business environment has been definitely a highlight. Looking into the light of the future and what the next decade is going to bring. As a result, some of these changes are exciting.

Ross Chapman
I think so too. So, Elvin, the the book Be Less Zombie. It's been described as an excellent and practical guide for any leader trying to turn on higher levels of innovation in their organisation. What led you to put it together what led you to write this book?

Elvin Turner
Well, I never really intended to write a book and it was born out of necessity really, as you know, innovation often is. I found myself going into lots of assignments inside organisations, all different kinds. And we do some work, it might be doing design sprints, it might be doing some training might be doing some leadership development, it could be all kinds of different types of assignment.

As I was leaving, I always felt that I wanted to leave something behind that would be like a helpful Field Manual for people who could have a point of reference to go back. Because, you know, with the best will in the world, I'm a consultant. I go in for a limited amount of time. My aim is always to try and build capability so that people can do more and better on their own. However, there's a limit to what you can do, there are going to be bumps in the road ahead where you you're not able to help. So what can I leave behind? There are stacks and stacks of great innovation books out there, but I never felt there was one that was quite what I wanted. So I thought, why don't I write it then? So it ended up being a combination of, I guess, my experience, which is in innovation, change management, and leadership and communication. I found that a blend of those things was the thing that people were really needing to help them get through the innovation journey. So it was really born out of that desire to want to be able to keep helping beyond the assignment. That's where it came from.

Seth Campbell
That's so interesting. Your point about communication in there really speaks to the cultural part, and what you're leaving behind, and how an organisation can go on maturing. I love the book, and, you know, trying to resist the temptation to totally geek out, you do caveat, that the book isn't for innovation geeks. I thought that was really interesting. We found that lots of innovation attempts, and even the word itself as it can be a bit caustic. Attempts in organisations have often fallen short in terms of expectations, and if, not done the right way, with the right traction, there can be a kind of lack of respect for the initiative of an innovation team. That's something we find in engagements. Could you talk a little bit about that, about how there is some kind of negative association sometimes around innovation? What do you think are some of the ways to address that and tackle head on and help?

Elvin Turner
I think often that the negative associations have come from negative experiences where someone with good intentions has tried to move the needle on innovation inside the organisation. The motivations for that can be a starting point on whether that's going to succeed or not. If it's a personal agenda to get the spotlight, that's not always a great place to start. Sometimes though, it's a genuine need to see more bigger ideas in the organisation that can help them help the organisation to buy more time, dig deeper moats of competitive advantage, or just improve effectiveness and efficiency.

I think what tends to happen is there's a very, I call it 'dating innovation', and then there's  kind of 'settling down and getting serious with innovation'. When we fall into the dating camp, we're just running campaigns, which is trying to do things in a very tactical level, we think that we can run some kind of innovation, competition to come up with ideas, and then they will magically turn into action. And of course, anyone who's worked in innovation will know that it's the execution. That's the really hard bit, the fun bit, the the sizzle up front and coming up with the idea, so long as they're born out of good insights, which is usually not so difficult. It's turning them on. And that tends to be where it breaks down. We're trying to drop big, still, ill-formed ideas, we're still trying to work out the problem space that they what they operate with trying to understand the assumptions that would cause them to be true. We drop them into a very fast moving, highly efficient, honed status quo environment, and of course, they're dead on arrival. There, it's very hard for them to survive because there's no team there's no budget, no one's got time. No one's prepared to line manage them, and so they die a quick death.

Often you can see the carnage of former innovation programmes when I'm invited in. It was the right motivation, but there needs to be a little bit more thought into what does it take to create an environment where bigger, more uncertain ideas can really show up. That's about calibrating the environment. I think that's the starting point is what's the outcome we're looking for? And working back from? What's the context that that idea is going to need in order to survive incremental ideas for today, that can work in status quo, that's no problem.

But the further we wander from today, the more we need to be more deliberate about what metrics, what processes, what rewards, what people, what timeframes, all of the other things that are required, that don't match with today.

Ross Chapman
That's great. I welcome the death of the vanity hackathon! That's a more practical way to approach it, I'd say.

Seth Campbell
I guess, something that can happen is, you know, there, there is a motivation, and there's lots of new ideas, you know, the very front end of the kind of funnel or cycle has happened, and there's a lot of excitement, and sometimes that can trigger that kind of knee jerk. Let's go and build it. We've done what we need to do, and, and sort of, almost ironically, sometimes you need to slow down in those phases in between. There's a kind of infrastructure of innovation almost that needs to go alongside to really encourage sustainability. That can be really challenging, because you're saying "maybe we should go slightly less fast?" How do you get around that?

Elvin Turner
I think it can be helpful to point to organisations that do this well, and particularly if the task at hand is to find more disruptive ideas, more transformational ideas. We have to deal in reality. That, for me is dealing in the reality that most of these big ideas will end up failing, and when you point to organisations like Amazon and Google who have who have industrialised the approach to discovering more disruptive ideas, they themselves, Google X, particularly is very vocal about the fact that 99% of their ideas end up in the bin. And that's not that they were wasted, but they will learn things from them inevitably. It's that 1%.

Just getting into that mindset, to find bigger ideas that can have a bigger impact on our future and our stakeholders, we have to accept the fact that failure is coming. Therefore, let's become really great at failing fast, but let's actually do it so it's familiar.

There's a mindset shift for leaders to say, okay, you have to let go of certainty and control and allow the natural course of exploration. That's exploring whether this idea even makes sense, and if not, we're not going to run a few tests. Now to prove that we should do this, we're running to discover whether we should do it. And in that process, we may find that many of the ideas are wrong. The idea of lean startup and running small, fast experiments, design sprints, all of those things are great techniques, but I find they're all parts of helping a leader go through the reality check, like taking the red or the blue pill in the Matrix, but if we're gonna go here, we need to be prepared for the fact that there will be failure. This is one of the issues that I have around the word failure because it's very zero sum. I would much rather recommend organisations talk about learning. We're trying to learn whether this idea makes sense. Now, then when you run an experiment, whatever happens, you've succeeded because you've learned either it was the right thing, it was somewhere in the middle or it's the wrong thing. So everything is success.

The starting point for me is, we need to get real about a mindset shift that if we're going to go for bigger ideas, we can find them, but we've got to generate tonnes more ideas because it's all about volume. You'll find the gems amongst the rough, but many of those ideas will fail.

There is no way around it until we get an incredible AI maybe that can predict the future or we start to walk in more prophetic powers! But I think that starting point for me, is because everything starts with leadership as they define the values, what gets rewarded and everything else.

Seth Campbell
It seems like humans like things to be binary, but actually reframing everything as a learning journey can actually change your attitude to change itself.

Elvin Turner
One of the added things is the speed that we run at, and the certainty that we expect in the status quo tends to get transferred into the exploration mode.

Show me the ideas. Show me the money effectively. Why are we hanging around? In the book we're talking about desire for cordon bleu ideas in microwave times!

We have to be real about how this creativity takes time. You have to balance that with the commercial realities that you need to get things to market and you can do things at pace. The keyword is collaboration. If you're looking for bigger, bolder, more uncertain ideas, you have to give them space, not only to explore the assumptions, but look at Pixar. Look at the most creative organisations on the planet. They allow time for incubation to happen, for ideas to grow, to mature and to go in different directions. We're not going with the first idea that we come up with. We are trying to validate that we're actually trying to come up with something truly original, that actually is much more difficult to copy by the competition and something that we can just spin out in 30 days. 

Ross Chapman
The companies we are talking to say every time that they want to be different. 

Elvin Turner
Look at the names that always get get cited as great innovators. Amazon is, and Airbnb, and you've had some of these guys on your show. They are a strategic source of competitive advantage. Now they invest in culture, because they know that's so hard to copy. You can buy all of the how-to books and the case studies of Netflix and 3M and Toyota. They show you so much, but they often don't really show you what's going on that really drives the culture. That's the secret sauce that's hard to copy. And so it's IP effectively.

Seth Campbell
You have this term in the book called The the innovation particle. Would you mind giving a bit of an overview of that? Also, on businesses having one eye bigger than the other, that this idea is a sort of monster in the business. What do you mean by that?

Elvin Turner
I was listening to your interview with Greg Larkin recently and I know that he talks a lot about not going for ideas, but for outcomes. Start with outcomes. That's really what I'm talking about here. It's based around the jobs to be done methodology. It's trying not to get carried away with ideas, but to look at any context in which your products or services get used, and to try and understand what is the deep underlying progress that a customer is trying to make in that context and break it down. Get very specific about what's happening in that process, what progress underlies the process, and which progress matters most. Where are the biggest constraints in that progress?

In the book, we give the example of a kid trying to learn how to skateboard and a skateboard manufacturer is selling skateboards. At one level, they are selling a piece of wood or some clever plastic and some wheels. In the teenagers mind, they are thinking ahead to the skate park where there's this cute girl that they want to date. The only way they are going to get there is if they can buy credibility by learning how to do a few tricks. Earn the right to wear the right clothes, hang out in the skate park and get closer, otherwise you got no chance. So they are not necessarily thinking about "I want to buy a skateboard". The progress they are trying to make is 'speed to first date'. The skateboard is a vehicle to help them get there faster. From a skateboard manufacturers point of view, sure, they are still going to make skateboards, but the thing that might set you apart from other manufacturers is your ability to deeply understand what's going on in that kid's context. And of course, this is one of many contexts. But how can I help that kid learn three cool tricks in two weeks instead of two months, so that they can get closer to that girl faster?

It's about trying to understand what progress our customers are trying. What the innovation particle is. What's the progress? And then how can we help them make 10 times the progress that they're making at the moment. It's that trajectory you're trying to follow. The more we follow incremental ideas based on obvious extrapolations from where we are today, we are vulnerable.

If you look in the music industry over time, and over 100 years: We've gone from wax cylinders, to vinyl, to tape to CDs, to downloads. The underlying progress for most music consumers is 'I want access', and 'I want to be able to manage my music anytime any place.' That hasn't changed for 100 years. What has changed is the technology and fundamental shifts.

As an organisation, it's really useful to focus your innovation on what isn't changing, or what's really changing much slower. That is an underlying progress by which we we try and help customers achieve that stuff better. That really is the difference.

One example that I really like at the moment is at Netflix. They are thinking about how can we stream videos better. But when they started out, it was about how can we help consumers find great movies? There's no technology mentioned there. Netflix jumped from DVD to streaming in some respects without a heartbeat, because actually they realised that we can help our consumers find movies better if we move to an online model. Of course, the world's going that way. I would be really surprised if the leadership team aren't already thinking about how can we help them do it even better? And let's just pretend streaming isn't an issue anymore. What happens when streaming dies? What will we replace it with? That's a much healthier way to be running experiments through that lens so that our innovation is always aligned to strategy and future.

Seth Campbell
That's really interesting to think about. What would Netflix re-platform to next? Are they already working on it?

Elvin Turner
We have got many years left of streaming to really rinse that one for all it's worth, but the way they think, I wouldn't be surprised if that there will be someone somewhere inside Netflix playing with the future, trying to tune into these weak signals from the future, mashing together scenarios, playing around with new tech, and seeing how movies can show up. I wouldn't be surprised if it involves us being in them all!

Seth Campbell
They've done a bit of programmatic testing, haven't they? The sort of 'choose your own adventure.' I've seen organisations struggle with experimentation and actually release something to the public.

It can be a bit scary for organisations with a brand reputation, or IP or something that they're testing that might be brilliant, but they don't want to let it loose just yet. How do you think businesses should go around that? Is it okay to get something away very early on with a landing page or a piece of paid media to test a quick proposition, and how do you address the concerns that the internal team might have about confidentiality and brand image and things like that?

Elvin Turner
It's wrapped up in old ways of thinking that causes us to make assumptions about what might play out. I've got a few different thoughts on this. I think the first one is that you don't have to build it all yourself. One strategy is acquisition. We're not going to try and build it ourselves. And that's a legitimate approach. Cisco were the masters of that. When you're working inside an organisation and you're thinking particularly about brand and marketing, I think the world has moved on so much in the last 10 years that people are more used to scrappier first iterations of things. That's user generated content. It has helped.  I'm happy to sit and watch quite correctly produced YouTube and it gets crazy views. Our expectations of quality I think are flexible.

I also think that you look at the companies that do this well. Google are doing this all the time. They recently put something out on Gmail, a beta, so people don't care if it doesn't work 100%. So I think some of it is the framing with the customers, what's the expectation that you're setting with this thing, so that we're all on the same page. It's going to be a bit bumpy, but we're here to learn. The people who are interested in signing up to that kind of stuff are the geeks anyway, they want to see what's going on, they'll give you all the feedback you want, they'll tell you it warts and all, which is what you want, right up front, and to help you flush out some of the assumptions.

I always say to organisations that are nervous about this, that there is a percentage of your customer base that's desperate to play. They're bored out of their minds, and they want to play with new stuff, or they're just right at the front of the innovation curve. They want companies to come to them and help develop this together. Create a small community where you can launch stuff to them first. Gaming companies have been doing this for years, you have people coming in and testing games, movies, do it with pre screening, you can find a community to do this safely. And as you learn, whether it's something that's actually going to make sense at scale, then then you can put something out there that's a little bit shiny. But I think there's a lot of these days unnecessarily unnecessary nervousness around it. Because we think it's all or nothing. It's this binary thing. Again, we're going to put it out on our homepage, and people are going to download it, and it's going to break and oh, my goodness, you know, we're going to be in the newspapers The next day, because our server crashes? Well, you could do it that way if you wanted to. But why would you again, its MVP, what's the smallest possible experiment we could run with? To learn what, so that we can be informed about what we should do next?

Seth Campbell
Google Glass didn't really hurt Google in a significant way. In most people's minds, it's still used. I think that might be another trend as well how to how to kind of re position an organisation as a platform, so that you can convincingly deliver completely new, more diverse types of business model propositions, that might, not immediately seem like a natural evolution, but are actually building out an ecosystem of different different options, which leads me to think about, renewing business models and the sort of rate of renewal that businesses should go through.

Elvin Turner

Depending on where you are in your innovation, maturity, it's no bad thing to be thinking about how do we innovate our innovation.

There are several tricky phases through the innovation journey. Once you get a new idea and you're getting some traction, often there is this cliff where there is nervousness at an executive level, to really pull the trigger on investment that's going to make it scale. Do we really know enough yet? Maybe we could run another test? Let's just put that on hold for six months, because we got this fire that just landed on our desk. It's tough. I'm not going to pretend that it's easy to make these decisions. I guess the the organisations that I see that do it well, they've thought through handovers really effectively at different stages of the process. Whilst they develop, you've usually got a team to some extent that's in the business, but separate from the business that's out there playing with new ideas. Even at that early stage, when we're starting to get signals that something is probably going to work, you start to bring in people from the core business and say, this could be coming, what would need to be true for this to work at different stages of the business and what we're real about.  Let's work back again from the future to understand what would need to be true for this thing to fly through the organisation because that's usually the part in the book we talk about driving with your handbrake on. It's usually a lack of good process or cultural nervousness that is causing the roadblocks, that when you get to decision point, the executives often genuinely don't know how to make the right decision.

Designing a process where we all know what needs to be true to to act on a scale decision is a starting point. I think also, you need to cross the whole Crossing the Chasm. The premise behind that is that you've got this curve of growth, and your idea can suddenly start to spike in growth with early adopters and innovators. When you go to the mass market, suddenly the growth disappears. The thing that the innovators wanted isn't the thing that the mass market wanted. And you can believe your own experiments are going to validate your your growth when actually it's almost like two different markets you're working with. So how do you know what the mass market wants? Well, you keep experimenting. And you don't fall into the assumption that just because we've made it with the innovators, we're going to make it with the mass market. So you start running experiments with them earlier on as well. And one of the things that I have seen work well is inviting in customers who are just, again, we talked earlier about find, find the customers who want the bleeding edge and help them help you learn. But as soon as you can, I would say also bring in some if you're more open, but conservative customers to say we think the future might start to look like this. Tell us how this might show up for you, or what nervousness would you have about this? We know what might a journey be to this sort of idea. And you're helping them give you the data that would give you the confidence to make a decision around scaling rather than feeling like right let's do this is bad. We're going to try and jump off the cliff and over over into growth Well now let's include them in our journey to understanding what would need to be true for growth to show up. And you know, sometimes products can't cross the chasm because there isn't a mass market for them better to find that out now and not back it then back something that then creates another innovation experience that no one wants to go near again.

Seth Campbell
I wanted to talk a little bit about culture because there isa lot of innovation theatre out there. There is an educational aspect here too. What are your thoughts on the kind of guard rails do they need? You know, in the kind of the getting the balance right between getting people educated and feeling comfortable, aan den, really trying to realize some value. And that's quite a tough one, I found.

Elvin Turner
Yeah, definitely. For me, there are two. I'm sure there are more than two, but there are two that I talk about in the book. Starting points. In an ideal world, you want to start strategically, you want the board on board. You want them to be understanding what this is going to take so that we can move into a new a new way of delivering innovation, and scale effectively. That isn't always a luxury that you have depending on who is trying to initiate Mawr innovation inside the organization Quite often, it's someone buried down in the middle of the organization said, Come on, we need this. We're gonna die. Otherwise, you know, you've got people who are passionate about the business or the organization, but they don't really have a platform to do it. And so if if so, that ideal world, it's starting at senior level and they're backing the journey that I would say my experience. That's not always where it begins. So what I always advocate is find someone in somewhere, find the most senior person you can who has a problem that they really need to solve soon on. They have some level of motivation toe want to sponsor innovation and then just start running experiments. I mean, I have to say, when the lean startup when I read that book, it changed so much for me, as I think it has for so many people, the mindset shift to Oh my goodness, we don't have to build the whole thing, which is run some experiments to determine whether even asking the right question is like duh. But still, you know, 10 years later I can stand in front of a room is running some leadership training and hold up that book, which I think is one of the most important business books written in the last 50 years. Probably I don't think I'm exaggerating in that, because the impact that I see that it has, you hold it up and you say, Who's ever heard of this book? You might get two out of 30. Okay, who's read the book? And then you get some more awkward, sort of shuffling. Well, you know, I read the first chapter, but I was just busy that inch of paper. I couldn't justify the time together. Well, most people have still not heard off experimentation. Now you might find it in I t. You might find it in product development. But actually in the mainstream organization, most people is a brand new idea. Still, and I found that when you take that idea off running small, fast experiments that gives you permission and lowers the stakes, that's what it's all about. For May lowers the stakes for taking that first step towards an idea that otherwise we won't go anywhere near it's massively lowers the fear. It lowers the stakes, it lowers the risks, and suddenly everybody's happier to step into it more so. I did some work with Pernod Ricard, the global drinks company, a few years ago.

I was doing the training with the board and three guy at the time, who was the marketing director. I genuinely thought he was asleep at the back of the room and I was quite cross with him. Actually, nearly I nearly I wanted to embarrass him and wake him up, but it turned out, yeah, but anyway, I was explaining lean startup process behind it, and suddenly he snapped a life and said, Oh, so what you're saying is, instead of spending 50 k building something, we should spend 50 quid learning something. I thought I like that. That's the sort of stolen that completely lose it all the time. But it's such a neat way of thinking about the first step as a tiny experiment, no one gets fired. All we're doing is learning were so that any way to complete the cycle on that story I mean their performance went through the roof. It wasn't just starting to do more innovation. They had other things going on in the business.

But what the CEO ended up saying was, Don't bring me ideas. Ideas are 10 a penny. Bring the experiment. Bring me an experiment where you've run one or 23 cycles. You've got some data. You've got some evidence and come to me with a recommendation, not with a hunch or a pet idea. And suddenly that changed everything in their ability to make high quality decisions around what to back and you know how how to invest in their own portfolio. So if you could do nothing else, I would say Train your team in how to run experiments. Learn how to do that well, and start to show up around the organization with some options for people, because this is really what it's about. It's creating optionality for people that low risk. When I did this on a program with Sony Music a few years ago, it was fascinating to watch. So we ran a four year leadership development program. New intake every year, 60 or 70 people. That's when I used to work with a consultancy called Deepa. On the first year, it was completely under the radar, really, at 60 people running experiments at the end of the year there was a kind of a shark tank dragon's den thing, and they had to pitch it back to their local CEOs around the world.

Unfortunately, I wasn't at the event in the U. S, where the CEO of the whole of Sony music stumbled up onto the stage, snatched the mic and said, Oh my goodness, this is the stuff I've been waiting for my whole career. This is just unbelievable what you guys were doing, you know, And you think that, you know, that guy was in his seventies.

He was so energized just because he witnessed the power of running experiments, great ideas, taken a little way forward, and no one's actually spent any money. They had Britney Spears launching a signal only available on uber. You could only listen to it. An uber there just crying, trying crazy stuff. Some of it really never worked or never went anywhere. But it was the caliber of ideas that they would never have otherwise tried. So I often think about this A stealth work start start in small team, and I would I often see happening. Is people looking over the dividers? What are you working on over there. What's that? Well, it's just just an experiment working. Okay. Could you How did you do that? Well, it's just these tools on it kind of spreads organically, but it also attracts leadership attention to say, Hang on a minute, we could be doing this much more broadly at scale. Let's train up everybody to be able to do this, you know, you know, what does it cost to train people in how to run experiments and I've also found is it starts to bleed away from working on ideas that are uncertain. And, you know, we're trying to flush out assumptions. The idea of minimum viable X, which is what I talk about in the book, shows up everywhere. So hang on a minute. What's the minimum viable meeting? I hate meetings. How could we destroy meetings, or how can we find the better way of of making that kind of decision that doesn't necessarily need a three hour meeting? So minimum viable process, minimal, viable meeting, minimal, viable emails. Suddenly, everyone started to use minimum viable as a way of rethinking the bloat that suddenly cropped up in our organizations and a way to make us more effective and efficient in what we do. So hands down. I always say, Start with experiments because it just makes so much sense.

Seth Campbell
I love the idea of minimal, viable anything, I think, to your point there. You know, whether it either whether it comes in under the radar, is kind of stealth on, do you? Kind of, you know, you don't ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness and forgiveness, and you've got some data. Um, the other way around is once it once it does get into what you mentioned there where someone saying, Don't show me ideas. Show me, You know, experiments or outputs from that, there becomes a kind of implicit permission to go and try things, you know, but in a way that's going to give you some kind of responsible data that comes back so you can learn from which is, which is amazing. What? You also mentioned the performance space versus the rehearsal space. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Elvin Turner
Yeah, Well, I think this wasn't my idea. It all. I was interviewing someone for the book, and she's a voice coach on X factor. She is the person who, you know you have these great requires that suddenly appear, you know, after the second chorus on There's a choir and the current come back in this way well, she runs those. Andi I was just talking to about the book and saying, How does innovation short for you? And she made this great differentiation, which was

There is the performance space. You're on stage. You have to hit every note. You need to know every word you need to sway at the right time, so it looks awesome. You cannot fail. There's no space for failure. However, you don't learn or grow or improve or innovate in that space because there's no scope. The stakes are too high. You don't start trying out new stuff live on X factor. Similarly in business, you don't want to do that. Often we complain about the fact there's not much innovation going on in the business. But actually, sometimes that's the right thing in the status quo, because what you don't want to do is interrupt the thing that's actually keeping the wheels moving today and making all of the money you want to do it in a space for a while, where you're learning the stuff you're making it fluid in after then ultimately fit back into the core business. So there's the performance space. But then there's the rehearsal space, which is we're trying out new stuff. Doesn't matter. If we had done a bun note, we're gonna figure out a different kind of sway. That's where new stuff sparks. But it's safe.

Everybody knows that if this goes wrong, it doesn't matter. We're just here to play, to learn. And it's in that playful state, that safe, playful state where people feel like they can take risks. And you know, there's there's the now famous research that the Google did a few years back. Project Aristotle. Psychological safety is the number one lever of influence that causes people to show up and do their best work. So I really like that differentiation, of performance space and rehearsal space. The encouragement in the book is to say, what would rehearsal space look like inside your organization? It doesn't necessarily need to be a physical space. It's more of a mindset. The rules around this experiment we are going to run are not "it has to work". It's "we have to learn". How are we going to work with one another to build the trust?

I haven't worked inside Spotify, but I read a lot about them and the case studies that I've seen is that at the beginning of each project, the project team starts up. It's cross functional, so they can make decisions fast and get the expertise built into the team. What they also do is have a conversation about culture. If we need to reach this outcome in this time frame, what will need to be true about how we show up for one another? How will we make decisions? How can we build trust for one another? What a healthy conversation that is. Let's co-design and collaborate around what we need to be true in terms of process, resources, culture, behaviours, trust so that we can do our best work.

It's really interesting how it's making me think as there's a bit of divided opinion in the kind of literature I know. Alex Osterwalder talks about how there should be a Chief Entrepreneur. There's a fair bit of theory about dual core processes. The execution part versus the new disruptive thing that will put the existing business out of business someday.

The other is a kind of a blended approach where people can cultivate working on new ideas at the same time as working on the existing business. That could be attention for people. So, you know, one minute you're doing execution or reports on margin and performance on the next. You're trying to, you know, blow something up and learn something. 

How deliberate are we being about any one of those approaches and how are we building an organization where performance in one of those quadrants that can be optimized on what I see happening many organizations? We're hoping ideas will show up, and there might be some people who are dedicated to new idea development in product or in marketing, but actually in the rest of the organization, it's very informal. It's often a needs basis. There's been a crisis, and we're now responding. You look at what's going on in COVID right now and no one necessarily could have predicted it to the level that it's played out.

I hear lots of organizations saying that they haven't got anything in the cupboard ready for this. We're just not deliberate enough about pursuing high performing innovation. We were too busy trying to do today within an inch of its life, trying to shave all of the margins off so that we can do it for maximum stakeholder return, but we've only got ourselves to blame when the future shows up, like the Star Wars hyperspace jump. Suddenly the Empire is right in front of us. Where did they come from? They jump from hyperspace. Well, actually, you probably could have figured that one out if you thought more from the future about what was showing up.

I think that one of the biggest shifts that one organization could make is to convince its Executive Team that it needs to do less operational stuff, spend more time thinking about the future, and strategy on what would need to be true for more innovation to show up, that moves so many levers inside the organization. Or at least it has the potential to do that .

Seth Campbell
I've read that Jeff Bezos apparently spends like 34 days a week just just doing that. I think it was in the booth, but you know that probably not that normal. But, you know, you see the most innovative companies actually enabling that kind of culture through the business. So So for people that are on the journey on DNA, not quite there yet. You talk a bit about the kind of, you know, sort of whiplash almost of being an innovator or a change maker. You mentioned this idea about feed smack, which I thought was a great word. Um, what do you think of the, you know, to kind of keep going and pushing? You know, what's the kind of nutrition that, like an innovator in a business, needs to keep them, keep them going, keep their head up?

Elvin Turner
I love that idea. I hadn't thought about that before. I think it does depend on your environment. It depends on what you're trying to do. If you're trying to do anything that is  too far beyond what you're doing today, I would say two or three things. The first, keep the stakes low as long as you can. The longer you can keep the feeling of risk low, it's gonna be easier to make progress faster, because it's easier for people to make decisions on.

One of the things that I've learned, I actually heard this from a guy who runs innovation at HSBC and then found to be true He said, don't ever go into progress meetings with stakeholders with tonnes of PowerPoint. Just take your progress. Show them what you've done. Show them what you've made because no one really cares about the slides.

Show me the stuff. What does this mean? So keeping the the journey moving with real stuff rather than fat PowerPoint decks. It is always a balance. You've got to play the game to some extent.

I think for me, though, that the key thing is, in most organizational contexts: This is hard yards. You don't have a clear infrastructure to work. You don't necessarily have permission to play in the areas that you want. You will find yourself banging your head against the wall a lot with people making decisions that make no sense. Sometimes you don't see the big picture. But often maybe you do. I think the key to staying encouraged is two things.

  1. Keep reminding yourself why this matters, because it's very easy to lose sight and lose heart halfway through.
  2. Choose your friends. Find some people who get what you're trying to do and you can check in with, and they can say it's all right. It's okay. I understand.

You need a lot of encouragement when you're being told no a lot or when you're failing a lot. If you're in one of these labs where you're trading in 99% failure, you're learning, remember? Deep down, you've got a great idea, and you really want this thing to work, and then it doesn't on. Repeat. That could be quite a disheartening place to play. So I talk in the book about, how people say, don't fall in love with your ideas.

Flip it and say, Well, I think you should fall in love with your ideas. When you think about what love really is. Love knows when to say no, and when to let go. You're being a responsible citizen at the same time as being, some sort of emotional attachment to it. We have to be real around the emotion of this, because you wouldn't be trying to do this thing as an innovator if you didn't care.

When people say no to something that you care about or something that you've worked your backside off in evenings that people can't see, you need some encouragement. You might not get that from inside your organization, so find friends who understand the journey we're trying to go on and who can help you pick yourself back up and go again.

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