February 12, 2013
Innovation Revolution: Ignite Innovation in Every Aspect of Your Company
The dynamic guest speaker for this month’s meeting was Lisa Bodell, CEO and Founder of futurethink, an internationally recognized innovation research and training firm. She founded her company 15 years ago on the principle that, with the right knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to innovate.
Lisa began her talk by acknowledging that working within regulated industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, is harder than working within others with respect to innovation. However, she insisted that, despite these restrictions, we can make changes. She said that everyone has the power to innovate — we just need to know how.
Lisa asked the audience, “Why is change so hard for people?” She ventured that it’s because people are valuing the wrong things within companies, making it harder for us to think differently. We need to look at new things as different and be open to change. It’s changing our mindset from “what is” to “what could be”. To get the audience engaged, Lisa had everyone stand up and partner with someone in the audience. She instructed the first partner to push their fist against the outstretched arm of the second partner. And what was the result? The second partner, despite being given no instructions, pushed back against the first partner’s fist. Lisa pointed out that the same thing happens in business. When presented or “pushed” with something new or novel, we have a tendency to “push back”. She quoted, “The only thing more naturally resistant to change than a human being is a company.”
In businesses, the things that we value are managing not leading, outputs over inputs, doing over thinking, hard skills over soft skills and process over culture. Lisa demonstrated that there are three types of companies: the light bulb, the dynamite and the dimmer switch. The “light bulb” company has a positive culture, which few companies have, and it is inspired, action-oriented and motivated. The “dynamite” company has a bad culture. Its culture is antagonistic, fear-invoking and lacks inspiring vision. This is the type of company that talks about “lighting the fire” under people to make them more productive, which is fear-inducing. The “dimmer switch” company culture is routine, comfortable, resigned and lacks energy, and Lisa said that is reflective of many companies. Lisa then polled the audience with a 10-question quiz to see how open to change they were. After showing the questions, she said that the average score she sees across all types of audiences is a 4 to 5, representing someone who is a risk-taker, optimistic and competitive. If this is the case, why aren’t people more innovative?
Lisa pointed out that thinking is a daring act and it is the opposite of working. Being innovative is about having the right tools and not about a process. Lisa had a few tools to present to the audience. She said that innovation requires a flexible toolkit that provides guardrails, not handcuffs. She also pointed out that change can’t be with a capital “C” or big — it needs to be done in “little bigs”.
Lisa and her company have created tools to help people create on their own. They have developed some “killer” tools that promote change; for example, killer queries. Killer queries push you to think about how to ask things differently. Instead of asking, “How do we make our product better?”, try asking, “What’s good about our products or services?” or, “If we won an outstanding service award, what would it celebrate and why?” She also provided examples of killer queries with respect to company culture, such as, “What would you change in our company culture?” or “If we could undergo a culture exorcism, what would you change?” This tool can also be applied to a company as a whole with the idea of “kill the company”. Lisa uses this tool with companies by asking them how they would put their own company out of business if they were a competitor. By shifting a company’s mindset, it allows them to look at things from a different perspective to help them generate ideas for positive change.
Another killer tool is the “kill a stupid rule”. Lisa gave the example of TD Bank that killed the rule that banks couldn’t be open 7 days a week. This tool is valuable because, when people kill stupid rules, they come up with solutions and processes that they can control. In addition, most of the suggestions people derive from this tool are easy to do and are good for business. Lisa also said that this tool could be “kill a stupid meeting”. When she asked the audience if they liked that idea, everyone in the room raised their hand!
The last tool that Lisa presented was called “assumption reversal”. She uses it to break assumptions. By coming up with the reverse of your assumptions, you can create something new and big.
The last ideas Lisa presented were small changes that can have big impacts. The first was the idea that empowerment rules. The second was the “that’s outrageous!” rule. Within your company, tell people you only want outrageous ideas from them that would get them fired. Lisa pointed out that when people are given the leeway to think radically, they come up with better ideas. The third tool was “NNTR” which stands for “no need to respond”. She uses this tool in emails, by typing the acronym into the subject line or body of the email. This frees people from feeling unnecessarily obliged to respond to email chains. The last idea was “WAB”, which stands for “within, adjacent and beyond” your company. When thinking about your company and its culture, Lisa encourages people to think WAB when generating ideas for change.
All members of the audience were generously provided with a copy of Lisa’s book, entitled “Kill the Company” that includes information about the tools she presented and more. She said that her book is all about mindset, as she feels that mindset is what holds people back all the time.
For people who wanted to learn more about change and innovation, Lisa provided the following suggesting for online resources: futurethink.com, trendwatching.com, springwise.com, innovationwatch.com, TED.com and longbets.org. Lisa concluded her talk with a quote from John Cage, a composer and inventor, which was “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”