All posts tagged Defining Innovation

Defining Innovation Podcast | #003 Tim Kastelle

tim kastelle defining innovation podcast image

A podcast for innovators, creatives and the madly curious—featuring Tim Kastelle.

Tim Kastelle is the Senior Lecturer in Innovation Management at University of Queensland. His Discipline of Innovation blog is a wonderfully rich source of ideas, articles and discussions (follow him on Twitter via @timkastelle).

Link to mp3 PODCAST NO LONGER BEING PRODUCED

Show notes / timestamps :
00:00 Intro / academic definition of innovation
02:53 focus of Tim’s work
05:36 how do you teach innovation
08:49 cultural conditions for organisations / companies
13:45 the air sandwich
17:00 creating change
21:10 what’s impressing Tim
23:41 Thanks / outro

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Know of any innovative folks who should be interviewed / featured then contact us here.

Past podcasts.

Podcast Transcript
00:01 DK: Welcome again to the Defining Innovation podcast. This is episode number three where today I’m chatting to Tim Kastelle. He’s the senior lecturer for Innovation Management at the University of Queensland, in the business school there. He has an amazing blog, which is just an embarrassment of riches. It’s called Discipline of Innovation. Find it in the show notes. And you can also find him on Twitter @timkastelle. I asked him straight off the bat what his academic definition of innovation is and if it differs from any others?

00:34 Tim: So the definition that I always use for innovation is executing new ideas to create value. And everyone that studies it has their own definition but they all basically boil down to some way of saying that same thing. And there’s a couple of critical issues there, one is that everyone has the new ideas part and they get that. But you have to execute. So the issue of, you know you don’t want to be the guy in the bar that said I had the idea for Facebook ten years ago. You actually want to be the guy that builds Facebook, or the girl that builds the next Facebook. So you actually have to execute. And then the third point is the idea of creating value. Sometimes people will say — they’ll actually talk about money in their definition. So they say that innovation is an idea that has been translated into money. But I prefer value because value is more interesting. When we talk about value it means that education institutes can innovate without having to make a bunch of money. Governments can innovate without having to make a bunch of profit. So value I think is really important as a third part of it so executing new ideas to create value. To innovate you have to do all three of those things. It’s not enough to just have an idea. It’s not enough to be really good at executing without creating value. You have to do all of them. I think the biggest error that people often make, and this will come up again later as we continue to talk is to mistake innovation just for having ideas. Often people just say, “Well I have the idea. What more do you want?” and you absolutely have to execute. And it may be different people. If you have an organization it might be different people that have the idea and the execute, but at the end of the day — I hate when people say at the end of the day. But anyway to innovate effectively you have to be able to carry the idea all the way through and that means that you don’t just have them. It means that you actually have to do something with them. So that’s why that definition is fairly broad. But it covers I think all of the different types of innovation that you might have.

02:53 DK: That’s superb. Thank you for that Tim. So tell us what you do with those definitions because you work at the University of Queensland doing what sir?

03:02 Tim: I do sort of everything. I divide my time up in a number of ways. I spend a lot of time just out talking to people in firms about how innovation works. Sometimes that can be very formally as a piece of research where I’m doing it through interviews or through surveys. A lot of time it’s just more casual where people have come to me with a problem and they want some kind of help. I have a number of people that I just have sort of mentoring relationships with that are trying to run innovation programs inside of their organizations. I just touch base with them on a fairly regular basis to see what issues they’re facing because that helps me learn about what the big obstacles are and what people are struggling with. So a lot of my time is actually spent out in the field actually studying what’s going on inside of organizations. So that’s a big part of my time. And then I spent a fair bit of time then also teaching about innovation. So I teach into the MBA program. I’ve got other courses, educational courses and other things where I try to take all that stuff that I’ve learned and that other people have learned and packaged it up into some set of ideas that people can then take and apply in their particular setting in a way that will help them create value for whoever it is that they’re trying to create value for. So those are the two main things that I spend my time doing. And then kinds of my spare time hobby in the evenings is I then write a blog about innovation as well which kind of cuts across both of those things. My original thought with that was that I wanted to have a way to communicate with people that had taken my classes just to keep them up to date with what was going on with innovation. And then it’s just kind of grown and grown and grown and now I’ve gotten an opportunity to talk to even some people that have never met me about what’s going on in innovation and so the blog is basically when I take all these other things that I’ve learned and apply them in a way again that hopefully is useful to people.

05:16 DK: And we’ll be sticking that in the show notes because Discipline Innovation, which is the blog title, is a fantastic resource. I spend far too much time in there researching this interview. The digital kind of breadcrumbs and the rabbit hole really goes deep on your blog, in a good way.

05:32 Tim: It’s goes deep for me too.

05:36 DK: So tell us a little bit if you can how you actually teach innovation.

05:41 Tim: Well it’s one of those things where my official title is senior lecturer in innovation management. And often I’ll explain that to people and they’ll say well that’s an oxymoron. You can’t manage innovation. And it gets down to again that issue of thinking about innovation as just ideas. And the thing of it is we can’t — I can’t manage it so that you have an awesome idea in the next ten minutes. Maybe it will trigger one in the next ten minutes through conversation which is one of the things that you try to do to support innovation but if I’m a manager I can’t say, “Hey you guys, go have great ideas. And do it tomorrow or do it right now.” And I think one of the guys that I have done a lot of research with is a guy named Mike Coles and he did knowledge management for Hatch Engineering for a number of years. Now he’s out on his own. And one of the things that he said about knowledge management that has always stuck with me is he said, “Look people talk about herding cats, that knowledge management is like herding cats. And it’s not. It’s actually like herding butterflies because the thing with cats is that they’re actually some things you can do to herd cats. There’s nothing you can do to herd a butterfly. All you can do is set up the conditions that will attract the butterfly in.” And innovation is kind of the same thing. So the issue you have when we’re saying well how do we teach it, what we’re talking about is how do we create the conditions that will be attractive for good ideas? And it will help us then execute them once we’ve had them. And so when we talk about how do we train or how do we teach it, we talk about what are those conditions? How do we enable the construction of those inside of our organizations? There are some mechanical things, once we have really good ideas, do we have resources in place to execute? Do we have the skills that we need to execute and that sort of thing? And then that value bit we can also think about really clearly who are we creating value for and be very specific about is our strategy right for doing that? So you can think about the different parts of the definition. You can think about some of the tools and the techniques that support that and then if you pull all that together, that ends up being a little bit of an innovation course. It’s often not what people expect when they come in because they’re thinking well we’re going to have a class with beanbag chairs and Nerf guns and that’s not it. And there are situations when the bean bags chairs and the Nerf guns are cool but the main thing we try to get across in the course is here’s some stuff you can do. And I think that herding butterflies analogy is a really good one because what we’re really trying to do is we’re trying to create the conditions that enable people to innovate. We’re not forcing people to innovate.

08:49 DK: And you’ve written a little bit about this and I remember reading a bit about habits and forming habits which comes from the conditions and there’s a thing I used to say a lot was habitats form the habit right? And could you speak a little bit how an organization, for a lot of organizations that means a cultural shift rather than an operational or a hierarchical kind of fragmentation, maybe it is. But what’s the cultural shift that organizations have to do then to get their heads on the conditional side of innovation?

09:19 Tim: Yeah so that’s a great question and I think there’s a couple of key issues there. One is that if we’re talking about organizational habits or routines or the processes that we try to put in place, I think for me the most critical one is building up a skill for experimenting.

09:45 DK: A skill for experimenting.

09:47 Tim: Yeah or a habit, right but basically having that system in place where basically somebody says, “Hey I’ve got this great idea,” and then the response is, “That’s pretty cool. Let’s see if it works.” And the whole point, there’s a few I think critical points with that. One is that when you’re seeing if it works, if it’s an experiment, we’re just testing. And so we’re not trying to prove that it works. We’re not assuming all the way through oh yeah that’s the right idea. We actually have to figure out well how would we test it? So is there a way that we can build a prototype? Is there a way that we can scale it down to a really small level to see if it’s going to work to gather some data and then to see if that’s something that’s worth building more? The other thing with experimenting is that with an experiment you don’t fail. The whole thing with an experiment is we try it, and then the thing that we expected to happen either happens or it doesn’t and in both cases, then we have data. So either we’ve learned hey we have this idea and in this particular setting and under these circumstances it doesn’t work, so either we need to try different circumstances or a different way to approach it or do it with a different set of people or maybe it’s not right for us right now. But it’s not a failure. But then if it does work then we can say okay we learned something and let’s do more of that. But I think that habit of experimenting gets around a lot of problems that we run into with innovation including just getting hung up on the idea because if you’re experimenting we have to actually execute to figure out if the ideas any good. The second thing that it does is it gets around this issue of well what happens if we try an idea and it doesn’t work as we’re going out to learn? And I think the third thing that experimenting does is it just gets you into that habit of action. So if you talk about what’s the core skill of innovating, for me that’s it. And a lot of everything else that’s really important for innovation builds on that. So we have that habit of experimenting and that culture of experimenting and learning in place, then you can build a lot on top of that. And so if we’re saying well how can we be more innovative, a lot of people say well let’s go get an idea management tool. Or let’s get an innovation (inaudible) or all this other stuff. And for me all that stuff can be fine and it has it’s place but all the other stuff doesn’t really help you that much. So for me that whole thing is to experiment because that where an innovation culture then comes from.

12:38 DK: I love that and I never thought about how powerful just that one singular point, that granular point of experimentation can be and it leads into so many things. And then unhinges all the barriers, which you talked about.

12:50 Tim: Yeah if you’re talking about well what’s the thin edge of the wedge, you know we want to make our organization more innovative, what’s the one thing that we can do that would start to expand the way that we’re thinking, for me that’s it. It’s just how do we figure out a way to do that? And if you can do that a lot of really good stuff sort of naturally follows from it. And the thing of it is it’s not straightforward. It takes some changes to do that. You require different relationships in terms of power. You require different things in terms of empowerment that enable experimenting. And so it’s not like we can just walk in the door and say now we’re experimenting. But it’s for me the way to start.

13:45 DK: Wonderful, thank you for that. So let’s shift a little bit. Talk to us a little bit about the air sandwich. Just because I love this thing that I read on your blog about expectations between senior teams and implementation staff and how that is sometimes one of the biggest barriers for any innovation programs or even just communicating new ideas. Just talk to us about the air sandwich, it’s just so cool.

14:14 Tim: Okay well that’s an idea that I’ve stolen from my colleague and co-author Nilofer Merchant. So she wrote about that in her book The New How, which is wonderful. And in that she talked about how strategy gets built. And her whole argument is that within our organizations we’re not inclusive enough in how strategy happens. And I think it applies also to innovation. So the idea of the air sandwich is that if you’ve got one group that sets the strategy and then you’ve got a second group that’s expected to implement, you end up with a gap between them. And that’s what she calls the air sandwich. And so what happens is if the strategy group which is often a senior group, they set the strategy and then they just throw it over the wall and they say, “Here it is, go to it.” If the people that have to execute it have no investment in it, they’ve had no participation in developing the strategy. They have often no understanding of what the goals and objectives are, they can’t and they won’t do what you need to do to make that strategy work. And so what you end up with, if we think back to that definition of innovation, you have a gap in the value that’s trying to be created because the people that are being expected to implement don’t understand it, they don’t buy into it, they don’t see the value for themselves. So Nilofer’s argument and I endorse this 100% is that to be more effective with building our strategy we have to be more inclusive in including more people in the building of strategy. And that’s the way that you get rid of that air sandwich. And it’s too bad that everyone is just listening to this on the podcast because my physical gestures is really expressive. But the issue that if more people participate in building the strategy and building the goals and building the objectives of an organization, they’re more invested in making sure that those things work. Often those people are closer to the people you’re trying to create value for so they often have a better understanding of what your other stake holders will value. And so that idea being more inclusive in building strategy and building the ideas that you try to innovate around I think is very powerful one.

17:00 DK: I really love it. It’s just such an obvious thing that probably between us we can cite so many examples from our previous experience of working in global authorities or education institutions, you see it. My kind of only frown point with that if there is one is if you’re talking to an organization which is quite fat like maybe a governmental organization or university like Queensland, it’s quite big, how do you make sure the air sandwich is nonexistent which is what you’re advocating for or at least has a very thin layer of air?

17:36 Tim: Yeah, well so that gets into a huge can of worms. So the bigger question there is if we have a large organization and they’ve got set ways of doing things and we want to get them to change, how do we do that? And I think there’s a few points with that. One is that first off it’s really hard, unsurprisingly. And so that’s one issue but the second thing then is that there are in fact organizations that have done it successfully. IBM has transformed themselves twice in the past 20 years. You know first to respond to the rise of PCs and second to respond to the rise of the Internet. And so they’ve gone from being a hardware manufacturer to being a service company. And if you look at who were their big competitors in the 60s and 70s, they’re all gone. So all the organizations that were just as big that they were competing against have just disappeared because they didn’t make that transition. And IBM was thousands and thousands of people. So how did they do it? They did it by doing exactly the sort of thing that we’re talking about which was broaden the base of people that are participating in generating ideas and coming up with a strategy. You know their big innovation in the 1990s was the innovation jam. And the whole idea of that was well wait a minute we’ve been setting direction here in the boardroom with 20 people for years and that was fine while the environment was stable. But now the environment isn’t stable so maybe we should talk to everyone. Those first innovation jams, we went from having our strategy and our objects set by 20 people to having 10,000 people participating in figuring out what we should do next. So that idea of can we broaden the base of the people that are contributing ideas and contributing to our purpose and contributing to our direction, it can be done. So we have examples that we can look at. The third point in all of this is that often — so that’s doing that on a big scale. If we’re in an organization and we’re not the CEO, so we don’t have the power to change everything, I think the next question to ask then is okay there’s good stuff going on someplace here, how do we identify that and build on that? Because you’re better off finding the positive things and building on those than trying to stamp out barriers even if there’s barriers that are hindering innovation or change, it doesn’t necessarily just unleash a torrent of ideas or innovation that was just sitting there waiting to be unleashed. You’re better off finding the people that have already figured out a way to fight that inertia and of succeeding that system and encourage that. Try to get that to spread. You knock down barriers (inaudible) actually building the behaviors that you want rather than — supporting the behaviors that you want rather than trying to get rid of the ones that we don’t.

21:10 DK: Thank you, yeah that’s brilliant. So we could just rap forever man but we’re going to have to bring this to a close so I’m going to ask you, which I’ve asked the other guys I did a podcast with, who’s impressing you in this innovation space whether that be a person, a brand or organization, or even just an idea that’s popping in that you think has some legs?

21:30 Tim: Okay, I’m going to cheat and pick two because as you can tell I can talk. And so there’s a couple of ideas that has popped up. One is for an idea the thing that I think is really powerful and you and I met when I was talking about this is business model innovation. I think business model innovation the idea that we can change not the thing that we’re delivering to people but everything around it and then we’re creating fundamentally different value for people, I think is incredibly powerful. And it’s something that is available to pretty much every organization. So I think that the idea that we can innovate a business model is something that is a relatively new idea, obviously the activities that go into have been around for ages but thinking about it as a business model and innovating that relatively new and I think it’s very powerful. And so when we look at things like wing start up, that business model is right in the middle of that and that’s transforming the way that we start businesses. It’s also having a huge impact on larger firms as well and so I think that’s a really important idea and one that people should investigate. If we’re talking about organizations it’s another one that you and I were talking off mic at the start. The company that’s really impressing me right now is Under Current. And I think if we think about ideas that we’ve been discussing, how do we get (inaudible)? How do we flatten? How do we experiment? How do we find (inaudible) and expand it? That’s the think that their whole practice is built around. And I just think that they’re doing great work and I would love to see more companies like that. I would love to see them get really huge because I think that their approach to this is really, really good. They’re doing fundamentally good work. And it’s based on good theory and pretty solid theoretical underpinnings and that to me is the kind of company I’d love to see more of.

23:41 DK: I appreciate that and thank you. So Tim thanks for your time. It’s really been a joy to speak to you.

23:47 Tim: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. As you can tell I love talking about innovation with pretty much anyone I get a chance to and I hope that this is been a good useful thing for people.

24:01 DK: That was Tim Kastelle, senior lecturer of the innovation management at the University of Queensland. You can follow him on Twitter because of course you’re young and funky and follow people on Twitter right? You can follow him on Tim Kastelle, that’s T-I-M-K-A-S-T-E-double-L-E, timkastelle, please subscribe to the blog, leave a comment or review it on iTunes. That would really help me out immensely. If you think we should be interviewing anybody for the Defining Innovation podcast just leave a comment or drop us a note on the contact page of justadandak.com. Until next time, I’ll speak to you then.

Music credit to TexasMusicForge

Defining Innovation Podcast | #002 Mike Arauz

mike arauz defining innovation podcast image

A podcast for innovators, creatives and the madly curious—featuring Mike Arauz.

Mike Arauz is a partner at Undercurrent a digital strategy firm who help influential organizations transform into digital leaders.

Link to mp3 PODCAST NO LONGER BEING PRODUCED

Show notes / timestamps :
00:00 Intros
00:46 What is Undercurrent?
01:10 The five P’s (see their website front page)
05:28 Delivery approach
07:21 Methodologies: Joanna Beltowska / strategist shares “The 10x Workshop: / Google Ventures Design Sprint format
11:04 Innovation
14:34 Undercurrent is now a Holacracy: the management structure used by GitHub and Zappos
18:36 Sustaining change
23:20 Who / What is impressing : Valve, Ev Williams and Medium, Zappos, Third Wave in Berlin, London Strategy Unit and Made By Many
26:12 Outro

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Know of any innovative folks who should be interviewed / featured then contact us here.

Past podcasts.

Podcast Transcript
00:01 DK: Welcome to the Defining Innovation podcast. This is episode number two where I get to speak to Mike Arauz. He’s a partner at Undercurrent. You can find that on the undercurrent.com, a digital strategy firm who help in organizations and companies become more responsive due to digital technologies out there and everything else. So they’ve worked with amazing clients like American Express, Hyatt, General Electric, Ford, even my friends at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So we’re going to explore today in the podcast really how they go about doing what they do which is incredible by the way. And I kicked off asking him basically about Undercurrent, describe what they actually do.

00:46 Mike: So Undercurrent is a strategy partner, a consultancy based in New York City and we currently just opened up a new office in Los Angeles. And we work with business leaders primarily at large organizations to help them change the way that they work through our combination of both strategy and implementation.

01:10 DK: Great so how does that manifest then? I’d love to get your take and for you to share your five Ps with us.

01:20 Mike: Yeah absolutely. So what we’ve been noticing, we started around 2007 and since we were founded we’ve been very close and kind of integrated into the tech start up world. Our founders are very involved in that space. We actually have a ventures arm of our business. So at the same time that we’ve been working with these large established companies, we’ve also had very close relationships with folks in start up world. And what we’ve observed is that there are fundamentally new ways of operating that we see in the companies that are growing the fastest and having the most disruptive impact on the world. Sometimes those can be very large organizations, you know someone like Google or Amazon. And other times they can be much more emergent start up, someone like Uber for instance which kind of came out of nowhere and has grown at a very, very fast pace. And so if you think about the aspects of any organization and how they operate, it basically comes down to five areas. And you can kind of think of them in a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy level from purpose at the top, why do we exist? What are we here for? Then process what’s kind of the governance that decides how we do things. Then people, our employees and our wider network. Then product, what are our products and services that we actually sell or make our business off of? And then lastly platform which traditionally could be the underlying infrastructure, the distribution network or supply chain or something like that. But more and more these days it’s a very kind of active and external facing aspect or element of a business. And what we noticed is that across those five domains there’s a value shift in how more responsive organizations think about those elements of their model. So rather than when it comes to purpose for instance, we see an emphasis on a kind of visionary dent on the world even over a commercial purpose with process do turn towards agile processes even over more linear or predictive processes. With people you see a shift towards makers even over managers, people who are actually capable of doing and not just over seeing or planning. With products, products is much more moving towards evolutionary or emergent products, operating under the assumption that there’s no way to know what the best product is going to be six months or a year from now so we have to build a product that is designed to evolve from the start. And then lastly platforms are mostly about opening up. Amazon web services is probably the best example in the world I bet, something that began as an internal infrastructure piece was built in such a way that it could become opened up and became a huge lucrative line of business for Amazon and has had huge, huge, very far reaching implications for the entire business world.

05:28 DK: Fantastic. I just love the language you guys are using and that’s what drew me to Undercurrent in the first instant. And in the beginning I said I’ve been following you for like six to nine months even though you’ve been going for a few years now and I think you’ve got the language really framed right now days and that’s what drew me to you, like I said from an innovation perspective. And in terms of those five Ps I can imagine when you’re going in and working with clients, where do you start? Do you do the whole thing? Do you do just one of those things? Do you do it in stages?

06:01 Mike: Yeah well certain clients of ours we’ve been working with for a while and so it’s a much more fluid process. But we like to do our preference is to do some kind of initial audit of where they currently stack up against this new way of operating. So that can be through a combination of kind of traditional interviews, going around and talking to people within the organization, qualitative research as well as both surveying and virtual tools, and even data mining of publicly available online information, looking at data that you might gleam from company profiles, employee profiles on LinkedIn or what people have been saying about the company on a site like glass door. Those can be interesting sources as well. So we typically start with some kind of assessment that says these are the areas where you are most efficient or where you have the most strength to build off of. And then we can kind of go back and forth and say, all right should we focus on recruiting for instance or should we focus on implementing new process or whatever it might be.

07:21 DK: And one of your staff members and strategist Joanna Beltowska, sorry if I pronounced that wrong —

07:28 Mike: No that’s correct.

07:30 DK: — did a great blog post around the ten times workshop or the ten, yeah 10x, I’ll link to that in the show notes, which really just shares the methodologies of your approach in one of your hands on sessions with your clients. I’d love to hear from you a little bit of an overview of that so people can get a flavor and get them to click through.

07:53 Mike: Yeah I think that that’s a really good example of particularly how we’re putting together a few different sources of inspiration into our work and particularly how we think about doing strategic planning in the most traditional way versus how McKenzie or Boston Consulting or those other established consulting firms would go about it. So the 10x Workshop as Joanna calls it in her post brings together a few different things. One is there’s a really good write up from Google Ventures, a week long structure that they use to rapidly prototype and validate product ideas. And I can send you the link to that. It’s definitely worth clicking as well. And we put that together with ten best practices from agile software development and design thinking. So the process essentially starts with empathy with the user, the customer, understanding their needs and what their problems are, then generating a kind of wide array of potential solutions or value propositions for them, then prioritizing that list based on what you’ve heard from them, then very quickly beginning to prototype some solutions, working as quickly as possible in a very low-fi (phonetic) manner. Typically it’s like sketches on a piece of paper or something like that. Sometimes depending on what it is you might do it in some kind of interactive format. And then putting in front of real potential users and that could be in person. The workshop that Joanna was writing about, this was a structured workshop with a client of ours and so we’re able to bring customers in and do some remote interviews and validation. But you can also do it in an even more distributed manner. You could do search engine marketing to drive to some rough prototype and see how people click or what not. So that’s all by Wednesday and then by Thursday you have some feedback, you have some favorite ideas and you create a slightly more refined prototype. Maybe it has some design components or maybe it has a really simple development back end to it. And you create a slightly more flashed out prototype. And Friday you go back again, you put that narrowed down prototype again in front of some real users. And at the end of the week rather than just coming up with a bunch of neat ideas that everyone feels excited about, you actually have something that you can look at and say we’ve collected feedback on this. This is what works about it, this is what doesn’t. These are some more realistic expectations about how or in what way it could be successful and why the sponsors or the stakeholders should invest in it further.

11:04 DK: That’s great. Thank you for that. I know people are going to click through because it’s just a great write up. So share if you can kind of how you guys because you have a great group of partners and strategists and consultants there, how do you guys define innovation and chat about it or do you even? Do you have those kind of sessions where you talk through stuff?

11:26 Mike: Yeah I mean to be honest I think innovation is one of those words that we try not to worry about too much because we’ve kind of accepted that it’s overused and used in a lot of different ways. But we do, even though that term itself is something that we try not to take too seriously I think the underlying ideas and practices that are associated with it is something that we take very seriously. And the way that we that we think about it is the ability to imagine what could be better and to create it in some way is more important than ever. And that involves a lot of different things. You know the design thinking piece is really important because design thinking — one of the things that’s best about design thinking is reminding yourself to pay really close attention to what users or customers actually need. So that’s always going to be critical in taking that inspiration from them and adding your own intuition. So it’s not like that famous Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.” And part of the reason why someone like Steve Jobs was as great as he was, was that he was able to imagine solutions that no one else could conceive of yet. But at the same time Apple is a really good reference I think for innovation because their biggest successes were not completely invented out of nothing. If you look at the iPod, MP3 players and portable music players had been around for a long, long time before the iPod came along. And yet they were able to solve the user needs in such a way that their solution blew everybody else’s solution out of the water. And they did the same thing again with the iPhone. So it’s a combination of that design thinking plus I think the agile software development comes in where you have these built in routines of validation and fast shipping, that you’re always shipping, you’re always trying something new. You’re always collecting and learning about what’s working and what’s not and then improving on it. So those are the things that we think of and try to bake into how we do things.

14:20 DK: I love that description of the iPod and you’re right. They basically iterated better than anybody else.

14:28 Mike: Yeah and maybe that’s all innovation is just iterating better.

14:34 DK: Yeah improve it faster or improve it better or whatever it is but you’re right and thank you for that. It’s great. Now you guys at Undercurrent also just changed how you operate yourself so you’re talking about creating responsive organizations but you guys just adopted and again I’ll check the fast company link into holacracy right?

14:57 Mike: Yeah.

14:58 DK: So your management structure now matches people like Zappos and Github. What does that look like?

15:06 Mike: Yeah so actually after we get off her I’m happy to send you a screen shot of our org structure because we use a piece of software that goes along with it that helps us keep track of everything. So there’s this practice, this kind of governance, more than anything it’s a rulebook for a way that an organization can govern itself. It’s called holacracy and it’s very largely based off of a philosophical approach to government called sociocracy that was started earlier in the 20th century. And the fundamentals of it are essentially that there are very explicit roles and accountabilities that are transparent to the entire organization, that roles are separate from the people who fill them so any individual might and likely will fill multiple roles in different areas of the company. And then there are weekly and monthly rhythms for checking in and like in a scrum way on what are the things that you are working on in these particular roles, in this particular group? So there’s a reputation group for instance. There’s a client group that focuses on our paid client work. There’s a growth group that’s focused on business development. And so each of those groups gets together on a regular basis and says, “How are our projects going? What’s holding you back? What do you need?” As well as governance meetings, which are about saying there’s this thing that’s really important that’s not getting done. I think we need to create a new role to focus on that area. Or we have this role and we’re all expecting them to do a certain thing but they’re not doing it. I think we should let them know that we’re all expecting that of them so let’s make that official and record it here. So yeah that’s what we’ve been practicing for a little over maybe seven or eight months now. And it’s been interesting. It’s been most useful I think to us in terms of the focus and kind of priority it’s given us. Before we started practicing this we’ve always been a company that is continually adapting and is very eager to change and question ourselves about how things are going. So that aspect of it, it forced us to change was very natural to us. But what was new was the explicitness and the focus of that change. So it was more deliberate instead of more accidental.

18:36 DK: It’s a fascinating model and I referenced Github and Zappos and some of the other companies out there who are using it and for a lot of people I would imagine it’s hard to get their head around. But just that statement you made at the end there, if I can paraphrase, you know adopting and eager to change and that’s what you guys are. And in a sense that’s what you guys sell right? That brings me around to a question which I didn’t ask you earlier on which I’d love to ask you now is how do you create the conditions internally for organizations you’re working with for that eagerness to change to continue the sustainability angle? How does that happen?

19:13 Mike: Well that’s actually, trying to answer that question is probably the main thing that has pushed us to become the kind of company we are today and work in the way that we work today because our earlier work was much more typical of consulting in that we were brought in to answer some question. We have this problem. Tell us how we should fix it. We would go away. We would think about it. We’d come back with these beautiful PowerPoint documents and these great bulletproof charts and you’d say, “Here’s the solution, thank you very much. We’ll see you later.” And we’d go and leave it to them to figure it out. And we quickly realized that that wasn’t enough. Those PowerPoint documents end up collecting dust on the shelf instead of actually having any impact in the organization. And we also have, you know very few of us come from a traditional business or consulting background. Most of us have more of a — we have a handful of developers front end, back end, software developers, engineers by trade. And so even though we act as strategist, I think it’s baked into our DNA that we actually want to get our hands dirty a little bit. So we’ve tried to structure our engagements to be more imbedded and more about quickly, in an agile sense. We have a really well informed intuition about how this could be improved. Let’s start working in that new way. Let’s start creating some kind of solution that we can test and validate as quickly as possible. And then adjust and move on from there. And so a lot of our work today is about creating conditions to work in that way. And sometimes that means in a classic Clay Christensen innovators dilemma approach creating some kind of independent team that is kind of siloed from the rest of the rest of the organization who is given the authority and the autonomy to explore new spaces. We’ve done that approach. We’re also doing more things that are more tied in to existing structures and sometimes reorganizing a group or a division to work in a new way. So if they were functionally structured before we might look to something like the scaling agile at Spotify approach and say all right this is a relatively scaled organization. They have a pretty big complex product that serves a lot of users. And it can be broken down into a lot of component. You have the radio and you have the play lists and you have recommendations. You have all these different aspects and they structure around those user needs and that’s a good source of inspiration so we can take — we help clients think about how they could reorganize their structures and put together more cross functional or cross disciplinary teams to focus on user needs rather than some HR construct that was set up 20 years ago.

23:05 DK: Fascinating. Thank you for that. That’s juicy for me. It excites me, that kind of conditions versus sustainability.

23:13 Mike: It’s not easy. That’s definitely the hardest part.

23:16 DK: But that’s why it’s so important right?

23:18 Mike: Yeah, exactly.

23:20 DK: So let’s end this interview with a brief kind of insight from you in terms of what’s exciting and new out there? Who’s doing amazing work, rather it be a brand or just even a consultant or an offer? What’s making your eyebrows go north?

23:35 Mike: Yeah well I mean we’re really excited to kind of see what we’re thinking of as responsiveness or the responsive organization. There’s this ideal of a responsive organization and we see companies like Valve, like Ev Williams and Medium who are fully embracing or testing out these new ways of working. Zappos would be another one. So it’s kind of like this legitimization of these new ways of working and it’s getting more publicity. So that’s really exciting to see. But then on the other side we’re seeing more and more kind of compatriots who are kind of carrying this and kind of brining it to more organizations. And regardless of how it’s articulated there are a handful of companies, like a small group called Third Wave in Berlin, some really, really sharp guys that we admire a lot and do very similar and great work. There’s London Strategy Unit and Made By Many who are both based in London. Made By Many we’ve known for a while and have tremendous respect for what they do. We always laugh about Made By Many because we seem to be on the exact same wave length but they’ve always come at it — their background is much more on the making and developing side of things and our background is more on the strategy and planning side of things. So we’re kind of coming at it from two different directions but we always seem to arrive at the exact same approach. So we like those guys a lot. There’s also a website called Responsive Org, I think its responsiveorg.com. We can double check that afterwards but it’s a good kind of repository of a lot of thinking on this subject.

25:59 DK: That’s great. We’ll check them out and check into some notes (phonetic). Mike I really want to appreciate you giving your time. It’s really insightful and thank you.

26:09 Mike: Yeah my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

26:12 DK: That was the second Defining Innovation podcast. Thanks for listening. You can follow Mike on Twitter. He’s on Mike Arauz, that’s M-I-K-E A-R-A-U-Z. Please follow up on justadandak.com, that’s J-U-S-T-A-D-A-N-D-A-K.com. Leave us a message if you think I should be interviewing anybody who should get the Defining Innovation podcast treatment. I love that interview. I love what they were saying about being adaptive and eager to change. That is driving what they do with their clients. Please check out Undercurrent on undercurrent.com. Say hi when you give them a shout from me and we’ll catch you next time on the Defining Innovation podcast.

Music credit to TexasMusicForge

Defining Innovation Podcast | #001 Teddy Goff

teddy goff defining innovation podcast

A podcast for innovators, creatives and the madly curious—featuring Teddy Goff.

Teddy Goff was Digital Director for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and currently a partner at Precision Strategies. A pivotal guy in the reshaping of online political campaigning and a true change-maker within a very traditional field:

Link to mp3 PODCAST NO LONGER BEING PRODUCED

Show notes / timestamps :
00:00 Intro and context to the differing conditions for the two Obama campaigns
01:57 Structures to support innovation
05:30 Creating the right team
06:40 Models for idea generation
12:04 Market forces shaping the iterative process
13:15 Failure
16:11 Present operations
18:32 Leadership attributes
21:04 Current and future developments
22:36 Outro

Podcast Transcript
00:03 DK: Welcome to Defining Innovation, a podcast for innovators, creatives, and the madly curious. This is episode number one when I got to interview Teddy Goff. He was director of New Media for the Obama for America Campaign in ’07 and ’08 and then became the digital director for the re-election campaign in 2011 and ’12. This is the guy who leveraged social media and online technologies like no one else in political campaign history. He got more than a million voters online. He built Facebook and Twitter to followers of 45 and 33 million people respectively. He generated more money than you could just even think about. And I kicked off the conversation basically talking about the conditions and the environments in which the two campaigns were situated.

00:50 Teddy: You know I often say and think about how much the technology landscape out there in the world changed between the two campaigns. People talk about the first campaign as being this very social media savvy campaign and I worked on that campaign too. We were savvy I suppose given the times. But Twitter was non-entity at the time. Even Facebook was relatively new and a fraction of where it is today. So much changed in the intervening two and a half years or so between when the first campaign ended and when the second campaign began. And that had a lot of down stream effects in terms of how we thought about data, how we thought about communications, how we thought about organizing and certainly the personnel was largely new, especially down the ranks a bit from the senior staff which was largely held over. So we had a strong foundation that we were building from but to a pretty high degree we were also building something from scratch.

01:57 DK: What structure does that need in terms of building from scratch to support the innovation that you guys had to do, or not had to but did do, sorry, especially between the ’08 and the ’12 campaign you talked about some of the platforms weren’t even existing then. But how do you create the conditions for that or to support innovation? What was the vision, the action plans and even the personnel, how does that manifest?

02:25 Teddy: It’s funny that you ask that because you know I think about this a lot. I think that we especially in the states tend to have this, well I shouldn’t say that, maybe all over the world too, tend to have this — we love this idea of the heroic figure or the big brain and so we love the idea of a Steve Jobs type who just knows what the future is going to look like and will stop at nothing to make sure that it happens and it happens according to his or her specifications. And I think in reality most change and most innovation gets done by organizations and it gets done by teams. And I think unless you’re going to have a once in a generation type as I’m sure Steve Jobs, who I never met or anything, was with potentially rare exceptions. The job of a leader of any kind of creative organization or organizations trying to build something or innovate is to create a condition in an environment for innovation and really not to be the personal source of ideas all that much which was a relief to me because if I had been expected to be the personal source of ideas all the time I’m not sure how I would have done. But I wound up being able to hire about 250 or so people. Even if I were just an idea factory, realistically I’m not going to be responsible for more than probably five percent of the good ideas. So the whole game as far as I was concerned was trying to hire the right people, set them up in the right way, and do everything I could to facilitate a culture and set of processes in which we were able to be innovative and do so as a group. When I think back on some of the really creative things we did from a sort of media and contact perspective or some of the innovative things we did from a platform and technology perspective in a lot of cases you can’t point to an individual owner or even necessarily individual driver of that idea. These are things that emerged from a lot of discussion and a lot of incremental change that sort of at some point reach a bit of tipping point or anyway a bit of a catharity (phonetic) point where everyone realizes there’s a bigger idea here than we thought or just sort of popped out of somebody’s brain in the course of a brainstorm and that somebody may not have been senior or may not have been someone who you necessarily thought of as creative but a well structured brainstorm is going to get people to speak ideas that they don’t necessarily know that they have. And there’s lots of different ways in which these things happen but virtually all of them came by way of process. Almost none of them came by way of a bunch dudes, and I say dudes because dudes seem to flatter themselves into thinking that they’re the drivers of technology innovation. What happened was very much not that a bunch of dudes sat in a room and thought how can we be smart and just came up with stuff.

05:30 DK: And how much was that a conscious decision, not to employ the idea guys but more just the skills, the personalities that would create the ideas, was that very conscious?

05:40 Teddy: Yeah I suppose. I guess for me, just speaking for myself personally I guess for me it was just natural because I never — I had been groomed and trained in systems like that and not personally a subscriber in this idea that some really smart guy that some really smart guy is just going to come up with all the ideas that are going to change the world or change the way the campaign is run. And certainly for myself being the person entering the role as the head of that team knew perfectly well that I personally couldn’t be counted on to produce that kind of idea. It was always — the way you asked the question, it’s not as if we thought well are we going to have a very systematic team or approach or are we just going to fly by the seat of our pants. But we just always thought about things in the former way and built ourselves toward that goal.

06:40 DK: And what models did you use when you were sitting down with the team? Did you use a design thinking methodology? Did you use just pen and paper brainstorm it out guys or did you use the technology to drive the innovation?

06:55 Teddy: A huge priority with us was email and I always talk about email because you would be hard pressed to think of a topic in technology that is considered less sexy or less cool or of less interest to people. People don’t like email and it doesn’t even feel like technology. It’s been around forever. In a context of an American political campaign or any kind of fundraising endeavor, which was a big part of what we were doing, it happens to be extremely important because it happens to be the very best way to get people to give money online. And so we were called upon to be innovative within the email space, again it sounds kind of oxymoronic. So within that space there were thousands of little innovations about how you do certain things that the world may not recognize or particularly appreciate as innovations but they absolutely were from what we were doing at the time. On the flip side — or you could say the same about video. You could say the same about social. I focus on email because I think it’s a great, surprising example. But then you look at something like — and when it came to videos or when it came to just sort of programmatic responses to this or that kind of prompt, what do we do when Romney says this? What do we do about this or that policy? We tried to basically study from brainstorming best practices so I don’t know that we were particularly innovative in our process of innovation. We basically copied the way that a lot of the agencies that we’ve worked with, tried to brainstorm and also tried to be respectful to the way that people like to work. I’m thinking of one particular person on my team who would probably would not have spoken up at a brainstorm if you’d given her 100 chances but she happens to be the opposite of most people where if you put her in a room all by herself with a laptop or a pad of paper, you’ll get ten good ideas. So for her that was what we wanted in terms of brainstorming and it was no need to waste her time forcing her into a big public discussion that wasn’t her jam. And for other people that piece of paper would be blank after an hour and they really need the iterative discussion process. So we tried to do the brainstorm tricks and get better at it as we go. But then I think about something else like the technology innovations and those — when I think about the really big stuff that we built or at least within the context I don’t know that we even really had, I’m thinking about it now. I don’t want to misspeak but I don’t even know that we had brainstorms per say. A lot of those just came around through a process of lots of smart people working towards the same goal and either a light bulb goes off or you sort of have this collective realization that you’re talking about something bigger than you thought. So for example a tool that I think of as being probably the most innovative thing that we build from a technology perspective was this social matching tool where we took the voter file which is just basically a big consumer database of everybody in the United States who’s registered to vote and we overlay that on social graph data so that if you’re a supporter and you’re watching a video about the president’s economic record we can say to you, “Don’t just go share this on Facebook where a fraction of your friends are going to see it and you have no control or visibility as to who those are. We’ve matched your Facebook friends against the voter file so instead here are your ten friends who we think are persuadable voters and very likely to be persuaded by this particular message. Go share this with them first.” And we had a lot of success with that and it’s to my knowledge the first time anything of that nature was built even in the corporate sector let alone politics. And so I think about something like that and it’s not like we sat down and thought what can we build? Let’s just come up with every last thing we can build. And it’s not like we sat down and thought is there some clever way to integrate social data and voter file data? But over the course of time you’ve got lots of smart people working really hard for a long time and you realize you have lots of data and you start talking about is there some way to cross pollinate them or consolidate them? And all of a sudden you realize well wait a second what we’re really building here is kind of a social match to the voter file and wouldn’t that be cool? And if you did that, well wait a second you could probably drop the faces of people’s friends into emails or you could do this way or that way. So we just wound up with something that I think was fairly, I don’t know that you’d say ground breaking but it was new for campaigns and I think new to some degree for social marketing in general but not through a brainstorm process, just through this kind of ongoing iteration.

12:04 DK: And how much of those ideas were iterative processes, in other words were exposed to the market or the uses before they were finished, just to see if they were working? How much did you test in the field?

12:19 Teddy: Well we tested in the field a lot. It would depend on the product so I don’t want to give a too boringly detailed answer. Something like the thing I just described, we basically finished and then deployed and then tried to improve upon once it was deployed but there was a lot of database matching and related works to do and that just simply had to happen before it could go anywhere. Something like dashboard which was our organizing platform so that was the tool that allowed live BM (phonetic) and download a call list and call voters or talk to your volunteer leader and your fellow volunteers and that kind of thing. Something like that we absolutely put out a minimal viable product but formally and informally collected user feedback and continued to build it over the course of the ensuing year. So it varied a lot.

13:15 DK: Okay, now I want to ask you a question before we move on because I want to talk to you about what you’re doing now rather than what you did, but one question around failure, did you have a lot of them and did you celebrate them or was it something you caught early? Was it a process around failure there?

13:33 Teddy: Yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot in retrospect. I can’t say we were celebrating failure at the time. One fact of campaign was that obviously any kind of business environment or non profit environment or anything else is not going to have a lot of money or time to waste but I don’t think we’d be flattering ourselves to say in the campaign world you have even less of that than anybody else. So you do try not to fail but at the same time we also try, and again I think this is stuff I’ve really figured out in retrospect more than necessarily did deliberately at the time, but I think we absolutely try to create an environment in which failure was okay and I guess the way I would put it is we were so much a culture of testing and experimentation and it is intrinsic to that very concept that some experiments are going to fail. Almost nothing went out without several versions of that, if we’re talking about creative products, emails, social advertisements, whatever virtually nothing saw the light of day without several versions of that thing being created. And so obviously you do that with the expectation and understanding that some are going to be clunkers and will never see the light of day. But even when it came to stuff that couldn’t be tested because it wasn’t worth the expense of having it tested or we just had to get it out and there was not time, I think the environment was so informed by an embracive testing and a desire to just throw a lot of stuff out there and see what works and see what doesn’t and learn from that that it lowered the stakes for people when they did want to put something out that couldn’t be tested. So you want to put out some interactive tool and again it’s just not the kind of thing that can or should be tested because we’re so used to this experience of creating ten things specifically so that nine of them will never see the light of day so that in the case where you’re really just creating one thing and you put it out and you put a lot of time to it and guess what it doesn’t have any impact and people don’t really like it? Well that’s okay. That’s no different from the nine things that I deliberately created for that reason. And then we certainly had a culture, a very sort of non punitive culture and there was no, unless you really acted in bad faith or did something dumb there would be particular consequence to a good faith experiment gone awry.

16:11 DK: So taking what you know then and now what you’re doing for clients both corporate and I would imagine NGOs and other government departments maybe, that precision strategies now are you doing pretty much what you were doing back then?

16:26 Teddy: Well now we’re working with a largely corporate clientele and some campaigns and some non profits so it’s fairly mixed. And what I would say is we are trying to apply the thought process though not necessarily the process, process to the businesses that we’re now working with. Now there are cases where a business is just simply behind the times and you can get a lot of business done, you can do good work for them and be helpful to them simply by telling them what it was we did on the campaign a year and a half ago and then they’ll catch up and maybe in a year and a half they’ll have to move on from there. But obviously that’s not exactly what anybody wants to be doing is just regurgitating the same learning’s from a year and a half ago and by the way soon there won’t be a market for that. So I think what we’re more concerned with is there was to some degree a strategic underpinning or maybe it was a methodological underpinning or some kind of underpinning to the way we did our work. We were very much not on the campaign just trying to be the smartest group of people we could be. I think you get a lot of smart people together who often get nowhere or produce the exact wrong thing because they’re thinking about things exclusively from a vantage of how can we be really smart and not from an vantage of how can we be really strategic and get a whatever the job done. And so in that sense I think there are applicable sort of micro level goals about how everybody ought to not necessarily go out and get voters because not everybody needs to do that but think about the changing landscape of technology, think about the ways in which social media is changing people intrinsically and how that in turn is going to change their relationship and expectations in respect to big organizations and that kind of thing. And so that sometimes means simply telling people the way we did it on the campaign and hopefully most of the time means trying to solve new problems in a new way.

18:32 DK: And what are the attributes with the leaders that you’re currently working with because I can imagine your sit down sessions, your workshops, etc are probably with an executive board or something like that. So they’re leaders within the respectable organizations. What are the attributes you’re trying to cultivate in them to drive that evolution, that methodological approach that you’ve kind of cited there?

18:58 Teddy: Well it depends. I think the reality is the people who are occupying sort of C Suite for a lack of a better term in big organizations by and large didn’t come up through digital in terms of their own profession or specialty or even at a time when digital was a big concern. And so even if they’re highly innovative people, highly smart, they read all the right trade publications and that kind of thing, it just hasn’t been their concern and hasn’t been their life in the way that a 21 year old today was twelve or maybe eleven when Facebook was created. So these people don’t need to be told that people don’t really want to sit through a boring content and they don’t really want to — they’re engaging with brands in a different way and they’re a bit a more skeptical of stuff that’s forced upon them rather than what they’ve gone out and discovered or had recommended to them by friends or validators (phonetic) that they trust, stuff that I think is very, very obviously virtually anyone below a certain age or who’s really steeped in digital culture. It does not necessarily come obviously to a lot of business owners or executives. So a lot of what we’re trying to do especially when it comes to talking to them is less of here the way in which you ought to be targeting and here is the way in which you ought to be thinking about social but just trying to help them understand the world is change and your response to that change has to be something other than go allocate some money towards banner ads that used to be spent on TV ads. It’s probably got to be a little more fundamental than that. And the way in which everybody relates to you is changing and if you’re not feeling it yet, believe me you’re going to feel that when your 21 year old who was twelve when Facebook was created, is 35. And so a lot of time we’re trying to create shifts in perception about the whole world and the way it works even as we’re also trying to also move the needle on this or that business practice or how folks target or how folks sell or how folks market, that kind of thing.

21:04 DK: So who out there is doing creative stuff that is pushing the boundaries that is impressing you today?

21:11 Teddy: It’s obviously an interesting time. I think innovation for the last five years or so has been on the software side and apps and so forth and so you’ve seen both start ups and huge companies reallocate all their attentions toward those things and I think we’re reaching a point where I think it’s quite clear that the phone is a pretty cool device until there’s some major breakthrough, it does what we can reasonably expect it to do. And the app market is pretty crowded so what I think we’re going to see is a lot more reinvestment in hardware, in some of the non sexy elements of hardware like battery life which is sort of crazy that we haven’t really made improvements in that space, in infrastructure, now the US in particular has a huge problem, almost ecological objection it would seem to investing in infrastructure but it doesn’t surprise me that the biggest merger news of the year has been a thermostat company rather than an app because again I just thing we’re probably approaching a bit of a turn in the cycle of innovation. So that’s a long winded way of not actually name checking anyone but that’s what I think is going on out there.

22:36 DK: That was the first defining innovation podcast. Thanks to Teddy Goff, you can follow him on Twitter at @teddygoff, G-O-double-F. There is more information about him and his work all over the web, check him out, his new company that’s precision strategies, that is on the .com and if you’re interested in subscribing to this podcast please check us out on iTunes. You can just type in defining innovation in the iTunes store on the podcast directly. Please leave a review if you’re into that. That would be wicked. You can also subscribe to my emails on just justadandak.com or even the podcast RSS feed there, that’s J-U-S-T-A-D-A-N-D-A-K.com, justadandak.com. My name’s DK. You’ve been awesome. I’ll catch up with you soon.

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