All posts tagged Design Thinking

Defining Innovation Podcast | #004 Stephen Gay

stephen gay defining innovation podcast image

A podcast for innovators, creatives and the madly curious—featuring Stephen Gay.

Stephen Gay is a design strategist and innovation catalyst at Intuit where he leads business teams through the early phases of design thinking and identifies new opportunities for mobile and platform products (follow him on Twitter via @stephengay).


Show notes / timestamps :
00:00 Intro / innovation in terms of Stephen’s role
01:32 Intuit
02:22 Internal innovation catalyst programme / Design for Delight
03:46 Identifying champions
04:53 Training / professional development
06:07 Mobile scavenger hunt with executive team
10:29 Investing to grow
12:01 Time devotion
14:14 Systems and models
15:58 Developing toolkits
17:41 Next steps
18:52 Inspiration: persuasion boot camp, The Will Power Instinct, Business Model Generation – Canvas.
20:11 Thanks / outro

Visual Pearl

YouTube version

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

Past podcasts.

Podcast Transcript

00:02 DK: Welcome to the fourth episode of Defining Innovation pod cast series. This is DK. I’m interviewing this week Stephen Gay. He’s the design strategist and innovation catalyst at Intuit where he uses business teach in the early phases of design thinking and identifies new opportunities for more violent platform products. I start the interview as I always do asking what innovation means to him and defining it in terms of his job.

00:32 Stephen: Sure. I work for a company, Intuit. I’m actually a design strategist and I lead a small team that I’m actually innovating new products for the company. What does innovation mean? I think the real interesting question is why innovation? So why do we innovate at Intuit? It’s probably two main reasons. I think the most important reason is we want to solve real customer problems. And by going broad and coming up with new ideas to solve these problems, we can take these things that are ambiguous or all tangled up and make them tangible and much more desirable. And the second reason, which is probably the biggest business reason, is it’s a competitive advantage. It’s been proven time in and time out that driving and championing innovation programs in our organization leads to competitive advantages, our stock prices go up, we build better products and our customers are happy. And when you bundle those two together you do some amazing things. And that’s why I’m in it. That’s why I love it.

01:32 DK: That’s brilliant. So tell us a little bit for any one who’s been living under a rock for the last ten years what Intuit is.

01:39 Stephen: Sure so Intuit is a US based company but we’re actually global as well. And we focus on personal finance for consumers and individuals and small businesses. So our two real core products pivot around personal tax and business tax and also small business solutions like payments, accounting, pay roll, and a whole bunch of other products.

02:05 DK: And you’re not a small outfit are you? Just give us a sense of scale there with Intuit.

02:09 Stephen: Yeah we’re about 6,000 or 7,000 employees right now.

02:14 DK: Wow.

02:15 Stephen: We have offices all over the world right now but growing.

02:22 DK: Fantastic. And I came across you through your site and through the work you’re doing there and I Google people doing innovation. And we had a quick chat. So tell us a little bit about how you drive innovation internally around the specific areas about creating champions internally.

02:42 Stephen: Yeah so we have a great program here. It’s called Design for Delight and we basically have a program in place where we train up individuals across the company, they don’t have to be designers. They can be product managers or architects or engineers and we train them up to be called innovation catalysts. And basically these people are champions and given a tool kit of different techniques and facilitation and running workshops to sort of drive innovation around the company. And we lately have been moving this towards a more coaching and embedded model where we ask these innovation catalysts to partner with teams throughout the design process or the billing of a product to go broad at the beginning, to really think about the customer empathy and what the customer is really feeling and then a huge component is rapid experimentation. And over the last six years on this journey the company has seen some amazing results. In fact our founder Scott Cook believes that D for D, Design for Delight is our number one secret weapon to drive innovation and to grow as a company.

03:46 DK: That’s fantastic you have a CEO who already sees the benefit and champions that. And I’d love you to unpick (phonetic) a little bit about how you identify those champions internally.

03:57 Stephen: Sure. So there’s not a secret formula. It’s really driven on people’s passion for design thinking, driving innovation, and helping other teams to succeed. So at the beginning of D for D was really self selecting. People just volunteered. I think there was five people to begin with and then it grew to 20 and then to 40. And now we have a huge wait list for people who want to be an innovation catalyst because the current person who runs the program only has room for two trainings per year but we really now are encouraging people to go to our website we have internally, That’s internal to the company. And they can learn about the techniques, watch videos on how to do them, partner up with innovation catalysts. We actually have a buddy program right now. So the idea is to get basically innovation in their DNA and that’s really our vision for D for D.

04:53 DK: And you talk about the toolkitsthere, obviously you’re going to be training these innovation catalysts up, but what’s the tool kit? How does that break down? Is that a digital one or is that literally just a suite a resources they can tap into?

05:06 Stephen: It’s both, so we have the training classes where we hand out guidebooks and presentations too really (inaudible). So we very much believe at Intuit to learn through doing, through experiential learning. So the tool kit has that hands on element but we also have a website to go to. And for example some of the elements are things like brain storming, leveraging two by twos to narrow, story boarding and concept sheets, we have even modules that are extreme inspiration. So I worked on a product that was geared towards voice interaction and one of the extreme inspirations we did was we went out and talked to people who lost the ability to hear. So how do they interact with technology when they can’t hear? How do they interact with technology with they’re blind where using voice is even that much more critical. And that gives you feet back and inspiration to how to build your product. So we have a whole gamete of different tools and techniques that we leverage.

06:07 DK: Wow I love that phrase extreme inspiration. That’s just awesome man. And tell us a little bit more about the mobile scavenger hunt project. Now when we chatted earlier I got really excited by this so please share with us how you got everybody involved in this mobile scavenger hunt.

06:28 Stephen: Yeah this was a great project. I think in 2010 the world was really moving fast. It was definitely moving towards mobile and I think it was probably moving a little faster than intuit could keep up. And we saw this opportunity that we potentially were missing and we saw that there were potential threats coming from start-ups who were adopting this mobile platform. So we didn’t want to wait too long and our leader Karen Hanson, she wanted to create a real immerse of experience. So how the cadence works at Intuit is we have Brad Smith who’s our CEO. He has his CO off site and then it moves to a leadership off site and then finally cascades across the company to an all company wide plus site. So Karen used this (inaudible) as a — the platforms are really championed this sort of mobile first mindset. Brad obviously, our CEO and our founder and the whole company was really excited about this. But to really sort of reinforce this mobile first we came up with this idea of a mobile scavenger hunt. So the idea was that instead of just sitting in a meeting room and seeing power points or looking at data, it’s how can you really understand the mobile world? Some of these executives were still on Blackberries. They didn’t have access to the app store. Obviously Blackberries didn’t have things like GPS tied to an app with a camera phone and all these different features and functionality that these new devices offer. So we kept this concept of a mobile scavenger hunt and what that entailed was we gave all the executives iPhone and Android phones and we hosted in San Francisco and for about two hours we sent them on this scavenger hunt to find three clues that would lead to a final destination. So for example the first step would be to use your phone to let’s say go find a bakery. So you’d use Google Maps, you’d go to the bakery, and then in the bakery the executives would have to use a translation app to ask for a fortune cookie in Mandrin. And again this real time translation only could be done with the phone. And once they got the phone they’d crack open a custom fortune cookie, which would have one of the clues. And they did a series of these steps. The next one was they went to Geocache where they would scan a key word code and that would launch to YouTube. And so on and so forth. And through this action and competitive nature people rushed through the course in context understood the power of mobile. When they got to the end they were really energized. They had no idea the phone could do this many things in real life, getting around the city, finding things, interacting with physical objects, locations, it was just amazing and it really highlighted that. And it created the sense of energy and urgency around the products.

09:24 DK: And what were the results around that then?

09:27 Stephen: So I would say for that one particular day we had executives coming up to us and saying, “Wow I had no idea how powerful these phones were. I had no idea it could do this.” And the most skeptical of users before came back to us and said, “Wow I knew the phone could do some of this stuff but you showed me one new app that I was totally blown away by. And one in particular really highlighted was an app called Word Lands (phonetic) where you would hold the phone up to Spanish translation printed and it would real time translate that on the phone screen into English. So it was real time, using augmented reality. Just even one app could get that level of insight and that level of excitement. And I think after that — again the mobile scavenger hunt was a component of that but I think that whole two days really changed how people perceived mobile and over the next two years it went from really negligible revenue in mobile to over 70 million dollars. So we saw a big financial shift in the organization in just two years.

10:29 DK: That’s incredible, the outcomes of that right there. You know got a dollar figure that’s 70 plus million, which is just amazing. So that’s — it’s just so inspiring fellow. I love the words you were using about energizing and emerging to drive people’s thinking about this stuff. I want to for a minute take a perspective, how much did you invest in that program?

10:53 Stephen: Yeah that’s an interesting question. I think from a time perspective, I think that’s a real interesting area. You know to carve out at the executive level two days for executives focused on just that is pretty amazing to itself but as this program cascades, it goes from the CEO level down to the leadership level and that’s 100 people going through this exact same scavenger hunt for two days. Then we go to a company wide level and for that internal company wide conference is everybody really focused on this new initiative. So from just a resource perspective and commitment of the company to really invest in that transformational change, the dollar amount, I don’t know what it would be but it’s really about that level of commitment to innovate. And it’s something you just don’t do in the part time or as an after by product. It’s about really investing in your people, really driving that transformational change and that’s what gets the big results I think.

12:01 DK: It’s fascinating because you have the innovation catalyst program there, then you have projects such as that mobile scavenger hunt. How much of your time is kind of split between those projects that you devise to drive ideas and questions through the company versus the catalyst program?

12:22 Stephen: So right now from a catalyst perspective we’re asked to give ten percent of our time to doing D for D in the every day. And as a designer I’m leveraging that tool kit and that mind set in my projects really every day. But when you’re asked to do that ten percent it’s really volunteering not just for your projects but for other projects. And we bring D for D not just in Intuit. We actually bring it outside of Intuit. So I’ve taken the time to help organizations outside of Intuit champion innovation and understand the tool kit of Design for Delight. And in terms of the transformational change work and I’ve shifted from that team recently but when I was working within that group we would regularly spend cycles to spend time building these really immersive projects. Like the scavenger hunt alone, it sounds really easy but when you’re talking about 100 executives and you’re asking them to go out in the city and do all these different things, you don’t just need one bakery and one Geocache. You need three Geocaches and you need three bakeries and you need three restaurants and you need people at each of those stations sort of standing there to make sure if there’s a problem they’re getting the help. The last thing we wanted was to have an executive lost in San Francisco not being able to move forward. So the amount of detail and effort that’s required to do it right, we prototyped it about three times just to make sure we had all the I’s dot and the T’s crossed to make sure it went off really seamlessly. And the reason why is so they had that moment of insight. They had that real big mindset shift so we could all move forward.

14:14 DK: It’s such a delicious project and thanks for sharing. I want to take a more strategic approach to the questions now and ask you what models or systems or processes you use there when it comes to driving innovation. Do you have steps like that?

14:29 Stephen: So the Design for Delight program has three key principles. And I think a lot of organizations that drive design thinking innovation program probably are very similar but these are the ones we use. It’s really, one develop deep customer empathy. We believe that is one of the three pillars to drive innovation. If you’re not thinking about your customers, walking a mile in their shoes, really building empathy for them you’re not going to be successful. So that’s really pilar number one. The second pillar is really generating broad ideas and then narrowing. We have sessions dedicated to really getting all these great ideas out, on the table so people can have conversations with them and then really narrow based on key criteria. And I think that’s one of the pillars that we know you don’t just jump to one solution immediately. There’s probably a whole bunch of great ideas you need to get on the table to really discuss. The third principle is really conducting rapid experimentation with customers to learn. We’ve been in the last few years really focused on experimentation, building key hypothesis to experiment around to get the warnings as fast as we can to then move forward. And we figure these three pillars are really the key to driving innovation and building delight. That’s at the high level. And then when you get to these lower levels then you can use the whole series of different toolkitsto make these three pillars happen.

15:58 DK: And are the toolkitssomething you’ve put together, commissioned, brought people within the company together and say how do you design? Let’s take a little bit of that compared to how these guys design?

16:10 Stephen: Yeah I think — Intuit’s main office is in Montague, California, which is Silicon Valley. So I think as we hired people we brought in some amazing people in house to learn from what they’ve been doing. I know originally Karen Hanson and her team had gone out to look at how other companies were innovating. So we did our homework to figure out what would work best for Intuit and we really figured out a bunch of toolkitsthat would work well for us. So we kind of took existing patterns in the real world, invented our own, and created it in the Intuit way. And I think that’s kind of really important for businesses to drive innovation is to really figure out how these design thinking innovation toolkitsfit within your own culture. You know extreme inspiration may not be great for all companies but for us it really resonates. And that’s tied to empathy. And then we have these ideas of dune journey lines (phonetic) with customers where you sit down with them and map out their journey. We just did a session recently with ten amazing customers who were focused on a real pain point around managing money. And we sat and mapped out their journey and got into the details. A real classic one that we pulled from externally is the empathy map and that’s a great one to really walk how the customer’s thinking, saying, doing, and feeling. And that we use to capture that. So these are all really powerful tools to get to real big insights, which lead to innovation.

17:41 DK: I appreciate you brining up all that. Those are some absolutely, incredible models there that people can go, and we’ll try and link that up in the show notes. So what’s next for you in terms of your focus around the core products and the innovation cycle?

17:56 Stephen: Yeah so I spent a lot of time at Intuit my first few years really focusing on kind of thinking about the next generation of product, so sort of driving innovation for the next two, three years. And also focusing on these transformational change initiatives, for example one being mobile. In the last year or so I’ve been really getting into the products, working within the business units to build products that are coming out tomorrow. So this has been great for me because I get to really apply all my learnings and lead a team who are driving a whole bunch of new products for this particular business unit. And a lot of that pivots around coaching and mentoring and helping define great visions and even building design principles on how to move forward in a good way.

18:52 DK: Cool, so to close out this interview, like we do with all our pod castees, tell us who is impressing you out there around innovation whether that be a model or brand or organization? Who do you steal your ideas from?

19:07 Stephen: You know it’s interesting. I’ve been pulling a lot of my inspiration from a non-traditional design area. I think a local person, BJ Fogg he hosts a persuasion boot camp here in California and he talks a lot about behavior design. And his work is phenomenal for anyone who wants to understand why users do particular behavior and how can you influence that behavior change? His boot camp I would highly recommend. And I think Kelly McGonigal and Jane McGonigal are both great sources of inspiration for me as well. There’s a great book, The Will Power Instinct and it really talks about again what is motivating these users to do things or not to do things and it all ties into willpower. That’s a tremendous read. I’d highly recommend that. And I know there’s the business model canvas tool (phonetic) is another great way to tie innovation into the business model. That’s another great book as well, another great resource.

20:11 DK: Those are all great stuff and we’ll definitely link those ideas and those links and those resources up so thank you Stephen for giving up your time to talk to us and share, absolutely fantastic insight, so really appreciate it.

20:24 Stephen: Yeah it was my pleasure.

20:28 DK: So that was Stephen Gay, design strategist and innovation catalyst at Intuit. You can follow him on Twitter @StephenGay, that’s S-T-E-P-H-E-N-G-A-Y, that’s Stephen Gay and you can also follow him on his dot com as well. Please leave a comment or review us on the iTunes page, subscribe to our blog, do all those funky things to make me smile. And if you think that we should be interviewing anybody in the innovation space to define it better, drop us a line at

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.


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

Visual Pearl

YouTube version

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, 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 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, that’s 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 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

Design & Thinking | Wellington Screening

Miss it, miss out.

If you’re free on 14th September 2012 at 4pm get yourself to The Film Archive to catch the first Wellington, NZ screening:

Design Thinking was applied as a term and methodology by a design firm in 2008. It was received as a tool to solve every problem, from daily life decisions to business challenges to world hunger problems. Attention and debates followed; some insisted on design education in all K-12 schools, some declared it is just marketing tool for that firm, some hoped it would turn his company into Apple. Some said it’s nothing new, just a new packaging of how creative people do things.

Design & Thinking, the movie is bought to these shores by the funky, clever folks from Empathy—not many tickets left, book now.