Join John Phillips, President of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, along with Mary Miller, Director of RAMP, and the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Lynda McNutt Foster, CEO of Cortex Leadership Consulting and Richard Hammer, Associate VP Cloud Factory, 1901 Group, in an in-depth conversation about the findings of a 5-year study that included over 100,000 data points with more than 3,500 leaders and their teams.
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
John: Good afternoon. I’m John Phillips, your host and along with your co-host, Mary Miller. Thank you for joining us for another edition of Business at Lunch show brought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Each day at the noon hour, we seek to talk with the leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs in the Roanoke and Blacksburg regions, to learn how they are using innovative strategies and just sheer determination to navigate their way through this unique period as we together create the new economy for our future.
It is Monday and that brings in our regular topic, what’s working at work with Lynda McNutt-Foster and today we’re focusing on innovation of ideas in the workplace. In addition to Lynda, we have a second guest today. If you remember Lynda has been labeled a business icon by Valley Business Front and is a regular contributor to Forbes magazine. She is a certified conversational intelligence executive coach which makes her perfect for this talk show and she is joining us live on today’s show.
John: Great to have you join us and we also have Richard Hammer, Senior IT Consultant, Data Analysts, Enterprise Architect and Associate Vice President of the CloudFactory, and also with 1901 group. Richard, I see a vast experience leading teams involved in software development, and you’re certainly an expert in business analytical tools. Please take a minute and introduce yourself to our audience.
Richard: Thank you for that introduction. The thing that I like most about what I do is building and tuning high velocity teams across the industry. I’ve had a successful 30-year career doing it and really enjoy working with this region on growing the companies and solving problems here.
John: We appreciate you joining us for today’s show. Today’s show gets us a great opportunity to introduce a paper that Lynda has worked on. She says the RBTC and Cortex, Lynda ‘s consulting group. A first five part of a five-year study about the ability of leaders and their teams to generate new and fresh ideas. Title of the study A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now, as she labels it “A Wake-Up Call to Any Leader That Needs to Innovate and Thrive”. Especially important in today’s environment as we’ve entered and continue to be in a marketplace where businesses and organizations are requiring constant creativity and problem solving. So, Lynda , tell us about this idea and what fascinated you about degeneration?
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Lynda: Well, I’m just going to admit it. I am Lynda and I am an ideator. I grew up in a family of ideators. I’m someone who literally has now created an entire career about creative problem solving. So, I was fascinated and very curious about why when I was on some teams that worked, and we innovated and created the sort of break through things if I was in a position of authority. When I wasn’t in a position of authority, why were most of my ideas shut down? So, I’ve always been curious about that and I started gathering research about it.
As I started working with teams, in anywhere from 12 person companies to 1,500 to 5,000 person companies, I started seeing these patterns of behavior. We started collecting data pretty extensively. We had to actually create a brand new software system to be able to collect the data. I wanted to see what’s happening between coaching sessions? What’s happening after the meetings? I wanted to observe teams and take notes on what they were saying to each other.
So, we had to build an entire new technology. We had to figure out how to do conversational mapping and we had to be able to get people to want to and understand why self-awareness through assessments was helpful to them. The data would be helpful to us in helping to solve the problems that they were seeing on their teams. Look, McKinsey & Company came out with 94% of leaders want their teams to generate ideas and be innovative and none of them are for those people like they’re very disappointed.
Well, that’s one of the main reasons they come to me and us is to go, “Wait, when we bring up something and say, ‘Hey, I need new fresh ideas.’ It’s crickets.” So, we have to do all that on a budget and we had to stay viable as an organization. So, none of it mattered at all. It wasn’t like this was theoretical. We had to stay in business so we needed to get results from our clients. There’s not a lot of studies out there like that from midsize and small companies and so this was a very unique set of data points that we’ve collected over these five years.
John: Well, let me allow Mary to jump in here and ask some questions as well.
Mary: So, Lynda, this journey sounds fascinating. Let me ask you what did jump out at you? What startled you as you began to look at the data?
Lynda: There were two things Mary. There’s like two parts. One was the data itself. So, it was very — from a macro level, we were easily seeing that only 12% to 19% of leaders themselves and their team members were strong in idea generation. Only 5% or 6% of leaders were strong in vision. So, it’s a four-part process: coming up with a vision, figuring out which ideas would work, planning and execution. You’ve got only 25% of any of the teams or even leadership groups who were strong in that first part. So, that didn’t really startled me. What startled me is when I asked the data person that I was working with at the time, he kind of pulled reports for me, I said, “Can you tell me, there’s a score that comes out in these assessments that says that people literally actively avoid one of the phases?”
What startled me in the data part was that 58% of the people had their lowest scores in ideation or idea generation, so to speak, 58%. 23% avoided vision. So, you sort of sit there and go, “Wait a minute, they’re not only not doing it, they’re actively avoiding it.” Then the second part was, how are they avoiding it? What does it actually sound like? What was so fascinating and doing the conversational mapping, actually, within meetings and after meetings with these quick touch points of the software that we had them literally like talk to it became a coach in their pocket, was that small things made a huge difference.
If a leader was in a meeting and he was asking for ideas, and somebody threw out an idea, and he or she immediately said, “No, no. We’ve tried that before.” If an idea was shot out and someone said, “Yeah, but –” “Yeah, we’ve tried that before. That’s not going to work.” Then even if someone was strong and the beginning of entering a team with ideation those micro moments, those small conversations that we started tracking were shutting them down. So, exactly what 94% of leaders were saying they wanted, they were actually actively working against the outcome that they wanted to have.
Mary: Wow. A lot to dig into there. So, talk to me just a little bit about why you think that’s the case. Why is it that we say we want one thing, and yet we don’t embrace it when we hear it? Or do we not know what we’re hearing?
Lynda: This is what I think, what’s so hard — this is a great question, Mary, because adult behavior change is very difficult. The success rate on adult behavior change is so low, that it’s studied extensively. So, we’re unconscious of most of our behaviors. In other words, if you for years have been in meetings and you say, “Yeah, but –” You say, “Yeah, but –” You don’t even know you said it. You’re not intentionally trying to shut down an idea. You’re not even aware that small thing just shut down somebody.
You don’t know that just by changing it like to “yes and”, you invite the person, it validates the other person. So, sometimes we’re focused on these big changes, right? These huge cultural changes, these massive, huge, expensive programs and that’s not what our research would say. Our research showed that these micro moments, changing people’s vocabulary, adding rules of engagement that they had to follow in meetings made a huge difference in whether the teams were getting better and better at creative problem solving.
John: Well, let me jump in here and let everybody know that I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Today, we are with Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer, who together are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now.We hope you’ll join in our conversation by calling in at 540-795-2510. That’s 540-795-2510.
We know if you’ve worked with any type of team, you’ve been through interesting situations to create ideas and motivate the team and we’d love to hear what do you have to say on this conversation. Let me bring Richard in to this conversation. Richard, tell me about what brought you into working with Lynda on the project and how you’re experienced in the IT world when it comes to what you guys found in this study how it all relates together?
Richard: Well, John, the truth of it is working with instruments like DISC and Team [strengths? 00:10:13], you get a really good sense of what’s working, what’s not, and why. Having the opportunity to build and tune this model with Lynda, was also a lot of fun. We worked with the teams. We collected the data. We did data analysis. As you as you dive into the data, as Lynda shared, you start to see some patterns and then you start to see some exceptions.
What’s most fascinating about those exceptions is bringing them to light and having those as hard or, as Lynda likes to say, sweaty conversations to figure out what can pivot and what can change and how to better engage the team strengths and ideation in particular. It’s been a really fun journey with Lynda and the team at Cortex and I don’t know that I would change any of those work that we did in helping the region grow.
John: Mary, I’ll let you take it back from here.
Mary: So, Richard, it’s so interesting. It’s all so interesting. So, I want to summarize again, what you saw and I’ve often said this, it’s easy to get some big things right. It’s all the little things that do actually add up and matter. So, what you all saw was some patterns. Can you speak to at all what the big takeaways are besides this –? I like this “yes and”. We can share that. Can you speak to some of the takeaways that you might be employing with the 1901 group?
Richard: I can speak to that at length, but we only have like 45 minutes, so I’ll try and keep it concise. The single largest empowering piece is drawing people in in a way that they’re comfortable being drawn in and creating an environment where that comfort can exist without conflict or the perception of conflict. As Lynda was saying, even something as simple as pivoting “but” to “yes, and” is really important when you’re learning how to interact with and share ideas. Being included or invited to the conversation is also important.
A lot of time folks won’t speak up if they believe their view is already represented or if they believe they’re going to be shut down. The shutdown is a receiving perspective. It’s not the intention generally of a manager or a director to shoot somebody down. They’re trying to be ruthlessly efficient and solve the problem. They have a desire to be short, fast and specific. Taking a moment to create the culture and draw people in in these micro expressions and micro interactions is a really key factor. Keeping things focused on the organizational mission is also critical.
So, if we are tackling complex problems with clients, ensuring that we understand both the big picture and that the devils really in the details of execution is a critical success factor. Having everyone on the same page. Having everyone make sure they understand and can articulate that mission and know they have a voice and we are committed to listening to that voice is a key success factor. Those are just a couple.
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Mary: So, Lynda, I just want to throw out to both of you. I’m just thinking out loud here in this conversation. Is it helpful to have just a meeting or just a group think around ideation, rather than kind of hitting on it really quickly and moving on to something else? Is that a safer place? Because we would all like all of our team to be able to share their best thinking. I don’t think any leader wants to shut down the best thinking. We want to let it out. I’m wondering what kind of environment — what if we’ve been the leader who has been shutting it down and we want time to think on this and change to become the leader that wants to engage? See if you can help me walk through some of those changes.
Lynda: I think the best way to explain it is through an example. I’m working with literally a team I’ve been working with for the last month. So, they’re in crisis. They’re in a segment of talent acquisition that’s shifting in a big way. The presenting problem that the team leader was having was, “Hey, we’re going to have to come up with some innovation as we move through this and afterwards with our recruiting team, and I’m not getting ideas. I’m getting crickets.” This is a real life story. I just got out of a session, the fifth session this morning to unlock and so I actually had to do a lot of individual one on one conversations with the team members to see what their perspective was.
We identified that there were some trust issues. We did a couple of sessions on trust and what might be breaking down trust, what could build it? Then I had them each get together in pairs with two or three of their team members and do an exercise around trust so that they could have that “sweaty conversation” individually. Also, they didn’t understand clearly what right could look like. They didn’t know how to develop that, that vision. Their team leader was shutting them down I found out, literally just by their body language. So, she would be sitting in a meeting and she’s just a thinker.
So, she was sitting back in her chair and having this sort of emotional space. It was making all these behavioral types that were the opposite of hers think that she was thinking bad things about what they were saying. So, it was the thing that was like, once I got the trust built, once they understood what it was, once I said, “Hey, team leader, smile every now and then.” Use a couple of terms to reinforce that they’re on the right channel.
We just had a session that was one of the most innovative I’ve had with the team. So, within one month, they went from total crickets to they literally today came up with 25 ideas and a specific executable plan for each one of them to start executing. So, that’s an example of what right looks like and what you’re going to need to do. You got to slow down the beat at first.
Mary: So, Lynda, I think we’re going to take a break here in just a second. Maybe I know John could invite people to call in with questions. I’m wondering at this moment, if an outside point of view was what was needed to move that team forward. I’m just going to ask you, I’m going to come back after our break and talk a little bit about some of the other data in your paper. This is five-years worth of what you were observing. We’ve talked a little bit about it. You’re generously providing it as a download off of the newsletter on Wednesday. I think that’s incredibly generous and it opens up a kind of opportunity for a conversation across our region for this ideation that maybe we hadn’t been focused on.
I heard a couple of comments about somebody may be stressed, maybe people aren’t smiling as much, all of those things are possible among any of us right now. I think there’s plenty of stress. So, I can imagine that solving problems might, under this situation, be a little more challenging. At the same time, we need to give each other that kind of — the freedom to be themselves as to how they’re addressing. So, John, you want to invite people to call in and I think it’s almost time for the news.
John: Well, I will. I’m John Phillips, and you’re joined in with the Business at Lunchshow. Today, we’re fortunate to have Lynda McNutt-Foster talking about degeneration along with Richard Hammer, and together they are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Your Teams Right Now. I hope you’ll call in, join in our conversation at 540-795-2510. Before we go to that break, we’ve got a few more minutes. I’ll ask you, Lynda, to talk a little bit about the string zones that are in generating and executing new ideas, you list out four of them in your paper. It’d be interesting to go through them and see how they relate to this conversation.
Lynda: Yeah, I’m going to run through those very quickly and then I’m going to pitch it to Richard to explain — Mary had a great thought about, is it helpful to have somebody from the outside sort of come in and look and is that more powerful than the leader trying to fix this stuff on their own? I think he can speak to that because he’s worked in those types of environments and had outsiders come in and he can talk to that. I would say, look, visionaries you give them a white sheet of paper. So, that’s the first phase. The people who are strong in vision can answer the question, what do we want to have at the end of all of this?
If it’s in recruiting, it might be we want to have great relationships with our candidates so they remember us. Then what are some ideas on the ways to get there? So people who are strong in ideation are very good at just throwing out ideas. “Well, maybe we could do a software. Maybe we can have a virtual event. Maybe we can do some virtual lunches. Maybe we could –” just all kinds of things that would lead to get you to your vision, and the outcome that you want. Once you have the ideas, the next strength is planning. So, planners love feasibility. They love to be able to go, “Hey, that idea won’t work. I don’t think that will work, but you know what, this one is the one we should start with, and I think we can really make it happen.”
Then finally, execution is these people just have a list. They like to get things done. Tell me what it is. They’re happiest when they can be involved a little bit in the planning because the person who’s faced front with execution is the one who’s right reputation is on the line, right? So, what was brilliant about the work that Richard and I did was where I was strong, he had offsetting strengths and there were some crossovers.
We had people on the team as we did this research that had strengths in each area. That’s really what you want to kind of do is create a team environment with a system to do this. Not relying on people’s strengths necessarily. So Richard, if there’s time bringing in an outsider, what do you think about that? How have you seen that work?
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Richard: I think that the outsider provides a unique perspective and is able to listen without bias. All of us are in meetings, all of us have coworkers, some of us have had coworkers for 5, 10, 15 years. We know exactly what to expect. We anticipate what they’re going to say. We really kind of listened to reply versus really taking a moment to listen to understand. The value of an outsider coming in is they are truly invested in listening to understand and to better the environment.
New employees are really the best outsiders that you can find because you hire somebody, and you bring them in, and the first four weeks that they come in, their eyes are innocent on everything you have going on. Even if they’re subject matter experts, even if they’re industry leaders, they’re trying to get a sense of where you are, of how you move, of how things move forward, of where the strengths are, of where the gaps are. They’re really trying to identify the culture and the environment so they can be successful as well.
The outside consultants and coaches and trainers do that same thing and they are ruthlessly efficient to doing that. To kind of hit on a really important question that Mary asked, each of the core strength areas that we talked to, there’s a phase for and there’s dedicated time too. So, when you’re putting a vision down, the last thing you want to be doing is planning execution. When you’re doing ideation, the last thing you want to do is be shooting these ideas down, or trying to figure out how they work together or if they will work at all.
So, each step is kind of a critical success factor that’s built on the others. There are small overlaps between them. Visionaries work with ideas really well back and forth to figure out what the master plan is. Ideators work with planners in figuring out where the boundaries are, as long as the planner understands that the boundary right now is ideation. Then executors really love to work with planners on the entry point to the work they need to get done. So, I hope that doesn’t require any further clarification.
John: Richard, that helps. That’s a very good insight there and as we move toward the bottom of the hour, we’re move back over to the news and I I’ll turn it back over to Bill Trifiro here in a moment and we’ll be back after this news break and continue our discussion. I’m john Phillips and you’re back along with Mary Miller and you’re listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Today, we are working with Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hamer and together they are the authors of The Leaders Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their TeamsRight Now.
Join in our conversation by calling in at area code 540-795-2510. That’s 540-795-2510 and help us with our conversation. Richard brought up before the break how someone who is new to the organization, a new hire comes in for the first couple of weeks with a entirely different set of eyes and that’s also a benefit of using a consultant in your company, but I’ll ask the question to Richard, to you and to Lynda, either one of you take it, on how to cultivate that new person and not shut those ideas down when they come into that organization.
Lynda: I’ll jump in and then I’ll pitch it to Richard and just I do want to sort of get in here how lucky we were to get to work with Richard. We certainly couldn’t afford him. Thank God, what we do and the projects we were working on was something he found interesting. He’s very much about trying to solve really complex problems. So, I deeply appreciate that and what I — I’m going to repeat some something I said before, which was what’s working at work is mission value statements on a wall, on a poster that senior leadership sort of push out there are not what create an innovative team. What creates an innovative team is welcoming, making time for other people’s perspective.
So, what it sounds like is “Hey, guys, we got a new team member. I can’t wait –” before you’ve been jaded or bias about any of us or this company, “Hey, I just want to have a session where we kind of tell you some of the problems that we’re having. I just want your first brand new thought about what you’re seeing.” So, that’s what I’m noticing is that rules of engagement where you literally say we appreciate other strengths and ability to contribute. We remain curious and issue practices like making time, specific time to gather different perspectives, and especially those that are new and youngest on the team are really valuable. What do you think, Richard?
Richard: I think that’s valuable. I think having the ability to listen to understand is also critical. A lot of us are really in a hurry to listen to reply. We really don’t take a minute to embrace a different view that might be from the person beside us or in front of us. In a work environment, the creative genius that comes out of simply being present and saying, “That’s a really good idea” is rarely heard because we’re always moving on to that next step of execution and drive and solution.
The key in addressing those boundaries with any team is really establishing a trust, as Lynda has rules of engagement are a key success factor, and then an openness to we’re going to fail. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to learn together. We already have failed. We’ve had great success at failing a lot of time because innovation comes out of failure. When a new team member joins, they’re going to be terrified and excited. When a consultant comes in, they’re going to be terrified and excited. When a coach comes in — but we’re not really ever terrified. But we are definitely excited because there’s always something new to understand.
That’s where Lynda gets her passion. That’s why she’s an ideator and that’s why she really enjoys engaging these complex problems. I’m more on the technology side, everything is virtual. So, with enough time and money, if it can be imagined, it can be solved from a technology perspective. That can be inhibiting and that can be freeing because the investment is made. The key is really getting your key people to ideate in a safe environment with you.
Lynda: Yeah, I’m just going to chime in and sort of talk about the crisis that we’re in right now as businesses. So, when you have a lack of ideation right now, what it sounds like is the marketplace is basically crashed underneath of us. The customers aren’t calling in. We can’t go see them the way that we used to. We don’t have enough resources. We don’t have enough money. We don’t know if — that’s what it sounds like on a team right now, if you’re stuck.
What it sounds like on a healthy team, and I’m getting to see it all the time right now with some of the companies that we’ve worked with over the last few years, it sounds like, “Okay. Here’s the issue. We need to contact customers, but they don’t really want to hear about our product right now. What are five other ways that we can reach out to them and connect with them? Maybe we could do a newsletter. Maybe we could do a quick Zoom to teach some of our clients. Maybe we can have a virtual lunch with them and just listen to what they’re saying.”
So, there’s differences right now between teams that went into it with tools and teams that didn’t have the ideation generation process in place to be able to get people unstuck from, “Oh, my gosh,” still in shock almost that what’s happening is happening. So, what do you think, Mary?
Mary: Yeah, Lynda, I’ve got all kinds of thoughts. I want to go back [inaudible 00:31:34] our listeners, I want to go back to week after week, early on, we talked about the DISC assessment, and understanding where our strengths are, and how we function. So, I go back as you’re building a team and the team that has these tools, that is who are your team members. I just really love Richard repeating again, listening to understand the importance of that, as everybody is really, I believe, bringing their best thoughts to the problem before.
I want to tie in the paper and some of the data that you saw and hoping that our listeners will download that. The leader reading through that, could you just maybe talk about them coming out of the paper? What could be some real concrete first steps? Because not only are we — unless you talk about the problems and how challenging it is, right now, people can’t necessarily clearly formulate the totality of the problem. Would you agree with that?
That we’re not quite sure when the situation [inaudible 00:32:56], people are talking about timing. They’re talking about needs. They’re talking about customers and how all of us are going through assessments and saying, “What is it we need? What do we have to do next? Who are our critical partners?” So, all of us are kind of in a similar situation and we need our leaders and our teams to step up. So, could you talk a little bit about Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, download the paper, read the paper? How could you bring your team together around the conversation in that regard?
Lynda: Yeah, I think that’s great. What I would say is one of the main conclusions is the ability of senior leaders and their managers to remain curious by actively seeking different perspectives from all levels of the organization. That’s one of the main takeaways. You guys have talked about that and we’ve talked about that. What I would say which is always so fascinating in the research and studies we do is how much money an organization will spend collecting data about their customers and the marketplace and all of this, and how they think their experience with people gives them the ability to instantly be able to identify what people’s strengths, behaviors and motivators are.
I just did a test with a team earlier today where they guessed and all of them were wrong about their leader, and what was motivating her and what her highest behavioral type was and what her strengths was and things like that. So, we don’t guess what the marketplace is going to do, but yet we guess about people. I mean, it’s so cheap. I mean, you’re talking about you didn’t want to do a full study on your team for $2,500 to $5,000. I mean, a full in depth, give a specific outline of what you need to do to be more effective at creative problem solving and what type of methodology you need to apply to be better at experimentation.
Here’s what we realized in the studies is nobody at work wants to seem stupid. So, they’re afraid to throw out their ideas. Why are they afraid to throw out their ideas? Because they don’t want to seem incompetent at their job. So, what can leaders do right now is exactly what Richard was talking about, which is listen to understand, listen for information, not confirmation. Lean in with curiosity. What that sounds like is going up to the youngest person on your team tomorrow and saying, “Hey, I haven’t only really heard your thoughts since this has been going on. What do you think?”
I don’t care if that’s a [inaudible 00:35:45]. I don’t care if it’s the city of Roanoke and it’s the person collecting “Thank you, God” or trash every day, once a week. Go to the front lines of your company of the people who are contacting your customers who are executing and ask them what they think. Just say, “Thank you.” Don’t shut them down. Don’t say, “Oh, yeah.” And give them an explanation. Just say, “What else are you thinking?” and listen for information.
John: I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunch, along with Mary Miller, Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer. We’re talking about generating ideas at work and they’re recently published article A Leader’s Guide to Get More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now. We hope you’ll join in our conversation by calling in at 540-795-2510. I’m curious to ask Richard and bring Richard into the conversation. We’ve talked a lot about how to continue ideas and the creation of ideas, but as a manager, how do you assess tolerance of ideas in your culture? If you’re a manager, how would you go about doing that?
Richard: Wow. Assess the tolerance of ideas in my culture? I’m going to try and break that down a little bit. I think ideation is a challenging topic. I think when you’re talking about ideation, I don’t know that there is such a thing as a bad idea, in truth, when you’re when you’re going through the ideation phase. In fact, I actually have an exercise I do with teams sometimes when we’re stuck, when we’re looking at a network problem or a software problem or a cloud infrastructure problem.
I say, “Okay. We’re going to put everything traditional aside here. I’ve got 10 subject matter experts in the room. I’ve got opinions and frustration because we have this connectivity issue or this routing issue or the software issue or this security issue that we can’t get around.” I’ll say, “Throw everything that we know aside.” I erased the whiteboard completely and I say, “I would like to know every bad idea you can think of.” Obviously, the first answer is, well, the only secure computer is a computer that’s not on and plugged in and has no access to it behind the safe and the world can’t operate if compute is put that way.
Now, the least safe computer is one that’s sitting out on the internet for anybody to do anything that they want to publicly. We’re looking for ideas on how to ensure safety, configuration, integrity of data, that processes are followed for access, that all the laws and regulations are followed, but I want every idea. I want the bad ideas. I want the good ideas. I want to spawn and foster thought and communication on solving the problem forward as opposed to shooting each other down or saying, “No, that won’t work.” Or saying, “The process doesn’t work that way.”
So, when you’re really focused on ideation, you’re completely open to anything and everything being possible no matter how ridiculous or absurd it may sound because if I were to say, “Hey, let’s just hook this computer up to the Internet, and let everybody access it.” One of my engineers might come back and say, “We could set up a DMZ, allow routing, provide secondary authentication, and really get by this problem we’re having with security by setting up a jump box or gateway.”
All of a sudden, my stupid idea has become a gateway to understanding and discovery of a possible solution that hadn’t been visible before because it didn’t trigger the brain, the cortex to solve the problem. So, that’s kind of where I go with that endeavor when there are a tolerance issues or conflict issues involved in the team.
John: What certainly puts the —
Lynda: I’m just going to jump in there.
John: Go ahead, Lynda.
Lynda: I was going to jump in there because in the article on Wednesday and in the report you’re going to be able to download Wednesday, there’s actually five specific questions. So, everything that Richard is saying, is an exact way to sort of listen to your team and see what’s happening. There’s these five questions that leaders and their teams can sort of go through on Wednesday and say things like, “How many new ideas to solve your toughest challenges have you considered in the last week? Do the consultants you use work directly with senior leaders and your teams do not just generate ideas, which is the question, but do they teach you how to generate ideas in your teams? If polled, what percentage of meetings would you your people in your organization think are a waste of time?”
Our data is showing that you can literally eliminate 50% of the time in meetings and see only good things come from it. So, if you have an hour long meeting, cut it to a half an hour. If you have a 30-minute meeting, cut it to 15 minutes. Challenge yourself over the next two weeks to cut your meetings in half time wise and see if you don’t get more engagement from the people in that team. You know what? Measure your failure tolerance. Are you measuring your failure tolerance? How many things have failed?
I can tell you in some organizations that I’ve gone into, been a part of if you’re not failing consistently, they literally think you’re not trying. They’re like, “You haven’t considered enough ideas,” Because if everything that you do is working, that means you’re not pushing the envelope of innovation because innovation is messy. It’s just messy. It doesn’t even have to be expensive, as much as it is a little messy because it’s trial, error, trial, error. I mean Thomas Edison, what did he say? I found 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. Nobody just wakes up tomorrow — and it’s innovation. It’s trial and error and we have to have tolerance for that. So, John, you were [inaudible 00:42:09].
John: Recently we had — go ahead, Mary.
Mary: I was just going to say so Lynda, we work with the startup community. Sometimes startups don’t realize how — we look to big companies, and we actually think they’ve got it figured out, but we’re not looking on the inside of big companies. So, many people attended an event with W. L. Gore, we brought someone in from W. L. Gore, who was head of ideation for the company. He literally funds teams to go down a road to develop something knowing clear well that probably only 2 in 10 will actually move to a later phase, that probably 8 in 10 will fail.
So, it’s a really interesting concept in big corporations that get it right, they understand it, but small teams, they just are afraid of failure. They don’t think they have any tolerance for it. So, embracing failure, I love hearing that. I thought it was a really good comment that we have to expect to fail. We can’t be right all the time and we have to have some tolerance for that. So, I thought that was really a good takeaway for some of our smaller companies that might be listening.
Lynda: I mean, the question is, is as you get bigger, are you playing to win? Are you playing not to lose? So, that’s a big thing. The bigger the corporation, the more money the executives make, the more they have to lose. So, they’re literally just playing protectionism with their ideas. They’re, “I don’t want to fail because we’re the number one. We don’t really want to push it.” If you’re a startup entrepreneur, and I’ve been one four times and I’m grateful that I sold one to an international company and every one of them have made a profit, however small sometimes. But, certainly I’ve always made more money than I could make working for somebody else at any given time, which is a success for me.
So, with entrepreneurs, it’s interesting. I mean, you have a certain runway. So it’s like, how long can you keep that runway going so you can experiment enough until you land on something that the marketplace finds viable and valuable. So, you can sustain sort of that customer relationship, whatever that is, for a period of time while you continue to experiment. So, a lot of entrepreneurs I see spend a lot of time in planning. They have an idea, which they think is a vision, or they have a vision that they think is an idea. Then they spend these months, sometimes years, planning exactly how it’s going to be before they actually interact with the first customer.
I know Samantha Steidel in our region has done a ton of research and I think her dissertation is somewhat about this particular topic with entrepreneurship. So, they don’t even do any customer discovery. Then they go out there, they have $100,000, or sometimes a million, and it fails miserably because there was no experimentation in the customer discovery process.
A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams
Mary: Yes. We really do focus that customer discovery and the importance of it and so you can’t develop in a vacuum. You’ve got to engage and find out what your customers, not only what they need, but what are they willing to buy? So, sometimes people need things but they’re not willing to buy them and there therein lies the challenge in and of itself. So, this has been really fascinating. I know we’re getting close to the end, John, I’m going to hand this back to you and let you wrap up with some questions. I look forward to next Monday with Lynda. Thank you, Lynda, so much and thank you, Richard, also appreciate that.
Lynda: Yeah. I think we have a caller on the line.
John: Thanks, Mary. We do. So. I’ll let Bill put the caller through and Simone is on the line from Roanoke.
John: Simone, thank you for joining us today.
Simone: Thank you. My question is related to small teams who have had no exposure at all to ideation. How do you suggest that a safe space is created for teams especially for those teams who have maybe had processes and ideas dictated to them and they have no idea where to begin?
Lynda: I’m going to answer that a little bit, and then also pitch it over to Richard. What I would say is there was a phenomenon that we witnessed in our conversational mapping, which was a learned helplessness. So, if a leader is really strong in ideation and vision, they sort of come to the team with those things, and then the team gets used to., “Okay. We need to plan it. We need to execute it.” It’s like a muscle that had atrophy. So, they just rely on the one ideator in the room who is generating the ideas. So, the ideas are in depth. So, it’s kind of a learned helplessness. What do you think, Richard, from what we’re seeing from our research?
Richard: My favorite exercise in answering the question is the team building exercises where that ideator muscle is asked to make observations only and not speak. You present the team with a complex set of tabletop exercises, or a puzzle to solve or a game to play where it requires out of box ideation and a set of hard rules in what that works. You encourage the playfulness and freedom and laughter and failure in building trust amongst the team members in that fashion. So, it doesn’t even have to be a work related problem. It can be something as simple as or as complicated as we need to get to the movie theater, how do we do that?
As the tabletop exercise and the narrator walk through the process, you discover certain things about how to get to the movie theater, whether you have a vehicle, whether you’re wearing shoes, whether it’s snowing, and you kind of walk through the exercise to see who the thinkers are. The next important piece in that process is observing who’s participating, but not necessarily speaking up and invite and engage them softly into the process.
The number of times, folks sit quiet and observe because they don’t feel like they’re invited to participate is shocking to me. Explicitly inviting, to lightly inviting their participation makes a huge difference, especially if it’s a safe environment where there really isn’t judgment on it being wrong.
John: Lynda, as we move toward the close of the hour and the close the show, tell us, if you were talking to entrepreneurs, for the first time on this subject, what are some of the key things you’d like them to take away from our conversation that we’ve had today?
Lynda: Small things really matter. The way that you engage people in a conversation and invite them in, matters. It’s the small things, rarely the big things, that are affecting your ability to creatively problem solve. Embrace failure, do not shun it. Give rewards for the best idea that failed this month and do lessons learn from it. So, have some fun, and build trust on your team and start finding fun ways to creatively problem solve. That’s what I would take away, I would have people take away.
John: Certainly, in today’s environment, as we move through a very uncharted territory and a restless economy, ideas are more important than ever. As we all come together and find different ways to solve the problems that many of which we have not had an opportunity to be through before, but together, these ideas can help us bring together the future of our businesses and as we move into the reopening of the economy, which we hope is very soon, we’ll be able to put many of those to work. We do want to close today and say I’m John Phillips and I appreciate you for listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.
Special thanks and appreciation to Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer. Together, they are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now. We truly value and appreciate our listening audience and appreciate your call in today and this concludes our show for today. We’ll return on Tuesday when we talk entrepreneurship with several technology startup companies from our region. We hope you’ll stay safe and have a successful day and I’ll turn this back to Bill.