Inside Outside Innovation podcast

Inside Outside Innovation

Brian Ardinger, Founder of Inside Outside Innovation podcast,, and the Inside Outside Innovation Summit

Inside Outside Innovation explores the ins and outs of innovation with raw stories, real insights, and tactical advice from the best and brightest in startups & corporate innovation. Each week we bring you the latest thinking on talent, technology, and the future of innovation. Join our community of movers, shakers, makers, founders, builders, and creators to help speed up your knowledge, skills, and network. Previous guests include thought leaders such as Brad Feld, Arlan Hamilton, Jason Calacanis, David Bland, Janice Fraser, and Diana Kander, plus insights from amazing companies including Nike, Cisco, ExxonMobil, Gatorade, Orlando Magic, GE, Samsung, and others. This podcast is available on all podcast platforms and Sign up for the weekly innovation newsletter at Follow Brian on Twitter at @ardinger or @theiopodcast or Email

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  • Inside Outside Innovation podcast

    Ep. 270 - Kaiser Yang, Co-founder of Platypus Labs & Author of Crack the Code on Mindsets for Creativity and Innovation


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Kaiser Yang, Co-founder of Platypus Labs and Author of the new book Crack the Code. Kaiser and I talk about the mindsets needed to foster creativity and innovation. And some of the pitfalls you can avoid when trying to spin up your innovation initiatives.Inside Outside Innovation as the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat to what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript of Kaiser Yang, Co-founder of Platypus Labs and Author of Crack the CodeBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Kaiser Yang. He is co-founder of Platypus Labs and author of the book Crack the Code: Eight Surprising Keys to Unlock Innovation. Welcome. Kaiser Yang: Hey, thank you so much, Brian. I'm delighted to be here and be a part of your program. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show. We got connected through Josh Linkner. I was interviewing him about his new book, Big Little Breakthroughs. And he reached out recently to say, hey, Kaiser's got a new book out in and around this particular subject. You've worked with some great companies out there when it comes to Innovation, Heineken, and ESPN, and Coca-Cola. What are some of the most common problems that companies are trying to solve when it comes to Innovation?Kaiser Yang: There's a number of challenges that we help organizations focus on and prioritize. But it really starts at the leadership level of prioritizing Innovation, building the right set of rituals and rewards that motivates team members to drive inventive thinking in their day-to-day responsibilities. And so, we do spend a lot of time working from the leadership level first understanding what the desired state is. What some of the desired outcomes are.And crafting a strategy. And that strategy, it could involve a number of different things from bringing thought leadership to the organization, doing training workshops, running Innovation, bootcamps. Sometimes it even just comes down to creating inspiration and motivation in terms of ideas, like giving them the power to recognize patterns outside of their industry. So, they can innovate their own and challenge the status quo. So, for us, I think when we first work with organizations, it has to start at the top. Meaning there needs to be a commitment to driving innovation and making it a priority. And then it makes the rest of the initiatives so much smoother moving forward.Brian Ardinger: That is so important that context setting. Because I think a lot of times organizations get off the wrong track because they don't necessarily define Innovation the same way. A lot of people think of innovation as I've got to come up with the next electric car or new Uber. And as you know, Innovation can be something much simpler as far as, you know, how do you find it and identify a problem and create something of value to solve that problem. And a lot of the book talks about that creative problem-solving area that doesn't have to be transformational, but it can be little breakthroughs that make a difference. Kaiser Yang: Absolutely. It's a philosophy that I share with Josh. And his book, Big Little Breakthroughs is all about the fact that we should look for everyday acts of creativity or what he calls micro innovations.And for us too, when we work with organizations, we obviously want to look at transformational opportunities, high growth opportunities. But sometimes when you look at Innovation, just in that context, it can be paralyzing for most of the team members, right. Unless it's a billion-dollar Elon Musk type idea that it doesn't count.When in reality, some of the best innovations start with small acts of creativity applied to solving the customer experience or driving improvement in internal processes. And those little innovations can stack up and make a significant difference over time. Brian Ardinger: Well, you almost have to build up those muscles and, you know, to jump directly to starting a brand-new business or a brand-new idea is challenging, especially if you've been hired to optimize and execute in a particular business model that you know and have some certainty around. Versus a completely unknown kind of environment. Kaiser Yang: For sure. What we see in many organizations is that there's this tremendous creative readiness, this curiosity, this willingness to drive change. But where it falls short is the implementation side. And it's most often these teams and individuals don't have the right tools or the training or critical thinking skills to apply their creativity to innovative outcomes.And that really is kind of the point of Crack the Code, my new book. It's more of a field guide, a manual to help you unlock your creativity. And add a little bit more structure to the process. So rather than saying, hey, let's solve the sales challenge or this customer experience problem, or this operational inefficiency and just brainstorming in the traditional sense. These are proven tools and techniques that really guide you through that creative process, so you can realize better outcomes in the end. Brian Ardinger: Let's talk a little bit about the book. You kind of break it up into these four key mindsets that you believe individuals and organizations need to be building and growing on. Talk a little bit about the mindsets and how they came to be and the thought process around it. Kaiser Yang: Yeah. I mean, these mindsets are really based on almost like two decades worth of research and real-world experiences, having been a startup entrepreneur and starting my own businesses. Creativity is that one underlying skill set that was applied to drive growth and transformation and performance at pretty much every level.And so, when we think about some of these mindsets, they may come across to you as common sense, but common sense isn't always common practice. So, for example, the first core mindset that we start out with is this notion that every barrier can be penetrated. It's this inherent belief that no matter how difficult the challenge is, if you apply enough creative energy at it, that obstacle can be overcome.Right, the most powerful successful innovators out there, when they have a setback or they have a failure, what they don't do is throw up their arms and get discouraged. They're the ones that say not yet. So, while it seems obvious that every barrier can be penetrated, if you look at organizations and teams, once you have a couple of failures or a few setbacks, a lot of times it's like, eh, this idea is not going to work. Or maybe we should do something else. Instead, we believe that with the right focus of your creative energy, you can really overcome some of the most difficult challenges out there. Brian Ardinger: And ironically, sometimes those constraints are actually the things that open up the creativity. Having a constraint, forces you to think differently about how you might solve that problem or what problem you're actually solving. And I think that, you know, having that mindset of being able to overcome that challenge and think differently about it is very important. Kaiser Yang: The other mindset that we often teach organizations, larger organizations we work with is this whole notion of compasses over maps. The main underscoring point is you need to start before you're ready. Too often, organizations wait until they have a full-on three-year business plan. The ROI has been vetted. They've got every stakeholder approved. But the most successful innovators out there, I believe, trust their instinct to course correct along the way and get started. So, they use more of a compass to guide their innovation journey rather than waiting for a detailed map.And it's so powerful when you know, you can arm a team to really start taking action and iterative experimentation processes to test a new way to improve customer satisfaction, or get payables reduce by 20%. And just these small incremental wins, it requires organizations to empower their teams to start before they're ready. And that's what the whole compass over maps mindset is all about. So that's one of the mindsets that we talk about in the book. The Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationSponsor Voice: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri, that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation uses its $3 billion in assets to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. For more  information, visit and connect with us at and Ardinger: Yeah, I like that concept. It's almost like you're in a cave. Innovation is like you're in a cave and it's dark and you don't have a map. So, you have to feel around the walls to figure your way out of it. And I think obviously a lot of people are not comfortable in that particular environment, but the more you get used to knowing that maps can be directionally important, but they're not necessarily the actual be all end all to get you to the end goal. Especially in uncertain environments. The more likely you are to build that mechanism and that muscle of being okay with that ambiguity, I suppose. Kaiser Yang: Yeah. I mean that ambiguity can be paralyzing for many organizations, where there's a lot of uncertainty unknown. There isn't a clear path forward. But we view it more as that artist's studio where it's all about discovery and exploration. And so, while it's easy to say that much of the work that we do with organizations is giving that toolkit to overcome some of those anxiety driven moments led by ambiguity. So, here's a systematic process that doesn't stifle your creativity, but rather provides more of a scaffolding around it and helps you guide you through the process. So even when we talk about understanding pain points and customer needs, really for us, that's where the innovation process starts. Just saying that is one thing but giving you some tools and systems and processes that help guide you through that journey. I think that's super powerful. And it adds structure to that artist studio that many people might feel uncomfortable in. Brian Ardinger: So maybe we can dig in a little bit about some of the tactics or some of the specific guidance that you have within the book, as far as action steps or things that people can do to both create these mindsets and then take action on it. Kaiser Yang: Yeah, for sure. There's eight different tactics that are built into the book. And they're all my favorite tactics. And I think Innovation in and of itself, there isn't a silver bullet in terms of ideation or process. Every situation is unique, and we encourage many of our clients to tackle the innovation challenge, using a number of different tactics and strategies, so you can see things from a various perspective.And then you open up for exploration and deeper discovery. But for example, one of the ones that we have a lot of success teaching organizations is one that we simply called the Borrowed Idea. Right? It's looking outside of your industry for key factors that drive competitive advantage. Drive sustainable success. And taking some of those insights and bringing it back to your own.One of our partners that we work with often says that expertise can be the greatest enemy of innovation. Meaning when you know too much about an industry, or you've been in your role for too long, it's really hard to embrace new ways or see things in a different way. So, this borrowed idea technique is a very systematic way of looking outside. Looking at business models, right?So, in what ways are they leveraging technology? What is their customer experience like? How are they driving sales? What's their pricing model? And for example, like higher education. What could they potentially learn from the hospitality industry or maybe higher education? What could they learn from consumers today engaging on Tik Tok? And borrowing those ideas and bringing it back. And one of my favorite quotes was from Steven Jobs who a long time ago said that he's sometimes embarrassed when people call him creative, because he thinks creativity is nothing more than the ability to connect dots. As we grow older in our careers and become more experienced, we're very good at that one dot that we're paid very well to do, but we forget about all the dots out there. So, what can we learn from the field of music or athletics or, you know, getting into specific categories? That's the whole concept of the borrowed idea. Systematically exploring as far away from your industry as possible and finding new ways that you can bring back to your organization. Brian Ardinger: It's surprising how focused a lot of organizations get with, they know a hundred percent what their competitors are doing and everything about that particular customer segment and that, but like you said, don't necessarily take one adjacent step to the left or right to see what's going on, that could significantly change the game. Because most of the people are playing the same game. And if you slightly change the game, you can outpace your competition. So, we are living in a world of accelerating change. Obviously, innovation is much more important than it has ever been before. And I think a lot of people are now getting that or understanding that. What are some of the trends that you're seeing when it comes to Innovation? Kaiser Yang: There's lots of trends. I mean, we can categorize it in terms of strategy and technology and, you know, market trends, things like that. But I think at the height of the organizations that we've worked with, one of the trends that we have started to see with larger enterprise organizations is building this culture of rapid experimentation.We've all read about Facebook and, you know, case studies like, where they have 30,000 concurrent experiments going on at any given time. But even large organizations like Allstate and Mass Mutual, they're building these cultures where they're constantly testing. And I think it's so cool to see because the old school was research and experimentation was a very linear process.It was measured and calculate. But we're seeing many organizations move to this very iterative model, not being afraid of failure. Taking responsible risks and applying this notion of rapid experimentation, constantly looking for new ways to better the customer experience or to serve their community.And that shift, you know, for me, is fascinating to see like large 30,000 employee organizations move to this model of rapid experimentation. And whether it's, you know, following the Lean Startup Movement or any of those other models out there, just seeing companies put aside the need for ROI and business plans and you know, every stakeholder buy-in. But instead, just getting out there and quickly testing new ways to serve their customers. It's one of those trends that hopefully we'll see many organizations continue to embrace, because I think that's the way you find the idea right. Like remove uncertainty through experimentation. Validate your concepts. And quickly move them forward through an iterative process rather than sitting on it for 12 or 18 months waiting for the R and D department to say, okay, let's go forward with it.Brian Ardinger: Great point. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to get over that fear. You know, that seems to be one of the biggest barriers is people fundamentally understand the theory around, well, I should be experimenting more, but like the incentives aren't there, the rewards aren't there, the culture is not there such that it enables that risk-taking. So, are there any hints or tips or things you've seen that might work to overcome that fear? Kaiser Yang: I mean, again, like we said, at the start of this discussion, it does start at the leadership level, setting up the right environment that fosters learning. I don't know if I would say fosters failure, but the ability to take risks on behalf of the company and try new things.So even like there's the case studies of issuing get out of jail free cards and building different rewards that recognize people that have taken action. So, I think it starts there at the leadership level, creating the right environment, that the team members feel safe in. But more so we focus on the individual level. Because a lot of times that fear manifests itself by the fear of being embarrassed in front of our peers. Or the fear of my idea not being good enough. Or even sometimes it's the fear of success that this idea might actually put me out of a job. So, we focus more on the individual level of removing that fear by teaching them proven frameworks, to really experiment and validate and overlaying that with some of the mindsets that we talked about.One of the mindsets that we often talk about, it's not in the book, but it's this notion of, if you fall seven, you stand eight. And the best innovators out there, always find a way of shaking it off, getting back up and no matter what the challenges they persist through adversity. And I think that's kind of that mindset that's critically important to pair with all of these tools and techniques that gives you the confidence, if you will, right. To come up with ideas and stretch your imagination. Oftentimes when we sit with organizations, it's your natural tendency to come up with the safest, easiest, most obvious ideas. Those are the safe ones, right? And it can be a little bit fearful to push your imagination to further limits, to come up with the wild or unusual, or even unorthodox wacky idea. But those are usually the ones that drive the most change and progress for any organization. And so, creating the right mix of tools and techniques and mindsets to help team members get there, that's where we see at least for us it's so satisfying to find those what we call aha moments, where that light bulb goes off and you come up with some great, innovative ideas. Brian Ardinger: Yeah. The other thing I've seen that seems to work is oftentimes just changing the mindset. I think a lot of people think they have to have the perfect plan before they can present it to their boss and move it forward. But almost changing that conversation to saying, I've got something I want to try over here. Or here's a little side project I'm working on. Don't have it all figured out, but here's the next thing I'm going to try to do to learn or build out, get evidence that I'm on the right path. That type of mindset or that type of philosophy around it sometimes change the game significantly versus I guess the old way of I've got to put together a 50-page business plan, figuring out all the obstacles and hope that I'm right. When I actually launch it. Kaiser Yang: Yeah, for sure. I mean, just building crude, prototypes and running some simple experiments to remove some uncertainty can make a huge difference in the organization's ability to move a little bit quicker. But even what you said about the strategic side, right. That oh my, I have to put a 50-page deck together to pitch our ideas.We have something that's called the Strategic Canvas and it's an iterative six- step process that really simplifies the strategy building. So you're not, hyper-focused on all the details and business models and assumptions and all of that stuff. But it builds a very strong foundation under your idea.And it's a very powerful way to be able to present your idea cohesively very succinctly and very efficient. wSo, we try to demystify that business plan process as well, to empower team members, to move a little bit faster and take their ideas and get some visibility and traction around it, in the process.Brian Ardinger: A lot of our folks that are listening aren't necessarily at the leadership level, they're charged with being innovative or launching new products and that. But sometimes they're at the process of trying to get that buy in from the top. Do you have any recommendations or thoughts around how, as an individual within an organization, to start building that culture of creativity and innovation within their group? Kaiser Yang: There's a couple of ways we can look at this, but at the first cut is just teams or individuals viewing the fact that creativity is really a muscle, that needs to be stretched out, warmed up and strengthened to do its best performance. A lot of times we just need to kind of shake off the cobwebs and dust it off a little bit. But, you know, we don't put as much effort into the preparation of creativity I think, then we should. And so, there's lots of energizers and activities to help achieve hemispheric synchronization or to warm up your creative muscles. Platypus labs, we practice a lot of applied improve. Right. That helps you drive expansive thinking, but more importantly, it teaches you active listening and it gives you this platform to really try to explore your creativity in a number of different ways. And there are so many tools and techniques out there that do that, that if you build a culture where you're practicing things and applying them to your day-to-day business, I mean, it's just amazing to see the transformation and the creative capacity of the teams that we've work with. So, I would start there as really, discover some of these energizers, and workouts, if you will, for your creative muscle, that you can do on a day to day or even week to week basis. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Yeah. Start local and then go global. Well, Kaiser, I really appreciate you coming on Inside, Outside Innovation to talk about this book, I encourage people to pick up Crack the Code. If people want to find out more about yourself or Platypus Labs or the book, what's the best way to do that? Kaiser Yang: Our team's website is Specific to the book, you can go to and learn more about the book there. There's actually an assessment on that site where you can see if the book is worth your time. So, I would encourage you to take that and see if it might be something of value to you. Brian Ardinger: Kaiser, thanks again for being on the show, looking forward to working together again in the future. And let's keep this conversation going in the future. Appreciate it. Kaiser Yang: All right. Thank you so much Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
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    Ep. 269 - Nora Herting, Founder of ImageThink and Author of Draw Your Big Idea on Benefits of Visual Thinking


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Nora Herting, Founder and CEO of ImageThink and Author of the new book, Draw Your Big Idea. Nora and I talk about the benefits of visual thinking, some of the myths surrounding art and business, and some of the exercises anyone can use to think and work more creatively using visualization tools. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat to what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript of Nora Herting, Founder and CEO of ImageThink and Author of Draw Your Big IdeaBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Nora Herting. She is Founder and CEO at the visual strategy firm ImageThink, and Author of the new book called Draw Your Big Idea: The Ultimate Creativity Tool for Turning Thoughts into Action and Dreams into Reality. Welcome to the show, Nora. Nora Herting: Hi, Brian. Great to be here. Brian Ardinger: I am so excited to have you on this show. Because I've been a big proponent, whether I'm working with startups or corporate innovation teams about using visual tools to help you think through new ideas and launch new projects and that. And when I came upon you and the stuff that you're doing in this space, I wanted to have you on the show to dig in deeper about what it all takes to make this happen.So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How you went from becoming an artist and a photographer to working your way to work with some of the biggest companies in the world, Google and IBM and NASA on this idea of visual strategy. Nora Herting: Basically, I had started my career off in academia as an artist, going into academia, sort of the most sure-fire fit. You get the tenure track and the health insurance and whatnot. And I was 27. Managed to get a position. And then had this terrible realization that my goal was really just a failure of imagination. That I hadn't really thought or tested what else I could do with my skill set, outside of sort of this academic world.So, I left my position, moved to New York with no job. And found myself at a division of Cap Gemini that we would call now like their design thinking solution. But this was the early 2000s. And that wasn't really a term we even used there. But it was a network of facilitators that we would put huge corporate projects through these innovative incubators for three days and tell them in three days we could get three months of work out of their team. And I learned the skill of graphic recording while I was there because they knew I, besides having a Masters, I had also for a little while been an elementary school art teacher, which was actually kind of a great qualification for this particular work. And saw the power of visuals to help business people really clarify their thinking.Get people on the same page. Sort out a lot of complexity. And in time, my first client, when we started ImageThink was NASA. And I had this real moment there where they had brought in someone to talk about the space glove. They had not been able to innovate a better space glove for several decades. They opened it up to a public contest. All these teams in turn, but it was actually one solo engineer that designed a better space glove than all of the NASA scientists in a couple of decades. And they were fascinated about how this worked, and they described this guy's process. And while I was there, I'm visualizing the story. And I realized that they're really just describing a series of iterative process.Things that are really intuitive to tinkers to artists. And that it was just this moment where I thought these things that I've learned that seems so innate to the creative process were mysteries to corporations. So that's one of the joys of ImageThink is not just using the visual tools, but really helping. Tried to demystify that for business leaders so that they can take some of those same mindsets and techniques and apply them to innovation in larger companies. Brian Ardinger: I think a lot of folks do have that misperception, that businesses over here and art is over here. What are some of the myths that you've seen of how people and innovators should be doubling down on art in the business world?Nora Herting: Great question. I love this question. You know one big myth is if you don't have the title Creative on your business card and then you don't have an opportunity to think creatively. Just don't believe that that's true. At ImageThink I think that we believe that everybody who has a job that requires complexity or problem solving has a huge creative opportunity in front of them.So that's one thing is people will think, oh, because I'm in engineering or because I'm in HR, what I don't get to be creative. I forgot how to be creative. Another one is just this narrow idea that, you know, you're only creative if you can paint or write or play the guitar. Right. So, expanding that idea to things that are more broad and then, you know, just kind of a lack of creative confidence in people, kind of around those ideas. And, you know, we have different ways of trying to break that down and expose people, show people, that they can exercise that muscle. And really, they have that opportunity every time. Brian Ardinger: Walk me through some of the benefits that you've seen firsthand about getting people unstuck or what really happens when you move into that art visual mode to tackle problems that you couldn't track before.Nora Herting: One example or one benefit of it is first off is to remember it's a very, very old technology. We've been drawing and using pictures to communicate before, you know, as a species before we had written language. You know, some of the earliest cave paintings are 30,000 BC. And they're basically instructions for hunting.So, this is something that we've been hard-wired neurologically for a long time to process things and pictures. And when you do that, you're using multiple facets of your brain, including the prefrontal cortex. I like to tell people if they want to look at a problem differently, or they want to use a different set of neurons to fire, ask people to illustrate, or at least use visuals of some aspect of it to really get people just literally to think a little bit differently. So, one way we do that is first to just have people practice on really low stakes things. We'll do something called like a visual bio. We'll ask everyone to tell us about themselves, really mundane things like their name, their role, but using only pictures to convey that.And what happens is there's a lot of laughing, people feel a little awkward. But people realize pretty quickly that there's a lot more nuance that gets conveyed when someone is illustrating, let's say their role, than just say, you know, I'm a Director of Innovation at X company. Right. So how they think about that?So that immediately gets people thinking a little bit differently, even if it's not the problem at hand and understanding that there's a lot of nuance that can be conveyed. And then it's great because you have people buying in pretty quickly to the process of working visually as they start to try to apply that to real problems that they have in business.The Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationSponsor Voice: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri, that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation uses its $3 billion in assets to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. For more  information, visit and connect with us at and Ardinger: So, let's talk about your book. It's called Draw Your Big Idea. It's got a ton of like exercises. I love it because it's very tactical. So, can you talk a little bit about the book and how it came to be and what are some of the things that the audience will get from it?Nora Herting: Yeah, so what was great about this is the publishers at Chronicle came to us and said, you know, we'd love for you to do something. What are you thinking? And I really wanted, my coauthor as well, really wanted to give somebody something that was practical. That they could use right away. So rather than writing a book, we sort of essentially drew a book. As you said, I think there's 108 visual exercises in it. A lot of them are versions of exercises that we use for our corporate clients but applied to an individual level as well. So, moving people from kind of the whole cycle of innovation, if you will, Brian. From scanning their environment, assessing the current state, thinking about all the potential ideas that could come out of a problem statement. All of these things, your walkthrough, basically in drawing exercises in the book up until the final chapter, which is you kind of moved through the Innovation process.And now you're speaking strategically, like how are you going to launch this new idea? Whether that's a new business or a new endeavor or, you know, a personal project. It builds on itself. It takes you through all those things. And for listeners out there, you can also kind of flip to one exercise and say, you know, I really need to do something around mapping my resources, you know, as a team. And there is a visual exercise for you to do for that as well as many other ones. Brian Ardinger: What do you see holds people back from this? You do see some people gravitate to it, but for the most part, like you said, there's a lot of. For whatever reason they are scared or fearful of what's going on. What holds people back and more importantly, what can you do to overcome that fear?Nora Herting: Well, I think that in our experience, like on a corporate level, when people are in the room and they see the visuals being done for them, they're very enthusiastic. They see the power of it. They appreciate it. I can pick up a pen and apply this to myself. That's maybe a little bit bigger of a jump, right? And so one of the misconceptions that we talked about is people feeling like, oh, I'm not creative.Another one is just around the skill level. People will say, I can't draw a straight line, you know, or my Kindergartner can draw better than me. I don't care. Because again, we're talking about leaders. We're talking about innovators. We're talking about communicating. Right. And I try to remind people really, it's not about the artistry, it's about what is being communicated and what the impact is.And so there's a number of exercises we kind of do to show people that we're wired to make meaning out of images. You know, I just talked about how we've been doing this for 30,000 years plus. So, your audience basically just needs a minimal viable product, right? Stick figures totally work. And so, once we give people a few exercises where they see that they see from other people's bad stick figure drawings, that they get a lot out of what the person's trying to communicate. They can start to see, you know, what it's really just about the end result, which is, am I communicating my idea. Am I aligning people to it? Is it resonating? And that you need an actually very low level of skill to do that. Brian Ardinger: Do you see particular types of tasks or particular types of projects that this works better for than others? Nora Herting: At ImageThink we have kind of created this life cycle of an idea, if you will. It's called the ImageThink method. Clients come to us at different points. You know, sometimes they come to us at the top of a project like, oh, we need to launch a whole new product or we're having an acquisition. But sometimes they come to us later when it's a little more tactical, like you say, or, you know, we need to map out the strategy. So we're able to understand from that where the client is and match different exercises to where they need to be.We've helped, you know, not just at the beginning of blue sky conversations and innovation, all the way to, how do we market this now that we have it ready to go to our client. So, what I love is that visuals can be helpful, I think, along the whole process. Wouldn't you agree? Brian Ardinger: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that I like, specifically like about the Business Model Canvas, for example, is it takes that what used to be a 90-page document of what your business idea was, and kind of visualizes it out and to nine core components and you use sticky notes and other ways to think through. And it makes it much more accessible than a spreadsheet or much more accessible than a document that, once it's in a document, people think it's the perfect thing. It's the perfect plan. But as soon as you add the visuals and that it brings out the messiness, that is the reality that you're dealing with in the real world. And that's why I like that particular type of technique.Nora Herting: Yeah. I think that that's true. And sometimes people think might be a barrier, but really often actually isn't, is we have a lot of technology clients. So, you know whether it's IT or pharmaceuticals, with a lot of complexity, right? And sometimes they think, oh, this is too detailed, or this is too scientific to be approached this way.But actually, most of the time, and you might've found this in your work, right. Or talking to other innovators, those people who are such subject matter experts sometimes have a really hard time leveling up from the level of detailed expertise they have. So that they can communicate it to a bigger audience. So, they can kind of engage the cross-functional departments or larger stakeholders that they need.That's been a real sweet spot for us because we're able to listen to those folks. To steal the big ideas from it. Understand what's going to resonate for other people. And help them simplify it into a story that's a little bit more relatable. So, I'm not sure if you've also found that to be the case when you've worked visually that sometimes the simplification is a benefit rather than a detraction. Brian Ardinger: And what I've also found is going through the process, your first map is not always the perfect map. Like, can you map it out and you draw it out and it's like, well, that's not exactly right. So you go back and modify it or change it or whatever. And that process gets you to think through what's actually going on in the world, around you, and that.So, I find it very powerful, and I appreciate you helping us think through some of this kind of stuff. One of the last questions I have is how can you build this type of visual thinking, visual strategy into your everyday practice. Whether it's at work or at home. Are there particular techniques or things to give a non-artist or person who doesn't do this on a regular basis, to build this into their normal practice?Nora Herting: Yeah, so that's a great question. You know, some things that people feel more empowered by is if they create a set of icons that they're going to use. So, you know, if you're in a particular domain, sometimes I'll have people like basically we kind of do like Business Pictionary. Which is like write out terms that you are often come across or you often need to express.And then we have everybody create, you know, the minimal viable product of how they would express that idea. And that can just be on Post-it Notes. So, you know, you might have 5 to 10 concepts that you've worked out and you're like, okay, this is the way I'm going to depict this visually. So now when you're thinking about it, and you're trying to practice, you're not inventing these as you go.And that's something that we do at ImageThink. Right? Like our team, we've been at thousands of meetings. So, if someone says the word disruption, we already have one or two go-to icons for that. We're not having to make it up on the fly as much. So, I think that that's like a good way to just start practicing that muscle. And then seeing if you can integrate that in. Another example would be the next time you run into a problem is to challenge yourself, to try to depict that problem as a visual as well. You know and see if you might not uncover some different ways of thinking about it or using a metaphor. There's a great article by this man named Dan Seewald, really great Innovation expert, who talks about using metaphor as a tool for Innovation. Like how is this problem maybe a metaphor for another problem. So, getting people to try to draw out that problem in a metaphor, I think could uncover a lot of different opportunity and be great practice as well. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Absolutely. Well, I encourage everybody to pick up a copy of Draw Your Big Idea and get started themselves. If people want to find out more about yourself, Nora, or about the book, what's the best way to do that? Nora Herting: Sure, so you can visit our website Lots of information resources there. Draw Your Big Idea you can find on our website or on Amazon or if you make it to an in person's book bookstore. Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Well, Nora, thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation. I really do appreciate your time and insights into this world. And I encourage everybody to start drawing and start getting visual out there. Nora Herting: Thanks Brian. Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 268 - Kevin Leland, Founder of Halo and Matt Muller, Dir. of Applied Innovation at Baxter on Open Innovation & Global Connections


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Kevin Leland, CEO and Founder of Halo and Matt Muller, Director of Applied Innovation at Baxter. The three of us talk about the changing world of open innovation and what it takes to connect and collaborate, to solve big industry problems. Let's get started. Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started. Interview Transcript with Kevin Leland, CEO and Founder of Halo and Matt Muller, Director of Applied Innovation at BaxterBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing set of guests. Today, we have Kevin Leland, who is the CEO and Founder of Halo. And Matt Muller, who is the Director of Applied Innovation at Baxter. Welcome. Kevin Leland: Thank you. Brian Ardinger: Hey, I'm excited to have you both on the show to talk about a topic that's near and dear to a lot of folks out there. That's the topic of open innovation and how to corporates and startups and new ideas get started in this whole world of collaborative innovation. Kevin you're the CEO and founder of Halo. What is Halo? And how did you get started in this open innovation space? Kevin Leland: Halo is a marketplace and network where companies connect directly with scientists and startups for research collaborations. It's about as simple to post RFP or a partnering opportunity on Halo as it is to post a job on LinkedIn. And then once it's posted scientists submit their research proposals. We went live in January. Matt and the team of Baxter was our very first customer. So, the earliest of early adopters and they were a really fantastic partner.I came across the idea of Halo and got into open innovation really kind of by accident. The original concept for Halo was crowd funding for medical research. So, a little bit different, but we would work with technology transfer offices at universities to identify promising technology that just needed a little bit of funding to get to the next level.And through that experience, I learned that scientists needed more than just funding. They needed the expertise and the resources of industry. Meanwhile, I was learning how industry was actively trying to partner with these scientists and these early-stage startups, because they realized that they were less good at the early-stage discovery process of research. And so to me, it seemed like an obvious marketplace solution. And so that's where the impetus of the business came and how we started. Brian Ardinger: Let's turn it over to you Matt. From the other side of the table, from a corporation, trying to understand and facilitate and accelerate innovation efforts. What is open innovation mean to you and how did Halo come to play a part in that?Matt Muller: As you mentioned earlier, I'm Director of Applied Innovation here at Baxter and I am in our Renal Care Business. And so that's the business at Baxter that's focused on treating end stage kidney disease. And that's one of Baxter's largest businesses. As a company, we have over $12 billion in sales annually, and dialysis in the renal care businesses, is our largest business unit.And it is an area that we've struggled with innovation. And particularly what we excel at, at Baxter is we excel at treating kidney disease in the home. So, this is a particular therapy called peritoneal dialysis. Patients are able to do it in their home while they sleep. And one of the big challenges that we have today with peritoneal dialysis is that patients need dialysis solution. They use about 12, 15 liters of this sterile medical solution every night to do their therapy. And today the way we do that and the way we've done it ever since this therapy has been around since early seventies is we literally deliver that solution in bags, by trucks. We make it in big plants in the United States and trucks drive all across the country and they deliver it to patients in their home.And as a company, we, for a long time have said, we really need to change this business model. It's not sustainable for us. It requires our patients store a lot of water in their home or the solution rather in their home. And they have to essentially dedicate a whole room of their houses to storage of their supplies.So, we have, for the longest time said, we want to change how this is done. And we want to be able to use the patient's own water in their home. And instead of delivering all these bags of solutions deliver concentrates much like if you go on, you buy a soft drink at the movie theater, it comes from a concentrated box of syrup that is, you add water to it and you have your soft drink. And so that's our vision. And we've struggled for many years of how to bring innovation into the marketplace for making that pure water that we need in the home. We have a lot of very bright scientists at Baxter. The problem is that as Kevin mentioned before, our scientists are really good at solving particular problems in particular getting products to market. Where we've been struggling is that the science has not or at least we haven't been aware of the science that could really allow us to break this barrier and make the leap to be able to make this pure solution medical grade solution in the home. And that's why we've reached out to Kevin and his platform as a way to do that is to go out to a really broad community of researchers to bring new ideas into the company, to help us figure out new ways to approach the problem.Brian Ardinger: The history of open innovation is long. And there's a lot of things that have been tried in the past. Did Baxter try other methods in the past? Or how did you go about trying to determine what things we should innovate internally and try to solve that way versus when and where we go outside for solutions? Matt Muller: I would say as a company, we probably hadn't been as involved specifically in the university and in the startups space. So, a lot of times as a company, we have a lot of people that come to us with ideas and looking for funding. Most of the time, it's a very common proposition that they give you. They need a certain amount of funding, and in three years, they'll have a product. Three years is like the magic number. And the reality is that it's frequently the claims and the charity are very oversold, and we haven't been really successful in that type of space. And so, we've been really looking at different ways to engage a larger community. The other element of it too, is sometimes when you talk open innovation, we're limited by our existing network of people. And so that is the employees and who they work with. Maybe it's the fact we're in Northern Illinois, we're close to Northwestern University and people here have relationships with professors at Northwestern.So, we develop those relationships and the open innovation opportunities through those connections. We've been looking into how do we expand that? Reach a broader audience and get a global connection, so to speak and open to new ideas. Brian Ardinger: And that's a great segue. Kevin, you've worked with companies also besides Baxter out there and that. What are some of the typical mistakes or challenges that you see corporations making when trying to get started in an open innovation.Kevin Leland: First of all get started is kind of the big challenge, because there's still some resistance to open innovation, and even the term open can be scary to some companies because it implies, or it can be interpreted as we're letting all of our competitors know what our strategic interests are. And so, I'm even hesitant sometime about using the word open. I mean, we're really about facilitating partnerships between companies and researchers who have mutually shared interests and can work together to solve problems. Some of the approaches in the past to me just seemed really inefficient, like traveling around the world and going to conferences and hoping you hear somebody speak or get a referral from someone or just call up the universities. Or just more likely to just work with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are just example of select universities as if there couldn't possibly be great research coming out anywhere else.And so that was part of the problem that I was trying to solve with Halo in terms of democratizing access to companies like Baxter for all scientists, regardless of where they are in the world, or what institution, where they reside and making the process a lot easier for both the scientists and for the company.Because one of the reasons that companies don't pass a wider net is because it's a lot of tedious administrative work in terms of emailing and downloading attachments and PDFs. So, the platform is designed to streamline that entire process so they can cast a wider net. The Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationSponsor Voice: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri, that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation uses its $3 billion in assets to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. For more  information, visit and connect with us at and Ardinger: Are there types of businesses or types of challenges that seem to work better when tackled in this open format or open environment? Kevin Leland: We're focused on scientific innovation. So the other key difference is that all of our community are PhDs or part of funded startups. So it's not a challenge site where just anybody can submit an idea. So that's one of the key differences. Brian Ardinger: Are the types of businesses or types of challenges that seem to work better in this type of environment.Kevin Leland: In the case of Halo, we seen everything from very specific requirements that were similar to what Baxter was looking for where they lay out the actual technical requirements of what they're looking for. And then on the other side of the spectrum, we have what Bayer has done, which is a very open-ended call for proposals around the area of sustainable agriculture. And so, the platform is flexible enough that it works for either approach. The key difference, I mean, it really depends on the goal of the company. So in the case of Baxter, a lot of our other customers like Pepsi or Reckitt, they're looking for a very specific solution, to a challenge that they have. Whereas a company like Bayer kind of doesn't know what they don't know, and they're just kind of want to see what's out there.And then from a management perspective, when you do have a very open-ended call, you get a lot more proposals and the more specific requirements the fewer you are going to get. So, it kind of depends on, on what your ultimate strategy is. Brian Ardinger: That's a great way to segue it back to Matt. I'm assuming that your work with Halo is not the only type of innovation initiative that's going on at Baxter. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other innovation efforts that are going on there and how does your work with Halo fit in with those?Matt Muller: As a company, really, a lot of our innovation framework is built into our core business objectives. The way we're structured as a company we're in business units. So, as I said, I work in renal care, so everything, we start with our business and understanding what does that business strategy. Where do we want to play as a company? And then what are the key problems that we want to solve?And I mentioned up front one of the key problems right now that we want to solve, is we want to figure out how to be a more sustainable business and get away from shipping water across the globe. So that's a key strategic initiative for our business. So, then what we define at that point, what are the key elements or the problems that we need to solve in meeting that strategic initiative. One is how do we purify water in the home? And then we figure out what are the ways, you know, based on those specific problems we find we have, what are the best ways to solve that problem?So, in some cases, we're at a point where we need more ideas. Whereas a company, we stagnated and we tried these pathways are not fruitful. We're kind of keep banging our head against the wall. Let's really go out there and see what's out there. And that was an example of what we did with Halo. We also have our own internal engineering organization. We're a global company. So, there are specific things that we may do from an innovation project where we would work on it internally because we feel like we have the internal expertise. Or a lot of times what we will do is we'll look for external partnerships and that may be in the form of through various engineering consulting companies and product development consulting companies that we may partner with because they may have very specific experiences in a space that we're interested in, or maybe an adjacent space.And that's another big element is we get siloed and focused in medical. But there are a lot of adjacent areas where technologies are being developed and, you know, maybe it's the petroleum or refining industry, or maybe it's, you know, some other area of medical that we just don't play in. And we can bring in these consultant firms that just have much broader exposure. And so that's also an element that we look at. So it's really a mix between this open concept like what we do with Halo, engineering consulting and partnerships, and then internal. Brian Ardinger: You know the world is changing so fast and everything is happening so rapidly that it's tough to keep up. Even if you're an expert in your particular industry, like you said, even understanding what's going on in cross industries and that. Kevin, can you talk a little bit about the types of industries that you serve and why a platform like this can give advantage to corporate?Kevin Leland: Yeah, absolutely. I thought it was interesting when Matt was talking about getting inspiration from other industries like oil and gas or petroleum, because that's really what the platform is designed for. Researchers don't necessarily think in terms of what the commercial application is. They think of what their expertise is. And by collecting all this data on what their focus area is and then on the flip side, what companies are interested in, we can more programmatically find connections that in potential partners where otherwise, it would really have no idea that there might be a fruitful opportunity there. In general, we've been focused like broadly on the area of sustainability, which can include anything from sustainable agriculture, like Bayer to sustainable packaging or work with PepsiCo and then water treatment, which is what we did with Matt and his team.So that's a really broad category. We do have a few other opportunities are kind of outside that scope. But we are also looking at doing more in the medicine and pharmaceutical areas as well. Brian Ardinger: Matt, can you talk a little bit about the early days of finding an innovation effort like this? What were some of the challenges or pitfalls or things you had to do to get buy in and then go and actually execute on this particular challenge? Matt Muller: It's hard to sometimes in a large company get traction. And so, you need a champion. And Kevin's known that cause we've actually worked together to help to get that traction within Baxter. I think it helped as we got started because Kevin had some prior connections with some core people at Baxter, which helped to get some initiative.But I think the biggest challenge is getting started and showing the value and gaining the buy-in to get something like this funded internally in a large company. I think a lot of people have an opinion of large companies have endless resources. And can do anything they want. But the reality is everything's looked at very closely.You're constantly getting distracted with the new crisis or the new area of focus. And people are constantly changing roles and companies. So, you need that champion internally. You need to then be able to get that own internal opportunity to influence. To get the approval, to fund something like this.But then secondly, you need the success stories to come out of it, because if you don't have that initial success, chances are that then you're not going to get that momentum and people aren't going to believe in following through with it. And that was key to our relationship here is getting really some initial successes that we could point to. And then things have kind of evolved from there. Brian Ardinger: And that's a great point. I think a lot of companies are naturally more fearful because failing in an existing business model is not a good thing, but yet to innovate, you know, that there are some things that are probably not going to work and that. Open innovation almost gives you some opportunity to try and test and experiment a little bit outside of your core realm.Gives you a little bit more ground cover sometimes to have different types of conversations than you would have, just if it was only internal and working from that perspective. Kevin, what else are you seeing when it comes to the benefits of companies reaching outside of their four walls to create their innovation initiatives? Kevin Leland: The biggest benefit and maybe Matt can speak to this is they're identifying partners that they would have never known about otherwise. So Matt was able to identify a team in Australia. UNSW Sydney. And I don't think Baxter has anyone on the ground there, and probably wouldn't have found that otherwise. And then the secondary benefit is it's almost like a market analysis tool or market intelligence tool because the companies are learning about new technologies and trends and different pockets of innovation around the world that they really didn't have visibility into previously.Brian Ardinger: What are you guys most excited about moving forward?Kevin Leland: I'm really excited to see this working. So, you know, I did a ton of customer discovery before launching Halo. I had dozens of interviews with innovation executives on one side and scientists on the other side. But you never really know until you actually go into the wild and introduce a platform to the users to see if it's going to work. And we've done 20 plus RFPs now since Baxter. We work to put 12 Fortune 500 companies, every one of them has resulted in signed agreements. And, you know, obviously it takes time to see these products into the marketplace, but that's the next thing I'm excited about is when Baxter introduces a new home dialysis device, where patients can make the dialysis solution from their kitchen and don't have to have 900 pounds of solution sitting in their bedroom.Brian Ardinger: Matt, what are you excited about? Matt Muller: Well, I like your vision of the future there, Kevin, first of all. Beyond that, you know, and obviously helping us accelerate, getting the innovative products to market. The other thing that I've really enjoyed is being able to make these broader connections that we never would have before. Kevin used the example of we're connected now with the University of New South Wales on a really interesting research project.But the other thing that this connected us with is a whole network of experts on an NSF Foundation called New, which is very well aligned with some of our core business and research interests that we never would have had before. You know, if we hadn't been involved with this initiative. And so, it's those types of things that also really get me excited because it really helps us.You know, at the end of the day we're scientists. We're engineers. We all like collaborating with other scientists and engineers to solve problems. And this is just exciting because it broadens that network for us even more. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Matt and Kevin, thank you for collaborating here at Inside Outside Innovation and sharing some of the insights on what's working in this new changing landscape that we're in. So, I appreciate you both being on. If people want to find out more about yourselves or the companies and that that you work at, what's the best way to do. Kevin Leland: For me, they can connect with me on LinkedIn. Just search Kevin Leland should be one of the top three, I think, or go to Halo. Science Matt Muller: And similarly, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm Matthew Muller, Director of Applied Innovation, Baxter Healthcare. We also have a company bio description on Kevin's platform. Halo. We also have put out two new challenge statements with respect to some of the key technical challenges that we have in our space. So, you know, go to Kevin's platform and check those out as well, please.Brian Ardinger: Well, Matthew, Kevin, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I look forward to continuing the conversation and thank you very much.Kevin Leland: Thanks Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 267 - Esther Gons, Co-founder of Ground Control & Author of Innovation Accounting on Measure Innovation


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Esther Gons, CEO and Co-founder of Ground Control and Author of the upcoming book, Innovation Accounting. Esther and Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Cofounder, talk about the ins and outs of innovation accounting, and what companies should be doing to track and measure their innovation initiatives. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. Interview Transcript with Esther Gons, CEO and Co-founder of Ground Control and Author of Innovation AccountingBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Esther Gons. She is CEO and co-founder of Ground Control, which is a software platform that helps companies measure innovation and co-author of the corporate startup, and upcoming book Innovation Accounting. Welcome Esther to the show. Esther Gons: Thank you, Brian. I'm really happy to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you on the show. We've had Dan Toma, your co-author of the Corporate Startup and Tendayi Viki on the show in the past. How did you get involved in this innovation space?Esther Gons: I think for me, it's been a journey of entrepreneurship. So, my background is basically being an entrepreneur, starting startups, helping startups. So, I've always been an entrepreneur. And one of my first things that I did when I still was actually in my studies of Information Science was starting a business.And one of the things that I was asked to do by one of the bigger computer companies was building something completely new around their selling of computers. And I think that was one of the first corporate startups that I did, but it wasn't called that way, way back when. But I build over the course of two years, a platform with personal logins, with all sorts of new technologies and things that you could do just to sell their computers, to be able to be working from home. So, blog posts that weren't called blog posts. That was just content from people saying your employees will be so loyal. If you have them working from home, all these kinds of things. I even had other vendors ramped up with furniture, stuff like that. It was an amazing platform. And after two years and a lot of money when we finally launched nothing really happened.And the computer company didn't understand because there were no sales whatsoever and they just simply pulled the plug. But for me, that was a really important event because I was asking myself what went wrong there? What was the risk involved? Was it too early? How could I have known? And that was a search that put me on the path of pioneering and innovation and understanding how you could deal with that. So obviously that platform that failed was 20 years too early. If we look at the situation right now and we needed a COVID pandemic to get there. But yes, that got me into the puzzle, discovering things like the Lean Startup methodology when Steve Blank wrote about it and then working with other entrepreneurs to get it working. To evolve it. To make sure that startups heard about it. So that was when I started to volunteer for a lot of startup activity in Amsterdam. And got involved in that in the tech scene, since I've always been a tech entrepreneur. Brian Ardinger: Your first book, the Corporate Startup really gave corporations that inside look on what it was like and what it is like, to think and act, and move like startups. And create new business models from scratch. And it was a great opportunity to provide a framework for how corporations think about that. Your new book, Innovation Accounting, I'd love to start there. What is innovation? Accounting, and why is it so important? Esther Gons: A lot of corporates asked for metrics. You're absolutely right. But they usually ask for the one metric to rule everything, right? So how are we doing in terms of innovation? And then they use innovation as a catch-all phrase. We want to know about all of our innovation, right? We want to see everything in our portfolio. So, what we've seen with working with a lot of clients, because we like to be practical about things that we write.We want to know that it works. Is that for that startup kind of innovation, which is different from what you do in terms of innovation in the rest of your company, you could be doing a digital transformation. You could be optimizing your current processes with startups. It's all innovation, but if you truly want to do new business model innovation. Breakthrough in disruptive innovation. Then you actually need something else than the processes and the accounting systems that you have in your current company. And we noticed that if people didn't have that new system in place and they were trying to do Lean Startup and they were trying to build new business models, if they didn't have the whole system, the whole package, then it all turned back into incremental innovation again.So, then we thought, well, we have to let people know that if they truly want to do new business model innovation, this kind of disruptive innovation, they can measure that with the indicators that they have in their current company with that current system. Because then it will always fail or turn back into incremental innovation again.So, let's talk about that word innovation accounting, that Eric Ries, once coined as being the system that teams needed to have to be accountable for the decisions they made based on data. And talk about how that evolved into something else. And then what do you need inside a company? What kind of system do you need, need inside of a company to actually measure that kind of innovation?Brian Ardinger: I think that’s such an important point that corporations really need to define innovation and understand the spectrum of it. You know, everything from, like you said, the stuff close to the core of that optimization of what they're currently doing and how that differs significantly from transformational innovation when you're trying to come up with a brand new business model. Why do you think it's so difficult for companies to understand this distinction and be able to do something about it? Esther Gons: For a company, it's ingrained in their system, that their goal is to optimize and grow their current system. Right? That's what they are there for. The CEO has been appointed by the shareholders to do that specific thing. So that means that their whole existence, their future is based on, on executing on that core thing. And that also means that everything that they have gathered around it, their processes, their culture, their people, are based around that. And it's hard to understand something that isn't there yet. Something that is probably really risky. So, if you can't see it, then it's harder to understand and to act around it. So, I think it's actually a good point that you're making Brian, because what we've seen is that if you do not make it visible by either a new system with innovation accounting, or in any other way, then top level, it's hard to make that distinction because you can't see it. You're just seeing the investment that you're making, but you can see what you're doing. And what I always say is that you have to look at it in terms of buckets, right? There's buckets that do not have a really high risk, and that have business goals that are aligned with your core business. So fine, you can do that with the current systems and your investment will have to return something in probably a year, because that's what you're used to.But if you're investing in a high-risk bucket, startups are high risk. I'm a investor myself. So, most VCs know this. This is a high-risk profession, right? You don't know how many will return, what kind of money. And the timelines are vague, could be three years, could be 12 years. So, these high risk buckets needs to have a different approach.But you need to have some sort of visibility in terms of control. So, if you make the bet in your strategy, just that saying, okay, I have business models that are fading. I need to look at the future. Then at least you should have some sort of visibility of what you are doing with that future. So are you betting on a specific innovation thesis like we've described in the Corporate Startup. So, then you want to understand how that is going along. Are we doing well? Are we turning that strategy into, into something really practical? Is your funnel turning into a portfolio? So, you need all kinds of indicators to be able to understand that without falling back to your financial indicator. Because naturally, if you're looking for something that is really new, you're searching and your core business is learning, which means that you do not have a return in Dollars or Euros. You have a return on insights and learnings, and that's what you work for. The Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationSponsor Voice: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri, that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation uses its $3 billion in assets to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity. For more  information, visit and connect with us at and Ardinger: So, let's talk about some of those particular metrics. Traditional metrics might be things like profitability, number of customers, things like that. When you get into, on the innovation front, especially transformational innovation, what are some of the early metrics that you should be looking at? Esther Gons: That sounds really simple, right? And I can give you like three indicators, but it makes sense to sort of understand first that what we understand in terms of innovation accounting is like a whole package of indicators. Because you do not only want to understand every single individual team and how that idea is turning into a business model, right. Because we're talking about that journey from idea to business model, and that is a risky journey because you're searching. But you also want to understand how all of the teams are doing inside of the program that you have. Then you want to understand if you have enough ideas to turn that into future portfolio products or services. Is that going along? Do we need more ideas? Is everything stopped at, I don’t know, stage two then we definitely have to look at what's going on here. And then you need to also understand from a strategic level, if your bets for the future are doing well. And if your total investment in the future is turning into something that you want for the company. So, these are three levels of indicators or different kinds of indicators that have some sort of abstraction from each other, right? So, at a team level, you need to understand things. Then the manager needs to understand things in terms of how are the teams doing? That is abstracted from the team indicators and strategy level.They don't want to understand how every team is doing, but they do want to understand how that is translated into their portfolio strategy, for instance. So, I think it's important to understand that where Eric Ries said innovation accounting is for the teams. If you want to do it within a corporate situation, you want to do it in a different setting. So, you need to manage all these things and you need be sort of aware or in control of how all of these investments are doing. And if there is some return, I don't know, in the future. Brian Ardinger: So, if I'm part of an innovation team and I'm trying to understand if I'm making progress, what should I be looking at? Should I be looking at the number of ideas I'm working on, the number of assumptions that I'm testing? Where should I start? Esther Gons: For me, the most important thing for, for this kind of innovation is understanding that your core business is learning. So that means there need to be teams that are doing a unified way of working and validating with experiments. Methodically de-risking that business model. Right. So that means that you want to understand if they're learning well. So how many learnings did they have? Maybe you can look at a experiment learning ratio so that every experiment have a learning or not. Or are we doing experiments for the sake of experiments, for instance. If you put that against time or against cost. Because learning for teams is essentially the core business. Brian Ardinger: So, the idea of measuring that against velocity, how fast do they learn, and the cost of that learning. Is that what you're looking at?Esther Gons: So as soon as you put learning the core, you can look at these things, right? So, what is the learning philosophy? What is the learning ratio? What is the velocity cost ratio? How much time do they spend in a certain state, for instance, doing the learnings? That makes sense if you look at the learnings. That is their core business. But I wouldn't ramp up everything if you start. And just look at the core business and what you want to improve, because you have these indicators to be able to steer and improve of them.Brian Ardinger: So, at the organizational level, what are some of the metrics at that portfolio level that companies should be using to know if they're making progress? Esther Gons: That's the top level. You mean the strategic level? I think it's important to understand if you look at that strategic level. The indicators are basically, framed around questions. So, from a strategic point of view, what you're doing is trying to understand how much your company is really under risk of disruption. Right? So is your current business model under threat of, or fade or disruption? Then that is really important to understand. So, we always say, if you look at your portfolio to understand how much you should invest in this kind of innovation, then look at your portfolio in terms of business models and not in terms of products. People usually look at it, in terms of products, right? But then if you look at it, in terms of business models, most of these products are, have the same business model, especially in product driven companies. But the question is my company under the risk of disruption, or is innovation driving growth in the company, that will give you an answer into how much of your investment should actually go to disruptive innovation.And that could then translate into indicators like portfolio fade, stuff like that. And the other questions you should ask yourself is how does my company future look like, right? Am I betting in the right direction? So how is the innovation thesis doing in terms of progressing towards newer stages. Or how efficient is my innovation ecosystem, if I look into the average speed of these innovation going through the stages or are my investment returning something in so many years. Brian Ardinger: So, looking at things like how much of my revenue is coming from new initiatives, things along those lines?Esther Gons: Things along those lines, but that's the easiest one. And that's one that corporates usually want to see that. So that's why I usually stay away from those in questions like this, because in essence, of course you want to understand how much of your growth is driven by revenue from these kinds of disruptive innovations. If you are starting out with innovation accounting right now, you won't be seeing that until three years or four years from now.I think it's then better to look at different kind of indicators on a funnel level. So, what is going on in the funnel? How many of these ideas are actually starting? And how many end up in different stages. Is that progressing well. With one of your innovation theses that you defined, because you wanted to bet in that specific future, nothing is happening after the second stage, you should ask yourself, is this the right pieces? Should we look at it again? So, you need to have some insight depending on the maturity level of your innovation ecosystem, to be able to steer towards a better ecosystem. Brian Ardinger: The last topic I want to talk about is you're based in Amsterdam, so I'd love to get your insights, and I'm curious to know what you're seeing as it pertains to European companies and their approach to innovation and how it may differ from what's going on in the U S. Esther Gons: So, the things I've seen in Europe, but maybe in the Netherlands specifically, is that the Lean Startup and the Lean Startup Methodology is a little bit farther ahead than it is in the U S maybe, especially in terms of the systematic approach towards the Lean Startup and how to do that within a corporate. Which I'm really happy about because that sort of helps me with the innovation accounting. And then the other way around in the U S there is within startups, I'm not sure how that is in a corporate world. But within startups, there's far more appetite for risk investment. So, in Europe, we tend to be a little bit risk averse. Show me first, and then can you at least show me a revenue first before we do any kind of innovation? So, you're dependent on really early-stage angels, if you want to prove that revenue first. But that differs in country per country. But if you look at ten European investment funds, that those tend to be a little bit more risk averse then the U S. And you can see that back into the amount of investments. So, if you compare VC investments, in terms of numbers, US are higher than they are in Europe. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Well, I can't wait to go a copy of Innovation Accounting. Your books are always so great because they're visual and they're tactical with templates and guides and that. If people want to find out more about your book or about yourself, what's the best way to do that? Esther Gons: For the book, definitely go to, where we have the table of contents and you can download the resources and also look where you can order, and pre-order the book. If you want to know more about me or my company, then simply go to ToGroundControl.Com or might be a little bit more difficult as EstherEmmelyGons.NL. Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you Esther, for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I look forward to continuing to have these conversations about what makes innovation so great and appreciate your time and your insights. Thank you. Esther Gons: Love to be here Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
  • Inside Outside Innovation podcast

    Ep. 266 - David Schonthal, Professor at Northwestern University & Coauthor of The Human Element on Gaining Traction with New Ideas


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with David Schonthal, Clinical Professor and Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Kellogg School of Management and Coauthor of the new book, The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas. David and I talk about what keeps ideas from gaining traction and what you can do to avoid friction and resistance to new ideas. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week, we'll give you a front row seat to what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.Interview Transcript with David Schonthal, Clinical Professor and Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at Northwestern University and Coauthor of The Human ElementBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation, I'm your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today, we have David Schonthal. He is a Clinical Professor and Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at Northwestern University and Coauthor of the new book, The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance that Awaits New Ideas. Welcome to the show, David. David Schonthal: Thanks, Brian. Nice to be here. Brian Ardinger: Hey, I'm excited to have you here. You have spent a lot of your career thinking about and watching what it takes to make new ideas happen. You've spent time at IDEO. You were co-founder of Matter, which is that 25,000 square foot innovation center in Chicago. Has some venture capital experience and that. And I thought we could start by telling the audience how you got into the innovation space in the first place. David Schonthal: By accident is the answer. It's sort of a long story, but I wound up becoming the COO of a medical device company in San Diego, California based on a radical shift from what I was doing before, which is tax software in London. To make a long story short, one of my former bosses called me up when I was just at my lowest point with tax and the UK, no offense to the UK, but it was winter, and it was like dark 18 hours out of the day. And he called me up and all of a sudden, I just, all I remember is him saying, yada, yada, yada San Diego, yada yada, yada. I was like, oh please.He's like, would you like to know what the business is? I was like, no, not important. So, I wound up going and being the head of operations for an early stage medical device company. And then basically from that point forward was just bit with the bug around bringing new ideas to market either in the startup space, through entrepreneurship or venture capital or in the corporate space through design and innovation.Brian Ardinger: And you've got a new book called the Human Element. I would imagine it packs a lot about the things that you've learned over that career. Since you've spent a lot of time seeing how early ideas get traction or not, what is the most striking problem that you see most people making when it comes to kicking off an idea?David Schonthal: I think maybe the best place to start is by most innovators and entrepreneurs’ instinct that the idea is the thing that needs to be addressed. So, if a new product or service or strategy isn't being adopted by the market, most innovators instincts says well, let's make the product a little better. Let's change the way we talk about it. Let's drop the price. Let's promote it differently. And they make the thing or the strategy or the movement, the center of their attention. And in the course of my career, I've worked on some really amazing, I mean, some terrible, but also some really amazing innovations and products and services. And I was always surprised by how, even though clearly if these things were adopted into the market, they would make the world a better place, no matter how much we tweaked or change the idea that wasn't always the key to success of getting it introduced.And so about four years ago, turned my attention to thinking about what is it that stands in the way of change and partnered up with one of my colleagues at Kellogg, who was a behavioral psychologist named Loran Nordgren. And together we've been studying this problem from both the applied side, as well as the theoretical side.And that was the genesis of the book, which is that our instincts about innovation are too heavily biased on making the thing more appealing and not focused enough on helping the market adopt it by removing the friction that stands in the way. Brian Ardinger: Yeah. I love that. You kind of start off the book, this battle between what do you call fuel and friction. The idea that a lot of times, just to make an idea better, all you have to do is add more facts or more features or try to get more folks bought into it. But really, it's a lot about how do you eliminate the frictions around that? So, in the book you talk about four frictions. Let's outline and tell the audience how they can avoid them.David Schonthal: Sure. So, if you think about a new idea, like an airplane leaving the ground or a projectile flying through the air. Fuel, to your point Brian, are all of the things that propel that idea forward. The need that the customer has, features and benefits, promotional strategies, but like an airplane leaving the ground there are also forces that stand in the way, whether it's wind resistance or sheer or gravity. And so, the book is really focused on these forces, these headwinds of innovation and the four that we specify in the book, the four frictions, our number one inertia, which is our desire as human beings to tend to stick with the status quo. Despite the fact that we know the status quo might be imperfect, our habits are surprisingly powerful. And so, recognizing that inertia is a play anytime you're trying to get somebody to change from what they're doing today, to what you'd like them to do tomorrow. Effort is the second one. All of the ambiguity, all of the costliness, all of the exertion required to get somebody to make that change. The third friction is emotion. All of the anxiety and fear that comes along with changing from something that you do today to something you do tomorrow. And you might not think that emotion comes into play for small things, but emotion comes into play when you're buying a pack of gum or when you're putting on a new shirt.And then the fourth is what we call reactants, which is people's aversion to being changed by others. And each of them show up in varying degrees, depending on what you're working on in spotting them appropriately forecasting them ideally, so that they can be muted and mitigated is really the key. Brian Ardinger: And a lot of those frictions, they're almost not necessarily irrational, but they're definitely not something that you can take an economic model and say, well, clearly there's a cost benefit analysis and everybody should end up on this side of it because of the cost benefit analysis. But there's a lot of underlying things. And it seems a lot of this frictions around ambiguity or being comfortable with failure. How can you get folks more comfortable with that environment of ambiguity? David Schonthal: There's a couple of things that are packed into that question. Number one, ambiguity maps to the friction of effort. Effort we assume is like exertion, which is how much time and money will it take me to make a change. But you're pointing out appropriately that the other way effort comes in is ambiguity or a lack of clarity about how to go about doing something.And sometimes that ambiguity can be so overwhelming that people are afraid to get started because they don't necessarily know how to get started. We talk in the book about a couple of methodologies specifically around helping people with ambiguity. One is around road mapping in simplification. Oftentimes our desire to get people to change is to like keep adding or keep making something better, add facts or add arguments to get somebody to change from what they're doing, to what you'd like them to doing.I mean, just look at vaccines. For example, in the states. Like there's no ambiguity about the evidence that vaccines help protect against severe illness. There is no ambiguity. There is no doubting, the fact that if you get vaccinated, it will make the world a safer place. But that doesn't stop people from having resistance to that idea.And one thing might be around the ambiguity about how to go about getting a vaccine. One might be around the perceived effort of getting a vaccine. The fear about getting a vaccine. And so understanding why people do or don't do the things that they do is really the key to addressing it. So simplification, streamlining, making unfamiliar ideas more familiar. Oftentimes innovators have this instinct that because their idea is new and radical. We need to highlight its newness and its radicalness is part of its allure. Oftentimes that actually works against us because the newer and more radical something seems the less familiar it is. And the more anxiety we have about how we're going to start to use it. And the great example of that comes from Apple. And if you're old enough audience to remember the introduction of the Macintosh OS. In addition to creating a new machine, one of the things that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created was a created was a new operating system for how computers are used. And unlike PCs or DOS-based systems, which you really needed to learn the language of computers in order to do something on a computer, Steve Jobs and other great innovators tend to have their products and services operate the way the rest of your world works.So, when you're working on an Apple home screen, you're working on a desktop. And when you're creating a document and you want to store that document, you put that document in a folder. And when you want to get rid of it, you drag it into the trashcan. And these might seem sort of like cute user interface principles, but these were deliberately designed to make something wildly unfamiliar to people who had never worked on a computer to immediately feel more comfortable with it because it works, sounds, and it feels the way the rest of your world works. So even though something is new, doesn't mean that it should be projected as radically.Brian Ardinger: So, if I'm a new innovator or I'm a startup entrepreneur, I've got a new idea I want to start building that out. Do you recommend mapping out these particular frictions or how do you find out what your audience or what your customers are fearful about? David Schonthal: That's a great question. There are a couple of tools we bring to life in the book. One is called a Friction Map, which is anticipating the frictions that might stand in the way of your new ideas. So, it is a document that you can fill out with your team. Where you forecast based on some clear questions that are asked in the Map. What is the relevance? What is the amount of inertia that might be present? What's the amount of effort, friction that might be present? Emotional friction that might be present in reactants? And then there's another framework around remedies. How might you take each of these frictions, test them in the market, but also test possible remedies to overcome. And the more you can bring this into your design process.So, people will fill out a Business Model Canvas based on Osterwalder's work, or they'll fill out a Horizons Framework as they're forecasting what opportunities might exist. We also recommend filling out a Friction Map, which is what are the forces of resistance that might stand in the way. And what might we prototype to overcome those forces as a way of introducing this product or service or strategy.Brian Ardinger: And then do you go out and actually test those assumptions? David Schonthal: Absolutely. Each of them can be prototyped. And yes, testing them with different audiences, testing different ways of communicating or making unfamiliar things familiar. Or identifying the sources of emotional friction so that they can be addressed in the messaging, and the way products are communicated. All are easy enough to test in low fidelity and oftentimes save us a lot of effort down the road when it comes to scaling offers up. Brian Ardinger: One of the other things I liked about the book is that you have not only these frameworks, that people can understand the methodology and that around it, but you also bring out some case studies in the book. And one of them is around Flyhomes, which is a startup company that built a new business model in the real estate space, designed to address some of the frictions in the market. So, can you talk a little bit about that case study? David Schonthal: It's a great story. So Flyhomes, for those of you who are living in the United States while you're watching this can appreciate, we are in the midst of a bananas housing market, residential housing market. Debt has never been cheaper. Inventory has never been lower. And as a result, desirable homes are just flying off the market almost the same day that they're listed, which creates a whole conundrum for people who are trying to buy homes, particularly first-time home buyers. Because when inventory is low, typically the offers that get accepted by sellers, particularly when they have multiple offers, are all cash offers or offers that are perceived to be low risk. And low risk offers are ones that don't have contingencies attached to them. Don't have home sale contingencies. Don't have loan contingencies. In order to compete, in order to get a home buyer, you have to either bring all cash to the table or convince sellers that despite the fact that they've got these contingencies, that there's actually a high degree of certainty, that something will close.Flyhomes is a business that helps address this problem by making all buyers, all cash buyers, they have focused their business model on removing the friction that stands in the way of somebody buying a home in simultaneously removing the friction that stands in the way of a seller accepting the new one offer forum.They didn't start this way. Flyhomes began, in fact, the namesake doesn't come from homes flying off the market. It came from the fact that Stephen Lane and Tushar Garg who were young entrepreneurs, started the business by thinking, all right, in the world of real estate tech, in the world of residential real estate tech, the big names or the new market innovations where things like Trulia and Zillow and Redfin, that had two primary value propositions.One we're either going to take all home inventory off the MLS that exists only for real estate agents, and we're going to democratize it and make it so that anybody who's interested in looking at homes can see all available inventory, which is great. And then the second thing they typically did was discount brokerage. Meaning that if you worked with one of their agents, you would get cash back, they would discount their service fee and you would get some of that back in a rebate. And Steve and Tushar figured there was probably more that could be done in this market. And they being millennials themselves in doing some research, found that millennials, in addition to wanting to own homes, also desired travel, adventure, freedom.And why is it that when we make big purchases on electronics or appliances on a credit card, we get all the benefits that come with a credit card, like points and travel miles. Why don't we get something like that with homes? And so, they created a product called Flyhomes, which is for every dollar you spend on the purchase of a new home, up into a half a million dollars, you would get points on an airline.And they partnered with Alaska and Jet Blue. And Jet Blue actually sent out this mass email to all their frequent flyers saying we're now in this arrangement with Flyhomes, buy a home through Flyhomes get up to 500,000 frequent flyer miles on Jet Blue. In the first day, thousands of people signed up for the platform.And Steve and Tushar looked at themselves like this is going to be huge. And then nothing. Like nothing happened. Nobody was buying a home through Flyhomes. Nobody was actually using the service. There was enough alure or to the idea that got people interested to like check it out and sign up. But that wasn't actually helping people make the progress. They really wanted to make, which wasn't getting 500,000 airline points. It was actually getting the home that they wanted. Flyhomes could address the real problem or address the real progress. All of these bells and whistles wouldn't make things easier. It would just be bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles.So almost at the point of going out of business, they decided to pivot. And because they both had their real estate license started selling real estate. And by studying people in this kind of ethnographic way and actually getting out and selling real estate as realtors, they understood that the problem wasn't the points in adventure.The problem was is that people desired homes in competitive markets that they were unable to access. And after two or three chances of putting in bids and having those bids rejected, people were just giving up on real estate all together. And so Steve and Tushar decided that if they could help address the problem of democratizing the ability for home buyers to buy homes in really competitive markets, that would be a revolutionary change. That would really change the game. And so, they pivoted over from points to friction removal. And today. Flyhomes is growing like crazy. They do billions of dollars a year in transactions. They just raised a really big Series C at $150 million. It's all because they changed their business model from fuel addition to friction removal.Brian Ardinger: Excellent example. Now you've got a number of them in the book and that. What other hidden gems in the book that people should be excited about when they pick it up? David Schonthal: I think the most interesting stories and we try to have as many of them as possible in the book, so the ones that are counterintuitive. Like the ones that really check our biases and our assumptions about what we think the right way to do something is relative to what the science and the data tells us. And one of the things that I think readers who read this book will find is that in many cases, our instincts about what we ought to do to affect change are actually in some ways the opposite of what we ought to do to impact change.And we actually start the book off with a really fun story about the world's most successful car salesperson. A guy named Ali Reda, who works in suburban Detroit, in Dearborn, Michigan. Who outsells every other average car dealer in the United States, by a factor of 12 to one. He single-handedly sells as many as 1500 cars a year, which is more than most dealerships sell in total.And when you study Ali, and when you interview him and when you understand how he approaches car sales, that is so much different than his peers, what you learn is that he just frames his job radically different than every other salesperson. And I won't divulge too much about the secrets of how, but there's lots of examples in this book about how people who go left when everybody else goes right. And to succeed, but it's not just that they go left, it's understanding the psychology of what it is that they're doing differently than enables them to experience that success. Which is really, I think the beautiful thing about partnering with Loren on this is not only do we have examples about how these things work in practice, but we can also help people understand why they work psychologically.Brian Ardinger: So, you've been in this innovation industry for quite a long time. What are some of the biggest changes that you've come across and how do you see the innovation space kind of evolving? David Schonthal: That is a, the ability for people to create new ideas and make them real has never been easier. The cost of starting a new business, the cost of creating a new product or service with digital technology has enabled everybody who once had an idea on a napkin sketch.You now have the ability to make that sketch into something real and tangible and available in the market. And what I find now is, we've got a different problem, which is that the world is flooded with new ideas and flooded with new technologies. And whereas before it used to be hard to make an idea into a real thing. Now it's getting people to notice and pay attention and actually adopt your real thing. And one of the ways that we think about doing it is spending a lot of money on marketing and advertising and SEO and SEM. And yes, that's part of building awareness. But we don't often think about awareness as being one side of the equation. The other side is how do you make it easy for people to say yes. Well, one of the things we noticed about new products and services, particularly when you're creating a new consumer product is people will learn about it. They'll even go to the website, they'll put it in their cart, but at the moment before they check out, they'll abandon their cart, which means you've done half the job, right.You've gotten them interested to come to the site at the beginning. You've gotten them interested enough in the features and benefits to actually add that, or imagine that in their lives, but something is holding them back from actually pulling the trigger. And I think, now we've created a world where making the idea come to life has never been easier. But how do we make sure that it's easy for people to adopt that into their lives so that they can say yes, and to get noticed in that way. It's no longer about features and benefits. Now it's just about making things as frictionless and as effortless as possible for people to adopt. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: And the great thing about that is that's becoming easier as well. And people like yourself are helping in that process. So, David, thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to tell us a little bit about some of the secret sauce behind all that. I encourage people to pick up The Human Element. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what's the best way to do that? David Schonthal: is a landing page that shares information about the book. You can find me on the Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management faculty page, just Google my name, David Schonthal. And usually, you can find me there and I'd love to hear from you. Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you David, for being on the show and look forward to continuing the conversation as the years and the innovation evolve. David Schonthal: Thanks Brian. Me too. It was great to be here. Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 265 - Sarah Stein Greenberg, ED of Stanford's d.School and Author of Creative Acts for Curious People on Exercises to Move Ideas Forward Faster


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Sarah Stein Greenberg, Executive Director of Stanford's d.School. Sarah and I talk about her new book, Creative Acts for Curious People and dig into a number of the exercises and activities that innovators can use to move ideas forward faster. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we'll bring you latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you'll need to thrive as a new innovator. Interview Transcript of Sarah Stein Greenberg, ED of Stanford's d.School and Author of Creative Acts for Curious PeopleBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Sarah Stein Greenberg. She's the Executive Director of Stanford's d. School and author of the new book, Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create and Lead in Unconventional Ways. Welcome to the show, Sarah. Sarah Stein Greenberg: Thanks so much, Brian. I'm really excited to be here. Brian Ardinger: You know, as a person in the trenches, trying to help companies and teams think through the innovation process. It's kind of hard-to-get people on board half the time. And you've taken and created this new book, that's really the tactical guide of exercise and experiences, almost a roadmap for that. What made you decide to tackle this topic and what do you hope for folks to get the most out of it? Sarah Stein Greenberg: Oh, great question. We're living through this historic moment right now, where on nearly a daily basis, each of us are trying to solve problems that we have not faced before. So, as we were getting going, we were talking about the challenge of having one kid vaccinated. One kid not vaccinated. People are back in school. There's lots of different risk factors. Folks are starting in some cases to return to offices. Like what's the new social etiquette. And then at the same time, there are these like community level issues or global issues around whether it's wildfires, which are happening in my area, or really different perspectives about politics that we're experiencing all over the country.And it's a lot of ambiguity and a lot of uncertainty. So, while we might be used to thinking about like, how do we apply our creativity to innovation and coming up with new products and services, there's also this whole realm of use for our creative abilities that has to do with these kinds of both small personal and large global challenges.So, I wrote this book because I think that design offers a set of abilities that are really useful when you're trying to tackle problems where you don't know the right answer. Maybe there is no right answer, and you have to bring your full creative self. These are the kinds of skills and abilities that we seek to help develop in our students at the d. School and with executives and teachers and folks all over the world. And I think there's something in here for everyone, no matter where you are in your creative journey. I think you can find something that will be of use to you. Brian Ardinger: A lot of folks are understanding that to a real extent this idea of living in constant change and ambiguity and a world in flux. What are some of the key skillsets that you find are important to be able to dabble in that world?Sarah Stein Greenberg: One is the act of noticing and observing how the world is changing. And, you know, we get really habituated to the routines and the things we see every day. But when you look at what amazing designers do, somehow, they see opportunities that no one else is noticing. But there are really a set of ways, I have a few great assignments in the book based on this to cultivate your own ability to observe and notice differently.So, one of my favorites is called the Dureve, in which you are able to take a walk and navigate around a space or your neighborhood, or your office building, by using the practices in the Dureve. All of a sudden you notice things that maybe have been there for 25 years, and you haven't noticed these elements. And it awakens you to recognize how many opportunities are around us all the time that are just lying in plain sight, but we are not seeing them. So that's one of those skillsets. I think another key one is just, we talk about this all the time in innovation and design, but it's about collaboration. Right. And how you get to a state of true creative collaboration and how much trust that requires, an openness, and the ability to navigate together with a group of people who may think very differently about the same things through a creative process.Brian Ardinger: You talk about in the book, the difference between problem finding and problem solving. Can you outline that and why that is so important to understanding how to work in this innovation space? Sarah Stein Greenberg: Yeah. I mean, for me, that was one of the critical ahas that I experienced when I first started learning about design when I was a grad student. You know, I think in a lot of more analytical disciplines, you are taught to take the problem that you've been given, break it into small pieces and then figure out how are you going to solve that? And that is a very valuable set of skills, but in design, we add some stages before you start working on problem solving. That's about problem framing, as you said. And the reason for doing this is that often the way a problem has been framed is a conventional way, right? It's kind of the way that's either out there and sort of the obvious way. It is what we assume that our customers might need, or we assume that people would care about. But in fact, if you allow yourself that stage of problem finding that's often what drives the innovation, is when you reframe an opportunity and then you start to see it in a whole new way. Brian Ardinger: Do you have any examples that you can share around that? Sarah Stein Greenberg: Yeah. One of the examples that I go into detail in the book is the example of a team of students who ultimately wound up founding a new company. And they were tasked with working with a partner, a hospital, a cardiac care hospital in India. And they thought that their mission as a team was to design something that could really assist with like efficiency or sort of patient flow. They thought that they were going to wind up designing something for either the clinicians or maybe for the hospital administrators. What they saw when they started doing their research was a completely different set of opportunities. What they spotted was the fact that there are many people in the hospital who were coming to accompany their family member and then winding up waiting for hours or days even, and not having a lot of information about how their family member was doing, what their prognosis was.The students really like feed into this and wound up designing something for those family members. So they have now launched this organization that provides healthcare training to family members during that waiting process. And what that allows is that the patient then goes home with a trained caregiver who actually has the largest stake in the outcome, the health outcomes.And they've trained over a million people. They work in over 150 hospitals across South Asia. It's a really unconventional solution. It's so powerful because they just took this completely ignored opportunity and created a very low cost, very effective solution that helps reduce the rate of hospital readmissions. It reduces complications following surgery. Those students would not have been able to get to that outcome if they didn't have the permission to really do the problem finding work, right. And not take the problem as given but find a new opportunity. Brian Ardinger: I think that's so important because when you work with corporate teams, a lot of times they think they understand the problem because they've worked with that customer before, they understand a lot of the dynamics versus like a startup. Maybe that's working in a green space idea. What kind of advice can you give for a team that's working in an existing environment to give them permission, to think about things differently and tackle the problem side first. Sarah Stein Greenberg: I'm going to give two examples of assignments in the book that I think are incredibly relevant for the scenario that you just depicted. And neither of them are a huge investment of time. So, when people are always worried about like, hey, we just got to jump right into problem solving mode, taking one day or even just a couple of hours to check whether or not there might be solution space is it's such a good investment of time. The first one that I'll mention is an activity called Experts Assumptions. And it's based on the practice of Assumption Storming. Everybody knows about brainstorming, but there's a really cool practice created by a guy named Craig Lauchner called Assumption Storming, where you list all the assumptions that you have about what your customer needs, or what the market opportunity looks like.I really list all of them. And then you start categorizing them based on whether they're fact or opinions or guesses. And actually, what you discover is there's a lot more opinions and guesses, behind most of our assumptions, than you would think. Anything that's a fact you just disregard for the sake of the exercise, but anything that's an opinion or a guess, you challenge that.So, you flip it and you say, well what if this opinion were not true, what could we design them? What could we make then? And oftentimes it just reveals that like our assumptions are built on this foundation of a lot of guesswork and it gives you the opportunity to do that right up front when you're starting something.The other practice that I would advise in this case is called shadowing. And shadowing is just the practice of following in the footsteps of whoever you're trying to design for for a full day. We have a lot of experience running this with educators who follow a student for the entire day, from the bus stop to the drop off at the end of the day.And they come back with the most interesting and unexpected insights, right? So those are people who are in the school context all day. They think they really understand what's going on, but until you put yourself in the shoes or you walk in the shoes of someone else, you don't realize how much of the experience might be altered from having that different perspective. And again, it helps you challenge those assumptions, and it helps you spot all of these opportunities for creative work or innovation that you haven't noticed yet. Brian Ardinger: So, you've worked with a lot of teams, and they'd gone through a lot of these types of exercises and that. What are some of the biggest aha moments or obstacles and where do people get stuck and how do they overcome it? Sarah Stein Greenberg: I love it when people get stuck, because that means it's a challenge worthy of their creative abilities. I think getting stuck has a bad rap, but actually it means you're doing important work and you're stretching and you're learning. One place where we often see students in our classrooms get stuck is during the phase when you're trying to light on the direction for your project, kind of synthesis phase, establishing a point of view.I also see our teams get stuck when everybody's gone off and done the exploration research separately. And nobody has actually like gone to interview users together and had the aha that comes from having two different people interpret, oh, is that what that person was saying? There's a real missed opportunity there.And then there was a wonderful moment of feeling the pressure of the final deadline that often causes a lot of angst and tension within a team. And what those moments often are is what's called productive struggle. So, there's research from mathematics education that says that when you struggle, when you're first trying to learn a new skill in math, you actually wind up learning it more deeply. And you're more likely to be able to transfer that knowledge to other kinds of problems. And so people who kind of get things right away the first time, that doesn't mean they're deeply learning. So again, I welcome the struggle. I think the struggle can be a sign that the task is worthy of your attention and that you're going to have to stretch and grow while you're conquering it.Brian Ardinger: One of the things that I've seen working with teams, a lot of times that keeping the momentum and the consistency is difficult. A lot of times they go and get excited, and they go out and do customer discovery and then they think they can check it off the list and then be done with it. Do you have any hints or tips for, how do you keep that momentum and consistency not get pulled away to the executing and optimizing mode, that too many people get pulled?Sarah Stein Greenberg: Really establishing upfront that you're going to go back to customers multiple times is critical. When you first interpret whatever you learned during that exploration and research, you can kind of be like, oh, I'm onto it. Like I've got this new idea. It's new to me. It's exciting. But if you don't actually go back and test your assumptions by exposing those early prototypes to real people, then you're not really closing the loop.So, treating those first insights as a hypothesis, but then continuing to test and make sure that you're getting real feedback from the market or from colleagues or from anyone who has an external perspective to the work, I think that's what really helps you avoid that pitfall that you're describing.And a lot of people, you know, it is easy to get into that like solution optimization mindset. And a lot of that comes from this sense of, I need to work fast. In my opinion, and I think the experience with, you know, a lot of innovators would bear this out, if you take the time to do those tests, you really save yourself risk. Right.You really help get the right product to market or the right innovation going rather than some kind of more arbitrary internal deadline. It's so easy to like lose sight of that fact in the pursuit of, you know, getting to the preexisting timeline rather than actually thinking about what is right here, how am I solving the right problem? How am I going to come up with something that's truly meaningful to some customer somewhere? Brian Ardinger: The key is accelerating the learning, not necessarily the outcome itself. Sarah Stein Greenberg: Yeah, I think that's right. And I think the learning also is useful to a company or a team, not just in this particular project, but then going forward. So, if you think about, am I optimizing for learning, what am I really doing to make sure we come out of this project, having a great outcome, but also like setting the team up for success in the future. That's the exact right mindset. That's the learning mindset that you want to cultivate. Brian Ardinger: So, as you're out in Silicon Valley at Stanford. So, technology is obviously a core component of the whole region. How do you see technology changing the way we design and some of the new trends that you're seeing out there? Sarah Stein Greenberg: One thing we've all gone through in the past 18 months is much more remote collaboration, particularly for many people in the world of design than we have experienced before. And I think that that's been certainly a challenge, but it's also provided a lot of new opportunities to design new types of interactions, new types of practices. So, there are increasingly ways to be testing at scale through online platforms that we maybe haven't used in the past. Personally, still think that has to be complemented by the kind of depth human, you know, more individual, small qualitative research approaches. I think a blend is really useful. It's challenged all of our teams in terms of how do you build trust? How do you build resilience? How do you build the kind of collaboration that we're talking about be necessary when you're not, it's easy to have less empathy for your team members when you're not seeing them every day? And you know, not maybe scheduling in time to have those more human conversations that kind of coffee chat just happens in a in-person office environment. I think you can design for that remotely in a distributed culture, but you have to be conscious that that's an important thing that you value. Brian Ardinger: Like I said, there's, I think over 80 types of activities or exercises that you have in this book. Are there particular ones that you like or want to talk about?Sarah Stein Greenberg: Sure. I mean, one example that I'll give, and I feel like this is the epitome of what we talk about when we say these are unconventional approaches. So, one of my favorites is an activity that I lead every year with students called Distribution Prototyping. So, this is like phenomenal for small businesses or large businesses. Too often in design or in engineering we like think about the thing that we want to make or the service we want to deliver, but we don't think about how it's actually going to reach the customer. That's such a miss because there is so much innovation and creativity that can happen in the distribution and the marketing and the sales experience and all of that.So, thinking more broadly about where innovation can show up, that's a favorite idea of mine. And in this particular assignment, I have people stretch a string across the biggest room they have, or the longest hallway that they have. And then imagine the thing that they're trying to deliver to the customer at one end and the place where it's either being the person being trained to deliver the service, or you know, where it's being manufactured at the other end.And then systematically you hang cards using paperclips or whatever you have at hand to represent all of the different steps along the channel. And there's something very powerful about the embodiment of that, right? Like you can get your head around it. You can build a model. You can put it on a spreadsheet.It doesn't do as much for you as if you physically do what's called body storming and make that physical representation. So, you will have kinds of insights about, oh, we could cut some costs here. Ooh, this could be a really nonsense traditional agent in my channel who might really change how people are experiencing the delivery of the service. Or you might think differently about the economic arrangements or some way to incentivize retailers that you haven't thought about before. So that's one of my favorites. That's really what I'm taking a string and putting it... That is the kind of embrace of the more playful unconventional approaches that can really work. Brian Ardinger: Yeah, that literal mapping of a customer journey gives you so many different dimensions to look at. It's almost like the whole business model canvas versus a running of a business plan. It gives you a visualization of things that you can move around and change. I really like that. Sarah Stein Greenberg: Yeah. And I would say like the visualization is a huge part of it. And then that one step further into the physicalization is like, there is a reason that when you walk into any design studio, it is usually cluttered with so many different objects. It's because designers think with things and there is some really magical part of your brain that gets lit up. When you do that. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: I appreciate you being on Inside Outside Innovation, to talk a little bit about the book it's called Creative Acts for Curious People. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what's the best way to do that? Sarah Stein Greenberg: They can reach us at We are going to be delighted to get this into people's hands as soon as possible. Brian Ardinger: Go and grab it at Amazon or wherever books are sold. And we're excited to have you on the show and thanks very much for being a part of it.Sarah Stein Greenberg: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 264 - Wayne Li, Director of Design Bloc & Professor of Design and Engineering at Georgia Tech on Design, Design Thinking and Changing Trends


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Wayne Li, Professor of Practice of Design and Engineering, School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech and Director of Design Bloc. Wayne and I talk about the growing importance of design and design thinking, and we explore some of the changing trends when it comes to technology, tools, and tactics for building new products and services that matter. Let's get startedInside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we'll bring you latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you'll need to thrive as a new innovator.Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Wayne Li. He is Professor of Practice of Design and Engineering, School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, Director of Design Bloc. Welcome to the show, Wayne.Wayne Li: Hi thanks. Thanks Brian. Thanks for having me. Brian Ardinger: Hey, I'm excited to have you on, because you have had a long career in this whole world of design and innovation. You were a founding class member at the Stanford You've worked with great companies like Ford and Pottery Barn and VW. And I think you were a part of the original team that helped develop the original Tesla Roadster. I think I'll start off the conversation with where you're currently at with Design Bloc and how it got has origin. Wayne Li: Design Bloc is a multidisciplinary Design Thinking initiative on Georgia Tech Campus. So, you can think a center. We try to bridge different schools and colleges. Think like a large university, they're separated in different units or colleges. You have a college of engineering and college of design, college of natural sciences.And what Design Bloc tries to do is to teach in a multidisciplinary type of way. And so we partner with professors from all over the Institute to try to offer courses that teach not only Design Thinking, but do it in a way that bridges more than one unit, more than one college. We have things like Bio-inspired Watercolor Painting all the way to Transportation Design.Community Engagement and Service, like a humanitarian design project. And again, you can see that those problems exist. They exist beyond just the sphere of one unit. For example, you're saying, okay, I'm going to address developing countries energy grid. That's not just engineering that requires public policy. It requires cultural engagement and community knowledge. You have structure or architecture there. So, you can see a problem like that is multifaceted. We shouldn't be teaching in a siloed or singled mono disciplinary manner. You know, I learned this really early on, probably back when I was still in college, actually. But I worked at IDEO product development very early on in my career.You know, I think the reason why it came to be like, you mentioned, like, you know, what is it, how did it get started? Was that when I went to undergraduate, I was both a fine arts and engineering major. I kind of saw how the perception of an object, its beauty, its appearance, had a cultural relevance to it.And then you coupled that with how well it was engineered. How well it was built. What it was actually intended to function as and whether or not those mesh together well. And I think that's kind of what got me to my work at IDEO. But I think that was the benefit. And so about almost seven years ago, an alumnus from Georgia Tech, Jim Oliver, went back and visited the Institute and just notice that the College of Engineering and the College of Design really didn't talk to each other that much. Even though he himself had had a similar background. In undergraduate, he also had a mechanical engineering and industrial design background just like me.So, he basically put out a search and said, I want someone. I will donate a certain sum of money. And I want someone to establish this kind of initiative, whose goal it is to teach students in a more well-rounded way. And so, I'm very lucky and very blessed after a nationwide search that I managed to get it. That's kind of how it came to be.So, we started about six, seven years ago with basically one class. With 8 students to 12 students in it. And now we teach about 20 classes a year, with about a thousand to 2000 students. Right? So, it has grown. It's wonderful to see it. I love being the director of it and seeing it grow and getting partners and collaborators who are really psyched about it.And the cool thing is, yeah, you actually see professors who have a PhD in something, so they're very, very intelligent about something. All of a sudden get intrigued, like I never thought of myself as a designer. Well, everyone, little d design. Brian Ardinger: That's an interesting point because obviously people are beginning to understand that design is a core component of every facet of their life nowadays. But tell me a little bit about like what's the process of Design Bloc and how do you go from an idea to creating something valuable in the market? So, walk me through the whole process of Design Bloc. Wayne Li: Design Bloc, the initiative, right? Is you, like you mentioned, I did my graduate work at Stanford. We were in the class that helped to found the Stanford So, let's take like the little d design. Don't think like I'm a fashion designer or I'm a software designer or I'm a car designer. Let's take the little d design. So, design, if we just think about design process, right. Stanford has a certain method for their design process. They call it Design Thinking Process. But if we just think of it as a process, when anyone goes through steps or goes through mindsets or phases in order to create something, they go through a design process. Design is a very flexible word. It's like Smurf, it's the only word where you can almost use it like six or seven times and still get the actual understanding.Like I could say, well, I'm designing a design that will design a design to design. So, and you'll be like, what? But that would make sense, right? I'm designing a design; I'm creating a blueprint that will create a robot that will actually learn and make something of use. That's what it is. The idea of course, is that when they build anything. They're going through what we consider a process, a design process. And again, this isn't something that necessarily is taught at an Institute. You know, an Institute will teach physics, or it'll teach mathematics or Latin. They're not actually teaching the process of how you create novel, useful, effective ideas, right, for society. The Design Thinking processes that Stanford created along with the Hasso-Plattner Institute in IDEO. Talks about how can you hone and better your design process regardless of what it is. Regardless of what you're building. So, I think in that sense, Design Bloc is also trying to create courses that allow students to learn about the design process, hone it, and foster good mindsets and behaviors as they go through it.Like for example, with pick something relatively trivial, but let's just for kicks. You get up in the morning and you want to make eggs for your partner or your wife or your spouse. That's a design process, right? You're making something that serves a need or a benefit to someone or some entity. So technically you went through a design process.Now the question is, if you think about it, if you really wanted to make eggs well for your spouse or partner, what would you have to do? Well, you kind of needed to know what they like. So, if they love poached eggs and you give them hard-boiled, they might not like that. And then you also have to be creative.You have to know how many different ways can you make eggs. You also have to think about whether or not it gets well received. Obviously, if you don't know your partner or spouse very well, and you make horrible eggs for them, they'll let you know about it. So sooner or later, and of course that last part is the cycles, the iteration, the more and more you do it, the better you get at it.Right. The better you get at making eggs, the better you get at making the eggs the way your partner or your spouse likes them. So, you can imagine that's another, like a semi trivial one day activity. But whether or not you're making eggs, an electric car, a public policy, a courtroom drama, novella, all of those are design processes. Now apply it to something more serious and you get my drift. Brian Ardinger: Is there a standard iteration of step one, do this step two do this. Or is a lot of it driven by the learnings that you find by moving the idea forward in the first place? Wayne Li: Yeah, no, this is great because I mean, there are many design practitioners and researchers and, you know, people who are designed professors, people who study design, and the people who practice it, who have put terminology around their design process. You might hear these in the industry, right. You know, Google will say, well, we use Design Sprint, it's an Agile Methodology. You might hear maybe a traditional company say, well, we use a double diamond approach, right? Where we go out and we go in, they have their terminology. And of course Stanford's Design Thinking Process is empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, or evaluate. And they've put words to that. I think when people get a little bit tripped up on is when they hear things defined with either a series of words or a diagram that like, it looks like it moves to the right.It's like, oh, arrow, arrow, arrow moves to the right. They get into this mindset that if I blindly follow a process from start to finish, I will be guaranteed a great result. And that's where I think practitioners understand that the design process is not linear. It's messy, it's cyclical. It repeats it folds on itself. It goes backwards. You jump two steps forward or back. Part of it is the sense and respond. That's why, what I mentioned before, the more and more you practice your design process through experience, and through each phase, you get better at understanding how the design process is going to affect the final result.And that takes some skill. It takes experience. You know, it can also be taught. It can be learned. As you go through a phase, are you sensing how it's going? Do you understand the implications of what you're doing at the time? And then can you respond? For example, if you're in a ideate phase, it is a creative phase. I need to know how many different types of eggs I can make to address my partner.Let's say I only know how to make one. I only know how to boil eggs. I don't know how to poach them. I don't know how to fry them. I don't how to scramble. If you only make one solution and then go get that tested, chances are you're wrong. You know, one out of 10 shot that or one out of seven shot that that's right. If you're not creative by nature or your company doesn't have a creative culture in it, then blindly going through that phase of creating or ideating, isn't going to help.So, if you don't know how to ideate, you're going to be in trouble because that phase will result in the same ideas you always come up with. Part of that is again the sense and respond. Knowing how you execute. Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are in each phase and whether or not you can cultivate those.If you know, you're not a very creative person in the sense that you very quickly drill down to one possible solution, and then you're very dogmatic about it, then realize that's a weakness in your creative process. It's a weakness of your design process. At the same time, if you're really blue sky and you just love imagining all day and at the end of the day, you need to put something in front of someone, otherwise this product doesn't get built, then you're going to have to learn about your execution and critical thinking skill.At a certain point, I think we try to instill in our students is that, you know, the design process is fluid, it's living and it's part of you. You need to understand how you use it, and then you need to understand how companies use it. Cause that's not always the same thing. Brian Ardinger: That's an interesting point. Are there particular areas that you find, doing these workshops and working people through a process, where people tend to get stuck? What's the biggest aha moments about teaching a process and how to think about designing? Wayne Li: A lot of this is cultural, right? A lot of this deals with people, and of course you see this right with various established or rigid companies that have very, very well-documented well hewn, traditional processes. They love buying out startups. Why? Because the startups are small four employee kind of entities that are usually young. They take risks. They don't know what they can't do because they've never been slapped on the wrist so many times. For them like big companies who are really staid, who don't encourage or empower all levels of their company to come up with ideas, will usually get into this group thing. Like, well, I can't possibly be right. No one values my opinion. The only person that's valued is the CEO or the executive management or the senior vice president. So, then that just destroys a kind of innovative culture because the creativity is not fostered. It's not empowered across all levels. I see that often, usually when I'm brought in to consult with a company or a company comes in and wants a project with a Design Bloc and we do projects for companies. You know, they're always like looking for something like, let's just show something we don't know. That they usually, something will surprise them. And part of that is because young students don't know what they can't do. When they come up with an idea, a lot of the times, the reason that large companies can't or companies that don't have an innovative culture, they don't ask that question anymore.Right. So, like maybe three generations ago, they stopped doing it a certain way because they learned something. But now the business environment has shifted and no one's bothered to really question why they can't do it that way. Or why they can't do it in a new way. Right. It's always so we've always done it that way.Well, yeah, that's the group thing, right? No, one's empowered to ask and go, wait a minute. Yeah, that was true 20 years ago, but the technology has shifted around you. The audience has shifted around you, the people that use your product has shifted around you. Why not go back and question some of those baseline assumptions.Brian Ardinger: Have you learned any techniques that you could help folks that are in that particular environment to open up their thinking or open up their exploration and not fall into this typical traps? Wayne Li: There are a lot of different ways that you can do that, Brian. What I tend to always ask is when someone is in kind of that group think is to say, okay, wait Taguchi calls it Root Cause Analysis.I think Dev Patnaik  uses, who teaches Needfinding at Stanford has taught like a Contextual Ladder, which is like a How Why Ladder. If you're confronted with a problem, do you understand the constraints with which you are assuming are already frozen. Taguchi method is just, why does that exist as a root problem?That's not necessarily creative, but what it does is it tries to ask, do you understand your context? If you're confronted with, I only know one way to do this, or this is the way that we think the company always wants to work, then at least questioning that constraint to say, well, why do we do it this way? What assumptions are we making about either our processes or our customers, that make us decide that we should be doing it this way? Brian Ardinger: And basically being okay with the fact that let's assume that this is an assumption. And then like, how do we find evidence to figure out is this assumption true or false? I think a lot of people don't go back to that process, like you said, and just double-check like, I know we've been doing this 20 years like that, does it still hold true. Its an important part of the process.Wayne Li: And one thing I always love is just pushing constraints, right? I mean, ultimate creativity is having no constraints. But it's difficult in a business environment because you always have some type of like time and money are always going to be constraints. You don't have infinite time. You don't have infinite money.If you had those, you can make anything you wanted and take as long as you want it to make. So you always have some type of constraint. But what I always like to do is push against it. So if you say something like we can't build that, that's too expensive. Then if you say, okay, well we'll hold on a second.What are those assumptions? And then say, there's inherent assumptions in that way. You're building it the same way. That's one assumption. If you built it with a different material or different process, you could maybe save money. If you built it with a different volume, it could be cheaper. So you're like, well, you're assuming that we can only sell that to 10,000 people.What if we sell to 10 million? Or you're assuming no one will pay for it at a higher cost. So again, really, it is about pushing on that constraint to say, we can't do this. Flip that and reframe it. What are all the different ways that we can actually push beyond that boundary? And I take each, sometimes I'll take the top three constraints and kind of see if they're related and in tandem, push against them.Sometimes I'll take each constraint and basically brain on each one separately. Right. But ultimately I'm always asking why is this assumption here and why is this constraint here? And, you know, sometimes somebody will say, well, that just defies the laws of physics. I'm like, no, that just defies the laws of your creativity of your brain.Right. You're not framing it well enough. The only meaningful attribution you have is that that must be a mechanism that follows the laws of physics or follows the laws of finance. Like it has to, you know, supply demand. You must sell something for more than you make it. But those laws are inherent in a human assumption.Somebody is using that device. So the laws of physics change if a 10 year old uses it versus a 30 year old. So if you're like making a shovel, a kid's plastic shovel is way different than a 30 year olds Gardener's shovel. So one shovel is made out of metal costs, maybe $25, and one's made out of plastic and cost two. So again, your physics law didn't change, but your framing did. Part of that is understanding your framing when you'd make an assumption, Brian Ardinger: I'd lIke to switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit about some of the things that you're seeing, what are some of the interesting trends in UX, UI design, and maybe even technology that you've seen and where do you see this whole I guess, industry going Brian?Wayne Li: That's a great question. I mean, I work with industrial design students and mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, computer scientists, human computer interaction, math graduate students. Definitely the thing you see faster and faster and faster for UI and UX is both portability and anticipation. So let me kind of explain what that means.Portability in the sense that devices get smaller, they get more personal, right? No, one's out of client terminal. There's no client terminal relationship anymore. So the portability meaning your ability to consume data, manipulate software, has to be more and more flexible, more and more intuitive. You basically be at the will it like, you know, sooner or later, you might not even use your hand.It's going to be so fluid and so natural. Then you can talk to it. You can gesture at it. The interactions will be more and more natural and quicker, faster, smaller. Now the other thing, like I said is the anticipation. Everything you do is being logged so sooner or later between the machine learning algorithm and the companies that are constantly monitoring your data, they'll be able to truly understand what you are based on your behavioral pattern. If you've read the Singularity Is Near, they basically say, you know, pretty much by 2045, your consciousness will be digitized. So in that sense, if we, if we got what 20 some odd years, 24, some odd years to get there, that basically means AI will be conscious by then, in the sense that hopefully if I live long enough, I could go back and go, what did Wayne think in 2019, every thought that you put into Instagram, Facebook, anything you put into your computer will be logged and kept. So every thought you've ever had. You may no longer corporally exists, but someone got a, what would Professor Li have thought in 1998, about this vehicle. And based on the machine learning though, well, Wayne said this about certain vehicles. And this vehicle and this vehicle people are very similar. So even if I'm not alive in 2080, and there's a 2080 sports car, they're going to go, well, what would Wayne have thought about this 2080 sports car?And they would probably, the machine learning algorithm will say, well Wayne talked about these vehicles or design these sports cars. And these were his thoughts on them because they've all been logged. And by the weighting metric I have, he would have liked it. Or he would have said blah-blah-blah send it.  Sooner or later, we'll have digital avatars that anyone can consult. And so that's the anticipation part. If you can anticipate that now how will that change, what you do Brian Ardinger: Tomorrow is Tesla's AI day. And they're gonna be talking a little bit about some of the new mind of the car stuff that they're working on. Similar to what you're saying, where the car can anticipate based on its surroundings, what's happening and self-driving and everything else around that.But you know, you take that beyond just transportation. You take that to everything else and how does that change the world and what we're looking at? Even things like I think about technology and how it's accessible to anybody now. So I have to be a coder, for example. A lot of no code tools and things along those lines that allow you to experiment and build and try things that 10 years ago, 15 years ago, you had to have a design development team to make that happen. So it'll be interesting to see where that trend takes the world of design as well. Wayne Li: Yeah, no, absolutely Brian. I mean, going back to what you said. I mean, obviously the sort of research area of mine, because I have an automotive interface, a human machine interface lab at Georgia Tech, right. That looks at futuristic automotive experiences. And absolutely you're right. I mean, thinking about it this. Not only can all the cars, right now is 5g. Like let's just think, think about 5g. If 4g was something like, oh, it was novel for us to have one HD movie streaming on our phone. Like that's the data of 4g, without major compression. 5g is like 40 simultaneous HD streams. So for example, if we just take some of that bandwidth and each car is communicating to the 15 nearest cars next to it, and those cars are connected and getting next to the internet enabled lampposts signage traffic stops, then that information is being shared very, very quickly.So if there's something that optimizes traffic flow like a stop says, well, this is open, right now. And there's really no need for a green light or a red light or a yellow light anymore, because everyone's already talking to each other. Brian Ardinger: Tie that into a person's phone and you realize, well, Joe's a crappy driver and he's, he's in the lane next to me. I probably need to adjust for that. Wayne Li: Yeah. Every car in the compass directions around you will notice that, right. Or based on your driving pattern already know that you're a bad driver based on your previous driving history. Right? So that economists levels between semi and fully is tricky. But that data, if it's freely shared, is there. The same thing and will be the minute you tell your car where you're going. So if you say, oh, I'm going to work and it's like, great, I'm driving you there. That's great. It will then ping everyone who's also going to work with you. And so it'll just say, oh, well, you know your neighbor down the street who works at the same company, why don't y'all platoon together.And all of a sudden you match up and you can streamline your traffic. Right? So, same thing, if you, all of a sudden, you tell the car out, I'm going to a concert. It's a new thing. It'll ping everyone on the internet who's interested in that same topic, who's going to the concert with you. And your windshield will turn into a screen.We actually have this in the lab, a windshield that is an augmented reality screen. And then you can then meet 15 people who will meet you at the door. Cause you'll be all dropped off at the same time to the same concert. So now you can go to the concert with not only the friends in your own car, but feel close kinship to 15 other cars that have the same people going at the same concert.It's an interesting concept when you can share that much data that quickly, and you see that as a trend. Yes, privacy is an issue, but you don't really see people pushing against it that much. They're sharing their information. Brian Ardinger: I love what you're doing and some of the things that you've seen in the past, and that. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about Georgia Tech or Design Bloc, what's the best way to do that?Wayne Li: My email's fine. That's just my name. W A Y N E . L I @ design . G A T E C H - Georgia If you want to know more about Design Bloc, basically design bloc without the K so D E S I G N B L O So they can go to our website and then see what we do. There's a contact us button there.Obviously, if you're a Georgia tech student or a prospective high school student, plenty to learn about what we do, which classes you can take. We do do workshops and not only for students, but we have done workshops for other entities. And so we are in the process of getting those things approved by the Institute. Right. But we have mechanisms in which we do give workshops to companies or groups like the Georgia Tech Alumni Association. We've done Design Thinking workshops for them. So you'll see a list of all the workshops we tend to give. And if it's something that you are interested in or you're interested in giving to your company or entity, then there's a connect to us button and we can talk about that.Brian Ardinger: Wayne, thanks again for being on Inside Outside Innovation, look forward to seeing what the future brings Wayne Li: Me too. It's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. 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    Ep. 263 - Jason Birnbaum, SVP of Digital Technology at United Airlines on Innovating During a Crisis


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Jason Birnbaum, Senior Vice President of Digital Technology at United Airlines. Jason and I discuss what it takes to innovate during a crisis and how United continues to adapt to evolving customer, employee, and market changes. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we'll bring you the latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you'll need to thrive as a new innovator.Interview Transcription of Jason Birnbaum, Senior Vice President of Digital Technology at United AirlinesBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Jason Birnbaum. He is a SVP of Digital Technology at United Airlines. Welcome to the show, Jason, Jason Birnbaum: It's a pleasure to be here. Brian Ardinger: Jason, I am excited to have you on the show. You are in an industry that is in the midst of disruption as we all are. But I think the travel industry is even facing more dilemmas. So, I wanted to get somebody on who's focused on innovation in this trying times, to see what it's like to be in the trenches in this world. So, tell us a little bit about what's your role at United and how it deals with it.Jason Birnbaum: I really am responsible for all of the technology associated with our employees, but also all the customer experiences that you would have at the airport, on board, really anywhere that you're physically involved with United Airlines. So, if you like the kiosks or you don't like the kiosk, that's what we do. All the signage in the airports moving you around. That's all part of my team as well. So wide scope, but lots of fun. Brian Ardinger: And when we had a chance to be introduced, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is because the United Airlines takes a broad approach to innovation. You know, I think a lot of companies focus on innovation and think about it from a, like a product perspective only, but you seem to focused on more holistic. Talk a little bit about how you perceive innovation and what goes into making those particular types of decisions.Jason Birnbaum: First of all, when you think about the airlines, our product is the airline. And so our product is the employees. And the product is the experience, and so for us, almost every part of it, including people that actually work and fix the airplanes, people that actually, you know, load the bags and all of those are so intimately connected to the whole experience, that we have to think of innovation in a broad way.And so, when we started thinking about it, we realized that we needed to enable our employees to deliver great service. And connect that to the way our customers traveled. So, a lot of our innovation was really employee focused so that they could deliver great service. And when you start thinking about it in that thread, it really opened the door for a lot of really, really amazing innovation, whether it's freeing up employees, so they can actually spend time with customers. Right. Or it's just giving them information or data to anticipate your need, or if it's making that technician able to get the plane going faster. So, you are not late, like all of that fits together. And the way we think about innovation, Brian Ardinger: I imagine you get bombarded with new ideas and challenges and problems that are coming from their employees or from your customer set saying, hey, fix this or make this better. What's the process to go about looking at, across the ideas, and doing something about them. Jason Birnbaum: Yeah. Well, it's a, it's a great question. There is a lot and we do get bombarded. You know, I, I think one of the pivots we made as an organization was moving from thinking of more of a traditional information technology organization that really took orders, got prioritization lists, to thinking of the whole group as a really like a product development organization. We had a much stronger opinion as to what the next steps were going to be. And really partnered and drove an agenda. And so, for us, the transformation was really about, I have a team of product designers, design thinking experts, people who help us build those roadmaps, whether the product owners are on our team or in some other place, and really lay out, not necessarily a prioritization process, but what's the road map.And then from there we've moved very quickly to how do we prototype, test the theory, move quickly, move in small pieces, to get to the product. We've tried to get away from two-year projects. Four-year projects. You know, we try to think about how do I solve a problem, get something going, start it and empower.And I think when a big company, especially companies have been around for a long time, you know, they built a lot of control mechanisms and we've really worked to strip those out and say, hey, if you're the decision maker, if you're in the front, You've got the product. Make the change, see if it works, and let's move forward from there.Now that's certainly for the customer experience and for efficiency, obviously, you know, when I think about things like safety and those things, obviously all those controls are really important, and we take those very seriously. But there's a lot of places where experimentation can really lead to innovation.Brian Ardinger: Can you talk about some examples of where you've deployed technology and some of the changes that you've made over the years to make the experience better for employees and customers? Jason Birnbaum: Yeah, no, we have so many great examples. I'll hit two things. The first thing we realized, and this was a few years ago is none of our employees sit behind a desk. They, none of them have seats. Yet we built all these applications and all these tools for them on a PC. And so, we started to say, well, how do we un-tether is the word we used, our employees from these desks. And so, we rolled out one of the first innovations was creating and building a mobile ecosystem for our employees. Where, whether you're a gate agent, a technician, you're on the ramp, pilot, flight attendant, you had a mobile device and that mobile device, first and foremost, gave you tools to do your job. So, you could board a plane, help a passenger, take an order for a drink. That was like the base case. Then we said, well we've got this mobile ecosystem, what else can we do? And the second thing we said was how do we give people data to anticipate what they're going to need to do? So now I've got this delivery mechanism. How do I say all right, this passenger is getting ready to reach a milestone on their mileage. So why don't we thank them? Or this passenger has had a couple of bad flights. Take care when you're on this flight. So, we started giving that information. And then lastly, and this is where the real excitement came in. We connected everybody via just communications and chat functionality. We created a product, we call it Easy Chat, that connects everybody involved with the flight. The pilots, flight attendants, the gate agents, the catering company, everybody together in one chat space so that everyone knows what's going on.And that's been an amazing advantage for our employees. And it's really created the capability to deliver unbelievable customer service. I was thinking about it. I got a note from a customer, and they said, you know, my father was 80. He was traveling on the plane and he got on the plane. He realized he left his bag in the lobby, like at the gate.Right. And in the old days, like that would have been a myriad of phone calls and radio calls and running back and forth. And so, the flight attendant just typed on the chat. Hey, does anyone see a bag out there? And the gate agent got it and brought it back on. And it was just a much better experience. And they were really happy for that level of customer service.And I think the other thing we're really excited about right now, I mean, there's many, but the other thing we're really excited about is, we call it Agent On Demand. In a COVID time, one of the things we're seeing is that one people don't necessarily want to be face-to-face as, as much. And two, with a lot of different staffing shortages and things going on right now. And just general air travel, you know, there can be problems. Getting a hold of somebody at an airport can be tricky and there can be lines and it can take some time. And so, we said, well, what if we could scale it by creating just a way that I can hit a QR code or walk up to a kiosk. Push a button and speak to an agent who maybe isn't at the airport, you're at, maybe they're in another airport or some other location, but maybe they aren't as busy as the ones happening right now, where there's a storm or a disruption.And we started really simply and about eight months ago, and we started testing it. Caught on fire. We've gotten it in all of our hubs and another handful of stations and we're continuing to roll it out. But customers really love it because it marries the technology and the ease of using your phone or kiosk with an actual person.And so, they do get the personal touch, but they do it in a way that the technology really supports. So, it's been a big win for us. And it's certainly something we're going to see more of that kind of innovation. Brian Ardinger: You mentioned customers playing a role in that innovation process and giving you feedback in that. How do you go about rolling out a new product like the agent on demand? Did you do that across everything all at once? Or how did you go about testing and building out that particular example? Jason Birnbaum: Yeah, look, we go out and we test, like, we send our people out to the airports and our designers and our researchers. We'll prototype something. We'll grab our employees and our customers and just test it out. And we use our airports as labs almost. Living labs. And we learn from it. We're very transparent about what we're doing. So, we will tell our customers, Hey, we're trying a new process or a new technology. We'd love to get your feedback on it. We stood up a kiosk for Agent on Demand. We sort of had some of our people standing around. We said would you like to try this? What do you think? Did it work? Did it not work? And it just grows from there. So, it's a pretty organic process, but it's certainly not going into a conference room for six months. Emerging with the answer, the answer. What we find out is we're not very good at solutioning in that bubble.The Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationSponsor Voice: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship, to increase opportunities that allow all people to learn, to take risks, and to own their success. The Kauffman Foundation is based in Kansas City, Missouri and uses its $2 billion in assets to collaboratively help people be self-sufficient productive citizens. For more information, visit That's Ardinger: Well, you mentioned COVID. Obviously, that's affecting all of us, but it's affecting the travel industry quite a bit. What have you seen over the last 18 months of how fast your processes have had to change or what's the impact been on both the industry and how United reacts to it? Jason Birnbaum: Yeah. It's been, obviously for our business, the most disruptive event in the history of the airline industry. And I think travel in general. So, and a tragedy in terms of the loss of human life and really the whole problems and pain that it's caused. But for us, our mission was to keep the airline alive, because we believe that it was critical to provide support for the doctors that needed to get to places. It's a lifeline for our economy. And so, the mission was really clear. And it, but it did force a tremendous amount of innovation, really fast, whether it's ever-changing requirements to travel both domestically and in other countries and how we empower our employees to know that in real time. We had to build a lot of tools and connections to that.We've had to become very smart on the big innovations, partnering with Abbott and other providers on how to get testing done, whether your international travel or employee testing. We had to set up clinics in our airport to do both vaccination and testing. As you know, we recently just today announced that we are going to have all of our employees vaccinated over the next few months. And you know, that involved us setting up a system where people could upload their vaccine cards and then use that information to give it to the various systems that people schedule their work. So, we know who is and who isn't and where they are and et cetera. And so, there's been a lot of innovation in that space, but it's been a very proud moment for me of the team and the way they've risen to the occasion. And the way they thought differently to really keep the whole industry alive.Brian Ardinger: You know, a lot of times we think about, you know, all the negative effects of COVID and, and that, but I've seen not only with United, but other companies, like rising to the occasion and understanding that innovation is now not just something that we think about in the future, but something we have to do on a regular basis. Are there any particular surprises or positive effects that have come out because of the crisis? Jason Birnbaum: Yeah. In the beginning of the pandemic, you know, we had to go through like everyone else, some tough cuts, reprioritize. And, and we got through it all. And we said, we've still got an airline to run. And so, we got together and said, you know what we need, we coined a phrase, and we call it, we need to get scrappy. So, we actually created a little manifesto around it. And at the heart of it was, it said, you know, we got to start thinking like a small business. We got to start thinking about how to move forward. It's going to be about, everyone's got to do more, do different roles, take chances. You know, maybe you don't do testing. When are you going to do testing or maybe you don't know how to do this kind of coding, but you're going to do this kind of coding, because we just don't have a lot of people in time that we were used to. And I think that really caught on and the idea that we can find scrappy answers to tough problems is something now that's really sort of taken over the whole company. And we talk a lot about how do we get scrappy, which is code for how do we find simple, fast solutions to tough problems, and then scale them from there. And I think when I talk to my team, especially, they're like, we don't want to go back. We don't want to go back to the bureaucracy. We don't want to go back to the way it was before. We want to stay scrappy. And I think that's going to be a legacy coming out of this, that we're going to continue. Brian Ardinger: Well, that's a great segue for the trends that you're seeing, both in the travel industry and within United. What, what are you most excited about in moving into the future and maybe what are you most worried about or scared about?Jason Birnbaum: Well, first of all, I'm excited people are traveling again. Which is fantastic. I think there's a lot of work and thought happening right now about the travel experience. And I think we are going to be on the front end right now of a lot of innovation and travel in terms of how do we take the friction out of it. Is biometrics a big part of that?And we're working with the TSA. But make that a much more seamless opportunity. There's a lot more personalization that can happen. Whether it's food on board or different kinds of services. So, I, I'm really excited that as we emerged from the pandemic that I think we're going to be able to really continue to make the experience better.And I know some people love it and some people don't, but I think there's going to be a lot of new things that come out using technology to make it just a much better experience for folks. And connect your whole journey, beyond just the airline, but maybe to the hotel and to the rental car as well. And how do we think of it in a more seamless way?So, I think that's what I'm excited about. I think I'm excited as we continue to just the new business models that we're thinking about in terms of, you know, are we more Uber. You know, use your mobile app more, we've got the best mobile app in the industry. How do we continue to make that experience better? So, there's a bunch of stuff I'm really excited about. Nervous, I think again, you know, it's a tough industry. There is innovation happening there is disruption happening. So, I think we have to continue to get better. We have to continue to prove to our customers that we have the best product. And whether that's through a great operation and getting you there on time. Whether it's through the technology that we offer. Whether it's through the great employees and the customer service and their anticipation of your needs through the journey. Like we just got to win on all those fronts.And so, the thing that I'm worried about is complacency as we come out of this. And as people come back that we cannot forget that we've got to continue to up our game because there's always folks out there that will come and try to compete with us. Brian Ardinger: And it's so important that culture aspect, like you said, you know, rallying around the new, new, and the new next and that culture and that. Are there particular things you have looked at as far as being effective at implementing that culture of innovation?Jason Birnbaum: The culture of innovation, I think it's for us, it's about having our innovators or our technology team or people that are driving change as close as possible to the frontline and to the employee and to the customer. If you get bright, creative, motivated people, with people that actually are serving our customers or our customers, they will naturally find a million great ideas.And then our job is to help support them in the creation and the development of those things. And so for me, the culture comes from actually having our folks right there with them shoulder to shoulder, out in the operations, out on the planes. And I think my message to anybody is the fewer people between the user and the customer and the person who's building it, the better off you are. Because you lose some, every step, you lose something in that translation. And you don't end up with the kind of innovation that you want to get to For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Jason, thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation and sharing what you're seeing in the trenches. Again, I appreciate the time. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about what the United Airlines is doing in this space, where should they go? Jason Birnbaum: I mean, certainly you can hit me up on Twitter @Jason_ UAL or my LinkedIn profile is available. I've got links to some articles on some of the things that we've done in more detail. So happy to take any comments there and questions, and any feedback you might have on what's happening out there as your audience is out and starts traveling again. Brian Ardinger: Well, Jason, thanks again for being on Inside Outside Innovation, look forward to continuing the conversation and best of luck. And where are you going to travel next?Jason Birnbaum: We just got back. We were just in Mexico. We were just in California, and now I'm setting my sights on trying to figure out how to get to Europe when that opens up. And so, I love to travel, and I've got a long list of places I need to get to. Brian Ardinger: Well, I hope to see you on the road, and I appreciate your time again. Thank you very much. Jason Birnbaum: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 262 - Naomi Shah, Founder of Meet Cute on Trends in Audio Storytelling and New Media Formats & Moving from VC to Founder


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Naomi Shah, founder of the venture backed modern media company Meet Cute. Naomi and I talk about some of the innovations and trends in the world of audio and new media formats, as well as her insights for moving from the world of venture capital to becoming a founder. Let's get started.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we'll bring you the latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you'll need to thrive as a new innovator.Interview Transcript with Naomi Shah, Founder of the venture backed modern media company Meet CuteBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Naomi Shah. She is the founder of the venture backed modern media company called Meet Cute. Naomi Shah: Thank you. It's so nice to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you here on the show because you've got a hot new startup that we want to talk about. You've got to innovate a company, innovative story. So, what is meat cute? How did you come up with the idea to start a new media company at the age of 24? Naomi Shah: So, Meet Cute, just to start with, with what it is I do every day, is an entertainment brand. We make original scripted, romantic comedies. And these are audio stories that are completely written by a network of over 500 creators. Directed, produced, and voice acted professionally. And we distribute them on Apple Podcast, Spotify, wherever you get your audio. And really what we're trying to do with Meet Cute is show that you can create a lot of scripted content and create trust with an audience because of the consistency of how often you release the stories, the types of stories, and really become the best storytellers in original scripted content. Brian Ardinger: You've got an interesting background to go down that particular path. My understanding is you started out as a macro equities trader at Goldman Sachs. You studied mechanical engineering with a minor in human biology at Stanford. Then you just started working at Union Square Ventures. How did you go about kind of that diverse background to end up where you are at? Naomi Shah: It's a really good question. I actually will start even earlier than graduating from Stanford and that is when I was growing up, I saw both my parents working on a company together. My mom was the president. My dad was the vice president, and it was always part of our family dinners, our family vacations. We always heard about what they were working on. It was this like subliminal informal look into what it's like to run your own thing. To be a founder. And to manage people and to bring people along with the vision that you have. And I never really knew how that was going to play out in my life. But I did know from a young age that was impacting the way that I wanted to go to school, study, and then start my career. And so, at Stanford, I went in wanting to be a surgeon and I left with a mechanical engineering degree. And so that kind of explains why I was a mechanical engineering major with a minor in human biology.And what fascinated me about human biology and why I wanted to be a doctor in the first place is I was really interested in the research process. Like how you ask a question, how you create a research project to answer that question, how you're very analytical and then how you convince people to listen to what you have to say.And so, in high school, and actually in middle school, I ended up going down this path of working on a lot of research. Presenting it at a lot of conferences. So, I did a TED talk when I was 15 and it was my first foray into, wow, you can have an impact on the world, that's a lot bigger than the immediate community around you.Fast forward a few years, to your point, I went into finance. I was really excited about pattern recognition in public markets and how it affected trading decisions. But I really was looking for something a little bit more creative. I always felt like I had this creative side of my brain that I couldn't really exercise day to day at work.And that was because my resume was very technical. It was very based on engineering and data and math, but I loved creative writing and I loved storytelling. And that was something that I felt like was part of my personality that I couldn't bring to work every day. So, in venture capital, it gave me a look at how founders would kind of marry different skill sets together. Make that the foundation of how they run their company. And I was really excited about that whole process, but really hadn't seen myself as an operator just yet. But I spent a lot of time at USV, which is the venture capital firm I was at right after Goldman. Our company was focused on human wellbeing. So, what are things that we do for fun?And one of the things that we do for fun is we consume content. We read books; we listen to podcasts like this one. We go to concerts with our friends. And I realized that there was kind of a gap in the market where there wasn't a lot of original scripted stories being created in a really scalable way. Where venture investors felt comfortable taking that risk and investing in a company that was working on that problem.Instead, it felt like you had Hollywood investors that were used to taking out risk profile and venture investors were like, oh no, we only do software and product. And so, I wanted to find a way to bring those two things together, which I felt like there wasn't really a company working on that out there.And that led me to starting to come up with the business model for Meat Cute. At first, from the investment side of the table, where I was looking for that company to invest in. And eventually I took that leap of faith into founding and said, if we're not seeing this company out there, let's go be the ones to create it.Brian Ardinger: So, as you were in venture, kind of looking at particular companies, did you ever think that you were going to jump to the other side of the table or was it something that came about based on your interactions with founders and that? Naomi Shah: I think it was a little bit of both. I think it kind of goes back to growing up and seeing that that was possible. I did see my mom as a leader, and I knew that at some point I wanted to follow in my parents' footsteps in some capacity. Where it's you have an impact outside of just the immediate people that you touch. And I think that that's really what inspired me with founding is that you can have an impact on millions of millions of people who use your product or listen to your stories.And that was really exciting to me. Another thing that I'll say besides seeing my mom in a leadership position early on is that I'd always seen myself on this path of, okay, I'll go to school, I'll work for a few years and then I'll go back and get my MBA. And what I saw when I was in venture capital, Is that so much of the learning that comes along with founding is just natural.It's baked into the process of struggling with how to figure out HR and how to negotiate contracts and how to hire people and how to inspire people like that. And I thought, okay, like I always saw myself on this really traditional path where it felt like if I went to business school, I could do all of these things.And being at USV and interacting with these founders, I started to see a different path for myself, where I thought, I don't have to go down this, what I felt like was a safe path for me. And I could step off that path and do something a little bit different that felt riskier in the moment. But I knew that it was a risk worth taking because all of these people before me had done. And you just learn on the job and that's just part of the CEO gig.Brian Ardinger: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned a little bit about experimentation and that. When you started Meet Cute, what was your initial thesis and then how has it pivoted or changed based on what you found out in the marketplace? Naomi Shah: It's so interesting how these like subtle pivot tap in, and sometimes you don't even realize that they're happening, but you're learning with every single day or every single story that you make. At first, we wanted to just test, can we make a 15-minute story in audio. No one had done that before in a way that you could start, tell, and end of story, in 15 minutes, in a cohesive way. Everyone is used to 90-minute films or 22-minute TV shows, but we wanted to do it in audio and bring people in and capture audiences to the point where people felt like they were listening to a movie in their ears.And we wrote our first story. Our head of development wrote the entire script. We found a producer to make it. And we put it out there in the world when we just started sharing it with our friends and family. And we said, hey, we're working on this thing. We'd love for you to listen to it and give us feedback.That was probably the moment where we were like, okay, we're doing this now. We actually have content out there in the world with our name on it. We have conviction in short form audio content. And then the next step for us became, okay, we know we can make one story. Can we make hundreds of stories? And so, to our investors, we said, our goal for the next year is really to prove that we can make stories at scale.Anyone can make one story if they put their mind to it. But we want to tell hundreds of these stories consistently and give people something to look forward to every single day. And so that was kind of like this subtle change in the way that we thought about ourselves, where we no longer were just proving the idea of storytelling. We were now proving storytelling at scale. So, the next challenge for us became, can we grow a creator network, large enough to tell so many diverse stories within this set container. And for us, our container was we were audio only. So, we had to engage an audience without any visuals. We wanted to tell 15-minute stories. We found that a 15-minute story broken up into five three-minute chapters, really engaged people and people wouldn't leave in the middle of the story. They would stay until the end. And then finally, as we were making so many diverse stories, we learned that there were certain categories of stories or certain techniques that we could use to engage audiences even more. So, with every story that we put out there, we captured listening data, engagement data, and use that to turn it into the cycle where it fueled our development. So now we were taking our learnings from the stories that we'd already put out there and pulling it back into development and making more of those stories.The idea is we're no longer just a hit driven company where we're making all the decisions. Our listeners are the ones that are teaching us about what's right, and what's wrong. And so today to bring it to present day, what we're working on is scaling this storytelling engine, this incubator to millions of listeners, to get more and more feedback on our stories and then make each story better. And that's really towards that goal of becoming the official source of romantic comedies, the best storytellers out there. That's what we think sets us apart. Brian Ardinger: I'm curious, how much did you look back to old technologies like radio and the old radio shows of the past? We've kind of come full circle in some ways. Obviously with different types of distribution models and that. But talk about what did you learn and take from the past and how are you evolving that into the current day.Naomi Shah: I think radio plays are one of the best analogies for Meet Cute. Some of our listeners, you know, even though they're listening to us on podcast apps, they're like this doesn't really sound like what I imagine a podcast to be. Where podcasts are generally conversational, and they're more interview based, or news based. We're really taking that older analogy of taking a radio play and turning it into something that people in the digital era can consume on whatever platform they're on, making it super accessible to people whenever and wherever they want a story. But to your point, there are so many historical analogies that this works and that consistent storytelling in a tight format is what people actually crave. Another really good example of it is you look at pop music where every single pop song is about three minutes long. And there's a reason for that because not to go too far into this rabbit hole, but when records transitioned to the 45 RPM record, there was only enough room on that physical record for three minutes of music.And what that meant is that as you created a cheaper way to make records, you also needed to fit the content into that physical constraint. And so, it's interesting because people relisten to music over and over again, because it's only three minutes. And so, you listened to an Ellie Goulding song or Lady Gaga song on repeat, and you don't feel like you're wasting your time. But that behavior hasn't really translated into audio storytelling yet.And so, by changing our format to be something that we know works. With repeat listening, we found that actually our listeners keep coming back to Meet Cute stories and tuning into one chapter that they resonated with or the happily ever after, or the Meet Cute moment, in the same way that they would listen to pop songs.And so, they think that it's really fun to say let's build a next generation of storytelling, but let's look backwards at what's worked and what's engaged audiences to do that. Last example, P & G invented the soap opera literally to sell soap. And it was this really interesting tool for branded content that didn't feel super on the nose as an advertising tool. It was a story. It was something you could escape into. And I think that that's a really interesting analogy for Meet Cute. We're we're trying to create escapism and that can be a vehicle for so many things. Like the message, like a social message, or it could be a vehicle for a brand to talk about what's important to them. But through the context of a story, which is a lot more emotional than a pure advertisement, or like the news cycles. Brian Ardinger: P & G built itself on that soap opera platform and change the way they sold soap and became a massive company around it. So, talk about your business model and is it more of the traditional advertising model? What are you seeing and what kind of expectations do you have for the future? Naomi Shah: Yes. So, I think we're in a really unique position because we see ourselves as the intersection of technology and Hollywood. So, technology and media, let's put it that way. Where on the technology side, we'd love to test business models, like let's create an engaged community that cares about this content and wants more access to exclusive content and create opportunities to deepen that relationship with the community that we're building. So, we're using things like. Let's engage people with shoulder content and other podcast feeds and exclusive interviews with guests. And then let's release more content in a subscription form. We just launched on apple podcast subscriptions, which is the tried and true business model on the technology side. On the media side, advertising to your point is an incredible way to be able to bring other companies and other brands into the mix, into the storytelling process. And so that's something we're definitely exploring. We're also exploring how do we engage with our communities outside of audio? So we've gotten a lot of interest from production companies and streaming platforms to start bringing this content into video and licensing our audio to other platforms that need more content. Because while we love being the sole distributor of our content. We realized that there is constantly a lack of content in the world. People always need to tell more stories. And so we can be that source of stories for other people. And so I love it because that really allows us to say let's form a relationship directly with our listeners and our audiences and be that direct to consumer entertainment company. But we don't have to stop working on creating stories for the industry and bringing our stories to audiences in ways that Meet Cute might not be the right platform for. For example, we're not a full in-house video production studio. So we want to partner with the right people there to tell our stories in the best way possible for video production as well.Brian Ardinger: Well, you brought up video, you know, what made you decide that we're going to start tackling the audio format first versus new platforms like Tik TOK or YouTube, that seemed to be getting a lot of traction because of the video format. Naomi Shah: So, audio, what I love about it is that it's such a unique format that has the constraint built in where you can't see the characters. And at first, we were like, oh, that's really tough. It's hard to engage without seeing the characters. But that's just because people haven't done it before. And what we're trying to do is really create more intimate connections with characters and plots and narrative arcs, where people start to visualize the stories in their head.So, if like the main character Natalie goes on vacation, we want the person listening, the audience member, to say, oh, what was my last vacation? Like, let me put myself in Natalie shoes and it becomes a very intimate experience. And I think audio is an incredible way to engage in a deeper way with listeners and really have them be a part of the storytelling themselves.The other thing is audio super accessible. So, you don't need to sit down and watch something. You don't need to take time out of your day. It can really go along with you in whatever you're doing. So, we have found that our audiences actually don't listen to Meet Cutes in the traditional entertainment viewing times.Meet Cutes are consumed throughout the day from like 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, when you're getting ready for school, getting ready to walk to your classes, getting ready to get lunch ready for your kids. These are the times that people really incorporate Meet Cutes into their daily routine. It almost feels like a meditation or an escape because it's so consistent. It's so predictable, you know exactly what you're going to get at the end of it. So, it's been this really interesting shift in what we thought entertainment behavior was or entertainment consumption was, where we're seeing people develop new habits because they haven't had cinema in audio before. And we wanted to start to push back on assumptions about what that looks like and create new behaviors around it.Brian Ardinger: As a founder, I always like to get founders opinions and insights into what recommendations can you help other folks who are out there, whether they're within a corporation, trying to spin up a new idea or an entrepreneur. What are some best practices, resources, or advice that you would recommend for folks trying to get off the ground?Naomi Shah: Great question. And I relied on so many people that came before me for advice. I would say, getting off the ground relies so heavily on conviction in your idea and standing by your idea in the face of other people telling you, I think you should do it this way, or I think you should do it that way. While it's so important to take advice from people. If you are not certain in what you want to build and the vision for your company or your project or your idea, I think it's really easy to be taken off track and to do things in a way that's already been done before. And that's not the reason that you go into founding, you go into founding to do something that no one has done before.And so actually through the fundraising process, because I just went through that in the pandemic, I learned that in meeting hundreds of really smart people, you have so many opinions coming to you every day. And it's really important to like take time, block off your calendar and like reflect on what you're hearing, because some of those things will actually help you shape your vision for the company.And you have to filter out the noise because there are going to be conflicting opinions that might not be the vision for your company. And it's really important to take time to reflect on that. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a completely different place that you didn't want to end up. So, I think having conviction is probably the number one piece of advice.And the second thing is finding people who are going to support you no matter what. I think that can be in the form of team members, it can be in the form of investors, can be in the form of people outside of your company who are your personal board of investors. Without those people, sometimes founding can be really lonely and really a little bit isolating. And I think that with those people, you find that you have sounding boards or people who will tell you, okay, you don't need to overthink that, focus on this instead. Having those people in your life makes, makes you feel like you're not alone on this journey as you're like climbing up the mountain and trying to figure out what this vision is for five years for the future or 10 years into the future. So, I would say people and having conviction are probably the two most important building blocks in the early stage. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: Oh, they're fantastic building blocks. And I want to really thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, telling your story and giving some focus, some insight in what it takes to really do something innovative. So, thank you for being on the show. If people want to find out more about yourself or Meet Cute, what's the best way to do that? Naomi Shah: So great to be here. Loved, loved this conversation. Finding out more about Meet Cute, were on every social platform. So, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok. And the best way to learn about what we're doing is to tune in to some of our stories on any podcast platform, where you listen. Subscribe on apple podcasts.I am also super available to talk about anything entrepreneurship, business related, entertainment, podcasts, and you can find me on Twitter or on LinkedIn as well. Just feel free to DM me. Brian Ardinger: Naomi, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation and best of luck in the future for you.Naomi Shah: Thank you so much, Brian, Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  
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    Ep. 261 - April Rinne, Author of Flux: Eight Superpowers for Thriving in Change on Skills and Tactics to Better Prepare Yourself


    On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with April Rinne, author of Flux: Eight Superpowers for Thriving in Change. April and I talk about what it takes to thrive in a world of constant change and uncertainty and explore some of the skills and tactics you can use to better prepare yourself and your organization for a world of flux.Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help you rethink, reset, and remix yourself and your organization. Each week, we'll bring you latest innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses, as well as the tools, tactics, and trends you'll need to thrive as a new innovator.Interview Transcript with April Rinne, Author of Flux: Eight Superpowers for Thriving in ChangeBrian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. With me today is April Rinne. She is the author of a new book coming out called Flux: Eight Superpowers for Thriving in Change. Welcome April. April Rinne: Thank you, Brian. Glad to be here. Brian Ardinger: I'm super excited to have you on the show. When I got a preview copy of the book, I started going through it and it's like, ah, this resonates with everything that I've been talking about, and our audience has been talking about. This whole idea that the world is changing. I think we fundamentally or theoretically understood that 18 months ago, but now every individual has felt that we are in flux.So, this is an amazing book. You start off the book with a gut-wrenching story that gives you immediate insights into what's required to live in a world of flux. And I don't know if you can share that story and maybe its impact on your life and your career and how you got to this place. April Rinne: Yeah. Sure. So, it's interesting. Just picking up on what you just said, which is I was actually working on this book for a long time. Long before the pandemic or lockdown. I like to say that the book itself was about three years in the actual writing, but it was more than three decades or close to three decades in the making. And that relates to my earlier story. But it is kind of interesting where over the last 12 to 18 months, people are like, oh, world in flux, you know, welcome to my life. But I'm sort of looking at this saying, Hm, there was a lot of flux before and there's going to be a lot more moving forward. But my entry into a world in flux or what I, what I sometimes call like my baptism. But my baptism into flux happened more than 25 years ago. I was in college, and I was a junior and I was studying overseas, and I'd had this kind of life expanding mind expanding year.And just as it was wrapping up, I received a phone call and basically at age 20, both my parents were killed in a car accident. And that was that moment where whatever you think your future is going to be, whatever you think the world has in store for you. However you think the world works, like it just all changed.You know, I would not have imagined back then that I would write a book about this sense of like, what do you do when you just can't control constant change. But that's when the seed was really planted. Brian Ardinger: Whether it's the loss of a parent or a major job change or a pandemic. A lot of folks are in that space right now. Like they're trying to understand what I thought the world was going to be is different. So, I think the book helps outline some of the things you can think about or some different ways to approach it. So, tell me a little bit about the book and why a person should pick it up. April Rinne: Yeah, absolutely. And you really nailed it. That sense of like, that was my version, but everyone has today I believe their own version. And what's key is the future is not more certainty. It's not more stability. The future is more uncertainty, more change, more flop, and are we really ready for it? And so the crux of the book is exactly that. That's sense of, you know, on the whole humans, we tend to love change that we opt into. You know, exactly. But we tend to really, really struggle with change we don't. The unexpected change. The change that waylays you. The change that is unwelcome. And yet that's the world we live in today. There's more, not less of that. And so, the fundamental premise of Flux the book is that in a world in constant change, we need to radically reshape our relationship to change from the inside out. I can add. In order to have a healthy and productive outlook. So, we're good at a slice of change, but we're really, really bad at a big chunk of it. This is where I get excited because also individually, this plays out. Organizationally, this plays out. And societally this plays out. So that's the basic punchline of the book, but the eight superpowers are the kind of how to. Brian Ardinger: Talk us through, like, how did you come up with those eight and maybe an overview of those. April Rinne: Sure. This is one of my favorite framing devices, which is, you know, Flux is both a noun and a verb. As a noun it means constant change. I think we all kinda get that. It's also a verb and as a verb, it means to learn to become fluid. So, the way I like to put it as the world is in flux, and we need to learn how to flux. To become fluid in our relating to all kinds of change. And so, I'll be really candid. The Eight Flux Superpowers evolved through a lot of hard work and thinking and post-its and reframing and structuring, you know, all of that.And I will admit now, you know, the book's been written for some time. It's obviously in the publication process. I haven't yet found the ninth one. So, I feel pretty good about that right now. But in short, the eight flux super powers, the first one is run slower. The second is see what's invisible. The third is get lost. The fourth is start with trust. The fifth is know you're enough. The sixth is create your portfolio career. The seventh is be all the more human and the eighth, one of the more provocative, although they're all provocative I think in some way. The eighth is let go of the future. Each of those kind of relates to different themes, you know, run slower is a lot about anxiety and burnout and so forth. And start with trust is obviously about trust. And letting go of the future is not about giving up or failing. It's actually about our relationship to control. So there's a lot more packed in each of those, but that's a quick summary. Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. The first one you start off with in the book is run slower. And I think a lot of people, when you talk about innovation, and you see what's out there in the press and that everybody talks about acceleration and speed of change and that. And the obvious antidote people think of is well, I've got to run faster. I've got to go, go faster and that. So, it's kind of a contradictory approach to that. So, talk about what you mean by run slower and let's unpack that a little bit. April Rinne: Landing on this particular superpower did result from a range of sources. But one of which was my many, many years as an advisor to companies, many of them were startups. But also, governments and think tanks and nonprofits. Organizations of all stripes, shades, colors, flavors, whatever, and their quest to innovate. And recognizing that change breeds innovation, but innovation itself, that simply means something new.It's not inherently good or bad. And I'm looking at this going, how do we innovate well. How do we innovate responsibly? How do we innovate in ways where we don't end up having blind spots and regretting some portion of what we did later on, et cetera. And I think we see a lot of that today, right? So back to the superpower. Run slower. The way I define it is in a world of ever faster pace of change, societally. The way we thrive is to slow our own pace. So again, you nailed it where I like to say the pace of change has never been as fast as it is today. And yet it is likely to never again, be this slow. Right. Now just let that sink in for a moment.Right. It's sort of exciting and it's kind of terrifying as well. And I kept looking around as a futurist, as an adviser, as a human being and saying, okay, society tells us that when the pace of change increases, we need to run faster. We need to keep up. And if we know that tomorrow, there's going to be more change than today and next week there's going to be more change than this week.And next year, next decade. Draw that out as far as you wish. If you know today that every single day for the rest of your life, your mandate from society is to run faster. That does not look like a future in which I want to live. And organizationally run ever faster. Wait a minute. You're gonna miss the very best decisions you could make. You're going to miss the very best opportunities. At an extreme, I say, you know, when we run ever faster, we run the risk of running right past life. This is not about doing nothing. This is not about being lazy. This is about slowing your own pace so that it's sustainable. So that in fact, you can be in touch if you will, with yourself, as opposed to just chasing after the next thing that you're supposed to do or the torrent of the info flow.But also, it helps us make wiser decisions. You want to slow down enough so that you can see, recognize, identify, and focus on the things that really matter. So there are lots of different angles there, but I find this is a lot with people, both struggling with anxiety and burn out. But also, when it comes to innovation, how do we make the best decisions? How do we make sure that we've covered our scope of possibility and so forth? Brian Ardinger: Yeah, it's, it's very much like that professional athlete. When they get into that flow, they talk about this idea of everything slows down. And they can understand the environment that they're in. And I think that's kind of what you're talking about.I've also seen the reverse where people go slow because everything's moving so fast, they fail take any action. Or they're scared of being able to keep up, so they don't make decisions and things like that. So, it's, it's that balance almost of like you said, running. But running at a pace that finished the marathon. April Rinne: Very much so. Exactly. I did not say sit still. I did not say do nothing. I said, run, but run slower. Run at a pace that you can sustain over time. Run at a pace that allows you to take in and take stock of everything that's going on. That really matters. And it's funny that you bring up athletes. There's a section in the book there, too.Everything from, you know, what's the right time to make a judgment or a decision. To also one of my favorite quotes. And it relates to athletes, but also children. And I think adults too. Certainly, for me. This notion that there is a kind of growth that comes only with rest. Just think about that. We assume that growth has to happen through motion and action.Think about how kids grow. Think about how athletes strengthen their muscles. It doesn't happen only when they're in motion. It happens when they're at rest. Brian Ardinger: Another area that you tackle is this idea of getting out of your own way and expanding your vision. And you're talking about expanding your peripheral vision, specifically. Being able to look at industries and ideas in that in different ways and, and expanding your business. So talk a little bit about that particular superpower April Rinne: Yeah. So that's the second one. See what's invisible, which says that, you know, when life feels uncertain or blurry, we need to shift our focus from what's visible to what's invisible. And actually, there are all kinds of overlaps with innovation here. The classic cases that, in which again, what does society tell us? You need to focus on your goal straight ahead. And I'm not saying that having goals isn't important and that you shouldn't know how to focus. I'm saying that actually, where is typically most of the action. It's right in front of you or so we think. Where's the actual and really new ideas. The really game changing opportunities. They tend to be on the periphery. They tend to be outside the mainstream. They may end up going mainstream some years later. And then you feel like, oh, I was a really early, you know, joiner to that particular company or idea or whatever. And so expanding our peripheral vision to see more and to see what is again by society standards, quote unquote, invisible.Now just one quick example here. I've spent much of the past decade in the space called the sharing economy. You know, access over ownership and this, that, and the other. It's a classic case in which entrepreneurs and innovators in the sharing economy saw what was invisible to traditional companies. So, case in point, you know, a car sits parked on average 23 hours a day, 95% of the time. We've come to believe that's kind of normal. How in the world that got normalized to have a 95 or 96% inefficient asset is beyond me? But you look at this and you go, this doesn't make sense. Yet society tells us everyone needs a car, not just one car. You need many cars. This is how we're going to build the car. Yeah. And so, you have, car sharing entrepreneurs who look at this and say, no, we actually see value in that parked car.We actually see value in that parking space. We're going to flip the lens and actually put these assets into shared use, thereby helping people save money. Helping reduce CO2 emissions. Freeing up space. I mean, the list goes on and on. But that's a really interesting case. Society tells us to focus on what's visible, which is the cost of a car. GDP. Things with dollars and cents, but there was idling capacity, or what we could think of is invisible value in streets and cities around the world.When you learn how to see that there's a whole new kind of ecosystem, not just for transportation, but far beyond, that can be developed. So that's an example on, again, the innovation kind of organizational end of things. But it definitely applies in terms of individuals and our own blind spots. And where we think we should be looking versus where the action, the action that really matters where it happens to be.Brian Ardinger: And it doesn't even have to be within your industry. I think some of the low hanging fruit for a lot of corporations would be just to look at other industries and see what they're doing when it comes to customer relationships or whatever. And it may not be in your wheelhouse, or your industry may not be doing it, but it may be something that's very easy to adapt or adopt into your industry. And all you have to do is just quite frankly, look at a different set of competitors out there and see what happens. April Rinne: I love that you bring this up, Brian, because I joked with you in advance. Like ironically, what people often call me is a kind of insider outsider in terms of my advisory work. And I have lost count. I'll share this with you. It's so fun because I have lost count of the number of times I've been contacted by an organization and they've said, we want you to do what you did for that company, for our company. But they're in a domain, I'm like, I think you have the wrong person.I began by saying that, because it was like an energy company that first asked me this. And I was like, I'm not an energy expert. They were like, we know. But, you know, just enough about us to actually be able to bring in insights from financial services, from the sharing economy. You know, and the point was not that I had their solution, but then I could bring a perspective and a set of examples and a set of ideas and a set of principles, et cetera, et cetera.That were wildly different than what they were used to hearing. That ended up kind of churning their engines, if you will, around creativity, curiosity, and innovation. So you're absolutely right. And one of the things not just to see what's invisible, but all of the eight superpowers in the entire book. What I love is that I'm not asking you to have any kind of technology or money or whatever that you don't already possess. It's a matter of knowing where to look. So, see what's invisible. All that you need to learn how to see what's invisible. It's right there in front of you. It requires you actually though, to be able to take the step, to reach out and say, I need to learn more about what I don't know. I need to go somewhere that again, society tells me that's outside my domain. That's outside my sector. It's actually really, really relevant for what you're doing. Brian Ardinger: Well, that power of exploration. I think people underestimate it. And a lot of times it's not even exploring for a specific solution. It's just literally the act of exploring leads you to collisions of ideas and thoughts that lead you to that epiphany of whatever the thing is you're working on.April Rinne: And just a quick side note there, which is it's a little bit meta, but I like to bring it up because I think the moment in time, we're all living in right now. Whether it's reopening, whether it's, you know, what parts of normal are going to continue to exist. You know, is there a such a thing as normal?What, what do you want to leave behind in the last year? And what of the ways in which you changed; do you want to take forward. In this world of like we're in not just massive flux, but the sense of we don't have the solution. We're figuring them out. And we're in the early stages of what I believe will be a massive phase of exploration, iteration, experimentation, improvement, but like, we're not even close to those solutions right now.And I think especially like hybrid work. I focused on the future of work for years. Anyone who tells me they figured out hybrid work. I'm like, no, you haven't. And the more you believe you have, the more, I'm less inclined to actually listen to what you're saying. But if we can all kind of wrap our arms around the fact that we don't know, and we won't know, and to start that process exactly as you've said of, of exploring and experimenting and iterating, we're going to be just fine. But it's the people who want to control and know right now, what it's going to look like. Those are the ones that I worry about where we're going to find ourselves in some trouble. Brian Ardinger: And that's probably a good segue to the last superpower I kind of want to talk about. It's this idea of creating your portfolio. I think maybe you and I are similar from that perspective that, you know, every couple of years, it's a new hat we throw on. I talk about it from the standpoint of everybody's going to have a slash in their name. So, I'm a, you know, entrepreneurial slash podcast slash director of innovation slash whatever. And this idea that everyone in society is going to have this portfolio of experiences that they bring to the table. Talk a little bit about why that superpower is important and, and what I that means to you. April Rinne: Yeah. So this does relate directly to the future of work. It's a bit unique in that regard and that a lot of the superpowers are more applicable personally, professionally, societally. Portfolio career is very much about you and your career.And fundamentally what we're looking at is the career of the future looks much less like a career path, a kind of linear trajectory, and much more like a portfolio that you take responsibility for. And you curate. It gets super interesting. So, the whole like study work, retire, learn linear path that we, again, society told us this is how your professional life is likely to play out.Not to say that that didn't work for some time, but what we're finding is it's broken at every node today. And a lot of people want something more, once something different. I think the great resignation that's going on right now is directly related to this. And so, the notion of a portfolio, it's not just acknowledging that the structure of the workforce is changing.It is now possible to work in more ways than ever before. The role of technology, et cetera, et cetera. But it's also looking at, you know, our professional identity. How do you actually want to show up and bring your best to the world? And so the shift from the career path, which you can think of as a ladder to climb, you know, it's, it's that linear, like pursue, pursue, pursue.So, what's happening is more and more people are not wanting to climb that ladder. More and more people are finding that ladder is teetering, if not broken. And it doesn't work for a whole lot of people. A portfolio, which again, just in the spirit of creativity, you'll hear them refer to it as a jungle gym, rather than a ladder.You'll hear them refer to it as a bento box. If you know the Japanese delicacy. But we're looking, I've also heard of actually a flower that has different pedals and different ways of blossoming. But what we're looking at is basically a shift in how you view your professional development. Your professional identity. And your career overall. And that it's not a path, but it is exactly, as you say, it is a curation of all of the things you care about. All of the things you can do. And if you will, your best work. So, from a portfolio perspective, there are lots of ways you can look at it. The two that I prefer, because I find most people gravitate towards one or the other. One is, you know, investors have a portfolio. It's a portfolio of their investments obviously, but why do they have a portfolio?They have it to diversify, to diversify and to mitigate risk. Right? Then you've got an artist portfolio. Well, what's in his or her portfolio, their best work. So whichever of those, you like, it's more a matter of everything that you've ever done or want to do or skills you have paid or unpaid that can contribute to society. All of that's in your portfolio. And then it's up to you to mix and match and curate it into something that's unique, which is where we end up with hyphens. Brian Ardinger: The other thing about the portfolio career concept is that as the world is accelerating and you know, new tools are becoming easier for the average Joe or Jane to pick up and that. The fact that, you know, what you learned in college is no longer relevant after four years because of the, you know, the world's changed. It's both easier and harder to jump into that next portfolio or learn and take advantage of that, whatever that is. So if you look at it from an opportunistic perspective and it's like, as an opportunity, this pace of change is actually a really good thing. Because you're never really that far behind whatever the next thing is. Because you can jump in and become a part of it and learn faster, because those tools are available to you as well. So because of that pace of change, not only you have to be good at it, but it also gives you an opportunity to be able to flex and change in ways you've never done it in the past. April Rinne: Absolutely. And this is, it's actually a perfect entry or a segue into the portfolio career being much more aligned with and fit for a future of work in flux. And what's interesting, there's a quote, it's actually by Jerry Garcia of all people, but you know, the quote is don't be the best be the only. And the reason I like this is because in the future, being that single greatest expert on X, Y, Z, less and less likely, more and more difficult and less and less just not really aligned with reality.It's going to be the combination of different skills in your portfolio that allow you to stand out. And the more things you have in your portfolio, the more you can mix and match. And to your point, the easier it becomes to add things, layer up or level up. Moving forward as new technologies come through, as new roles become design, become available, et cetera.So it is that sense of this is how not just that you're ready and prepared for the future of work, but also the more robust your portfolio, the harder it is going to be to automate some portion of what you do. The easier it is to keep refreshing your portfolio over time, et cetera. So, one thing I would add, because this comes up a lot where people are like, wait, are you just talking about kind of hustling and the gig economy and that sort of thing, when they hear the word portfolio and I'm always like, no, no, no, no, no, absolutely not.Any full-time job you have is in your portfolio, any side hustle or gig you have is in your portfolio too. Any volunteer experience you have is in your portfolio. The thing I like to remind people is each and every one of us already has a portfolio today. The hook is most of us don't realize it and we're not necessarily being deliberate about curating it.But that's where, like I say, you've already got again, you've got the pieces of your puzzle. It's a matter of putting them together in a different way. That's much more aligned with and ready for constant change. For More InformationBrian Ardinger: We have plenty more superpowers to cover. I encourage people to pick up Flux: Eight Superpowers for Thriving in Change. If people want to find out more about you April or about the book, what's the best way to do that.April Rinne: The best website for my book and all things flux is And I also have my site, which is just more about me,, but head to Flux first and feel free to follow up with questions. I'm super easy to reach. My email is I'm always happy to be in touch and thank you again for today.Brian Ardinger: Well, April, thanks for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I look forward to having you as part of the community in the years to come, and I appreciate your time today. April Rinne: Absolutely. Likewise, thank you, Brian.Brian Ardinger: That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.FREE INNOVATION NEWSLETTER & TOOLSGet the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HEREYou can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.  For more innovations resources, check out IO's Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  

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