ET-048: A conversation with Mr. Elvin Turner
ET-048: A conversation with Mr. Elvin Turner
with your host Wayne Brown on May 23, 2023
with your host Wayne Brown on May 16, 2023
Episode notes: A conversation with Mr. Elvin Turner
Hello, I’m your host, Wayne Brown, and welcome to the ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world whom we’re affectionately referring to as team ET.
Today we are visiting the township of Guildford, Southwest of London in the UK to chat with a gentleman who’s all about innovation. Mr. Elvin Turner is an award-winning innovation advisor and associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship for MBA and executive education programs.
His clients include some of the world’s most innovative organizations in the finance, technology, music, drinks, and the publishing industries. He’s coached hundreds of corporate innovative initiatives around the world, helping leaders and managers overcome the many barriers they face when trying to turn new ideas into action.
Elvin’s experience extends from working with new and disruptive technology startups through the seasoned leadership teams inside conservative global institutions.
BTW – Elvin has a new book due for release in Oct. ’23 – it’s called “The Smartest Question in the Room”
Here is an extract from our conversation as we start to get into it…
“… Depends how fun you want it to be, I guess. Well, most people don’t know I’ve lived in Latin America. I’ve worked out there up in the Andes for a little while. Sort of halfway through my career I had a sabbatical. I’ve lived in a few places around the world, US, France as well during university years. I love to travel. I live just southwest of London in the UK. I got three kids who are all about innovation, and parenting innovation is…
Is my number one job. I think it’s trying to figure out… Trying to anticipate what’s gonna come next and living with ambiguity. And it’s an interesting ride trying to apply [chuckle] some of what I teach in business schools and incorporate it to myself. And eat my own dog food, as they say…”
Today’s Guest: MR. ELVIN TURNER
I first encountered Elvin a few years back when I listened to a presentation, he was delivering on helping leaders spark corporate creativity at a coaching seminar. And his message really resonated with me.
Having long considered myself an innovator. I had often experienced the frustration of working within a corporate environment where you towed the party line, even though it clearly wasn’t working.
So, I was curious to learn how Elvin helps organizations to overcome this scenario. And you’ll hear us speak to this as well as many other topics during this conversation. Elvin has authored a wonderful book called “Be Less Zombie”, where he distills 10 years of field research among some of the world’s leading innovators into a pragmatic, actionable toolkit.
It’s essentially designed for managers who need to be more remarkable with their innovation in a repeatable and scalable way. And I’m happy to report that he’s launching a second book in October 2023, titled “The Smartest Question in the Room.” So I really can’t wait to get my hands on that one.
Here’s a small sample of three award-winning works that Elvin focuses on. Innovation and strategy development, organizational innovation, and entrepreneurial assessments, and designing and facilitating experiential innovation and leadership development programs. And the list, of course, goes on.
As you may expect, Elvin delivers keynotes on a wide range of topics related to strategy, innovation, as well as culture.
Elvin Turner | LinkedIn
Be Less Zombie (the book)
Elvinturner.com (the website)
Elvin Turner (TED Talk)
Final words from Elvin:
“I think just start somewhere. And this is the thing, we can look at it and feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. And I think there’s two questions that can just help frame that, and that is who do we need to become and who are we today?
What’s the gap both in who we need to be, what we need to do, and how we need to do it. And if you just put that on the table in a team conversation, it opens up really rich conversation about strategic futures and what it would take to get there.
And out of that, you can make some choices around what you want to do next. But the other thing I’m bound to say is grab Be Less Zombie ’cause it walks you through the whole process of how to do that. Just practical tools that can get you started…”
0:00:05.5 Wayne Brown: Hello, I’m your host, Wayne Brown, and welcome to The ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world, whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET. Today we are visiting the township of Guildford, Southwest of London in the UK to chat with a gentleman who’s all about innovation. Mr. Elvin Turner is an award-winning innovation advisor and associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship for MBA and executive education programs. His clients include some of the world’s most innovative organizations in the finance, technology, music, drinks, and the publishing industries. He’s coached hundreds of corporate innovative initiatives around the world, helping leaders and managers overcome the many barriers they face when trying to turn new ideas into action. His experience extends from working with new and disruptive technology startups through the seasoned leadership teams inside conservative global institutions. I first encountered Elvin a few years back when I listened to a presentation he was delivering on helping leaders spark corporate creativity at a coaching seminar. And his message really resonated with me.
0:01:18.1 WB: Having long considered myself an innovator. I had often experienced the frustration of working within a corporate environment where you towed the party line, even though it clearly wasn’t working. So I was curious to learn how Elvin helps organizations to overcome this scenario. And you’ll hear us speak to this as well as many other topics during this conversation. Elvin has authored a wonderful book called “Be Less Zombie”, where he distills 10 years of field research among some of the world’s leading innovators into a pragmatic, actionable toolkit. It’s essentially designed for managers who need to be more remarkable with their innovation in a repeatable and scalable way. And I’m happy to report that he’s launching a second book in October, 2023, titled “The Smartest Question in the Room.” So I really can’t wait to get my hands on that one.
0:02:11.2 WB: Here’s a small sample of three award-winning works that Elvin focuses on. Innovation and strategy development, organizational innovation, and entrepreneurial assessments, and designing and facilitating experiential innovation and leadership development programs. And the list, of course, goes on. As you may expect, Elvin delivers keynotes on a wide range of topics related to strategy, innovation, as well as culture. So with that Team ET, please settle yourself now and be ready to capture plenty of insights and ideas as we unpack this episode with Mr. Elvin Turner titled, “Amplifying Innovation as a Strategy for Forward Thinking Corporations.”
0:02:57.8 Speaker 2: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor, Wayne Brown as we unpack an exciting future together.
0:03:13.1 WB: Well, welcome Team ET to another week. Great to have everybody back with us, and we have a really interesting guest today. We’re gonna be talking about innovation and our guest is Elvin Turner. Elvin’s based over in the UK. We’re gonna jump around a lot on this topic because I know for many of you, innovation is something that you live for, but probably don’t get a lot of opportunity to practice during your day-to-day. And part of our conversation will be around the reason why that exists in organizations. So Elvin, great to have you on the ET project. Welcome.
0:03:50.5 Elvin Turner: Yeah, thanks Wayne. I’m really looking forward to our conversation.
0:03:53.2 WB: I normally kick off by asking you if you have any fun facts about yourself.
0:03:57.7 ET: Depends how fun you want it to be, I guess. Well, most people don’t know I’ve lived in Latin America. I’ve worked out there up in the Andes for a little while. Sort of halfway through my career I had a sabbatical. I’ve lived in a few places around the world, US, France as well during university years. I love to travel. I live just southwest of London in the UK. I got three kids who are all about innovation, and parenting innovation is…
0:04:25.2 ET: Is my number one job. I think it’s trying to figure out… Trying to anticipate what’s gonna come next and living with ambiguity. And it’s an interesting ride trying to apply [chuckle] some of what I teach in business schools and incorporate it to myself. And eat my own dog food, as they say.
0:04:43.3 WB: [laughter] I’m also a father and a husband. And the ambiguity within the parenting, I really resonate with that, that’s… My daughter is only eight years old. You can imagine with my gray hair and the age gap, how challenging that can be. [laughter] So when you say you love traveling, anywhere in particular in the world that is a favorite location?
0:05:05.5 ET: I love Latin America, I mean all over. I mean, Peru definitely got a place in my heart where we lived in Lima, Arequipa, up in the Andes as often as we can, a bit trickier with kids these days, but as often as we can, we go back. We went there with our kids three or four years ago to show them where we lived and took them around all the sites, scenes and things. But yeah. Any opportunity to get to Latin America, I’m there in like a shot.
0:05:30.0 WB: It’s a long flight, right? From where you’re to Latin America.
0:05:34.2 WB: I can imagine.
0:05:35.1 ET: Yeah. It’s pretty about 24 hours, door to door, depending if you get a direct flight, it’s better. But from the UK, there aren’t too many.
0:05:42.7 WB: It’s an interesting place. I haven’t been to many locations in South America as such, mainly North America but interesting location for sure. You were about 20 years in an organization, I believe, at one stage, and you pivoted and decided to move out on your own. I’d like to delve into that a little bit just to see, what was the pivotal moment or the reason that led you in a different direction?
0:06:11.8 ET: Sure. So I’ve got a slightly alternative answer to this question.
0:06:15.8 WB: Okay.
0:06:17.0 ET: I’d always thought I’d probably go out on my own at some point. I tried a couple of times, actually not to go on my own. I tried a couple of times to go and work in different places because I just fancy the change, it didn’t really work out. But I loved working where I did. The company was great. It was a boutique consultancy looking at leadership, change and innovation.
0:06:39.3 ET: But the real turning point came when, I was away with my family actually, and I’m a Christian, so I was praying about, what’s the next season like? And I really felt God say, “Time to move. The time is now, the time to move is now.” So we didn’t rush, but I just sat with it a while and my wife and I talked about it, I kept praying about it. And I really felt peace that it’s time, it’s time to make the move. So I gave my employer a long notice lead. It was about nine months, ’cause I was leading some of the key accounts in the company at the time, and I wanted to do a good job at handing over and everything. So we did that. And, yeah, 2016 I set out on my own and kind of carried on doing what I was doing there originally, which is really helping organizations figure out innovation and strategy, how you operationalize it, how do you make it work at a team level? Lots of leadership development around innovation and training and that sort of thing. And since then, I guess my work, but… And again, this is one of the benefits of working for yourself is the freedom that you have to do things that a 9-to-5 makes more difficult. So teaching it on MBA programs in different places, writing books, which is a different portfolio of work, which is more appropriate I guess, to someone working on their own rather than working in an organization where you just got, you’ve got different responsibilities and things that you’ve gotta commit to. So, yeah that was the journey.
0:08:03.4 WB: Any regrets?
0:08:06.4 ET: Oh my goodness. No, I can’t imagine…
0:08:09.2 ET: Going back and working inside. I would if I had to. If push came to shove and it was a… I needed to do it, of course I would. But I love the freedom that I have. Just before we started this recording, talking to my son about his revision plan and just different bits and pieces of what he’s struggling with and wants some support with. Of course, I could probably talk to him about that later on at night. But it’s great just to be able to do things in real time and be flexible. But no regrets whatsoever.
0:08:41.4 WB: Let’s transgress a little bit now closer to the innovation topic. If we look at, from a very theoretical perspective, I know there’s the innovation theory and there’s this diffusion of innovation discussion that came out. How much is your practice based around that theoretical construct versus the more practical everyday reality that organizations face?
0:09:10.3 ET: I like to sit in the, kind of the crosshairs of them both. Because even though a lot of the theory isn’t necessarily packaged very well, usually there’s some gold in there. And I suppose because I straddle or certainly since leaving, setting up on my own, I’ve been doing more work in the university sector, in MBA. I’ve had to really embrace both. And what’s been really interesting is doing the academic stuff. And finding a model and saying, “Oh, I haven’t come across this before. This is interesting.” And then you dig in and you go, “Oh, it’s one of those, I just wasn’t calling it that.” And so a lot of the key ideas, the key models and methodologies and things that are used in business do have their roots somewhere. There’s no new ideas under the sun, they say, don’t they?
0:10:03.0 WB: Yes.
0:10:03.7 ET: I am a real stickler for practicality. If you can’t put it on and do it now, then it’s certainly in the corporate world where attention spans are low, the fast, the speed is super fast. If you can’t hit the ground running with something and people can’t immediate impact with a tool, with an idea, with a methodology, it’s dead, people move on. So I’ve tried to position myself as someone who is insanely practical. To the point where I’m creating a course at the moment for a music company. So I created this two and a half hour course, which really is an introduction to the principles of innovation for someone who really wants to get their hands dirty, team leader level. And I was talking to the music company about the work that they wanted me to do, and they said, can’t do two and a half hours. Can you do a half hour version.
0:10:54.3 ET: Half hour? I love that challenge. If that’s the attention span they’ve got, let’s meet them where they’re at and design something that’s really got some great stuff in there. The whole approach, that nana approach that they can apply and they can actually give them some rigor, gives them something they can make progress with, but it’s designed for TikTok attention spans. It’s like, what a great opportunity to do something new. So…
0:11:17.0 WB: To be innovative. [laughter]
0:11:18.0 ET: Yeah, I’m going to try and bring the two together. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
0:11:23.4 WB: You talk a lot about in your book, “Be Less Zombie.” For those that haven’t heard of, Elvin before in the book that you have out, “Be Less Zombie.” I don’t have a copy here with me, but I’ve read different extracts from it. You talk about organizations that are zombies versus unicorn example. And I guess that was somehow foundational to where you started this whole premise. Perhaps you could just explain that a little bit more the concept of a zombie organization. I guess, most people know what a unicorn is, but maybe not so much the zombie organization.
0:12:02.4 ET: Yeah. Well, let me tell you where it came from. I was working in a business school and we… It was a day on innovation for leaders and I thought, let’s try something different just to get the day started. So I drew a line on the floor and at one end was the idea of a unicorn company and the other end… So that’s a company that’s red hot relevance, it’s worth a billion dollars and it’s barely got outta bed, it’s on fire. And at the other end, we wanted something that represented an organization that’s really struggling, that’s on its knees, it’s searching for its last meal, it’s… So the idea of zombie came up. So I said, “Okay, well that end, unicorns, that end, zombie. Think about, every delegate in the room. Think about how innovation shows up inside your organization, and then go and stand on the line somewhere to represent the innovation performance of your organization.” Everybody ran to the zombie end.
0:12:55.2 ET: I was like, “Oh my goodness. We’re onto something here.” I mean I knew that most organizations struggle with innovation, which is… That’s why I was there to teach some principles around it. But it was interesting that people… Well, people really resonated with the analogy. So, it kind of went from there.
0:13:10.4 ET: And the premise of the book is how do you be less zombie? ‘Cause let’s be honest, most of us are struggling to be highly effective in our innovation. There’s a bit of zombie in most organizations ’cause we’ve just let things go. We’ve focused on delivering today at high speed with efficiency, but we’ve taken our eye off the ball for what’s coming tomorrow. So this is about creating an environment where both can show up in a healthy way.
0:13:33.9 WB: And I saw in your TED talk, you talk about the realities of organizations, companies today. The lifespan of a company is becoming shorter. People are not focused on blockbuster ideas, as you call them, they’re more focused on the smaller, succinct, easier ideas, they don’t look at the big ones. And then for me, one of the things that I really resonated with in that talk that you did was this concept that leaders, organizations today are frightened of the future. It’s the uncertainty, the complexity, the ambiguity that exists in the world today really has a lot of leaders scared. And to think about innovating, which tends to be looking into that future, looking at something that’s not as secure, really is not something that many organizations, I guess, are comfortable doing. And you had a nice phrase, “Many companies have creative constipation at one end of the scale”, and many companies are at that end of the scale. So there was a lot of things you spoke about there. I just wonder if you could unpack that little bit more before we get into innovation itself, around where you see many organizations and why they’re there.
0:14:50.0 ET: One of the phrases that was also in that TED Talk is that, “Organizations are literally scaring themselves to death.” By that I mean, they’re looking at the future and saying, “Oh my goodness, what are we gonna do?” But then they’re also looking at innovation and mistakenly believing that it’s something that’s complicated and difficult and smoke and mirrors. So they’re not doing anything, and therefore there’s no new ideas coming. And so we’re starving because there’s new ideas coming in the pipeline. So this idea is we’re scared to death. I see it a lot and I think a lot of the fear is unfounded. Often it’s because leaders actually haven’t really had some good innovation training or experience in their past, which can easily be fixed. And actually putting in place processes. We have processes for finance, processes for marketing, processes for any other function.
0:15:38.7 ET: Why should innovation be any different? There are tons of processes that if you choose to, you can embed them inside your organization. And innovation shows up as an inevitability. You can’t help but show up if you wire your organization accordingly. But what I… So, to your point, what often you see is, leaders will will pick up the phone and say, Elvin, there’s no, there’s no big ideas inside our organization. Now I say to people, “Come on, bring me the big ideas for tomorrow.” And no one does anything. When I go talk to the people inside the organization, there is no shortage of ideas. It’s just that it’s in no one’s interest to put them on the table. One, because of time. If I put my hand up and say, “Can I work on this?” And you say, “Yes.” I just got a new evening job.
0:16:20.0 ET: No one wants a new evening job, we’re already working at 120% or whatever it is. If I do go for it and I put it on the table and then it fails, what does that do for my career prospects? If I put it on the table knowing full well that I haven’t got the time to do this, we don’t have the capabilities to do this. Even if I took it to the next stage, this place kills this kind of idea. Everything is conspiring against someone responding to the CEO and saying, “Yeah, I’ve got a great idea, boss.” Why would you do that?
0:16:48.5 WB: Yeah. Why would you do it to yourself? Yeah.
0:16:51.0 ET: Exactly. ‘Cause… And also then at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got, or later in the process, you’ve got constipation, but you’ve also got indigestion. You take the ideas to the leaders, the big ideas, the bold ideas that do deliver, research shows they deliver higher returns, but they feel riskier. And therefore the leaders choose not to get… They get indigestion with the idea. They don’t… They just get spat out of the system. So the role of the leader is to create an environment where that stuff disappears and you can choose to do that, it’s a deliberate choice. It’s what the Netflix’s do, the Teslas, all of the organizations that are held up as the poster children of innovation, the most important thing they’ve done is decide, we are gonna do innovation. And we don’t know perfectly how it’s gonna happen, but we know we need it. So let’s make that our number one priority is to figure out how to embed it and create metrics and systems around it so that it never goes away. So that people do feel confident to bring ideas that the future needs.
0:17:50.2 WB: And I guess, many of those organizations you mentioned, we would refer to them as disruptive organizations. They’re the ones out there that are creating their future. How do they do that? And then, what is the difference in the way they approach their business versus the more traditional organizations that are struggling?
0:18:11.8 ET: Well, I’d say that the heart of it is they have a desire to pursue relevance 100%. What got us here today is not… We all know, let’s just… History is full of examples. The companies that make it today are not the companies that make it tomorrow. They decided to take their eye off the ball on key areas and their relevance actually erodes. Let’s not do that. Let’s always stay relevant. Okay, well that’s number one. Number two is where we’re gonna need some kind of innovation operating system inside the organization that ensures we’ve got a continuous pipeline. We’re looking ahead, we’re running experiments, we’re testing, we’ve decided who we wanna be in the market and what position we’re going to be. And then we’re gonna resource innovation accordingly, whether that’s, bleeding edge, setting the pace, whether that’s fast follower or somewhere in between.
0:18:57.0 ET: And you’re calibrating your system to ensure that the future shows up. So an attitude of determination to be relevant really is the mindset at the heart of it. But when you break it down into sort of the more practical things, it’s looking at, well, who do we wanna be in five years time, 10 years time? Pick a number. What are our strategic objectives for getting there? And then looking at, well, if we just keep doing what we’re doing today versus where we need to be tomorrow, there is a gap. And that gap is often the gap that you need to fill with innovation. There’s growth and all sorts of other things that you could frame it in different ways. But basically this is doing new stuff often. And…
0:19:38.1 ET: Once you’ve identified what your strategy needs, what the innovation requirement is, then you can build an innovation strategy. And resource accordingly. So mostly incremental stuff, that’s gonna happen at a team level. We can fold that into the day-to-day. It makes sense ’cause we can align our strategic objectives down to our team objectives. There’s some innovation in there that needs to happen so that we’re on fire all of the time. That’s great. But there’s gonna be some new stuff, new technology, new business models that it’s not really appropriate for the people who are running the business to look at because that’s gonna be a distraction that needs to be separated and done somewhere else. So there’s strategy, innovation, strategy. How should that be resourced so it has the most chance possible of showing up. And then you have metrics and measurement systems just as you do for anything else. You know? So that’s working in a certain way, we know what the leading and the lagging indicators need to be for a highly effective innovation system. But it’s deliberate, it’s systematic and it’s systemic and we are being very, very different about the whole thing.
0:20:41.4 WB: The companies that are successful in this regard, are they setting it up as an independent department or function within the organization? Or is it, as you said, systemic and filtered throughout the departments? Like, do they distinguish in any way?
0:20:57.2 ET: It’s a real mix. People do it in different ways. Different organizations have different strategies for it. But the key is decide how you’re going to do it. I mean you go to some organizations, it’s quite sporadic. Projects pop up around things and there’s no business unit they report to necessarily. It’s more organic. But when one of those pops up, we know how to resource those things. We’ve decided in advance when that’s the model that we’re gonna resource. Other people, they have the lab model, ideally it’s connected closely back to the rest of the business. So it doesn’t become this white elephant where things are invented and no one cares and… You know, and there’s a fight trying to make things connect back to the core. And everything in between. I mean the key is all of this information is out there, but what we’re not choosing to do is to look and choose the model that’s gonna work for us.
0:21:49.5 WB: So then let’s say hypothetically, you’re coming into work in our organization, we’re struggling. We don’t have a pipeline of innovative ideas where we’re really on the cusp of falling over. Where would you start? How would you approach it with the CEO, with the board to help them in, in the beginning stages?
0:22:08.9 ET: Well, for me it always starts in the future. There’s the question, well, this is who we are today. Who do we need to become? If our market is going this way, if trends are going this way, if our consumers are saying they want more of this and less of that, where are things headed and where do we want to be? ‘Cause if you don’t have a destination, you’re gonna be in trouble, whatever you do. So it’s picking an identity. A done state, a performance state, a position in the market. And I’ve got a whole workshop that I help companies do around back casting. So in five years time, newspapers will be saying this about us. People will be queuing up at the door to work for us because fill in the blanks and you’re creating a future state of what great is gonna look like.
0:22:54.4 ET: You’re gonna put yourself into that. And then working back from that, you define, well, what would be the dependencies for that future state showing up in, around resourcing, how we organize innovation, how we make decisions, all sorts of things. And work back to today, which gives you a very basic prototype action plan for at a very high level of where you need to… That then gives you something to hold onto, to make some choices around, okay, how are we gonna, so what matters most? What are the needles we need to move furthest fastest to get there? Let’s set up some projects around those things and understand that we need to resource them well. And what metrics will hold them in place? Lots of detail. But starting with who do we wanna become? Who do we need to be? What are the questions that tomorrow is asking us today? Are we gonna lean into them even though there’s gonna be lots of uncertainties around them?
0:23:48.4 WB: And therefore, I can imagine that one of the things that pops into my mind when we talk about innovation and we talk about channeling energy and effort into developing new products as an example, is the timeframe. And with technology progressing and advancing so rapidly today, one of the complexities and uncertainties that come for leaders is am I going to make the wrong decision? And then we’re stuck working on the wrong thing. And I guess what you are saying is by looking further out, look into that future and deciding where you wanna be, that takes some of that uncertainty away. I would imagine.
0:24:24.9 ET: It does. And I think the other thing as well is just being really honest. No one can predict the future with perfect accuracy. We’re all in the same boat to some extent. So one of the wisest things you can do is spread lots of bets, be running lots of little bets. And as the data starts to confirm or disprove some of those ideas that you’ve got as you get closer to those horizons and things start to bear fruit or not, you can cut them or you can invest in them. Often we don’t have many bets that we are playing with. We’re just looking at incremental versions of what we’re doing today. And I guess again, there’s another mindset that sits behind the organizations that do this well. And it’s not a product mindset. It’s what I’d call a progress mindset. So if you look at the music industry, you go back a hundred years, even longer and the way that you organized and managed and transported your music quite difficult. You’re on these big wax cylinders that you can’t really transport them very easily. It’s a nightmare. Then you move to vinyl, okay, that’s a bit more portable. I can manage and access my music more easily. Tape, DVD and now we are into streaming where you can very easily manage and access your music whenever you want. That progress that I wanted to make as a user hasn’t changed in 120 years. My ability to do it has changed. And if you look at the…
0:25:44.2 ET: The juncture points, the jump points between those technologies from vinyl, to tape, from tape to CD, the key players, the manufacturers from one to the other, don’t hang around, there’s not much success between them. They didn’t make the leap. Whereas, you can predict that the progress often. The underlying progress that you’re helping out an individual or a customer make doesn’t actually change that fast, but the technology does, so if you root yourself in, what do our customers actually want us to do for them? This is how we do it today, in five years time, that it’s gonna be easier and faster and better, why? How?
0:26:22.2 ET: Well, let’s go on a hunt and a discovery because it is gonna happen, let’s make sure we’re playing, spreading bets to understand what those things are, knowing it’s the tracking the progress that you can be very confident, or much more confident about, than the technology and how that’s gonna show up. So if you look at Netflix, they call themselves a movie streaming company, they say they exist to help people connect with great movies.
0:26:48.3 WB: Alright.
0:26:48.6 ET: Well, that doesn’t have to be streaming, it was DVD.
0:26:51.1 WB: Yeah. It could be anything.
0:26:54.4 ET: When you hook yourself around what your customers really want from you, the progress, not the product, put the product to one side, why do they buy the product? What is it enabling? What are the outcomes? It’s called Outcome-Driven Innovation, that gives you a much more safe place to start from and run experiments from into the future.
0:27:13.0 WB: If I look at the theory, and we talk about the five stages of adoption or adaption, innovation is always at the beginning, and then you have the laggards at the end, how do you connect that through the organization that’s looking at where they need to be versus the product or the client user base, how do you use this from an organization perspective?
0:27:38.2 ET: Yeah, it’s a really interesting point. And one of the things I try and have organizations see right from the start when I’m working with them is if you’ve got a product portfolio, the chances are that each of those are in different stages of diffusion. So there’s not one size-fits-all here. You’re not this kind of company. You’re gonna have new things and old things happening all the time, you’ve got a portfolio, that’s at different stages of its lifecycle. So you need to really look at it at an individual level rather than having this broad brush. That’s actually not very helpful. It’s more about getting down into the consumers, the customers of today. What do they need in the future and how can we give them confidence to move forward in making decisions that help them make more progress? And then how do we position ourselves as a company?
0:28:24.3 ET: But often, more importantly, the division that’s looking after improving that progress for that customer. What does it mean for to them and what does it mean for this division and what does it mean for this division? And then underneath, how do we create an operating system that allows us to work at different speeds in different ways? And that’s often where the complexity comes in. It’s very well coming and having a one size fits all innovation strategy. And you need that. But at some point, you’ve got to be able to break off and be more flexible around where everyone is in their market lifecycle, what the ambition is, do you need to pull out of some markets or what. So it’s definitely a very good question to pursue and not many do it. [laughter]
0:29:09.2 WB: If I’m looking in an organization, it sounds like the innovation centre really needs to be at the front end of the food chain or the lifecycle, looking at from a product point of view. So whether it’s marketing, whether it’s R&D, somewhere around that point is where the innovation would sit. And I’m wondering, does that run. And I might be wrong in that observation, but I’m wondering if that’s the case, does that create a potential disconnect for the rest of the organization?
0:29:44.9 ET: I would not necessarily agree with what you said, but it depends on how you… Again, there’s different ways of setting up innovation. I would say innovation should sit everywhere. If we have a team, if we have resource pointed towards anything, we believe it creates value. And the way that that value is created is gonna change over time. We could bring in new technology to create more value faster or we could choose not to. There’s an innovation agenda at every level that we do, both in what we do and how we do it. And I think often what you’ve described is a mindset inside organizations that is pervasive, which is innovation does sit at product development or R&D and marketing. It’s in the stuff we make. And that’s true. We do need that. But then that completely misses some of the more strategic stuff that we can look at around business model innovation, ecosystem innovation, right down to team process innovation.
0:30:37.6 ET: If we only look at product, often we find that the organization isn’t best set up to do what it could do anyway. The efficiencies that could be there, we’re missing out on, all sorts of things. So I would say it’s important to have innovation grounded, I would say, at a board level. If this matters enough, someone on the board needs to own this. And in fact, every divisional head needs to have some objectives around innovation so that it is pervasive. And now there will be a place for product development and marketing innovation as well that does have particular emphasis in resourcing and capabilities. But it shouldn’t overshadow everything else, would be my perspective. It needs to be holistic so that the whole organization is relevant, as relevant as possible in what it does and how it does it.
0:31:26.6 WB: I 100% agree with you. And that was what I was feeling myself. But my experience is that it tends to sit at that front end of the development cycle. And even if we do stick just to product, quite often the departments further down the lifecycle of the product have great experience and great knowledge and great ideas and innovation that should be shared across the company that just don’t get shared. Or even if they do, they don’t get heard. And I guess for our listener base, the message here would be if you see that, for me, that’s a red flag that you should be raising and saying, “We have ideas. What do we need to change to bring those ideas to the table?” Back to our earlier part of the conversation. I think it’s a great point.
0:32:21.2 WB: What are you doing at the moment in terms of changes within industry? Are there things happening within the industry that are driven outside of the organization’s control? Are you seeing industries shift, rather than organizations? Is it broader, the ecosystem broader than just the organization, the company itself?
0:32:45.9 ET: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, I think if you look at what does it take to create an outcome for a customer, the best way to do that is changing all the time. And our ability to have a radar for what’s coming, what does it mean, what should we do, should be up all the time. And if we’re just relying on our own ability to do innovation, we’re gonna fall behind competitors who are gonna be asking the question, what’s the best way to do this? Not what’s the best way that we can do this, but what’s the best way to do this? And that might mean, do you know what, we need to outsource 50% of the stuff that we used to think were crown jewels, because there are organizations out there that are much more agile, better with them as a strategic partner…
0:33:27.9 ET: It’s no longer a strategic capability because unless we wanna reskill and so I think, and this is again, it’s one of those areas of complexity that leaders need to really grapple with… Which is, what is the best business model for us to get from A to B? In three years time, is the business model that works today really gonna be the one that works best for us, given that we can see that there are changes coming with two or three trends overlapping and create… Just look, just take ChatGPT, and what people are doing at the moment with that and trying to figure out what does it mean in so many different contexts.
0:34:04.3 ET: I think one of the difficulties in what you’re suggesting is, often executives, leaders are so busy, just doing the day to day, rather than choosing a more strategic way of working and saying, I don’t do operations, 5-10% of my time needs to be operational, you guys pay me to help figure out what we need to be doing in the future. And much more of my time is focused on that rather than making decisions that I should be empowering and equipping other people to make. And when we have that level of strategic engagement with innovation and strategy, then the leaders can start asking the questions, “Okay, well, what if we aren’t the answer to this question? What if in five years time, we could radically rethink how this happens so that we’re creating a thousand times more profit, but we’re only using 50% of the resources today?” Because there are other organizations out there that are thinking like that.
0:34:57.3 ET: Are we allowing ourselves what might feel like a luxury to go off and do some strategic brainstorming? Or is it actually a critical dependency on how successful you’ll be when you show up in the future? My experience mostly is that leaders are too busy with the day to day to look at some of the incredible, creative strategic opportunities that are before us, as new business models, new ecosystems, new technology starts to collide in ways that we couldn’t have imagined even five years ago…
0:35:27.9 WB: For sure. How critical is speed in this whole equation of innovation, particularly in today’s world? I know we need to anchor on something that has longevity, but I’m also conscious of, particularly in products, the speed to market somehow needs to be a factor. And I’m wondering how you bring that in, in the discussion around innovation…
0:35:54.4 ET: Yeah. And again, this is a really tricky one for me, because you do have to be fast. You’ve got to move fast, which is why operational innovation… Organizational innovation is so important so that you can move fast when you need to. The only caution that I would add to this is we’ve become a bit too addicted to speed and everything needs to be super fast. So where’s the opportunity for reflection and thinking and creativity and incubation if everything’s got to be done at microwave speed?
0:36:24.9 WB: Right…
0:36:25.4 ET: We don’t have the patience and sometimes when we see leaders asking for new ideas and then they’re underwhelmed by what’s brought, often it’s because they’ve had to come in ridiculous time scales. And also the people who are bringing them are lowering the level of creativity as well, because they know this place can’t handle that kind of idea…
0:36:47.1 ET: So from a creativity point of view and a strategic thinking and a differentiation point of view, I think there’s benefit to slowing down some of these things, particularly at the front end, be great at research. Pull in. What does this mean? Sit and think about the interpretation piece for longer and how we could respond. And then when you are responding, you need to be able to do it fast. You need to… But there’s that sweet spot in the middle where there’s imagination required, where there’s creativity, where there’s just holding things to see what emerges for a bit longer than the speed of the day to day, which is relentless. I think there’s real advantage in striking the right balance there…
0:37:30.1 WB: It is a difficult mix… I can visualize some of the challenges that I had in my career and some for good reason why things work and things didn’t. You’ve recently… Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve recently released a program called Amplify Innovation. What are you focusing on with this new program? Is there something, a new approach that you’re introducing through this program?
0:37:58.6 ET: Not really. This is… Well, I suppose it depends how you define new. Most organizations that I work with don’t have, what I would say is a robust innovation development program for their managers and senior managers… They might get half a day that’s bolted onto a management program, but not much else. So this is an attempt to create something. Well, it’s not an attempt. It’s actually being used already by corporates around the world, to create something that is deep enough but practical enough that you can take it to your team and start doing things straight away. So it’s looking at things like…
0:38:32.5 ET: Well, it’s a capability building program on how do we find great insights, how do we ask better questions than the competition? How do we find the questions that no one’s asked yet? How do we do really good idea generation? How do we understand how to choose the best ideas? And then how do we design experiments that really lower the stakes and lower the risks of taking first steps with slightly bolder ideas. But then there’s also some really practical tools in there for how do you build a team innovation plan. Both in what we need to focus on and how we need to work together at a cultural level. How do you do those things? And there’s diagnostics and things, and then there’s a workbook in there so you can take it back to your team and work on some things together. So the idea is very much watch these videos, two and a half hours over 30 days. At the end of those 30 days, bits and pieces here and there, you’re gonna have some new skills that you can practice and apply, but you’re also going to build an innovation plan that you can start to work on with your team. So it’s trying to be a bit of a hybrid, like almost like workshop and training plan together, which I guess would be the thing that is the differentiator.
0:39:36.1 WB: Is this a virtual program or in situ? Like you attend classes or you can do this completely virtual?
0:39:44.3 ET: This is all virtual. Yeah, it’s all online. I have had organizations ask me if I can do a hybrid approach and I can do that sometimes. But mostly this is trying to help an organization move at speed and scale with the essentials. So in the book in Be Less Zombie, I talk about turn it on, then turn it up. Get started with innovation, with enough to get you moving. And then if you want to increase the sophistication in what you’re doing, then you can do that later. But let’s get started. This is a let’s get started course. Let’s embed it in your team so that it never goes away.
0:40:21.0 WB: I was just thinking early in my career, we used to do a lot of product improvement strategies. We had the NCR process, the nonconformance process, and we opened the floodgates, it seemed, with our organization by asking people to report every time that they had some problem. And I just had this vision of a CEO being fearful of opening the Pandora’s Box and such in the beginning and getting so much input that they can’t cope with it and the selection process. Have you experienced that before? And is that a genuine concern that people need to be thinking about?
0:41:04.2 ET: Yeah. I mean, it depends on the organization. If you’ve got a track record of asking people for lots of ideas and then giving no feedback, you’ll find that people stop bringing new ideas and that’s very well known. I think one of the best ways to overcome that is rather than say, send me any idea, send me great ideas, is to say, Okay, what does our strategy need? It’s to deliver. Therefore, what innovation objectives are we likely to need to deliver. Now in those focused areas, we need to move this needle from here to here. Can you suggest ideas on that? The floodgates then don’t open in the same way because the relevance of the ideas that come in is much more focused and aligned and the chances are that you’re not gonna have everybody interested in that particular area anyway. So you’re gonna have fewer ideas coming in. Ideally you want as many as possible coming in, but coming in with focus, with relevance, ’cause otherwise you do spend a lot of time trudging through ideas that are interesting, but they’re not really essential. I mean, I helped an organization once that was just getting started with this and they got really frustrated that people were sending in lots of ideas, but there were things like, it’s a bit cold in the canteen, can we turn the heating up?
0:42:14.3 WB: Yes.
0:42:15.7 ET: Well, you’ve just basically said, here’s a suggestion box. Not bring ideas that can deliver strategic value and people are only doing what they’re asked. You can’t blame that person for saying, can you turn the heat up? You weren’t clear on the ask. So the clearer you can be and ask questions that align to strategy, the more chances are that the ideas that come will actually stick as well because they’re moving an important needle rather than an optional thing that it will be nice to do.
0:42:41.5 WB: For sure. Elvin, it’s such an important topic in the world that we’re in. It’s been important for a long time, but it’s so relevant and prevalent at the moment that companies are innovative. Great conversation. If people wanna connect with you, where’s the best place for them to find you?
0:43:00.2 ET: Well, if you wanna find the book, you can find that on Amazon in English. It’s in Chinese as well. So JD.com, I know they host it there. Elvinturner.com is the website where you can, there’s contact forms and a bit more information on there. Those would be the best places. Or LinkedIn. Look me up on LinkedIn. Would be very happy to connect with you on LinkedIn as well.
0:43:20.3 WB: Okay, fantastic. We’ll put all those links in the show notes. Of course, if you had to leave our listener base with some message or words of wisdom, what would you advise them in relation to innovation
0:43:36.1 ET: I think just start somewhere. And this is the thing, we can look at it and feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. And I think there’s two questions that can just help frame that, and that is who do we need to become and who are we today? What’s the gap both in who we need to be, what we need to do, and how we need to do it. And if you just put that on the table in a team conversation, it opens up really rich conversation about strategic futures and what it would take to get there. And out of that, you can make some choices around what you want to do next. But the other thing I’m bound to say is grab Be Less Zombie ’cause it walks you through the whole process of how to do that. Just practical tools that can get you started.
0:44:18.1 WB: Fantastic advice. So, Elvin Turner, thank you again for being on the ET project. Great conversation, really insightful advice, and I hope our listeners take heed and reach out and connect with you because you certainly have a lot to share, and right now is a great time to be thinking about innovation. So thank you for being a guest, really appreciate it.
0:44:41.7 ET: Thank you, Wayne. Real honor to be on the show with you.
0:44:46.2 Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us on The ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, ebooks, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.