Steve: Today I’m here with my guest, Alan Weiss, co-author of the 1988 book The Innovation Formula (How Organizations Turn Change Into Opportunity), The Million Dollar Consultant, Million Dollar Maverick and many others.
I am excited to have you on the show today. I hinted earlier but I want to share it now, that the Nonconformist Innovation podcast was inspired by a talk you gave at your own Maverick Mob workshop in Boston in 2017, so it’s an honor to be able to sit down with you for a conversation and to discuss innovation with you.
You have won many awards, best-selling books in your name, great taste in cars, and you once appeared on the game show Jeopardy (where you lost badly in the first round to a dancing waiter from Iowa I hear) so without any further ado, Alan, I’m pleased to welcome you to the show.
Alan: Sure. Happy to be here.
Steve: In the Innovation Formula, The Million Dollar Maverick, and The Maverick Mob workshop you talked about that the future is in raising the bar. The future is not in restoring things. Restorative stuff is gone, you say. That companies can do it for themselves. Can you explain what you mean by the future is in raising the bar, and not in fixing things?
Alan: Sure. I mean everybody talks about disruption today, but really there’s no such thing. It’s a chimera, we’ve always had disruption, and what disruption is is improving things. Sometimes you improve things gradually, which is fine. Sometimes you improve things very dramatically. So, for example, you took nonconformist innovation from something you heard from me, which is great. A conformist innovation is Uber where it’s basically a taxi service using cleaner vehicles and high tech and GPS and so forth, but nonconformist innovation is Amazon, which has revolutionized the way people buy products and even services.
The future is in raising the bar by incremental means every day or by dramatic means, once a year, whatever it is, but not about fixing things because restoring the past isn’t good enough.
Why didn’t Sears, which was an innovative giant, using the railroads to send catalogs out west and put general stores out of business. I mean talk about big box stores that started in the 1800s, why didn’t Sears morph into Amazon? Because they’re not creative. They weren’t creative, and they’re still not creative. So, the future is in raising the bar by incremental means every day or by dramatic means, once a year, whatever it is, but not about fixing things because restoring the past isn’t good enough. And besides, organization is really good at fixing things. What they’re not good at is raising the bar.
Steve: So within, starting at the individual and with maverick and then working our way back to the book from 1988 on innovation, innovation starts with individual. What would you describe as are the ideal characteristics for this maverick that is, or the mavericks that are working within organizations and driving change and innovation?
Alan: Well, you don’t get a lot of mavericks within organizations, but where you do, because it’s possible, what you have is a freedom to fail. We’ve talked about that for a long, long time. What I’ve done with my clients where I’ve instituted innovative initiatives is to tell them to reward behaviors and not victories, if you reward victories, people get conservative. They’ll only suggest new things if they have a guarantee to go into work and result in a positive outcome and of course with new things there is no such guarantee.
In organizations, innovation is based upon people having the freedom to fail and being rewarded for their behaviors, not their victories.
Alan: So, you wait and wait and wait and wait until somebody passes you by. But if you reward the behaviors for innovation, and you don’t have people worrying about victory and whether their compensation is based on a win, you’ll have more and more people trying new things. So, you see some organizations that are highly innovative and some that are highly bureaucratic, which is the opposite. It’s not based on size. There are some large organizations that have been very innovative, Apple’s one and there have been some small operations, some mom-and-pop stores, which had been very bureaucratic, and we see that every day. You can go into a coffee shop and you have to stand in a certain line and give certain orders and it’s ridiculous. So, in organizations, innovation is based upon people having the freedom to fail and being rewarded for their behaviors, not their victories.
Steve: So, on that point, I’ve been in that situation trying to innovate within companies. Some companies just have different culture and are setup differently. What guidance would you provide to that person trying to get to the right of the red line that’s trying to balance being collaborative and positive within an organization and not being accused of having sharp elbows and yet still trying to maintain that sense of maverickism as you’ve put it previously?
Alan: Well I wrote the Innovation Formula in ’88 and I got my PhD in somewhere in the ’90s, early ’90s just because I was interested in getting one. What I tried to prove, my PhD is in psychology what I tried to prove was that if you hire people with certain behavioral predispositions, they’ll tend to be more innovative. If you want an innovative organization, you would tend to look for these behavioral predispositions in hiring. I thought this was brilliant and I used Merck, and I used Hewlett Packard, and I used Marine Midland Bank, which is now part of HBSC or HSBC, whatever that conglomerate is for my research. And they happily went along with it. What I’ve proved was just the opposite. My dissertation was rejected. I had to redo it because my science was good, my conclusion was wrong. There was no correlation between any kind of behavioral predisposition, let’s say high energy, or attention to detail, or assertiveness.
If the immediate superiors fostering innovation provided the freedom to fail, encourage people to take prudent risks, you had more innovation. If they were conservative, you didn’t.
No correlation with innovation on the job. The correlation was with one’s immediate superiors. If the immediate superiors fostering innovation provided the freedom to fail, encourage people to take prudent risks, you had more innovation. If they were conservative, you didn’t. And you know, by the way, people don’t leave companies, they leave Boston, so keep that in mind. So, if you want to be a maverick in an organization, the organization has to have managers, leaders, who allow for people to be mavericks to encourage them. You can’t have a skunk works. You can’t have some separate effort where people get into a room together and some stupid consultant says let’s all innovate. It has to be part of the fabric of the organization.
Steve: On that note, in the book on innovation, talk about on having the opportunity and the responsibility to be innovative. Does that usually, does it usually work that way? I mean is the opportunity today to help more people in the organization to become innovative or to focus on the few with high potential? Maybe if you look at it through the lens of the 80/20 rule, do you just focus on the 20%?
Alan: How do you identify who the high potential people are?
Steve: That’s why you have leaders and managers, I presume.
Alan: Well leaders and managers know very little. You tell the people who are the most innovative by giving them a chance to be innovative and then you watch, you can’t identify them before that. That’s what I was saying. Behavioral predispositions don’t matter. So, if you give everyone the opportunity, you’ll find which people naturally gravitate toward it, and that’s the way to do this. But most leaders, and most managers are too conservative. They’re too concerned about their bonuses, they’re too concerned about their reputation, and they don’t give people that kind of latitude.
Steve: So, let’s look at it in terms of risk and economic opportunity. How would you assess the risk to businesses who don’t give themselves the room or allow the mavericks within the organization to become not only innovative but along the lines of nonconformist innovation to that ilk, what are the economic risks to organizations that ignore this opportunity?
Alan: Well let’s not look at mavericks, let’s just talk about innovative organizations. Okay. And the fact is that if you look around the landscape, what you find is that organizations that aren’t innovative, fall behind and organizations that do innovate lead the pack, and it’s hardly surprising. You have to take prudent risks. When an organization is on a plateau and they’re living on their reputation, their coasting, they will eventually decline because all plateaus the road. It’s the law of entropy.
When an organization is on a plateau and they’re living on their reputation, their coasting, they will eventually decline because all plateaus the road. It’s the law of entropy.
Right now, Amtrak and its northeastern corridor on its regional trains, that is the local, which makes a lot of stops and it’s Acela, which is the only high-speed train in the United States. Carries over 60% of the entire passenger load in the northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, more than all the airlines combined, and you look at Amtrak and you look at the railroads, which are all line, all businesses. But the Acela in particular, which I travel all the time, I never take planes on that route, has a great first-class car. Every other car is a business car. The food is equivalent to airline first-class food. The drinks are free, the bathrooms are clean. You can plug in your laptop; you can make cell phone calls.
So, the railroad has been rather innovative in courting passengers because you get off in the middle of the city, you don’t have to go through TSA. And they’ve provided a very competitive and successful alternative to air travel. If you look at air travel, you find that organizations like CLEAR, will get you through TSA quickly. You’ll find for example, that even TSA has its pre-check, and if you’re coming in from outside the country you have global entry. So, if the government can be innovative, which it is in these areas, any company can be innovative. So, it’s really a question of what the top people are suggesting and rewarding and promoting and willing to take prudent risks. Not gamble a family farm, but prudent risk.
Steve: So, you see how innovation applies to customer service. It can apply to product design. Sometimes when you read business gurus, they’re looking at positioning a company. It doesn’t really look at how it affects a lot of different business units. So, in your consulting and when talking with companies, do you look at how innovative thinking affects everything from HR to product design to leadership and you call it the fabric of the organization and you don’t just isolate it to one area?
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Alan: No. You are encouraging everyone except HR. HR is hopeless. It’s a mystical organ, it has less relevance than a human appendix. People are in human resources for a reason, they can’t do much else. I advise all my coaching clients all over the world, all the consultants are going to my help, never deal with human resources. They’re not going to be innovative, believe me. But throughout the organization, whether you’re talking about sales or R&D, or Finance, or whatever it is, innovation is important. Look at technology, look at the IT department. Typically, they’re seen as enablers, the strategy is set and then you say, how well can IT support this?
If you want to be innovative, IT should be at the table and they should be helping with the development of new products and services and suggesting better ways to do things. That’s what my IT people do for me, in terms of my business.
So, you can do this throughout the organization, you can even involve your customers in doing it.
Steve: That’s great. So, if we’re looking at organizations that are trying to become more innovative and you make a distinction about having innovative ideas versus being combining innovation with entrepreneurial-ism and taking action on those ideas. You roughly draw out of a four or five step process. I can’t remember. I think it was four steps in the book. How would you describe that process, or that framework, or approach that companies should be structuring their thinking around a more disciplined approach to innovation?
Alan: Well, innovation can be methodical, just like problem solving can be methodical and in terms of innovation, what we found and my partner not at the time and what we wrote about in that first book is that there are 10 primary sources of innovative ideas, and not exclusively but primarily. For example, one is combining technologies, and you look at at the smartphone and health and tele-health and all of a sudden you have people being treated remotely by their smartphones. I mentioned Uber before which operates the same way. Another is high growth, and if you look at an area of high growth like personal computers or whatever at the time, or you look at the high growth of social media today, you ask yourself, what can I do that’s innovative around these high growth areas that are growing by themselves in any case? Another thing to look at is industry and market structure.
You ask yourself how is our industry, or the structure of our organization, such that we don’t just make it a little bit better, but we can completely change the way that we do business? Right here if you take a look in, I live in a relatively small town, a suburban town, there are options to get food delivered to you from the source of various restaurants and the service gets the food to you. And all this is done by computer and all of it’s done remotely and it’s very innovative. So that’s the first step is to find the sources of innovation. The second step then is to evaluate them and you evaluate them in terms of how well does this fit our strategy, because we do have a strategy in this organization. You have a vision of who we want to be, and how difficult or easy would it be to implement this?
Then the third thing you want to look at is risk. Risk means what’s the probability of something going wrong and what’s the seriousness if it does, and how do we ameliorate that? How do we reduce the possibility, or take mitigate the seriousness that occurs? Then finally you implement. The more you can shorten those four steps, the more you can shorten that time frame, the more you’re probably going to lead in your marketplace. And we’ve seen organizations do that for years and years. Southwest did it when it first began. FedEx did it when it first began. Apple has been doing it throughout its history, and so forth and so on.
Steve: You made some really great points that I’ve enjoyed reading and, in my experiences, just looking at the cost benefit is not seeing the whole picture. Initially people like to make a business case and say, but you’re going to make a lot of money. There are these other two factors you pointed out in the book, strategic fit, difficulty of implementation, and the organizational immune system. I liked it. Those are these other two areas that not everyone in the organization has the skill or the knowledge to assess, yet those are the two that can make or break successful innovation.
Alan: Well, innovation doesn’t create strategy. Innovation takes place within a strategic framework. Strategy is a framework within which you make decisions that affect the nature and direction of the business. So consequently, strategy has to take place within that framework. It shouldn’t change that framework. So, you’re not going to have an organization like Boeing buying an ice cream business, it’s not part of its strategy.
Innovation doesn’t create strategy. Innovation takes place within a strategic framework. Strategy is a framework within which you make decisions that affect the nature and direction of the business.
Even though they could afford to buy any ice cream business in the world. So, within your strategy, what is it that makes sense to innovate and put you ahead? I’ll give you a quick example, I won’t name names. I was working with a large water treatment company at one point and they were number three in their market and number one was over the horizon and number two was miles ahead and they were a solid three and they had a succession. The consultants come in there and they said, “What can we do to catch number one?” And I said, “You’re not going to catch number one in water treatment. They’ve got too big of a reputation, too big a client list and so forth, and you’re not sufficiently differentiated.”
They said, “What should we do?” I said, “Change it, change what you call yourselves, call yourselves affluent management, and take a sharp right term.” This is what I call innovation strategically, a sharp right turn, and be number one in that field immediately because no one else is in affluent management, at least at the time. They were immediately number one in affluent management, they forgot about worrying about, number one and number two in water treatment, and they became very, very successful and much more profitable. So sometimes innovation isn’t about spending money on your products and services and equipment and technology. It’s about your repute, it’s about your brand, and it’s about how people see you.
Steve: Yeah, that’s a good point. So, looking at these two other areas, these areas, strategic fit and I guess the ease of implementation. What are some of the hang-ups that business decision makers have about those areas that you think might be easy to identify and resolve? Are there some hang-ups and pitfalls that that can be addressed in your mind that are obvious, or are they not so obvious all the time?
Alan: Well I don’t think they have hang-ups. I think they ignore them. I think they ignore strategic fit, and they just look for good innovative ideas and they get all excited about it and jump on the bandwagon. But they’re really irrelevant, and some of these things, I wouldn’t… I remember when Lean, and Quality Control circles and all the stuff was big, and I’d go into a client and they’d have secretaries rearranging their desk drawers to be consistent with Lean and Quality Circles. I mean this was a huge waste of time, stupidity, oh you try for perfection. The more some of those tolerances aren’t necessary you waste money in terms of ease of implementation. That’s not a deciding factor that is go or no go, but it is sort of a rheostat and you have to understand what you have to invest. If it’s difficult to implement this.
Ideally you want a maximum strategic fit, you want minimal difficulty in implementation, and you want a maximum benefit in terms of ROI.
If it’s easy to implement it and then it gives you more courage to go ahead rapidly and make changes along the way. So ideally you want a maximum strategic fit, you want minimal difficulty in implementation, and you want a maximum benefit in terms of ROI. Now you’re not going to have a perfect world, so you have to make decisions about what your trade-offs are. So not all innovative ideas of good for all companies, the Providence Journal up here decided that to augment its digital additions, they would distribute these pens, these pens that were readers and they put bar codes on their articles in the hard copy newspaper. As far as I know they still have 100,000 of those pens gathering dust in a warehouse. If you are reading a newspaper, would that kill aesthetic appeal?
Not stop and scan something and then pull it up on a computer, you’re probably not anywhere near a computer. On the other hand, if you prefer to read online, you’re not going to have the hard copy newspaper to begin with. That’s an example of somebody getting hot on innovative technology, which made no sense for the organization.
Steve: Do you have any metrics or references for an organization? How many new innovations should be, ideas should be generated on a quarterly or annual basis and what percentage of those can actually be implemented?
Alan: No, that’s just silly. I mean that’s like asking to what degree should we have a happy clients? Some clients are going to be unhappy and there is nothing you could do about it, and some clients are unhappy justifiably. The fact is that you have to have an innovative mindset just the same as you have to have a financially sound mindset. But some people who say, well let’s make $5 million in profit this year have a problem because if they make $4.5 million, they feel like losers, and you won’t make $5.5 million because $5 million was their goal.
My feeling is your goal should be to maximize profit. The same thing with innovation. Maximize the innovation and stop looking at metrics. I will tell you one thing, with one of my clients, I talked to you about rewarding behaviors. They had an annual awards dinner and every year the salesforce got together, and they gave out prizes and awards, loving cups for the best new sales, the highest new sales goals. I convinced the CEO to give out an award for the best idea that didn’t work. This encouraged people because they got a huge ovation. This encouraged people to come up with ideas and not worry whether they’d be an immediate successes or not.
Steve: I’ve heard other guests on the podcast mentioned similar things, to break down limiting beliefs and so forth. So, while reading the Innovation Formula, my mind was repeatedly blown thinking, wow, this book was written in 1988, it’s still so fresh and so relevant. One of the things I appreciated reading about in the book and would like for you to comment is, you found that organizations that have pockets or teams that are responsible for innovation don’t generally produce the kind of results that the organization should be looking for, which was the opposite part of everyone in the organization should be innovative.
What were your findings then and now how you have incubators within organizations that are responsible for innovation? How are those, do you think those are doomed to failure? What is your experience with those?
Alan: Yeah, that I thought that and as I think now that you don’t assign teams to innovate, what you have to do is create an innovative environment in the organization. It’s very different, it’s like companies who put on the walls we respect our employees, it’s on all the walls, it’s our basic belief. And in front of those walls you see managers ruthlessly beating employees. This morning I was at a dentist and on every wall, they have their mission and vision statements. The front office staff, not the dentists themselves, but the front of staff was very rude.
So, you have this cognitive dissonance going on, so everybody has to be part of the belief system. If the belief system is, we reward innovation, we reward behaviors that lead to innovation, you have the freedom to fail. You never know where the next new idea is going to come from. That’s what you should be encouraging because you’re not smart enough to say, well, it’s these four employees over here, or we’ll pick a team that appears to be highly innovative. You have to give everybody the chance.
Steve: I think that’s especially interesting coming from you because having read your other books on consulting, The Million Dollar Consulting and so forth, I can tell that’s right along the lines of the kind of work that you’ve done. So, and that you like to encourage to do when you’re scoping and creating six and seven figure projects, et cetera. In my experience the kind of impact that innovation can have on the whole organization if everyone is thinking that way can just be a lot bigger than if only a couple of people are doing it.
So, help us understand Alan, if an organization is trying to be systematic and repeatable with their approach to innovation, what kind of things do they need to be thinking about and doing? What would you consider the best practices and systematizing innovation within a business?
You have to create an environment where everybody is invited and welcome to be innovative.
Alan: Well, I think it’s pretty much what we’ve been talking about thus far. You have to create an environment where everybody is invited and welcome to be innovative. You have to create a management level that is not threatened, that understands prudent risk, and that rewards people for the behaviors that lead to innovation. You have to have a system to evaluate the innovative ideas. I mean I talked before about risk and strategic fit and cost benefit and things like that.
Then you have to be willing to implement on a rapid basis because innovation is very reliant on speed because somebody else is going to come up with the idea themselves. So, getting there first is important. Speed is as important as content, and if you have that in your organization and as I said, it doesn’t matter. Large or small is not the issue. You’re going to have an organization that’s more innovative.
Steve: So, and is this driven primarily by the relationship with the managers or do you see like submit your innovative ideas to this website? What other tools and practices do you see adopted to foster that? The submission of innovative ideas.
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Alan: Organizations are collections of people and so you have to be able to say to someone, “Here’s my idea,” and that person who’s above you in rank and authority says, “I’m glad to have your idea. Let’s look at it.” And then that person either says, “Look, I’m not sure this will work and here’s why. Let’s talk about it.” Or, “I think this will work. Let’s make some modifications.” If it’s okay, or “I think this is great, I’m going to take it to my boss or whoever has the authority to launch it.” And that’s how that should be taking place on a regular basis.
That’s how organizations thrive. I did work for the British Standards Institute for a week when that book came out and we had five teams creating five innovative ideas each. So, after a week we had 25 innovative ideas. The managing director came down from London and after we heard the second one, he said, “We’re stopping right here. If these ideas are so good, why the hell isn’t anyone else already doing them?” So, when you have that kind of stupidity at the top of the organization, nothing’s going to work. So, you need people who themselves as individuals embrace the concept of innovation.
Steve: So, you, sometimes the very idea of presenting ideas to a superior can lead to the superior, “stealing the ideas” and taking credit for them, that can discourage everyone from being innovative. And also, if an organization doesn’t have the means or even the mindset of taking ideas and submitting them for a patent or what not, without those in place ideas just don’t get generated. Do you encounter that kind of friction within environments where you have to specifically address managers and leaders not taking credit for their superiors, or subordinate’s ideas?
Alan: No. That’s a very cynical view. I don’t believe that other people are damaged unless they show me their damage. And by that, I mean, I don’t believe people steal ideas. I don’t believe people put things on the back burner to spite people. I don’t believe, I don’t have that kind of cynical view of organizations. Most people in organizations, most, not everyone, but 90% of them are trying to do well. They’re trying to help others do well. That’s how organizations thrive. And when I hear people telling me that they can’t get ahead because of politics and their ideas aren’t accepted because of politics, almost always them.
Most people in organizations, most, not everyone, but 90% of them are trying to do well. They’re trying to help others do well.
One woman told me that she had left three organizations because of politics. She wanted me to coach her and I said, “First you have to be honest with yourself. You left those three organizations because you weren’t valuable enough and they tossed you out. So, don’t tell it’s about politics.” So, I don’t base what I do on the minority, which would be the situation you’re describing. I don’t have a cynical attitude. My attitude is optimistic and that most people want to hear about good ideas.
Steve: I like how you re-frame it and put it in terms of something that is within your control because generally people get disgruntled because of things that are out of their control, which is not a good situation to be in.
Alan: People should read the book I wrote with Marshall Goldsmith, Lifestorming. And it’s about taking control and it’s about taking permission. And most people give up control or complain about no control. But actually, they do have control. They just choose not to use it.
Steve: Good recommendation, I’ll put links to all of these books in the notes of the podcast for listeners who want to find it, but they can also Google Alan Weiss on Amazon and see the plethora of books that you’ve written over the years. So, Harvard Business Review talks about disruptive innovation. Can you paint some color for us and maybe points of distinction between nonconformist innovation and disruptive innovation, if there are any differences at all? What might those be?
Alan: They’re the exact same thing. I don’t know how long ago, 70 years ago, Joseph Schumpeter said, “Innovation was creative destruction,” and he was right. And so, innovation is about throwing out the old and bringing in something new. Sometimes with a vestige of the old and sometimes with nothing about the old. But I said at the outset of our conversation here that, nonconformist innovation is disruption, and everybody is so surprised at disruption today, but Sears sending catalogs out west on railroads, or the Telegraph, these were nonconformist innovations. They were highly disruptive. Before that you had to rely on signal flags or Pony Express and the Telegraph changed all that, the light bulb changed interior lighting. And today, as I mentioned, smartphones can be used to diagnose health problems. So, I’m not so worried about nomenclature, I’m not so worried about semantics, but just disruption and nonconformist innovation are the exact same thing.
Steve: So how would you characterize the stereotype that large organizations aren’t disruptive, that they have to acquire smaller companies who are. I mean generally speaking, I mean, you read about these acquisitions a lot, but what you’re describing is that organizations can inherently be, have a fabric of innovation. Is that a really bad stereotype to think that way?
Alan: Absolutely. It’s absolute crap. Look at 3M. 3M has is a huge organization, Fortune 500 company that’s consistently being innovative, for a long, I don’t know if it’s still the case, but for a long time 3M strategy included the fact that something like 60% of their annual business had to come from things that weren’t in existence five years ago. So, 3M didn’t do that through acquisition, they did it through encouraging their internal people, whether in sales or bench scientists or whoever they were to do these things.
Microsoft has been innovative. I’m just thinking about these large companies, Southwest Air, very innovative in what it introduced to the airline, a huge company. So, it’s not about size. And I said that before, I see mom-and-pop shops that are bureaucratic, and I see huge companies that are a highly innovative. We went on safari last year, we went to a place, I think it’s initials or REI, and when you buy there, you immediately become a part of it. It’s like you’re a shareholder or your, you have, I don’t know, some kind of belonging, some kind of ownership and you get dividends which you can use for future purchases. It’s a large, large company, but it’s very innovative in the kinds of things it does. And you can see this stuff all over the place.
Steve: Yeah. You know I like that. And combining innovation as the fabric with the idea of mindsets, which I happen to believe is everything.
The sentence that I use for describing this podcast is “Push new boundaries, ask difficult questions, create new markets, unlock new value, and differentiate your business with nonconformist innovation.” I think that there is this huge opportunity that, by re-framing and through different mindsets that focusing on what is within your control, it’s absolutely going to lead to different and better business outcomes. So, in your consulting methodology how do you tie these together? Is mindset shifting a more important aspect than looking at innovation as a process? What’s going to yield a higher result for your clients and for businesses?
You have to have a mindset to improve things and not just fix things. Then if that’s the case you have to have a methodology that enables you to do that.
Alan: Well they’re compatible. I mean, they’re not mutually exclusive. You have to have a mindset to improve things and not just fix things. Then if that’s the case you have to have a methodology that enables you to do that. So, one is the what, the second is the how, and that’s how people innovate. If you don’t have the mindset it doesn’t matter if you have the methodology or not, and if you don’t have the methodology it doesn’t matter if you have the mindset or not. So, you need both elements, whether you’re an individual or a corporate entity.
Steve: Yeah, that’s a good point. How formal does it need to be in order to be successful? Does this need to have sponsorship by senior executive or can a manager just decide, hey, I’m going to lead my team to do this one day and get results done differently?
Alan: No, I said before you have to have an environment that welcomes and tolerates and accommodates innovation. So, if the environment does that, people will be individually innovative or teams will be innovative or whatever it is, but it has to be a welcoming environment. That’s what encourages it, it’s not an edict from management, and it’s not some kind of skunk works.
Steve: One of my favorite books of yours was The Million Dollar Maverick. I was just thinking of, and I guess towards wrapping up here, I promised that I would try to keep this at 40 minutes. I think that’s what you offered to me. So, in final thoughts, Alan, there was one quote here that I enjoy where you say you’re “Absolutely convinced about, because you’ve done it thousands of times, that simply taking a contrarian or one-off view is the secret to success.” And if innovation comes down to individual success, you can see the relationship between individuals and business success.
So how, in a being a contrarian thinker –and that’s been a hallmark character throughout your career— how can you balance this one-off thinking and being a contrarian within an organization that largely expects you to be collaborative and positive and contributing towards the greater good? You have one person who has sharp elbows, always coming up with one off ideas. How can you have your cake and eat it too and have the best of both worlds?
You want conflict, you want creative tension. That’s what creates great organizations, not all people are marching to the same beat, to the same drummer.
Alan: You’re making a mistake that people who are contrarian are not contributing, and not contributing to the common good, that are not positive. And that’s just a classic error. If you look at any organization that tries to eliminate all conflict, it’s a terrible stupid organization. You want conflict, you want creative tension. That’s what creates great organizations, not all people are marching to the same beat, to the same drummer.
So, there is no conflict here. If you take a look at it, that is not conflict with people being positive. If you take a look at the fact that people who say, why don’t we consider doing this a different way? Why don’t we consider doing this in reverse? Why don’t we consider letting our customers decide this instead of our own people? Yada yada. Those people are contributing to the company and should be seen as very positive and very necessary and very productive employees. So, it’s not a case of having a cake and eating it too. It’s really a case of not being a lemming and stop marching along with the rest of the rodents.
Steve: So, I like that, and your optimism that innovation can be a grassroots effort, not always successful, but I think that you are positing that someone with this mindset needs to manage up, needs to manage down and understand the environment. And if they don’t like it, they’re always free to find another company to work for.
Well Alan, we’re wrapping up here, 40 minutes into the podcast. I just wanted to open it up to you, where can listeners find you, what’s the rest of your calendar look like this year? If you want to put a plug in for how listeners can find you. Are you writing any new books? Where are you traveling this year? How can listeners catch up with you?
Alan: Well, people should go to Alanweiss.com everything is on there. There are hundreds of free articles and videos and audios and free subscriptions to newsletters. From here, after I go to Nantucket in August, we’ll be going to Malta and Dubrovnik. My wife and I would be going to Vietnam for business in November. My next book is Fearless Leadership. It’s already written, it’s with a publisher, it should come at the end of this year, beginning of next. It’s about how to get the little guy off your shoulder who’s shouting guilt at you.
If people are interested in innovation the best thing, they should do is to attend my Thought Leadership conference in October, which is in Palm Beach. It’s on my website. There’s also my next Consulting Convention which is in March, but it’s in Australia, the first one I’m ever holding outside the country. So, if people are interested in going there or your listeners are already there, I’m happy to see them. Then the final thing I’d mentioned is that I’m doing something in October in Dallas called Critical Thinking Skills. It’s a one-day program in Dallas. Again, it’s on my website and these critical thinking skills are very important to be innovative and to be successful at.
Steve: Sounds awesome. I’m looking forward to reading your new book when it comes out and attending one of those events if possible. Well Alan, I’m so thankful that you were able to take the time and to help listeners understand more about nonconformist innovation or disruptive innovation. So, I really appreciate your time today.
Alan: Thanks Steve, my pleasure. I enjoyed it.
Steve: Thank you.
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