Innovation coach & teacher Tamara Carleton about teaching a sustainable innovation practice, about helping innovation pros as a coach with vision, data and easy to use methods. And about food as an important factor for innovation teams.
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This episode was recorded on April 29th, 2020
My guest is Tamara Carleton. She has made a name as lead author of the “Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation”, a hands-on guide that is helping innovators around the world. Besides many other notable institutions, she works closely with the Foresight & Innovation lab at Stanford University and is the executive director of the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy at Stanford.
We had our conversation about teaching a sustainable innovation practice, about helping innovation pros as a coach with vision, data and easy to use methods. And about food as an important factor for innovation teams.
Follow Tamara Carleton
Mentioned in the episode
- Business Finland
- Foresight & Innovation lab at Stanford University
- Silicon Valley Innovation Academy at Stanford
- Osaka Institute of Technology
- UN Sustainable Development Goals
- Hiking with Kevin
- Inside Bill’s Brain – Netflix
- Google Project Aristotle
- Amy Edmondson
- Radical Uncertainty – Decision making for an unknowable future
Click to open transcript.
The transcript was created in a combined automatic & manual process by Podcast Transcribe. It might contain some errors.
Klaus: Tamara Carleton, welcome to the 2.5. Welcome!
Tamara: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Klaus: Tamara, you have a wonderful website address. It’s called innovation.io and I think this is perfect. The first time I saw that, I was really, really impressed. You help companies on their innovation journey. What I’m interested in is what brought you to this exciting field. What started you on your own journey in this field of innovation.
Tamara: Interesting question. And as a side about the domain as well. About a decade ago, when I knew I was interested in innovation work, I was looking for a memorable and easy url to find. And it just happens that innovation.io was one of the few still available where innovation was the sole website and domain available. And so I was lucky enough to grab it and have kept it since then. But before finding the url, I hadn’t realized that I was interested in innovation. I had gone to college with an interest in understanding how groups create and collaborate, how they move ideas around. But I didn’t have the vocabulary, let alone the exposure to realize “Oh, this might be an entire discipline called innovation” and companies and people were interested in understanding the tools and the thinking behind innovation. And so I started my career essentially dabbling in different areas and had gone from early work around communication into marketing communication and market research. And then part of that ended up at a startup, actually, during an earlier bust with the .com bust and looking as if work in product development, which started to get me to realize there’s a whole area of teams working on ideas and developing them in this ecosystem. And then, with each one of these roles, taking sideways steps to figure out a little bit more of what I was interested in and all of the earlier work was very useful. So communication: helping to know how to tell a story, knowing the impact that words have, understanding how teams need to communicate across functions, engineers to non-engineers and so forth. All of that’s been valuable. But it was really until I got to consulting, management consulting, particularly Deloitte, where I became involved with an emerging practice that was specializing in innovation and that became my “aha moment”, where suddenly I realized there’s a group that does this, there are clients that pay for this and that there’s books written about this. And that was a real turning point for me years ago and loved being at Deloitte, as I discovered more about innovation and starting to carve out my own innovative way of thinking about it. And then, after a few years, I decided that I wanted to go deeper into innovation and particularly explore creating a new practice that could think about long range innovation. And this was helping me articulate more of the interest I had around long range planning and the fuzzy front end of innovation. And one aspect of consulting, particularly management consulting, is it’s work hard, play hard, and you really don’t get paid on the job, particularly when you’re a junior consultant or manager to think about this. And so I was carving out evenings and weekends to dig into this question more in my interests, and long story short, I got introduced to Stanford University, had the chance to do a PhD mid-career. And that’s really where I ended up immersing myself into understanding what is innovation, looking at the literature, understanding the latest thinking from scholars and business experts. And then once I had PhD in hand, what led me to ultimately establishing my firm Innovation Leadership Group and the domain coming full circle to innovation.io. And so now I realize innovation is a sweet spot for my interests. I love doing this work, but in many ways, like the process of innovation itself, it’s not always a direct path.
Klaus: Which is I’m thankful for, because it can lead into so many ways in so many directions and let you discover so many new things also. And it also lets you enter the field in a very much the way you just described…
Tamara: … which is stumbling or like sailing into the wind! To tick and tack and make sure you don’t capsize, right?
Klaus: No. Yes. Um… just sometimes these ways that are not very much straightforward give you much better insight into new things and better understandings of things and different point of views and add more to the field in general. So I’m really happy about such a… I would never call that stumbling, I would call that … wandering around finding things, picking up on things and discovering things and then making the best out of it. I have a similar biography, so I can relate very much to that. And you have a very strong motivation to do your work, because I think that’s very important when you work with students and clients or students from clients from corporates. You’re not just working with the young students, but also with older students. But early on in your career, you started to work, to write a book together with others, the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation. I think that book reflects in a way also that the point you just made about a longer view on innovation. And I like that book a lot. It is available under the Creative Commons license as a download on the Stanford website. What motivated you to do that? Because I think it’s a really, really special book that helps innovators a lot.
Tamara: Well, thanks for mentioning the Foresight Playbook, and it’s been amazing to me how much the book has really created a life of its own. So while I was doing my PhD work, through Stanford channels, I was introduced to a number of different people. Also introduced our interest in questions of innovation around the world. One of these people happened to be in Helsinki, Finland, and I went over to talk with Dr. Peckoberg, who had been involved teaching as a professor at Aalto University but doing consulting on the side. Really enjoyed getting to know his group and also had then been introduced to a number of people involved with Tekes, now known as Business Finland, and Tekes is the Agency for Technology and Innovation for the country of Finland. And it became very interesting to talk with people at Tekes and particularly Rina Hermes who then became very interested in the questions that I was asking around: What is innovation? How do you think long term? And what does it mean to really support how people can do this type of thinking on their own when they may not have time to go to university like Stanford and do research and such? And long story short, I was working with a number of folks, notably William Cockayne, to capture and codify this knowledge into do-it-yourself tools, methods that you can use that are lightweight and allow you to really structure a group discussion or accelerate your thinking around, going from big picture foresight into very applied innovation, where company mark then can see measurable impact or understand how this complements their business strategy. And so we had been testing (we being William, Bill for short, and myself) testing a number of these tools teaching at Stanford. And Rina at Tekes said: “We have these same situations, very similar challenges in Finland. If we could help find a way to fund you as you work with Finnish universities, would you be interested in documenting this?” Because at the time, the only way to really learn a lot of the methods we were doing around Foresight and Innovation was to come to Stanford and sit with us and essentially have an immersive experience. Great way to learn, but certainly not available to most people. And I was very excited and fortunate to receive this generous invitation from Tekes and said: “Of course, if you’re gonna help find a way to share this more broadly across Finland, if you see the value of these tools and we have the chance now to really prioritize writing this down,” and I happen to have a soft spot for writing, which I don’t need to do -unlike an academic, I don’t have to face, you know, “publish or perish”. So for me, it’s much more of this labor of love and a side hobby. And so, you know, we had essentially two years, or so, to not only expand our tool set in Foresight, but then also introduce the tool set to a number of business groups and companies across Finland from startups very large corporations such as UPM, which is a paper manufacturer, and then also put the playbook together. And one thing that was very important to me is not “Make this just a finished story,” that even though we had this opportunity and wonderful support from a Scandinavian country that we wanted to say: “How can we bring in other global perspectives?” And so the pdf is free to download. I definitely am a big believer in trying to encourage more people to learn and, of course, a number find that once you start, you could benefit from having other experts or those before you who know a little bit more to facilitate or coach you through the process. But we’ve included examples from Korea, in South Africa, other parts of Europe, US, outside the corporate space, so police officers from California, all who have to think about the future as well. And so I think the multiple different examples have given more legs, if you will, to the Foresight Playbook and I still have groups reach out to me. In fact, a number of months ago, a strategic planner at Nestle Purina’s division (so Purina is their business division that sells dog food and cat food and other pet supplies). He contacts me, and he says: “You don’t know who I am, but I’ve been using the Foresight Playbook for years. I haven’t found anything that is this practical to help us make that bridge from foresight into innovation. And we’d really love to get your help with one of our big next steps is to develop things roadmap”. Well, that’s fantastic. A similar story where the second largest Telco company in Mexico, Axtel reached out to me and said: “We’ve got a huge internal innovation hub. We’re now building out an internal foresight capability. Can you talk with us more about how we can do this and share best practices and so forth?” And so all of those had been prompted by people finding this playbook and contacting me. So that’s been a wonderful dialogue to keep having and realizing there is a number of books and texts that are still out there that people find useful. And, of course, as one of the authors, the lead author on it, you know, it’s very gratifying to hear that.
Klaus: I think it’s a very useful book that is giving me hands-on tools that I can use to work with my clients, that clients can use themselves, where they don’t have to have a lot of theoretical background or other knowledge to simply use the tools right away. And that is a very rare thing because, unlike an academic world, you just said it is very important that you get a lot of peer support and peer rating. But that’s not a customer focused thing. If you want to develop tools for innovators, they have to have something at their fingertips right away. It has to be easy to use, it has to be modular, in a way, complementary with each other, and the line across should be very, very slow, was very, very low. And I think it’s a perfect book for that and plus the way that you made it available for everybody, it is just very, very good, I think. It also reflects for me a special mindset that you have, which I share, also. This thinking of doing coaching and innovation have an integrative, tool-driven approach, which means that you walk along with people, help them to progress, but you understand that it’s their work, that they have to do the work, that they have to do the progress because else it’s not sustainable. And you need some tools for that. They have to be simple to use. In the beginning, you can grow into that, and you can put more work in it. But you have to have that approach that you are not the one that knows about everything, but the others have to learn to know everything or how to ask the right questions. And I like that a lot.
Tamara: I think that’s a great point. When I introduce the concept of foresight and get people to think about what does that word mean, because it’s everything and nothing at the same time. My working definition is this is crafting that ability for you to plan for tomorrow, and it’s really the mix of mindset and methodology. And what I mean by that is mindset: you have to have a view that there is a tomorrow, which in many ways is a Western or modern notion that there is a future that you can influence (and of course, coming from Silicon Valley, a very biased view that we can influence the future 10 x times). But even knowing that you have a role to change, I think is very empowering and helps a number of companies to say: “Well, there is that mindset piece because we can recognize we have a perspective on what the future is and we want to do something about the outcomes that we can build part of the future that we want to exist in.” And then the methodology complements because these are tools that you have in hand to help you build that future. And as I think about the ways to help people develop the combination of mindset methodology, coaching is critical, and part of this actually was informed by my time in management consulting, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and they’re definitely reasons when you might bring a consultant into the C suite or company. But at the same time many consultants bring their expertise in, they frame the problem, they solve the problem, and then they throw the solution back to the company, who then has to live with it and make it happen. And often the people of the company weren’t necessarily involved with the early discussions or may not have had the time to participate in the set up, in the analysis, so they don’t understand the assumptions going in or realize where things changed and why. And this is ultimately where I started to move much more into a coaching model and then started to see a number of leading practices and research from Stanford University. I come from Stanford’s designed community, where there is a very big belief around coaching in a design context, and I realize coaching also is important in other, more general contexts. And when people and teams think about questions and opportunities about future planning, and so the coaching, this is about helping people know how they could do this themselves. So you could still step in a bit as the sage on the stage, one of popular phrases. But I think there’s a lot of wisdom to be in the guide on the side, meaning you’re the coach that helps the teams understand how they can think about it, because then once they get through that opportunity, once they can start to realize how they could do it again with a different type of opportunity or with different teams. And that, to me, is really about getting the learning to stick, about developing the capability and the know-how. And then it’s terrible consulting, because, of course, you work yourself out of a job. But for me it’s much more effective long term, because then you really help these groups understand how to do it themselves, and hopefully they come back to you later with different sets of questions. Or you develop such a rapport that they’d love to have you be part of a bigger conversation, but they’re not reliant on you because they started to develop much more their ability and vocabulary for thinking about how to do this on their own terms.
Klaus: They have developed the tools, the reliance in themselves, team structures and stuff like that. And that is the sustainable way which I can share myself or which I’m using myself also, and it’s more gratifying also, I think, because you see people grow. It might be a bit like with parents that see that children grow in a way and develop from little babies to grown-ups so the time scale is different, I understand?
Tamara: Yes, but I think one lesson quickly for many parents is how much young children, particularly infant to toddler stage, already exhibit key traits of the core personality. Same with companies: you walk in, very much the corporate culture is manifested, or with teams you’re like: “Wow! You already have these baked-in norms and beliefs about what you want to do.” How can we build on the strengths that you know you may have, and then areas where you might need to develop further or perhaps change many habits or certain habits? How can we help support that as well? And, you know, as a parent, you suddenly realize you could have a lot of outsize influence, but at the same time you’re not fully in control either, because you’re creating these little personalities into hopefully becoming functioning adults and world citizens, and how can you do that? So there’s definitely different parallels and thinking about how this comes together, so I could definitely see overlaps between the analogy.
Klaus: Both children and innovation need teaching in a way. You do a lot of teaching, like you’re preparing the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy in summer. Again, I was wondering about teaching innovation. What is teachable?
Tamara: Oh, interesting. Yes, yes. When I started my PhD, I had the assumption I would go right back into the world of management-consulting. And as I started to get more involved with my doctoral work, I discovered that I loved teaching and particularly bridging from thinking into doing and having a toe in the academic world. So I’ve kept that toe in the academic space since then, and I have done different programs: an executive education, I stayed in touch with the universities around the world (for example, I’m a visiting professor at the Osaka Institute of Technology in Japan), I’m talking with a major business school in Mexico now about doing work, and then I have what several different hats I’ve continued to wear in conjunction with Stanford University, one of which is the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy (SVIA, for short). And this is a summer program that’s not with my usual audience of business managers, but instead high school and college students, who come from all different parts of the US and the world to Stanford campus, and for the summer, take classes for credit but then can apply extra into SVIA to learn more about innovation. And I had mentioned William Cockayne earlier, who’s my co-author on the Foresight Playbook. He and I do a number of other initiatives together, one of which is we are co-directors for the SVA summer program. And he’s got the lead around the academic experience. And then I oversee all the other elements as essentially executive director: make it happen, align with university goals, bring on the coaches (because we have 200 students who go through the summer program). And part of what we have realized is people have, of course, different comfort zones, but also different learning curves as they learn anything new, and that includes innovation. So you ask the question: “Is innovation teachable?” Yes! And very quickly, people realize that you could learn the mechanics. The mindset is easier for some if they’re more attuned to that way of thinking. And so there’s some students who come to our program and realize “I’ve been searching for this all my life. I had no idea.” And for others, they struggle with it week after week, and they get to the end, and then suddenly something clicks and they’re like “Oh, I get it!” This is how you think about it. Part of what we try to do with SVIA is go beyond the typical class you might have around entrepreneurship. You know, speaking to VC, doing an elevator pitch, a lot of the stereotypical important lessons that you might get coming to Silicon Valley and that you can find elsewhere in the world. And what Bill and I felt was more important was to say: “Students are coming here and they want to learn a Silicon Valley way of thinking.” And one aspect that we think really exemplifies the Valley ethos is Moonshots. How do you think big? How do you explode an idea and really challenge yourself to go further and more bolder than you thought possible, and then understand how you can make that happen in very novel or unique ways? And so for students, this way of thinking about Moonshots is exciting. It also gives them the big picture view, which is part of what Bill and I are trying to do: introduce the tools. So one example of Moonshots could be the Strategic Development Goals from the United Nations, the SDGs. But it could be other goals and ideas that the students come in with themselves, and a number of them already have big ideas. And then at the end of the program, a small number suddenly realized that when Bill and I talk about Moonshots, it’s actually not about the ideas, it’s about them. It’s the students as our big bets, because that is also part of how we can cultivate innovation and help people learn about how to think about these tools. So it is teachable, but it’s not what I would consider a classic format. It’s not where you could just open a textbook and memorize some axioms or formulas. It’s really you have to learn by doing, you have to learn by working in teams, warning by asking better questions and iterating. So there’s a number of elements that overlap with the design space, particularly designed thinking, which has been popularized certainly by Stanford University and the D School. But then other areas, too, as people understand what is innovation. And then our focus for the Stanford-off Program is really radical innovation because we’re talking about it in the context of these Moonshots.
Klaus: It probably doesn’t matter if you talk about these things with students from high school or with people from corporations, because it’s we’re talking on a different level at this moment. It’s not about the skills, for example, to do it the right pitch. It’s rather the way of being able to think this big or think 10 x and train that basically and put that into people.
Tamara: Very much. And part of how we help people think about Moonshots and think bigger is by using a four horizon framework. And essentially, Bill and I have expanded the classic model of thinking in three horizons. Essentially, each horizon is a timeframe, and so Horizon 1 is near term (if I’m gonna put this in a business context) where a company is thinking about cash flow, current profits from products in the marketplace. Horizon 2 is more midterm timing: these are new products coming on the next horizon, where you’re exploring different customers, so the focus here is on new business development, emerging markets. Horizon 3 is now far term, and you’re thinking about emerging technologies, these are ideas being built in the R & D labs at your company, all different possibilities that you’re exploring at the farther horizon. And then we’ve added a fourth horizon, because companies don’t just start with, you know, de novo ideas totally from scratch. They also have to have inspiration. Where did they look beyond the Three Horizons to identify what might be almost impossible? Where do they look for inspiration? Ultimately, this is how they start to craft their big vision, what some groups are starting to call the North Star. But that gives you the guiding direction and then from there you can figure out what different efforts, resource allocation, time split, you might spend across all the horizons.
Klaus: I like that larger scale that you add out with this view, because something like design thinking is very operational mindset, let’s put it that way, and I think it’s very, very valuable. At least it’s helping transforming lots of companies like SAP, who has a partner who is financing D school and so on. And, by the way, SAP is just around the corner from where I live. But it is very valuable as a mindset, as a tool, but you’re adding that extra larger horizon, which I like a lot. Um, what is, in these terms, here, teachable? Or is there a special way to teach that? And where’s the boundaries of that? What is not teachable about innovation? Where do you think you need the experience of doing it, of working on it, of experiencing it in a real life environment, in a company, for example?
Tamara: This becomes a tricky situation where a number of groups want the easy answer or they say: “Well, do the short course, or the quick training and explanation.” And I just want to know, with innovation, which in itself is very complex and complicated, that is hard to do, frankly. It’s similar to saying: “Okay, tell me how to do this strategy.” So there are a number of ways that I found can help jump start the learning and help people understand where to start and how to start. So specifically, there is a body of literature (and also from practical experience) where, if you can give people tools, that helps them re-train part of their brain and also lets them find a way to apply their energy by using this tool. The tool could be a mental model or it could be a physical tool. And it’s not to say: “I’m trying to give everyone a hammer, and then they see everything as a nail.” Instead, it’s to say: “Here’s a number of different tools, and part of your learning is to understand which tool to use when”, right? Because different contexts will require different tools and approaches. So we use the Four Horizon model as a broad framework to help people start to see what’s the big picture. Or how to think about, for example, if you’re reading news headlines from Tesla, or Apple, or SAP, right? to say: “Oh, that sounds like something that could fit into Horizon 2 or Horizon 3.” Or looking at other tools, and I’m not particularly strict about our Foresight tools, as much as I think they help complement a number of other tools that are available. But design thinking is not, in many ways, a new idea. It’s helped provide a handy term to remind people to start with the customer, but the customer at the center of your activities, to use prototype being and empathy as a way to understand more near-term activities so that you can address immediate user need, and going back to some basics, like customer observation and interviews, and bringing that into the mix to say: “Here’s what we’re missing.” David Kelley, who is a huge champion within the design thinking movement and a professor at Stanford University, as well as co-founder and chair of product design firm IDEO, really originally looked at Design Thinking as a way to get the engineers into the field and just to talk to customers again. And I’m glad to see Design Thinking has reminded people it’s not just good for engineers but for anybody in a business or group who’s looking to make their solution relevant. And so those are a set of tools that you can apply much more in Horizon 1, and so for some groups who are trying to know where to get started, we say: “Great. Look at these tools.” No. “Alongside tools, you’re gonna learn from us, say, from the Foresight Playbook, but then you have other tools. For example, business bottle canvas is much more popular in Europe versus the United States. But that’s another model you can use to visualize and essentially document how you think about different areas as it relates to your business model and where you see the value proposition going.” So these are, I think, helpful ways to get groups to know how to do this. But then, some things aren’t as teachable directly and so like other activities and lessons to learn in life, you have to learn it on your own or you learn by practice, over and over. So one of the models that I’ve adapted from Stanford Research, but I think it is a nice way to understand how people think about mastering new content is something we call the Triple Loop Learning Model. And Loop 1 is when you’re exposed to new content for the first time, and so you’re just trying to comprehend it: “Okay, I think I get it!” right? You’re still grasping the nuances. But it’s the first time you really put the material into your understanding. Then the Second Loop needs to occur. And this is when you socialize the information: you talk about it with other people, you’re really trying to understand how to explain this material. Not like, say, a teacher might say it or how you read it in a textbook, but how you might say it to your colleague or (always the joke) if you could explain it, you know, to your mother, right? Well, that’s very valuable, because now you’re internalizing that new content and really starting to make sense of it. Then there’s a Third Loop, which is the application piece: how do you practice repeated doing? How do you apply this learning in other contexts? And that’s where you truly start to master it. Because not only do you get it, and you can explain it, and talk about it with other people; you now can do it in other different situations. And that’s that Third Loop, and when you start to master all three loops, then you really get what it is and you become an expert in that content or that idea. And so I think, recognizing where people are in these loops as they understand the new material, how you can support different loops giving people, for example, time in the first loop: maybe it’s more articles to read, maybe it’s a chance to just think through and reflect on what they’re listening to, our understanding, and then you can help them say: “Right, now, go talk to other people.” Or if I’m doing a short course with companies, I say: “Well, here’s suggested assignments and you may have a study buddy, a partner, to do this with, partly because that gives you some motivation and you have somebody to talk through. But it’s also the benefit of the Second Loop. You’re working these ideas out with one another, and in doing so, have it reflected back at you. But you have to share it as well. And all of these are different tactics to help the learning come alive and then ultimately allow people to become experts in their own way.
Klaus: Now, with the current situation and with the switching of everybody or lots of people, lots of universities switching to online or virtual courses, trainings, um… you are also working on that for the SVIA. Is there a limit? Is there… what is the different opportunities here? If you switch from in-person live-learning experience, which are much more immersive, possibly, than a virtual experience? I’m asking for a friend. I’m developing an online course for trend monitoring right now. So what are the chances or what the limitations for such a virtual transformation of a course?
Tamara: Yes. And of course, we have the largest online learning experiment happening now around the world for K through 12 students and college students who, of course, are having to deal with learning in a virtual environment, with or without the right tools in place and Internet access. There’s always trade-offs as well as different dynamics that you can support. I mean, for people. We have to realize we’re humans at the end of the day and we’re social animals. And so we liked being together, and we benefit from having that high-touch social experience. In fact, over the years I found the more senior you are in a company, typically, the more high-touch you want your learning experience to be. So these are executives who want to have that special off-site and personal tailored program versus the more junior you might be or the younger you are in a company, you may be more flexible, but you also don’t have the same need for that immersive experience. What I’m finding with online is you can definitely teach and support individuals and teams and larger groups, but you have to do it in very different creative ways, and you’re not always gonna end up in the same place as you might in a similar on-site program. And I’ve been doing online learning for the last few years before the pandemic really hit with short virtual courses for different corporate universities like Volvo Group University or Blended. So where you mix online with an on-site component with Airbus Leadership University and let alone teaching online at Stanford, simply because I did a fair amount of travel and so being online allowed me to not have to worry if I was on campus that day of the week when I was teaching a particular course. I think the challenge of going online is how do you support the human need to connect and making the same time for reflection? And so some of the ways that I might get creative would be to create assignments where they have to, for example, work with a study partner. And it may not be, of course, in the same room or office. But if you create a side small group experience that complements the large group interaction that allows for complementary learning, and so that can help these people find those moments to talk more through it, which you might do, you know, with a breakout room at a workshop. But now you can’t do, so how do you create kind of a similar or an equivalent with a virtual learning program? Or one assignment that I actually had just introduced last week with a client is to take a transformation walk, and there’s been a growing or emerging minor research that shows how if you just get two people, you know, a pair, to walk together for a short time, say, 30 minutes, and they just talk to one another, suddenly that supports a change in perspective and part of us come down to the very simple realizations where you have to learn about somebody at their pace. And if you’re physically walking, of course, you have to match your walking cadence with that person. You’re walking side by side, but you’re moving forward together. It’s not the same dynamic if you have to sit across from the table from each other, or if there’s a power position as much as it’s just a very human movement and how that can then translate into other benefits related to learning. So I have this simple walking exercise. Now you can’t walk together in the same way. But what I do in this particular assignment is to say, Okay, you have this, you know, assigned partner. You each get on your cell phone and walk together. So, no, you can have a virtual learning experience because this came out of an online lesson. You have a physical component where you actually can get out into nature and walk on your own, and as humans, the environment still plays a major role in our psyche and body and in our physical reactions. But then you also create that social connection because you’re talking to each other by cell phone. You know, is it the same? No, it’s not exact, but it does come close, and it allows for more of that mixing to occur where you can have the people talk about something and become very human and share with each other. And this is all done in the context of the lesson around transformation and creating culture change and, you know, good important stuff to talk about for business. But at the same time, how do you bring in that human part where you want to connect again but you have the limits of the virtual world? But it is to me a reminder to say: “You don’t have to stick completely into that virtual space.” You can complement it in these other interesting ways. But it does require getting creative and having people be willing to experiment with you. And if something doesn’t work, to be honest and transparent, to say: “Here’s why we tried it. Here’s where we saw a hiccup. Can we adjust here?” or “Thanks for your feedback. And, um, you know, let’s stop now because it’s not working” or “Wow, that really did work, and I want to hear what you liked about it, because we should do more of this.” And so to me, having that mindset to experiment goes a long way, both in terms of virtual learning but in all other ways of approaching problems in life and work.
Klaus: I love that! It’s such a very simple thing, which you can add on a lot of touches. It is a virtual addition to a real life experience. It’s kind of nice. It reminds me also of the YouTube channel, Hiking with Kevin, where an actor is actually hiking with a selfie stick and his smartphone, and together with some other mostly famous person. And it’s just very, very simple, down to earth. And that way, using that selfie stick, you could do that same walk together with that other person, also. It’s a wonderful idea. It’s a wonderful tool, and I think that’s a great example, also, of the way you think and you work with people. You sort of address something that can give them something that helps them right away to achieve something, or to get an insight and start an experiment.
Tamara: Oh, you got me thinking! Last year, 2019, Netflix introduced this documentary about Bill Gates, right, founder of Microsoft, but also for the last few decades, you know, he had been heading the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Well, the documentary is called Inside Bill’s Brain. Very interesting! And I have been using this as a way for me to get through a number of flights last year and understanding a little bit about Bill’s perspective on different questions that he faces. But what I thought was interesting from the director’s technique was following Bill and the director as they were hiking through the forest. And essentially you got to eavesdrop on their conversation. But hearing your example reminded me of that because it goes back to… as humans, you know, you walk and talk, and there’s this whole benefit of having a peripatetic lifestyle and getting out and moving and using that as a way to get our brains to also understand new knowledge and think about things in a more deeply or more profound way. But I just loved it because here we’re just watching, you know, two men’s butts, you know, as they’re talking about big ideas and yet it’s about the simple walk, and you walk through their ideas the same time as you’re walking through nature.
Klaus: It’s a very, very effective tool that makes you smile at first, but once you have experienced it, you don’t want to miss it any anymore. You wrote that book we talked about, the Playbook Foresight and Innovation. So you collected and developed a lot of tools but you’re also using digital tools on your platform. On your website you have a platform, also, for ideas, measurements, as far as I understand that. And is there any other tools that you sort of recommend to use? I mean, that’s a very broad question, because it is always depending on what the problem, or the question or the challenge is. But is there something that you really like to use also?
Tamara: I find two things about myself. I like to dabble and try out different tools to understand what might be relevant or new tools that have been introduced that might address the problem in a different or better way. And then the second learning about myself is coming back to basic tools that are still fundamental around how we learn. So, for example, I keep a notebook and carry a pen, you know, with me in my bag all the times. Part of it is, of course, it’s good to write things down. I’ve turned… I’ve gotten a little more forgetful each year, but it’s also a nice way to go back and catch other notes I might have written earlier. And then also, the act of writing helps with the active memory. And so when I talked with other groups about tools they could consider, part of it is a reminder to say: “what are some basic tools that might make sense for you to consider as you’re looking to develop a new habit or understand how to do foresight on back caster or what have you?” So you know, is it just a stand up meeting with your team at the start of the day or a tool that I actually could introduce this week with a client? Very simple, called briefback, comes from the military world, has been used for decades, and essentially, like the name suggests, it’s a briefing back, and is a three-step process where the commander (in the military context) would give the briefing, right? “Here’s the situation… Here’s what we’re gonna do…” The second step is to have somebody from the group provide a summary back. And this reflects what was heard, helps to confirm the receivers’ understanding. And then the third step, of course, is once you match the two to clarify any confusion or correct any errors and gives an opportunity to make sure: was the message really communicated effectively? And there’s a number of benefits for a briefback, one of which, for the leader, is to improve his or her communication. Right? You think you gave a good briefing, then you heard it replayed back, and you find out how effective or efficient you were at conveying the message. But then there’s other benefits, too, where people are expected to now provide that briefing back and they have to pay attention. And as humans were naturally distracted and so we don’t pay as much attention to a message. But if it’s important, right there were briefback’s done with the covid 19 situation up in New York, with the US National Guard. You know, you have this happen in construction sites, for safety briefings. So not just military, but other areas. And I’m sharing this with a company. So in a business context, a simple tool that is verbal and isn’t digital (but you can, of course, support this with digital means) and a very easy way to just check a message. Practice is an act of reflection, and it also shifts the power dynamic because it’s not always just one way from the supervisor to a team, but it’s the team sharing back to say: “Here’s what we think we heard, you know. Are we right? And if we’re not, what’s going on?” and you can have the deeper conversation. But otherwise, just to share briefly, two tools that I’ve been working on lately and would definitely welcome hearing from folks who were interested in learning more about or trying. One is an assessment that is done online and supported with Web surveys. But then, of course, you can have virtual briefings around innovation performance, and I call this the Assessment for Innovation Maturity or AIM, for short. So at AIM we hope for something higher and better. But part of this is a chance to measure across five categories that I have identified as critical to any type of organisation, corporation or not, in terms of innovation. So one of the categories is our future readiness. Do you have a forward looking bench? There’s a number of questions around measuring this versus business readiness: you’re thinking about the financial implications, the value proposition, you have metrics and place versus, say, technology readiness. Do you have capabilities and house where you’re thinking about Blue Sky or supporting an R & D pipeline and so forth? And so a number of these questions can be asked across employees. And then you could do this as a monthly pulse and then quarterly briefing, for example, and understand: “Okay, where do we sit?” Because as a company, you can’t really know what to change unless you’ve measured the change. This has become a really interesting obstacle in the pandemic, because without knowing accurate testing and tracking data, it’s very hard for our leaders, both in the medical space but in the political space and other areas to know what to do next. Because you don’t have that measurement and so for me, this is a really useful innovation assessment that’s come out of requests for the last few years that I finally said: “Okay, well, let me roll this up into a service and platform to help companies.” The other tool that is more recent, and we’re piloting now at Stanford, is to adapt war gaming in understanding red teaming and how 2U do practice simulations, right? So you identify potential threats or you think through how you could model different ways to address a future, you know, competitive change. But now, to take this from the war gaming techniques and adapt it into a corporate context and say: we’re not a military, but what can we learn with these similar tools? How do we think about finding future opportunities for Stanford Pilot? We’ve turned this much more into a world game that’s narrative, lit-driven, which simply means a world game brings in multiple different perspectives where you’re looking at an ecosystem, so it’s that big picture view of the world, understanding the broad view, and then by narrative, students are enjoying just talking through it. And we had started with some early variations that were more structured: we had brought in dice to add an element of randomness, because that is part of the real world and adds to the game play. But what we found is that students, like business leaders, appreciate conversation. And so how do you use dialogue to get to deeper learning and provide a simpler sandbox, but that you can get groups to think about these different future scenarios but in a more controlled fashion? And then you end up with these very interesting outcomes because they see how to think through possible dish decision paths faster. Or they see potential areas of hiccup and then where that can start to influence other choices. And then for the students. And I think this holds true for many managers and teams: where you have a sense of agency, what you can do to feel like you’ve got control again. Because right now, so much of what we’re doing has been reactive, and that is tough on employee morale, and it’s tough on leaders who are trying to figure out what to do next. And so I’m interested in taking a lot of what we’re doing in the Stanford pilot and expanding it much further for companies.
Klaus: I see. Whatever you do is basically based on the assumption that there is no sole genius creating innovation, that it’s always teams, teams of teams, working together and using certain methods, tools, conversations, dialogues, on so forth, and that there’s a lot that you can do with teaching the teams to have the same language, the same methods, a shared set of tools.
Tamara, you are working around the world, basically. Is there any differences between teams or these approaches between, say, US teams, Japanese, Swiss teams?
Tamara: Very good observation, Klaus, about understanding teams as the primary unit, because I think we forget that much of what we do in business and in community and even in family life comes down to small groups. We can call them teams because they are often unified with a shared goal and then have to work together in regular ways that create much more of a team structure. But understanding that the way we collaborate and co-create comes down to, you know, working in teams and this notion of team of teams which was popularized by the book of the same name a few years ago (but has long roots in decades before) is to know that, of course, we’re always in these overlapping multiple networks with the people we know within a company, and across company borders, and in our personal life that we bring in, and so even recognizing that becomes important. And I think it’s more crucial when you understand this in terms of innovation. I find across global regions and industries you have several fundamental human aspects that hold true regardless of where you are or which culture you’re dealing with, which is around. You know, people want to feel their work is valued or that they have a meaningful contribution. They want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. So this helps to provide bigger context and direction. Often with companies, I talk about this as a vision, but it’s really just having that purpose for knowing what you’re doing. People want to bring their whole selves into the max, meaning it’s not just this compartmentalized version that you can say is allowed at work. But really, you’d like to be able to, you know, bring some of the hobbies you have or your other personal side. Not to say all your deep, dark secrets, but just that you feel more comfortable being who you are. There’s actually a wonderful study done a few years ago by Google, who re-discovered some of this fundamental team nature, called Project Aristotle and Google was trying to understand what makes an effective team manager. And they had all these hypotheses around specific skill sets in the pedigree of the manager and maybe the 10 Year of the Manager, and so forth. And long story short, after looking at all of their data and doing interviews (Google, of course, loves to collect information both of the world and of themselves) they found that the fundamental element came down to psychological safety. And what this means is that a manager could not be effective unless the team felt they were safe. And it’s this notion that’s really emerged over the last few years, really defined by a Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, but it’s been picked up by other experts like Timothy Clarke and so forth, and it talks about the shared interpersonal risk. Do you feel you can be comfortable in the situation where you feel safe to criticize, to be included, to be yourself? And there’s all these different components as you unpack the concept, but what it really comes down to is you can be a good team if you feel like it’s safe to do so. And I think this makes sense, since, of course, as I think about laying this across the different groups that I’ve worked with around the world, that is definitely a core belief. And then where it changes are all the cultural flavors. So I love… in Sweden, they have a snack break called fika, and it’s very sacred and it’s a chance to have coffee and cake, and they really carved the time out in the agenda to take fika. And it’s really a chance in the culture for people to stop and acknowledge one another and socialize. But it’s so embedded in their cultural tradition that they, you know, that they have these moments and I love it. And for Sweden, this is sacred for the way they work together. But you can find it in other cultures. Food and caffeine also is important. They might go under different names or it’s handled a little differently. You know, in Japan, of course, you have much more of the influence of tea and beautiful, different types of these delicacies and sweets. I love that as well. But to me, those are different variations, but it still gets down to some of the core fundamentals we share as humans, that we need to eat and we like to eat, and we appreciate these different flavors and that we need to make that time to do so. How we do it might change from, you know, group to group, but knowing that can allow me to realize why it’s happening, and then, of course, just enjoy it in the moment as well.
Klaus: I like that. Food might be different all around the world, but it still has the same importance for a team if you add it to a break and then use it as a possibility to share stuff.
Tamara, we have talked about teaching, we have talked about tools, we have talked about learning or putting teaching innovation online and doing something virtual. I understand that next for you is virtualizing the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy in the summer. That’s probably a big task. I’m looking forward to whatever you put out there, also in special ways of doing this, you’re very experienced in that. Is there anything else that is next for you?
Tamara: One part that I love to remember is that I’m always learning, in this process as well, and so I have a book next to me all around, Radical Uncertainty, in understanding how we can make decision making beyond the numbers. I am interested in writing much more around this Moonshot mindset and taking its two different groups worldwide, and in helping to empower their teams and communities for thinking in big ways in their situations. And then I think to get more serious around this innovation assessment and find some ways to help really connect more dots for companies. Because as we look to survive and stabilize in the short term with the pandemic, we still need to consider after the pandemic. And how do we innovate through and beyond it? And what does that look like? And so that’s also part of my future learning.
Klaus: Thank you very much, Tamara Carleton, for being part of the 2.5.