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Agile Innovation Leaders
34 minutes | 13 days ago
S1E006 Jane Egerton-Idehen on Being Fearless
“Make the days count…” Bio: Jane Egerton-Idehen is the Head of Sales for Facebook Middle East and Africa (MEA). Prior to that she was the Country Manager, Nigeria, and Regional Sales Manager, West Africa at Avanti Communications Group Plc (a satellite company). She is a Master’s degree holder from Warwick Business School, UK and an Executive Education from Harvard Business School and Yale School of Management. In 2019 she received the 50 Leading Ladies in Corporate Nigeria Leadership award. In 2021 she was featured as one of the Change Makers by University of Warwick. Her passion is seeing women like herself fulfilling their purpose, growing their careers. She has a history of promoting girls in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics). This can be traced to her undergraduate days when, as a member of the International institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), she co-founded IEEE Women In Engineering Nigeria. A quintessential extrovert, Jane enjoys golf, cycling, and salsa. She is married to Egerton Idehen and they have a son, Asher and a daughter, Sarah, who inspires Jane to continue to push for diversity in male-dominated fields. -- Complete show notes available here. -- Guest website/ contact/ social media: Website: https://janeegerton.com/ Email: email@example.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jane.egertonidehen Instagram: @nk_amadi LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jane-egerton-idehen-6716a39/?originalSubdomain=ng Authors (and books) mentioned*: Be Fearless: Give Yourself Permission to be You by Jane Egerton-Idehen Becoming by Michelle Obama Political Risk: How Businesses and Organisations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity by Condoleezza Rice and Amy B. Zegart Beloved by Toni Morrison Blink: The Power of Thinking By Not Thinking by Malcom Gladwell Interview Transcript: Ula: 01:49 So, I have with me a very special guest that I'm very excited to introduce. She is a Tech Executive, an author and also a speaker - Jane Egerton-Idehen. Welcome! Jane: 02:02 Thank you so much. It's good to be on your platform and on your show. Ula: 02:08 My pleasure. Now I know that my listeners will be excited to hear your story. So, Jane, let's start off with knowing a bit more about you as a person, can you tell us a bit about your childhood? Jane: 02:19 So, I was born the second child of four kids. So, my parents had four of us. I have an older sister and two younger brothers – so, yeah kind of in the middle. The middle kids is kind of… sometimes ignored… because either people focus on the first ones to make them role models, or on the last ones to keep them together. But I did have a very interesting childhood. My dad was so driven, he wanted to give us the best education because he was exposed. So, even though he wasn't educated, you know, he was working for companies where he got that exposure like, well, if I give my kids a good education, that’ll be good for them. So, there was a huge importance given to education in the whole. We went in like, we're very humble beginnings, we’re just people, humble beginnings. But I think some things happened sometime around 1983, that didn't really work out well. So, we really became like, went downward like, now humble beginnings like - we really went down. Because my dad at that time had resigned, he was running a bakery business, and the government had banned the importation of flour. And I think that moment started an evolution for us as kids, because now this is us; we sit at the table and have discussions with our parents about school fees. And they'll be very transparent that they can't afford it. They would they would recommend you go to school, but if the school sends you back then you know, we have to figure it but he can't afford it right now. So, I think that was just the whole awakening, realizing sometime when I was six that, ‘wow, this is not as easy as we thought.’ But I did love my parents for somehow imbibing that passion back to us. Because it's one thing to desire, you know, good education for your kids, and you can't afford it, is another thing for your kids to buy into that idea and want it for themselves. Somehow, they found a way of selling it to us, and we wanted it for ourselves. So, even… I was fortunate… even though I was living in the slums in Lagos, Nigeria, in a place called Ajegunle. And normally I would have just gone to one of the public schools, which I did go, but I had taken an exam for a government sponsored federal school, which is like a school for the middle class, quite good. It was actually sponsored by the government. So, it's a very good school. Ula: 04:26 The Federal government schools. Yeah, yes. I know that. Yeah. Jane: 04:30 So, after I had taken the exams, even when the names came out, I didn't you know, nobody saw my name. So, you know, I just went on to the public school, which was very depressing. I write about that in my book. It was a depressing six weeks, like it was chaotic. We used to show up in class. Sometimes the teachers don’t show up. The kids did whatever they wanted. Sometimes they didn't show up themselves. The students didn't show up. You know, classes were so chaotic. It was almost like… it was depressing for somebody that wanted more to be in that kind of situation, because it just felt, ‘how are you ever going to pass external exams, nobody's teaching!’ But I was just fortunate, I came back home one day, and there, you know, I got this admission to this Federal school. So literally, my parents sold whatever they could, borrowed money. I knew they did and they sent me and I think that started the whole journey for me as a young Jane, because there (at the Federal school), I got exposure. I say one of the biggest things I got from that experience was just being exposed. You know, we talk about kids having dreams and vision and something to work towards. If you are a blank slate, you don't know what to work towards. You don't know what… you don't know what to dream about. Sometimes what you get from exposure or the environment, you find yourself, it starts to give you, ideas and pictures of all the possibilities. And that's what happened to me when I went to that boarding school. And from there, you know, came out of boarding school, went to university, I studied engineering, which is a whole long story. Ula: 05:55 And so, we went to the same university, same department. So, yeah. Jane: 06:01 And we have a lot of mutual friends together. Ula: 06:03 We do - I married one of them. So... Jane: 06:10 He (Ula’s husband and Jane’s friend/ classmate) was one of the people I hung out with, because we shared the same passion and drive and things I say, you know, being eh… kids, you know… it’s always good to find yourself in environments with like-minded people, because you rub off on each other, and you help each other. So that's why I went through the engineering and graduated got, into the workforce, quite a series of journeys to that one as well. But I think all through the process, like I was thinking last night, someone was asking me, ‘what would you have said to the younger Jane’? And I said what I would have said to the younger Jane is, ‘stop being too anxious.’ I was very anxious as a young Jane, because I felt I was fighting against all odds. I was in environments where I wanted more, but it always looks like my hands were tied. I couldn't afford to feed myself, I couldn't afford to buy my books, school fees, sometimes were the big issue, you know, but you just wanted more out of life, and you kept pushing. So, when I look back, I'm very grateful for my childhood. You know, I think all of those things made me who I am today. The grade I got, you know the determination and drive for wanting honors in a First Class (degree). So even though you don’t get it, you've been to a process of knowing how to work it. And when you apply those principles again. So, I'm so grateful, because I think all of those things have just created and made me who I am today. So that's a quick summary of my childhood. Ula: 07:29 Wow, it's very inspiring. And like I told you, before we started recording, I’d just started reading your book a few hours before the recording. And there are so many aspects of your story I relate with. For example, my father didn't have anything beyond the primary school education, but he knew the value of an education. So he was, you know, self-educated in various ways, he worked hard, and he kind of instilled that drive that passion in us. And basically, there is this saying about, you know, the butterfly, when it goes into the cocoon; it’s the struggle when it's emerging from the cocoon that actually strengthens its wings. Because if you just help it out, it's just going to die. So, if this struggle is part of the preparation for greater things. So it's amazing the person you've become, and I know that there is more even ahead that you're yet to achieve. You did mention you actually had one of your children en-route to the hospital. It’s that part of the, you know, ‘let's get things done?’ (attitude). Jane: 08:37 I always laugh because we tease her (Jane’s daughter)… because I have two kids… I have a son, he's twelve my daughter, she's nine. So, they were like, on her birth certificate and they say she was born at the junction of Jefferson and Richardson. So, it was one of those… I don't want to call it funny experience, because it wasn't funny, then. You know, I, my first child I had had him, I was induced and I had epidural because, like, you know, being the you know, the engineer, I am like, if we've got good technology, why am I wasting time trying to be in pain, like… Ula: 09:07 There's no prize for suffering pain (in childbirth unnecessarily). Jane: 09:11 I'm not trying to be a super woman, just give it (the epidural) to me. So even before you know, you had this discussion with your doctor, how you want the birth to go. So, I think because, you know, I went through that and I was being induced, I had epidural, so it didn't feel painful. So maybe pressure. So, it worked really well. So, I think with my daughter because she was coming early. I couldn't really tell. I know, the first few, like when she was about, you know, 36 weeks, I felt some force, you know, kicks and I was told that ‘they’re false (labour signs), you have about four weeks to go.’ So, I just took it easy. But I was an active mom, even as a pregnant woman, I was very active. I will take my son to daycare. And when he is back from daycare, we will figure out where to go. We made a plan, we’d go to the Science Museum, or we go to an Art Museum. We just figured out; we just have to keep ourselves engaged. So, I like being active. So, I think maybe that did help - walking around a lot. Because it was just about 40 weeks when I you know, one of these days that I didn't even think it was pain, you know, one of those… I just felt pressure. I thought I wanted to use the washroom. It was actually my husband that noticed ‘You’ve been going to the washroom like every 10 minutes, what’s up?’ I'm like, ‘It’s okay, I think I'm pressed. I don't know why it's taking a long time.’ He's like, ‘No, no, is that how it should be?’ But because I've never really felt labor pains, I couldn't tell, ‘Was it pressure, was it pain?’ I think when it got really bad, I walked out of the house. I'm like, ‘Bye, guys. I'm walking to the hospital.’ My husband said, ‘But you can’t walk there!’ But I’m like, ‘(Based on) how I am feeling now, I'm gonna be walking. I'll just keep moving.’ So that's how we got a taxi. I got in the taxi and by the second traffic light, ‘Boom!’, the baby was out! Ula: 10:45 Wow! Wow!! Jane: 10:48 He was like, see my husband was there. He said it was chaotic. Like a movie. Maybe the taxi guy panicked and he just took off. I think he was in a state of shock. My husband was on the phone (to the hospital). The doctor had gone to Mexico for vacation or something. Ula: 11:03 Oh, my goodness. Jane: 11:05 My son was screaming in the background, because he could hear me in pain screaming as well. ‘I just don't know what's happening to Mommy. Why is Mommy screaming?’ But we did have the baby and my husband delivered the baby with the help of the doctor on the speakerphone telling us what to do. And she was actually breech. It was quite interesting. It was a breech birth. She came with two legs first, but it all worked out well. Ula: 11:28 Wow! Wow!! Jane: 11:33 I remember the doctor screaming at my husband (over the phone) like, ‘Tell me what you can see’ and he says, ‘I can see the legs.’ The doctor said, ‘No, you check again. Tell me what can you really..?’ ‘…But I can see the legs…!’ And he’s (the doctor is) like ‘Okay, don't panic. You're going to do this.’ So, it was an interesting story, but I'm so happy we had it. I think holding her in my arms initially, we were both shocked like ‘Is she okay?’ She was still, you know, when she came to life, the ambulance came and helped us. The police were there. So, I think they saved the day and I'm so grateful to them. And we went to the hospital. But it was an interesting one you know; it could have gone any other way. Ula: 12: 04 Your story is like something I thought would only happen in movies. And with the twist of the breech as well. It's just… wow! Jane: 12:12 It could have gone any other way, you know. You could never have told. Sometimes, you know the breech babies have some complications but we are so grateful. And she became the inspiration for my book, you can see. Interesting… Ula: 12:25 She definitely is a special child. Jane: 12:28 I think she challenges me as well. Because some of those things for a nine-year-old, she doesn't, she sees it slightly differently and then you’d be like, ‘Wow!’ I think, because we've been in it for too long. I remember reading a book. So, I was doing a research for my book. And it was about the whole idea of women and location and women getting into workforce. It was a book I was reading, but she couldn't go to bed. So, we decided to switch - we do that a lot: ‘You read and I’ll read and I'll tell you what I read, and you tell me what you read’. So, hers was a bedtime story, so she explained it to me - it was easy. So, I tried to explain to her the concept of the book that, you know, just 50 years ago, 150 years ago, women were not allowed in colleges, even Ivy League schools as we know them today. Women were not allowed to these colleges. Sometimes they allowed them to do remedial courses but they were not allowed to literally go to university and study. And she was surprised. So, you know, I tried to explain to her. ‘Yeah, yeah, you know, people had to fight, talk about it. There's a lot of… you know, why some people thought women didn't have brains as smart as men. You know, there was all kinds of debate going on until finally somebody… some schools started to do co-ed and from co-ed other schools came on board. She looks to me like, ‘So how are they expecting them to train smart kids if they didn’t let them go to school?’ Ula: 13:45 Wow! Jane: 13:46 And I told her… I said, ‘You couldn't have said it better!’ ‘cos I didn’t even see it from that viewpoint. Ula: 13:52 She summed it up nicely. Jane: 13:55 ‘You want them (women) to train the kids to be smart, and you will not allow them to have a good education?’ So, I thought she's an amazing girl. She's very smart. Ula: 14:03 Well, she has an amazingly smart mother, what do you expect? This segues into your book, Be Fearless. Jane: 14:05 Yeah. Ula: 14:13 So, you said… you've already mentioned your daughter was the reason for writing the book in the first place. How has the writing process shaped you? Jane: 14:25 I think sometimes you don't know yourself. I tell people, ‘We're all on a journey - we are evolving.’ And I think that book, one of the things it has done also is like put a mirror before me, to show me all kinds of ways I could also push myself. I actually used to tell people I love reading books. I read a lot of books. But I'm not a writer. I don't write. I didn't use to write. The best you could get out of me was my emails in the office. But I had a coach there though, that was like, always telling me, ‘You have so much to share. I wish you could share this with the younger generation.’ And I told her, you know, ‘I'll mentor them. But I don't want to write.’ But you know, one of those days, you know, bored, nothing to do. I decided, ‘Okay, I’d just write something.’ And I wrote it. And people were like, all impressed, you know with it, and they were grateful and thankful, and all kinds of comments. So I started writing articles. I wrote for magazines and newspaper houses, sharing my career experience with discussing topics in my sector. And after while people were like you know, put it in a book. And I think that's how it all started. I think I really got impressed to do that. When I started, contemplating at some time how I wanted to pass so much to my daughter. And she was young then. I think she was about four. I was so impressed by that emotion that ‘I’m mentoring a lot of young girls, how can I pass some of these things to my daughter?’ I thought the best way to do would be to document it. And that's why when I initially started writing the book, the title of the book for a long time was A Letter to My Daughter, because I felt it was a letter I was writing to Sarah. So, in so many ways, I think it shaped me. I tell people that sometimes I will literally struggle with a chapter for like months, because you were trying to be true and real to your daughter. If it was somebody else, you’d tell them what you want them to hear and what you expect them to hear. But to your daughter, you want to be vulnerable and transparent and real. Because I thought you have to let her know. So that when she takes this journey, she's equipped, don’t give her a half-truths; give her the truth and let her know, ‘This is my perspective, but I'm giving you the truth as I know it.’ So, in a way it forced me to put a mirror and to really see things for what they are. And you know, some of the principles of lean agile, one of them is to respect others. You know, even in my writing, when I was telling the stories, especially when there was other people involved, I had to respect their part of the story. Because I'm telling the story from my perspective, doesn't mean you don't have to respect other people that are part of that story. So, it was really important for me to write the story and make it known that this is my perspective. At that point, in my journey, this is how I saw it. Any other person in the story could have seen it differently. But this is my perspective. I think in that way, it forced me to hold myself accountable to a higher version of myself. Ula: 17:17 I respect and admire the candor with which you wrote the book. And that makes it more authentic. You're never stuck in a situation. There's always a way out. Jane: 17:27 You said it so well. Ula: 17:28 Thank you. I'm trying to be like you, Jane. So, you've mentioned the respect for people, were there other principles that you applied to the writing process? Jane: 17:38 One of the things I'll say I took from these principles, which I really used was, ‘Reducing waste’. And I know that the concept sounds strange, because uhhh... but this is not manufacturing and this is not software engineering. But the whole idea of reducing waste could just be over processing things, spending unnecessary time, trying to use unnecessary information. You know sometimes, where you're writing and you're in that zone, you could just go off on a tangent. And then I’d come back (and ask myself), ‘What am I really trying to say again?’ You cut out all the waste; you actually want them to be focused on the core message. You know, all those extra parts of it, which I'm sure you like, and you’ll like to tell for you but I don't know, for the reader, if it's valuable. One of the things I held dear for the book was like, if I was going to do a book, then it has to be good quality. It's also like, a respect for the readers’ mind; you want to give them some work that is quality, so that they know that you're committed to that craft. You're not just writing a book for writing sake and let it be known. So, I really took time out, did my research. The whole year, this is how important it was. From the time I decided to write the book to the time I sent off the entire book, to the first editor (so, I had two editors, that was how important the quality was for me), I refused to read any other book because I didn't want to be influenced. There's a tendency to want to sound like someone; some authors you love and respect and I'm like, ‘No. You have to be your authentic self and let it be Jane telling the story.’ People should read and (be) like ‘Oh, that’s Jane’s voice; that's how she will say (it).’ So, I took (time) off reading. For the whole year I didn't read any book. Literally the day I submitted the work to the editor, I went shopping like the next week and I bought like 20 books. Like I was so starved of buying new books, I like shopping! I paid for editing, proofreading. And it's so important. No matter how wonderful, you think you're a good writer, because you write all these wonderful articles, I think it’s good to get a professional so the quality of the work is at par as what it should be. So, I did get professional editors to edit the work. Ula: 19:35 It does sound like you thought through the process and you took a structure... Jane: 19:40 So, when I first decided to write the work, one of the things I did was seek out professional help. So, I was like looking around. You know, who's written a book before? My husband pointed me in the direction of a friend in church. She was a professional editor and a ghost writer. So, you know, I had that conversation with her. ‘I'm trying to do this, but I want to do it the right way.’ And she told me like, ‘If you really want to do a good work, the first thing I think you should do is write a book plan.’ I spent quite a reasonable amount of time just… And a book plan is what it is; it’s just a plan, it’s not the book. It talks about target audience. You know, ‘What you want the audience to take away? What kind of English you want to write? You know, what kind of books are in that category? How many words do you want to go, how many chapters you want to go? What do you want to relate?’ This is not even writing the book. This is just a plan on how to write the book. I'm so grateful for that process because it guides you so that you don't lose the core message. Or you don't deviate from why you're writing the book. Because there's a tendency to write and want to change. Sometimes I will write a chapter (but then) when I read the framework of what I put in the plan, I'm like, ‘No, I didn't address this, this and this.’ I wanted to address those themes. And I need to go back and address that. Because that’s what I'm trying to pass on to the readers that I owe it to them. You're not just telling stories for stories’ sake. You're trying to address the themes there. So yes, that was some of the steps I took. Ula: 21:01 As an executive in the telecommunications industry as well, you must have a demanding day job with family responsibilities and then you have the book and of course I'm aware that you also do lots of speaking engagements, mentoring, etc., etc. How did you manage to fit it all in? Jane: 21:22 I always say you have to dare to be bad; so, some things I had to give up. You have to tell them, ‘I cannot do it all.’ Give them up in faith. I became aware that I didn't have enough time. I was getting overwhelmed. So initially, one of the things I did… I love golfing. I stopped golfing, like, three months into writing the book, because I realized I needed time. But four months into writing the book, I stopped going to the gym entirely - because I used to go to the gym. But I needed those hours because I was working a full-time job. And my job requires a lot of travel, and I have my kids. So, you know, I was just giving up things. I was giving up things because you have to prioritize the things that were core. And I had to focus on those ones and every other thing became secondary, you know, we start to de- prioritize. If we had to delegate, if we had to outsource, I was doing a lot of that, you know, in those periods, just so I could focus on this project. So, that means some of the fun things I had, you know socializing, you know, I had to get off the list for most people – I didn’t show up for those things. But I also tried to be in environments that helped me so I went for like-minded people. I joined a writer’s club, that's one of the first things I did. And a good thing with joining a writer’s group, I had similar people like me trying to do the same thing. So, we're all learning from each other. Because you come together, you read each other's work, you critique, you give feedback, you enforce. So, you’re learning. It’s almost like they were like your better readers. So, they will also help you on that journey and you were learning from them as well. So that was very helpful. Because that helped me work with a goal and keep the rhythm. Because it's so easy for most of us to say, ‘I want to do this’, then halfway into the year or halfway, you lose the rhythm, and you just can't get back. But because I was committed to showing up every two weeks with an article written, I had to show up every two weeks, and I must have written something. So sometimes I'm writing on the plane. I'm like, ‘It’s six hours before I get off this plane, I must make sure I finish!’ I got to a point where I think it was just two months ago that I changed my alarm clock. My alarm clock was now set at 4:30am. Because I needed that one hour before the whole house gets up and starts the routine for the day. I had to put that one-hour in. Ula: 23:31 Wow, I mean, I like the fact that you mentioned you can't have that - it’s all about prioritizing. So, in ‘agile speak’, you'd have your backlog of items, but you always would have very limited capacity to do what you needed to do per time. So, it's really about prioritizing what needed to be done by when. Jane: 23:50 And it's so funny that we tend to apply these principles so well in the office, on projects. You know, but, when it comes to personal life, you kind of throw them out of the window but some of them are really effective to also use personally when you do personal projects or when it comes to your personal life. Ula: 24:06 It does apply. Definitely. With respect to the book you've already launched, how has the current COVID situation affected the plans? Did you have to change some things? Have things gone exactly as planned? Jane: 24:22 Just like any project, you've got to be ready for the unexpected. So, I had a, you know, I had a whole launch team, we had a plan and we launched very well. It became an Amazon bestseller. Ula: 24:32 Congratulations! Jane: 24:34 Thank you. I’m so proud of that. But of course, the plan I had in place we had to change, we had to pivot. Because I launched the book, I knew I wanted to go on a road show. We were going to do bookstores and book shops. I was going to do reading clubs, I was going to visit universities, because I really wanted young adults to read the book and I thought it was beneficial if they read it. And I wanted to prepare them to engage and discuss but then with the whole COVID, there was a lockdown, quarantine and all that - you couldn't move. I think for the first couple of weeks I struggled a bit because I didn't know what to do. Because I already had a plan and I’m like, ‘What happened?’ It's like, you throw the plan out of the window because it wasn't relevant anymore. So, I had to start figuring out talking to people, trying to understand, ‘What can I do? How do I adapt this plan?’ I literally had to re-craft the plan. So, one of the things I did was start doing podcasts. I told myself, we can’t go physically anywhere, but you can use online means to share the story and reach out to people. So, I was doing a lot of podcasts. I've been doing a lot of virtual readings, you know, the book clubs, we do virtual sessions on Zoom. So, I had to literally pivot, you know. Like, almost the entire plan is just sitting there. I don't know if it would be relevant… maybe till sometime next year because it requires travel. And right now, I don't see myself traveling till the end of the year. It requires being physically present in places. And I think people can’t gather in groups for a couple of months, people will probably avoid that. So, I had to like re-craft the entire (plan), you know, go for webinars, go for podcasts, and I did - even when I did radio programs, we did them by Skype. The good thing with planning is that planning puts you in the frame of mind to be able to adapt. It doesn't necessarily mean that the plan will be 100% perfect, but I think the purpose of creating the plan itself, puts you on your toes that you're able to adapt, if things change, because you're already aware that there could be risk, even sometimes they do come like in the case of COVID, nobody would have seen it coming. One of the risks, I thought, because early part of the year when I was putting the plan together, actually, the biggest risk I was thinking of managing was how to manage my family time. Because it was clear that I was going to be on the road quite a lot, almost every weekend. And I was thinking, ‘How do I manage it?’ I spoke to a lot of other authors; how do they manage it? I had to have a conversation with my husband. I was really concerned that the weekends are time but this is me taking the weekends for this project. So, we're thinking of ways to work it out and… that didn't even come to pass! It was like the least challenge we had. So yes, couple of things changed. Ula: 27:22 Somehow everything seems to have worked out well. Because I would imagine you're reaching a wider audience than if you were traveling physically from location to location per time. Jane: 27:35 I've been physically restricted. So, when I was planning the lunch, I told myself, I'll launch the book in Nigeria and in Ghana. Then depending on how it goes, I might decide if I want to go to other countries. So, my focus was really the Nigerian market. But with the whole COVID and me pivoting, you know, like the book is… Yesterday, I had a podcast (interview) with Olivia in Canada. For the past four weeks, I've been having podcast (interviews), most of the podcasters in the US. And the book is getting into the US market, people are being aware of it. So, I'm really impressed like you know, it's actually evolved better than I thought. Ula: 28:08 Definitely there's always a silver lining, you know, something good comes out of even the most… Jane: 28:14 Most challenging times Ula: 28:16 Exactly Jane: 28:18 So just a perspective, it could be the glass, half full or the glass.... So, it’s your perspective which way you're looking at it and that’s the fun of something new. Ula: 28:25 Yeah. You said you didn't read any book during the year you were writing your book. And you later on went out to read books. This kind of segues into our wrap up questions. What books did you buy? What kind of books do you buy? Jane: 28:38 I bought five of Toni Morrison's books. So, the first thing I did in December was read Beloved, which is one of the books. I had been so looking forward to reading it. So, I'm trying to read the others. I bought Michelle Obama's book, I have bought it, you know, earlier, but I couldn't read it; Becoming. Condoleezza’s Political Risk. You know, these are people that I admired and for me reading your book is like getting into your mind and trying to understand how you think; how it plays out for you. So yes, those are some of my top ones up there. I do love Malcolm Gladwell. So, I literally buy any of his book I lay my hands on. So that's another person I so respect. There were so many other books, but those are the ones on top of my mind I was so itchy to get to, I had to get to quickly. Ula: 29:22 I share your love for books as well. I feel like it's a way of getting mentoring from people you might never meet. Some of them might have left the earth or are late and it's just a way of getting into their minds and learning how they think. So, do you have any ask of the audience, Jane? Jane: 29:42 So, one of my biggest asks is that people actually read the book. That's, that's a priceless gem. When you read the book, you send me a comment, you send you a review. Or you just ask a question about something you've read; you’ve just made my day! Because I feel that that's the best thing I could have done. What I really wanted to do in writing that book was to speak to the younger Jane. You know, giving the younger Jane a platform to say, you know, ‘I just want to tell you - this journey, you can do it, you know, you can work it.’ This is my own way of inspiring that younger Jane. And the only way is for the younger Jane to read it. So, my desire is that people read the book. Ula: 30:18 Great. And how can the audience get this book? Jane: 30:20 The book is on Amazon and we’ve got the paperback, we have the hardcover, we have the E book or Kindle version on Amazon. And there are some other local publishers, publishers as well that you can get the book for those in Nigeria: Okada books, Bambooks, Litireso - you know, in all those local platforms here. Ula: 30:38 We will definitely have all the links to the books and relevant sources in the show notes. How can the audience reach you? Are you on social media? Jane: 30:47 I’m always teased that I’m everywhere on social media. But I have not decided what I'm going to do with it. But I'm on LinkedIn, I'm on Facebook, I'm on Twitter, I'm on Instagram, as Jane Egerton-Idehen. You definitely can’t miss it. I love to interact with people on social media. I also have a website, Janeegerton.com. So that's another platform you can get me on. Ula: 31:09 Again, we'll put all these in the show notes, so that's fine. It's been a great conversation, Jane. Before we conclude, what final words of advice do you have for the audience? Jane: 31:24 I would like to say… looking at the whole situation and I know we didn't talk much it – you know, what we are all going through with the whole COVID crisis, the pandemic. The other day I asking people, what do you want to remain after this whole crisis. You know, what for you, from the whole couple of weeks, the whole journey will be, what would you want to remain? What I realize is that, I would really want to make the days count. And that's my final word for anybody listening, make these days count. There will never be another COVID crisis, maybe not in this manner, not in this way, or maybe not in your generation. So, it's important that you make the days count. When you look back and you have to talk about this period. You want to be saying from a point of, I'm so happy I got this. I'm so happy I did this. I’m so happy I learned this. So, make the days count. So important. Ula: 32:19 Great words of wisdom, Jane. Thank you so much for your time once more. It's been a pleasure having you on the podcast. Jane: 32:25 Thank you for having me. * Note that the links to the books are Amazon affiliate links. This means that we may get paid a commission by Amazon at no extra cost to yourself if you go on to buy the book from their website via this particular link.
34 minutes | a month ago
S1E005 Sharon Tal on How to Identify the Best Market Opportunities for Your Ideas or Innovations in a Structured Way
Episode Summary: In this episode Dr Sharon Tal and I discuss how the book she co-authored with Prof Marc Gruber, ‘Where to Play’ complements the Lean Start Up movement and Design Thinking. She also explains how the Market Opportunity Navigator could benefit large organisations as well as start-ups. Bio: Dr. Tal helps entrepreneurs and managers identify, evaluate and prioritize market opportunities for their business. Together with Prof Marc Gruber she wrote the book ‘Where to Play’ to help companies choose a promising strategic focus and move forward with confidence. Dr. Tal is the co-founder and former Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. She runs courses and workshops in accelerators and universities around the world, and serves as a mentor in many organizations that aim to help budding entrepreneurs. Sharon has vast experience in marketing, as she served as a marketing manager for firms in several industries, as well as extensive experience in strategic consulting. Her PhD research looked at market entry decisions of hundreds of startups and its consequences on firm performance and flexibility. Website/ social media: Where to Play website: https://wheretoplay.co/ Sharon’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharon-tal-itzkovitch-a390414a/ Where to Play LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wheretoplay/ Twitter: @WhereToPlayCo Books mentioned in this episode: [NOTE: We currently bear all costs for organising, producing and hosting the podcast series. To help us offset costs, would you consider purchasing the mentioned books via our Amazon affiliate links below? Doing this could give us a commission from Amazon at no extra cost to you. Thank you!] Where to Play: 3 Steps to Discovering Your Most Valuable Market Opportunities by Marc Gruber and Sharon Tal End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business by Rita Gunther McGrath Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen by Rita Gunther McGrath The Corporate Startup: How Established Companies Can Develop Successful Innovation Ecosystems by Tendai Viki, Dan Toma & Esther Gons Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win by Steve Blank The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller Articles: Steve Blank’s Blog on Where to Play https://steveblank.com/2019/05/07/how-to-stop-playing-target-market-roulette-a-new-addition-to-the-lean-toolset/ Steve Blank’s 2nd blog on Where to Play: https://steveblank.com/2020/06/23/winners-rising-out-of-the-crisis-where-to-find-new-markets-and-customers/ Interview Transcript: Ula Ojiaku: 01:16 So, we have with us today, Sharon Ta1, who is the co-author of the book Where to Play. Sharon, thank you so much for making the time to be our guest on this podcast. Sharon Tal: 01:28 My pleasure - hi, Ula! Ula Ojiaku: 01:30 Hi! So, let's start! I did a bit of research, you know, just to find out a bit more about you before this conversation and I Googled (the name) Sharon Tal - it seems like it's a very popular name for famous people. So, I saw an actress who is famous and a notable TV producer who used to be with Amazon… What do you think about that? Sharon Tal: 01:53 Actually, that’s a unique question Ula - original one. So it's true - Sharon is a very popular Israeli name. I come from Israel, and it’s a very popular Israel name, especially for women around my age. The meaning of Sharon is actually a geographical area in Israel. And I've never been the only Sharon in class, university, work, wherever. And of course, there are many others with even the same surname. So, I'm used to some of these confusions by now. Ula Ojiaku: 02:26 Okay, I love the name. And I remember seeing the reference to it for the first time in the Bible, you know - the Rose of Sharon. It has a significant meaning to me as well. Sharon Tal: 02:36 Thank you. Ula Ojiaku: 02:38 You are a very accomplished person, having written the book, the significant work you did with your PhD that culminated in the co-authoring of the book, Where to Play with Professor Marc Gruber. And yet in my limited interaction with you, you come across as a very personable, down to earth person, very easy to communicate with. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far? How did you get to where you are currently? Sharon Tal: 03:05 Well, first of all, thank you for the warm words. And always nice to hear that other think you are well-accomplished. I started my journey as a Marketing Manager. But at some point, I wanted to go back to study masters thesis in Strategic Management. And I went back to where I did my first degree, which is the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, and I kind of fell in love with the academic field and a great place to stay, especially when you have kids at home. So, after I finished my masters thesis, I stayed in the university and I co-founded the Entrepreneurship Center there. So, then I was managing the Entrepreneurship Center at the Technion and that's where I got to learn so much about the entrepreneurial journey and meet and consult with hundreds of early-stage startups and entrepreneurs - especially technology entrepreneurs. And during that time, I noticed that there is a challenge that is very common to many of them and that was figuring out which market to pursue with their innovative idea. And given that I was coming from a marketing background, I wanted to help them find a structure for this decision, and we couldn't find a good tool. So eventually, I decided to do my PhD on this topic. And we looked at hundreds of early stage startups and how they managed this trade off, this question of where to focus, and how to focus properly. I'm telling you all this because it's just a step-by-step process in my career that at the end led me to have this deep know-how and expertise in figuring out how to focus properly for and find the best market. So, given all this academic and practical understanding, at the end, we decided to write this book and develop this methodology, the market opportunity navigator to bring this know-how, which is (the) theoretical and practical, together to the practitioners. At the end, that's my career story and today, I work mainly when training this methodology, either in academic institutes or early stage entrepreneurs’ programs, for budding entrepreneurs, and also larger organizations and innovation managers. Ula Ojiaku: 05:25 Okay, so that means you are open to like consulting with either budding entrepreneurs or large or small organizations. Sharon Tal: 05:34 Correct. Only thing I want to refine here is it's not exactly consulting. As far as I said, it's more of a facilitation, so I facilitate the process with them. The difference is, as a consultant - and I used to work as a consultant in the past - you don't only ask the questions, you also bring the answers. When you facilitate a process, you help the team ask the right questions, but they bring the answers to the table, and then you'll help them digest and make the right decisions out of that. So, that's what I mainly do today I think, facilitation rather than consulting. Ula Ojiaku: 06:13 I like the way you've differentiated the term, ‘consultants’ and you've emphasized that you're more of a facilitator. That gives me the impression that it's more about you drawing out the information or the answers that they already know that’s within them - because they know their context better than you ever could - having been there. But you are helping them to draw out the answers and helping them to use the tool adequately in their context. Sharon Tal: 06:41 Correct. Ula Ojiaku: 06:42 Ok, thanks for the clarification Sharon. What would you consider as the main challenge you've experienced in your career or personally? Sharon Tal: 06:51 Yeah. Okay. So, let me divide this into two. So professionally and personally. From a professional perspective, I think the most challenging part was to bridge the gap between academia and the practical world. In a way, I was blessed to have prior experience in both. And when we started to write the book, we also thought it's going to be quite easy to find a way to bridge this gap. But it took us much longer than we expected, because it's very challenging to find the middle ground between being thorough enough and simple enough. And that's the challenge of combining theories, and bringing them to - in a very simple, appealing way - to practitioners. So, from a professional perspective, I think that's the main challenge. From personal perspective. But that's not only me, I'm sure that many women in general, I think the main challenge always has been to balance life and career, especially having three kids at home and finding the way to be both a good professional and a good mother and wife. So that's always the thing for me. And almost every decision that I've made in my career was somehow made having this challenge in mind. Ula Ojiaku: 08:15 I totally empathize. I mean, you're a little bit ahead of me, because I have a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old and… Sharon Tal: 08:23 They will grow. Ula Ojiaku: 08:25 They will and they are, I mean, things are much better than when they were in diapers, certainly. But I've found myself having to make decisions professionally, that take into consideration how it's going to affect them, especially at their age. Yes, so I've made sacrifices and compromises and I’ll do it all over again. Sharon Tal: 08:48 So, would I. So, would I, so I am proud of my sacrifices. I think they were right. So, I would do it all over again. Ula Ojiaku: 08:56 They're not always young, like you said, and that gives me hope - they'll grow up and give us freer times. Now moving on to… so moving on to your book, Where to Play. I've already had a very good chat with your co-author, Professor Marc Gruber. And he gave us an overview of the work you'd done and what the market opportunity navigator is all about. For the audience members who are yet to listen to this and just as a recap, can you give us a recap of what this is (about) please? Sharon Tal: 09:26 Sure, so the book Where to Play presents a structured methodology or framework if you want that is called the market opportunity navigator. This process helps entrepreneurs and business managers to find or discover the best market opportunities for their innovation. Think about any almost any technological innovation or idea that you have or even existing business line of company, they can always apply it to create different offerings or address the needs of different types of customers. So, the process helps you with three steps. First, it's about identifying; discovering different market opportunities for this innovation. What type of applications, I can stem from your core abilities, and who may need it - in any combination of application and customer is a market opportunity for your company? The second step is the evaluation step. So, you need to be able to comprehensively assess the attractiveness of these different directions, or different opportunities, either if you're an early stage startup, or if you're looking for the growth engines for your venture for your company. So, the second step helps you to systematically evaluate the potential and the challenge of every market opportunity on your plate and compare them visually. And the third step is about prioritizing. How do you compile all this information that I’m learning to set a smart to design a smart strategy for your company, a strategy that can utilize this multiple market opportunities in your favour? So, if you are an early stage startup, you can utilize these multiple opportunities to set your backup and growth options and keep them open for the future. If you're a large organization, you can utilize these multiple opportunities, to design a portfolio of growth options - those that are a little bit more related and more far out from your existing business line - to create this balanced portfolio of growth or growing options. Just to summarize this three-step process, and very structured because every step has a dedicated worksheet to help you go through this decision making. So, it's very easy, in a way very easy to apply either as a sole manager, but also in a team. Probably one of the main benefits is that it creates a shared language or communication tool. You can now walk through this strategic design or strategic process in a very systematic way, involving different people, or employees or stakeholders. Ula Ojiaku: 12:09 Thanks a lot. That's a very good overview. Just tying to that, because you said it could be used by you know, both individuals and small and large enterprises. So, for large organizations, how could the market opportunity navigator benefit large organizations? Sharon Tal: 12:37 Yeah, it's interesting, because, you know, when we started developing this tool, we had startups in mind, and it was actually based on our deep, you know, research for how early stage startups make decisions. But very quickly, we figured out that large organizations also need a structured process to identify their next growth opportunities. And some of them, of course, already apply some processes, but they are not always comprehensive and some of them are just doing this messy decision-making process with no systematic practices. And that creates a little bit too much emphasis on luck rather than systems. Ula Ojiaku: 13:09 And sometimes, it’s really about the most senior person who is just, you know, pushing it (their agenda) or the loudest, right? Sharon Tal: 13:16 Correct. Definitely, right. Definitely, right. So, so I think the very first thing to keep in mind is if you have a structured tool that can involve different types of employees and managers and manager levels. In this process, it's very valuable. Now, the thing that we've found most beneficial for larger corporates when they use the market opportunity navigator is actually the identification phase. So, let me explain why. Many times, managers are bounded within their existing industry lines. And today, we know from different books and different studies, including a very good one by Rita McGrath that industry lines are quickly blurring, and competitive advantage is very temporary. And therefore, organizations need to find and identify opportunities, not necessarily within their existing industries. So, they actually need to learn how to break out from existing industries and think wider. And that's a challenging process. So, the first step of the Market Opportunity Navigator helps you to first characterize your core strengths or core abilities in their own right. And then think how you can combine or recombine them in different ways to create completely different offerings, for completely different market segments or market opportunities. That really helps you to think outside your limited industrial boundaries. And what we see happening many times is, these structured brainstorming sessions are very powerful. You can use them to analyze your core strength and think what else you can do with it. It's like an exercise in cognitive flexibility. But you can also use this to ask yourself, okay, now that I've listed this core strength, what if I had a new one? What if I developed another core element in here? For example, blockchain abilities, whatever, okay, and how would that open up different opportunities for my company? So, it's a semi-structured discovery process, which is very powerful to help companies discover their opportunity arena. So, an arena is a concept again coined by Rita McGrath that said, don’t forget your industries, think about your larger opportunity spaces or arenas, and that discovery process is very valuable in this manner for this specific issue. Now, also, I think, larger organizations are looking for ways to bring in entrepreneurial mindsets and entrepreneurial imagination. So, using these tools which were originally tailored for startups and bring(ing) them into their meeting rooms is actually very nice. You can put this thing (the Market Opportunity Navigator template) on a wall, you can use sticky notes, you can run these brainstorming sessions. It's fun, it's enjoyable, it's engaging. And I think large corporates could definitely find the benefit in this approach as well. Now, another thing to keep in mind probably is that once you discover opportunities with this first step of the Navigator, the second one helps you to quickly distinguish or characterize them based on the potential that they bear for your company and the challenge in pursuing them. So, you can very quickly or you can characterize or distinguish between these ideas, and find your goldmine opportunities - those that are higher on potential and relatively low or manageable on challenge. You can also use this to find your quick wins, which are maybe modest on potential but relatively safe. And actually, quick wins have a good benefit in larger organizations because they help make the change. If you start your process with applying some or pursuing some quick wins, you get the buy in of stakeholders’ entire management more easily. And you're on your way to a larger change in the future - for your moonshot’s opportunities, for example, in the future. So, I think that's maybe another benefit to keep in mind. Ula Ojiaku: 17:48 So, Sharon, can you define what you mean by a moonshot? I mean, goldmine sounds like it's something that would be potentially highly profitable, with medium to minimal effort on the part of the organization. And there is the quick win, you know, the low hanging fruit, which is easy-to-get medium-sized opportunities, but it's easier to implement and get but what would be a moonshot? Sharon Tal: 18:12 So, you're definitely right with your interpretation. The moonshot opportunities are those with a high potential, but also extremely high challenge. Now many breakthrough innovations or if you think about large corporates, breaking beyond their existing business lines, beyond their existing customer segments is challenging, but you want to have those in your portfolio as well. Right? So, that's when we talk about the attractiveness of different opportunities. We categorize them based on these two dimensions: potential and challenge. And moonshot is one of these quadrants, you know, matrix. Ula Ojiaku: 18:47 Okay, you mentioned Rita McGrath's book, were you referring to The Competitive Advantage? Or is there any other book…? Sharon Tal: 18:54 Yeah, so she has actually two books that relates to this topic. One is The End of Competitive Advantage, exactly the one you mentioned, where she talks about the fact that competitive advantage is very temporary these days, and companies must be able to explore new opportunities all the time, and move quickly, or reconfigure their assets quickly to move from one opportunity to the other. And the Market Opportunity Navigator helps you to do just that. How do you leverage your existing abilities and core strengths to completely new opportunities? The other book that was recently published is Seeing Around Corners, where she provides some more guidelines on how to identify when disruption is coming into your industry, and then you need to quickly figure out what to do with that. Ula Ojiaku: 19:52 Okay, okay. That's great. You've beautifully explained why the Market Opportunity Navigator would be beneficial to large organizations as well, even though it was originally put together, synthesized for startups, for entrepreneurs. How does the Market Opportunity Navigator complement the Lean Startup cycle? Sharon Tal: 20:14 Yeah, yes, that's actually a great question. Because when we designed it, we didn't want to (re-)invent, you know, the wheel. We wanted to join the Lean Startup movement. But we felt that the tools of the Lean Startup customer development process, the Business Model Canvas, the Agile development - all of these tools are very good to quickly find your product-market fit within a market domain, or pivot quickly if you find out it's the wrong one. But what they don't tell you is where to actually start digging in, where to actually start your customer development process. And that's where the Market Opportunity Navigator comes in, and there was recently a blog published by Steve Blank, the father of Lean Startup, where he actually talks about the key addition of the Market Opportunity Navigator into the Lean Toolset. The idea is that the Market Opportunity Navigator helps you to figure out where to play, find out this market domains where you can dig in or you can have some businesses. And then the Lean Toolset helps you to zoom in and figure out how to play. And you can very quickly experiment and refine and figure out your business model within the market domain. So, it's the wide lens perspective to help you define the boundaries for your lean experimentation. Now, one thing to keep in mind that at the end of the day, this is a very iterative process, right? You zoom in and zoom out, you can do this wide lens analysis, figure out the domain, zoom in with the lean experimentation, use these great Lean Startup tools, learn and go up and reflect again, on what you've learned with this wider reflection tool, which is the market opportunity navigator. So, definitely complements these great tools in the title, interestingly, the title that Steve Blank gave to this post is ‘Stop Playing Target Market Roulette’, so use this systematic process to define the boundaries of your lean experimentation. Ula Ojiaku: 22:26 Steve Blank actually mentioned your book as well, when I interviewed him, he had high praises for it in terms of how it helped with structuring…at least giving startups a targeted view of where to focus on. I also get the sense that the Navigator ties in quite well with Design Thinking, because it's not about being haphazard. It's really about adding some rigor and structure to how you determine where you play. So, can you tell me a bit more about how the Navigator complements Design Thinking? Sharon Tal: 23:01 Sure. So, first Design Thinking has very, some very, you know, common elements with the Lean Startup, especially when we talk about prototyping and experimenting, validating an idea early on in the market. The key issue for me in Design Thinking is the first steps of customer empathy. So, identifying new opportunities, by putting yourself in the shoes of different customer segments. Now, I think this is actually a great methodology to discover new opportunities for your company. And the reason it complements the market opportunity navigator is because the navigators actually don't start with empathy with customer, it starts with what are your core strengths or abilities, and how can you leverage them to create different or to address the needs of different types of customers. So, at the end of the day, to have a good opportunity, it has to have these two ends, it has to have a clear need from the market. But also, you should be able to address these needs with your core strengths and abilities. So, the discovery process can begin with putting yourselves in the shoes of different types of customer like Design Thinking. But it could also begin with figuring out what's your core abilities or technological elements, and how you can reconfigure them differently. At the end, you will need to tie both ends anyway together to have an opportunity. My main way of looking at this is that they are different perspectives for identifying new market opportunities for the company and both are excellent. And then you create this multiple set of opportunities and you move forward to evaluating and prioritizing them. Ula Ojiaku: 24:52 It gives me the impression that you could start using the Design Thinking and putting yourself in the customers shoes, but you could start from evaluating your strengths, and also understanding what the customer needs. And then finding that, you know, that happy place where what you have, can adequately meet customer’s needs or demands. Sharon Tal: 25:12 Exactly. And now, this is a process that it's a discovery process, and it takes time to find and the great thing is, by having multiple opportunities or a large set of opportunities is a real asset for your company. Because at the end, it will help you to find those most promising fertile grounds. So, you can definitely use both methodologies to bring in as many ideas as possible and then start validating them, be able to make sure that you have some good options on your table. Ula Ojiaku: 25:48 So how would you balance this though, because you could go on analyzing, how do you prevent yourself from going into analysis paralysis versus acting and knowing when you've done enough? Sharon Tal: 25:56 Yeah, good, good question. Okay, so I think the first thing I would say I would recommend is, again, is to have a structured process - adopt a structured process. Understand, how do you plan to actually bring the data or the evidence in to make a choice, but you also need to understand that even if you have a systematic process, it doesn't give you a crystal ball to know the future. So, you also need to learn to live with uncertainty because the business world is unpredictable. Innovation is unpredictable. So, my suggestion would be, use a systematic evaluation process, clearly define your criteria and in line with the Lean Startup, start with your assumptions and prepare a clear action plan how you're going to bring evidence to support these assumptions. And at some point, just compile all the data that you have, and make a decision. And one thing that we have learned is that, it's often difficult to compiled all the data that you have to have to create a clear pattern out of this. So, you send your employees, you send your teams to gather information, to talk with potential customers, to do market research on the competitors on different landscapes of opportunities. But how do you then compile all these bits and bytes of information into one clear image or pattern? That’s I think, one of the challenges where the market opportunity navigator comes in handy, because it helps you to first be very systematic about the consideration, the criteria, and also consolidate these different factors into one simple image that we call the Attractiveness Map. Ula Ojiaku: 27:53 It kind of brings to mind Alex Osterwalder book on Value Proposition Design and Testing Business Ideas So, there are concepts that I believe that could also help with a structured approach to processing the data collected to help with decision making. What's your view on that? Sharon Tal: 28:11 Oh, yeah, you're definitely right. Again, I think different tools help you to do different jobs. And the tools like the tools by Osterwalder and Pigneur, and his new book on how to test your ideas. They're all really great resources to help you validate these opportunities, make sure you have a scalable, repeatable business in there. And that's why I said it's a ‘zoom in and zoom out’ type of process. And in the book, we actually also describe how these tools go together in a very complementing manner, especially because they not only help you to zoom in, but also to validate your initial potential and challenges. Ula Ojiaku: 28:58 So, let's move to the next part of this conversation. So, what books would you recommend to someone who wants to learn more about the topics we've discussed? Where to Play is the key one, but what other books would you recommend? Sharon Tal: 29:13 Yeah, okay. So, first of all, it's the trivial ones, those that are, you know, the, on the top of the list of the lean processes like the initial book by Steve Blank, and the books by Osterwalder and Pigneur, which described the Business Model/ Value Proposition Canvases, and of course, Eric Ries lean startup, these are the basic ones for the lean processes. I think it's challenging a bit to bring this startup methodologies into larger corporate settings. So, one book that I find that does it quite nicely is The Corporate Startup, by Tendai Viki and Dan Thomas. And they, they translate this process that comes from small organizations into processes, which are adequate for larger corporates and I think that's quite an interesting read. On a different perspective, I recently read a book called Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, which talks about how to clearly phrase and define your messages within a specific market. So, I think, once you have done this search, validated it and decide to focus on pursuing a specific market opportunity, this is a very valuable next step read, because it really gives you a good perspective on how to simply explain your message and convey your message. Ula Ojiaku: 30:55 Well, thanks, Sharon. If any member of the audience wants to contact you, how can they reach you? Are you on social media? Do you have a website? Sharon Tal: 31:02 Yeah, sure. So, the natural first pass is our website. It's www.wheretoplay.co and then we have all the information about the Market Opportunity Navigator. You can download the worksheets and the Navigator for free. You can read all these posts and articles and examples and case studies and also about the book. So, there's a lot of information and resources out there. Actually, we also have free slide sets and materials for mentors, for consultants, for managers that want to run brainstorming sessions around this. So, there's a lot of materials out there and it's almost all for free except for the book of course. And then you can find me on LinkedIn, both my personal account, and its under Sharon Tal Itzkovitch and Where to Play, we also have a where to play account on LinkedIn. And I'm also active on Twitter under Where to Play, so you can find me on wheretoplay on Twitter. Ula Ojiaku: 32:05 Okay, I'll add all these links to the show notes. So, thanks a lot, Sharon. So, any final advice to the audience? Based on what we've discussed so far for someone or an organization starting off in their lean innovation journey? What would be your advice? Sharon Tal: 32:28 Oh, wow! Maybe the one key thing to keep in mind is that it's a continuous work. It's a continuous process, innovation and exploration never ends actually, for and doesn't matter if you're a startup or a large corporate. And given that it's a continuous effort. You need to make it a habit, and you need to make it iterative. And I think the more you're able to put systems and structured processes inside this, the easier it gets to make it iterative and to make it a habit. That's my advice. Ula Ojiaku: 33:08 That's a great advice. So, innovation and exploration never end. Make it a habit. Make it iterative. Yes. That's great. Fantastic. Thank you so much once more, Dr. Sharon for taking the time for this chat. It's been a great pleasure having you. Sharon Tal: 33:24 Thank you very much Ula for hosting me and it was my pleasure as well.
32 minutes | a month ago
S1E004 Heather Hiscox on Innovating for Social Change and Impact
Bio: Heather is a social entrepreneur who is passionate about creating communities focused on assets, abilities, and abundance. Heather leads the design and strategy behind Pause for Change, co-hosts the online “talk show” Possibility Project, and speaks at national and local conferences about social impact disruption and innovation. Heather has launched several ventures that benefit the social impact sector, connecting organizations to the training, skills, and resources they need to deepen their impact. What brings Heather to life is teaching and seeing those a-ha moments, and connecting and collaborating with amazing changemakers around the world. Book mentioned: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy Edmondson Websites: Pause for Change https://pauseforchange.com/ Possibility Project www.PossibilityProject.org Social Media: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-hiscox-1a61623a/ Twitter: @pausechange Interview Transcript: Ula: [01:12] Heather. Thank you so much for being my guest on the podcast. Heather: [01:15] Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. Ula: [01:18] Yeah - so let's get started! In our pre-recording session you mentioned that you've always wanted to be an entrepreneur since you were a young girl. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Heather: [01:30] Yeah. I didn't know about entrepreneurship. There's no one in my immediate family that were entrepreneurs. And as I got older, I realized that in every job that I was working at, I always wanted to be the head person. I didn't agree with what everyone was doing. And I really wanted everyone to kind of think of a new way to work. And as I got older, I realized like, oh, there is this thing called entrepreneurship. And it's more than small business, right? It's really how you cultivate ideas and how do you solve problems and became really exciting. And entrepreneurship really changed my life. I think my first venture I started about eight years ago, and very empowering to go on your own very scary. It was really great to have that experience, but for me, it gave me the confidence and the skills to really apply that strength and that grit to other parts of my life. So I was able to leave some negative relationships, really have a new vision for my passion and purpose, and put these new skills into action for solving problems: generating revenue, working community, and yeah, entrepreneurship just changed everything for me. Ula: [02:39] Hmm. I do resonate with you in the sense that as a young child also, I always felt like I'd want to own my own thing and build my own thing. And I'm still on that journey, but unlike you, my father was an entrepreneur anyway. So he had his own business and I grew up seeing what it means to be an entrepreneur. So it is interesting Steve Blank in my interview with him mentioned that entrepreneurship is a calling. Now, could you tell us a bit more about your career journey? So you said you've gone into entrepreneurship, but what's your career story so far? Heather: [03:14] Yeah, I like to start it when I was young even I think it's really formative. You know, how we grew up then we grew up with, I grew up with, two very middle-class parents. My dad was an air force guy for decades and was a hurricane Hunter and a meteorologist for the air force. And so a little bit of risk-taking, but lots of practicality and dad was the one that was like, you’ve got to back up what you say - if you want something you have to state your case. And it's really shocking my sister and I are not attorneys instead of entrepreneurs because we really had to beef up our messaging. And then my mom was a teacher for decades, English as a second language teacher, and really involved in social justice issues and issues for the community. And I think growing up with that practicality, some of that risk-taking was that there was some social impact and social justice really gave me that foundation that I can see has completely been that uniting thread through my life. And I also had the privilege of growing up in a very diverse community, and that was extremely important that it made me understand. And I think it started to build my very early empathy muscle of what it is and what the variety of walks of life are and the variety of experiences. So that was really an important jumping-off point. But my background is a lot of liberal arts. I did my degrees in sociology and African-American studies focused on social inequality and I have a master's in public health, focused on health disparities. And I was actually in clinical research for seven years. I led clinical research studies and cardiology for about half that time and the other half was in skin cancer and melanoma. And so really interesting that, you know, I had this whole science background, but what I love about the research piece is totally connected to entrepreneurship, which is being hypothesis-driven, right? Saying like what, what is behind this? What is the answer? And I worked with thousands of patients and their family members. So that again, deepened my empathy muscle of being with people in some of their most critical times of need, you know, having a cancer diagnosis, having a heart attack in the emergency department, I mean really connected to people's humanity and, really working with them while they're most exposed was such a pleasure and such an honor. But really also shaped my thinking about, you know, how people operate and how people work. And then that transitioned to a lot more program development, design, fundraising messaging. And then that kind of transition to my entrepreneurial career of moving into, okay, what could I create to solve some of the community's greatest needs? So I entered the consulting realm of helping grassroots and small organizations with their fundraising plans, but just sort of supporting their groups or leadership team to get more stabilized. And then the next venture that I started was around connecting really needs in the community with abundance in the community and being a connector, which I already was doing So turning that into a business and then it turned into creating social impact within the company as an entrepreneur. So I have a lot of deep empathy for what it is to be entrepreneurial. And then now really spinning out in July of last year and forming this entirely new venture. And then we just launched another project last week. So I think what you're saying it's a calling and it's an addiction. It's really hard to turn that part of you off because you develop those skills. Like you see opportunities, you see problems, you're listening continually, you're creating hypotheses that you're testing assumptions, you're running experiments continually. So it really is what fuels me. Ula: [06:55] Wow. Very, very impressive I must say. And so what do you do outside work? What are your interests? Heather: [07:03] It's hard to turn, work off because I love it so much. I have to make sure I don't wake up at 3:30 in the morning, with too many ideas too often, [Interposed Talking 06:02] That part john can tell you many mornings I'm awake You know, secretly typing things into my phone on the side of the bed, in the dark. But when I'm not doing that, when I'm not really enjoying my work, which I really, really, really love work is I love to be outside. I love to be with my family, of course, and my partner and my friends, but I love to be outdoors. That's really where I fill my cup. I kind of come back to myself, but I do get so scattered and a little overly passionate and more, I love camping and hiking kayaking and having the dirt under my nails and you know, the smell of pine fantastic. And I love art and, I love watching people create, you know, whether it's on TV or I'm at an art show or something. I just love the idea of people creating something from nothing. And often when I'm looking for inspiration, I'll go visit museums. It's a very quiet space for me. I grew up going to a lot of museums with my family. It's very comforting and it really puts me in a creative zone or from which I can do a lot of writing or a lot of deep thinking. And, yeah, that's really what I try to do to center. Ula: [08:23] Do you ever… like, dabble into painting yourself or creating art yourself? Heather: [08:28] I have a little bit. I did a little bit after I got divorced about six and a half years ago I found that art was very therapeutic. It was very much a part of my healing journey. It was really helpful in that I think now most of the time because it is much more busy now that time is the creativity Is tapping into, okay, what might we create business-wise and being open to those possibilities? And the other piece, I think also fuels me is collaboration. I've worked on that a lot. I think it's hard as an entrepreneur to get over that feeling of competition. And it's something I know I struggle with. My natural tendency is competition. I'm very competitive. So I really worked on having that self-awareness like, oh, it's happening? Why is this happening? Like, am I having imposter syndrome, you know, on steroids am I feeling vulnerable am I feeling not enough, like, what is this about? What is it about this person or their venture that's making me feel threatened? You know, how do I need to really own and not project that. And I found this new absolute love and possibility in collaboration of, you know, talking to people like you and talking to others all around the world and understand what they're up to and then trying to figure like, how do we hold each other up? How do we talk about, you know, there's a lot of us that need to be in this game to make it better and to do this really important work. So how can I do that? So that's something that I think that's where a lot of my creative energy is in right now. And it's really exploring what's possible with others, not just by myself because that is hard Ula: [10:02] I do agree there's more than enough room at the top. And really once you collaborate, you can get more done than by competing. And you also gain, you know, an ally as well. That's what I found out and I'm still learning every day Heather: [10:16] It is a continual journey because new opportunities continually present themselves. But I think it's such a chance to be authentic and to be real, vulnerable creative. And I think it makes everyone better, even if some of those collaborations don't manifest and they're not successful or they don't become something. Just the process of exploring all the tendrils of what's connected to collaboration, I think are really valuable for your own personal journey, but your own development of, you know, what venture you do develop and what you do create whether it's with someone or not really, really helpful. Ula: [10:49] Yeah, totally. I agree. And one of my mentors about 20 years ago told me, you know, there's no wasted experience. And although I took it with a pinch of salt, then looking back, even the most mundane things have taught me a lot about life, about working with people effectively. . Even if it doesn't manifest into a full-blown collaboration, there's always something you'd learn from each interaction. Heather: [11:15] Something that drives our work is, you know, people, first empathy, reigns Supreme, and relationships matter. And so it's not people that are closing deals and focusing on sales. There's a lot of focus on okay, onto the next, onto the next, onto the next, but, you know, relationship building with potential customers, doing the work to make sure that you're providing, you know, the promise that you made. And then we often forget about what happens after that. Like how do we continue to create value? How does that relationship evolve? A lot of our work has been word of mouth and a lot of referrals and a lot of repeat customers because relationships are very, very important to us. And I think that's a really important skill that a lot of entrepreneurs sometimes don't have, they're not thinking a full spectrum of what does the entire lifetime of that relationship and how to really optimize that authentically? Ula: [12:03] Yes. I mean, the listeners probably wouldn't be seeing me on video right now, but I'm just nodding my head off, like yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Empathy, relationships, very, very important. Trust underpins that - to have relationships that work. You have to build and maintain that trust as well. So can you tell us a bit more about Pause for Change and what do you do? Heather: [12:28] Yeah. So pause for change. It’s an acronym and essentially what we do at pause for change is we help organizations really in less time with fewer resources solve more efficiently and effectively their problems either solve challenges or address opportunities much more efficiently and effectively than they do now. And the space that we really work in is serving nonprofit organizations, local governments, and philanthropic foundations all around the country so far just in the US. And, what we, what we really do is reflected in the name. So pause is an acronym. It's really a mixture of design thinking, agile, lean experimentation, social justice, and organizational change theory. If you can think of all of that in a blender and mix it all up, and then we distilled it down to say, what are the core skills that a person needs to navigate uncertainty? Whether it's engaging with something really tricky and potentially painful, like there's a struggle in your organization or something really inspiring and exciting, like a great opportunity. We found that in social impact space, which we love and work in, it was too much to go deep into each of those modalities. And we noticed that there was really a fantastic part of each of those. And so we pulled out kind of the best of the best and totally customized it for social impact. And then we further customize it for each of those segments, the local government, you know, the messaging style is a little bit different than what we do with nonprofits, for example. So pause what it stands for as a P is packaged the challenge. And all of this is based on what you've learned during this work over the past six years. But the first is getting aligned, you know, forming a diverse team across hierarchy and across sectors, like across departments and all of that to break down those silos and the hierarchal levels. And we form a team and we get them aligned around the challenge and all of the stakeholders impacted. We found that that was the part that was really glossed over, where people weren't really deeply rooted where they were trying to solve for them, what the problem was. And then the A is assess uncertainty. And we started this practice a couple of years ago, and it's been really transformative where we have teams identify everything they don't know. And we say, okay, what do you know for sure? So it collects everything that they have learned historically, that they have data and evidence to supporting stuff that might be more legacy staff to really show the history of the organization. And then what do we not know? What do we not know about our challenge? What do we not know about our various stakeholders and what do we need to go learn? And that's a really important step because it removes failure from the table. It just unites everyone says, wow, there's a lot of stuff we don't know. Okay, let's go. It's not like we're a bunch of dummies or, you know, we don't know what we're doing. It's not demotivating, it's really empowering for them. And so that leads straight into understand stakeholders, which is the real pause. And that's all about empathy interviewing and doing observation, work, teaching people how to do great interviews. And what they do is they take all of those unknowns and they turn them into questions. They prioritize those things that they need to learn most, put them into question format for their intro script. And then they go out and talk with folks. And in that initial step, we talk a lot about, you know, what is it to work in an organization? What is it to have bias? How does bias impact how well or how not your empathy interviews will go because of your inability to listen. How do you take those insights that you've learned and you removed your own ladder of inferential lens and bias. So you can truly hear the voice of the stakeholder. So that's kind of all in that first section that we talked to teams through and then the S is solution testing. So that's really the experimentation and testing piece. And it focuses a lot on inclusive and bold brainstorming, and social impact. We joke, we often say like, okay, $5, five minutes, and five people. What do we do? And you know that doesn't lead to a lot of great ideas. So we try to push them to be more bold, to be more inclusive because what we see, and this is true in enterprise as well is it's usually board members, executive leadership team that are creating the ideas. And that's a huge, oops, that's a big, big mess, for organizations that don't include diversity of thought in the brainstorming, because you need frontline staff to really align those decision-makers. So we talk about inclusive brainstorming and then, once they prioritize potential solutions, you know, they might have like 30 or 40 ideas we prioritize those and then just pick the first, to begin with. And then we break it into its component assumptions, just like the lean process of what must be true for the stakeholder to drive value. And what behavior do you need to see from them? And that feels the experiments, the teams designing. So, you know, what will I offer? What do I need to see? And then how do I make a decision, which is the evidence-informed, decision-making am I going to pivot persevere or iterate, and then we teach teams how to tell that entire journey in five minutes or less, and we call it their learning journey. You know, how do you talk about from the moment you became aligned and you talked about here's the challenge, here are the stakeholders all the way to, you know, we run five experiments, and here's our recommendation. We tell them how to do that quickly and succinctly so that they can train it to leaders. someone we worked with said, this is a process that you can use to tell a leader that their idea is awful in a really nice way, you know, you can say, I thought that would have worked too, but Oh goodness, we interviewed, you know, 40 people and nobody wants that, nobody said that or we ran eight experiments and every assumption is invalidated. We need to go back to the drawing board and we've seen leaders be very open to supporting that type of data and that type of learning to help teams really pivot the way they need to. So yeah, that's what we teach organizations too, is how do you apply those skills to your challenges so that you can make progress as quickly as possible and really maximize impact Ula: [18:38] I like the clever, way you use the word pause to outline the approach, to helping organizations solve problems and navigate uncertainty. Heather: [18:49] The organizations would have an idea they'd start building, and then they'd go to full implementation execution mode, which is creating a ton of waste. And so now it's teaching them to be stakeholders engaged in focus. Co-creating then pausing at each of these time points to really see like, am I on the right track? And that's a skill that a lot of folks in the social impact sector have never heard of and do not have. Ula: [19:10] It’s not just in the social sector [Interposed talking 18:02] It’s everywhere. Actually I can assure you of that. I like this phrase on your website, you said the power of pausing to see new change you must break old patterns and learn new skills. It’s not enough to learn about the design or the theory behind it. You have to pause… Heather: [19:35] Exactly and organizations don't realize, but they have their own unique problem-solving habits. They have a way that when something happens they view problems and they tackle problems because the brain hates uncertainty like the brain literally excretes the pleasure chemical when we make a decision when we choose a path forward. So no one wants uncertainty it’s horrible. So what's interesting is we talk about habits of problem-solving within organizations. There's a cue which triggers an action, which results in their inner reaction or reward. And so if people have a wacky way of solving problems and they think that's the only way they're just going to keep receiving and achieving the same impact and seeing results is that whole definition of insanity. You know, it's the same thing over and over again, But when we can interrupt the way that they interpret the cue and the action that they take in response, their reward will be very different. It'll spin out a whole other results. so that's what we try to really bring to their awareness of its normal all organizations have their own cultural way of solving problems, but you can add more tools to the toolbox and you can really see your problems in a different way. So you know what tools to pull out at the right time. Ula: [20:48] Exactly. You did mention something interesting about inclusive brainstorming during the solution testing phase. I don't know about you, but in several organizations where I've worked, to an extent I do see that, depending on your rank or your level in the organization, people who are lower tend not to feel psychologically safe, I don't know if that psychological safety elements, you come across it. And how do you encourage the leadership to create an atmosphere that would force a genuinely inclusive environments that would give the results you're after. "Quick sidebar everyone: the term psychological safety according to Wikipedia is the ability to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences. It’s really about being free to express your mind and to challenge the status quo if need be without fear of losing your job or being punished." Heather: [21:48] Yeah, that's a great question. We do refer to Amy Edmondson's work. And we talk about the learning zone. You need high accountability and high psychological safety to really help people operate in learning zones. So they don't slip into apathy or anxiety or that cozy safety mode. We do an assessment with leadership. We do like a cultural assessment with individuals and for their own evaluation of like, how do I feel I am innovative? And then we do one across the organization as the very first baseline. And we're able to have that conversation with leaders to show them the data, show them the evidence and do some training of ourselves and say, you know, in these 10 components, these are where you're strong. And these are where we're seeing some opportunities for improvement. And as we work with your teams and as we work with you, because we do a lot of intensive work with leaders and decision-makers. We're going to see what we can shift. And so we also do a post-assessment to see individually what has migrated and culturally across the organization what has also shifted, When people start on this process, it's new and it's hard. It's really our first step is with these small teams and getting those small, quick wins and starting to show what the difference kind of the before and after and what's possible that really starts to get leaders on board. And then we're able to hold them accountable and be the voice of our team members who may not have as much power, right, depending on their rank. And we're able to then take their voices in a very safe way and then talk to leaders and say, you know, I know that you're saying this, but your actions are telling the team that this is unacceptable. And then, you know, we hold up the team to praise them and also reinforce positive behavior that leaders are doing of, wow, you're asking great questions. Like we're so happy you’re not talking about ROI and when it will launch and we're in week two, like group job, just calming down and waiting for like actual validated results. Like good job it is work it's yeah that's why I love this work because you not only see individuals transform and you see those aha that's right. That's kind of the addiction of this type of work, the a-has are the addiction. We can't wait to see them. So it's so amazing to see individuals change, you know, people that have worked in an organization for 30 years that are like the most rooted in status quo, say, I want this, this is so interesting. Or people that have never had a voice, but then working with us, they say, you know, while we're at it, I have a hundred ideas in a word doc on my computer. Can I show you? It's like, Whoa, wait. So it brings people to life. And then teams are so interesting. Team dynamics are so fun to watch in action and you get to see teams gel or not. And what that means and what that journey is like. And then as an organization you get to see the ripple effects through the leadership and through different ways of thinking, it is not easy. And we do our absolute best to try and make sure everyone has that learning experience to adopt new behaviors that lead to new change. Ula: [24:49] You did mention earlier on at the beginning of this conversation that you started a new project recently, can you tell us about that? Heather: [24:57] Yeah. Yeah. It's called the Possibility Project. And in this time of uncertainty, we really wanted to pause ourselves and we had noticed that there are a lot of big questions and opportunities that are popping up right now. And in social impact, there are issues that have always been there. Issues of equity, issues of power, issues of original design of how social impact organizations and systems were created that are really bubbling up and really showing a lot of dysfunction and a lot of opportunity for change. So we started a project where we went and interviewed thought leaders in social impact. We asked them three questions really, to understand their perspective. And the first was, you know, how are you doing what's happening right now? The second was what dysfunctions do you want to disappear from the sector? And the third was what is emerging that's giving you hope? And so we took all of those, in this kind of crisis. And we started to figure out what themes are common, what are the big questions that are popping up over and over again, that we don't want to disappear? You know, when the virus resolves and when it does, whatever it does. Ula: [26:14] You are talking about the COVID-19... Heather: [26:16] Exactly, exactly. So it's like, we don't want things to go back to any resemblance of some of what we considered normal, what we considered status quo. There were a lot of practices and systems and policies that we have in place that are not resolving poverty and hunger and homelessness and some of these large social challenges. So we want to keep bringing those big questions to the forefront, even when everyone is desperate to go back to some sort of, you know, simplicity and clarity, we want to keep those complex things at the forefront. Ula: [26:49] Sure actually, this COVID-19 situation has highlighted the differences because stay at home, but do I really have a home in the first place? If I'm homeless, you know, where do I stay? And people who typically live from hand to mouth, if they can't go to work, they don't have any savings or anything, you know, no food in the house, how do they survive? So it has really raised a lot of questions. And for some people home, isn't the safe place - they look forward to when they can go out because there's abuse in their home and now they are stuck with their abusers. Yeah. It is a huge can of worms that this situation has opened up, actually. Heather: [27:31] Absolutely. And we want to hold the sector accountable because if we have poured in trillions of dollars at this point into creating change and money, hasn't solved it. There's something more there. And we know it's the systems, it's the systems that were created and it's the systems and power that maintain how we address social change and social issues, that is part of the problem. And so we want to pull those out. We want to hear from thought leaders, we want to talk about what's possible. How can we re-imagine the sector? So our first topic is all about power and philanthropy. And it's just talking about, there's a huge power differential between the haves and have not’s, right? The foundations, the grant funds, the organizations that apply and, you know, cross fingers and hope with everything they have that they'll secure some of those funds. And what are the wacky dynamics that pop up when you have that strange, huge differential in power? And what does that mean for community members? What does that mean for their staff? And they're like you brought up the issue of essential workers. You know, the nonprofit sector is huge in some communities it’s one in eight employees works for a nonprofit one in 16, like it's pretty significant. And we just are not paying attention to the safety nets that organizations provide the local government and federal government can only go so far. And you know, what is the entire ecosystem at play that is helping those most vulnerable folks? And how are we designing solutions for the most vulnerable, which is often what we haven't been doing. So it's really interesting to dig into these and this pause for us has given us the opportunity to really focus on deepening our passionate purpose. We love our work with organizations. We absolutely adore the people we get to support, but it's- we have a larger focus on why we do this and it's to really change the way we change the world. And so this project we hope and we think will really bring a community of change-makers together, engaged in like collaboration like we've never seen it before to get more of these big questions on the table to see how we can start to move the path forward. Ula: [29:36] And that's great. Now, before we wrap up, do you have any requests of the audience? Where can they find you? Heather: [29:45] Yeah, I mean, to learn more, check out the website, it’s pauseforchange.com. And what I would really want to leave with is for anyone that has entrepreneurial ideas, or is an entrepreneur, or, you know, wants to get involved in social change, social impact is just to really focus on the why, you know, what is that passion and purpose that drives you? And, the focus on empathy I think is huge. I think it is the ultimate superpower in creating a successful business and having a successful life is having the foundation of self-awareness to understand how you're feeling, to be able to watch others and try to interpret how they're feeling, and then being able to ask great questions and be able to listen and listen without bias and to listen without our own overlay of our feelings and our own experiences and our own interpretation. I think that is what I would hope for people and what I really want others to aspire to. And we're all on a journey, right? It's really, really hard work to do, but I think if that's the driving motivation of how we're changing better ourselves and better our work and create the very best programs and products and services out there, that's the core of it. So that's the core of customer discovery. That's the core of experimentation and co-creation with customers and stakeholders, and it's the core of your own personal learning journey. So that's what I would want people to really open their mind to and have an active practice around. Ula: [31:16] Well said. Thank you so much, Heather. The link to your website, as well as your social media handles will be in the show notes. Thanks once more Heather; it's been a pleasure speaking with you. Heather: [31:29] Thank you so much.
45 minutes | 2 months ago
S1E003 Alex Osterwalder on the 3 Characteristics of Invincible Companies and How He Stays Grounded as a Leader
In this episode, my guest Alex Osterwalder shares 3 common traits you'd expect to find in an invincible company, the back story of how his book Business Model Generation came about from his PhD thesis, how he stays grounded as a leader and much more. You'll need a pen and notepad ready for taking some notes! Bio: Dr. Alexander (Alex) Osterwalder is one of the world’s most influential innovation experts, a leading author, entrepreneur and in-demand speaker whose work has changed the way established companies do business and how new ventures get started. Ranked No. 4 of the top 50 management thinkers worldwide, Osterwalder is known for simplifying the strategy development process and turning complex concepts into digestible visual models. He invented the Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, and Business Portfolio Map – practical tools that are trusted by millions of business practitioners from leading global companies. Strategyzer, Osterwalder’s company, provides online courses, applications, and technology-enabled services to help organizations effectively and systematically manage strategy, growth and transformation. His books include the international bestseller Business Model Generation, Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want, Testing Business Ideas, The Invincible Company, and the recently-published High-Impact Tools for Teams. Books/ Articles: The Invincible Company: Business Model Strategies From the World's Best Products, Services, and Organizations by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur High-Impact Tools for Teams: 5 Tools to Align Team Members, Build Trust, and Get Results Fast by Stefano Mastrogiacomo & Alexander Osterwalder Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation by David J. Bland & Alexander Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur Brain Rules, Updated and Expanded: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School by John Medina Article: The Culture Map https://www.strategyzer.com/blog/posts/2015/10/13/the-culture-map-a-systematic-intentional-tool-for-designing-great-company-culture Article: Allan Mulally (former President and CEO, Ford Motor Company) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Mulally Article: Ping An (Banking & Insurance Group/ owner of Medical Platform ‘Good Doctor’) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ping_An_Insurance Alex’s website & social media profiles: Website: https://www.strategyzer.com/ Twitter handle: @AlexOsterwalder LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/osterwalder/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alexosterwalder/ Interview Transcript Ula Ojiaku: [00:28] In this episode we have Dr. Alex Osterwalder. To many, he needs no introduction. He is known for his phenomenal work on developing the Business Model Canvas. He has authored or co-authored a growing library of books including Business Model Generation; Value Proposition Design - How to Create Products and Services Customers Want; Testing Business Ideas, and one of the topics we focused on was his book that was released back in 2020, The Invincible Company. Since then, he has released a new book that's titled, Tools for Teams. I must mention though, that some of the references to concepts like travelling around the world may not be relevant in this current COVID-19 pandemic situation. However, the key principles of entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, innovation, leadership (mentioned in this conversation with Alex), I believe these are still timeless and valid. Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, with no further ado, my conversation with Alex Osterwalder. Ula Ojiaku: [01:49] Thank you, Alex, for joining us. It's an honour to have you on the show. Alex Osterwalder: [01:53] My pleasure. Great be here. Ula Ojiaku: [01:55] Great. So, what would you say is your typical day, typical day in the life of Alex? How does it start? Alex Osterwalder: [02:04] It depends. So, you know, there's two typical days, one typical day is when I travel, and one typical day is when I don't travel, so they're very different - if you want. I probably spend about 50% of my time traveling all across the world talking about innovation, growth and transformation strategies. And then, you know, my day is I wake up, and it's “Oh, what country am I in now?”... And just trying to get the best out of the day and talk to people about growth and transformation. When I don't travel, my typical day is mixed between helping grow and manage, Strategyzer, the company I founded, but also spending a lot of time thinking about how, can we really help business leaders, business doers do a better job, right? So, I spend a lot of time thinking, sketching out things, I wouldn't say writing because when my co-authors and I create some content, it's usually more drawing first and writing after. But I'd say a lot of time, spent on pretty fundamental questions. And the rest of that when we're not thinking that we're doing or sharing. So that's the kind of mix - not very concrete maybe. But you know, it's so diverse, it really depends a little bit on the type of day, where I am, what the project is. So - very, very diverse days, I'd say. Ula Ojiaku: [03:22] What do you prefer - traveling or not traveling? Alex Osterwalder: [03:26] I enjoy both, right. So, what's important is after intense days of travel, you know, I just this week, I was in Paris with the CEOs of one of the largest companies in France. I like coming back to Switzerland and going on a hike in the mountains, while thinking about certain topics and digesting some of the things that I've seen. What I really enjoy is being in the field with doers and leaders seeing what they struggle with. But then being able to take the time to digest that and turn that into practical tools and processes that help them do a better job, right. So that mix is what I enjoy. The diversity is exactly what I enjoy. Ula Ojiaku: [04:07] That's great. You mentioned you like hiking, am I right in understanding that when you're not running workshops, or helping doers and businesses would hiking be one of your hobbies? Alex Osterwalder: [04:21] So, I can give you a concrete example, this week, I was traveling at the beginning of the week, and for two days, I had back to back calls for 12 hours with either leaders with my own team. So, tomorrow morning, I'm going to drive to the mountains - from my office, it’s about an hour away. During the drive, I take calls so I work on the drive, because I can schedule that in advance. And then I pack out my skis and I put what we call skins on the skis and I walk up the mountain for maybe 90 minutes, take the skins off and ski down for 10 minutes. That's it, right. So, during that kind of hike, it's just kind of airing out the brain. But, you know, I wouldn't say that's just leisure time that's actually thinking and digesting. So, I would think about either the topics of the week when I was in the field with real clients and business people struggling with growth and transformation issues, or thinking of my own team in my own leadership challenges. So, it's work but it's in a different context. Then, what's going to happen tomorrow is I’m gonna jump in the car again and drive back to the office in the afternoon - I work out of my office. So that's how a typical kind of day looks like when I have some time to get out of the building. I do go for a ski tour. But it isn't really disconnecting. It's just thinking in a different environment, and then come back to the office, and maybe sketch something out on the wall or on the whiteboard. Ula Ojiaku: [05:46] It also sounds like you’re kind of a visual person. So, you do lots of graphics, I mean, your books, The Business Model Generation, Value Proposition Design, and Testing Business Ideas - they are very visual and easy to read. Are you a very visual and artistic person? Alex Osterwalder: [06:06] Artistic, I'd not say because my visuals are pretty ugly, but visual 100%. So, I believe if you can't sketch it out, if you can't draw a problem, you probably didn't understand it well enough. Even complex challenges can be simplified down, not to mask the complexity, but actually just to get a handle of it and to think about the most essential things. So, the reason we use visuals in our books is actually less to just make them look pretty. It's because I do believe visuals are a language, a shared language. There are some things you can't describe easily with words. Like how am I going to describe with words my business model portfolio like that makes no sense, or even describing the business model with words doesn't really make sense. Sketching it out very quickly, and then having a paragraph that accompanies that sketch, that works right or even better, when I do presentations, I would build up the visual piece by piece while telling the story. So, I get bored when people say storytelling, and then it's a lot of blah, blah, blah. I like the storytelling with the visual message. And it's like a good voice over, you know, in a movie, that will go hand in hand. So, I think we don't use visual tools enough in our business practices. In certain circles, it's a tradition. If we take more of the IT field, you don't map out a server infrastructure without using visual tools. But in strategy and transformation, people talk too much, and they draw too little. Visual tools are unbeatable, they're unbeatable. They won't get you to do things completely differently. But they will get you to do things much faster, much clearer, because you have a shared language. So, when you have a shared language to map it out, to capture it, to create a visual artifact, you have better conversations about strategy, about business models, about culture. And that is incredibly important when we talk about these fuzzy topics, right? Or change management, like what the heck does that mean? But when you start visualizing this, we're moving from this state to that state. These are the obstacles; this is how we're going to overcome it. And you make all of that visual and tangible, not too much visuals, because then it's complicated, just the right amount. That is, you know, the magic of visual communication, where you still use words, you still can tell stories, but you just use the right communication tool at the right time. Ula Ojiaku: [08:37] You're saying, ‘…not too much visual, not too many words, just the right amount…’ How do you strike the balance? Alex Osterwalder: [08:46] You don't. So, the way you figure out if you're on track or not, is by testing it right? So, let's say I share a slide deck, I can see in people's faces, are they getting it? Are they not getting it? I can listen to their questions. When the questions are really about good details where you can see they understood the essence and now they're going a step further, they got it – right? When people are confused and they ask very fundamental questions of what I just explained. Well, guess what, then the problem is with me, not with them. I made a mistake in the way I told the story. So, I never blame the audience, I always look for the mistake within and say, ‘okay, what should I have done differently?’ So, the way you figure out if you struck the right balance, is by continuously testing. And then obviously, over time, if you take visual language, we've gotten pretty good at creating visual books; we know what works, we know what doesn't. The challenge then is when you get good at it, is to not get arrogant. So, you always need to remember, well, you know, maybe the world changed. So, what worked yesterday doesn't work today. So, you go fast, because you know, but you always need to remain humble, because maybe you know something that was right yesterday, not today, you got to be careful. So you go fast, because you know, but you still listen enough to question yourself enough that you figure out, when do you need to change, because a lot of people get famous, and then they believe what they say, believe their own BS, they forget to stay grounded because the world changes, and you need to go with the change. So that's another balance - once you figured it out, you need to make sure time doesn't move faster than you otherwise you become the dinosaur in the room. Ula Ojiaku: [10:26] So how do you keep yourself grounded? Alex Osterwalder: [10:30] Yeah, so it's not always easy, right? So, if I just take our company, it's constantly trying to create a culture where people can speak up. Constantly trying to create a culture where people don't fear critique - design critique. That's not easy, because even though we have a pretty flat hierarchy, when you're the founder, you're the founder. So, people will say ‘yeah, but you know, I'm not gonna tell this guy he's full of BS.’ So, you need to create that culture where people dare to [speak up], that's number one. But then number two is just constantly staying curious, right? When you think you figured it out, you probably just know enough to come across, like looking like you figured it out, you know too little for really understanding it. So, I just work on the assumption that I never know enough. You can't know everything. Sometimes you don't need to go further because it's just you're now looking at the 20%. They're going to take too much time. But if you stay curious enough, you'll see the big shifts. If you listen to the weak signals, you'll see the big shift coming and you can surround yourself with people who are a little bit different. The more people are like you, the less you're going to see the shift coming and that's the problem of established companies. They do the same thing day in day out. They don't see what's coming. However, if, for example, you create a portfolio of projects where people can explore outside of your core business, then all of a sudden you see, ‘…wow, they're getting traction with that? I thought that was never going to be a market….’ And, ‘they're starting that customer segment – really?’ So, you need to create ecosystems that keep you alert. It's very hard again, so I don't trust myself to be able to check my own BS. So, you need to create ecosystems that keep you alert. I think that's the challenge. And you know, maybe my team will say, ‘yeah, Alex, you're talking about these things on a podcast.’ But you know, you don't really do that. So, I really have to be careful that that doesn't happen. That's why I admire people who can rise to really, really senior positions, but they stay grounded. One of my favorite examples is Alan Mulally. He turned Ford from a 17 billion loss-making monster into a profitable company. I was really fortunate to get to know him. And he's just grounded, like, a really nice guy. So, it doesn't mean when you have some success, you have to get full of yourself, you just stay grounded, because… we're all just people at the end of the day, right? But it's a challenge, right? It's always a challenge to remind yourself, I knew something now, maybe tomorrow, it's different. I get passionate about this stuff. So, I just go on rambling. Ula Ojiaku: [13:09] You know, I could go on listening to you. I am passionate about it from a learning perspective. Now, let's move on to the next section. I understand that the Business Model Generation, the book, which you wrote in collaboration with Yves Pigneur, I hope I pronounced his name correctly. Yeah. Oh, well, thank you. So, it came about as a result of the work you were doing as part of your PhD studies. Could you tell us a bit more about that story? And how, you finally arrived at the Business Model Generation book and the artifacts? Alex Osterwalder: [13:46] Sure, sure. So, in year 2000, I became a PhD student with Yves Pigneur. And he was looking for somebody who could help him with mapping out business models. And the fundamental idea was, can we kind of create some computer aided design system- so, we could build business models, like architects build buildings and computer aided design? That was the fundamental assumption. But in order to make computer systems like that, you need a rigorous approach, right? You need to model, what is a business model can be fuzzy, because otherwise, how are you going to build some kind of system around that? So, in architecture, it's easy. We're talking about structures and about materials. In business, it's a bit harder, what are the structures? What are the materials, what are the building blocks? So that was the starting point. And I did my PhD with him - amazing collaboration. Then I went out into the world and did a couple of things that work to help scale a global not-for-profit, then I had a consulting firm together with a friend. But then ultimately, the business model work I did on my PhD got some traction; people started asking me if I could speak in Colombia, in Mexico. First at the periphery - it was pretty interesting. People started downloading the PhD (thesis), reading it in companies… So, there were a lot of weak signals. And then, when I had enough of those, I asked Yves, ‘hey, let's write this book that we always wanted to write.’ So, we embarked on the journey of Business Model Generation. And we thought we can't write a book about business model innovation without doing it. So, we tried to do it in a different way. We did Kickstarter, before Kickstarter existed, we asked people to pay us, you know, because we needed the funding, or I didn't have any money, I just came out of doing not-for-profit work. So, we got people to pay us to help us write the book. And I did workshops around the world. And it was, really fun, entrepreneurial experience. And then we launched it and became a big success. And I think a little bit of the secret was, we built something with that book, or we designed something that we would have wanted to buy, there was no that there was no visual business book, there were visual business books, but not the type we wanted to buy. And turns out, almost 2 million people had the same kind of desire. And with that, we realized the power of visual books, we realized the power of visual tools. And we started digging deeper. And then we made more books, not because the world needs more books, they're enough out there. But we always tried to address the next business challenge we would see; we would try to create a tool. If the tool works, we would create a book around it. That was the Value Proposition Canvas. And we thought, okay, people are doing testing, but they're not really good at it. Let's write another book: Testing Business Ideas. And we did that in collaboration with David Bland. So, we created a library of experiments to help people get more professional. And then you know, we saw okay, large companies, they still can’t innovate. Why don't we write a book called The Invincible Company and we give them a tool that helps them to do this in a large established company. So, every time we see a challenge, we try to build the tool and the book around it to help people around the world. So, it's kind of the same. And what's fun is that behind that, behind the books, we build the technology stack to help actually bring those tools into companies. So, you know, Strategyzer doesn't earn, we earn some money from the books, but the core is really building the technology stack. So, the idea that we had in the PhD is now what we're building 20 years later. Ula Ojiaku: [17:21] Oh wow! Now when you mentioned that your company, Strategyzer, builds the technology stack on which the books are based. What do you mean by that? Alex Osterwalder: [17:32] Maybe the easiest way to describe it is that we believe in technology-enabled services. So typically, let's say big company comes to us and says, we want to work on growth and transformation, can you accompany one of our teams. Now, traditionally, a consultancy would just put a number of people on that. And then it's just the people are going to try to solve the problem - they sell hours. We look at it slightly differently. And we say there is a type of challenge that we can productize because it's actually the same challenge all the time, how do we go from idea to validation to scale. So, there are a couple of things there that are actually exactly the same for every single team that needs to go to through that process. And then there's some things that are very domain specific; in Pharma, you will test ideas differently than in Consumer Goods, etc., etc. But we would then start to build the online training and the software platform that would allow us to address that challenge of going from idea to validation to scale, in a lot more structured way, in a lot more technology enabled way. There’re things where a human coach adds huge value. And there's things where online learning or a software system will create a lot more value; online collaboration, tracking the data, comparing the data understanding how much have you de-risked your idea so far. I'm sharing that with senior leaders. All of that can be automated. The way I like to compare it is like ERP’s in companies like SAP and so changed operations, there are tons of companies out there and today, we have a lot less. But when they changed operations, they did that with software, I think the same is going to happen to strategy and innovation today. That today, we don't use a lot of good software, we use PowerPoint, Word, and maybe Excel, right? That's not good enough. Those are general purpose tools, which create a lot of value. But you shouldn't use those to manage your strategy and innovation, because that's becoming a very dynamic process. When you talk to a big company, a corporation, they have thousands of projects going on at the same time; thousand innovation projects. How do you manage that portfolio? It's more than just typical project management, we're talking innovation project portfolio, so you need to understand different things. That's the kind of infrastructure that we build, not just the software, also the tools and the content, online training, so become scalable, so people can change the way they work. Ula Ojiaku: [20:08] Fascinating. Now, when you talk about the automated part of your tech platform, are you talking about dashboards? Alex Osterwalder: [20:16] Yeah, let me give you a simple example. Right? So, when I'm a team, and I start mapping out my idea, an idea is just an idea, right? Technology, market opportunity… I need to create my Value Proposition Canvas and my Business Model Canvas to give it a little bit more shape. How am I going to capture value from customers? How am I going to capture value for my organization? Right - that you need to sketch out. Okay, you could use a digital tool to do that because then you can share as a team – sort of useful but not breakthrough. But then as a team, when you start to manage your hypothesis, you need to ask yourself, ‘okay, what needs to be true for this idea to work?’ You might have 10, 20, 50 hypotheses, you want to start to track those hypotheses. You want to start to track ‘how are you testing those hypotheses? What is the evidence that I've captured?’ You need actually whole-knowledge management around the evidence that you've captured in the field. ‘Oh, we did 50 interviews, we have about 30 quotes that confirm that people have a budget for that particular process’, right? That is not something you easily manage in a spreadsheet, it gets a mess very quickly; that's at the team level. Now, once you have that data captured, what if you could take that data and automatically create a risk profile so the team knows ‘this is how much we de risk our idea. Oh, we looked at desirability, maybe 10% of desirability, 20% of feasibility. We looked at some viability...’ Once you have data, you can manipulate the data in very different ways and understand the challenge better - that's at the team level. Now imagine at the senior level where you have, again, you know, 100, 500, 1,000 teams doing that; you want to understand which team is working on the biggest opportunity. ‘Okay, this one. But yeah, we invested maybe half a million dollars in that team, but they actually didn't de-risk the idea at all.’ So, it looks like a great opportunity, but there's no de-risking. So actually, that might just be hot air, right? And you want to be able to do that for a thousand teams. Today, the way we do it is the teams pitch to a manager who pitches to the senior leader. And that's just a mess. So, it's very similar to what I mentioned with ERP. There's a lot of data there, that is hidden in different places - in spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. There's no way to aggregate that. So, guess what? Strategy today and innovation is badly managed - if people are doing it right, that's already another challenge. You know? Ula Ojiaku: [22:45] Okay Alex Osterwalder: [22:46] Today, people are not that good at strategy and innovation. But that's radically changing, because the tasks are getting really big. It's not just about profit, it's also about impact. So, there are a lot of exciting challenges ahead of us, that require a different toolset and different software stack to even be able to do that. Ula Ojiaku: [23:05] Wow. So, do you consider lean innovation important for organizations of all sizes? And if so, why? Why? Why? I know, it's an obvious question. But why do you consider that the case. Alex Osterwalder: [23:20] Very simple and the challenge is different for the startup than for the established company. So, for the startup… So, for both… let's start with what's shared. For both, it's a matter of survival, okay? Now, let me start with the team first. Well, what's the challenge when you're a startup, you don't have any customers, you don't have any revenues, you might have some self-funded or VC funding, you're gonna run out of money. And I think we're in an age where there's too much money. So, for a while you for quite a while, you can live without a business model, we have some great examples, billion-dollar unicorns that have no business model, and they're still alive, because they're just funded by VCs. That is a very rare thing. That's not for everybody. So, at one point, you do need to understand how you create and capture value. So, you want to get as fast as possible, from idea to not just validated business, but actually a company that makes money that captures value, right? Because, you know, yes, it is. You can say, ‘yeah, but the beginning is about users.’ That's okay. But users, you know, without revenues, not going to keep you alive for a while, VC funding is not a revenue stream. Let me just make that clear. VC funding is not a revenue stream. Ula Ojiaku: [24:34] They are out for a profit as well. Alex Osterwalder: [24:36] So sometimes young founders confuse that. Yeah, you can focus on funding. But ultimately, the funding needs to allow you to find a profitable and scalable business model. Sometimes people forget that. So that's survival at the startup stage, right? Now, what Lean does, and I'm not sure the word is very well chosen, because Lean comes actually from making things better. But in the startup world, is actually figuring out what's going to work in the first place, you're not making your business model better, you're trying to figure out which one is going to work. So, the testing of your idea is essential to get faster from idea to real business, or, in some cases, to shut it down. Because let's say you take VC money, and you find out, this is not a scalable business, you better give the money back or buy out the VC share, because all they care about is scale. And there's quite a few companies that bought back their shares, Buffer is a very well-known example, because they figured out the business model they're comfortable with, which is not further scaling. Highly profitable… definitely growth, but not the insane kind of growth VC venture capital’s looking for. So you get faster from idea to real business with the Lean Startup approach and Customer Development by Steve Blank and Eric Reis, or you get faster to the point where you say, ‘this is not working, I'm going to change, I'm going to stop - not pivot - I'm going to stop.’ And then, radical pivot - maybe you start a new startup with a completely different goal. That's for startups. For the established companies, it's a matter of survival for a different reason. Because their business models are dying and expiring. So, most established companies are very good at efficiency innovation; new technologies, digital transformation…, they improve their business model. Now, that is important, and you need to do it. But if you just get better at what you're doing while your business model is dying, you're just going to more efficiently die. So, at the same time, you need to learn how to reinvent yourself. So, it's a matter of survival that you figure out what's tomorrow's business model. And you can't do that without the Lean approach because it's not about making big bets, it's about making a lot of small bets. But here's the nugget that people get wrong. So, they say, ‘yeah, we're gonna do Lean Startup.’ So, they have five projects, and they believe that out of those five projects, if we just pivot enough, we're gonna get a multibillion-dollar growth engine. That is delusion at its best. Because, if you look at early stage venture capital, you actually need to invest in at least 250 projects to get one breakthrough success. So, what it means for established companies, if they really want to find the winner, they need to invest in tons of losers. And they're not losers, per se. But some of those projects need to be killed after three months, some of those projects might make 10 million or $100 million in revenues. But only something like one out of 250 will move towards 500 million or a billion. That, is a matter of survival. So, the companies that don't build an innovation portfolio and don't apply Lean in a broad way, not for five projects, not enough - that's what I call innovation theater. They need to apply it across the board, right? And I think that's where Steve Blank’s work, our work together has actually made a pretty big difference. Now, we just need to convert a couple more companies, because there are only very few that have been able to pull this off - that are really what we would call ‘Invincible Companies.’ Ula Ojiaku: [28:15] Can you tell me a bit more about the book, Invincible Company? Alex Osterwalder: [28:19] So, there are three main components to the Invincible Company. Let me tell you about the three characteristics of an invincible company. The first thing is, invincible companies constantly reinvent themselves. So, they're not laying back and saying, ‘hey, I was successful’, they don't get arrogant. They constantly reinvent themselves. Typical example is Amazon, constantly reinventing their business model; going into Amazon Web Services, going into logistics, etc. That's number one. Number two, invincible companies, they don't compete on products and technology alone. They compete on superior business models. I believe it's much harder to stay ahead with technology because it’s easy to copy. Patents don't make that much sense alone anymore. It's all about speed. So today, if you don't build a superior business model, it's hard to stay ahead. Let me give you an example. Take Apple with the iPhone. It's not the phone per se that's keeping them ahead. What's keeping them ahead is the ecosystem around iOS, with a lot of developers that create a lot of applications; you cannot copy that. You can copy the phone technology - there are tons of phone makers out there. There’re only two operating systems, right. So that's a superior business model. The third one is, invincible companies; they transcend industry boundaries. Today, if you look at Amazon, you can't classify them in an industry. They do e-commerce, they do logistics for IT for, you know, web, web infrastructure for companies around the world. Their logistics company - they're competing with UPS. So, you can't classify them in an industry, they have a superior business model. My favorite example, at the moment is a company called Ping An in China, one of the top 30 largest companies in the world, in terms of profitability. Well, what did they do? They moved within seven years, from being a banking and insurance conglomerate, towards becoming a technology player that built the biggest health platform on the planet, a platform called Good Doctor. That came from a bank and insurer - can you imagine that? Right? So, they transcended industry boundaries. And that's why they're ahead of everybody else. So, those are the three characteristics of invincible companies. And then in the book we show well, how do you actually get there? We just described you know, how that animal looks like. How do you become that? So, three things. One, you need to manage a portfolio of business models, you need to improve what you have, and invent the future - innovation funnels, etc… What I just told you before. It's not about making five bets, it's about making 250 bets. And how do you manage that? How do you manage measure risk and uncertainty? Second thing, superior business models; we have a library of patterns, business model patterns, where we give inspiration to people so they can ask themselves questions: ‘How could I improve my business model? How could I create recurring revenues? How could I create a resource castle to protect my business model? How could I shift from product to service? How could I shift like Apple from selling a device to becoming a platform?’ So that's the second aspect. And then the third one, which most companies are struggling with, is ‘how do I create an innovation culture systematically? How do I design and manage an innovation culture?’ So, it's almost, you could say three books in one. So, you get three for one, if you get The Invincible Company. Ula Ojiaku: [31:54] It sounds very exciting in terms of the work that you must have done to collate these trends and attributes that make up an invincible company. So, what exactly made you guys now say, ‘hey, we need to write this book?’ Alex Osterwalder: [32:09] That's a question we always ask because there's so many books out there; the world does not need another business book. So, if we put energy into this, because these projects are pretty big, we had a team of five people working on it, three designers actually six people, three content people. So, it's a crazy effort. The reason was very simple. We had already put a lot of tools out there - and processes - and companies were not moving at the scale we believe is necessary for them to transform to either revive their business models, or tackle challenges like climate change, right? So, you have to be very inventive, innovative, to actually make a profit and become sustainable, like Unilever. So, we said, ‘well, what's missing?’ And the big piece missing is the shared language at the senior level, where they can think about ‘how do I manage a portfolio of businesses to fight off disruption? So, I don't get disrupted. But so, I am among the disruptors. So, I invent the future, like Ping An, like Amazon - they invent the future.’ You know, they're not the victim of Porter's five forces, they shaped entire industries, right? Porter's five forces was 1985. That's quite a while ago. ‘The world’s changed; we need new analytical tools…’, I like to joke, right? But so, we didn't see companies moving enough. So, we asked, ‘could we create the tools to help these companies to help the leaders change?’ So, we created a very practical set of tools and processes, and procedures so these companies would start to move. Because a lot of senior leaders will tell you, ‘but innovation is a black box. I don't know how to do this. I know how to do mergers and acquisitions. But I don't really know how to do this innovation thing.’ So, they kind of move towards buzzwords. ‘Yeah, we're gonna do agile!’ Well, that means nothing per se. So yeah, we're gonna work in an agile way when we do this. But that's the mindset. But there's a more to it when you really want to start building an invincible company. So, we packaged all of what we've learned in the field, plus our whole thinking of how can we make it easy for them to capture and work on it. So, taking down the barriers to action, so nothing would prevent them from action. That's how we always decide, ‘should we do another book?’ Well, only if we believe we have a very substantial contribution to make. Ula Ojiaku: [34:37] Talking about the three ‘hows’ of becoming an invincible company, you did say that the third element was about changing the culture. Alex Osterwalder: [34:48] Yeah, sure. Yeah. Yeah. Ula Ojiaku: [34:49] Now, there is this book I read by John Kotter about Leading Change... Alex Osterwalder: [34:57] Yeah, yeah absolutely Ula Ojiaku: [34:58] And culture changes last. So, what's your view on how best to change culture because usually, people are resistant to change? Alex Osterwalder: [35:09] So, I believe you can actively design and manage culture. You know, every company has a culture. It’s just that very few companies design and manage their culture. So, the first thing is, you need to map out the culture that you have. So again, we're tool obsessed. So, we created a tool together with Dave Gray called the Culture Map. And with the Culture Map, you can map out the culture you have, and you can design the culture you want. Okay, that's in a general way. In The Invincible Company, we talk about innovation culture. So, we show what are the blockers that are holding companies back from creating an innovation culture? And we show what are the enablers that companies would have to put in place to create an innovation culture? So simple stuff, right? What's the blocker? I'll give you some blockers. Companies require business plans, business plans are the enemy of innovation, because you force people to sketch out a fantasy over 50 pages, and then you invest in a fantasy and it blows up in your face. It's ridiculous. So, business plans are one enemy of innovation. It's a blocker. Okay, let's look at an enabler. An enabler would be to embrace a culture where you can experiment, fail, learn and iterate. That sounds trivial. But in most companies, you cannot fail, you'll jeopardize your career. So, you need to create a space where experimentation and failure is not just possible - it's mandatory because you know, you need to test ideas. So, if you don't do that deliberately; if you don't have the governance that's going to reward that, in the right place, it’s not going to work. And now a lot of people would say, ‘yeah, we do that… we do that.’ But it depends how you're doing ‘that’. So, we're very specific with these things and say, well, ‘you're at risk of having an innovation theater, if you don't enable leadership support.’ ‘Yeah, well our leaders are supporting it…’ Okay? ‘How much time is your leader, your CEO spending on innovation every week?’ If he or she is not spending 40% of his or her time on innovation, innovation will not happen at that company, period. So that's an enabler that is not a soft factor is a very hard factor. Because it's actually even less about what the CEO does. It's the symbolic value of a CEO spending 40% of his or her time on innovation, which will show ‘this is important.’ And then everybody will work towards what's important for the senior leadership. So, all those kinds of things - we codify them, to take them from the anecdotal evidence towards, ‘here are the three areas you need to look at: leadership support, organizational design, innovation practice. You need to work on those three areas. And you can start to systematically design an innovation culture.’ So, I'd say the difference between the days of Kotter, I still love Kotter's work, is I do believe today, we can more actively design culture and make it happen. Is it easy? No, it’s really hard. Are we going to face resistance? Yes. But if you do it well, I can tell you when it comes to innovation, people are hungry for it. They're just waiting for it. So, all you have to do - you don't even need to design enablers, just take away the obstacles and everything else will happen. Ula Ojiaku: [38:40] Oh, fantastic. So, the what book do you find yourself giving as a gift to people the most and why - in addition to your fantastic suite of books? Alex Osterwalder: [38:53] So… there's just so many that I don't have one ‘go-to’ book that I would really recommend. It's depending on what are people looking at, you know, what is their challenge, and I would recommend the right kind of book that I have in mind for the right challenge. So, I don't like doing an overall thing. There is one book that I just put is the foundation of working the right way, which is John Medina's Brain Rules. So, it's actually a brain scientist. He's very funny. He wrote a book called Brain Rules. It's all based on peer reviewed science, there's a certain number of rules that you need to follow in everything you do: designing a workshop, managing your company, you know, teaching something, being a parent. So, if you follow those brain rules, well, you're very likely to have more success. With the work you're doing, you're gonna achieve better results, because you're following the way your brain works, right? And a lot of the work we do is actually not, not right. So, I'll give you an example. He talks about visuals, every single person on the planet is visual, guess what? It’s evolution – (there) used to be a lion running after us. Well, we would need to see it and run away. That's visual. That's evolution. Those who didn't see it coming, they're not here anymore, right? Evolution ate them up. So, we're visual, by definition. That's why when you write when you create a book or a slide deck, using visuals is not a nice to have; of course, everybody has their style. But if you really do it well, you use the words for the right thing, use visuals for the right thing, you're gonna have a huge impact. Because by evolution, every one of us, every single one of us is visual. So that's one brain rule, which sounds a little bit trivial. But the really good insights there of rules you should never break. Right? So that's one I do recommend. But then everything else is based on the challenges I see with, you know, what people are struggling with. Ula Ojiaku: [40:47] I would add that to my library of books to read then. Now, would you have any advice for individuals starting up in their entrepreneurship journey? And also, what advice would you have? So, there are two questions here: what do you have for organizations starting off their lean innovation journey? So, individuals and organizations. Alex Osterwalder: [41:14] So, for both, I would say fear nothing, embrace failure. So, you know, then people tell me, ‘don't always talk about failure. It's not about failure. It's not about failures, is it? It's about learning.’ No, it's not about learning. It's about actually adapting your idea until you figure out what works, right? But a lot of that will be failure. And a big part of the innovation journey is you know, falling down and getting up. So, my big advice to individuals is, don't believe those people on the cover of a magazine because you don't see the failure they went through. And if there's somebody who didn't have that much failure, they kind of got lucky. But that's one in a million. So, don't get blinded by those pictures that the press put in front of us. Success; there is no shortcut. Yeah, you can get lucky. But that's one out of a million. Success is hard work. It's a lot of failure. It's a lot of humiliation. Those who get over humiliation, those who can stand up, those are, those are gonna win. However, sometimes you need to stop, right? So, when people say, ‘ah, never give up!’ Well, knowing when to stop is not giving up. When you're not made for something, when the idea (you had) – (you find out) there’s no business there, you better stop because you're gonna waste all of your money and energy for something that's not there. But you can take those learnings and apply it, maybe to a different opportunity. So never, never fear failure, right is an important one to always get up. That's for individuals. For companies, I'd say go beyond innovation theater. So, break the myths and figure out how innovation really works. Open up what still might be a black box or question yourself, you know, are we really doing Strategic Growth and Innovation? Because a lot of companies will say, ‘Yeah, we do that, we do Lean Startup, we do Agile.’ Yeah, but then you look under the hood, it's really innovation theater. When you really do this well, you actually invest in 200, 300, 400 projects at a time, small amounts. And you're really good at killing ideas to let the best emerge. So, it's not about making a few big bets. It's about making hundreds and hundreds of small bets. And then continuously invest like a venture capitalist in those ideas and teams that are bubbling up, right. So, go beyond innovation theater, learn how this really works. This is a profession. This is not something you learn over a weekend at a masterclass anymore. That's how you get started. This is a hard profession treated differently than management. Managing an innovation, management and execution and innovation and entrepreneurship are two different planets. So please accept that. That's my advice to organizations. Take it seriously, otherwise, you're gonna die. Ula Ojiaku: [43:51] Thank you so much. It's been a wonderful conversation with you, Alex, thank you again for being on this show. Alex Osterwalder: [43:58] Thanks for having me. Wonderful questions. Great conversation.
33 minutes | 2 months ago
S1E001 Steve Blank on the Need for Innovation, 'Showing Up' and Learning from Failure
Bio Entrepreneur-turned-educator, Steve Blank is the Father of Modern Entrepreneurship. Credited with launching the Lean Startup movement, he’s changed how startups are built; how entrepreneurship is taught; how science is commercialized, and how companies and the government innovate. Steve is the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany, The Startup Owner’s Manual -- and his May 2013 Harvard Business Review cover story defined the Lean Startup movement. He teaches at Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley and NYU; and created the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps -- now the standard for science commercialization in the U.S. His Hacking for Defense class at Stanford is revolutionizing how the U.S. defense and intelligence community can deploy innovation with speed and urgency, and its sister class, Hacking for Diplomacy, is doing the same for foreign affairs challenges managed by the U.S. State Department. Steve blogs at www.steveblank.com Books/ Resources: Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win by Steve Blank The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step by Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries Where to Play: 3 Steps to Discovering Your Most Valuable Market Opportunities by Marc Gruber and Sharon Tal Social media profiles: Blog/ website: steveblank.com Twitter handle: @sgblank Steve’s students’ slides: https://www.slideshare.net/sblank Interview transcript Ula Ojiaku 00:52 So we have Steve Blank, the legend himself. Thank you so much for making the time to join me on the show. Steve Blank 00:59 I'm excited to talk to you and your listeners. This should be fun. Ula Ojiaku 01:03 Definitely. I've listened to other podcasts or shows where you said you grew up in a dysfunctional family and growing up in chaos kind of helped shape you into who you are. And there was some sort of silver lining in that cloud. Can you elaborate on that? How did that shape you into the Steve Blank we see and admire today? Steve Blank 01:22 Sure, you know, my family circumstances, while difficult, aren't unique. I mean, lots of people in the world too wake up and not quite know what's going to go on the next day but I think there's a couple things. One is it makes you focus on survival, and also helps you shut out all the things that are not important for survival. So I grew up not understanding, but actually you did much later in life that when there's chaos around me, I'm able to figure out about what I consider the fog of war, where are we heading, where everybody else is running around, going, Oh, it's confusing, or you know, things are going off around you to kind of go rifle shot in figuring out where the exit is. And it turns out that that's the world's cruelest but most effective training ground for early stage entrepreneur. And that's exactly the physical danger is, it's exactly what a founding CEO encounters the first year to their company. Nothing goes right, everything's unpredictable, things are going on around you yet you need to stay focused on what it is to do and have a bias for action rather than passively sitting around waiting for things to be fixed. And I didn't understand that until I was in a war zone in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Luckily, I was well away from where people were actually shooting at me but in the Air Force, I got to do things that I never would have gotten to do anywhere else in a civilian life at a very early age. And realize that combined with some other skills I had, which probably were only two. But you know, the other one was I was pretty good at pattern recognition. And then three is I was curious about everything way beyond my paygrade. Four is I showed up a lot, which I think is 80% of what a young entrepreneur needs to do, is show up more than most people. And those are the skills that have lasted me the last 40 years. Ula Ojiaku 03:09 Wow, you've launched about eight companies, and some of them went on to IPO. So how did that quality of showing up help you? Steve Blank 03:19 Showing up a lot, you know, varied throughout my career. But it was consistently being where other people were out drinking or partying or said it's too hard to do, or Gee, I don't want to volunteer for that. And, you know, in the military, the version was working extra hours to help people just because I was interested in what they were doing. And by accident getting noticed, I mean I wasn't trying to get noticed, but I did. The rule was never volunteer for anything but I volunteered for everything. And half of them really were crummy jobs but the other half were incredibly interesting. My entrepreneurial career, my test of whether you're cut out to work these hours is when I was living in Silicon Valley, I often would call people in New York and just say, oh by the way, I'm going to be having coffee across the street from you tomorrow, do you mind if I drop in and call you? I had no plans to do that but if they said yes, I would jump on a redeye and will literally take a 15 minute meeting, because showing up a lot might have got me an order and multiple times it did. If you're not willing to do those things and put yourself out for the extra effort and believe it's going to come to you, it's okay but don't choose a startup as a job. It takes that extraordinary effort, showing up a lot just doesn't mean cruising across the street or something else. I retired when I was no longer willing to get down that redeye for the 10 minute meeting, it meant I was too old to play that game. Someone else was going to do that, someone I was competing with would have had that passion and energy to do it. Ula Ojiaku 04:49 Well, that's really impressive. You are an adjunct professor at Stanford University, you're also a guest lecturer at many other notable higher education institutions. The funny thing is that you admit you're a college dropout. Steve Blank 05:05 I still laugh every time and I want to make the point, I'm not exceptional, I'm the exception. And there's a difference there, you know, I've taught in multiple places and then every place I've been if I had to pick the odds over the group of people who's going to succeed, someone who's dropped out or someone who actually had the discipline of sticking it out four years and even learning what community college or four year college pay odds are much better for people who stay in college. There's a small group of people, maybe not so small, like I was at the time, who just didn't have discipline. I was completely undisciplined, couldn't see the value of why I was there, was doing horribly and was completely out of control and I probably needed reform school at the time. I chose the military as an alternative. I think that's an edge case and it's not that I regretted it but I've spent my life catching up on those missing pieces of my education, both undergrad and grad school, I probably should have went to. Somebody should be thinking about, if you are literally out of control and don't have the discipline, that's probably the reason not to be in college, and you need to gain the maturity and the skills to go back. I wish someone had counselled me to do that and I'm not sure I for a long time had that discipline and maturity to go back. So yeah, I think I'm an exception to a set of heuristics that I think probably say today even more, so if you could stick it out, it is worth staying in. Ula Ojiaku 06:35 Thanks for that. Steve Blank 06:37 And by the way for a couple reasons, let me just be clear, one is the education you're going to get. And the second is, regardless of the school you go to, you're going to build up a network of people who because you were in close proximity with them, you will later on in your career, be able to count on or use your network, including your professors and other people. Ula Ojiaku 06:58 What I hear you saying is, in addition to the education, your networking opportunities could serve you for the rest of your career. Steve Blank 07:06 Yeah, Ula Ojiaku 07:07 That's great. So you are the father of the Lean Startup Movement. In my research for this conversation, I learned that it was some sort of massive failure that started you on the path. Is it something you can talk about? Steve Blank 07:22 Sure. You know, by the time I had done six startups, I was thought of as a successful entrepreneur and attracted a lot of funding for my next startup, which is a video game company, which turned out to be a real mistake for multiple reasons. One is my entire career up till then my customers had been scientists or engineers, or technical people. And what I didn't truly understand is I was now getting into a business where, number one, my customers were going to be 14 year old boys who wanted to kill something. And two is that I was actually not in a business where technology actually mattered at all, it was in fact, maybe a first or even third derivative of what they really cared about; I was in the entertainment business. Well, if somebody would have told me, Steve, you're going to be CEO of an entertainment company, even I would have said don't give this guy any money. But we didn't understand, I didn't understand it, neither did my investors. Make a long story short, I created that company, I was the CEO, I mean, lots of reasons why it went down. And when it failed, I absolutely went through blame my co-founder, blame everybody else, blame my VCs, be angry, go get depressed, and whatever. But after it failed, and back then losing $35 million, was actually considered a lot of money, that was a pretty visible failure. You know, I went through the step of, as I said, anger, depression, whatever, and then acceptance. But then I tried to extract a set of heuristics, a set of rules of what did I learn from not only that, but where did it succeed. And I put those rules together, what came out of that is the beginnings of customer development. And in my next company, Epiphany, which was my last company, the company had an $8 billion market cap, when I went home. We went from zero to $125 billion in three years. That wasn't just me, that was incredible set of co-founders and a CEO we had brought in and 800 other wonderful people, but everything we had learned, or I had learned from that failure just came together and we nailed it in that one. You know, what a definition of failed entrepreneur is? Ula Ojiaku 09:27 I'm not sure Steve Blank 09:22 Experienced. It’s a big idea. I failed miserably and publicly yet, in fact, that was quite fundable. Because as long as you're not blaming the failure on everybody else, and you kind of own up to, here are the mistakes I made, and say, well I'm not doing that business again, it turns out that investors were more than willing to write us a cheque. And I think that's unique about places where entrepreneurship is well understood, in other countries or other cultures, when you lose that amount of money for people, they're coming after you or you've ruined your reputation forever. That's not the case in certainly in Silicon Valley, and in London, and other places where entrepreneurship is understood. So that was the beginning of the Lean Startup, using some of the key tenants that epiphany, but still, I didn't have a theory or strategy. It wasn't till I retired, that I actually started writing believe it or not, my memoirs. And I realized 80 pages in that no one really was going to read them, I'd even have to pay my children to read them but there were some lessons learned about success and failure that no one had noticed before. By then I was not only doing my companies but sitting on boards of others, public and private. And that a much broader view of innovation entrepreneurship. The difference between success and failure is whether you just simply built a company around your beliefs and launch the product versus spent a lot of time testing your beliefs, not doing a giant focus group, still staying focused on your vision, but trying to validate or invalidate whether what you were building was correct. And I realized that there was very little literature on innovation entrepreneurship for early stage companies. Back in the turn of the century, there was a ton of literature on how to do innovation inside of large corporations but there was almost no literature on how to do innovation in a garage. And when I went to business school leaders in a variety of universities and pointed this out, I literally got a virtual pat on the head that said, Steve, don't worry your little head, how hard could six people in a garage be? We consult for companies with tens of thousands of people. And then I realized that most business school academics didn't work in startups and therefore, if they consulted, they consulted for major corporations and didn't have the domain expertise of what was unique about early stage ventures. About its funding environment, about its customer environment, about burn rate and things that were critical to understand when your company is starting in your basement versus your company is launching a new product, versus your company that has thousands of people. And those are very different types of innovation entrepreneurship. So the Lean Startup method started with me looking around and going, I think what we're doing is probably not optimal, which is a fancy word for saying, I think we're very wrong, there might be a better way to do this, Ula Ojiaku 12:22 That nicely goes into the other question that I had for you. You said in one of your books that every startup needs a mission statements and a set of core values, because as you're doing customer discovery, they're going to get conflicting feedback. So there has to be a way of filtering to know the right feedback to follow in developing the products. Steve Blank 12:47 You know, one of the things if you're a founder is this idea of customer development, getting out of the building, talking to customers, building a minimum viable products, etc., with a giant focus group. So hey, I'll talk to everybody, I'll get some of their features, and they'll build that product. Yeah, maybe but then that kind of makes you a product manager, not really a founder with a vision. You know for me, there's a subtle but important difference is, no, no, I have a vision, I'm the founder, or maybe me and my co-founder have a vision. Let's now go out and validate or invalidate or modify our hypothesis, which is by the way a fancy Stanford word for guesses. But I have put a stake in the ground where I think the world is and where customers will want to buy and let's see if that's correct. Rather than continuing moving the goalposts, if you put the stake in the ground that says, here's our vision, here's the product, here's the customer, here’s the distribution channel, here's the pricing, here's whatever, okay, now instead of launching the product around that, let's go validate or invalidate it as best as we can. Oh, and I'm allowed to, and here's the big idea what changed everything about Lean, and I'm allowed to change before I ship based on what I learned outside the building, that's called a pivot. A pivot is just a substantive change in one or more things you learn about your business model. And the business model is a fancy word for all the things that make an idea, a commercially viable company. That is, you know, who my customers what features do they want, and how much should I charge? How much, what are the costs? Where do I build it, etc. So as I'm learning about this stuff, I might change my vision or modify it, going well, that's great, the product is right, but the people I thought are customers are completely different, or the customers are right, but they only want features three, nine, and fifteen. Hey, I shouldn't waste time on those other things until later, or maybe never. That's what they're getting out of the building is about and that's back to mission and vision. The other thing about mission is once you discover that, then you could share that vision with your entire company. Here's what we're doing, here's why we're doing it, here's what it means, here's our goals. And that should permeate the company from top to bottom. At the same time, as you do mission, you could also be setting culture and culture in a startup is really important. Is it do anything at all costs? Who cares about ethics? You know, I wouldn't recommend that but regardless of what you say, your employees will model their behavior on what you do, not what you say. Or is it like no, we work six days a week that's culture or gee our culture is dancing allowed and free food or no dogs, but free food or no free food or, I mean, these things need to not only be said, but they need to be modeled. So if the CEO says we need to jump on an airplane anywhere, anytime, but he or she doesn't do that then that's a pretty bad model. Or if they say, oh no, we really believe in work life balance, and we want you all out of here at 5:30. That's another model, but the CEO shouldn't be sitting in the building. Does that make sense? Ula Ojiaku 16:04 Makes a whole lot of sense. Yes. Steve Blank 16:07 I've been working with large companies and government agencies, and I'm trying to emulate the same process that startups do inside of the corporations and governments. And is that the issue in large organizations are not whether you have people as smart as you have in startups, and just note to large corporation and government, you have smarter people there, you have more of them. What's different is the nature of the corporation. What I mean by that is, a corporation or government agency is designed for scale. And when you design for scale, you put in place processes and procedures and metrics and OKRs, and KPIs to measure performance. And therefore, people believe that these are the walls and rules and kind of guidelines that you operate in. And it kind of, that's great actually for scale, that's how larger organizations stay in sync and on scale, and it works wonderfully, when there's a repeatable environment that is operating it. But in fact, when chaos starts happening outside, when you're being disrupted by either competitors in commercial companies, or by adversaries in the government, or, gee you're no longer part of the EU, all of a sudden, Ula Ojiaku 17:24 Not quite yet there Steve Blank 17:25 But all of a sudden, the world has changed. But those processes and procedures you put in place, were for a steady state repeatable environment. And therefore, you now need to inject some new innovation. But if you look at your rule book and Handbook, there is no rules for innovation entrepreneurship and in fact, that usually conflicts with all those processes that is your supply chain, you know, isn't “No, you can’t order something from Amazon we have you know these contracts…”, or “no you can't just jump on an airplane, you need the approval of four supervisors to go do this…”. “No, you can't start this new division, you need to take the most, you know, senior people…”, why, but those are the last people I want in an innovation group. All these things, by the way, are real things I've run into, Ula Ojiaku 18:09 I have experienced them as well. Steve Blank 18:12 So in fact, what you really needed in a government and in corporations is an innovation doctrine and doctrine is kind of like, what are the meta rules for how we deal with innovation, it shouldn't just be, oh, I have a corporate accelerator incubator, isn't that great? Because what that really means is I have innovation theater, I really haven't figured out how to integrate all this stuff from leadership to an innovation pipeline, or a process that runs in parallel. And the mistake people make in the first pass of doing this, is thinking that you're going to turn everybody in your large organization into an entrepreneur and I have found that that's just a fatal error. Not everybody comes to work to be an entrepreneur, the fact that you have some great entrepreneurs in your organization is a key idea but that's not what the rest of your organization sign up for. So the question is, is how do you get a larger organization to both chew gum and walk at the same time, it needs to be ambidextrous. And this is again, a concept from 20th century. Tishman and O'Reilly, two professors, one from Stanford and MIT talked about this for decades, when it was a nice to have in the 20th century. I'll contend that being ambidextrous and having an innovation doctrine is essential for survival in the 21st century, whether it's a company or government, and I think we see lots of companies and governments trying to struggle with how to kind of move into this, I no longer need to do one thing, but I need to do two things at a time. I need to execute and I need to innovate in parallel. That's hard. Ula Ojiaku 19:53 Yeah, sure. And that kind of also brings in to mind the three horizons as proposed by McKinsey. You said that you have the horizon one, where you have your cash cow stable, and then you're also looking into the future and making sure to also invest in things that could be the next big thing. And I guess going back to your reference to ambidextrous organizations, that would be a key capability that will be required in an organization to be able to realize that, what do you think? Steve Blank 20:23 Well, you know, I think again it starts with leadership and by leadership, the board of directors or managing board, not just the CEO, need to pick up and say, wait a minute, is it business as usual or do we need some change? And if you don't realize that the world around you has changed and that you're being put out of business, that is if you're in a retail business selling clothes or something else, you wake up and you discovered Amazon is taking your business. Or if you're in the government, and you realize gee, you know, the world is no longer with facing one adversary or facing multiple adversaries or gee Healthcare changed or something else, it needs to start from there. Because if there is no impetus for change, the status quo will continue until it's too late. And as I said, creative destruction is kind of okay for corporations, it's not okay for government agencies where the country has a kind of, has an obligation to its citizens to be ahead of the game not behind it. And once but let's say in a positive sense, you realize that change, the biggest thing that companies fail to do is communicate it coherently and repeatedly to the rest of the organization; is here's what we need to do to still stay in business. And it's not that everybody needs to panic and scurry around but here's how we need to organize for continuing our core business as we transition into either new businesses or new ways of doing business. And as you said, one of the tactics is realizing that there are three horizons of innovation, one is just making our existing product line or services better, horizon one, or expanding to adjacent spaces, or different distribution channels with different customers with the same products or technology, horizon two. Or creating new things that just didn't exist before. That is one tool that, you know, leadership can kind of use in a large organization, at least in a corporate world, you could acquire, you could partner, you could buy. In a startup, you know, all you have are your own resources but corporations actually have a lot more moves than startups in thinking about innovation. When they first realize at the leadership level that things have changed. But you also need to build these parallel processes of, you know, okay well, how's HR going to deal with innovation and execution, it can't be the same rules. The real test is, if in a large company or government agency, you have the same exact rules and processes and procedures for execution, as you do for innovation, then you don't really have a company or organization that's going to survive. There needs to be parallel processes and in fact, the other thing you need is an innovation end to end process, not just I have an incubator accelerator and look at our great demos. But what's the end to end process from sourcing ideas and people and technology and problems, all the way to delivery or deployment of those services outside the building? Very few organizations have that kind of as a full function continuous innovation process but that's what's required. Ula Ojiaku 23:23 Right. So with respect to that though, you're saying there has to be, you have to have parallel processes in place so there is innovation going on. However, the business as usual, or keeping the lights on, like HR or finance, how they tie into it needs to also be thought through. Would you then say that all these details need to be worked out before an organization tries to create some innovation? Or is this something that could be worked out, whilst doing it? Steve Blank 24:03 So in a perfect world, it would start with from the top, from a board of directors, the sea level conversation that acknowledges that status quo is taking you off the cliff. And by off the cliff, meaning sales are going to decline or government services are going to be less effective, or the country is going to be less competitive if we continue this way. That's the first discussion in a perfect world. What really happens though, is today, there's a sea of unhappy entrepreneurs sitting inside your company or government organization who already exist, beating their head against the wall. In fact, the symptom of this it's been going on for decades, is that we always hear stories about what I call heroic innovation. That is we celebrate these people who actually have fought against the system and get something done and we give them awards. Instead of saying, well wait a minute, these people are symptoms of a broken process, and actually don't have any process for them to; it shouldn't have required heroics to do this. Kind of like, it was the same light bulb that went on when I wrote the first book about what became lean in four steps to epiphany. The light bulb is why are we celebrating heroics, instead of being embarrassed that the system is broken? And so in every organization, this is what I meant when I said there are more entrepreneurs and innovators inside larger organizations than there are startups. Startups though are organized to capture their energy and their passion and their innovation. Corporations and government organizations are organized to actually beat it out of them. Again, not because of malice or bad or people being stupid, it's just that the big lightbulb hasn't gone on that says no, we need different processes, we need an end to end, that is we don't even have that language inside of a corporation, other than trying to steal and by steal I mean, in a nice sense, all the processes from a startups, which really don't map into companies and government agencies because they have different goals, different missions, different incentives. We can take the ethos of a startup and put it inside of companies and government organizations, and we could harness that same passion but we need very different processes and procedures than those that startups use. Ula Ojiaku 26:23 Very true. I'll just move on to the final part of this conversation. Following your work, reading, you know, your blogs and listening to some of your conversations on other media platforms, you sound to me like you're a lifelong learner. So is there any book that you found yourself gifting the most to people? And if so, what's that book and why? Steve Blank 26:51 Well, on the business side, Alexander Osterwalder's Business Model Generation book was a real eye opener for me. You know, my work, as part of lean, lean has three parts; customer development, agile engineering, and the business model canvas. And it really took the three of us, my work was the customer development process, Eric Ries, who wrote a great book called The Lean Startup was the one who observed agile engineering was a great partner to that. But Osterwalder’s work on the business model canvas gave us kind of a scorecard and he originally intended it as a static diagram. And I realized it was actually much more useful as one that was dynamic and got updated over time. So those three books, My Four Steps to Epiphany, Ries’s Lean Startup Guide, and Osterwalder's Business Model Generation should be kind of the three texts that sit on an entrepreneur shelf, to kind of understand the basics. There's some other later reading, I mean, there are hundreds of books; Marc Gruber wrote a book called Where To Play: 3 Steps For Discovering Your Most Valuable Opportunities, I now kind of think of as the front end of the process. But I should just point out it would be kind of ironic, if I didn't, is that entrepreneurship is not a reading the book activity, it's an experiential activity. So you can't read the book and then say, I now know or watch the videos or you know, have videos on Udacity and other places. It really is read the book in context with actually getting your hands dirty and by getting your hands dirty, I mean, build something, test it, get out of the building, etc. Even if it's something small, that's as important as it is understanding the theory. The theory might give you a light bulb, you know, like oh, this is where I should be spending some time. But getting out and getting your teeth kicked is probably the best confirmation. Then you go, Oh, I miss page 47 where it said, this is what will happen. So that's my advice for both reading and doing. Ula Ojiaku 28:52 Great. Thank you. And we will have the books you've mentioned in the show notes as well as links to them so thanks for that. So to wrap up, you've already given us some good advice in terms of not just read the book, go out there, and get your hands dirty, get something built, get it tested, get it validated. Would there be any other advice you'd have for upcoming entrepreneurs? (last word not clear) Steve Blank 29:21 This one's kind of interesting is that, you know, nowadays entrepreneurship, starting a company is kind of cool. It's like your friends are doing it, you're doing it and people tend to think, gee a startup is a job and I think that's the world's worst mistake. Startup isn't a job, at least now I'm talking about being a founder, or co-founder and startup is not a job; it's a calling, right. There are great jobs out there but being a founder is closer to being an artist than any other profession. If you're not called, if there isn't an itch, you need to scratch, if there isn't something you need to get out of your system, then you might be in the wrong profession. Because a job says hey, you show up every day and you get paid, in a startup you show up every day, and I hate to tell your listeners the bad news is, the answer you're going to fail. Much like a painter, every painting or sculpture or play or music you write, or play you write is not a success, most of them are crummy, and you just kind of missed it. And you get up and feel bad and then you do another one because you're driven to do that. That's what a true founder is, and it doesn't mean you can't work in a startup. I wasn't prepared to do that my first three or four times in a startup, I'm the spear carrier in the back of this play, meaning I, you know, where you see the opera and there are people in the back. Those are the people who are kind of part of the stage but really not in the front. That was me learning by apprenticeship because I really didn't have that, I have the DNA, but I didn't have the skillset to understand what it was. Nowadays, you could learn much more rapidly than I could have in the 20th century. But still, you need to be driven by, I can't imagine doing anything else with my life or my time. This ain't a job, you could join a startup as a job but if you want to be a founder, you really ought to think about this is how you want to live your life. Yeah, it's with lots of ups and downs and hills and valleys but you have to have passion and drive and vision and curiosity that besides agility, and ambition to make it happen. Ula Ojiaku 31:35 Wow. Thank you very much, Steve, that's inspiring. One last thing before we go, where can the audience find you, are you on social media? What’s the first place to go? Steve Blank 31:46 The first place to go is my website, steveblank.com. There's more information for entrepreneurs than ever existed in Silicon Valley in the 20th century packed into one. There's a tabs on top, books to read, Secret History of Silicon Valley, some other things. I'm on Twitter at @sgblank, @sgblank. There's also a series of presentations, slide final decks from all my students on slideshare.net @sblank. And you will find over 600 presentations of my students summaries actually going through my classes. So hopefully to all your listeners have a great time being an entrepreneur. It's the world's worst job, but great call. Take care. Ula Ojiaku 32:35 And you too. Thank you so much. Thanks. Steve Blank 32:38 Bye, bye. Ula Ojiaku 32:39 Bye.
38 minutes | 2 months ago
S1E002 Darren Wilmshurst on Digital Disruption and Applying the Agile Manifesto and SAFe Principles to Transform Organisations
Bio: Darren has a background in commercial management, being an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers following sixteen years in Retail Banking. This culminated as a Senior Personal Banking Manager within the Guildford Group of Branches, which was comprised of 9 branches and 140 staff. A career change into IT in the late 1990s has led to a number of roles within IT including three Head of Department positions covering the complete spectrum of IT. Also, as an accomplished Project Manager and a Prince2 Practitioner he has a phenomenal record in delivering complex programmes and business transformations and an impressive record of negotiating and implementing multi-million pound contracts including Outsourcing, Off-shoring and ERP systems. He is also a Chartered IT Professional. Darren is now a Director of Radtac, a Global Agile Consultancy Business based in London. In addition, he is DSDM Atern Agile PM Practitioner, APMG Facilitation Practitioner, PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner, Certified Scrum Master, Kanban Practitioner. Darren is an active agile practitioner and coach and delivers training courses in Leading SAFe and more recently, Darren is now a SAFe Fellow, one of about 30 worldwide. He is also a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT), contributor to the SAFe Reference Guide 4.5 and founder of the London SAFe Meet-up Group. Finally, he is the Treasurer of BCS Kent Branch and co-founder of the Kent Scrum User Group. Also a co-author of the BCS Book “Agile Foundations – Principles Practices and Frameworks”, a reviewer of "Valuing Agile; the financial management of agile projects". Books/ Resources: Tribal Unity by Em Campbell-Pretty Leading Change by John P. Kotter The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organisations by Gene Kim et al Agile Foundations – Principles, Practices and Frameworks y Peter Measey, Darren Wilmshurst and Radtac SAFe Reference Guide 4.5 by Dean Leffingwell SAFe 5.0 Distilled; Achieving Business Agility with the Scaled Agile Framework by Richard Knaster and Dean Leffingwell * NOTE: * As of the time of publishing this episode, the most-current version of SAFe is 5.0 and so I would recommend getting this version. Websites: The Agile Manifesto: https://agilemanifesto.org/ SAFe Principles: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/safe-lean-agile-principles/ Darren’s social media profiles: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darren-wilmshurst-89b0931/ Twitter handle (for fellow Arsenal fans!): @dazzawilmshurst Interview Transcript: Ula Ojiaku: [00:27] My guest for this episode is Darren Wilmshurst. He is the director and head of consulting at Radtac. Darren is a Scaled Agile Framework Fellow, an achievement realized by less than 30 people globally. He's also an SPCT - that is, a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer. Darren trained me as an SPC, and I am honored to call him my mentor as well. This episode, be aware, was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic so parts of our conversation about travel around the world, conducting a big room planning with all team members physically in the same space might not reflect the current pandemic situation as people aren't traveling as much. And of course, there's social distancing in place, and people are working more remotely than ever. The release of this episode coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto. Darren and I talked about the Agile Manifesto. And in my opinion, the pearls of wisdom that he shared about applying the values and principles are as valid as ever. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, my conversation with Darren Wilmshurst. Enjoy! Main Interview Ula Ojiaku: [01:51] Thank you so much, Darren, for making the time for this conversation. Darren: [01:55] Real pleasure to join you today. Thank you for inviting me. Ula Ojiaku: [01:58] Darren, why don't you start off by telling us a bit about yourself? Darren: [02:02] Oh, yeah that will be good, I have a probably interesting background. Because I spent 16 years in retail banking, I was a bank manager. And banking was all good until the first week of November 1997. Not that I remember the (exact) date. But that was the date that the bank decided to automate my job. So, some bank managers were really good at lending. Some bank managers are really bad at lending. And they wanted to manage the credit risk to 1% of the portfolio. And they can’t do that with individual discretion. So, on that date, everything was credit scored. If you wanted an overdraft, (a) personal loan or mortgage, everything was credit scored. I went from being a bank manager of nine branches and 140 staff to being a sales manager, selling financial products, and not something I really wanted to do. So, I made the entirely logical leap from being a bank manager into IT, because that's where my job got (absorbed). I started off as a business analyst, I did some testing, test management, did project management, and then I joined an outfit called, P&O Ferries. And I did a number of ‘Head of …’ roles: Head of Programme Management, Head of Development, Head of Delivery as well as Head of Operations, Infrastructure Networks and that sort of stuff. As well, I was just really fortunate to work with some really inspired CIOs during that time, who introduced me to agile probably back in 2003, 2004. And I was just given the environment to experiment with lots of adoption to patterns and practices as well, some that went well, some didn't, we learnt loads as well. But I found it was really hard initially. I think we did our first sort of agile project about 2004. And I'd gone away and read a book and gone to a conference and got inspired by this new way of working. But I came back to the office and (it appeared) my colleagues had read a different book! And we ended up in almost like these ‘agile wars’, you know, where we're arguing about whether we all call it a sprint and iteration increments a time box, and I got really fed up with that. So, I got an outfit called Radtac to help me; a guy called Peter Measey. I just need to help us to get to a common foundation. And the first thing we did was just an education event where we got all the guys in the rooms, ‘look, this is the way we're going to work, this is what we're gonna call stuff, we're gonna at least get a common taxonomy in terms of what we mean by these things.’ And that made a difference as well, then, you know, implementing it was still hard. So again, got Radtac to help with some of the practices and help them refine those as well. And then I got to a point, I don't know, about seven years ago, where I’d spent almost 30 years in the corporate world and just wanted to do something a bit different, wanted to go and explore my passion a bit more, not about agile, but more about trying to make organizations more effective. And funnily enough, I spoke to Peter Measey again at Radtac, and joined them back in 2012, as a director, and to grow their consultancy practice. So, I went from the corporate role to the dark side of consulting, and that was quite a change. For me, personally, I’d lived, about 25 minutes from my work. And that was right from the time I left my house to when I had coffee on my desk in my office. And now suddenly, I was traveling around the country and around the world. And my children were quite young that time (11 & 13) and that was quite hard in the first six months. I wasn't quite sure this was for me, but I just wanted to explore that passion for that change was hard for me. And then I think I was working with a client down in Bristol, and they started talking about this thing called SAFe. And this guy called Dean Leffingwell. And I hadn't really heard much about it and what it was as well. And then almost coincidentally, I heard that Dean was running an SPC course in London in October 2013. And I thought, okay, I want to go to that. So, I went to that course - I was not convinced. I always remember Dean talking about this two-day PI planning event and he’d said, ‘we can get everybody in the room together.’ And I said, ‘what, everybody?’ And he looked at me quizzically ‘Yes, everybody, that's everybody that wants to know; not just the developers - Scrum Master, Product Owners…’ ‘All of them coordinating live - the planning was with everyone in the room together?’ ‘Yes.’ So, two days, I think you'll never get that, you know, the conversations that you will need to have, in order to get two days to where people get together for planning out will never happen. So, I sort of remained skeptical. I started running some training courses in 2014. But the interest in the UK was quite low, to be honest. 2015 first off, much the same. And I think towards the end of 2015 people started saying ‘Actually, I'm really interested in the SAFe stuff.’ So, we did more training courses. And then I did my first (SAFe ART) launch and that's where my skepticism turned into ‘Oh my - this is an amazing event!’ because you know, getting all those people in the room together, when you create those social bonds, that networking, that alignment and where you resolve difficult problems together is huge. I became an advocate so much so I got asked to join the SAFe Program Consultant Trainer program. Ula Ojiaku: [07:07] You said that you were skeptical about bringing everybody in the room for two days. How did you get to convince your first clients to do that? Well, how was it for you? Darren: [07:20] I think I was lucky because my first client was coming, over to my public courses. I think it was like April, this delegation of about four of them. They said ‘we love this. We want to do it’. And they said, ‘we're going to start small, we're not going to start with no massive teams.’ I think we started with four teams. And just on the tipping point, really just say, we want to prove it out. So, I need to start with four teams. And two teams were in India and two teams were in the UK. So, my first one was distributed, which was fine, but yes, I think for them, it was like they were sold on it. And they wanted to start small. I think it was easier for me in terms of they were already bought into it. And they wanted to run it and have smaller teams make it an interesting first planning event. But, you know, we had some issues running it distributed. I think it should have taken two and a half days. And it ended up taking three and a half days. Ula Ojiaku: [08:08] Oh, okay. Well, it was a first wasn't it? Darren: [08:13] Yeah. I think the issues with that one there was a couple of things was, first of all with, because it was my first PI planning, I think that's a real red line for me when we try to do asynchronous planning. Number one, you need to have a co facilitator in each location. I didn't, I was in the UK. I wasn't in India, and it was all new to them. And they really struggled as well. Secondly, we tried to do what I call asynchronous planning. So, in the morning, we did all the briefings. And we got to lunchtime. And then we started out in the UK, we started off draft plan in the afternoon, by which time they (the teams in India) had gone home. So, they came back in the morning, and they did their draft plans. And then we tried to bring them together. It just didn’t work. I mean, the whole point of the planning is to understand the tensions and the dependencies between the teams. Of course, we're doing that asynchronously. So not only did they weren't sure what they were doing, when we tried to bring the draft plan together, they didn't work. So effectively, we lost that first round of planning. So, we said, okay, we need to find a way of overlapping. So, on day three, the UK guys came in a lot earlier. And we asked the guys in India to stay a little bit later to share the pain. And then we've got an overlap. And we've got our plans together. But we effectively lost that first round of panning because there was no support. And it wasn't synchronous. Ula Ojiaku: [09:26] So, on the third day, did you manage to find someone who would facilitate on your behalf in India or you still had to do that yourself? Darren: [09:35] Yeah, I did it myself. We had video links and stuff like that (to connect with the people in India). But I recognised that they were struggling. The second time around, we made sure that we had facilitators in both locations - really important. Ula Ojiaku: [09:58] That's quite interesting. If you don't mind, I'm just going to go back a bit to the point where you said your tipping point was after about 30 years in industry. You wanted a change, which was when you made the leap into consulting. There might be some people listening who are considering making that same leap. So, what made you decide to go for it? And what was the last straw that broke the camel's back (if there was any such thing)? Darren: [10:27] I don't think it was a midlife crisis. I wanted a new challenge. And it was at that time, I'm like, well, if I didn’t do it now, it would never happen. I think I'd gone through, you know, so many organizational reorganizations and restructuring. I just, I couldn't face another one of those. (I thought to myself) ‘well, if I'm going to make the break, this is the time to do it as well.’ And I had the opportunity with Radtac to join them and help grow that particular organization as well. So, I think it was an alignment of moons - I needed to change. I’d spent 30 years and in the corporate world and didn't really want to go through another reorganization. And this opportunity presents itself as ‘Okay, well, let's give it a go and see how it goes.’ Ula Ojiaku: [11:04] Would you say there was an element of you know, wanting to be a bit more in control of your destiny and not just being at the whim of maybe reorganizations that tend to happen in larger organizations more having some sort of direct say in the direction of things with your career? Darren: [11:20] Probably not, I think because again, I was very senior manager at P&O Ferries. I reported the Board Director. I helped shape a lot the restructuring that happened within P&O Ferries as well. I had a lot of influence and with that organization, I just think it was just about really just exploring my passion and just trying to do something different. I always thought there's just something there's one more thing left in me and I thought this was it. Ula Ojiaku: [11:43] Okay. You said your children were young and the first six months you weren't sure in consulting whether it was for you. So, what made you change your mind? It's definitely evident that you're doing something you're passionate about. What made you decide, ‘Right! It is for me’? Darren: [12:00] Again, my children were like 11 and 13. Both of them are serious swimmers. My son was a national swimmer, he was training about 17 hours a week. So that's four mornings at five in the morning (and evenings as well). My wife was working full time as well. So, it's just it was just again, with me being away traveling and not knowing what time I'll be home. That was the bit that was difficult because at least at P&O Ferries, I know what time I left for work and what time I got home. I could be quite predictable, (but in the consulting situation) I was less predictable. So, we had a long conversation, and my wife decided to temporarily give up her job. And she's a teacher, in order to support me and the children as well. That was a life changing decision that we had to make as a family. So, I'm really grateful for my wife saying, ‘Okay, I'll take a little sabbatical to get us through this.’ And we tried to get some normality back to our lives as well. Ula Ojiaku: [12:50] It's really refreshing to hear this because it almost seems like - looking outwardly - everyone has it all, you know. You have to make some sacrifices, compromises to be able to achieve a goal. Darren: [13:03] It's a good question. Because a lot of people say to me, I'd love to become a consultant. And I talk to them about that. ‘Well, you need to recognize that, you know, you could be anywhere now - what's your flexibility?’ I could be in the UK, I could be overseas, if it’s (my client appointment is) on a Monday, I'm probably flying on a Saturday or Sunday to get to locations. So, I'm there on Monday morning as well, it sounds so glamorous that you know, I travel the world and people see you know that you travel all the time. But funny story was I was due to go to Dubai. And my wife was teaching at the time. And it was the last week of the school term. And my wife was going to finish on the 13th. I was going to Dubai the following Monday. So, I texted her at work and said, ‘Look, you know, I'm going to Dubai next week, do you fancy coming with me?’ And she texts back to me saying ‘No, I want a new kitchen!’ Okay. About 15 minutes later, she gets back saying ‘No, no, no, no, no, I'm coming!’ She came home and said ‘I was in the staff room when I got your text. And I laughed. And when my colleagues asked why, I told them you’d asked if I wanted to go to Dubai next week, and they said, ‘what did you say?’ She said, ‘I'd said I wanted a new kitchen?’ Yeah. (Long story short) She came with me (to Dubai). We flew out on the Monday -arrived in the afternoon for a two-day training event. I went into the office that Monday afternoon, just to check the office. And then I got up at seven. I was in the office at eight again, I forget how many hours I had three or four hours behind. So, it's like quite early in the morning - training from eight to six before going back to the hotel. And Jo goes, ‘wow, is that what you do?’ Yeah, yeah (I say). ‘So, you got really early in the office training all day. So, what do you do now?’ I’ll have a meal for one in a restaurant, then I'll come back to my room. I do my emails. And I go to bed. Yeah. And I get up the following morning, exactly the same - finish at six, got home, pack my bag, have a meal, go to the airport, fly home ... And that's what you do. I said that’s exactly what I did. It looks glamorous, but it's literally planes, hotels, offices. I hate eating on my own. If I'm on my own, I'm not a great explorer either. So, I know some of my colleagues are really good at going out and seeing the sights. So, if you're training all day, you've still got other responsibilities that you need to catch up with as well. So… Ula Ojiaku: [15:17] I can imagine as a head of consulting, it's not just the training, you still have to attend to other official type things. Yeah. Darren: [15:25] Good work for the company that I have to do stuff like that. Ula Ojiaku: [15:28] Oh, wow, I get the impression you are someone who's always out to learn to improve yourself. So, you're not resting on your oars even though you are at this level. Have you at any point in time felt like ‘I think I’ve learnt enough’? Darren: [15:41] It's also the reverse. I was never a reader. I've always been a numbers person. So, I went to university to study maths. I was one of those kids at primary school where you'd be given a book at the beginning of the week to go away and read it. I get to the end of the week; I'd hand back my book to Miss (his teacher) who’d ask ‘have you read the book Darren?’ And I’d go, ‘Yes, Miss…’ - I hadn't. And I've never been a great reader. I just wasn't. What I do is probably over the last six years now I've read more than I've ever read. And even so, when I go on holiday, my daughter teases me because, you know, I don't take fiction books on holiday or biography books. I take business books on holiday. Ula Ojiaku: [16:21] I do that as well (laughs) Darren: [16:22] I have a picture my daughter took of me lying in a pool reading a business book. And every time I go on a course, someone will always recommend a new book I haven't read; so I have a backlog of books that I still need to buy and read as well. And there's a couple of books I'm rereading at the moment because… Some of my colleagues are good at the audiobooks; I need to see it. I’m a real visual reader. Ula Ojiaku: [16:46] Okay, okay. Darren: [16:47] …(still on his preference for physical books) …I'm getting down. I'm just highlighting, you know, the bits that character. This is a nugget as well. So, I can flick through that book and, and use those quotes as anecdotes during the trainings that I do as well, so. Ula Ojiaku: [16:58] Okay, so when you mean the visual, would an Amazon Kindle do for you or not? It has to be like a physical book, right? I like physical books; I mean and given that I tend to commute a bit, as well listening to audiobooks. But yeah, I've learned to blend all of them in depending on where I find myself. If you were to gift a book to someone who's aspiring to develop as a lean agile professional, which one would you, one or two, would you gift to the person or recommend to the person? Darren: [17:40] There's essentially a part of them beyond the roadblock is you sometimes just don't get chance to take time out and reflect and write. And I'm a bit frustrated at the moment that I haven't written a blog for a while and stuff like that. So, at the end of April, I'm going to do like a little mini retreat, I'm going off to Finland with Virpi, a fellow SPCT. And we're gonna have a little SAFe retreat, and we want to go away and write a couple of blogs and stuff like that as well. And one of the blogs I want to write is my top three books, top three videos, top three white papers. I think I'm almost there. One (of my top books) is the Tribal Unity by Em Pretty-Campbell. It's about how to get to how to go about forming teams and get them self-organizing. It's a short book. So, it's a really good brief read. Leading Change by Kotter, I think is another book that's just so critical. I think he wrote the book in 1995. I may have got that wrong. But he's rewritten the preface, because he's saying although this book was written over 20 years ago, it's still relevant. Now I find it amazing that the same challenge is still appearing now, even though they haven't learned from 20 years ago. And I think my favorite book of last year was The DevOps Handbook by Jez Humble and that was interesting for me, because for, two reasons. One, it's quite a thick book. Not, it's not small, but it's quite daunting to look at it. And also, you think, oh, I'm not particularly technical, but someone really encouraged me to say, ‘no, read it and actually read it in small batches, reach 25 pages a day.’ What a good idea! And what I found was that it was just there was so much goodness in there in terms of there's some technical stuff that you can, you can skim over. But in terms of how to adopt it, some real stories about organizations that have done this as well. And for me understanding that actually, it's not just about automation, there's so much other stuff that you need to do in terms of re architecting and telemetry and stuff like that. Well, for me, that was my book next year. And if we're going to get to this organization where there needs to be more responsive, and they need to get their products to market quicker, they need to find a way to be able to do that without being on very slow, manual downstream processes and practices. Ula Ojiaku: [19:43] We're going to put the links to them (the books mentioned) in the show notes. And it's worth mentioning as well: I mean, you're a co-author of the BCS Agile Foundations book. Darren: [19:51] I think it was them BCS (who) approached us to run an effectively agnostic agile foundations course. We created the course and the exam materials for that. And then they said, ‘well, can you create a companion book for it as well?’ As Radtac, a small group of three to nine people that we were at a time, we wrote a book together. And again, we tried to follow our agile principles. So, we had a Trello board. And we agreed and we broke it down into chapters, and then and into sections and who wrote each of those sections. And it was an enlightening experience to do that. I was quite privileged to be one of the co-authors of that as well, I reviewed a book on Agile financial management which was quite cool as well, again, that was in an agile way, you can check it out every two weeks, we were spending every two weeks to do that, as well. And also, I was one of the accredited contributors to the SAFe Reference guide as well, of which I'm really proud of as well. Ula Ojiaku: [20:36] Your last response actually nicely segues into the second part of this conversation, which is to talk about one or two lean agile related topics. You said (something about) the importance of applying agile ways to businesses to make sure that they are delivering value to customers in the shortest possible time; you know, on a consistent and predictable basis. Could you elaborate on that? Why is it important in this day and age for businesses to be agile? Darren: [21:07] I think for me now we're seeing a lot of digital disruption. The one I want to talk about is Blockbuster. That's an old story now, I think Netflix came knocking on their door over 10 years ago and said ‘look, you know, you've got a great high street presence. We've got this idea about streaming videos online. Do you fancy buying us for some silly amount of money? Really small amount of money’, and Blockbuster said ‘No, no, we're okay. We're doing great in the high street.’ ‘The broadband speeds won't be big enough to stream videos that will never work. We're fine.’ ‘Netflix came back a year later and (made the same offer to Blockbuster who refused). And Netflix well… amazing; Blockbuster is not around anymore. I've probably had two or three more recent examples of different digital disruption: HMV - they got placed out of bankruptcy five years ago, someone bailed them out. It looks like they're gonna fold again, and they went on to the high street and said, well, why don't you go into HMV and buy videos and CDs? And the answer was, ‘well, we stream it, we download it. We don't need to do this (buy physical CDs and DVDs) anymore.’ My daughter's just doing a level a moment and she's gonna go off with some friends to Magaluf with her girlfriends - much to my horror. Oh, well. Ula Ojiaku: [22:13] Oh well, ‘bank of daddy’ (laughing). Darren: [22:15] No, no she’s paying for herself. So, traveling, she went on to a well-known high street travel agent and said, we want to go here, this is what we're gonna do and stuff like that. And they said that that's going to be about 750 pounds per person. ‘Thank you very much.’ She came home, good girl, went online, got exactly the same deal same hotel, same flights, all inclusive. Plus, airport transfers, which wasn't included, plus some club tickets for 350 pounds per person. Ula Ojiaku: [22:42] Wow! Darren: [22:43] Wow. And then the final one is that we were thinking about selling our house. And we moved about nine years ago – it was the last time we had moved. So, we got a guy around to evaluate our house. So, we asked him ‘what's your fees?’ expecting him to say, you know, it's about 2% plus VAT, and then we'll get into that haggling situation where I try and beat him down so we're at 1.75%. And he said to me, it’s 1% Darren. That was it. Why is it 1%? He said, ‘Purple Bricks’. So, you know, I think you know, what we get into a situation where, you know, there's a lot of disruption. And these guys are firing up stuff much, much quicker, we need to be able to get out our products and our services to market faster. And also, to get that feedback. And we don't want to create, you know, work on a ‘great’ product for three or four years, get the market and find out that it's not required. that people won't buy or sell isn't already limited as well. And we need to find a way of having a hypothesis about our product or services and testing and getting feedback on it as quickly as possible. And potentially as well getting the value as soon as possible before someone else does. So, for me it's about that improvement process of making our work transparent getting inspected, if it's okay, we carry on if not we pivot without mercy or guilt. And having that short feedback cycle, as well try to shorten that feedback cycle as much as we can. Ula Ojiaku: [24:02] Am I right in the understanding that the feedback cycle would include the customer as early as possible in the process? Darren: [24:11] Most of the time that might be a proxy for the customer. But if we get to the real customer, then that’s so much the better because that's the real acid test of ‘would you use this? Would you buy this? What would you pay for it? Oh, am I doing the right thing?’ Ula Ojiaku: [24:24] Very interesting! The International Consortium for Agile maintain that there's a difference between being agile, and doing agile. In your view, which one should come first? Darren: [24:36] I think there is difference. I go into organization and say there are no we're using JIRA. So, we must be agile. Okay, you know, it's a tool. There are lots of tools out there that can help, but I'm not sure in terms of agile, okay, well, then we're doing this practice of doing a stand up every day, just as a practice. And as some of those practices will certainly help you in terms of ways of working. But for me, and I think those things, though, about doing agile, you know, the tooling and the practices, I think they're starting points, they're very visible, because you can see those things, you see that tooling to see those practices. But in terms of being agile, or adopting agile, they're less powerful. For me the values, the principles, and the mindsets, which are less visible, are more powerful in terms of the overall adoption as well. I've seen too many people that just use the tooling and feel like they're just cranking the handle with the practices, really understanding why they're doing it, that they're doing it not being it, I think it's not a case of one or the other, I think the two need go hand in hand. But you need to explain, okay, these are great ways of helping you in your ways of working. But you need to understand some of the other things that need to go without the values and principles and the mindset changes as well. Ula Ojiaku: [25:50] Okay. And when you talk about the values of principles, are you referring back to the one that originated from the Agile Manifesto in 2001, or is there any other…? Darren: [26:00] Yeah, I think you're right when I started out, they were the ones I used to reference the most. And they were written in 2001. They’re still relevant today. I wish they would just turn off some of the software language a bit more. And I think it's much more applicable to the wider organization, not just software development, I recognize that these guys came from the software industry as well -so, I get that but it'd be nice to do that (tone down the software language of the Agile Manifesto). I'm a big fan of the SAFe principles. And when I go in now (to client meetings) to be exact, I don't really talk about agile, because a lot of them will have a preconception of what they think it is and what they've heard. So, I talk about the principles that we need to base our decisions on economics. And they go ‘Yeah, we do’. So now what are the best positioned to be able to evaluate lead, we think about the whole system end-to-end; system thinking rather than optimizing individual teams or departments, because that can sub optimize the whole system. When you think about systems as well, we're working in a very complex environment. So, we can't assume that we know everything upfront. So, we need to assume variability and some way to preserve options. But there's a cost of doing that as well. And we don't want to have too much work in our system, we need to make sure that you know that we've got good flow for our system, by putting too much work into our system, it clogs it all up. So, we do that as well. And then we'll talk about, you know, we still need to plan. So, we know, we need an arrangement as a working at scale, and how we do that. So, we need a, sort of, big planning event. We need to make sure that we invest a huge amount of money and time and to help people. And we need to make sure that we find a way that they are sufficiently motivated. They have enough purpose, autonomy and mastery in their job that they go, ‘this is a great place to work, I don't want to go anywhere else as well.’ And part of that comes with, you know, empowering them and decentralizing control so that people have the freedom to make decisions. So that’s this little narrative that I have, and that's very much aligned to those same principles that you and I did last December. (Darren was referring to the SPC course he’d taught in Dec 2018 which I, Ula had attended). Ula Ojiaku: [27:57] Yes. This segues nicely into my next question. So, you said when you speak to executives, and I would assume large scale enterprises, about SAFe, you talk about the value and the principles. Now, even in the name SAFe, which is Scaled Agile Framework, it's more about applying agile principles and methodologies and tools at scale. Darren: [28:20] Yeah. Ula Ojiaku: [28:21] Question now is, ‘can a small enterprise apply SAFe?’ Darren: [28:27] Can you describe it? What do you mean by small enterprise? Ula Ojiaku: [28:30] An organization that has up to maybe 10s, or a 100s of employees and wouldn't have as large a scale of operations as multinationals? Darren: [28:39] I think the key thing is, what we need to consider is that we're, we're moving away from a project-based organization to a value stream-based organization. So, in the old world, again, again, my heritage was project/ programme management. But those are temporary organizations, so and we fund them accordingly as well. And that's a bit of a nightmare for me as well, because trying to understand how much money we need for a project is difficult to work out. Most projects of that traditional era, tend to be over budget, by almost 200%, I think, standard report, last one was about 188%, over budget over time, as well. So that's always difficult as well. And then you've tried to merge in multiple projects at the same time. And if a project is late, once you finally start this project over here, but you've got people over there that need to be over here. So, you end up with this, this constant trying to align your people to the right project all the time. So all I found I was doing with project was that I was cosntantly trying to move the people to the work and doing that all the time - just shuffling around all the time and the amount of task switching and the amount of overhead trying to do that as well was difficult. The project would be late, trying to get the funding was always difficult. So, we moved to a much more value stream-based approach where we said actually, what we're going to do is create stable teams, and we're going to align our teams to a product or service. So, there will be long lived teams. And effectively what we do is fund that team, which is actually the capital cost of those people. And all that we have to do is we bring the work to the people rather than the other way around. And all I have to do or I have to coach is how to prioritize that work. And it's much easier to prioritize that work than anything else… That was a long prelude to the answer. (Laughs). Ula Ojiaku: [30:17] So useful; it is useful. Darren: [30:19] So, first of all, though, we're going to align teams to our products. Now, if we got a product that only requires another three to nine people, then we don't need a scaling framework. Actually, if you've got two or three teams all working on the same product, and probably we don't need a scaling framework. There are probably tools and techniques that we can take from SAFe but they can probably find a way to collaborate and align without a formal framework. The Tipping Point is once you get to 4-5 teams all working on the same thing, how do we make sure that they can collaborate and align (are going) in the same direction? And I think for me, that's the tipping point, it's not so much the size of the organization, have we got at least five teams all working on the same thing, a product or service that requires alignment? That's the tipping point for SAFe as well. So, it doesn't have to be in a large organization or small. That's the tipping point. And what I sometimes see is that okay, well, we've got 10 teams, we're going to use SAFe to help coordinate them. But they're all working on different things. If they’re all working on different things, have different teams. Just have individual teams working on those individual projects. You don't need to coordinate them (if) there's no coupling or no dependencies, then why would you want to do that? And I sometimes see organizations using SAFe as a framework for organizational design. It's not (an organizational design framework). It's a framework to get alignment across multiple teams all working on the same value stream. Ula Ojiaku: [31:40] That's nicely put, and I believe it would clarify the false notion for some people in terms of using SAFe for uses that it wasn't intended for. It's more about delivering value and creating alignment across all levels in an enterprise. Radtac is a lean company from what I could see of the organization. However, for the size of your company, you are making a lot of impact in this sector. What would you say is your secret? Darren: [32:10] That's a great question! I suppose it's, ‘you’re only as good as your last engagement.’ I'd like to think that actually it’s our reputation precedes us as well. A lot of work comes to us, we don't go to it. We don't have a business development function, because most of the work will come to us through our reputation. So, I think if we try to live by our own values, and both as, in terms of how we run our company, and how we work with our engagements; we try to deliver agile in an agile way. And if we're not adding value to an organization, then we don't need to be there anymore, as well. And also, the fact that we have a really odd business model in terms of my role in organizations to make myself redundant in the organisation because I need to make sure that I transfer the capability and knowledge to organization. The last thing I want to be is their ‘agile crutch’ where you know, if I walk away, everything falls over. So, I think that's probably an unusual for organizations. That said, I have a business model to make myself redundant; I have a business model to work in small batches; I have a business model to try and create value. If I'm not adding value, then I won't be here anymore. And I think that really resonates with organizations, and most of our business comes through referrals and direct recommendations as well. So yes, that's the secret. It doesn’t seem like much but it feels like it’s working! Ula Ojiaku: [33:31] No, it does say a lot, because I have worked in consulting as well – a while ago. And it's not what I, the impression I have of the consulting industry, which is more about you know, find more work, make yourself indispensable, weave yourself into, you know, the client's organization such that they can't do without you. So, it's liberating to see a different approach where your aim is to empower the organization so they can get on and continue without you. Darren: [34:01] And I think you're right, yeah, it's almost the opposite. I don't want to make myself indispensable. I want to be able to walk, well, allow them to grow and explore themselves as well. Yeah. But I find it that clients that I started working out with around September 2012 – they still come back and say, look Darren, we tried, it didn't work. So, I go back down and do some little check or audit check, or health check. And, say Okay, we'll try this and try that. So, I'm really privileged that over the last seven years, not only have I worked with some great companies, but I’ve worked with some really great people that I know. Even though I would say that they are clients, they are friends, as well. Ula Ojiaku: [34:36] So now that's fantastic. And which brings me to… in terms of delivering client work, what I'm getting from you is that it's also important to cultivate good working relationships with them. Because it's not just about the work, it's about, you know, the people are trying to understand them, and making sure you're adapting yourself to them and making the whole engagement work for them on their terms. Darren: [34:59] You and I were both on the other side of the fence, you know, we worked in the corporate world. You know, I worked with lots of third parties and stuff like that, as well. And yeah, you know, you bought that capability. But you ‘bought’ the people. People buy people and for me that that relationship with my client is really important as well. It needs to be open; it needs to be transparent, and be honest. And sometimes you can have difficult conversations as well. But for me, it's ‘people buy people’ at the end of the day. Ula Ojiaku: [35:22] Thank you. That's something I definitely take to heart. So, a few more things than just to wrap up. Do you have any ask of the audience? You know, how? How can they get in touch with you if they want to say hello? Darren: [35:37] And I will say that the easiest way to get hold of me is on LinkedIn. I always used to say there's only one Darren Wilmshurst on LinkedIn. I'm not entirely sure that's true anymore. But there's only two or three of us anyway. So, Darren Wilmshurst, LinkedIn, just connect with me. That'd be really good to getting feedback on this today. That'd be great. Any questions do that as well just ping me in the links as well. If it gets too complicated, I might revert to email that might be easier sometimes. But yeah, just find me on LinkedIn. That's where I tend to be most active. So that’s where I publish my blogs and stuff like that as well. Ula Ojiaku: [36:09] Fantastic. So, you're not on Twitter or any other social media? Darren: [36:13] I am on Twitter. I'm gonna ask others my age. I don't tweet as much. But eh, @dazzawilmshurst (is my Twitter handle) but generally speaking, LinkedIn, is your best bet to probably get through to me. I think you've got an option to publish right through to Twitter as well. So, I tend to use Twitter to follow my other passion, which is Arsenal. Ula Ojiaku: [36:38] So, while there might be other Arsenal fans listening, you will never know, we wouldn't know until we do that. So, we will put the links in the show notes. So, thank you for that. It's really been a pleasure speaking with you and you know, learning from you, as usual. And thank you so much for making the time. Darren: [37:03] And thanks for inviting me. It's been great chatting to you, this morning as well. Thanks for coming on my course last year as well. It's great to have you on the course as well. Ula Ojiaku: [37:11] That (attending Darren’s SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) course) was one of the best decisions I made last year. So, thank you!
1 minutes | 3 months ago
Agile Innovation Leaders Podcast - Trailer
Agile Innovation Leaders podcast with Ula Ojiaku: an insightful series of conversations with world-class leaders, experts and doers about themselves and topics spanning leadership, digital transformation, lean-agile practices, innovation, entrepreneurship, and much more. Listeners will gain insights and actionable tips for building thriving organisations, teams and careers in an ever-changing business world. Sign up to be the first to know when we kick-off!
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