Started my career as Software Engineer at HP, moved into new business design – exploring the desirability, feasibility and viability of new business ideas. Now I work with clients to help them validate their ideas, leading experimentation and testing with users. The success of both my work at HP and with my clients, whether we could get new ideas into play, was entirely dependent on how well the organization supported innovation. If innovation is treated as a disease, the organization puts up barriers for new ideas under the guise of, “that’s not the way we do things here” If innovation is welcomed and nurtured, it is everyone’s job to challenge the way things are done and look for ways to improve. The best innovation culture intentionally develops curiosity in all employees, has processes in place that allows new ideas to be considered, tested and if worthwhile, investments to be made that leads to improvement both internal – how we do business – and external – what business are we in. I can usually spot this innovative culture because it is filled with problem solvers. These are people who are constantly asking questions, the most common is, “Why?” Why are you doing things that way? When first started at HP, we were developing graphics software that ensured the performance of computer aided design software so that companies like Ford and Boeing would buy HP computers. Had about 12 highly influential independent software vendors (ISVs) that we worked with. One wasn’t happy, always complaining, so they sent me out to talk to them. I listened, asked them Why, and explained the things we could and could not change. When I got home, boss asked, “what did you do to them?” – they became one of our best ISVs. My answer? We problem solved together – learning more about they way they did things, leading to modifications on both sides.
We know about the davincis, einsteins, bill gates or steve jobs. They’re the innovators, right? Actually they are focused on just a small part of innovation. This is the expected path, where the results of our ideas are new breakthrough inventions. But most people are not responsible for invention. And many companies are not inventing – they are building a business around an invention. There is still a place for invention, but only if you are trying to create something new – 99% of the time we are working to improve our business. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t call these improvements “innovation”, limiting creativity. E.g. at HP there were the rock stars, who always got the “invention” projects. People who worked on projects that were more about operational stability were not expected to bring curiosity to their job. When team wanted to improve operations, they thought they had to bring in the rock stars. This was a disservice to both the rock stars (operations wasn’t their specialty) and to the operational people (who were in the best place to discover innovation). Org didn’t support this type of innovation.
Instead look at curiosity as creative problem solving, with the goal of improving the business This leads to innovation in how a business operates, exploring the effectiveness of workforce, efficiency of processes, value of service experience Lucy & Ethel are trying to solve the problem of chocolates coming too fast, but the boundaries are too restrictive, they aren’t given time to think about a better way to do it. If everyone is deemed a creative problem solver, the sources for innovation … and the ideas with the potential to impact efficiency and effectiveness are much greater. In fact, HBR found that 70% of employees said they face barriers to asking more questions at work. Which means less than 1/3 of employees are creative problem solvers. Note that your team can be so focused on efficiency that they miss creative ideas, which is why curiosity is so powerful. Example – I coached a team at HHS that was responsible for delivering a 100 page annual report that was mandated by law to be generated. Upon closer look, the team discovered that the law mandated that the information be shared but said nothing about generating a big report. Since the team found that few people read the report, the one employee wanted to shift to creative problem solving, finding different ways to share the information – e.g. online data visualizations. But the team was focused on improving the efficiency for the existing solution and challenging the way the information was delivered felt like it was not in their swim lane. Their organization did not allow them to ask these questions. Like Lucy and Ethel, they were basically told to just get back to work.
As we’re growing up, learned that it is not socially acceptable to be too curious. We’re born scientists but told that we ask too many questions. Flint Hill – incorporated experimentation and iteration in most K-12 classes. Kids in 6th grade get it best because they have the cognitive skills to ask good questions but have the imagination to explore the impossible. So much so that a cyber security co wanted to work with them! Then we get to the work environment and get the dreaded, “that’s not how we do it here!” But think what we are loosing. So how do you create an environment that welcomes curiosity instead of trying to shut it down? Start with developing your own curiosity. e.g. Cognitive Behavior Therapist suggested instead of trying to ”solve” my feelings, develop curiosity for them, starting with “hmmm that’s interesting!’. Got me to think more deeply and rationally, which leads to more creative solutions
One of the greatest ways to develop curiosity for the people you serve is to intentionally develop empathy for them – what are they experiencing, good and bad? Story – research for HP, office printing, Virginia administrator hiding her printed calendar. Analytical people (like me) especially have trouble with empathy – it feels too messy. Often that is because they are confusing empathy with sympathy, and once they sympathize, they feel they have to solve the problem. Empathy seeks to understand why someone is feeling a certain way, to get their point of view. But it does it from the frame of, “hmmm, that’s interesting.” The why behind what they’re doing and feeling is where creative problem solving results in innovation. For the VA admin, she printed what was important, so she didn’t miss anything. And because it helped her be mentally prepared for what was on her calendar. Her work culture said that printing = bad for the environment, so she was embarrassed to be caught printing. Which focused HP on helping people identify the things that are important to be printed, and why, developing tools to help them choose and manage.
Exercise – interview your neighbor, see if you can capture their point of view on How they use curiosity in their work? Active listening – listen to their story, then ask why they feel that way, do things that way. Task-based Observation – how do they accomplish it? Journey – what lead up to the task, where do they go from there? Who else helped them or got in the way? Emotions - What does success mean? What outcomes do they want to avoid? What are high and low points on the journey?
When customers are involved (and they always should be), employees are more engaged because they see a direct line between their work and delivering value. Yet most workforces stifle curiosity, fearing a loss of efficiency and increase in risk – they see creative problem solving as a distraction from “real” work In my work I use empathy interviewing and observation to discover the problems that my customer needs to have solved. I coach my clients to treat innovation as a process of problem discovery rather than solution idea generation.
How to get your team curious, innovating? Cultivate experimentation. Start with a hypothesis, question to prove. Look for evidence to disprove – avoid confirmation bias. E.g. at HP, next bench - all the leaders had a story from someone they know that they thought provided evidence of need. Instead of treating those stories as fact, we used them as a hypothesis to be tested. What supporting or disconfirming evidence could we find? The other part of experimentation is iteration – use curiosity to drive deeper understanding of the problem to be solved and creative ways to solve it. At HP we had lighthouse customers – people we could test ideas with and iterate. Now I use Agile methods to treat implementing innovation as an experiment – iterative testing of small increments
But it takes intentional development of your culture. To support learning experiments, asking why?
Explore some barriers you’ll need to break down if you want to create a culture of innovation. One myth - assuming that innovation is only for the select few prevents you from tapping into the creativity of your employees. What if instead you assumed everyone was creative, if given the right environment for their ideas to blossom? E.g. with Oregon State University, we engaged a team to submit idea resumes – an idea with a business justification. We created a format for them to follow and a method for assessing and prioritizing ideas. The format focused on a problem to be solved, and the value of solving that problem. We encouraged them to talk to others, use empathy interviews, to build their justification. And to do secondary research, find evidence outside the organization for the value of solving the problem. Innovation needs a sandbox with boundaries to have traction. Process should focus on specific outcomes but allow how those outcomes are achieved to emerge. E.g. I use outcome measures for innovation efforts for things like learning what NOT to do, comparing feasibility of different solutions, a long term impact model for a business model change, etc. Fear of unknown keeps people from innovating; give them a known innovation process to follow. In the OSU project, we gave them specific milestones, and only invested in a project to the next milestone. $ incentives can actually limit innovative ideas. Innovation is motivated by purpose – being able to solve problems worth solving. People remember seeing their idea implemented and delivering value, which incents them to produce more ideas; they don’t remember the money they received. E.g. at OSU, people were passionate about solving some specific problem they had personally experienced; their reward was being able to work on the solution.
This leads up to Purpose = Curiosity & interest in work that is meaningful Report from Gallup/Bates – 80% of college grads feel it is extremely important to find purpose but only 50% have it. Businesses see aligning the purpose of their employees with the mission of their work impacts their bottom line. In this chart, from Ernest & Young report, “The business case for purpose”, the yellow bar reflects the success of organizations that intentionally developed and clearly articulated purpose of their work, encouraging employees to connect to that purpose in their work. For initiatives that especially require creativity, those that had purpose had an advantage. “Purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are even better at innovation and transformational change.“ (Interesting that on this chart, laggards report more success with expansion into new market segments – laggards had biggest discrepancy in profit so may not have been as “successful” as they reported.)
Looking beyond purpose, to next industrial revolution where automation will disrupt many jobs. McKinsey study – automation, 4th industrial revolution = new collar workers of the future T-shaped people need to be able to: Critical thinking = problem solving, data-driven decision making Effective communication = transparency, being able to clearly articulate ideas and build a case Collaboration = building a team, engaging with customers and partners And curiosity = collaborate across disciplines to integrate ideas CEO of Leatherman, company in Portland with 500 employees. Proud of their products, local manufacturing, but finds leadership team is challenged in integrate – only work in their own functions. Closer look – have they built a culture of experimentation that cultivates curiosity?
So … everyone has the potential to be creative and purpose keeps them engaged, focused. How can you cultivate curiosity in your organization? Start with learning, continuous improvement In school, we were scared to raise our hands – look foolish, Now we think asking questions makes us look incompetent, we’re afraid to say “I don’t know” Especially true the higher we go – need to be confident, all knowing. But you are demonstrating a fixed mindset, and your example prevents others from experimenting. Start with, “I don’t know – what do you think?” Celebrate failure as opportunities to learn and grow.
The other piece is process – how does your organization support learning from innovation? Myth – innovation is about generating ideas, but its not – its about discovering the right problem to solve and iteratively building a solution Innovation learning loop – goal is to learn About customers/internal user problems – what do they need help with? About how WE can solve it – how can we build on our operational strengths? About how this solution can help us grow, better serve our customers I do this with my clients in 3-4 month cycles. At the end of each learning loop, we capture the learning and recommended next steps, where we should invest our time and resources next. We develop a portfolio of these potential ideas, and select the one with the most potential, that has the most enthusiasm for employees to pursue next. Teams are cross functional, often partnerships. E.g. for 2 mid-sized companies, partnering to support Medicare's quality payment program. I led a bootcamp, to help them learn the skills and tools for innovation. They broke into 3 teams, looking at different phases of engagement with physicians – setting up value-based metrics, collecting measures and getting help, reporting on results and improving. Each team conducted interviews with internal stakeholders and providers (doctors) to discover the problem to focus on. Used co-design to test solution ideas with doctors. Captured results in a pitch for improvements. CMS stakeholders thought it would be a complaint session – “results were so much better than we thought it would be” – deep insights and creative solution ideas, proposed approach for next learning loop. One team ready to prototype, other 2 needed more learning. For these companies – now had tools and process to build their culture of innovation
Explore with your table – how can you create your culture of innovation? Make it safe to experiment, ask questions Focus innovation on learning Clearly communicate purpose and help connect it to meaning – customer success, society impact
There is still a place for invention, but 95% of innovation is about inventing new ways of delivering value to your customers. Your workplace is filled with creative, purpose-filled workers – how can you develop their thirst for knowledge for ways to improve your business?
Thank you for the gift of your time. Let me know how I can help you develop curiosity in your workplace. Back of handout – HCI course I described for Medicare teams. Also intro course, develop pitch for your leadership to bring HCI into your company.
Business case for curiosity
EXPLORING THE VITAL CONNECTION BETWEEN
CURIOSITY AND PROBLEM SOLVING
Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
Curiosity => Innovation => Invention
FOCUS ON DISCOVERING NEW PRODUCTS
Curiosity => Creative Problem Solving =>
Efficiency & Effectiveness
What is it about Curiosity?
HMMMM, THAT’S INTERESTING!
Empathy = Curiosity About People
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel
what another person is experiencing from
within their frame of reference
Empathy develops a deep understanding of
why someone feels they way they do, in the
context and complexity of their lives
Some of the best ideas for innovation stem
Exercise: How Does Curiosity
Listen to their stories – ask Why?
Observe their tasks – What do they do?
Follow their journey – What steps do they take?
Understand their emotions – What does success
mean? What outcomes do they try to avoid?
Proposal for Next
Desirable, Feasible, and
How can you build
a culture of
• How do you make it
safe to fail and learn
• What can you do to
encourage and inspire
• How do you connect
your business to your
"Necessity is the mother of invention, it
is true, but its father is creativity, and
knowledge is the midwife."
-- Jonathan Schattke, scientist