Innovation is Everybody’s Business

Tucker - innovation

This week’s guest is Robert Tucker author of Innovation is Everybody’s Business. Robert is one of the most in-demand innovation speakers and workshop leaders in the world. Since 1986 he has coached and consulted managers, executives, and entire teams at organizations ranging from IBM, SAP, to American Express. He regularly works with organizations ranging from the Japan Marketing Association to the Ministry of Industry in Morocco.

His firm, Innovation and Resources Consulting Group, is based in Santa Barbara and serves clients in 46 countries. He is the author of seven books including, Driving Growth Through Innovation, How Leading Firms are Transforming Their Futures, and the best-selling, Managing The Future: Ten Driving Forces for Change. He is a former adjunct professor at UCLA and has appeared on Bloomberg, ABC, NBC, PBS, and was a featured guest on the CBN/NBC series, The Business of Innovation with Maria Bartaromo.

Robert, welcome to the show.

Robert Tucker: Well, it’s good to be on, Relly and Cathy.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Thanks for being here. One of the things that we typically always start off with is who have been some of your main influences as far as leadership and how did you get into this innovation world?

Robert Tucker: Well, as far as the influences, I would say a host of them all the way back to my parents.

How I got into the innovation field—by the way when I got into the field it wasn’t really called a field, it wasn’t recognized—I’ve been part of growing it up. I was actually a journalist at a college and became a magazine editor, and then went off on my own. I was always interested in interviewing famous innovators; people who were doing positive things in the world, scientists, artists, and so forth. It sort of morphed into a career as a speaker and a thought leader in this incredible field of innovation.

Dr. Relly Nadler: How long have you been doing it? You and I have known each other for at least 20 years.

Robert Tucker: Actually, it’s been almost 30.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You were mere children at the time.

Robert Tucker: That’s right, of course.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I know when you start off, because I’ve seen your talks, you begin with this idea of a flashlight and you tell an interesting story. Maybe you can share that with us?

Robert Tucker: When I’m speaking and doing workshops with groups, the flashlight has kind of become a metaphor for—it’s essentially—I talk about a time when I was lost in the Tetons. I used to do a lot of backpacking and I got lost. It’s kind of an embarrassing story but, anyway, I didn’t have my flashlight. I turned to the group and said, I’m going to talk to you and your flashlight.

The times that we are living in, you really do need to think ahead of the curve, look a little farther up the trail, and we are also just busy and doing 100 emails and 1000 things, so it’s really my opportunity to kind of work with that group on the path ahead.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well, I remember some of the story, that you got lost and then you had to sleep outside, and you couldn’t find your way to your tent, right? And then when you woke up, what did you find out?

Robert Tucker: Well, I found out that the tent was like about 30 feet away, there, and if I’d had that flashlight with me—I wasn’t prepared—so it makes a nice metaphor because whether you are a business person or a parent, or someone still in school, we all need to practice what I call the innovation skills and become more aware of them.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Robert I wanted to come back to one of the important components of what you do, which is helping high performers innovate. Tell us a little bit about how you get started with an executive or a leader, and what are the key things that you look for in high potential managers in various companies that you work with such as Johnson and Johnson, American Express, and so forth?

Robert Tucker: Well these high-potentials have been selected by the company to participate in these elite programs and so they usually have me come in and work with them. It’s an unusual area to receive coaching and training, but it’s the area of how we turn ideas into reality and how we get new things done.

I want to just point out that it is something, though, that we all need to master and it’s something that we are already doing. Anytime we are improvising a situation or solving a problem in a creative way, we are in effect, innovating.

Now, not all innovations are created equally, but this is something that as a coach that I want to bring up and help people to become more conscious of this. That is kind of what I do in life, at least when I’m working with these kinds of groups.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know I think many of us have had the wonderful opportunity to speak in front of these audiences and to hear about how they do leadership development. Can I just take that a step further and can you talk a little bit about how you have approached an innovation coaching?

Robert Tucker: Yes, what I usually design the program around is teaching the high skills. I’m very experiential in that sort of thing. We ought to outline those for our listeners.

There is a lot happening out there in the world. I think that because of all of the change, because of all of the new competition and so forth, these are a set of skills, Cathy, that I think all of us need to master, whether we are high-potential designated or not.

If you look at some of the statistics that are out there, for example, 140 million knowledge workers will be replaced by automation over the next 10 years. According to McKenzie’s study, 75 million jobs will be replace by robots. So what is happening, at least in the corporate environment, is that fewer and fewer people are needed but the kind of people that are desperately needed are the kind of people that you all write and talk about, and that’s people with emotional intelligence.

I would add something to that. I would say that this ability to deal with an ambiguous situation and to create value, and to solve problems that have never been addressed before, are going to be the real differentiators as we move into this very, very, fast changing future.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I was going to say one of the things is that it sounds like when you work with CEO’s, one of the priorities they always have is around innovation and given some of the interesting things you are saying already around knowledge workers being replaced and robots, what would you say are the key challenges of why we need to put the focus more on this?

Robert Tucker: I think that the biggest challenge right now is growth. That is what all of the research is telling us. Companies are just not growing at a rate that will entice investors or even ensure their long-term survival. That seems like a very harsh word, but if you look at some of the statistics, the Fortune 500 companies are turning faster than ever before. About 40% of them will vaporize, basically, in the next decade according to some of the studies that are done. They will be replaced by companies that don’t even exist yet.

You say, wow, that’s kind of alarmist, almost. But, think back, where was Facebook 10 years ago, or where was Alibaba a year or maybe two years ago, or Uber, Air B&B; so there’s this churn and the incumbent companies really need to, in effect, fight back or come back at these kinds of disruptions and that takes mounds of creativity. They are going to be looking to their people, looking especially to their high-potential managers and up and comers to really create a counter-strategy there.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, one of the things that I know that you have been writing about and speaking about is how to make yourself indispensable, right, because we have this hyper competitive world, in fact I think that’s the name of your book. Innovation is Everybody’s Business: How To Make Yourself Indispensable in Today’s Hyper-Competitive World.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the skills and abilities people need to think about in order to get ahead of that curve?

Robert Tucker: Absolutely. We have identified seven. The way we identified them, Cathy, was we went out to our client companies and others and we said, who are the people that if you really want to get some new, important project done—maybe it’s a merger, maybe it’s a new product, but it’s something that you have to cross boundaries and silos to really get it done—we went to those people and we said can we talk to you about your skillset, your toolset, your strategic mindset? That’s kind of what they self-identified on these.

I have to say before we get into them, that not a single one said, hey, I was born with these skills. They all basically said I developed these skills out of necessity. My organization, my team, we needed these and I stepped forward, I did show initiative in stepping forward and volunteering to be on that project.

Let me just briefly hit the skills, because I normally like to turn them into questions, but in the interest of time I’ll just run down the list.

  • You are able to spot and seize opportunities. Other people just see problems, dead ends, they see road block, but you are able to say this could be an opportunity and go with that. This is one of the critical things and most important.
  • Assumptions alters. These people that we talked to and interviewed and studied, are always about challenging assumptions. Think about Steve Jobs and how he did that in seven different industries. Think about it in our own lives. Assumptions come up all of the time, though. I’m not creative, I can’t do that, I’ve never done X. I work with so many different industries that you begin to be able to identify industry assumption. I got to a company the other day that I was going to be working with and one of the first things they told me was, hey, this is the call center industry, this is a commodity. I thought to myself, look at how that sort of frames and limits their thinking—hey, we are a commodity—nothing you can do about that.
  • A high level of empathy. That’s near and dear to both of your hearts. That empathy factor which we know from research is plummeting especially in the millennial generation so we need to shore that one up.
  • Able to think ahead of the curve. This is a skill that has to definitely be practiced.
  • The ability to produce ideas in abundance. I do a lot of brainstorming sessions, ideation sessions, where we consciously get there and realize that this is nothing more than a process. That creativity is bottled up. If we just take the time we can do that. So that ability to think creatively when we need to.

That we are able to sell out ideas, that we are persuasive, that we work on our skills of communication and being able to persuade not only colleagues but also people in other parts of the organization, the people that report to us, and of course, certainly, the senior team that we are trying to receive and gain resources from and buy-in so that we can execute on a particular project.

You can listen to the complete interview above.


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