[00:00] Susie: If you’re not taking some space and time to reflect on where are we trying to go, what are we doing? Is that helping us get there? What’s my role in this? How are my behaviors helping or not? As a senior, you’re not doing that. No one’s doing that. We have to create space for that type of thinking and that leads on to then creating some space and time for innovation exploration.
[00:35] Intro: Welcome to the Innovation Metrics podcast, where we bring you the latest on innovation management. We provide insights on how to measure innovation, innovation accounting, and managing the uncertain process of developing new, sustainable and profitable business models. You can find links to the main topics covered in this episode and information about the guests and hosts in the show notes or go to our blog on www.innovationmetrics.co Your host is Elijah Eilert.
[01:05] Elijah: In this episode, I’m excited to welcome Susie Braam on the show. Susie is an entrepreneur and expert in corporate innovation strategy and leadership. Former head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the UK national security arena, Susie now coaches executives and provides advice on business model development and innovation ecosystems. We’re going to talk about why people keep going in difficult roles. Corporate innovation leaders often find themselves in how to spot the right people for the job, how to support them, and how they can support themselves and each other.
[01:40] Elijah: Hi, Susie welcome to the show.
[01:43] Susie: Thank you very much. I’m really happy to be here and I’m really pleased that you asked me to come along and talk. Very excited to share some of my thoughts.
[01:54] Elijah: Yeah, equally, I’m very happy to have you here. Do you want to start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
[02:00] Susie: Yeah, sure. Right now I set up two businesses around 2020, actually. The first was Yellowcat, which is an innovation training, coaching and consultancy business, which I cofounded with a former colleague of mine, Katie Careless. We set that up really because and I think some of the things we’re going to talk about today, because when I started leading innovation and new to it, one of the things I found really challenging was finding people who could really relate to what I was going through. So not just give me the sort of best practice, but really kind of empathize with some of the challenges I was facing. So that was a really strong motivation for us to set up the LaCat to share our experience and help people that were going through similar things to what we did. And I also set up Robbie Retreat, which is a company that does leadership development, takes a very holistic approach to leadership development in a retreat setting. So the sort of connection to nature and the connection to people and each other and the reconnection to ourselves is really important there. And that really emerged from a lot of the work that I was doing around innovation in organizations. Both, I guess, my own journey, but also the other journey. I saw people going on and around some of the challenges leaders face with leading innovation and how even with the best will in the world, in the kind of cultures they were working in and the way they’ve kind of been brought up to lead and manage how difficult it was to sort of overcome some of those really deep seated learning behaviors and mindsets and how actually people need to do a much deeper level of work on themselves to really make the change they needed. So that’s what I’m doing now.
[03:58] Elijah: You had your corporate career before?
[04:02] Susie: Absolutely. I spent 19 years working for the British government, so I spent all of that time in the national security business, working for the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Office. And I did a wide variety of jobs, actually in the early part of my career, but I guess it was around seven or eight years ago. Now, a deputy director at the time who I worked with previously, he’s a very visionary individual, marmite character, actually. People either loved or hated him, but he was definitely one of the most sort of forward thinking people I’ve seen at the organization. But he wanted to create a new unit to look at how we did operational capability development for the Ministry of Defense. And at that point, his vision really was just kind of we need to be more strategic, and we need to be more creative and innovative about how we go about it, as opposed to sort of quite tactical and responsive. He was very interested in emerging technologies, and he wanted to make some better use of bringing those into government as well. And he myself helped set him as unit up with one other individual. And he asked me to lead on the innovation. And I always remember my first response to this was, I think you’ve got the wrong person because I can’t even draw a stick figure. And he just went to me and he was like, I think that’s what innovation is about. And I was like, oh, okay, anyhow and I always think it’s really interesting about why did he ask me to do that job? And I guess the more I’ve learned, quite often people say to me, like, you need this type of person on your team if you’re doing innovation. And it’s not about the skill, actually that they’ve got at that point. They can learn all of that. It’s really about the mindset. And I guess what he saw in me and what I look for in people is that natural curiosity, the wanting things to be better and get open mindedness. People who can collaborate easily. And I guess that’s what he saw. And anyhow, yeah, so we set this unit up. He said to me, I honestly, anything from you for the first six months, just go learn. So I went and learned, which is, again, a pretty unusual thing for anyone to be given the opportunity to do. So I went and spent time with different companies, different parts of government, both here and in the States actually, and learned about people who were on their innovation journeys, but further ahead than what we were understood like different types of innovation. What do people mean by open innovation? What were incubators, what were accelerators? I started to learn about all these things, went to conferences, started reading loads, and I came back and I’d really have my eyes open. And it was almost like I’d always been sleepwalking, I suppose. And maybe I’ve had sort of an ease of things could be better than they were or different how they were, but I guess I didn’t have the tools at my disposal to sort of figure out how to make change. And I started to really have my eyes open to that. And I’d been absolutely kind of inspired, I suppose, by some of the stories I’d heard. But what I did really was come back with loads of buzzwords and not really much of an idea as to what they actually meant in practice and how to implement them in the context of the organization that I was working in. I came back and I started to try different ways of working out and one of the responses was to set up an incubator to look at some of the most challenging problems at that point in national security. So kind of problems that we’d have for some time, myself and a colleague who asked to set these incubators up. And they were multiagency, multidisciplinary teams. And it was exactly how you would not want to do something like this because it was high profile, high interest, high stakes, and we were exploring a completely different way of working on these problems. But I would say my learning curve was sort of steep and at that point it pretty much went vertical. It was one of the most incredible, one of the most difficult, one of the most incredible and most memorable experiences of my career. I was fortunate to have the most amazing team to work with on it. And it was definitely the team, as opposed to my leadership that got me through. And yeah, it absolutely gave me an opportunity to put into practice and everything I’ve been learning about and figure out how do we make this real? And then in 2018 to 2021, I then went to the Foreign Office to be head of innovation. And that was really good for me because it was a sort of broadening, I suppose, of my scope in a way. So I had an organization wide remit there and was focused on strategic innovation and in developing the innovation capability of the entire organization. So that just gave me, I guess, a little bit more kind of I felt more empowered actually. I also found the organization as I went to it, just a little bit more receptive in terms of recognizing to some extent the pressures they were under and the need for different thinking and someone to help them with that. So that was an experience of that for three years and then since 321, I advise part time as well, continue to advise part time on digital transformation, working very closely with a mixed across organization senior leadership team to realize transformational outcomes. And what are those transformational outcomes that we’re trying to achieve? Who are they for? Why are they needed? And really use that to drive what’s being done. So that’s me. So plenty going on.
[10:53] Elijah: Awesome, thank you. What we want to explore a bit more why do people keep going in very difficult jobs in innovation? I think that’s what we want to explore today a bit more, maybe a good pathway to go into that. So with the retreats you’re doing for leadership, I’m pretty sure you’re addressing parts of this topic there and I’m like I wonder how you go about it in your treats. Maybe to zoom out for a second, though. We both believe where it seems to be common knowledge that being an innovator in large organizations and in government particularly. Maybe, but there might not be a big difference sometimes in corporate or in governments.
[11:47] Susie: Much of a difference than yeah, you would think.
[11:49] Elijah: Actually, yeah. You quoted in our last chat. You said it can be career suicide. It’s a really good way of summing it up. Why is that soul and why are people still doing it? Maybe from your perspective and it sounds and how do you address it? Now, I’m giving you four questions. I think that’s quite unprofessional. How do you address parts of that in your retreats to kick it off.
[12:37] Susie: What I think maybe worth reflecting on that journey I went through, particularly from that first role I did to the second role and what I learned about myself and others in leadership positions. So I mentioned to you about these incubators that I set up in that first role. And there was this moment to have written about, actually, where we had this one team, it was actually the second one that we ran. And we had the perfect team of people. They were a nice sort of small size. They’re about five of them, I think they were all subject matter experts, multidisciplinary, but subject matter experts in what they were doing. So they were all there for a very particular reason. They all had that kind of mindset that I said about. They were curious individuals, open minded, collaborative, interested in learning from each other. And we taught them all the best innovation methodologies. So we immersed them in how to do problem exploration and customer discovery and how to run experiments. And they spent six weeks kind of exploring and understanding the problem. And we brought them to a growth board. Effectively, I don’t use that name at the time and innovation board where people make decisions. An innovation board of people make decisions. Exactly. And we brought them in and they presented basically what they learned and what their recommendations were for where they took the project next. And what I saw was some of the worst leadership behaviors I’ve ever witnessed as really all but one. I think of the leaders in the room really didn’t listen to anything that the team said, pretty much responded with I’ve got this idea in my head, so I think, why don’t you just go and do that? And it was an absolute car crash. One of my biggest regrets was just not stopping it earlier as it started to unfold because the team walked out of there absolutely dejected demoralized. I think all of them kind of quit. The team didn’t want to continue working on the project and for me it was just an absolute low moment because I was just like, we trained the team, we forgot to train the leaders in how to actually manage innovation and respond to this stage of exploration that we were in. And so for me it was a very hard moment, but massive learning for me. And when I went on to behave innovations Foreign Office, one of the first things I did actually, was to develop an awareness and education program for leadership to help them understand that difference between those worlds of explore and exploit because they are very reactive organizations, effectively, and they are used to focusing on kind of the nearest crocodiles of the canoe, and they’re not really looking at the horizon too much. And that’s what they’ve been trained to do. Someone said to me the other day, we’re always looking at the nearest crocodile to the canoe and we don’t see the tsunami on the horizon. And I was like, yes. Perfect. That is exactly it. Short term thinking needing immediate results.
[16:51] Elijah: Why is that a good question? There like in corporate, it’s clearly intrinsic because people get rewarded by quarterly results.
[17:02] Susie: And things like that.
[17:03] Elijah: Right, yeah. And the ten year of SEO is over by the time anything new hits the market and so on. Right. And ports are not much better governed. The entire system is not really set up to think long term. But why is that translating so well in government? Is that because of the elections for.
[17:34] Susie: Yeah, I guess there’s one thing I would taviate it with is that it’s probably particularly acute in the area of government that I worked in because just the focus was more on near term.
[17:50] Elijah: Issues and a really big problem.
[17:52] Susie: Right, absolutely. But yeah, absolutely. The whole political cycle, so the government cycle but yeah, I think a lot of it really was down to sort of the nature of the work and the fact that it was generally sort of more reactive a lot of the time. So I think that is why. But yeah, absolutely, it’s very similar in corporate that are driven by short term profit over kind of long term strategy. And I find that really interesting. A big fan of Simon Phoenix played this book, The Infinite Game, which I think talks about that really nicely actually about the difficulties in sort of focusing on that long term. So just to carry on that story then I did develop some training for senior leaders around both to give them some actually practical tools but also help them with that mindset and understanding around what’s the difference when we’re exploring uncertainty and navigating uncertainty compared to when we are just in execution mode. And it was really well received actually. It went down really well. Lots of people were like, yes, this makes sense to me, I get this. But what I then found still was application was really hard in the context of the organization which kind of rewarded people for their piece of the pie effectively so quite siloed hierarchical organizations. And in that context, even when I was working one to one with certain leaders, I could see how hard it was really to be brave enough to say, no, I’m not going to do that. Because this piece of work. This longerterm thinking piece of work, this more strategic piece of work is more important, and it’s going to give us the answers we need. You know what I mean? And that’s the thing that really struck me was I’d be working with someone who completely got it, wanted to do it and was still really struggling in practice to kind of implement and change their behavior in the context of that organizational culture. And I experienced it myself, right? So I was under pressure as well for the team to do to engage in certain things to help certain units. When there was a point with the team I was leading where, you know, it was great. We were sort of in demand. There were different parts of the organization that wanted our help and support. But actually there was a moment I was like, I need to pause a minute and think about what are we trying to achieve as a team? What’s our vision for the future of this organization and the role of innovation within it? What’s our strategy for achieving that? And are the things that we’re doing all these activities that we’re endlessly engaged in? Are they taking us any closer to that vision or not? And we were just on this treadmill. I was like mostly just spend most of my time in meetings, like just running from one thing to the other. And there was a point I was like, no, I took a day, a week, which I blocked off and I had to defend really ruthlessly, which was my thinking day to look at what we were doing, where we were going, where we engaged in the right initiatives. I had to start much heavier prioritization and it was really hard to do. It’s hard to defend my time to do any thinking. It was hard to say no to certain things. It really made me sort of realize how hard that was. And I was fortunate that I had a fantastic coach to help me with some of that work because I wasn’t really getting that from my leadership. I was under pressure from them as much as anywhere else. But I had a fantastic coach who helped me both with some of the team dynamic issues that I was dealing with at the time, but also with that creating space for me to do some thinking and some strategy work.
[22:18] Elijah: So your retreat is part of that.
[22:21] Susie: Where you say, absolutely.
[22:22] Elijah: How do we physically get out?
[22:29] Susie: We’re just programmed to lurch from one thing to the next. And we have this sort of narrative, internal narrative, external narrative, that if we’re not tearing around like crazy people, then we’re not being productive or we’re not important. The busier we are, the more important we must be, we feel. The thing is if as a senior leader, if you’re not doing the strategic thinking, if you’re not taking some space and time to reflect on where are we trying to go, what are we doing, is that helping us get there? What’s my role in this? How are my behaviors helping or not? As a senior leader, you’re not doing that. No one’s doing that. And we have to create space for that type of thinking and that leads on to them creating some space and time for innovation exploration. So for me with the retreats are something very much around just that, creating a new space. One of the balancing acts for us with the retreats is very much how much do we how much are we doing things in them and how much are we running exercises and how much time actually do we give people to just think, to journal, to take a walk. It’s that balancing act between those two things where we’re sort of stimulating and inspiring and pushing people, but that time to actually then just calm and reflect and let the thoughts and the creativity flow a little bit more.
[24:15] Elijah: How slack makes you productive.
[24:18] Susie: Absolutely. And there’s definitely something, I guess what I always found was so one thing, we haven’t really got into it yet, but we touched on it, how leading change, innovation, transformation in organizations that don’t really at their heart probably wants to change or transform how difficult that is. Right. And what lonely place that is. And I was very confident.
[24:54] Elijah: Ideally, they don’t need to yes.
[24:58] Susie: You mean they feel they don’t need to know.
[25:01] Elijah: In a sense, when we think about a for profit business, yes. I mean, what a dream, not having to change for the next 90 years and I just put my money in there and I know it’s going to come forever.
[25:18] Susie: Yeah.
[25:20] Elijah: I’m not even opposed to that. You know what I mean?
[25:23] Susie: Absolutely, yeah. And even more so actually, if it is working right, right now, if the money is rolling in, even less incentive right, to do anything. Just explore potential.
[25:37] Elijah: This is not the reality, right?
[25:39] Susie: No. The challenge of, I guess trying to shift organizational culture. Right. And it’s incredibly hard and every day to me felt there were highs and lows. To be honest, there were moments when I thought, oh my goodness, I hear someone say something. I think without any prompting they’ve talked about, you know, who’s the main customer for this and have we understood their problems well enough? Or my God, things are changing. Like the conversation is changing, people starting to think about these things automatically and the next minute that something would happen, I’d just be like, oh man, we’ve made no progress whatsoever. Conversation with policy or security who are just like, why do you want to talk to these people outside of our organization? And it was just like commercial who like, it’s going to take about twelve months to get them through the pipeline. And I guess what I found it’s a bit like being a mom, actually, a parent is. I felt every day I was giving so much of myself. I was so emotionally invested. And I think the emotional toll at times on me. When you care about the future of your organization, you can see if certain changes aren’t made, that future could be precarious. And every day you’re struggling to shift that conversation like the tiniest amount. And what I found I needed was things that I always call it like I need to fill my cup back up. And I think it’s not just the case of those roles, but I do think once you reach a certain level of seniority in an organization, I think a lot of it is about if you’re doing it half well, it is about give and what fills your cup back up. You have to find those other sources quite often. And for me, again, that’s another big element of retreat is whether it’s the other people, the connection to other people and hearing about their experiences and finding some kind of solidarity in that, the connection to nature and how that reinvigorates us. But it is very much as well about refilling ourselves before we can then go back and give, who do innovation, who initiate change, who challenge the status quo, who they’re always looking for things they know things can always be better no matter how good they are. So your question about, well, if something’s working right, change it because it can always be better or there’s another opportunity.
[28:43] Elijah: That’S just my Warren Buffett style investments when it comes to the money. I already have banks.
[28:50] Susie: Let’s protect that. But what else? I think that’s the question. These people are always like what else? What more? And don’t just accept that the status quo is the way it has to be. But it does mean challenging, like the comfort and convenience of the status quo. It does mean challenging people on deep seated beliefs and assumptions and people don’t thank you for that most of the time. And I guess each time I actually took on one of those roles, I was kind of invited into one of those roles by a senior advocate, right? So they brought me in specifically to do that because they wanted that.
[29:39] Elijah: And you had a level of protection there for yourself.
[29:41] Susie: You have a level of protection. What I found though, every time the moment that senior leader moved on, that vanished well, and it completely changes your ability to kind of operate without that kind of senior cover. One person I’m speaking to, I was asking her about her journey and she started as a project manager and she said when she started as a PM, it was all very defined. This is the project, just can you deliver it? And she’d ask what’s the outcome that we’re looking for from this? And she said time after time, no one could articulate her what the impact was that we were expecting to get from a project. And she’s like, I wasn’t questioning it, but surely someone should be able to tell me. And I guess that was it. It wasn’t so much that it was really around again, almost like coming to that, questioning what’s the impact we expect to get and how we can help we’ve achieved that. It was almost about wanting to just do well and it was that curiosity and questioning other people would just go, OK, here’s my remit, here’s my project, get on and deliver. You know, it might not even occur to a lot of people to ask that question. And so I think maybe it is I think that is probably the overriding thing. It’s just that questioning exploratory mind it’s just wondering.
[31:18] Elijah: Yeah, I like that. I’ve got this out of thought and again, I don’t know if I’m going to fire it, but I read once that 20% of managers in Human or something have liked sociopathic tenancies or something. Sorry if that impacts any relationship with anybody procurement right now, like you should assume anybody’s part of the other 80% and the research design isn’t done well, so please, let’s do that. Kind of makes me think or makes me wonder, you know, right, this whole topic there, you would think that means they don’t care about other people so much. That seems to be one of the traits of that condition. I don’t want to sound like a seasoned psychologist here and may elevate again to support that really poorly right now with a poor scientific approach, but with some data, like maybe to support that sorting. And if you care less, you make it further. And then you can also maybe have it easier to explore relationships rather than building lasting relationships, win win situations and caring. Because what are all these organizations, especially government organizations? It’s not for everybody.
[32:58] Susie: Yeah. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished I just didn’t care. My life is so much easier. And I was talking to someone else about the other day. He said to me he’s leading, trying to lead agile transformation inside organization. And he said, I’ve been close to tears so many times it’s emotionally draining on me. He said he’d been thinking about how could he retrain himself to care a bit less. When you really care about something and you can’t shift, it really does take its toll. And if you haven’t got support structures in place around you, wherever they’re coming from, that’s incredibly hard. And one thing I would say, a lot of people I have spoken to, it has actually affected mental health as well. It draws so much on your personal resilience to keep going when nothing is in your favor.
[34:09] Elijah: It gives me physical pain sometimes. It does.
[34:13] Susie: I remember a moment, one of the organizations I was working with and it sounds really sad, but I had this moment where I thought, I don’t think I can change this organization. I don’t think it is capable of reform to the extent that it needs and I don’t think it has a future. And at that moment, I felt like it sounds really radical to say this, but I felt like I felt like I had, like, a terminally ill patient on my hands. And I had gone from being like the doctor who was trying to come up with different ways we could actually reverse it wasn’t terminal so as that we could cure, in a way, to almost accepting, well, it is terminal now. So I almost then became like a hospice nurse where I was like, how do I now make them comfortable in their final days? And it was like a heartbreaking realization actually. And that was the analogy that came to me was this is what it feels like to me now that I can’t do anything more for this organization, I’m going to have to make my peace with that. And it was incredibly hard and emotional, really. I think what kept me going was people. And a lot of the time it was a team I was working with. That’s where I would get energy from it’s, where I would get support from understanding, from motivation, inspiration. Sometimes I was lucky. Like certainly at the beginning of all of those roles I did, I had a leader who had my back, who gave me space, who helped me navigate the politics and the complexities, who took barriers out of my way, who trusted me and let me run every time I lost one of those leaders. That was incredibly difficult. Incredibly difficult because, you know, certainly in a couple of the situations, what I ended up with was almost the biggest barrier to me succeeding was my manager and. My biggest barrier to the team being able to make progress was my manager’s mindset. And that’s really demotivating, really hard. And then the other place, I guess it was that external. So when 2020 and Coveted hit, I found that really hard because I would always go to a couple of conferences a year. I always loved meetings with people from different industries because like I said, everyone actually, no matter what kind of industry people were from their context, actually wasn’t often that different at all. They were facing exactly the same challenges. Sometimes we have conversations and we talk about what we were doing and they’d be like, my God, I can’t believe you’re doing that, I’d never be able to do that. And I’d like, oh, we are making progress, we’re not that far behind. And that would fill you up and give you faith and confidence. You’d see other people talking about things, you’d say, oh, I could try that. So I would say for me, people, whether it was my team, whether it was a leader, whether it was people outside of my organization, they were the things that would always keep me going, or some ***** of hope from inside. I might be at that point where I just thought, I’m done, I can’t do anything, this is done, I’m done. And then something would happen and it would just be like that glimmer of hope and then it would reignite sort of the fire, I guess, to keep going.
[39:07] Elijah: So anywhere in that, do you call it palliative care?
[39:12] Susie: Yeah.
[39:16] Elijah: So you did not just, you did not quit then?
[39:19] Susie: You did not well, I did actually, yeah.
[39:23] Elijah: You did then? At that point I did, yeah.
[39:26] Susie: So I mean, I carried on, I guess for a while. Once I had that realization, it was probably about another six to twelve months I carried on in that particular organization. But yeah, I did leave that organization because for me that wasn’t who I was. I’m not a hospice nurse, so I was in a really challenging position at that point. I had that realization around the organisation. I didn’t have any leadership kind of air cover whatsoever. I had a direct manager who was incredibly tactical, siloed, sort of thinking I’m willing to listen, explore, be open minded. So that was like a day to day challenge. And I also had been some changes in my team and I wasn’t even getting the energy like I used to get from the team. So for me at that point, it was kind of like, I don’t leave now, this is actually it was affecting my well being and it wasn’t sustainable. I didn’t feel for me, but that in itself, this recognisation that I can’t be effective here anymore. I don’t think that’s a really hard moment as well to realize and make that decision. But yeah, it was definitely the right decision to move on. I could have more impact elsewhere. She’s still working closely with that organization, but from a different angle. Yeah.
[41:23] Elijah: And things change, right. It’s just the time horizon has long but suddenly there’s again this one person and suddenly everything changes from micromanagement away to trust, from this to that and suddenly there’s space and room and it’s just the impact of that variable is tremendous.
[41:44] Susie: It’s tremendous. And, you know, with all these I’ve spoken now, they’ve done interviews with around, I think about 1215 people, and this theme comes up time and time again around. If you are a kind of a corporate explorer, right, someone who’s leading change and innovation inside an organization, the importance of having someone who has your back, who’s more senior than you, is absolutely pivotal. And people manage it as well. Even if their direct line manager isn’t that sort of person, but there’s someone above them. They always circumvent the line manager. They find a way around it. At the moment, there’s no one who’s more senior than them, who has their back, who will give them space. It makes their job almost impossible. And I guess that would be one of the things I want to pull out of this is for people that are in senior leadership positions, how can you spot these corporate explorers and how can you support and enable them? Because I think they have to be.
[43:00] Elijah: Unable to actually find them. Right. And that’s kind of to find them.
[43:04] Susie: I think they’re usually pretty self identifying.
[43:07] Elijah: No, forgive me. Like forgive me. What I meant was that if senior leadership is not actually able to find them yes, they are everywhere. I’m with you. Nobody please go out and try to hire Elon Musk or something like that. Right. You have people in your organization, I’m pretty sure, but that seems to be very tricky to unlearn leadership and learnership and to look for those things, different incentive structures. Right. Would you say that as.
[43:48] Susie: One of the things I’ve discovered is in these conversations? So talking to the corporate explorers and learning about the people who enabled them and protected them, a common characteristic of those people is either they’re at a point in their career or they’re just of that mind where they’re basically thinking I’m going to do the right thing, I don’t care anymore. And that does seem to be the defining characteristic, is when people, when leaders can worry more about the people they’re looking after and the impact they’re creating and worry about their own career. That’s when then people below them flourish. Well, that’s just it. So one person I spoke to, actually he was about to leave the company and he said to me, he asked several people if you and me, who is the one senior leader you go and work for? And the same name kept coming up and he said, I approached this guy and I said, I want to come and work for you, otherwise I’m leaving. Find a way and yeah, he did and actually I would say I was not when I left that job, not in a dissimilar situation. I had reached the point where I was like either I’m going to leave or I find someone I can work for because it is hard enough doing what I’m trying to do without having someone on your case every day who’s trying to get you to the office. So I think the start is probably quite unmanageable and hard to manage but yeah, I do believe frankly they are few and far between my experience and that was one thing. Another conversation I had with someone, I said when I was asking a question around who do you look to for support? And he said Well, I do look for leadership he said but to be honest looking for inspirational leaders. He said like there are very few that I see. They’re pretty special where they exist.
[46:04] Elijah: Yeah. Trigger the love for me that I’m.
[46:10] Susie: I guess a lot of it was psychological safety, you know, so obviously some big enabler for innovation but it’s huge. I think people often talk about psychological safety lower down in the organization. And do we empower people lower down the organization to raise concern, to bring ideas up? And that’s hugely important. But I guess where I’ve been looking is at the top of the organization and the lack of psychological safety there. And if there’s no psychological safety there, well, that’s just going to trickle all the way down, right? And often psychological safety is severely lacking at the top of an organisation yes. Because of those siloed structures that we have because there are less positions and people are fighting for them. Right.
[46:57] Elijah: Stakes are higher.
[46:58] Susie: The stakes are super high. And again, that whole incentive and reward structure is about my side and my piece of the pie. You know, there is very little safety and getting them to sort of show any vulnerability or any degree of kind of honesty actually can be really hard. And I do think like working on some of those senior leadership team dynamics and developing greater levels of trust at that level it’s really important.
[47:38] Elijah: Yeah this is awesome. For those who listen to a few of these episodes, this must have come up before because I talk about all the time historically, my background. We started helping teams going faster to learn the right thing at the right time, to build small things and all that jazz. So they learn how to use some of those tools, identify their assumptions, be vulnerable in that world as well. Because you say, okay, I’m actually not sure about this. It’s a vulnerability there. So what? It doesn’t really mean much because, you know, okay, you may be able to explore a few things before you write that business case, but you still have to write a business case with tons of uncertainty and that still has to be approved to the same mechanisms, and you have to execute it right? And then you sort of go to the next level and you go to the next level and it kind of never ends again unless the explore side, if there is even one, is funded properly with a long vision and people are rewarded appropriately and somehow untangled from quarterly results or budget cycles or so on. It’s just really hard to consistently have lots of tries and lots of bets that you need in order to find those high risk, high reward initiatives. But then it comes to really like boards and it comes to shareholders, really, and at least in the for profit world and how can we even inform them? And in long term strategy and things like that. So I feel like trying to relate that to government and to things that we just said, at least to a degree. I mean, we go up and up and up and somehow, unless goal setting in senior leadership, unless longterm vision in senior leadership is not installed, we can remove a lot of problems, we can add a lot of value where products are developed, where services are developed, where policies are rewritten and so on. But being successful at scale for a long period of time, it seems to be ultimately this limiting factor that will be sitting there.
[50:35] Susie: Never sitting on your laurels, I think. And the advantage that an established organization has over a startup is that it has huge, incredibly valuable assets at its disposal. It’s got a workforce, it’s got customers, it’s got a platform, it’s got a reputation, those are all things that can be leveraged and it’s just about delivering on that Ambidextrous organization, being able to deliver on the core, keep the money coming in and explore the future and potential. And it’s just very hard, I think, for people to divert resource away from the kind of the money making parts of the machine, isn’t it? One other mistake I’ve seen quite often, I think, is when organisations embark on like a particular digital transformation, it’s almost like the messaging goes out, like, we’re changing, this is how we’re going to be, and everyone needs to be involved in this and everyone needs to be thinking about the future. And I don’t agree with that at all. It’s like, what are we going to have to do? Chaos, if everyone’s innovating and thinking about.
[51:57] Elijah: The future, actually, you’re creating heart attacks more than ever.
[52:02] Susie: Yeah, and I’ve seen that as well. Like, one of them talking to people, former colleagues and one of the organizations I used to work for, and they’re like, they’re on the line delivering stuff that is here and now, right? And it’s really important that it’s done and delivered here and now. And they’re really resentful, actually, because they’re kind of like, well, I’m busting my gut every day to do this and all I hear about is, oh, it’s not good enough. Think about the future. And I completely understand that they frankly should be left in beast to deliver today. But there does need to be people who have the mindset and the skills and the interest and the curiosity to explore the future simultaneously. And I think that’s where people like, they lurch from one extreme to the other. We’re all here and now, oh no, we’ve all got to be thinking about the future, then something will happen and it’s like quick, let’s all get back to now because something’s happened and we’ve got to protect it. And it’s just like this organizational lurching all over the place, which is exhausting and nonsensical. Your point around this connection to vision and strategy is for me, for those three things, I talk about innovation, I talk about leadership and I talk about strategy because the three for me are absolutely interconnected and you cannot sort of have one with you without the other. And we’ve talked a lot about the leadership piece, but the strategic piece we have touched on, but that is so important to understand like what is our vision and look at what are we, how do we think we’re going to achieve that, what are we currently doing and what’s working about that? That’s taking stock, that has to be done. And it’s not the sort of thing we would have these like we’re going to have like a two day off site with the senior leadership team where we’re going to do strategy and it’s like, no, that’s just what doesn’t work about it. Two days is not enough. You barely scratch the surface and it’s continuous. This is the thing people often think, right, less than two days coming up with a new strategy and then we’ll just go and implement it. And that’s not, you know, the reality now is that that’s just not how it’s going to work. But there needs to be a regular cadence to kind of understanding and putting those leading indicators in place and looking at an analysis and assessment of what are we doing and is it getting us closer and have we got the leading indicators and are we changing track now or not? Are we going to persevere with this strategy or what else has changed now in our environment? And stuff is changing all the time.
[55:15] Elijah: And that goes back to vulnerability. Saying my strategy is not correct anymore, at least anymore, maybe never was or not is anymore, right? Yes, that’s that vulnerability and your leadership, that unless you have that, you just run tons of resources down the drain.
[55:35] Susie: The reason I wrote this article on adaptive strategy and the whole wonderful article, yeah, everything about that is really now strategy is nothing more than our hypothesis about our best guess at that point in time with the data that we’ve got available to us on how we think we can achieve a certain outcome. And it is our responsibility to know if the strategy we’re taking is working or not, and the environment has changed and we need to adapt that. It’s not like we’re doing this weekly or something, but there does need to be an agreed cadence, and you have to be open to that.
[56:23] Elijah: Sorry. Yeah, this is what I’d love to zoom in there. If you could note up on that for a second. The cadence is something that we don’t really have on it. Different industries, different circumstances. Could we talk about that for a second?
[56:44] Susie: It really depends on what your industry is and what the environment is like in which you’re operating. If it is a pretty stable industry and environment, then you probably don’t need to do it quite so often. But if you’re in an environment that is changing a lot, then it is something that you’re going to have to have a more regular cadence. And the adaptation, I guess it’s not necessarily like throwing the bath water out with the baby. It is about tweaks. It’s about doubling down. It’s like any kind of innovation, actually. It’s about doubling down on what is working, and it’s about pivoting what isn’t, and it’s about making data, informed decisions about what we do and don’t do. But so often it’s nothing more than, oh, we’ve got an idea, let’s just do it. And we plow so much resource into big bets that are completely unproven in a strategic context as well as an innovation context.
[57:51] Elijah: So the next part had to be cut out because the episode just became too long and we had to make some sacrifices. But what Susan and I continued to explore here was the topic of an adapter strategy or an address strategy.
[58:05] Elijah: If you want to learn more about.
[58:07] Elijah: It, I recommend you to go to the Show Notes and check out the article that Suzy wrote on this topic. Enjoy the next part.
[58:17] Elijah: How did we end up here? I think it really goes back to the very beginning. Talking about your retreat seems to be true. It sounded, for me, very much like lifting one of these very hard to lift, as I would call them, limiting factors, like things that limit the overall yield, innovative yield of your organization, because it’s just something that holds the rest. How long are you retreating?
[59:02] Susie: Usually they’re like two nights, two days, sometimes bit longer. Three days, three nights. Yeah, that’s kind of average. A lot of decent, slightly longer ones. But yeah, it’s just about whether people can find time and space for that.
[59:22] Elijah: To do that over the weekend, then, or do you try to get out of the week?
[59:26] Susie: So try to get out of the weekend, actually, particularly it depends on what the topic is and if it’s something that kind of companies are sending people on, or if it’s something that people are doing more for themselves. But usually kind of ideally starting like a Sunday night, actually, and then finishing on the Tuesday night, wednesday morning feels like a good sort of way to help people ease in, I guess. Three words, it’s pressing the reset button, it’s re energizing. And then I also like to think of it as reemerging, like with clarity and perspective on your next steps. And I do think that for anyone in any leadership position, that loan of your sort of managing kind of innovational, high uncertainty situations, I think that ability to just take a moment, to pause, to reflect, to fill your cup back up and reemerge from that with more energy and more clarity on how you’re going to lead. Just stop a moment that relentless sort of lurching from one thing to the next, which is not good for you. It’s not good for the organization. It’s not good for people that you’re leading.
[01:01:08] Elijah: Brakes make you productive.
[01:01:11] Susie: Yeah, absolutely. People end up in leadership positions because they just, you know, it’s just like the progression, it’s just like the next step, right. The next promotion, more money. And, you know, for me, leadership is absolute privilege and, you know, we’ve all had leaders that have made and broken us. If you haven’t had a leader that’s broken evil, you’re very lucky. And so you know what that feels like. So if you’re in that position, know that impact you’re having on others. I just think that is an overwhelming position of responsibility and want to be taken seriously and want to make sure that we’re in the best possible, whether it’s the skills we’ve got, our energy levels, like, we have to make sure we’re equipped for it. Yeah.
[01:02:06] Elijah: So at this point, a cut had made again, I had to cut something out because the episode just became too long. What we did here was to talk about the concept of a peer learning or a self help group for corporate innovators. We’ve been touring with that idea for a while. I assume we will just be recording another episode on this topic and make up for that. Okay, enjoy the rest of the episode and also if you’re interested in that topic, maybe get in touch then try to make it happen even earlier.
[01:02:40] Elijah: OK, yeah, but yeah, I’d love to do that together. I also think we should have your retreats in Australia. Yeah, I can plug that here. I’ve got a friend who has a beautiful retreat, gamora Retreats. Got a perfect retreat in all the New South Wales. It is magic. Give me any reason to go there anyway. Amazing. Yeah, I think that would be also cool.
[01:03:13] Susie: Absolutely.
[01:03:16] Elijah: Yeah. Thank you, Susie.
[01:03:18] Susie: Well, thank you. I appreciate your patience. I actually always find it really cathartic myself having these conversations. It’s a bit like the reason why I write actually is it is cathartic. It helps me make sense of some of my thoughts and experience. And similarly, it’s a bit like that concept of a support group. There is a cathartic sort of decompression. And there’s also the inspiration we sort of bounce ideas and explore. Well, why is that so? I really appreciate the opportunity.