The Innovative Leader with Dr Simone Ahuja

How to Grow Internal Innovation Even During a Crisis

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: The global pandemic has turned many of us into home teachers, filmmakers, entertainers and inventors. Making use of what we have and being innovative with our time and our resources. The times we now live in has never been more relevant for innovation and creativity. One innovative CEO of an Italian 3D printing start up learn that hospital, nearby the town he lived in. Her suffering dreadfully through the coronavirus outbreak was running short of a small but critical component that connect respirators to oxygen masks. Other supplies just could not keep up with demand, and doctors were in search of a solution. Christian Fracassi, who told Reuters recently when he heard about the shortage, they got in touch with the hospital immediately. They then printed some prototypes. The hospital tested the following day and they worked. They then printed 100 vowels and delivered them personally to the hospital and this is now created a new thriving business for the start up. Similar efforts have popped up around the world where firms are now printing 3D face shields and other items to help with the crisis.

3D printing is relatively new technology that most manufacturers are now aware of, and some indeed are using quite readily and you can build anything from tiny components right the way up to houses. What this does demonstrate, though, is that in a crisis, this disruptive situation we find is in can correct disruptive thinking and innovation in us all. There is a global hackathon-taking place right now online.

A hackathon is where a group of people get together, including developers, subject matter experts, where they come up with quick ideas, build and prototype products super quick. This new global initiative, or hackathon is called CoVent-19, ironically, and it is hosting an online moon-shot competition to develop and deploy a mechanical ventilator. The CoVent-19 challenge is fostering innovation of rapidly deployable minimum viable mechanical ventilators for patients with COVID-19, and the ventilator dependent requirements and injuries. Their goal and mission is to close the gap between the actual resources available and those that are in need around the world and distribute that product as quickly and as efficiently as possible and only four weeks in from start of the competition and the moon-shot thinking. There are already three prototypes that are being tested live with patients around the world. This just goes to show that if we throw away those assumptions, new thinking can flourish and new innovation and new ideas can be born and developed really quickly. That has been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any insights, news or stories you like our listeners to hear, get in touch with us through our social media or our website.

Start of Interview

Steve Rush: Dr. Simone Ahuja is a bestselling author, speaker and founder of the innovation strategy firm Blood Orange, is our special guest on The Leadership Hacker Podcast today, Simone. Welcome to the show.

Simone Ahuja: Thanks, Steve. Great to be here.

Steve Rush: So innovation and strategy is not where it all started for you, isn’t it? You start off in dentistry? If I am right.

Simone Ahuja: That is exactly right.

Steve Rush: So how did you end up going into dentistry then pivoting to doing what you are doing now?

Simone Ahuja: Yeah, People often ask me what is the connection between dentistry and innovation strategy, and I will tell you that one of the greatest skills I learned through dental trainings, I didn’t practice dentistry for very long, but a long enough to understand how to manage anxiety. You know, there is obviously, there is a lot of that when folks come to the dentist. Ironically and interestingly, there is a ton of anxiety around innovation in some ways, because often when you are going into an organization, you are talking about innovation. It sounds like change and frankly, it is change and that change manifests as anxiety. So I think that, some of that training actually crossed over but it was actually a bout of Typhoid that left me pretty, pretty sick and hospitalized for 10 days. Some hallucinations, and high, high spiky fevers and maybe think that, you know, life is pretty short. This is not my path forward and I started to shift into a few other areas. I had been practicing improvisational comedy. I had been doing some filmmaking in addition to practicing dentistry very early on and I dove into those a little bit deeper. Ultimately, as I was making documentary films about emerging markets like India, I became kind of a market expert. We have a lot of Fortune 500 companies in Minneapolis, St. Paul, the area where I live and this was about the early mid-2000s.

Folks were saying, well, what can you tell us about these emerging economies? What is happening there? And as I became more of that market expert. I ended up making a documentary for PBS that was funded by Best Buy, the consumer electronics company. As they were thinking about not how to enter the market, but how do you look at a mind-set where if you don’t have a ton of resources, like in an emerging market, but you still have to solve big problems, there’s got to be a way to do that. What can we learn from that? So that really is where I first started diving into innovation, and that’s where I realized that I love the anthropological piece of this, where I was diving in the market and talking to people, understanding what makes them tick and kind of putting different ideas together. Then that documentary led to a concept that I learned about called Jugaad. Jugaad Innovation I later called it with my co-authors and Jugaad is this way of doing more with less, so I don’t have a ton of resources, but I’ve got to still solve these problems. How do I do it? And so, you know, we started writing about that in the Harvard Business Review and literary agent then pinged us and said, would you like to write a book about this concept?

And that is it. That is how it all got started. Back when I did this, I think it was probably thought of as a little bit more atypical. I think now we just call it a multidisciplinary background of these experiences in your hat.

Steve Rush: Exactly, right.

Simone Ahuja: But that is how it all started.

Steve Rush: It is a really neat and interesting backstory and often what I find through working with lots of entrepreneurs is there is often a moment in their lives where something has happened. In your case, it was not being very well. Created that inner self-thought of, “I got to do something different” and that’s really neat. And you know, I never made the parallel between going to the dentist and innovation but I can see it, I can experience it. I work with a lot of organizations and you go through that same nervous in-trepidation that comes through, of “I don’t know if it’s going to work and will I be safe?” All of these same emotions really that happen in dentistry. What a neat parallel to have.

Simone Ahuja: It is and sometimes anticipation is the worst of it. Right? So if you can help people navigate that and have some compassion and understanding the why, I think, you know, I would say even younger in my innovation career. Well, I think I understood the anxiety. I probably was not as compassionate about it as I should have been. It is something that I have learned as I have kind of matured in my innovation strategy practice is really understanding the why? Why the fear? Why the anxiety? Why the push back? And helping people work their way through that.

Steve Rush: Jugaad Innovation has often been referred to as frugal innovation and Jugaad is the Indian word for frugality, is that right?

Simone Ahuja: Yeah, Jugaad is a Hindi term. It actually originated in Punjab. A northern state in India, and what it originally was like a jury-rigged farm vehicle. So take any parts that you have available to you. Make a vehicle that will serve multiple purposes. It could be tilling soil. It could be hauling things. It could be transporting people and, you know, these were not always the safest vehicles, but they were vehicles that would get the job done and everybody unfortunately does not have the choice to have the safest, most luxurious vehicle. But the concept was one of taking things that were readily available to use, so not thinking about what I don’t have, but rather what do I have that can help me get these jobs done, right. All of us are familiar with that phrase jobs to be done. That vehicle is what the original Jugaad was and it became more of a colloquial term, so if you say I am going to do some Jugaad, it means I am going to fix this in some kind of way. Maybe it is a quick way to do it. Maybe it is an improvised way to do it and a lot of times those solutions are not the end all be all solution but there’s something that can get you to the next step.

And there’s actually some controversy in India. People who really understand the meaning of this word about, well, is it really valuable or not? And what I will say is when I worked in India for eight months doing my on the ground research for the book Jugaad Innovation. I learned about that practice of leveraging ingenuity and leveraging improvisation and thinking about what you have rather than what you don’t have. For me, having been trained as a scientist and the empirical approach, you know, which is actually a kind of a good discovery process, it’s still much more linear and so I was managing two teams, one team in India, one team in the United States and it was very interesting. All of them were so bright and putting forward great ideas, but they were different, so we learned a lot from each other. Where in the US the teams were putting forward a great ideas in a more linear fashion that were really valuable. The teams in India were… I will give you an example. We were filming some case studies about what is Jugaad or Jugaad Innovation look like? And we went out to look at some micro small energy like windmills that salt farmers had created in this desert called the Rann of Katch and we were literally in the middle of nowhere.

I mean there was and is still no G.P.S. in that area. And our guide was a man with a very long white beard and if he went down, we may go down with them. There was nothing, nothing really in sight, and we were trying to capture some of this story. The ground became kind of craggy and it was interesting because my team, we didn’t have a Steadicam. Right, so we were filming this and we needed a better picture as we were driving along and we could not go and rent something. But my team immediately said, well, we’ll do some Jugaad and that’s when I remember thinking, like, What is that? Whatever it is, let’s do that. Because we are going to run out of time. We are going to run out of water. We are going to run out of fuel and that is it. Shows over and so what they do is they just sort of fashion something out of whatever we had in the van, so we had pillows. We had some pipes. We had some twine and they put something together that allowed us to capture a more steady image that was good enough for us to continue forward and that’s when it kind of dawned on me that this is a different approach.

And I think, you know, this is where I started really thinking about striving for perfection, which is really a kind of a myth in many ways. It is not to say you don’t want to have excellence or safety and thinking about how do we improvise solutions. And that’s the thing that I wanted to really bring back and share here in the United States and Europe and the U.K. What does it look like to have more of that improvised mind-set? And to be sure, you know, we have a ton of that in our entrepreneurial communities and if we look back further, our farmers, if we look at the way that small farms used to operate, those are the ultimate Jugaad innovators.

Steve Rush: It is a super story and if you think about the principles of Jugaad and being frugal, probably the environment that we are in now has never needed Jugaad more. Global pandemic organizations having to be really thoughtful about how they use their money, their resources. How do you think that the environment that we have been forced into now is going to change the lens as to how we might approach innovation in the future?

Simone Ahuja: So I love this question. I have been thinking about this a lot and I think Jugaad Innovation has never been more relevant than it is right now. In the face of a pandemic, in the face of a crisis like the one that we’re in and we’re seeing this in real time. So the priorities are getting very crystal clear, the simplicity. There is a lot of complexity in terms of things like, well, who is doing what? But in organizations that I am working with right now, everybody’s peeling back all the fat. Let’s get really focused on what our problem is. Let’s identify that and let’s address that in the best way possible, so the simplicity is coming forward. The idea of leveraging ingenuity is happening in a way like I’ve never seen it in a lot of organizations, and you’ll see that, too, right? We see that in a lot of digital platforms that are getting quickly created. The way that, you know, there are teams working from home where they did not before. Organizations are starting to have to flex that way.

Steve Rush: Right.

Simone Ahuja: Which is, you know, creating an environment where we need to trust more, which is something we could talk about a little more as well. But ventilators are being created in a way that they weren’t before. By organizations who never created them before or maybe, two people have to use two ventilators. Maybe these are things; we have to start thinking about so it is really creating a time when we have to leverage a more flexible mind-set. And this idea, you know, it’s interesting. I was working with one organization where, you know, the senior leader came to me and said, look, we want you to help us think about how do we fend off external disruption and when the COVID crisis struck, there was sort of this question mark of should we continue with this? And, you know, the answer is you have to continue with this, because this is the disruption. It is just taking a different shape than we thought it would. It is not a start-up or another large organization. It is taken the shape of a pandemic. This is disrupting your business. This is disrupting the way you work and now you have to respond to it using these different principles. You know, you have to do more with less. You have to leverage ingenuity. You have to make sure you are addressing your customer needs, whoever they are, whether they are internal or external. Now I think is the best time to apply the principles of Jugaad Innovation to fend off this external disrupt.

Steve Rush: Got it and also, I think mindset is something you talked about, quiet a lot and this is something that you write about quite a lot in terms of the mindset around innovation and having a pandemic forces people into doing things. Creates that disruption at discomfort. How much of a mindset though, as to what you then do next plays out here.

Simone Ahuja: This is a really important question, so what I’m observing in real time with clients right now. Is that this pandemic is demonstrating what is possible. You know, there is an Oliver Wendell Holmes quote that says, “A mind once shifted or changed shape, can never return to its original shape.” And I believe that’s true, so now what we have to do is make sure that there isn’t…you know, there might be another shape shift that occurs in mind-set.

The question I have for the leaders who have seen this shape change is, now that you’ve seen people operating in a different way, now that you see people, for example, a person in one area going to another area, because that’s where they’re needed, not because they’re worried about their title, because that’s how they have to address the problem, the real problem at hand. The question for the leader is now, now what are you going to do? How are you going to make sure the shape is maintained or even accelerated? What are you going to model? What are you going to reward? What are you going to support? What systems will you put in place so we don’t go back to the way it was? Nobody wants to stay in a state of heightened fear forever. It is exhausting; people are getting tired at the same time. There is a ton of good that is coming out of this. Leaders have to think about, what are the systems we put in place to support this? And I think what’s really interesting about what we’re seeing in real time in almost every organization is, you know, it’s extracting more value out of organizations, out of people and stretching their limits. Even if they were pushing back against changing, it is showing them what they can do. It is a way that had to happen, so I think that’s the piece that’s really interesting, is now you’re seeing it. It is not that some leader is saying, well, this is part of an innovation initiative. You have to do it, It is actually happening.

Steve Rush: Having a leadership mindset of innovation also is not just about you dictating the pace and creating the environments, set to the strategy. This is about how you unlock the capacity for innovation within the teams you work with, right?

Simone Ahuja: Yeah, that is right.

Steve Rush: Internally, most leaders who have more of an innovative mind-set will start to think about how they develop intrapreneurship in their teams and how do we create that entrepreneurial spirit internally. In your latest book, Disrupt It Yourself. You take that to another level don’t you? You call them DIY wires, disruptive it yourselves. Tell us a little bit about that.

Simone Ahuja: So intrepreneurship is gaining a lot of popularity right now. You know, as we see more and more start-ups that are potentially able to disrupt big established players. As we see that in only 14 percent of new graduates want to work in large organizations, large organizations are saying, well, hey, how can we embody some of that spirit and energy so that we can actually sustain ourselves? We know that the big companies are falling off the map, whether it’s S&P 500 or other, you know, other indices, they’re just not there as long as they used to be. So intrapreneurs were more higher ranking. They were really thinking more about the kind of existing products or enhancements or kind of related services, they were the lone wolf. They were kind of looking more at the past, whereas the deal DIY wires are more democratic. It is everyone.

You know, one of the first things that we do when we go into organizations is do kind of a check in on who is actually coming up with the ideas and if it’s only people who are as senior leaders and corporate, we know that probably they don’t have a really complete spectrum of ideas. Right, so it is about being democratized and being more inclusive. It is about altogether new ideas and to be very clear, it is not about chasing shiny objects. I think it is really important for organizations to think about how do we advance our existing business priorities using innovation as a tool, a leveller methodology. All right, so it is not that we are just going off on tangents here. We are still meeting needs. We are just doing it in a completely different way, and I think DIY wires are more collaborative.

You know, if the intrapreneur of, you know, 30 years ago, it’s kind of the lone wolf in their garage, the DIY wire rather, is kind of someone who is more collaborative. They are able to enlist people. They understand that, you know, they are not going to have all this problem-solving prowess at their fingertips and not just the problem solving, but also how do you socialize and evangelize ideas? How do you keep ideas going? And then moreover, how do you keep the energy moving through the organization so it doesn’t die out early? Those are some of the fundamental differences between an intrapreneur when the term was first coined 30 plus years ago and a DIY wire.

Steve Rush: Given, many folk listening to this will be leading organizations and teams.

They will be used to processes and systems that helped create the outcomes for innovation and thinking, things like Six Sigma and agile transformation. How do you move away from the control as a leader in holding onto these processes and give control to the teams to really kind of allow that flare an innovative flair and entrepreneurship and DIY wire is to come to the fore?

Simone Ahuja: So if we think about what Six Sigma is, it is really all about optimization and that is kind of a code word for sameness. Right, but that is tough, especially in today’s environment. Things are changing really fast and we’ve especially seen that now in the midst of the COVID crisis, and you can’t really schedule creativity and ideas and say, well, I’m going to have, you know, eight creative ideas on Wednesday at 3 p.m. So that is a huge challenge of the linearity and the sameness that Six Sigma Drive, so, you know, my sense is that is a discipline of the past, not of the future. Whereas, of course, if we look at, you know, agile, not as a software development approach, but as a management or a business approach, it makes a ton of sense because it really is one that kind of inspires organizational fluidity. All right, so we are thinking about. What are our requirements and how do our solutions evolve over time? You know, through the collaboration that we do, how do we think about not only what we are doing, but what we’re not doing? And I think that’s the power of agile. Right. You are updating along the way and removing things that are no longer needed.

Now, the thing that is interesting about this from a leadership perspective is this requires rapid change and this requires trust and I think that trust is so fundamental to innovation, and we see this over and over again. You know, we have seen this out of Google when they looked at their teams that were the most effective.

They were not the teams with the best pedigrees or the most experienced. They were the teams that built the most psychological safety and I think we have to hammer that message home. I recently with my team did some deep dive research with a team of leadership about this idea of safety. You know, what is working innovation? What is not? And psychological safety came up as a top barrier. However, out of, you know a handful of leaders; 80-plus percent said that is not true for my team. But we had the data in front of us, so it’s a disconnect because nobody wants to feel like they’re not fostering that safety and that trust in their teams, but it’s happening all the time. And when you don’t have the trust, you’re not setting up an environment for new ideas. You are setting up an environment that is going to only do something safe. Something that we done before. You know, Adam Grant had a great tweet that he put out recently. You know if you are having issues trusting your folks who are working from home right now. Right. As everyone is shifting to most people working from home, you either should not hire them in the first place. You are not doing a good job motivating them. You are protecting your own core work at home habits or all of the above and I think that is actually quite true. So, you know if we think about is the old management paradigm, the old management paradigm is how do we keep people on the rails? And that’s why Six Sigma made a lot of sense. That is exactly what Six Sigma is. How do we keep people on the rails? How do we keep things the same? How do we optimize?

 Today if we think about what the new management paradigm is in the 21st century, it is about creating space. It is about creating a permissionless environment and disrupt it yourself. I talk about the value of .What does it mean to be a permissionless environment? How do we build trust? How do we provide air cover and remove barriers for intrapreneurs rather than trying to keep them really kind of fine? So I think that that concept of trust. What I have realized is sometimes it is about the systems in place. Right, so if people come up with big new ideas or try something different, forget about not even rewards or incentives. They are actually penalties that is actually really true but what I’ve come to realize as I work with innovation teams, mostly in Fortune 500, is that it also can be a leadership issue. It also comes down to your own ability to lead and trust, which is connected to the broader culture but it’s also connected to self. I would encourage any managers and leaders who are listening to podcasts to really look internally about why they may not be as trusting as they want to be.

Steve Rush: And to create a permissionless society you absolutely need trust, so for the folks listening to this, where would they start? What would be the kind of one place you would encourage them to think about or to take some action first to start the journey towards the permission less society?

Simone Ahuja: When we think about being permissionless, there are a couple of things that leaders can do. The first thing we talked about, the most important thing is how do I create air cover for my intrapreneurs? And I do that if I trust them, if I trust that they’re working towards the greater good. Let’s say we come to an agreement or they’ve identified a pain point for whoever our end user is and they’re trying to solve it in a new way. How do I create space and how do I remove barriers that are coming up for them? And, you know, this is connected to having a more sort of decentralized approach to innovation. This means that even if somebody does not have innovation in their title, you are still supporting them and you are still allowing them and giving them that permission. Right. To be permissionless, and this is something that I see leaders butting up against very often where they, you know, the word permissionless. This is actually a title of one of the principles in my book. Make it permissionless; I got to tell you, if I’ve ever seen hackles go up. Permissionless is a big one.

Steve Rush: I bet.

Simone Ahuja: You can imagine. You have seen this in so many of the organizations you have worked with. Right, Steve?

Steve Rush: Right, I have for sure. It is a control thing, isn’t it, really?

Simone Ahuja: It is.  

Steve Rush: I am now having to give away control to something I had control of when I was a leader. I am now giving it to you and I am saying you have the ability and the permission to go ahead and you do not have to ask.

Simone Ahuja: That is right. That is exactly right and, you know, I think there is so much inside of it. It is about ourselves. It is about trust. It is about our mob. It is about the various metrics that we have. It is about not knowing necessarily what is that path look like? So if we think about, you know, how do we quickly and easily create a more permissionless, environment? There some simple things that you can do. The first thing is you have to start signalling this, so when people act in a permissionless way, you have to hold it up and say, look, this isn’t exactly how all always did it. Here is someone who tried a different approach. Here is what we learned from it and I think it is important that it is not always, quote, “success”. Share the learning so that people understand…permissionless environment is also one where learning is valued as a currency. And it’s not just the so-called wins are value. Right. By the way, you know, there is so much talk about failure. That is the other problem, so much risk aversion and there is a concern about failure. From childhood, there is a lot of shame around this word of failure and in our practice; we just don’t use that word anymore. I know a lot of people like to, and I think it works for some organizations but what we’ve found is that if we prove a hypothesis out, it’s learning and then if we disprove a hypothesis that’s also learning and it helps people reframe their path forward.

And if you’re experimenting and trying new things, invariably a lot of things aren’t going to work out. What leaders can do is talk about it, signal that it is okay. Reward people who are acting in this way. You know, for some organizations, we have had to establish baby steps and that looks exactly like this. Instead of being broadly permissionless, you go to your manager. You agree on the problem that you are going to solve. You agree that there is a need for that. You kind of make your case about here’s this pain point. I want to solve this problem. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to check in with you every so often. And maybe you establish a cadence of when you check in and hopefully that check in is more about updating idea sharing and barrier removal than it is about you shouldn’t do that. You are off the rails and you are not going to hit your mark and, you know, this is going to affect our P&L. Right, so there are two different ways you can go. So the idea is, you know, create that kind of a system between individual contributors and managers, because sometimes you have to get that granular and it has to be a little bit more permission in the permissionless. To be realistic in some organizations.

Steve Rush: And you are so right about the whole principle of failure verse learning, and the reason that is so important for people to get their heads round. Is that failure goes to a different part of the brain than learning does. Failing goes to a part of a brain in the limbic system, and it can create responsiveness that is really unhelpful, whereas learning is a positive outcome and it triggers the right thinking but more importantly, keeps the front of our brain working, which is where we make executive decisions. It is absolutely important that people reframe in that way, isn’t it?

Simone Ahuja: That is so true; Steve and I think this kind of winds back to what we were talking about earlier about the psychology and the neuroscience and so in a way, it is sort of like how are we compassionate around this? You know, why are people risk averse? Why is their perfectionism? Why are we not interested in failing? And a feeling is way too hard. Let’s just call it learning because it literally….

Steve Rush: Right.

Simone Ahuja: Creates a different chemical response in our bodies.

Steve Rush: So true. If people are thinking now of a permission less society, got people running in different directions or doing crazy things. They have a wrong view wouldn’t they?

Simone Ahuja: Right.

Steve Rush: Because that is not really what that means.

Simone Ahuja: That is right. It is not about, you know, I am going to intentionally run into walls over and over again. I have carte blanche to do whatever I think without really being thoughtful about the, best way forward or enlisting others or making sure I stay really connected to my customer or we’re mitigating risk by, making the steps that I take or the experiments that I do really small. It is not at all about that. It is very much about, you know, testing your way forward and, and learning and in small steps and frankly, it is actually quite the opposite, right? And you know this from your practice. If we experiment our way forward and we take these tiny little bets over and over again, we’ll get to a better outcome than if we make a couple of massive bets and one of them goes wrong or it doesn’t work out in the way we want to.

Steve Rush: It de-risks the situation, doesn’t it?

Simone Ahuja: It sure does. It de-risks the situation. That is exactly right.

Steve Rush: So if we have created more DIY wires as and they are running around now with this mind-set that says I have permission to be innovative and we’re creating more disruption in our organizations. In your experience, is this ultimately going to lead to more disruptive behaviour and a lack of discipline?

Simone Ahuja: No. it isn’t, I think what it leads to is it leads to more engagement. Now, while I don’t think that, you know, we should hold up innovation only as an engagement tool. I think if that happens, that might be a little dangerous. We know that innovation is really imperative to sustain in today’s environment. But what I’ve seen very clearly is that operating in this way and giving people…Dan Pink, you know, phrases and the research he has done that mastery and giving them the autonomy and often a sense of purpose that comes with, you know, solving problems about something that you care about. You identified that need is you create a tremendous amount of engagement. You provide more creative outlets, you get better ideas and it’s not that everybody goes rogue. It is again comes back to this idea of trust.

And so it’s about putting those people together in a way that you still have a system. You are still systematically connecting the intrapreneur. The DIY wire with their colleagues and the resources they need internally and externally. You might put formal functions in place, you might have something like a chief innovation officer, you might not, you might have more cells of innovation across your company but what you do have. As you have systems that work hand in hand with these creative outlets, so I would say the biggest thing that this approach leads to and very clearly is engagement. And I think the beauty of this for large corporations is they have a lot of talent in their ranks that’s under-utilized. You can bring this out; you can retain the people who have this kind of entrepreneurial sense in them. You can retain them and then they talk to their friends and in a way, they become kind of a recruiting tool and I think that is really crucial as we know that, you know, a lot of Grads don’t want to work with these big organizations.

Steve Rush: I love that principle. I think the whole kind of mindset around it differentiates some organizations in some teams and therefore, you become a walking advert. Because you are allowed to perform. You are allowed to be innovative. You can demonstrate flair and creativity.

Simone Ahuja: That is exactly right and what we know is that a lot of these folks talk to each other, right? It is so easy to do that, you know, nationally and internationally. So it really does become a network. Well, this organization is actually embracing you know, being a DIY wire an intrapreneur. Okay, let me check that out, you know, because I think there is a lot of lip service to this kind of approach, but the companies that are actually enjoying it are attracting some really strong talent from the outside.

Steve Rush: So as a leader, in order to create disruption but also maintain discipline, that is part of the system, isn’t it? So how do I go about doing that?

Simone Ahuja: I think that is an important question because we have to understand that creativity and driving disruption and having discipline are not at odds, in fact, that they are complimentary, right. When we put systems in place, systems that have flexibility. Systems that have guardrails and not sharp delineations, they are actually highly, highly complementary. So one of the most important things that people can do. If you want to start off really small, have an ideation session, have something like a hackathon, ask people to add in. That is a very simple starting place, you know, but just make sure you don’t have an idea box where nothing gets executed on. That’s the probably the biggest thing I would say the biggest don’t have innovation. That is all way to create a kind of a structure. You know, companies like Intuit, if you read and, disrupt yourself. Do a great job of, of having things like hackathons and having places for people to add an idea.

But then they also have places for intrapreneur to connect to each other outside of there. They also have coaches, so these are people inside the organization who’ve been there. They have been the intrapreneur, they understand the passion behind the idea, they understand the challenges and the barriers that might come up. So you have these internal support system and then of course, if you have incentives and other metrics that support entrepreneurship, you have this discipline but you still get the creativity. So I was just talking to someone yesterday, in fact at a manufacturing organization where they have incentives that change every four months because the things that they’re doing are changing very quickly and the incentives have to be changed a month in advance. Because if you are having incentives based on what you do over the course of a year, they may not be relevant over the course of year, so rapidly changing metrics I think are a part of that.

And that’s where, you know, I think that this is where smaller teams can be really useful or again, that trust of asking a team, well, what do you think your metrics should be? You would help define the new KPIs. You are embedded in this more than we are. How many of these things should bring forward? How many of these ideas are going to come to fruition? How many of them are going to go to market and so on. So let the teams become involved in that and that co-design even of the metrics, KPIs, etc. Is a part of how you fostered the disruptive shifts without disruption in the system, it’s a really beautiful marriage of creativity plus some structure because if you don’t have any structure, what we find is then things just go off the rails. It is not going to really be effective.

Steve Rush: And it is a myth, isn’t it? That, you know if you are creative and innovative, that it is mutually exclusive from execution. And of course it’s not and that’s where that leadership discipline comes in. Right?

Simone Ahuja: I think that is exactly right. So what I will say is, you know, after writing Jugaad Innovation and bringing these ideas back, what we’ve seen over the course of the last, let’s say 10, 15 years, is that ideation has really changed. There will always be smart people in these organizations. But the ideas are getting broader, you know, these methodologies like lean and design thinking very parallel to Jugaad Innovation. Being divergent before your convergent, that is starting to become much, much more common. What is challenging is to bring the new ideas forward if you have to put them through a sieve of the existing system. Think about it this way, it is sort of like, are you building an executing for your end user or are you not doing that because of your existing business model? Right? So that is the trap that organizations get into and that is why, you know, we write about, you know, organizational agility and fluidity in addition to the mind-set of the innovators. If your organization has no space to shift in its structure, if you have no shift in metrics, you have no shift in the ability of teams to move around to some extent. You know, the ability to drive big innovation starts to become more limited.

Steve Rush: It is fascinating and I could spend all day talking about this with you, but our guests are also going to want to extract some extra top tips and ideas. I would like to ask you what your top leadership or innovation hacks would be?

Simone Ahuja: Yeah, I love giving people a quick starting points because sometimes it is just hard to get started. In terms of seeding an idea, one is just keeping the user at the centre. Who is your end user? And what is their real problem? Are you solving the right problem? And for an innovation crowd, that’s old news, but what I’m here to say is it’s still a massive problem. I see it every day in almost every organization. The user is not at the centre. We are still operating on a ton of assumptions. You know, another thing that folks can do is if there is pushback, you know, if people are trying to think about new ways to bring ideas forward, there is pushback. Enlist those people, those very people into your process. That is something I learned pretty early on. So, for example, we would often get pushback from legal and we learned as we sort of ate our own cooking and did our research is legal would be irritated and frustrated because they would always be brought in on the back end, not the front end.

And to be clear, it can’t be anybody from legal, just anyone. It has to be the right person with the right mind-set but there are folks in legal out there who love helping you navigate the grid and they will finely do it. If you bring them in early, they can become an internal champion and advocate rather than sort of an adversary or someone who is pushing back on you on the backend. I think innovation is happening organically in every organization. Hold it up put it out there. Simple things like a leader, putting out an email saying. I think now’s a great time to do this, to start cataloguing the innovation that is happening in your organization right now. Probably directly as a result of the COVID crisis. Sharing that, holding it up. And asking people what else is happening?

What have you seen? Send me a note let me know about it, and then asking the question, well, how do we make sure this really continues? That is really powerful to people, for people to see what’s already happening in their organization and understanding shift is occurring, that we can do this here, and then finally I would say do more with less. You know, there is a chapter in my book Disrupt it Yourself that is a nod to Jugaad Innovation. It is called keep it approval, so this is really about how do we deliver high value at low cost? How do we do more with less? So I think that is a part of it is thinking about, well not what don’t I have? Like I need a giant room with whiteboards and a lot of posted notes or I can get started right now. If I have a lunch and learn with a couple of people who have some big ideas and we just kick some things around. Doing more with less also means do less talking and get into action.

Steve Rush: Right.

Simone Ahuja: I think I will, end up there. I mean, if there is one thing that people should do is just, get into action, take a tiny little step, something that a third grader could understand. Your phrase starts with a verb; you know, research something for 15 minutes or call this person to ask them about how I might solve this problem. It start very small and get into action.

Steve Rush: I love those and they are super hacks. Thank you for sharing those with us today. Simone.

Simone Ahuja: My pleasure.  

Steve Rush: This part of the show also, we want to think about how you’ve used something that may not have worked well for you in the past or a time in your work or your life where things have not planned out in any way, shape or form. We call this Hack to Attack. So what would be your Hack to Attack?

Simone Ahuja: I will go back to this piece about compassion. So I’ve learned that if you try to push innovation on people because it’s the right thing to do, even if it really, you know, no matter, what you feel or think, if someone’s not ready for it and you use a stick approach, it’s not going to work in any meaningful and long-term way. And so I have become much, much more conscious and much more compassionate in my approach to innovation and teaching innovation in guiding leaders to have compassion. So for example, even if we think about the metrics, we might say, you know, it is important for everyone to bring ideas forward. Everybody has to bring five new ideas forward to this meeting. Which is a great way to start some meetings; by the way, that is another hack, but what happens is the people who are introverted. The people who are not comfortable speaking in a group environment get left out, and so an example of that kind of compassion is maybe those people are identified and, you talk to them separately and you make sure that they are not excluded because they don’t fit a certain mould of what innovation looks like. So I would say that is one of my biggest learnings of the last several years. Push does not work. It is not effective for anyone. It does not lead to lasting impact. I think a compassionate approach to innovation is the way forward.

Steve Rush: I could not agree with you more, and the last thing I wanted to unpick with you is we do a little bit of time travel. At this part of the show is where we take you back to bump into Simone at 21. Now, if you could speak to Simone when she was 21 and give her some words of wisdom and some advice, what would that be?

Simone Ahuja: Follow your heart. Follow your heart. You know, as you get older, hopefully you come into your own. You start, you know, we talked about trust a lot today, and as you get older, hopefully you trust yourself more and more. You know, there is a kind of a balance in a way of what you learn. You know, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and part of that wisdom is understanding what intuition is and why there is intuition. So I would say those feelings that you have where you know something is or isn’t the right thing, follow those earlier on and don’t worry about what others say is, I think that’s a very common thing we hear entrepreneurs say is there are lots of naysayers. That does not mean you don’t take anyone else’s opinion into consideration, but I would say follow your heart.

Steve Rush: It is clear that over the last 15 years. Having followed your heart, you’ve now driven not only something that helps others get into the principles of frugal innovation and Jugaad, but actually you can see in everything that you do Simone, and having watched some of your talks and having read Disrupt It Yourself, you know, compassion is a key theme that runs through that. So thank you for sharing that. As folks have been listening to you today, I am pretty certain that they’ll want to know a little bit more about you. Where would you like my daily to go to find out a bit more about the work that you do and how they might want to connect with you?

Simone Ahuja: Thanks Steve. I am glad the compassion piece comes through. It is definitely something that is a high priority for me and for Blood Orange right now. If folks want to reach out or learn more about us. They can to blood-orange.com and if they want a tool that they can use, they can go onto contact and just drop in their email and write innovation action plan in the title and we will drop them out. A very simple plan that they can use to get started. We talked about getting into action so we can send them something like that. We’ve also got an innovations kind of StrengthsFinder assessment that folks can check in about as well.

Steve Rush: Great stuff and really practical help and advice through your website too, and it’s just goes without saying Simone. I have really enjoyed chatting with you; I have studied your work for the last few years and had a ball having the opportunity to speak with you today. Thank you ever so much for joining us on The Leadership Hacker Podcast today.

Simone Ahuja: Thanks, Steve. This is a great podcast and I have enjoyed listening and being a part of this. Thank you.

Closing 

Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler their @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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