Amy Radin on Disruptive Innovation: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Amy Radin is a recognized Fortune 100 Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer, adviser and investor, board member, and thought leader on how to deliver innovation for sustainable, business-changing impact. She has been at the forefront of rewiring brands for growth and now applies her expertise working with executives to reduce the uncertainty and realize the benefits of innovation.

The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company (City Point Press, Fall 2018), Amy’s first book, captures her field-tested experience as the top executive accountable for achieving innovation results under varied, complex and rapidly changing conditions.

Amy is a graduate of The Wharton School and Wesleyan University. She serves on the global board of the AICPA where she is advising on marketing strategy and the impact of technology and workforce disruption on accounting and financial advisory services. She established and sponsors an annual social impact fellowship at the NYU Stern Graduate School of Business, benefitting students, not-for-profits and government agencies in the New York City metro community for over a decade.

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Insofar as change agency is concerned, you suggest in The Change Maker’s Playbook that “what people do trumps what they say.” Please explain.

I’ll share another story to explain this. Coming out of the financial crisis, a team I worked with wanted to understand how to help people get off the investing sidelines and back into actively managing their money for better returns. A lot of money was being parked in CD’s – really low-yields – but people were afraid to do anything else. They were acting against their own long-term interests, but attitudes about money are very emotionally based, and clearly the Financial Crisis was paralyzing.

We did a series of in-home interviews with individuals and couples to understand their current headset around money, and what was stopping them from taking a more active role to make better decisions with whatever savings or investable assets they had.

In each home we asked to see the “financial area” – the place where the household head paid bills, organized the family’s financial affairs, etc. We saw many different strategies – everything from highly organized binders on immaculate desks, to a shopping bag full of unopened statements, and mail in the corner of one family’s dining room.

Each approach reflected a different attitude about money, self-esteem, sense of security, optimism, and willingness to plan that told us a lot more than what would have been revealed in conversation at a focus group facility or in another impersonal environment.

Actions do speak louder than words. That’s why one piece of advice on user insight is to discount any answer to questions that start with “what would you do if…” It’s what people DO that is a great source of insight to figure out where a great innovation opportunity may be. Projecting what you would do is someplace between impossible and likely to be distorted.

“Sometimes only a crisis can illuminate discovery.” Please explain.

I was a mediocre science student in high school, but I did understand and retain Newton’s first law – an object will remain in motion on its current path unless forced to change direction by something disruptive enough to interfere with that path.

Inertia tends to rule. Established companies, big and small, tend to favor continuity and are built to maintain things as they are. Often we don’t change course in business (let alone in life) unless something big happens that forces a change in direction. Unfortunately, that is often a crisis. Something happens that forces discontinuity, and an acceptance of the need to change, which then triggers a reluctant exploration of alternatives.

What are the most important dos and don’ts to keep in mind when embarking on the seeding process?

Engage users, early and often. Sometimes we (in business) are too cautious about sharing raw ideas, and miss the fact that people love being asked their opinion. You just need to be clear that they are seeing something raw that may not work perfectly, or that is incomplete. Actually, people will be more likely to give you their opinion if you show them something that is obviously in a formative state. If a model or prototype looks too polished, they will be less likely to be critical, so waiting to “get it right” can backfire

o Identify through observation and other feedback the major user behaviors around your prototype and think through how each might affect your business model. This means not just the line items in the financials, but also assumptions about capabilities that might be required, new skill sets, policies, or even legal requirements. Use what you learn about user interactions during seeding to refine the business model assumptions, validate (or disprove) feasibility, and to lead you towards relevant metrics.

o One of the best ways to kill an innovation is to impose overly precise metrics, or metrics that may have been perfectly good in a legacy business but should not be assumed for something brand new. Hold back the temptation to make the financials look more precise than they really are. The way to manage the risks of not having firm numbers is to cycle through small and quick concept refinements with as limited investment as possible.

Please respond to these observations by Warren Buffett: “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.

The change maker is someone who has values that drive them to want to serve people, not push products to make a buck, and who believes in the importance of meeting the broader needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. The moves I advocate in The Change Maker’s Playbook presume integrity, and could be distorted by someone who is not values based.

Were I to hire someone and then discover they lacked a strong inner core built on values, I would want them out — as quickly as possible.

What are the most common misconceptions about the scaling process? What in fact is true?

The big miss when it is time to scale occurs there is reflection and action at what I call in the book the “green light moment.” The skills, team structure, and capabilities that worked to get you through seeking and seeding are probably insufficient to scale.

What has to change to deliver growth? Put those pieces into place, including the ones that have implications for the people who are already there. Some will be ready to move on to the new demands, others may have to acquire new skills or move on.  Management or investor expectations will change a lot the day you get the big check to scale, and the standards upon which you are judged will be different. Be ready for that.

What are the most daunting challenges for those who lead a great team?

Get out of their way. Your job is to make them successful—you work for them, not the other way around.

Please respond to these comments by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1984):  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Toffler had it right well ahead of 2018. Everything is changing so rapidly that remaining a vibrant, engaged and active person of this world requires:

1. Being willing to let go of orthodoxies that not only no longer matter, but that can easily become blinders to new realities,

2.  Understanding and appreciating where the world is going, and the implications of change, and

3. Being willing to replace your own operating principles with ones that may be very different and even uncomfortable, but that the facts support.

I agree with John Kotter that “the most difficult challenge change agents face is changing how they think about change.” Must those about to “seek, seed, and scale innovation” in their company think innovatively about how to do that? Please explain.

It’s very hard, maybe impossible, to do new “whats” with old “hows.” Take a big, established company with shareholder commitments. The organization, processes, and policies are all geared to predictably turning the crank to produce goods or services and deliver promised returns. That’s fine for those goals, but that “how” can kill innovation, which by its very nature disrupts the continuity of a predictable business.

Much of my time and effort in corporate innovation roles was spent rethinking the “how’s” and clearing old how’s out of the way so the team could implement ways of getting things done aligned with the execution requirements of innovation.

One component of change that requires rigorous reconsideration is the notion of failure. It’s easier to accept in theory the notion that to achieve a big breakthrough will require many failures along the way, but we do not live in a society or operate in a business environment where failure is embraced.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in The Change Maker’s Playbook will be most valuable to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

The whole notion of what a career path looks like now is entirely different from even a few years ago.  People will have many careers, and education will be an ongoing, everyday process, not something that ends with formal schooling. Interestingly, I’ve been asked to speak on the theme of being the change maker of your career and your life.  The points that are resonating in these talks are:

o Figuring out your purpose, pursuing it with passion, having an impact. Be persistent through the highs and lows of a world full of ambiguity, complexity and unpredictability that will be frustrating and defeating if you aren’t doing something that aligns with what matters to you.

o Being expert in ways that play to your talents, but recognizing that the change maker is not one person – it’s a composite of many people who come together collaboratively to form a team.  So build your collaboration muscle, whether it is while accomplishing a business goal or building and sustaining a strong network of personal and professional relationships.

o Being adaptable, and open to the opportunities that may happen not in any planned way, but as a result of serendipity.

To first-time supervisors? Please explain.

o You are working for your team, not the other way around. Your job is now to make others successful. That means hiring a diverse group of people who don’t just bring functional skills, but also contribute leadership capability.

o Building and sustaining a culture where people are clear on the purpose, find meaning in their work, believe they can have an impact, and have a sufficient sense of psychological safety to take risks.

o Being open and constructive about providing feedback, and encouraging everyone to be willing to seek help from others. Be able to accept bad news as data, and add value as a problem solver so no one hesitates to come to you with the truth, including when things go awry.

To C-level executives? Please explain.

The C-suite has unique responsibilities to set the stage for the change makers in their organization:

Be clear on the purpose of the brand, how it connects to those you want to serve and what needs you want to fulfill.

o Walk the talk on culture, especially providing that psychological safety net and work that has meaning. You are a unique and visible role model whose behavior will influence how everyone else behaves.

o Establish metrics that are suited to innovation, which may mean stepping back from the metrics by which you have traditionally managed your business and assessed results, and convincing the board that this is the right thing to do. Remember that if something is truly innovative, looking backwards for results standards may be self-defeating.

To the owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies? Please explain.

Resourcefulness is so critical, and keeping a high standard on talent — seeking people who have diverse skills and experiences, are committed to the company’s purpose, collaborate, and have demonstrated adaptability and an ability to thrive under changing circumstances.

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Amy cordially invites you to check out the resources at where visitors can find these free resources:

An excerpt from The Change Maker’s Playbook

o The Seek, Seed, Scale infographic

o Sign up for my monthly e-newsletter

Visitors can also take the Change Maker’s Quiz and receive immediate feedback on their strengths and needs as innovators.

Here is a direct link to Part 1 of my interview of Amy.


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