Andrew and Gaia Grant on ”The Innovation Race”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant are the directors of Tirian International Consultancy, and authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game, along with Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get it Back?’ Who Killed Creativity was co-written with Jason Gallate. Gallate is a registered psychologist and has a PhD in neuroscience.

Andrew and Gaia have been engaged by market innovation leaders to help create a culture of innovation including: Google – working at their HQ in the US to introduce future solutions thinking; Nestlé – facilitating a workshop on sustainable solutions for emerging markets at HQ in Switzerland; Large finance institutions – assisting them with dealing with changes to the regulations; Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts – preparing the exec team and all GMs to embrace the potential future of the hospitality industry; Disney (HK) – creating compelling ideas to use for marketing, and Mercedes-Benz (China) with brand positioning.

They have presented keynotes at major international conferences including: TEDx (HK), World Presidents/Young Presidents Organization, Global Edge (Australia), The World Innovation Conference (France), and HR Summit (Singapore). The Grants have authored more than 30 corporate educational resources, simulations and programs that are used by Fortune 500 companies and are sold under license worldwide. Outside of their corporate work, Andrew and Gaia have also worked on breakthrough pro bono education projects across Asia, including designing educational material that has been targeted to reach over 25 million people in developing countries worldwide.

Gaia Grant is conducting HD (PhD) research into the role of culture change and transformation in sustainable innovation at the University of Sydney Business School, where she is also a guest lecturer. Gaia also has a, MSc (in creative leadership) and a Grad Dip in change leadership from The State University of New York, and BA Dip Ed, BD (hons) from Macquarie University.

As professional full time presenters, Gaia and Andrew know how to engage an audience and provide actionable outcomes.

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Now let’s shift our attention to The Innovation Race. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP.

First, when and why did you and Andrew decide to write it and do so in collaboration?

Andrew: The Innovation Race is an extension of our first book on the topic, Who Killed Creativity? While that earlier book focuses on helping identify potential psychological blocks to creative thinking and how to develop creative thinking skills and attitudes for individuals, The Innovation Race explores how to create an organization culture that supports innovation.

Gaia: I was inspired to look deeper into the paradoxes of creating a culture that supports innovation after studying the area through my research. The research and writing process for the book took two years, and it was a long and challenging process. I initiated the whole process and got it off the ground, then Andrew helped to pull it all together and bring it back down to the ground. After I drafted the initial version, Andrew then worked with me to ensure it didn’t have too much of an academic approach, to make it more broadly accessible, and and work towards making it more relevant and applicable for businesses. He helped to add stories and facts that would flesh out my ideas more. We are very different in the ways we work and our orientations, so working together is a practical act of the challenge of incorporating two different perspectives (I am generally more of an “Explorer”, while Andrew is usually more of a “Preserver”). Writing books together and running a business together means that we’re constantly practicing what we preach and putting the principles we advocate into practice!

Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Gaia: I think our biggest “Aha!” moment while writing the book was realizing that innovation needs to be both purposeful and sustainable in order to really contribute something of value. That is why we believe this balance between “Exploration” and “Preservation” is so important– we need to look back and recognize where we have been and where we are now, to ensure what we do is sustainable and is the best for the people and the planet (Preservation), before looking ahead to identify a positive vision for the future (Exploration).

Andrew: Our travels around the world have been significant in inspiring us to identify these different elements that can support innovation in different countries and cultures. We have then used these principles as a basis for providing guidance to contemporary businesses. We had an amazing time in Bhutan, for example, learning about how they have built both “Exploration” and “Preservation” principles clearly into their political fabric and development agenda. Hiking up to an ancient monastery thousands of years old and spending time with Buddhist monks, then sitting with government leaders to discuss the past and future of the country through their GNH (Gross National Happiness) principles – experiences like these can lead to incredible revelations.

The deeper we went into exploring other cultures, the more profound our findings were. History repeats itself if we don’t consciously act to do things differently, so learning from past civilizations and from other cultural perspectives is critical. And yet we rarely see this in other business books. It’s so fascinating finding out what factors have supported and stifled innovation over the years and across different continents.

To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Andrew: We wanted to go beyond just looking at successful companies, as this has been done many times. Ironically, also, many companies that were once considered successful are no longer deemed to be in the race! So the wider we looked at different countries, cultures (and companies), the more we realized our current metaphor of an ‘innovation race’ is fatally flawed.

Gaia: A quote from the spokesperson for Bhutan’s principles of GNH (Gross National Happiness), Thakur Singh Powdyel (former Education minister and currently Principal of the main university there), summarizes a key turning point for us: “A time comes in the life of a nation, as indeed in the life of a person, where one needs to think what is the purpose of life, what are the goals of development? I think this also holds true for companies and corporations. What are the end goals? Through doing what they’re doing do they make life a little better, does the world become a bit more beautiful and a bit more sustainable? What value, what real authentic value and meaning and worth are corporations adding to the world? So that’s why I believe for organizations, as tempting as it may be to increase profit, it is far more important to think what is the goal of profit?” What has surprised us as we went outside the usual approach for business books, was there are plenty of others who challenge progress for the sake of it. Interviewing Philosopher Same Keen revealed to us how powerful the myth of progress has been as the dominant metaphor since the 20th century. This is too often about how only the number one wins: the one with the most power and the fastest. It is highly competitive rather than collaborative.

I agree with you that each of the three words that comprise this book’s title is very significant: How so?

Andrew: This title was deliberately designed to be ambiguous, to appeal to both the corporate titan that wants to race ahead and has a fear of what disruptive innovation is doing in their industry AND the more socially and environmentally aware ethical innovator who realizes there is a race against time to save the planet. We challenge the commonly used terminology of the title in the final chapter, and we redefine it as a race against time that we need to deal with collectively. Through dissecting the title we challenge that there is only one race ‘The’ race, we question what ‘Innovation’ really is, it’s definition and purpose, and we challenge the ‘Race’ metaphor itself. We end up asking, ‘Is there a better metaphor, a better concept that can provide us with guidance for moving forward sustainably and successfully?’ As Mythologist Joseph Campbell has said, “If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.”

Who are the contestants in “the race”?

Gaia: Think about how TV was originally a one-way medium, with passive viewers looking into a box to see a ‘world’ that had been framed by others. Reality TV has, in contrast, has now involved viewers in the process, e.g. through voting, through commenting on social media etc. Everyone is part of it. We draw some parallels with the “Innovation Race,” identifying some specific comparisons with the Amazing Race reality show. So all individuals, all societies, all countries, all companies – we are all consciously or inadvertently part of this race, whether we like it or not. So we need to be responsible with our moves, ensure we are doing the best to lead to the best outcomes for all. We hope to show that it is possible to move from passive observer to active participant. More than that, we want to show that whether you like the idea or not is no longer relevant, because the innovation race has now become a global phenomenon, and sitting it out as a passive viewer is not possible. The question is no longer whether to join the race, but rather how to think about the race we are all part of.

How will victory be determined? By what or whom?

Andrew: Perhaps we need to understand that in this current interconnected world it’s a matter of us ALL winning or ALL losing. There is a race against such things as climate change, poverty, social injustices, the arms race, environmental degradation etc, and we need to recognize we are all in it together and need to work together to solve these issues – rather than continuing with an individualistic competitive focus. This signifies the need for a shift from ‘what’s in it for me?’ to ‘what’s in it for us all?’ We need visionaries who can shift us away from ‘an’ innovation race, or ‘my’ innovation race – even from ‘our’ (tribal) group’s innovation race, but rather to ‘the’ most significant innovation race of all time, the fight for survival.

Gaia: The CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, has demonstrated how businesses can take the lead through a similar collaborative approach. Salesforce is a company we have had the opportunity to work with, and we have been impressed by their commitment to social change. Benioff believes that given their current position, for better or worse, ‘Businesses are the greatest platforms for change and can have an enormous impact on improving the state of the world. As business leaders we are… accountable for the well-being of an extended community of employees, customers and partners, as well as our fellow beings on this planet we inhabit.’

Is there a scoreboard to determine how each contestant is doing relative to the others? Please explain.

Gaia: There are standard measures of innovation (e.g. Global Innovation Index), which could be considered to be scoreboards in the standard technological ‘innovation race’, but in our new definition of the innovation race the individuals, teams, organizations, countries and cultures that are doing the best are those that are taking proactive action. Standard measures look at the number of patents registered, but this is a problematic approach. What about the individuals and cultures that are highly innovative but don’t have the resources to commercialize and register their ideas? The concept of ‘jugaad innovation’, which describes how people in impoverished parts of India often come up with incredible innovations by making the best of the limited resources they have. How do we measure these types of innovations?

Andrew: Here is the twist. We can scrap the scoreboard and redefine the measures. With the reality TV metaphor in mind, think about whether you are a Participant or a Producer in the current innovation race. A Participant mindset is often one of a helpless pawn (think Hunger Games), while a Producer mindset can change the narrative. Producers don’t need to keep rehashing the same old formula, they can set a new standard and change the game. We should be measuring how well a culture supports the innovative process. Richard Florida’s Global Creativity Index provides a better measure, for example, by looking at factors such as education standards and values that support diversity along with the more standard measure of technological development.

To what extent (if any) do those winners have a “secret sauce”? If so, what is it?

Andrew: Creative collaboration, or co-creation.

Gaia: We believe the Scandinavian countries are doing the best in the innovation race globally, as they focus on both good social collaborative development, and on developing technologies that can support those developments. They effectively work together to come up with better standards of living that benefit all, and it’s therefore not surprising that these countries rank highly on Richard Florida’s Global Creativity Index.

Your brilliant book is so rich in valuable content that it evokes questions about countless other subjects of greatest interest and value to me. Here are several. Please share your thoughts about each.

First, playing “Snakes and Ladders”

Gaia: This is a metaphor we use for talking about disruptive innovation, how we can race ahead through breakthrough innovations, but then so easily fall behind with the rapid pace of change. We use this metaphor to illustrate the need to change the game through sustainable and purpose-driven innovation.

An observation by Bill Gates: “Banking is necessary, bankers are not.”

Andrew: We will need to completely rethink the ways we do things in the future. There are certain principles that will endure, such as mobility, the need for accommodation and food etc, but the way we do these will be completely different in the future. We need to get back to basic and to understand what we are really trying to achieve in order to come up with the most unique and most useful innovations.

The value of shifting perspectives and modifying or discarding opinions

Gaia: As westerners we can tend to think and perceive the world one-dimensionally. But in order to really relate to others and to develop empathy, in order to understand real needs and innovate to meet these real needs, we need to become ‘multi-perceptive’. We need to be able to see a situation from many different viewpoints. The Chinese did this in their art in the Ming dynasty, demonstrating how it is possible to see different perspectives at the one time, and revealing how it is possible to see from the “heart’s mind” rather than simply from a cold scientific perspective, which is what we tend to do. The Japanese concepts of shukanteki and kyakkanteki reveal the need to see from both the “host’s” and the “guest’s” perspectives in order to develop authentic empathy, which is essential for purpose-driven innovation.

Hyperconnection: the paradox of connection and isolation

Gaia: Thinks about how we are more connected than ever before, particularly through the introduction of the Internet, but ironically also more lonely than ever before. Connection is critically important for innovation, it is through sharing and building on ideas that we come up with superior options, but research has revealed that too much connection can in fact lead to people putting up walls to protect themselves, and can therefore impact the innovation process.

Why game changers must first be culture changers

Andrew: If you want to change the game you need to first change a culture. If you don’t change a culture, people will quickly revert to their old ways of doing things. Culture change is a long process of education and empowerment, so it’s not always the easy road, but it is essential for longevity.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in The Innovation Race will be most valuable to those now preparing for a business people career or have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

Andrew: Understanding how to navigate the two key paradoxes for developing a positive culture that supports innovative thinking and problem solving – Exploration and Preservation.

Gaia: Once you can identify how these paradoxes emerge, how they can be measured, and how they can best be navigated, it becomes so much easier to know how to lead, how to design a culture and environment, how to make decisions etc – all things that lead to a more progressive and innovative organization. We provide lots of practical case studies and examples in the book, along with lots of recommendations and checklists for the practical application of these principles. So hopefully all the principles and practices are clear and easy to follow!

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Andrew and Gaia invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Tirian link

The Innovation Race link

The Innovation Race interviews link

Who Killed Creativity link

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