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Innovation

Reflections on Delve Talks, Part 1: Building a Culture of Innovation

July 28, 2020

For our Delve Talks podcast, Dave Franchino and I had the opportunity to interview a dozen people from various industries, all of whom share a common interest, desire and occupation that involves innovation, creativity, and culture building. You can find the whole series here

We have been reflecting on these amazing conversations and decided to share a summary of what we learned. Below are some high-levels insights and ideas for how to build a culture of innovation from our guests.

What does it take to build, maintain, and scale a culture of innovation?

Taking a customer-centered approach seriously at all levels of the organization

This is seen as a top-down, bottom-up, shared value across the culture. Beyond reaching out and listening to customers for marketing, they use the insights garnered to guide strategy and provide metrics for decision making.

Have conversations, not just Q&A

“We met with a lot of consumers and we talked to them about the nature of these cash crunches and we learn from them and through those conversations…” – Dan Murray, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Information Officer, SafetyNet

Keep a customer-centered point of view; frame problems to be solved from the customers’ point of view

“You got to understand the customer…this idea of design thinking. This way to solve problems that's customer centric. It is absolutely core to being successful in my opinion.” – Ryan Rist, Director of Innovation, American Family Insurance

It’s not enough to show up – you need to listen with the idea that what you hear will change you

“Listen with the desire to hear, to be changed by what you’re hearing from other people. Listening takes a lot of courage.” - Julie Norvaisas, Senior Director of User Research, LinkedIn

Let your customers/members drive strategic and operational decisions

“So, all of our innovations, even our operational efficiency innovations, are member driven.” – Kim Sponem, President, Summit Credit Union

Julie Norvaisas
"Listen with the desire to hear, to be changed by what you’re hearing from other people." - Julie Norvaisas
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Building a corporate spirit of innovation requires differences in experience, opinion, tastes, and talents

All of our guests reflected on the importance of hiring people different than themselves. It’s not about hiring people like you to create cultural fit, but more about building a culture that is strong enough to flex, learn, and grow with each new and different point of view.

Attract diverse talent by talking about potential to create positive change

“So, one of the things that we have done is we've changed the message about how we talk about engineering …When I started, we would tell people, you have to be good at mathematics, physics, chemistry, and then maybe you'll be a good engineer.” Now they focus on “…the impact that this degree is going to have. You are going to change people's lives." – Ian Robertson, Professor and Dean of the College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Welcome the change that new people bring to your culture

“Your culture is changed by every single person who joins your team. And if you have a monoculture that isn't willing to change as you bring new people into that culture, and if leadership isn't willing to evolve, change and shift and grow with that team, that is not a living culture.” – Julie Norvaisas

12 Delve Talks Ian Robertson
"You are going to change people's lives." - Ian Robertson
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Getting uncomfortable


Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable, especially in the beginning of a project. It will save you time and money later and will help drive innovation. This is certainly easier said than done. No one likes to be uncomfortable but learning to lead in times of uncertainty is critical to building a culture of innovation.

Don’t be complacent with past success

“Just because you've lasted 150 years does not mean your business is not disruptive and I think if I distill all of our leadership strategy and leadership conversations down to one thing it's you know; it's focused on that. Sometimes insight is not data driven and you have to be comfortable with that and you have to be comfortable with ambiguity, particularly in new to newer technology areas. And those are the things that we struggle with. I think everybody struggles with them” – Cynthia Bachmann, Vice President of Engineering and Product Design, Kohler Company

Don’t assume you know the answers, even asking questions can make people uncomfortable

“… if you're not careful, you know, you get so good at what you do and you build so much competency in, you have these engineers that a building power tools or beds and structures for 25 or 30 years that you tend to drift away from the customer. And when you're doing voice of customer and you're getting insights for the next generation product; you think you know the answers. … you can start to deliver products to the customer that over time don't work for them if you're not listening to them, we tend to be really in our own little circle and our own little bubble. Before you know it, you look back 10 years later and your whole portfolio hasn't really gone anywhere.” – Scott Sagehorn, Director of Marketing, Stryker

Cynthia Bachmann
"Sometimes insight is not data driven and you have to be comfortable with that." - Cynthia Bachmann
Vance Strader
"(It's) diversity that's really going to allow a team to be better than the sum of its parts." - Vance Strader

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