How to Transform WFH into the Best Thing to Happen to Innovation in Your Company

How to Transform WFH into the Best Thing to Happen to Innovation in Your Company

The seasons may be changing but, for most, there is no end in sight for our new Work From Home (WFH) existence.  The prospect of more months of working from the kitchen table, searching for a quiet spot for a Zoom call, and juggling personal and professional responsibilities on a minute-by-minute basis is frustrating and overwhelming for most.

It’s also raising questions about the future of work.  Will companies still maintain large physical office spaces? What new symbols of power and status will take the place of the corner office?  Will people need to re-locate when they change companies?  When, if ever, will co-workers gather together in person?

How will company culture form? Will innovation continue or stall?

It is those last two questions, about culture and innovation, that every single one of my clients, all executives with responsibility for growth and innovation at their companies, have been asking and struggling to answer for the past few months.

They fear that the isolation of WFH eliminates the serendipitous collisions of people and ideas that ignite innovation.  They worry that the artificiality of Zoom meetings diminish the authenticity of conversations.  They know that the explosion of meetings contributes to people’s feelings of overwhelm, draining their energy, curiosity, and creativity.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way?

What if the opposite is be true?

What if WFH accelerates innovation?

I believe it can.

I believe it will if we are willing to take the following steps

 

1. Stop trying to re-create the real world in the digital one.

One of the most common mistakes companies make when adopting or adapting to a “new normal” is cutting and pasting the old into the new.

For example, consider the newspaper industry.  In 1980, when the first newspapers went online, the offered text versions of their print editions.  As internet speeds increased, they shifted to offering visual images of their print editions.  It wasn’t until subscriptions and ad revenues began to plummet that they realized they couldn’t simply “cut and paste” their print editions into a digital format but rather needed to create content specific for the digital medium.

The same thing is happening today.  Hoping to spur serendipity and create casual conversations, companies spent the Spring and Summer hosting Zoom Happy Hours and virtual coffee chats.  The results were even more awkward and less useful than the usual in-person “mandatory fun” events.

 

2. Recognize that the things that spur innovation are not “one size fits all.”

Today’s workplaces were designed for extroverts.  Open-floor plans, unassigned desks, glass-walled conference rooms, community tables, and endless brainstorming sessions feed extroverts’ desire for engagement, energy, and interaction.

Introverts, of which I am one, hate it.

We work best when we can sit quietly, think deeply, look at things from multiple angles, and then share it with the world.  Working from home gives us the space (if not the quiet) to be thoughtful and creative in the ways that best suit our styles.  Because of this, we’re more likely to speak up in meetings, share ideas, and reach out to people.

 

3. Create innovation approaches and activities purpose-built for a workforce that WFH.

Identify the most essential parts of the real-world experience.  Be careful not to confuse “essential” with “favorite”.  Yes, it may be fun for you to be in a room of people furiously shouting out ideas and writing them on sticky notes.  But the only essential part of that is getting ideas from multiple people.

Identify the most unique parts of the WFH experience.  It can be hard to bring diverse perspectives into a brainstorming session at the office, but at home, you have ready access to perspectives from kids, friends, and that random guy who walks his dog past your house while you enjoy your morning coffee.

Combine the essential parts of the real-world experience with the unique parts of the WFH experience and create something that works in the digital space.  For example, instead of brainstorming, sorting, and prioritizing ideas all in one meeting (like you did in the “old days”), send the brainstorming topic to people 24-hours before the meeting.  Ask them to brainstorm ideas before the meeting and come prepared to share them with the group.  Once each person shares their ideas with the group, then the group can collectively discuss, build, group, and prioritize.

 

Innovation happens because people have the freedom to think of new things, permission to share their thoughts, and the opportunity to work with others to bring it to life.

Not just because we bump into people in the hallway or sit next to someone new.

You don’t need an office for those things.  You can have all those things, and more, if you let go of the old normal and embrace the “new WFH normal.”

Back to (Buzzword) Basics: Growth, Innovation, and Transformation

Back to (Buzzword) Basics: Growth, Innovation, and Transformation

“When people hear ‘Innovation’ they think of shiny new objects.  So, we don’t really use that word anymore.  Now we talk about growth.”

My friend, a VP of Innovation Growth at a large media and entertainment company summed up the state of “innovation” pretty well with that comment.

“Innovation” has become a meaningless buzzword and, after decades of failed investments and initiatives, corporate executives have grown tired of its theatrics and empty promises.

I don’t blame them one bit.

But swapping out one word for another simply because it has less baggage is not the answer.

It’s like putting a Rolls Royce hood ornament on a Kia and trying to sell it for $80,000.  It just doesn’t work.

 

Let’s get back to (buzzword) basics.

Here’s a break down of Growth, Innovation, and the latest addition to the buzzword pantheon, Transformation.

GROWTH

  • Buzzword-iness: 🙄
  • What it is: Improving some measure of a business’ success, usually by increasing the top line (revenue) or bottom line (profit)
  • Why it is important: Growth is how you stay in business, especially in competitive markets
  • When to do it: Always

INNOVATION

  • Buzzword-iness: 🙄 🙄 🙄
  • What it is: Something different that creates value, a key driver of growth
  • Why it is important: Innovation is how to stay competitive, either by copying competitors or improving internal processes (“different” is relative to your company’s status quo), or by creating or doing something new.
  • When to do it: Always and ideally before you are confronted with a burning platform because that is when the resources required for successful innovation (time, money, people, and patience) are in the shortest supply.

TRANSFORMATION

  • Buzzword-iness: 🙄 🙄
  • What it is: Profound or radical change that dramatically reorients the purposes, processes, structures, and practices or an organization.
    • Often confused with:
      • Turnaround: Positive and sustained reversal of negative conditions while maintaining or only incrementally changing the organization’s purpose, processes, structures, and practices
      • Digital Transformation: Use of digital technology to solve problems usually requiring the transformation of processes from non-digital or manual to digital
    • Why it is important: Transformation is how the organization stays in viable for the long-term (e.g. decades or centuries)
    • When to do it: Transformation is required when it becomes clear that the organization’s current business model (i.e. how it creates, captures, and delivers value) will eventually cease to generate value due to fundamental shifts in the market, technology, customer preferences and behaviors, and/or competitive forces

 

The Basic Bottom-line

Growth is required for organizations to stay viable.  There are a variety of ways to achieve growth including, but not limited to, selling existing offerings to new customers, selling new things to existing customers, and reducing costs.

Innovation is one of the ways that organizations can grow and is most effective when it is used strategically and consistently.

Transformation is required when the likelihood of long-term growth diminishes and the only way to remain a viable entity is to radically and fundamentally change the nature of the organization.

 

Now that we’ve got the right hood ornaments (definitions) on the right cars (words), I hope that my friend can keep working on innovation and avoids operational efficiency efforts.  After all, as a VP of Growth, both could reasonably fall under her mandate.

 

Buzzword-iness Scale:

🙄 (1 eye roll): Relates to an essential topic but is probably overused and/or used in a way that is so ambiguous as to elicit sighs, knowing glances, or eye rolls.

🙄 🙄 (2 eye rolls): Appears with greater frequency in the business press and consultant presentations; lots of senior executives and consultants use the term but no one can quickly or concisely define it or explain why it’s important.

🙄 🙄 🙄 (3 eye rolls): Inescapable and meaningless but has been used for so long that we’re stuck with it; lots of people use the term, everyone has their own definition, most can explain why it’s important, few have successfully done it.

 

The Innovator has No Clothes: Innovation’s 3 Great Lies

The Innovator has No Clothes: Innovation’s 3 Great Lies

I love stories.  When I was a kid, my parents would literally give me a book and leave me places while they ran errands.  They knew that, as long as I was reading, I wouldn’t be moved.

But there was one story I hated – The Emperor’s New Clothes

I hated it because it made absolutely no sense.  It was a story of adults being stupid and a kid being smart, and, to a (reasonably) well-behaved kid, it was absolutely unbelievable.

No adult would try to sell something that doesn’t exist, like the clothiers did with the cloth.  No adult would say they could see something they couldn’t, like the Emperor and the townspeople did.  Adults, after all, don’t play at imagination.

As a kid, this story seemed completely wild and unrealistic.

As an adult, this story is so true that it hurts.

The truth of this story touches so many things and innovation is at the top of the list.

I’ve spent my career working in innovation working within large companies and as an advisor to them.  I know what executives, like the emperor, request. I’ve said what the consultants say to sell their wares.  I believed all of it.

Now I need to be the kid and point out some of the lies, as I see them.

 

Lie #1: Companies can disrupt themselves
Truth #1: Companies can but they won’t

There are lots of reasons why companies won’t and don’t disrupt themselves but, in my experience, there is one reason that trumps them all: It’s not in anyone’s interest.

In most companies, there is not one single person, including the CEO, who has a vested interest (i.e. is incentivized) in taking the time and allocating the resources required to disrupt the current busines.

In most companies, however, there are lots of people who have a vested interest (i.e. make lots of money) in delivering on quarterly or annual KPIs.

Disruption takes time.  It took more than 20 years for the hard disk drive industry, the focus of Clayton Christensen’s doctoral research and the basis of the theory of Disruptive Innovation, to be disrupted.  Even in today’s faster-paced world, it’s hard to find an industry that, in a span of 5-10 years, ceased to exist as a result of disruptive innovation.

Companies have the resources to disrupt themselves.  But executives don’t have the incentive.

 

Lie #2: If companies act like VCs, they’ll successfully innovate
Truth #2: If companies act like VCs, they’ll go bankrupt

OK, this one is more false than true.

Companies need to engage in multiple types of innovation:

  • Improving their core
  • Moving into adjacent markets by serving new customers or offering something new or making money in new ways or using new process, resources, and activities
  • Creating something breakthrough that changes the basis of competition

Companies should only “act like VCs” when dealing with breakthrough innovations.

VCs are purpose-built to be financially successful in environments where there are more unknowns than knowns.  This is why the central tenant of acting like a VC is adopting a portfolio approach and making little bets in lots of companies.  When large companies who take this approach to breakthrough innovations, they, like VCs, invest in lots of initiatives thus increasing the odds of investing in a winner.

However, companies that “act like VCs” when it comes to their entire innovation portfolio simply dilute their resources, investing too little in too many things and ultimately decreasing their already low odds of innovation success.

This is because when engaging in core and adjacent innovation, the bulk of innovation pursued by large companies, the knowns typically equal or outweigh the unknowns.  As a result, it makes more sense to NOT act like a VC and make medium to large bets in a few initiatives, enabling companies to rapidly launch and scale their core and adjacent innovation initiatives.

 

Lie #3: We can pivot our way to success
Truth #3: If you’re not solving a problem, no amount of pivoting will bring success

The fact that the emperor and all the townspeople believed the emperor was wearing clothes didn’t make it true.

And no amount of “pivoting” – it’s not silk, it’s wool!  It’s not green, it’s blue! – was going to make it true.

The same can be said for innovation.

If the innovation isn’t solving a problem, there is no market.  Shifting from a product to a service, won’t change that.  Nor will changing from a transaction-based model to a subscription model.

Pivoting is how you fit a square peg into a round hole.  It’s not how you create a hole for your square peg.

 

Of course, it’s easy to come up with one, or two, or maybe even three examples of the lie being true.  It is those one, or two, or even three examples that are trotted out in every speech, book, article, and consulting pitch to convince us to believe.  But the reality is that the exceptions, in this case, prove the rule.

After all, the emperor wasn’t completely naked.  He was wearing a crown. 

But that doesn’t make the lack of clothes any less embarrassing.

5 Ways to Go Beyond Your Customers & Serve All of Your Stakeholders

5 Ways to Go Beyond Your Customers & Serve All of Your Stakeholders

Over the past several weeks, I’ve kicked off innovation projects with multiple clients.  As usual, my clients are deeply engaged and enthusiastic, eager to learn how to finally break through the barriers their organizations erect and turn their ideas into real initiatives that generate real results.

Things were progressing smoothly during the first kick-off until a client asked, “Who’s my customer?”

I was shocked.  Dumbfounded.  Speechless.  To me, someone who “grew up” in P&G’s famed brand management function and who has made career out of customer-driven innovation, this was the equivalent of asking, “why should I wear clothes?”  The answer is so obvious that the question shouldn’t need to be asked.

Taking a deep breath, I answered the question and we moved on.

A few days later, the question was asked again.  By a different client.  In a different company.  A few days later, it was asked a third time.  By yet a different client.  In yet a different company.  In a completely different industry!

What was going on?!?!?

Each time I gave an answer specific to the problem we were working to solve.  When pressed, I tried to give a general definition for “customer” but found that I spent more time talking about exceptions and additions to the definition rather than giving a concise, concrete, and usable answer.

That’s when it struck me – Being “customer-driven” isn’t enough.  To be successful, especially in innovation, you need to focus on serving everyone involved in your solution.  You need to be “stakeholder-driven.”

 

What is a customer?

According to Merriam-Webster, a customer is “one that purchases a commodity or service.”

Makes perfect sense.  At P&G, we referred to retailers like WalMart and Kroger as “customers” because they purchased P&G’s products from the company.  These retailers then sold P&G’s goods to “consumers” who used the products.

But P&G didn’t focus solely on serving its customers.  Nor did it focus solely on serving its consumers.  It focused on serving both because to serve only one would mean disaster for the long-term business.  It focused on its stakeholders.

 

What is a stakeholder?

Setting aside Merriam-Webster’s first definition (which is specific to betting), the definitions of a stakeholder are “one that has a stake in an enterprise” and “one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.”

For P&G, both customers (retailers) and consumers (people) are stakeholders because they are “involved in or affected by” P&G’s actions.  Additionally, shareholders and employees are stakeholders because they have a “stake in (the) enterprise.”

As a result, P&G is actually a “stakeholder-driven” company in which, as former CEO AG Lafley said in 2008, the “consumer is boss.”

 

How to be a stakeholder-driven organization

Focusing solely on customers is a dangerous game because it means that other stakeholders who are critical to your organization’s success may not get their needs met and, as a result, may stop supporting your work.

Instead, you need to understand, prioritize, and serve all of your stakeholders

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Identify ALL of your stakeholders. Think broadly, considering ALL the people inside and outside your organization who have a stake or are involved or affected by your work.
    1. Inside your organization: Who are the people who need to approve your work? Who will fund it?  Who influences these decisions? Who will be involved in bringing your solution to life?  Who will use it?  Who could act as a barrier to any or all of these things?
    2. Outside your organization: Who will pay for your solution? Who will use your solution?  Who influences these decisions?  Who could act as a barrier?
  2. Talk to your stakeholders and understand what motivates them. For each of the people you identify by asking the above questions, take time to actually go talk to them – don’t email them, don’t send a survey, actually go have a conversation – and seek to understand they’re point of view.  What are the biggest challenges they are facing?  Why is this challenging?  What is preventing them from solving it?  What motivates them, including incentives and metrics they need to deliver against?   What would get them to embrace a solution?  What would cause them to reject a solution?
  3. Map points of agreement and difference amongst your stakeholder. Take a step back and consider all the insights from all of your stakeholders.  What are the common views, priorities, incentives, or barriers?  What are the disagreements or points of tension?  For example, do your buyers prioritize paying a low price over delivering best-in-class performance while your users prioritize performance over price?  Are there priorities or barriers that, even though they’re unique to a single stakeholder, you must address?
  4. Prioritize your stakeholder by answering, “Who’s the boss?” Just as AG Lafley put a clear stake in the ground when he declared that, amongst all of P&G’s stakeholders, that the consumer was boss, challenge yourself to identify the “boss” for your work. For medical device companies, perhaps “the boss” is the surgeon who uses the device and the hospital executive who has the power to approve the purchase.  For a non-profit, perhaps it’s the donors who contribute a majority of the operating budget.  For an intrapreneur working to improve an internal process, perhaps it’s the person who is responsible for managing the process once it’s implemented.  To be clear, you don’t focus on “the boss” to the exclusion of the other stakeholders but you do prioritize serving the boss.
  5. Create an action plan for each stakeholder. Once you’ve spent time mapping, understanding, and prioritizing the full landscape of your stakeholder’s problems, priorities, and challenges, create a plan to address each one.  Some plans may focus on the design, features, functions, manufacturing, and other elements of your solution.  Some plans may focus on the timing and content of proactive communication.  And some plans may simply outline how to respond to questions or a negative incident.

 

Yes, it’s important to understand and serve your customers.  But doing so is insufficient for long-term success.  Identifying, understanding, and serving all of your stakeholders is required for long-term sustainability.

Next time you start a project, don’t just ask “Who is my customer?” as “Who are my stakeholders?” The answers my surprise you.  Putting those answers into action through the solutions you create and the results they produce will delight you.

Originally published on March 23, 2020 on Forbes.com

Intuition or Data: Which Leads to Better Innovation Decisions?

Intuition or Data: Which Leads to Better Innovation Decisions?

“We need more data.”

How many times have you heard this?  How many times have you rolled your eyes (physically or mentally) and then patiently tried to explain that, when you’re doing something NEW, there is NO DATA.

There are analogous innovations, things that are similar in some ways that can be used as benchmarks, but nothing exactly like what you’re creating because nothing like it has existed before within your company.

As Innovators, we constantly balance our need for and comfort with gut decisions so we can move forward at speed with the broader organization’s need for data and certainty as a way to minimize risk.

But what role should intuition and data play in the early days of innovation?

This is exactly the question that my friend and former colleague, Nick Pineda, sought to answer in his thesis, “Are relevant experience and intuition drivers of success for innovation decision-makers?  An interview-based approach”

 

Robyn: Hi Nick!  Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.  The topic you explore in your thesis is fascinating and something every innovator struggles with.  I’m curious, what led you to decide to explore it?

Nick: Interestingly, the process of deciding what to write my thesis on actually inspired the topic itself.

For the capstone of my Masters program, we were told to do a consulting project but I had spent so many years in consulting that I wasn’t terribly excited about that prospect.  One day, as I was walking to work, I felt this feeling in my gut that said, “Nick, this is not why you’re in the Masters program.”  I shared this feeling with my professor and faculty advisor, and they were open to a different approach.

As we discussed what I could do, the same topic kept coming up – a lot of what is published about innovation, especially with Agile, is about measurement and that we need to have evidence before we take action.  I don’t disagree with that but viewing things only through that lens kills the wisp of an idea that has the potential of becoming something amazing.  Ultimately, we decided to focus my thesis on what happens on the front-end of the innovation process and whether intuition or evidence and data lead to success.

 

Robyn: And, what did you learn?

Nick: Two things, one that wasn’t surprising and one that was.

First, what wasn’t surprising is that innovation decision-makers have a really clear awareness about the role that gut feel or intuition, knowing without knowing how you know, play in their process.

Second, what was surprising, is that anyone who leans much more heavily in one direction versus another (data vs intuition), had many more failures, and struggled to process what they learned from those experiences and incorporate those learnings into future actions and decisions.  Successful innovators know how to create a dance between their rational processes and their intuitive processes.

 

Robyn: It seems so, well, intuitive that using both intuition and data to make decisions will lead to better outcomes.  However, so many innovators rely on intuition and so many companies require data, how can you encourage that “dance” that’s required for success?

Nick: You need to start small.

First with the person who’s innovating, to help them enter that inner space and recognize all the different ways that intuition can show up.   It can manifest as a sensory experience, a change in temperature, even a color.  It varies by person and by moment and the key is to recognize when it’s happening.

A simple way to create this awareness is to reflect on how you decide whether to trust someone.  Every time you meet someone new, you have to quickly decide whether or not to trust the person.  How do you do that?  What is the feeling or sense that you get that leads to your decision?  How often are you right?

Next, you need to create a language or process within the team to externalize the intuitive sense.  In my research, I found examples of visionary leaders who were constantly able to use their intuitive sense, but their teams were constantly felt left out and wondering why they did all the work when the leader was just going to decide on gut.  More successful teams were much more open about why, when, and how they were using their intuition, even specifically asking other team members to share their intuition in meetings.

Then, as leaders, we need to normalize the fact that we’re not always going to have precise evidence to know what the right call is and that we’re trusting what we’ve learned as leaders in this space to make a decision.

 

Robyn: That last point is really critical, leaders must role model the behavior they want to see and that includes using and communicating their intuition.  Anything else pop up with respect to leaders and decision-making?

Nick: Ideally, leaders will go beyond normalizing the use of intuition to actively working to dismantle the organization’s bias against it.

Most organizations consciously or subconsciously, defer to the highest paid person or the most credentialed person in the room when making decisions.  This is a highly rational behavior, but it doesn’t lead to the best decision.  The reason is that it overlooks the fact that diversity of experience surfaces other data points and intuitive experiences that need to be part of the conversation to get to a better decision.

Innovation is a group experience and when intuition is allowed to show up in groups a group intelligence starts to manifest and the group makes better decisions.

 

Robyn: That’s quite a To-Do list for leaders and decision-makers:

  1. Manage your personal dance between intuition and data
  2. Normalize intuition by creating a language around it
  3. Create ways to tap into diverse experiences and intuition

Thanks so much for sharing these great insights, Nick!

Nick: My pleasure.

 

****

 

To learn more about intuition and innovation, Nick recommends that you:

READ:

WATCH or LISTEN TO:

TAKE ACTION and Conduct an idea retrospective

    1. Anchor on an idea
      • Think back to a memorable innovation success or failure?
      • What was the idea?
      • Where did the initial idea come from?
      • If you had to pick 1-2 of the most important decisions you had to make in the process of bringing this idea to life, what were those decisions?
    2. Did you use intuition?
      • Intuition defined: Intuition is a process of rapidly recognizing things without knowing how we do the recognizing, which results in affectively charged (somatic, sensory, or emotional experience) judgements.
      • To what degree was your process intuitive?
      • To what degree were you aware of what your brain was doing to seek an answer / path forward?
    3. How did your intuition show up?
      • Signals / Cues: What signals or cues did you have about which course of action to take or not to take?
      • Knowing: How did the answer for which path forward to take “show-up” for you? Where were you? What did it feel like?
      • Feeling: What did you feel during this process?
    4. Apply More Broadly
      • In what ways is the way you explored your intuition in this case similar (or not) to other decisions you make in your life?
      • How might you be more intentional about how to bring your personal brand of intuition into your innovation process?
Innovation Starts with EPIC Conversations

Innovation Starts with EPIC Conversations

Innovation doesn’t start with an idea.  It starts with a problem.  Sometimes those problems are easy to observe and understand but, more often, those problems are multi-layered and nuanced.  As a result, you need a multi-layered and nuanced approach to understanding them.

You need to have EPIC Conversations.

EPIC stands for Empathy, Perspective, Insights, and Connection.  As my clients have experienced, conversations rooted in these elements consistently produce unexpected, actionable, and impactful insights capable of getting to the root of a problem and shining a light on the path to a solution (and meaningful business results).

 

EMPATHY for the people with whom you’re talking

According to Brene Brown, empathy is connecting to the emotion another person is experiencing without requiring us to have experienced the same situation.”

For example, I have a friend who struggles to stay focused and deliver on deadlines.  I can empathize with her because, while I have no problem focusing or delivering on deadlines, I know what it’s like to struggle with something that other people think is easy.

Take the time to connect with people’s emotions, to understand not just what they’re feeling but also why they’re feeling that way and to connect with the experiences in your life and work that led you to feel that way, too.

 

See things from their PERSPECTIVE:

When we’re working on something – a project, a product, even a task – it gets a great deal of our time, attention, and energy.  But it can lead us to over-estimate how important the work is to others.

Instead, ask people about the topic you’re interested in AND all the topics and activities around it.  Take the time to understand where the things you care about fall into your customers’ priority list

For example, when I worked on developing and launching Swiffer, all I thought about was cleaning floors.   One day, we had to decide whether to source the hair for the dirt that would be used in product demos from people, yaks, or wigs.  We obsessed over this decision, debating which hair would “resonate” the most with consumers.  Turns out, consumers didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the hair in the demo dirt, they only cared that it was picked up immediately by Swiffer.

 

Be open to INSIGHTS

Most people use conversations to get confirmation that their ideas and recommendations are good ones.  They’ll spend time explaining and convincing and very little time listening.  And they definitely don’t like surprises.

This is wrong.  The most successful and impactful conversations as those in which you are surprised, in which you get an unexpected piece of information and has an insight, an “a-ha!” moment.

Years ago, while conducting research with people who self-identified as environmentalists, my team spoke with a woman who had the most sustainable house I’d ever seen.  Everything was reused, recycled, or composted and they generated most of their own power.  But, in the garage was a huge yellow HUM-V.  It would have been easy to dismiss it as an anomaly, until we asked about the contradiction and she explained that the reason she owned a HUM-V was the same reason she and her family lived such a sustainable lifestyle: her highest priority was keeping her kids safe.  At home, that meant doing everything possible to help the planet, but on the roads, that meant driving around in a tank.

 

CONNECT with the person you’re speaking with

It’s tempting to jump right into the conversation, to ask the questions that brought you together.  But that’s like proposing on the first date – you’re not going to get the answer(s) you want.

The best conversations aren’t information transactions, they’re trust building exercises.  Take time to get to know each other.  Make small talk, talk about the traffic and the weather, share a bit about yourself and ask about them.  Throughout the conversation, share a bit about yourself, commiserate over shared frustrations, and laugh at silly stories.

By sharing a bit about yourself, the person you’re talking to will share a bit of themselves, they’ll feel comfortable admitting to things that might not make sense, and to the feelings and rationalizations that drive their behaviors.

 

EPIC Conversations can happen with anyone anywhere from customers in focus group rooms to employees in conference rooms.  You don’t need an executive mandate to have one, so have one today and let me know how it goes!

Originally published on February 10, 2020 on Forbes.com