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A big hello from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. We are going to talk about innovation today. My guest today is Carla Johnson. She is a marketing and innovation strategist, keynote speaker, and author of ten books.

In her latest book RE:Think Innovation, Carla breaks down the exact process that the world’s most prolific innovators use to consistently come up with great ideas.

In this episode:

  • Definition of innovation.
  • How is innovation different from creativity?
  • What is perpetual innovation?
  • What are the five steps of innovation?
  • In which step of innovation do people spend the most time and why?
  • What are the different types of innovators?
  • How can people regularly work on enhancing their innovation skills?
  • What is the best way to encourage innovation in B2B business?

Quotes from the episode:

“I define innovation as the ability to consistently come up with new, great and reliable ideas. It sounds like a very simple definition, but each of those words is important.”

“Our attention gets narrowed into these very small tasks or digital devices all day long. Still, creative, especially innovative people, are highly observant of the world around them.”

A big hello from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More. We are going to talk about innovation today. My guest today is Carla Johnson. She is a marketing and innovation strategist, keynote speaker, and author of ten books. I can barely finish three and a half books, and she has ten books!

Her latest book is RE:Think Innovation, and it’s about, you know what, I’m just going to have a Carla talk about this. All right, Carla, welcome to my show.

Carla Johnson: Hello in Portland. I’m from Denver. So we’re not far away from each other?

Pam Didner: No, not at all. And there’s a direct flight.

Carla Johnson: So yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Pam Didner: So talk to us about, uh, your latest book, RE:Think Innovation.

Carla Johnson: You know, Pam, I spent in, you see this in marketing, um, and sales too, but I spent the last five years or five years before my book was released, digging into whether or not the ability to learn how to come up with great ideas consistently is something that could be learned and taught.

Pam Didner: Okay.

Carla Johnson: The reason I went down this rabbit hole is because many marketers and even salespeople said to me: “I’d like to see these creative things, but I’m just not creative myself”. That’s just not the kind of person I am.” And you know, you go back to when we’re kids, and I can imagine you as a kid in the art room, you know, you’re creative; you’re doing all these things. You don’t have any apprehension. There’s no self-judgment. All of these things were super creative. But then, as we go through school, the kind of things that we’re taught and rewarded for is more about following the norm, following processes, everybody thinking the same. And then you go through university, and it’s very structured.

You get into the work world and scale a business by taking out inefficiencies. And a lot of times, creativity and innovative thinking are considered inefficiencies. And so we end up with adults in our careers who think we aren’t creative or innovative thinkers. So that’s what I looked at.

I did research, and I did interviews. I used my clients as guinea pigs. And I looked at the process that some of the most prolific innovators use to consistently come up with great ideas that have an actual bottom-line impact. And it’s that process, the five-step process. That’s the foundation of my book, RE:Think Innovation, which essentially teaches people that innovation is everybody’s business. And then here are five steps.

Pam Didner: Fantastic. So, one of the key takeaway innovations is everybody’s business. I think that’s especially true in today’s world. However, innovations mean different things to different people. Some people think it’s a big idea, and some people think that you know, “I’m making innovative steps to improve our product.” So how do you define innovation, and how is innovation different from creative?

Carla Johnson: You, you hit on something really important. There is that innovation can feel like this huge overwhelming thing. And especially when we hear so much in business about “disruptive innovation” and think that to be truly innovative, it has to be something that turns an industry completely upside down. Like Apple did with music as Uber did with transportation and things like that.

But the truth is 90% of innovation happens outside of that traditional product development part of the business. If that’s the case, we’re looking at low hanging fruit with the entire 90% of the rest of the organization.

So what we need to look at is how we can change that perception, rethink innovation, and define. Because most people think it’s, it’s complex. They think it’s time-consuming, and to be honest, they don’t know how to do it, which is kind of weird because so many companies have innovation as a core value. So they’re asking people to behave in a way that people don’t even know what it is that, you know, back to that definition, to your point.

So I define innovation as the ability to consistently come up with new, great and reliable ideas. It sounds like a very simple definition, but each of those words is important. So a new idea doesn’t have to be new and never ever done before in the world, but it’s new to your industry, to your line of business, to your vertical. So, for example, in the fast-food industry, McDonald’s studied the layout and design of a Formula One pit stop. And then they use that as inspiration for their drive-through food service area.

Pam Didner: yeah, to standardize it, make it a quicker and faster turnaround.

Carla Johnson: Exactly. So was it absolutely new and never been done before? No, but they took inspiration from another industry and brought it into their own. But that new idea isn’t enough just to be innovative because we’ve seen all sorts of failures just because it was a new idea. I mean, look at New Coke, you know, that wasn’t necessarily innovative.

Okay, the next characteristic is that it’s a great idea. And I’ll be honest, Pam, this criteria is a bit more subjective, but I think about David Ogilvy, how he describes a great idea. It’s one of those that make you a little envious and kind of jealous that you didn’t think of it yourself. You hear it, and you go, “oh man, that’s so great!”

Pam Didner: All the time!

Carla Johnson: “Ziplocs, man. If only I’d thought of that!” But even a new and great idea isn’t enough to be innovative. It takes that third characteristic, and that’s a reliable idea and a reliable idea to make it innovative, which has a financial impact on the business.

It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be this disruptive skyrocketing growth overnight. Still, those kinds of incremental tweaks here and there could help generate a little more revenue. That helps save a little more time, money efficiency, expense here.

Pam Didner: Optimization, the improvement part of it.

Carla Johnson: Exactly. It’s that consistency because often what makes a truly innovative organization are all employees consistently looking for opportunities to implement new, great and reliable ideas. And that’s that fourth characteristic of consistency. And that’s the difference between those one-hit wonders with a great idea. And those people who are truly perpetually innovative can consistently come up with new, great, and reliable ideas and implement those.

That’s how I define innovation because it’s something that everybody can relate to, and it removes that complexity. It removes the, you know, the has to be massively time-consuming. Then the five-step process that I’ve developed gives people a specific process to follow, so they know how to do it.

Pam Didner: Excellent. So, you know, sometimes I equate innovation with creativity. What is your thought on that?

Carla Johnson: You know, you can’t have innovation without creativity. That’s for sure. And it’s an interesting dynamic because lots of businesses look at creativity, and they think of it as, “oh, it’s nice to have, oh, isn’t that creative.” But they limit it to the graphic designers in the marketing department, or even the Marketing Department themselves. And then they, they act like, “okay, now we’re getting down to serious business. We don’t need the creatives in here; we need innovation.” And so, you can’t have innovation without creativity because creativity is a lot about originality.

Pam Didner: Fuel. Creativity is kind of like fuel to the innovation, in a way.

Carla Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and in a way, you could almost look at creativity as a loss leader. Still, it drives innovation, and innovation is really when you take those ideas and put them into a process you can implement and measure them. You have a specific outcome, or you’re working toward that. Not every idea is implementable, but I think there’s also the dynamic where there’s a perception that coming up with the idea is the easy part; executing it’s the hard part.

But what people miss is that you need to start with a better idea in the first place. You also need ideas through execution and implementation. So it’s that ability to connect the dots and take learnings from other experiences, industries, situations and understand how to apply that into the work you do every day.

Pam Didner: Excellent. And you mentioned they are five steps that people can take. Can you share with us what the five steps are?

Carla Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s called the Perpetual Innovation Process. The reason I call it that is because this is the process that these perpetually innovative people use over and over and over again. And it was really interesting Pam, as I would, as I would talk to somebody about. “this is an amazing idea that you had campaign–had phenomenal outcomes. Tell me how you came up with that idea?” And they would say, “you know, I don’t know, it just came to me.” So what I realized is that I needed to go to that end result and say, what were you doing before that? And what did you do before that in reverse engineer it?

Because in a lot of cases, like, even with you, if I said, you know, “how did you come up with the idea for your last book?” You know, maybe you could go back to that initial bit of inspiration, but a lot of people couldn’t just off the top of their head. And so, by reverse engineering, I found through all of these interviews and this research that everybody followed the same process, whether they realized it or not. So then, when I went back to the people whom I had asked, where they got the idea, you know, the inspiration for their idea, and I walked them through this process, they said, “yeah, that is what I do every single time. I just didn’t realize it.”

And so the five-step process that people use is first they observe, second they distill, third they relate, fourth they generate, and fifth they pitch. So when we break down each of these. The first step is to observe. And I know that you’ve noticed this, especially with creative people. They’re highly observant of these little minutia details that many of us miss, and you know what is right here in our hand is a big culprit. It’s my smartphone. Our attention gets narrowed into these very small tasks or digital devices all day long. Still, creative, especially innovative people, are highly observant of the world around them.

And if we go back to that childhood where kids are in art class, it’s crazy, the things they notice and what they observe. And if you’ve ever been around, you know, a young child, that things that come out of their mouth, you’re like, “oh my gosh, you know, how did they notice it? Now they’re telling the world about it.” If it’s natural, we learn just to filter out all of these things or let digital devices absorb all of our attention. Still, it’s time that we relearn how to use all five of our senses and observe the world around us.

So then we go from observation into the next step, which is distilled. And in the second step, we’re distilling all of these things that we have observed into patterns. And what those patterns look like can be completely random, completely, you know, don’t seem to make sense. The interesting thing that I’ve found through my research is that these first two steps of observing and distilling are very genetically natural to us – as humans, as a part of survival. So if you think clear back to our ancestors, they were able to survive and lead to our lineage because they were very good at observing the world around them. They would go out on the savannah, and they would observe, you know, “are birds, very, um, calm and just hanging out in the trees and, or the antelope grazing and chilling? Or are the antelope running by fast, and the birds are flying away? And so they’re observing all of these things and distilling them into patterns, patterns of safety, patterns of danger, you know, patterns of weather changing and things like. So once people start to reawaken, their ability to observe your brain will naturally distill it into these patterns.

And then the third step. I think it is almost the most important because even if people start to observe and distill unless they understand how to relate it to their work, their new ideas can still come across as copycat or cut and paste from what another brand is doing. And relate is looking at those patterns you’ve distilled and relating those patterns into the work you’re doing.

So, for example, you and I have a great friend named Tim Washer, and Tim was a comedian. He is. He’s hilarious. He’s hilarious. You know, and he’s worked with some of the best of the best Conan O’Brien. He was a writer for Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, you know, that level of a comedian. So he worked, he was a Creative Director at Cisco. And he had a new product launch to do. And you know, like a technology company, you don’t think of them as doing, you know, amazingly creative and innovative product launches. It’s usually an executive or an engineer talking about, you know, the features and all of the new things that customers can do because of this product.

But Tim said, “let’s do something different and innovative.” Then he happened to be in a comedy club in New York City one night, and the comedian Ray Romano was on stage and Tim kind of sat back in his chair. He observed the whole audience, not just Ray as a comedian and a performer. But he said, as he watched it, he observed how Ray moved on the stage. He observed the body responses and how people began to lean in as Ray went through his routine. Ray talked about things like family, in-laws, kids and all of these things that people could relate to in a short amount of time, but all through humor.

And as Ray got people to laugh in the audience, everybody’s emotional wall started to go down. So as Tim looked at that, all of these things that he observed, he distilled that into patterns. Patterns of building relationships very quickly with people that most likely Ray didn’t know and then talking about very familiar things. Doing it with humor. And it was this laughter that got people to lower their emotional walls and be willing to hear things that they normally wouldn’t hear. So it was those patterns that he related to his work.

Now the next step is to generate and generate ideas. When Tim went to generate an idea for this product launch, he said: “how can we use humor to talk about something that everybody knows, but in a way that gets them to laugh and lower their emotional walls?” And that’s how he used humor to do a video for the product launch, which happened to come out right around Valentine’s Day. So instead of having an engineer talk about how fantastic the ASR 9000 router is, he made it into a Valentine’s Day video that talked about the ASR 9000 router being the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. And you think about putting this router right up there with diamonds and jewelry and flowers….

Pam Didner: It certainly stands out (laughs)!

Carla Johnson: Exactly, but because he could tell the story of what he observed, the patterns he noticed, how that related to the work, how that generated his idea, that was his pitch. The pitch is to go back and walk through each of these steps and have a natural story structure. And this is what works so well for Tim.

Pam Didner: Excellent. So you’d talk about the five steps: observe, distill, relate, generate and pitch. And I liked that a lot. And in general, when people try to come up with consistent and reliable ideas, do you have any insight into where people spend the most time subconsciously or unconsciously for these five steps?

Carla Johnson: if people don’t understand the five steps, the place they spend the most time on is generated. And I know you’ve seen this where teams, you know, a leader will get together and say-

Pam Didner: “We need something! We need something now!

Carla Johnson: “Let’s brainstorm, like throw it all up on the wall!” And you know what happens? It’s disjointed. It’s weird. And nothing great ever comes out of it. It’s either something that’s a rehash, or it’s been watered down so much that it’s not unique, creative, innovative at all. And so when people go back, and they do these first three steps, they find that the generate step then happens like this so automatically. Instead of spending all of this time in the generate step to have something to pitch, that’s crappy. To be honest, they go back, and they start to observe. And the interesting thing about this is to your question, where do people start to spend the most time? It’s hard to tell because once you remind your brain to observe things around you, you do it so much all the time that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Your brain will start to do the observation and distill so fast that you don’t keep track of it because you are more observant.

The piece where the reward pays off the most is the related step. That’s where you look at what worked in these other scenarios and how to apply what you’re trying to accomplish with whatever your charge is right now. You know, a new campaign, a new strategy, a new, whatever that may be. Because it’s that ability to understand how to take what worked behind another provocative idea or situation, and truly related into your work as Tim did, that shows that extraordinary idea.

Pam Didner: I like that, especially for me. First of all, I’m an attention to detail type of person. And I agree that a lot of time I tried to observe, or I use the word intently watch, like how someone else do stuff, like watch it with such an intention. And like, you know, it’s kind of like, it can scare people off.

Carla Johnson: Full on Pam!

Pam Didner: And then subconsciously, it’s kind of viewing my mind is like processing stuff. I wasn’t getting through that. I’m sure that’s the distilling stage. And then I will like, okay, how does that relate to, how can I modify it? How can I structure it to whatever problem I want to solve? And then I come up with some recommendations, and then, of course, I pitch it. So I can understand how these five processes work–I mean, five steps–work for innovation.

And so the next question I have is in your book, you also mentioned about, we can be different types of innovators. And what are they? Understanding what type of innovator you are is critical?

Carla Johnson: We are who we are. And how people come to the table with ideas can be very different. And to get those ideas out the door and executed, we have to understand how people look at ideas. Because I come from a family of very left-brain engineers and right-brained now, am I a better or worse innovator because I’m right brain versus left brain? No, it’s just that I’m different.

So when we look at these archetypes, there are seven of them. So the first one is one that you would recognize because it’s pretty familiar. It is a Strategist, and we have that title in different roles across the organization. And I guess I’ll back up just a minute. So the difference between an archetype and a role is that an archetype is how you were born. So if you think about somebody who says, you know, let’s, “we need to figure out how this is going to work across our team.” And somebody says, “well, let’s ask Pam because Pam is such a people person.” Now that’s not your job title, right? Your job title doesn’t say, Hey, I’m a people person, but that’s who you are. So that’s-

Pam Didner: Your personality trait.

Carla Johnson: Exactly exactly. This is how you show up in the world. And a role is more. We want you to perform this behaviour based on your job title. And so, when we look at archetypes, certain people are just naturally more strategic. They can see the blueprint and know what needs to be done and get it out the door, just like that. Like they’re, I call it that natural genius is strategy and planning. Yeah. So I think that’s more commonly understood when it comes to innovation and the value of that role.

Now, the next one is a Collaborator. A Collaborator is excellent at bringing people together on different teams across the organization. Even collaborating within the same team, because there are people with different dynamics on the same team. And we look at that, and that is so important when it comes to ideas into innovation and making them happen. Often, an idea doesn’t go anywhere because people are butting heads, and there’s no collaboration.

The third one is The Culture Shaper, and they are fantastic at communicating change. When we look at marketing, there’s more of an appreciation for storytellers and that rise of change in how they structure the narrative of what will happen. So when we look at it in the context of innovation, we’re looking at that Culture Shaper as someone who can play on that narrative, that story about where are we today? Where do we want to go? And how do we get to where we’re going? So that people understand that they do have a role and a part in whatever is being done.

The fourth one is a Psychologist, and a Psychologist is somebody who has such empathy. Their natural genius is that they understand in a way what it’s like to be the consumer of an idea. And they look at it from the people’s side of things. And how will it be to use this idea–whether that idea is a product, whether it’s a process, whatever it may be, they bring that human element into this world of innovation. They focus on unstructured innovation, other than the processes and things that are considered hard and rigid or process-oriented. They’re very much about the people part of the interview.

The fifth one is an Orchestrator, and their natural genius is that they are fearless leaders. And you see this in organizations many times–especially team dynamics–you can see an issue that goes, you know, from early, later, later into the process. Everybody knows a conversation must be hard, but nobody wants to have it. Orchestrators are great at having those uncomfortable conversations early in the process. They have this sixth sense of understanding of navigating all the political stepping stones within an organization. They’re great at, you know, like a Collaborator reaching across the aisle and understanding how to work the system so that innovation can happen.

And then the last one is a Provocateur. And Pam, I’m guessing that’s probably you because the natural genius of a Provocateur is someone who’s always pushing the status quo. And I think they’re easy to identify in, in a meeting because they’re the ones who say,” wait a minute, have you ever thought about. Fill in the blank. Have you thought about doing it this way? Have you ever looked at this?”

Pam Didner: Yeah, and people don’t usually like to invite me to the meeting, and there’s a reason behind it (laughs).

Carla Johnson: Exactly. But when we all start to understand and appreciate the different characteristics of these archetypes, then when you have someone like a provocateur in a meeting. It’s not, it doesn’t feel so much like, you know, like sandpaper sometimes it’s not like, “oh, here they go. Here goes Pam again. She’s got another idea.” You know, you start to understand and appreciate how it all works together. And I know sometimes Provocateurs partner well with Strategists because strategists, you know, bring some reality and structure to all of those prolific ideas that come about.

And so is anyone right or wrong? No. But what we need to look at is how we bring the dynamics of each of these six archetypes. How they think when we look at how we’re more innovative to increase the chances that these ideas will be successful, not only in getting approval but also in execution.

Pam Didner: So that six archetypes. And that’s great. And I understand on your website there is a very short assessment that people can take to identify who they are. Can you talk to us about that assessment that people can go to and just like very curiously find out the architect they belong to?

Carla Johnson: So if you go to my website, it’s Carla with a C, CarlaJohnson.co –there’s no M, just that co. And on that home page, you’ll see a big area it says, “Find Your Innovation Archetype”, and it lists what the six archetypes are. So you can take the assessment. It’s about six questions long. Then it takes you to a landing page. It gives you in-depth information about your archetype and how you interact with the other five archetypes.

So I always suggest you take it and have your team take it and talk about the results and how you see some of these things playing out in different situations. It can be times when you’re going through strategic planning and know we’re early in the year, and that’s a big thing. Um, it can be when you’re under pressure and need ideas fast. How do you do this?

You know what? It can be when everything feels rote and repetitive, and you lack inspiration. That’s the case with many teams right now. It feels like we’ve had our heads down for so long. So this is an interesting way to start to look at. You know, how can we shake things up. How can we bring greater awareness to how we function as a team. And maybe infuse some inspiration and excitement differently, without disrupting all of this work that we still have to do every day.

Pam Didner: Excellent. So check out the assessments on CarlaJohnson.co, starts with C CarlaJohnson.co. Then do the assessments and find out who you are: Strategist, Collaborator, Culture Shaper, Provocateur, Psychologist or Orchestrator. And interesting enough, you think I’m Provocateur? When I did the assessment, I understood that it’s easy to kind of go through. So I did it probably three times because they are a couple of questions. I feel I can be either one interesting enough that, uh, it’s either a Strategist or Orchestrator.

Carla Johnson: Oh, interesting.

Pam Didner: Yeah, but I can be pretty loud. (laughs)” Wait a minute! Let’s talk about this!” Oh yeah. I can do that too.

Carla Johnson: And people will find, they’ll say, you know, I, “I really could find myself, you know, responding in a couple of different ways.” And if they do, as you did, and they take it several times, it may be that they see a different archetype each time.

Pam Didner: Different, yeah. Or there’s probably some overlapping.

Carla Johnson: So some overlap. Exactly. And what also happens is people will say, “actually, I see myself in all of these.” And it’s that they’re used to being in situations where they need to fill that point of view of another archetype to be successful. Now you, as a Strategist, I can see. And as an Orchestrator, that’s the rarest of all archetypes. Only 8% of the people who’ve taken the assessment to come out as an Orchestrator. And I’ve had thousands of people take this assessment. It, you know, it may vary a per cent or two over time, but roughly those percentage breakdowns that you’ll see in the pie chart on the landing page does stay true pretty much. And I’ve, I’ve had it up about two and a half years.

Pam Didner: I love it. I love it. I didn’t know that you would undergo such extensive research and create a methodology to help people understand what archetype they are and what they can do to fill it further improve their innovation ability.

Speaking of that, do you have any suggestions in terms of what people can do daily? You know, like, like the doctor will say, “oh, eat well every day and exercise every day.” Do you have any recommendations regarding what people can do regularly to enhance their innovation ability?

Carla Johnson: You bet. And the first thing that I say, because it kicks off everything in this process, just takes five or 10 minutes every day and just sit real still.

Pam Didner: And I’m doing it now! (laughs)

Carla Johnson: You can use your five senses and, taken in, observe everything around you. You know, even if you’re sitting in your car, are there little sounds and creeks that you don’t usually notice? How does the seat feel? You know, I did this in my car the other day when I was driving, then I thought, “you know, my car is eight years old. The seats don’t feel quite like they did eight years ago.” And you know, you hear little sounds and, and you know, it’s interesting, even when you breathe in, sometimes there is a taste that you don’t realize it’s there. So taste isn’t necessarily even have to be food or drink or something like that. When I’m out in the Colorado mountains, hiking, you breathe in, you smell that pine, but you can also taste it a little bit.

And sometimes people say, “I don’t have time to, uh, to observe,” or their mind just goes so much.

Pam Didner: Make time! That’s what I tell people. That’s where I become very provocative. Make time. Just make it happen. You have to make time. And I do agree with you, Carla. I think one thing all of us need to do, and we are in front of all phones so much and in front of our PC so much where, like, you know, the screen time, basically consumes us… And I 100% agree with you. We just need to get away and observe trends of what’s happening around us.

Carla Johnson: Yeah. To your point, that the screen time has narrowed our vision to be exactly like this. And so all, all of these things can be happening from here on out. And we don’t even notice some because we’ve trained ourselves to have tunnel vision.

Pam Didner: Well, thank you so much for coming to my show, colleagues. Wonderful to have you, and I appreciate you spent so much time looking into innovation and the different personalities. How we can be better at innovative – regularly. Thanks a lot, girl.

Carla Johnson: Thank you. It’s always a joy and a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for having me.

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To expand your knowledge about how to encourage innovation in your B2B business, check out some of my previous podcast episodes, blog posts, and video.

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