Keith: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast, episode number 21, pt. 2 of our innovation design thinking. How it applies to leadership and, Sara, this is something you have been, I mean, honestly, spending so much time thinking about for the last six, seven, eight years that, you know, I thought this might be a fun chance just to talk about some of the things that you've thought about and what has really struck you in terms of bringing the world that Scott Sanchez talked about in our previous episode and the mindsets and an empathy and iteration and testing and all of these different things that come together into what I like to talk about as, you know, growing ourselves as grown-ups in the context of leadership is really about innovating us, right? And so I was hoping you might let me ask you a few questions today
Sara: A little more nerve-wracking to be the one being interviewed per se than the one asking the questions but let's do it. I love it to talk about it, so…
Keith: I love it. So when you think, you know, why don't you give folks just a -- I know Scott gave his take on it -- but give folks just kind of a big overview of as a reminder, if they didn't catch last week's -- or the previous episode -- just some of the major components of design thinking and then we'll get into how that applies to how we innovate ourselves.
Sara: Sure. I think Scott gave a hierarchy to the language that I hadn't put together so clearly, so I'm going to use that to kind of reinforce this idea, but innovation is this broad, overarching concept that we hear about all the time and he uses the definition from a guy who used to work with at Intuit, innovation is giving people something that they could never imagine and then could never imagine living without.
Keith: I love that definition, by the way.
Sara: Isn't that fun? So there's so many different ways to innovate. Scott and I both are drawn to the human-centered approach to innovation and then design thinking is one methodology within that human-centered design and so design thinking, I've learned it from the Stanford Design School model, which is -- Scott's an adjunct faculty member there -- and it's a process that goes through basically at the highest level, empathetic need finding, experimental solutions, iterating your understanding and there's five different steps and you can Google it and find out all the details. They're "empathy, define, ideate, prototype, test", and then you go back through the cycle and over and over again. But as Scott said, it really boils down to the need finding and the solution generating and he was telling me after our conversation that he's been working on ways to teach this to children and with his five-year-old, he's finally landed on something that he says really works and it's "ask and make". Ask them questions and then make something. Ask some questions, make something. Learn something, try something and so it really boils down to that but always, always, always keeping the person at the center of it and that, to me, is what makes the connection so powerful between innovation and leadership because like I said last time, I'm not going to be innovating anything that's going to change the world.
I initially loved design thinking because it was a step-by-step framework to innovation, which resonates so much more with my personality of "Here's step one, here's step two, here's step three." But as you pointed out, and as Scott pointed out, the mindsets that underpin all of those steps are really the power of design thinking and it's learning to think about the needs and make sure you're really solving the right problem for the person that it really matters to. It's about being willing to try a bunch of different things. It's about treasuring feedback, seeking feedback, not to find out if you're right, but to find out more about the need and eventually kind of finding that balance between naming the right problem and identifying the right solution. So I just threw a lot at you. We can go down any path you want but that's kind of the heart of design thinking for me in the human-centered innovation space.
Keith: Yeah. So will you do me a favor and read the definition one more time that Scott gave you? I saw that you had it written down.
Sara: Scott's personal definition or the -- ? Keith: That he got from the guy at Intuit. Sara: The one from Intuit is, "giving people what they could never imagine and then could never imagine going back".
Keith: Yeah, I want people to think about contextualizing that what if you were that person for someone, right? What if you were the thing that they realized that they couldn't -- that they can't live without in terms of your influence in their life, I mean, that sounds a little cocky in some ways or it sounds a little arrogant, but way less when you start to think about your children, right? If you're a parent or if you start -- but even if you're thinking about the people that you have responsibility over, because I know where you're going to go with this, is that when it's a human-centered approach to that, all of a sudden, we are changing ourselves in the ways that matter to other people. In ways that they maybe couldn't have even understood that they couldn't live without and again, that sounds a little grandiose to me as I'm giving it back to you but to think about having that kind of influence with someone - being able to make that kind of difference is huge. So talk a little bit about how you've thought about making this real in the world of personal development and growing as grown-ups and growing as a leader and increasing influence.
Sara: So to stay in that kind of the empathetic need-finding kind of front-half of the process, one of the thing that's -- one of the things that's really important about that definition is that it implies what innovation is not and it's not asking somebody what they want and giving it to them. It is taking the time to understand what is important to them, what matters to them, what excites them, what stresses them out, what makes them happy so that you understand them more than they can even verbalize that they understand about themselves and so many times we live in a space -- and Scott references it and I know it's true of the people I worked with and I know it's true of me, that we get to positions in our life where we have succeeded because we have an expertise. We have succeeded because we know a lot of things. We have proven track records of success and so the temptation is to say, "Well, I know what that person needs. I know what the right answer is." And so in leadership, you and I have doctorate degrees and study leadership where it's like I can tell you, "According to so and so's philosophy of leadership and this best practices and all these different things, here's the right way to lead," and that just never felt good to me. But the idea of all of those things are still true but if I wanted to lead somebody, I can't lead them unless I know them, right? And the definition of leadership that we use is "meeting somebody where they are in order to lead them, where they need to go."
The front-half of that -- to meet them where they are --means we have to take the time to find out where they are, to ask those questions, to get to know them as a human and not just as a person who's here to produce work for me. But then the interesting thing about it is kind of the solution side of that is to lead people where we want -- where they need to go or where we want them to go is being careful that we're still keeping the user in mind and I think it was in Jason Young's podcast where he talked about being mindful of framing the mission that you're working towards in terms of something that connects with the follower, the volunteer in his case, in terms of what matters to them. So I'm not just leading you where I need you to go because I need to achieve an objective; I'm leading you in that direction because I've also figured out how that is important to you and I think that involvement of a person and what is important to them is so powerful, both in knowing where they are to meet them, to connect with them, and also inspiring them to move forward. So that to me - if leaders can't figure out that piece of it, that empathy, understanding the person I'm trying to lead, they're going to have -- it's an uphill battle, I think. Trying to get people to make any sort of change or any sort of progress outside of their natural kind of trajectory.
Keith: Yeah. So tell me how does someone – specifically as you integrate some of the design thinking methodology into this idea of empathizing with the person that you're trying to lead so that you can meet them where they are. What specifically can a person who's listening to this do differently, perhaps?
Sara: Yeah, so Scott introduced it and it's this idea of opening or asking open-ended questions, curious questions and so this is where curiosity has become such a passion of mine recently of this idea of I just -- I'm going to admit that I don't know everything and I'm going to ask questions. So the type of questions I encourage people to ask are about stories that capture extreme situations or extreme emotions. "Tell me about a time when you were really happy at work." "Tell me about a time that you felt really frustrated with a team." And so whatever it is you're trying to gain influence for, if it is somebody at work, "Tell me about the best boss you've ever had. Tell me about the worst boss you've ever had," and get them to tell you stories about a past experience they've had with a leader even and find out what are the things that they love about leaders that they worked with in the past or leaders that they've seen, pulling out not just behaviors, but like deeper human values. People that take the time to know me, people that give me space to grow, people that give me grace to fail. Or "Tell me about some of the hardest leaders you've ever worked for," and get those stories and digging deeper is another mindset of don't just settle for the first answer that somebody gives you, but tell me more. Tell me more. Tell me more. I want to hear more about that. How did that make you feel and have you felt that way other times? And asking these questions where you're just pulling back one layer at a time to get to deeper human values but I think one of my favorite stories of doing this was with a group I worked with where it was in a program where we very intentionally blended together, design thinking and leadership. And I asked the participants in the group to go find somebody that they wanted to have influence with and ask them questions along these lines, thinking they would all go talk to their direct reports or a co-worker but one woman came back and said she's been having such a hard time with her son, not wanting to go to school and not doing the work and all this stuff and it was a lot of tension in their relationship and so she thought, "All right, well, let me try something different. Let me go ask questions about what he likes about school, what he doesn't like about school, what's hard about school," and uncovered all of this stuff going on in her son's life that she was unaware of, where he felt really insecure and he felt like he wasn't capable of living up to the teacher's expectations and he just would feel so much more comfortable in a different environment but it was not what she had assumed. She assumed that he just didn't want to do the work. She assumed that he was just being a lazy kid and it was uncovering the deeper --
Keith: So she was solving for that problem, then. That wasn't even the right problem.
Sara: Right! All of her parenting strategies were solving a problem that she just assumed were true and, you know, for us, it's when the stories go beyond, you know, success at work and change how things are at home like...
Keith: Those are the ones that rinse every tear out of your little eyeballs.
Sara: Yeah and every time I get in a disagreement with one of my step-kids, I'm like, "OK, Sara, take the time and ask questions of what's going on here instead of just assuming I understand what's going on," and I think that is such an underutilized and powerful leadership technique.
Keith: Yeah. So once you begin -- let me use my language and then please correct it if you don't like it -- but once you begin to formulate a hypothesis about what they really need, what they're really looking for, whether you're reading into -- in between the lines of their words in a way where you go, "Oh my gosh, now I get what the problem is." Let's assume that you're generally on course. How do you decide using, again, this methodology, how do you decide what to do at that point? Like how do you decide what steps to take? Because so many of us are like, "Oh, now that I understand the problem, I'm going to go, you know, I'm going to go fix it."
Sara: Yeah, I think that's what I find happens the most when I do teach design thinking to people who are actually trying to go work on a project is they take the time now to add in the empathy need-finding step, but then they assume that the solution that comes out of that is now the right solution and then Scott said your first idea is never your right idea. And I think one of the best things you can do is go back to one of the tenets of innovation, which is this collaboration piece and it's bringing other people in to help you brainstorm. Telling people the story of what you've learned, right? That inspiration piece that we talked about last time and letting people with different perspectives, different backgrounds, who aren't -- especially if it's a need that's close to you, whether it's something going on within yourself or in somebody that you're trying to lead -- let other people come in, and this is kind of that brainstorming ideation phase of the design thinking framework, but coming up with a number of ideas, especially if you can let other people speak into them, and then it's a little bit kind of your best educated guess, right? To kind of go with the hypothesis idea in an experimental scientific method - you pick something and you try it.
It's that experimentation in design thinking, we call it sometimes "prototyping". It's "I'm going to try something. I don't know if it's going to work, it's probably not going to work, but I'm going to do something." This bias towards action. I'm going to do something, but then I'm going to create space for reflection and feedback and say, "Did that work? What worked about it? Tell me what worked. Tell me what didn't work," and using some of those feedback technique. And so that works both in designing some sort of physical solution or product, but also in terms of if I'm trying to figure out how to lead person differently, a co-worker, a child, a friend, whatever, let me just take that insight that I gained, that deep human insight based on a value and say, "In light of this value, if this person really cares about being heard, right? Wanting to have a voice that matters, what if I let everybody in a meeting share their thoughts on something before we come to any conclusion?" Let me just try that one little change in behavior that we're going to change the way we run meetings. And then maybe even go to somebody, that person after the meeting and say, "Hey, I'm wondering what you think about the way we just ran this meeting. What did you like about it? Is there anything that you wish were different? Do you have any questions about it?" That "I like, I wish, I want" framework and then people are like, "Oh, I loved it," or "It was super awkward. I was put on the spot. I wasn't prepared." Great. OK, so I need to lead my people better by giving them preparation or advance notice and now we refine our understanding even better.
Keith: And so then we would run that test again. And then we would get feedback on that test.
Sara: Mm-hmm. So iteration -- this experimentation kind of leads to iteration, which is coming up with the next version and you want to make sure you're iterating both the solution, but equally important is you iterate your understanding of the problem and I think that's the piece that people don't take the time to do because they assumed that they understood what they needed to based on the first round of empathy, plus what they know from their experience. But to say, "what can I learn even more about the problem?" and sometimes you realize you were solving for the wrong problem all together and you throw it away and you start over, but that requires you being committed to the person and not to the solution.
Keith: Yeah, that's huge. Hey, one thing that came to my mind when you were talking about the ideation stage, the brainstorming, the let's-maybe-bring-some-other-people-into-the-solution, and we have done this with groups. We have this highly confidential sort of protected environment. I'm guessing it would be wise to have some boundaries around that, because now you're not talking about this problem that's out there; you're talking about a person that others might likely know. So are there any cautions in that space from you, as you think about that kind of ideation around sharing what you believe is the problem that another person is wanting solved?
Sara: Yeah, I mean, I don't know if this is what you were thinking, but it goes back to what we talk about all the time in terms of growth is in those situations, if the problem you're trying to solve is how you have influence with somebody else, making the discussion of the problem yourself and not the other person as the problem. (21:09) "So and so's an idiot. You know, this person's just not getting their work done and they're not doing it right. I need to figure out how to change them." You know, that isn't how anything in life works.
Keith: And the better answer -- yes?
Sara: The better answer is, "I want to learn a better way to meet so-and-so where they are. Here's what they're struggling with. Here's what I've learned about them. Here's the things that I know matter. Here's what's hardest for them. How can I relate to them in a different way to help them reach their goal of trying to be successful at work?" And so keeping the focus on yourself as the problem, right? That's the innovating yourself: "What can I do to change me to help that other person be more effective?" rather than, "What do I need to do to get them to change?" Right, because we know this to be true and you can't change other people, you can only change yourself and so once you understand that other person's need -- and maybe it is what you said. It's not sharing details if it's not a safe environment, it's not sharing too much that could that could cause negative consequences -- But, you know, I have a group of friends that do this for me and even just this past weekend, I was stressed out about something and frustrated about it and they just started saying, "What if you thought about trying this?" or "Have you done this before? One thing I've done before is this," and it sparked something that I wouldn't have ever thought of because I was so entrenched in the problem itself that having those outside voices go, "Hey, I wonder if this would be meaningful to that person," and it, like, light bulb went off and I was like, "Oh my gosh, that's brilliant. OK, I'm going to go do that," and then, you know, thankfully, it was a great idea and it worked and kind of solved the immediate problem of the moment, so.
Keith: Yeah. Another thing -- I don't know how much you've experimented with this; we haven't been overt about this when we've integrated this into some of the programs, but -- when you're -- so what you're saying, and let me just try and give a few pieces back, what you're saying is that you interview, look for stories, try and determine the underlying values. What's really important to this person? How do they like to be led? What are they struggling with? etc., etc. Then we move and we bring some others in to see if we can't have the light bulb go off in a way that we were not able to think of because we're entrenched in the process, then we are essentially taking a single behavior and we're going to kind of test drive that behavior to see if it makes a difference but then we're going and we're getting feedback. I guess there's some element of self-reflection, but it's also important to get to see if that made a difference. So was that a good meeting? Did you what was your favorite thing about that meeting? Did it seem different to you? Whatever you might ask, is it good, do you think, to be proactive -- not proactive, overt. Way different word. -- to be overt? That, "Hey, I was trying this new thing..." Was that a good thing or do you think you come in through the side door a little bit more than that?
Sara: I don't know that I have a definitive answer on that. I think it depends on the person. It depends on what you're trying to do. I know we've had some stories where people have gone and tried an experiment of listening differently. And it was such a big change that the person that they were trying to listen to, like, kind of freaked out and was like, "What are you doing? Like, stop that. That is too weird." So if you're -- if it's something like big and noticeable, then I think maybe it's worth saying, "Hey, I just want to try something this time. Let's talk about it." But if it is something where it's a smaller "let me just see if this makes any difference," or it may be something that you've got to see if you can even do it first before you ask other people to do it. Sometimes people -- and I've been guilty of this, you know this -- say that they're going to take a small step, which are developmental small steps or the equivalent of an innovative kind of prototype or experiment, and I went to take the small step, and it was so scary that that itself informed more about me and I gained more empathy for myself and more empathy for the problem, that I didn't need to get any more feedback because the situation itself gave me the feedback. And so I think it depends. It depends on the nature of the step -- feedback, I think we need to be way more, to go back to your "proactive" word, we need to be more proactive about getting feedback kind of in general about a lot of things, but how overt you are, it's going to depend. Like, I'm not going to necessarily go up to all of my direct reports or, you know, if I'm trying to lead my boss differently, "Hey, boss, I'm going to try something different to see if it gets you to listen to me better. Here I go!" Like, that would kind of backfire but a lot of times we encourage people to have a trusted colleague give you feedback if they observe, you know, "I'm going to behave differently in this meeting and I want you to tell me what you think about it and see if the other person responds differently, so. It's a classic "it depends" answer, is that okay?
Keith: Yeah, that's good. Yeah, I like that. I mean, you know, I don't know why in this particular episode, my mind is running to so many points of application outside of a traditional reporting relationship at work. With a teenager I'm guessing you probably want to come in the side door, right? You want to -- you probably don't want to be as overt about it? You know, I can't help thinking -- I've been married for thirty-five or thirty-six years this year. I ought to figure that out before the anniversary -- but I, you know, I know that when I have taken time to do this with Leigh, when I have tried to really understand what it is that is hard for her, what's important to her, how many times I've been wrong on the problem I was trying to fix, right? And to think about innovating ourselves through this "I'm going to prototype a behavior," I'm going to -- even to take it further, to use Scott's language that he introduced in the last episode, "I'm going to come up with a low-resolution prototype." Right? "I'm going to try and not make it perfect on purpose. I'm going to I'm going to let it be a little bit messy in a way to see if it's headed in the right direction and get that feedback," and, man, I just I think about the points of application here, Sara, are gigantic just in terms of taking sort of stepwise growth, because it's overwhelming when the stakes are high with a child, with a partner, with a parent. When the stakes are high, it's like, "Oh, my gosh, but if I try that and it doesn't work..." But to think of these small, low-res kind of prototypes of our own behavior, I just think it's such an interesting mindshift to me.
Sara: Yeah and to always try them keeping it in the forefront of your mind, what matters most to that person. What are their deeper, more values-based needs, right?
Keith: A great reminder.
Sara: And always coming back to that. When we do design thinking work, we, you know, Scott introduced a user that they were designing for, I forget her name, but we create profiles with a name and a description and I want to tell you about Suzy and I want to tell you how about how much she is struggling in school because her, you know, she's got a single mom and she's got to work two jobs in high school and so she's not getting sleep at night and so she's really tired in school. So what do we do to make homework more effective or more -- to help her with her homework? Right, that tired, exhausted, overworked, supporting-my-family person is very different than, "I've got a student in my classroom who's not doing their homework." OK. I'm going to solve that problem differently than, "OK, let me just try five different homework strategies to see if I can get her to do her homework," and so I think always coming back to that, whenever you feel like you need to iterate, you need to try something different. You want to push yourself to grow, you're faced with a challenge, right? This is where the challenge -- the formula for growth comes in. You're faced with some sort of challenge that contradicts what currently exists. There's a need for some sort of innovation to help somebody succeed and thrive. What matters most to them and how do I meet them at that need in a way that moves them a step closer to what they're trying to achieve?
Keith: So good, so good. Thank you. I wanted to touch on one more thing before we close this episode out. You mentioned early on about the relationship between the problem and the solution in this model, can you get a little bit further about what that means and how those two things are informing each other? And I guess you're going to have to do that verbally. It would be cool if we could bring an image up on that but can you try and explain a little bit more what you meant by that?
Sara: Yeah, are you referencing your favorite slide where the things get closer and closer...?
Keith: I love that slide, but I was I think that's what you were talking about when you said you got to focus on both things in a different way.
Sara: Yeah. So, you know, one of the big things about design thinking that I think is challenging the way that we solve problems is focusing just as much on "do we have the right problem" as we do on "do we have the right solution?" And most of us focus 80% of our time, if not 99% of our time, on figuring out the solution and in design thinking early on, you spend way more of your effort focusing on "Am I solving the right problem?" And early on, you have a guess at what the right problem is and a guess at what the right solution is and you kind of do a cycle and then you iterate and you get a little bit closer. "I know a little bit more of what the right problem is and therefore I can make sure that my solution is solving that problem," and I change my solution a little bit and then you iterate again and you get more clarity on the problem and therefore more.
Keith: Confidence? Certainty?
Sara: Get closer -- Yeah, and it goes on and on until those two things converge and you know you've got the right problem and a solution that the user has confirmed through testing, that solution is going to solve that problem for me. It's going to meet that need in a way that I could never have imagined and never have asked for at the beginning, but through this iterative process, we've ended up here and so, I think that's so important and that's the power and what we do of kind of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, leadership maturity, all of these things that underpin the work we do is that you're continually gaining more and more clarity about yourself, which in a way is the problem...
Keith: How you are the problem we're trying to solve.
Sara: Right. I am the problem that my life is trying to solve, let's just be clear about that, and so the more I can pause and reflect on that and gain more clarity about what's going on and what matters to me and what I want to be doing with my life, the more I can then find some strategies and some solutions to help me close that gap, right? And so, not neglecting the problem space and I think that's why you and I love the work that we do, because a lot of kind of self-help approaches, a lot of leadership trainings keep giving you solutions but if you haven't identified the real problem, as Scott said, it's like building a mousetrap when you're not trying to catch a mouse; it's not going to do any good.
Keith: Yeah, so good. So good. You know, I don't exactly know how we're going to handle this podcast, do we listen to ourselves and then do a postmortem on it? It might not be a bad idea to figure out what we missed but tell me, is there anything that we haven't talked about today that when you think about, we are the thing we're trying to innovate, right? We're the problem we're trying to solve for. Is there anything big that you want to touch on before we close this episode out?
Sara: I mean, people are going to think that we're a broken record, but for the purpose of innovating yourself, of helping yourself grow, right? Just like in innovation work, empathy is the key. Like, this light bulb went on for me a couple of years ago where I realized the Growth Gap Tool is a tool that is useful for gaining empathy for yourself, which typically is surprisingly hard to do.
Keith: It's hard for me to do.
Sara: Right, because if empathy is getting to know somebody better than they know themselves, I can't know myself better than I know myself. But the Growth Gap Tool asks questions and gets you to think about things that you don't normally think about, that would be like you or I sitting down with somebody and saying, "OK, help me understand what's really going on here. What is most frustrating to you and what's scary about that and what have you tried and what worked and what didn't work?" The Growth Gap Tool is a way to gain empathy for yourself that you can name the problem. I mean, it really is kind of the front-half of the innovation cycle. It's figuring out who you're solving for and what they need, which is me and growth. And so, I just -- for anybody that if they haven't done it yet, how can our listeners with all of the plugs, how have they not...?
Keith: www.growinggrownups.com, six-page instructions and download. Folks, go do it if you haven't done it.
Sara: Yeah and we only plug it because we believe in it, we're not selling it. We're just -- we want you to do it and so I think that is just a really powerful way and then if it's something that you're intrigued in, keep talking about it, I hope in the future to do some more work in this space. I've said for eight years that I'm going to write a book about it and that seems overwhelming, so, maybe we'll do an online course about it and maybe we'll do another webinar and go deeper in design-thinking. I don't know, we'll see what people want to -- if anybody's interested in learning more but it's just such a rich, a rich space and, as you said, the applications are endless.
Keith: Yeah. Well, listen, for our listeners, thank you for sharing some of your thoughts after having given so much of your life and time to this over the last great number of years, now. We're all getting older.
Sara: Thank you for giving me the space to go explore and learn it. Never would I have thought that I'd be an innovation person.
Keith: Yeah, I love it, I love it. Well, folks, we hope you enjoyed this episode, and we will look forward to being with you again on the next one. Thank you.
Sara: All right. Bye!