Sara: Hello, Scott Sanchez, welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast! I'm so excited to finally have you on our show. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to have you on because you've been such an interesting part of my work with the Leaders Lyceum and an unexpected part of my journey as a psychologist. And you are just a fun guest because you are, in a sense, an expert leader, but you are not a leadership expert, so it's a fun partnership. You get to bring such a different experience and knowledge and expertise that is such a good complement to what we do at the Lyceum and yet on the surface seems really interesting. And so you are my innovation guru, my design thinking mentor, all of those things, and one thing that I think everybody would acknowledge is that innovation is such a hot topic right now. It's such a buzzword, especially given all the changes that have had to happen to us in the last year and even before that. But it's a word that you and I both know can mean everything and therefore it means nothing and so why don't you just kick us off by telling us what innovation means to you? What does that word mean?
Scott: Awesome. Well, first of all, Sara, thanks a ton for having me. Any chance I get to work with you and the Lyceum my answer is "yes". So thank you in advance. But you're right, innovation is this word that means so many different things. Is it about new technologies or is it about doing something that no one's ever done before? Is it a competitive lens? And I will tell you what, every company I've worked at, every company I consult with, one of the first questions I have to ask is what is product? What is innovation? What does that word mean to you? There are tons of definitions out there, but one I happen to like I took from a man by the name of Scott Cook who founded Intuit. I had the chance -- the wonderful chance to work at Intuit for about eight years out in Silicon Valley, and his definition was "giving people things they could never imagine and then could never imagine going back" and what I love about that is it basically says "solve problems for people". It's not about technology. It's not about this. It's not about that. It's basically solve problems for people. And so at Deluxe Corporation, where I'm at, our version of that is "how do we delight businesses in solving their needs so they thrive and succeed?" Our customers businesses, small to big, but it all starts with those needs and it all starts with the outcome that we want for those people, for those businesses, so they thrive and succeed. It's a very people-centered approach to thinking about innovation, which, quite frankly, is where I think the secret sauce really is.
Sara; Yeah, and I think that's why I've been so drawn to the work that you're doing, because it is not primarily about product, it is about people. What I have learned is that what you really want is not just to innovate once; you want to innovate multiple times, right? An organization doesn't just want to come up with the one-hit wonder. They really want to keep innovating, whether it's a product innovation or a program or a solution or experience, whatever that is. You really want to embed that into the DNA of the organization and so what I found is the most repeatable way to do that is through a customer-driven or a people-driven or a human-centered approach to innovation. And one of the most popular versions of that is design thinking and so I will talk about design thinking, I'm sure, without a doubt. But the thing to know about this customer-centered approach to innovation is that it involves people, right? It involves a user, it involves the people on the team, it involves the leaders of the organization but you're really orienting to that end customer who's going to end up using whatever it is that you're creating and that's your center of gravity, which often requires you to flip your perspective from YOUR view to THEIR view and that's one of the most important parts of the foundation of design thinking. I think that is such a pivot for a lot of people, even people who work in innovation. So talk about that a little more like why is it important that we identify our end user? How do we figure out who they are? Who are those people that we need to keep at the center of our work?
Scott: So great. So let me start with this: if you go Google "innovation", one of the icons you see come up all the time is the light bulb, right? The idea. And I actually think that's fundamentally flawed because what that basically says is let's celebrate the solution, the mobile app, the program, whatever it is and quite honestly, you know what I've seen and I get a lot of people coming to me and say, "Hey, I've got this great idea for you," and what I'm trying to sort of be on a mission to is I don't really care about the ideas. Tell me about the person. Tell me about the who we're solving for and what their needs are, because, quite frankly, Sara, I think what matters is if we can understand who we're solving for -- the user -- and what their needs are, that's where we want to spend our energy. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Don't get me wrong, I love ideas, I love solutions, I love all of that, but where I think we have to start is actually understanding that user and our needs, because if you get that wrong, you could come up with the best idea in the entire world but if you got that wrong, it's not going to work. And so I tell my teams all the time, right? You could build the best mousetrap in the entire world but if the goal is not to catch a mouse, what good is a mouse trap? And so for me, this design thinking really starts with understanding people a lot through empathy is a big part of how we do it, trying to understand people better than they know themselves, because quite honestly, that's where the big innovations are to uncover. People won't tell you, it's not obvious what the big innovations are. No one was sitting around 12 or 13 years ago saying, "I want a smartphone apps" or ten years ago, "I want an iPad," right? Or "Hey, give me a mobile app to bring a car to me," right? But the needs were there. No one came up with those ideas by themselves, but you had to work at it. So that's why I think you've got to really figure those out. Half the battle is solving the problem the right way, but the other half is solving the right problem.
Sara: Yeah, and I think just watching so many businesses, I see them with brilliant ideas but they don't -- but nobody needs it or they don't they don't really understand the user, and I think, you know, I think this is one of the key overlaps with leadership is that if I'm leading somebody, I need to know them. I need to know what matters to them. I need to know what they care about. I need to know what they struggle with. I need to know what their goals are instead of just having a leadership philosophy and expecting everybody to lead. So I was going to save all of my leadership tips for later but I was just like, it's just -- it's so rich and empathy is such -- it's such a weird business term and I get a lot of pushback from people and I don't know if you do too, where it's like, "That's too touchy-feely. It's too -- let's come up with, like a discovery. Let's not call it empathy, let's call it discovery," and I'm like, "if you're not in it for the people, you're missing it." And so what is your thought on the word "empathy" and the purpose of empathy and how it doesn't fit in our traditional culture and yet why it's so critical for the work that we're doing.
Scott: Yeah, and I love how you said it. It's you know, it's funny because a design thinking approach to innovation, if you can use those same skills to approach leadership, they're the same skills and they both are all about understanding people, right? So you're right. The word "empathy", right, I'll be honest with you, sort of in my dealings and being on the faculty at Stanford, I often get the, "Well, that's a very 'California' term." Great, celebrate that, right, but here's what I would say. On the one hand, I don't really care what you call it, right? And different organizations I've been at, I've had to pivot my language because of that organizational history they've got or those things I'm fine with, right? But what I care about is do people understand the concept? Right, and so I happen to love to use the word empathy. I happen to think it does the best job ever of actually explaining what we're talking about. It's all about understanding a person better than they know themselves. It's about understanding not just what they say, but going past that to what they do, what they think and what they feel. It's seeing things through their eyes. Call it research, call it mirroring, call it empathy. Whatever you call it, make sure you understand the definition, because design thinking is not about, "Hey, Sara, what do you want?" and "Here, I'll give it to you." Design thinking is watching you, it's understanding you. It's understanding you better than you know themselves so that you can actually jump to say this is actually what they really need. Right, and that's why it's so important, because it locks the -- unlocks the growth. By the way, similar to leadership. Leadership isn't just about standing on a stage and saying a great vision statement, right? It's actually understanding where people are, it's bringing them along through various ways and actually -- and taking them on that journey and helping them on their journey and so in many ways, I often think about design thinking at two levels. There's the outer journey that we take our customer on, but there's the inner journey that our innovators go on as they learn how to lead a team and lead an organization through change and both of those matter but what I've seen most organizations -- do academic institutions -- is they separate innovation from leadership. I don't know how you do that. My success as an innovator is all inextricably linked to my successes as a leader and vice-versa
Sara: Yeah. I think one of the things that is required to do good empathy work, whatever we call it, is something that in the leadership space I find is so hard and it's this vulnerability and this ability to say, "I don't have the answer," right? Because especially as people get into leadership positions, they're put in that position because they have the answers. They have a proven track record of being successful and we've gotten pushed back with some of the organizations we work for that it's like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah but the best practices say this is what we're supposed to do and this survey data says this is what we're supposed to do, and the research says this is what we should do, and therefore I'm going to sit in my office with all the things I know and do it." And so, do you have any thoughts?
Scott: And you come up with a light bulb, come up with that light bulb! That's the magic light bulb! That's right!
Sara: And so I think that's one of the greatest challenges in the work that I've done alongside with you in design thinking and in leadership space is to say, "It's OK to say, 'I don't know, but I want to know.'" Right? This curiosity, this beginner's mindset, I think is one of the things I love so much about this innovation space, but it's so scary for people because it requires this setting aside of the things that I think are true. Do you have any ways that you would encourage people to step into that space and be uncomfortable with -- to be comfortable with the discomfort?
Scott: That's a great question and I would say yes, but it's hard, right? So let's sort of back up for a second, right? And so I think where this comes from -- not to go too much on a soapbox -- is if you go back to school. What we're asking a school is to turn in a paper and get a grade. We're sort of asked to give the right answer and then we get graded on the right answer, right? So we've got years, decades, if you will, of this built up in ourselves. So to actually have a leader say, "I don't have the answer, but I know how to GET the answer," I think is a really hard thing to say. I'll tell you, I just told the board of directors at Deluxe that two weeks ago, right? And that's what I think we have to do as leaders, as humans, is we've got to separate the answer from how to get the answer so I can lead teams to help them get the answer. I don't know what the answer is that they're going to get to; they're going to figure it out by going on this journey, often with design thinking to figure that out and so that's my first sort of thing, is how do you stand up and say, "I don't know the answer but I know how to get the answer" and be confident as a leader and lead them through that, as opposed to lead them through the answer itself. And I think that's a hard mindset because that means you've got to let go of some of those things. I liken it to the difference between sort of secondary schooling and maybe master schooling, where it's much more Socratic method. Where the teacher there may not have the answer when you get into Master's programs, but they can facilitate the conversation and then the people, the students themselves, can get there. That, for me, is where the magic is but we've got to be OK again as we dispel this myth that innovation is the idea, as we dispel this myth that leadership is having the answer. If we can frame it as ‘leadership is knowing how to get to the answer in a repeatable way’, I think that was what organizations want. They don't just want your one idea. They want you to be successful over and over again and so I think organizations, it's really incumbent upon them to embrace the repeatability of this and you're never going to have all of the answers. If you do, by the way, good luck to you and I wish you luck. I don't -- I'm not that smart -- but I know how to get the answer in lots of these cases and as a leader, I'm confident in my abilities to do that, and I'm happy to stand in front of the board and say that but that's not how we're trained and it's a really hard mindset shift to go over.
Sara: So let's -- you know I could sit on empathy and talk about this forever, but let's talk about the repeatability of design thinking that comes within this, the methodology, the framework of it. So can you quickly give us a rundown of the five-ish steps? There's like five with an extra step and maybe...
Scott: Exactly, yeah.
Sara: But just kind of the design thinking framework. Give us an overview of how that works.
Scott: You got it. So let me start definitions. Webster defines and Scott defines design thinking is this: it is a way, a human-centered way to identify and solve a problem. A way to identify and solve the problem and it has to have three pieces to it, in my mind, for it to count, and then I'll walk you through the five steps. One, it's got to be collaborative. It's got to be a small team working together. This is a team sport. Number two, it's using empathy, or whatever we call it, to understand people's needs. And then three, it's using experimentation or prototyping to try things and get feedback. If it doesn't have those three pieces, I don't think of it as design thinking. Now, at Stanford, we teach it right in sort of these steps, empathize with your user, define the need, ideate different solutions, prototype your best solution, test your solution with the user, and iterate over and over and over again. But it's not about the five steps or the sixth. The six step of iterate just makes collaborative using empathy to understand needs and using prototyping to try things out and learn fast. That's in essence what design thinking is. Different courses all over the country, all over the world have different models to it but at the end of the day, it's those three pieces, collaborative, empathy, and prototyping.
Sara: So we've talked about kind of the empathy piece, right, and that goes into the -- and the design thinking model that essentially to empathize and define because it's defining -- from your empathy work, you're defining a need or a problem to be solved, right? So that's kind of that "who", who it is we're working for. Let's go to this experimentation piece of it and then we'll come back and hit that collaboration kind of after that. So experimentation: what is that? What's involved? How does it work? All the things, tell me all the things.
Scott: So, I'll say one other thing and then I'll jump in to that, which is if empathy is about who you're solving for what their needs are -- you can almost think of it as the need space. You need to spend time there, but you also need to spend time in the solution space, right? And so that's another sort of way to think about this and so in solution space, this is where people get excited. In fact, humans naturally think in solutions, right? Oh, you have this problem? Well, here's a solution. Right, and there this is where ideas sit. They sit in the solution space. One of the things you've got to realize, though, is your first idea is probably not right. It just isn't, like, if it is right, good luck to you. Go to Vegas and I wish you all the money the world can give you, right? But it's usually not and that's OK. We have to be OK with that. What prototyping is all about -- the method of prototyping is all about getting ideas out of your head, off of a sticky note and into your user's hands quickly, right? So let's say you're working on a mobile app. The goal is not to build a coded app and put it in your user's hands. It's to actually maybe build something on a Post-it note first and to draw the screen, right? Or if you're testing a program, you and I have done this before, right? We've tested programs and prototyped programs and we would prototype an agenda on a whiteboard and we didn't have all the details of it. I also have prototyped decks before. In fact, at Deluxe, I got asked to put together an innovation report, right, in a couple of months when I first got here and later that day I came with a hand drawn report and I gave it to my CEO and I said, "What do you think about this?" and he gave me feedback. That's a prototype. Right? What prototype is all about is getting those ideas out fast at what we call low fidelity, right, or low resolution. Because what you've got to realize, the first thing you almost have to say out loud, "I know this is wrong. I just don't know where it's wrong. So let me put it out, get feedback and start to figure out where it's wrong." The way we get it right is through a process of iteration. So a prototype can be lots of things, but it's all underneath that mindset of embracing experimentation, which is the realization that you can't get there on V1. So instead of create a version one, create a version 0.1 And then iterate from there and that's a different starting point. And so if I can show various CEOs hand drawn decks and reports and whatnot, we all can, because what that did for me is it gave me feedback early where I didn't have to waste time on this section of a report or that part of a report and I got feedback early, which is really all the prototype is designed to do so that you can again bring back that empathy into the solution space in addition to the need space.
Sara: All right. So what you're saying is that this experimentation is quick, it's early, it's messy, it's wrong, it's risky, and it's a means to get more empathy so that you are closer to the right solution around you, yeah?
Scott: And it's all -- you nailed it and it's all of those things so you can learn your way in to the right need and the right solution. In fact, it's funny. I actually think it's the fastest way to do that because you said yourself a lot of organizations, they probably get excited about one thing. They invest in it, they spend money on it, and they launch it, whether it's a program or a product and nobody comes right. It's "build it and they will come". Quite frankly, I would much rather "build it with them so they're already there", as opposed to "build it and they will come".
Sara: Yeah, but again, it's so vulnerable, right? It goes against everything that we are trained to do in school where I maybe turn in a rough draft but by the time you get to college--
Scott: But, let's be honest, how rough was it really, right? How rough was it really?
Sara: Not rough and by the time we get to college, there's no rough drafts and it's got to be right and so for you and your team to go to your actual users, or your leaders -- that's almost even scarier -- with something drawn and, maybe I'll try to find some pictures of some of the prototypes that you've created or the ones that we've built together and put them on the Growing as Grown-Ups website, but these are literally made of Post-it notes and hand drawings and we even start with pipe cleaners and balloons and tin foil and so why -- as crazy as that sounds and as crazy as people think we are when we ask them to play with pipe cleaners -- why does it work?
Scott: Yeah, and I love that you brought up pipe cleaners and aluminum foil or hand sketches. It works for two reasons. That low resolution works for two reasons. One, there are people out there are single -- I shared my deck, right? Or I shared my program or I shared my mobile app with people and I got feedback. The problem is what we've seen, what I've seen, what you've seen, is that when you share a prototype at higher fidelity, right, the "not-so-rough" rough draft or the almost-finished deck that looks polished or a mobile app that's pretty, people feel -- people know you spent a lot of time on it and they don't want to hurt your feelings. At the end of the day, we're people. We please, we like to please each other and you can say all day long, "Hey, give me good feedback, all of that." So they hate to hurt your feelings. So then what happens is they give you small feedback. They then say, "Hey, this -- maybe this color should be blue," or "Hey, have you thought about adding this little word here?" Well, early on, you don't know enough and the sooner you admit that, the better off you're going to be and so all we're doing in lowering the resolution of the prototype is matching where our knowledge really is. You can "pretty something up", but it's not nearly as polished as that from a knowledge and understanding perspective. So by lowering the resolution, by matching where you actually are, you open yourself up to more and by the way, they lean in and say, "Gosh, these guys need my help," and they give you big feedback. I will tell you, I was actually testing a mobile app at low-fidelity, a hand sketch on Post-it notes, and we were testing this with a set of users and they said to us, "This should not be a mobile app. This should be a conversation I have with my salesperson." Well, aren't we glad we didn't design and build the mobile app, right?
Scott: But we wouldn't have gotten that feedback if we would have designed the mobile app and put a finished mobile app in front of them. They would have said, "Oh, this is good, can you make that blue?" Right, and so what we're doing is we're lowering the resolution, we're lowering the bar and we're opening -- we're allowing all of that space to be filled with good feedback that will help us learn how to get to the right place.
Sara: So feedback is another important part of this process that's part of that experimentation/empathy, right? It's that transition point a little bit. So how do you think about feedback and how do you encourage it and how do you receive it?
Scott: Great and this is another wonderful connection point with leadership, right? Think back to performance reviews you've done. Think back to bosses you've had that have been really great and think about the things they've done to make you that way or that you've done. So in innovation and design thinking, we love a protocol called "I like, I wish, I wonder". Right? We just love that. By the way, my five year old can do this, so I'm pretty sure everybody else can and all it means is those are the words you start with in giving feedback. If I'm getting a mobile app in front of person, someone, for example, I'll say, "Well, tell me what you like, tell me what you wish, and tell me what you wonder," and they'll literally use those words, "I like this. I wish that. I wonder that." And that protocol allows them to give you really big and constructive feedback in a way that they feel good doing it. They know they're not hurting your feelings. So if you think back to the leader side of this, right, the best bosses we've ever had have told us things we're good at and they've given us really constructive things of things we could work on, and then they've asked us provocative questions to think. It's the same set of skills applied in leadership, applied to innovation but that feedback is so critical as long as you listen, right? This is not just about checking the box and saying, "Yeah, it's good, I'm aligned with it." It's really about going deep and understanding and, again, that's what makes a great innovator. That's what makes a great leader.
Sara: Yeah, and I think the -- so many times when people are asking for feedback, not in the innovation space, but in the real life space, what they're asking for is validation.
Sara: "Did I get it right?" and what design thinking is more like, "How can I get it right?" Scott: Yes. Sara: Right? And that change of "I want you to tell me what you don't like about it, because it will help me get to know you more" is such a pivot, I think, in our mindset, because feedback for some reason has just become a scary thing because it's telling me that I might be wrong and we go into feedback and design thinking going, "I know I'm wrong. Help me get it right." Right? "You're the one--" and I think it's such a powerful protocol. I tell people that all the time and we use it even here internally in the office that I like, I wish, I wonder instead of "you did this wrong" or "I really hate that". It's like, "I wonder if it would have worked better if..."
Sara: Or, you know, "I really wish that this were different" or "I wonder why you thought that way". Any of those questions I think is really--
Scott: Yeah. If you really want feedback -- and I was literally having a conversation with a product manager early this morning -- if you really want the feedback you say you want or you think you want, you actually have to plan it, like, you have to prepare the before, right? And you have to tell them, "Look, this is a rough idea. I want your feedback. Give me good, bad, and ugly" during it. It has to be lower fidelity enough to invite that feedback in and then after you show them that, you've got to sort of say, "Well, give me that feedback," and you listen and you ask probing questions and you're not defensive. You're not trying to answer. You're doing things like, "Oh, tell me more about that and why did that -- and how did that make you feel?" Which, by the way, sounds a lot like empathy-type stuff, right? But if you really want that, you design it in a way to really get that. For example, my five-year-old, she just finished a soccer season. At the end of every soccer game: "What's one thing you did well?" -- I like -- "What's one thing you will work on next time?" -- I wish, right? And so how do we actually -- we could actually all benefit from that. I found that protocol itself to be the most useful in so many other parts of life, not just leadership or innovation.
Sara: Yeah, I agree. But yet it's something that we all struggle with.
Scott: We all struggle.
Sara: So are there any of the mindsets of design thinking -- we've kind of covered at a high level the method. There's a lot of tools and strategies and elements that we could unpack but in terms of the mindsets, are there any others that we haven't touched on already that you think are really important or that maybe connect back into leadership in a way that you've noticed in your own work?
Scott: Yeah, and there are a bunch of different mindsets. You can go Google design thinking mindsets and have all kinds of stuff. The three, I think, matter the most and we've had two. One is embrace experimentation -- we've talked about that and we'll talk more about that as we talk about my leadership style as well, by the way -- but a second is a focus on people, a focus on humans, right? Just to sort of put a fine point on that. That's the mindset of which empathy emanates, of which feedback emanates, et cetera. But the third for me, that we haven't covered as much, I call it "inspire and be inspired". What I found in doing this type of work, because you're so focused on people -- people are amazing, right? If you stop and listen and you engage and their stories are absolutely amazing and I think that matters and so I encourage my teams all the time to go be inspired. Go talk to a small business owner, go to talk to a consumer, go talk to people and everybody has stories and as you sort of engage them, you can be inspired by them, right? So we're working on a project right now where our inspiration is Rowan. Rowan, and it's not going to matter where she is, she is a cash management specialist at a large corporation. That doesn't matter. But Rowan has a story that's important to tell. So as much as we are building an automated receivable, integrated receivables product, she has a story and quite frankly, she's the hero of her story. But yet things get in her way and we -- maybe we can play a role in helping her achieve this. So we just -- we use that inspiration to help us and the reason that's so important is if I sit here and I could tell you all day long about integrated receivables and how great it is and integrated APIs and all of this sort of fun stuff, but you don't know whether that's good or bad until I tell you, "Let me tell you about Rowan. Let me tell you what she struggles with. Let me tell you what her problems are and here's how we can help." And if we can sort of elevate the heroes of all of these stories to a better outcome, right? That's why we're in this. That goes back to our whole definition of innovation that we talked about a few minutes ago, solving problems for people. So for me, being –"inspire others and being inspired" is a mission critical part of this whole thing. It's why we do what we do. We don't do what we do to launch product. We don't do what we do to address receivables. I mean, we do, but that's the means to the end. What's the end? That's what I would think about in terms of being inspired and how do we actually have that lens and embrace that inspiration, because we will meet real people and we will carry their names through the various projects we run because we're inspired ourselves and in fact, that's what we fall in love with. We don't fall in love with our product. We fall in love with those inspirational stories.
Sara: And that, I haven't ever heard you say it that way so it's really fun. Every time I get something new from you, I'm like, "Ooh, let me at it." But the idea of you fall in love with the person, not the product, is what makes it exciting to get the feedback and throw your prototype in the trash can and start over, right? Yet too often people fall in love with their product and they miss the inspiration of the person you're trying to help and so I'm so glad you brought that back around. The one thing I don't want to skip before we move into kind of the leadership aspect of it is the collaborative piece. Why should I not go do design thinking by myself?
Scott: Yep. It's a great question and you're tempted to write? And we're all tempted to.
Sara: Right? It's easier.
Scott: It's easier. So here's what I would say. I think there are two reasons why by yourself doesn't work as well. One, you only have your own life view. It's not your fault. It's just who you are. You have your life view of things. Great, right? Count on that, but what that also means is you don't have lots of other people's life view, and that's what we found, is we need that diversity of team right to actually come together and bring their life views. They all need to see things and then if you can look collectively at that, you can bring those life views here and I might add something that you've never thought about before. This was -- in fact, growth mindset without getting to curriculum, it's that growth mindset. I used to believe that all I had to do was learn what somebody else -- that everybody got to a certain level of knowledge and then everybody knew the same things. It's not at all true; there's too much information out there. Everybody learns different things. So that wealth of knowledge brought together and that creative force to bring it together is huge. That's one. Secondly, this is hard work, right? This takes energy, this takes Post-it notes and energy, and you need people and quite frankly, not everybody is great at every part of design thinking. There are people that are better at empathy, there are people that are better at prototyping, there are people who are better at synthesizing and so in many ways, I'm trying to bring that diverse perspective -- whether it's diversity of race and gender and other things like that -- or it's diversity of experience or it's diversity of thinking style or working style or personality. I'm trying to bring all of those diverse things with all of those amazing experiences, and I'm putting them against this amorphous set of knowledge that they've got to create structure out of chaos and, be honest with you, a handful of people are much better than one. By the way, a handful of people are much better than twenty, too. So somewhere in that 4-6, 5-7 person team attacking that feels really natural so that you can move fast enough, but you can move good enough, too.
Sara: Yeah, that's true. I remember the first time I went through a design thinking exercise. Empathy, I'm good at. Prototyping, really testing, terrified of that because to put something rough and unfinished in front of people terrifies me because of the pedigree I come from of education, from too many years in school where I was supposed to have the right answer and so being on a team with the people who loved to play was really fun.
Scott: That's right but yet they need you as a big input to that. Right, and so that's why it's that diverse team that we try to solve for. I mean, that's another mindset, quite frankly, is they embrace diversity of perspective, right? But that's critical. That's the only way I know how to get to better outcomes. Otherwise, if you don't, everybody sort of has similar life experiences. They come up with similar problems and the good news is there's a lot of agreement. The bad news is it probably won't be the thing that actually unlocks the growth for these people you're solving for.
Sara: Yeah. So now let me ask you, since this is a leadership podcast, I'm a leadership psychologist, how has your understanding and immersion in innovation and design thinking influenced you as a leader? Because you lead large groups of people, you're in leadership positions in your various organizations, plus leading teaching workshops and all the things. You lead a lot of people. How has innovation impacted the way that you lead?
Scott: Yeah, great question. So I think two things to start out and I'll jump into a couple of my leadership philosophies. One is I've always sort of been a people person, but I'm not sure that matters as much but there was always a natural bias to that. So I've always been sort of leaned into "how do I help people?" I wanted to be the best manager I could when I first got a direct report and whatnot but the biggest thing is for me is this. What I've learned over the course of my career is not only do I get better outcomes, but I get better scale by focusing on the innovators as opposed to the innovations and so my leadership style is all-around "how do I grow and develop people?" How do I make -- that actually helps me as an innovation leader. It helps me as a product leader, helps me as a people leader, all of those things. But I've had this deliberate focus on building up the innovator or the product manager in this, as opposed to, again, focusing on the outcome of the product or whatnot and so let me tell you what sort of -- how that comes to life. So, for example, one of my philosophies is "crawl, walk, run," right? And this is where you'll start to see that embrace experimentation and prototyping come in. I want to get things going but what I don't worry about at the beginning of a project or an initiative or a program is getting it perfect. What I worry about is "what are you solving for and how are you going to get going?" And I literally will map up a "crawl, walk, run" roadmap that will iterate our way into figuring out the right thing to do in the right work streams. For example, we just had a meeting earlier today on a new work stream I created. I wasn't sure how to bring this group of ten people together, so we agreed to create a quick prototype, which was this group of people is about this. It's not about that, and we opened it up for feedback with some things on each side and several dot-dot-dots and people leaned in and so they helped us create it. That was our first crawl, right, to set this up. But even at a company that I'm setting up at Deluxe, we're setting up product innovation, I'm in crawl phase and so I know I can't get it right out of the gate and I've been in innovation for a couple of decades now going after this at some really big companies and really good success. I still can't get it right out of the gate. So I've got to create an intentional roadmap of "crawl-walk-run" to prototype my way to learning how to set this thing up and how to launch great products at Deluxe. I have two philosophies that are related, which is "create space" and "coach always". What that means to me is I've got to create space for my team to step into it. I've got to create space for them to step into a project. I've got to create space for the leaders underneath me to step in and above and so I'm intentionally thinking about that. I was in a meeting literally earlier today where I jumped in a little too early and I intentionally then pulled myself out because I had a leader who really needs to lead that and so I think about how do you intentionally create space and give them their own leadership opportunities to step into that but then the "coach always" comes back and says, "now let me coach them in how they did." And there's feedback there, but it's real-time coaching -- it's not the annual performance stuff; we do that, too -- but how do you actually coach? Because quite honestly, if I'm going to build scale or I'm gonna build repeatability and, again, this is no different in innovation, that is in any leadership, I've got to have people to do it. I can't do it myself, right? And so what I found is the skill I've had to develop the most is the coaching. How do I meet someone where they are? Give them "I like, I wish, I wonder" feedback quickly, and then see what -- and then keep giving them opportunity and space to try more and more and that's when I start to see things and they start to do things that I wouldn't have envisioned and that's when I know I'm on to something.
Sara: So it sounds like you are giving your employees the space to prototype their own leadership and then you're giving them feedback.
Scott: It is. That's exactly -- I actually have never framed it that way, but that's exactly what I'm doing.
Sara: Yeah. Letting them try something, letting them experiment, right? Putting themselves out there where it's like it'd be easier for you to maybe jump in and explain it, but to say, "If my goal is to invest in my people and develop them, let them try, and then I'm going to give feedback, and I'm not going to be mad if it isn't exactly the way that I would do it."
Scott: And they might even do it better but that's -- I think you said it exactly well, because the goal, if I think bigger picture, is not for us to be successful in that first day or that first week or in any immediate moment. The goal is to be successful over the long term and, sure, I could jump in and do some of this thing better than they can right now on some things, but I need to spend time on things that only I can do and I need them doing those things and so, again, create the space. They fill it with prototypes. They learn and they iterate. And guess what? A month from now, six months from now, they might be beyond me, right? I can still coach them, but that's great and that's what we need. That's how, in my mind, we build a high-performing organization as we give people that space, we let them try, and we build them up so over time, they can take it to places that you didn't even imagine. And by the way, as a leader, I'm proud of that. When they're up on stage with the board or whatever they're doing, right, in doing that and I had a hand -- a very direct hand -- in stepping out of their way, but then helping them along the way. That for me is, if I think about leader is not standing up on the stage and sort of shouting at the top of their lungs, I actually wonder if leadership is much more facilitated. This is much more side by side. You've heard servant leadership. You know this stuff better than I do. I just think that we've got to build up those people and companies say their greatest asset is their people. I haven't seen that play out as much as I would. I would like to see over the course of my career.
Sara: Yeah, well, Scott, you know, you and I could talk about this stuff all day, but we do need to start wrapping up. Is there anything else that you think would be important for our listeners to know in terms of, like, what could they take from this? What is something from this design thinking, this innovation work that, you know, most of them probably are not in an innovative job, but they could say, "You know what, I could go do something," and you've thrown out a bunch of nuggets, but if you could just pick like one or two things that you think if everybody could just go start doing this a little more, what would you want them to do?
Scott: So one of the most exciting trends that I see in innovation is there have been multiple phases that we could talk about at some other point. But I think we're now getting into the phase where innovation isn't a discipline, it's not a function, it's something everybody does. At Deluxe, we call it "everyone innovates" and so we're trying to teach and build skills, mindsets, and behaviors and all the things we've talked about today in every one of our employees. And the reality is to do that, you can't go big, you've got to go small and so the thing I would suggest, and one of the first challenges we're going to run with our people, is I might call it an empathy challenge. I might not depending on, you know, how that word resonates, but it's this, and you can do this as well. It's sort of tying empathy into this whole thing. It's go ask an open-ended question to a customer or friend or family member in a related area. Let's say you're in financial services, you work for a bank. Go ask an open-ended question to a friend or family member that's banked with somebody and say something like, "Tell me about the best experience you've ever had with the bank or tell me about the worst experience you've ever had with a bank." And then my challenge to you is not to listen to solve, not to listen to sell, but to listen to understand and then follow up with, "tell me more?" and "why is that?" and "how'd that make you feel?" So just that simply, go ask an open-ended question of someone, something related to your field, and just listen to understand and maybe that can start the snowball rolling down the hill of how you bring some of these design thinking mindsets and behaviors into your daily life.
Sara: I love it. I love it. I'm going to go think of somebody I can ask a question of. Scott, where can people go to learn more about design, thinking, about innovation? Are there some -- you know, I've got some resources I used when I was teaching myself this stuff and sitting under your teaching, but if somebody wants to understand some more, if they're like, "No, there is something to this. I want to learn how to do this more," do you have a favorite resource, you send people to?
Scott: I do. I do and, look, you can go -- it's funny, 10 years ago when you Google design thinking there wasn't much, now it's like one point trillion whatever -- the reality is, there are a couple of books back here that I sort of keep and two are top of mind for me. One, there's a book called ‘Creative Confidence’. Creative Confidence was written by the Kelley Brothers. They're the founders of IDEO and the founders of the Stanford d.School and it's a really good end-to-end look at how these elements of design thinking can build creativity. There's some business stuff in there. There's some K-12 stuff in there, etc., that's one. I will tell you the other one I'm enamored with right now is another book called ‘Designing Your Life’, and it uses the tools of design thinking to think about how do you manage your career, how do you manage your work and your family life and whatnot? And I've sort of become enamored with that. We talked about my five-year-old, right? She actually -- my 11-year-old has now had about eight years of design thinking at a school, my five-year-old is as through her first year, but I'm fascinated by how do these mindsets over time affect everything we do? I know how they've affected my leadership style, how I think, how I operate, I'm curious how they can do more. Again, there's not magic to the words "design thinking", but some of these behaviors and mindsets get super interesting as we think about this next evolution of leadership and people.
Sara: Oh my gosh, I don't know about that book, so I'm going to go and buy it right now. It sounds right up my alley. Thank you for sharing those. Lastly, my question I ask everybody at the end of the podcast is what is going on in life right now that you are most excited about?
Scott: Oh, wow. I will tell you what I am most excited about is these times that we live in and I don't want to minimize so much of the hardship that many folks have gone through, lost loved ones and all of that. Without a doubt, it's affected all of us. One of the things I think about as a studier of people, and while not a psychologist or ethnographer, I think about this a lot. These are extreme times for everyone and during times of extreme -- of extremeness, there are learnings and behaviors that switch. I'm fascinated to understand what are some of those behaviors that persist coming out of this, the good, the bad, and the ugly? And so I had built up my own model of how people behave, how small businesses behave, etc. I need to challenge all of that and take that back to that "prove yourself wrong and if you can't prove yourself wrong, maybe you're right". I've got to challenge all of those things that I thought I knew about human nature and figured out what sticks and figured out what changes and what doesn't change and so I think that's going to be a really fascinating experience for all of us who work on creating solutions for people and I think it's incumbent upon us to go back and challenge all of those things we thought we knew.
Sara: Oh, yep. So hard but so necessary.
Scott: So hard, yeah.
Sara: Well, Scott, thank you so much for giving us your time and all of your experience and expertise. I wish that we could do like a six-part series on this, and maybe in the future we will, and we'll just -- we'll go deeper on all of these different things, but I appreciate you and just the role that you've played in my journey and my work and in the partnership that we've built over the years. So, as always, thank you for being so generous with your time and your knowledge.
Scott: You got it and I look forward to the next thing we do together.
Sara: Oh, I hope so.