Cultivating Innovation with Libba Pinchot, Ph.D.

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“The antidote is action.”

Dr. Libba Pinchot

Today, Dr. Pinchot joins me to talk about how we can help people cultivate innovation. She defines innovation, explaining why it’s not top-down.

We discuss the mindset of innovation and talk about the different types of failure, noting that some failure is good and acceptable. We talk about the price of disengaged employees and share some statistics on the mindset of today’s youth.

Dr. Pinchot notes the need for integrity in companies, emphasizes the importance of avoiding blaming and shaming, and posits that people are basically good.

Scroll down for the transcript…

This Week on the Mindset Zone:

  • Cultivating innovation
  • The definition of innovation
  • Why innovation isn’t top-down
  • Why the mindset doesn’t just reside in the individual
  • The different types of mistakes
  • How the definition of intrapreneurship has changed over the years
  • The definition of integrity

The Guest:

Dr. Libba Pinchot is a nationally recognized expert in helping leaders achieve triple bottom line success (Profit, People, Planet) through widespread innovation and intrapreneurial engagement. She specializes in creating organizational transformations designed to spread throughout the company, the supply chain, and well beyond. She loves working with extraordinary leaders and organizations dedicated to making people and the world better. She has worked with companies such as Apple, IBM, Intel, HP, Texas Instruments, DuPont, Exxon, GE, P&G, J&J, Ford, and Stanford University.

Cultivating Innovation with Libba Pinchot, Ph.D.

Resources Mentioned:

Summary transcript of the interview:

Ana Melikian: Dr. Libba Pinchot is a nationally recognized expert on helping leaders achieve triple bottom line success through widespread innovation and intrapreneurial engagement. It’s truly my pleasure to have you here in the Mindset Zone podcast to speak about how can we help people cultivate innovation and seems logical that the first question to be: how do you define innovation?

Libba Pinchot: Thank you so much, Ana. The simplest definition is meeting the needs of the future starting now. The point about innovation is that there was a long tradition of innovation being very top-down in these big organizations. And it wasn't very successful because in actual fact the number of people in the organization, the number of brains in the organization, are spread throughout the employee base. Everybody has an opportunity to improve the way work is done, how the customer is served, how other employees can benefit, how communities and societies can benefit, and so. Innovation isn't top-down. Everyone sees ways that they can improve things. And if they're engaged and supported in making changes, that benefit both the company and the future and society, they love coming to work, being able to innovate.

Ana Melikian: I love that. So, it's not so much about gaskets or technology, but about a mindset of innovation.

Libba Pinchot: It is about the mindset of innovation. I'm in the right place. I see.

Ana Melikian: Yes. I love it. Innovation as “meeting the needs of the future.” And by tapping into the collective, not just the leaders of the organization, but truly the collective of all stakeholders it may be possible to be in sync with what is going to happen in the future to be able to meet those needs. Is that the idea?

Libba Pinchot: Yes. The mindset isn't just residing in the individuals, whether they're an innovation specialist or sustainability specialist, or just all of us average people who have jobs in companies. The innovation is in a context with a lot of barriers in it. For example, there's a drive in all companies that everything has to be profitable. To get the resources, to make an innovation, you often have to prove that it will be profitable, which is really hard to do ahead of time. That's a barrier and the short-term focus of companies and they really are not used to investing in things that have a long payoff. And yet, if you're meeting the needs of the future, a lot of those things will have to have a long term payoff. And there are the internal silos: the finance people, the sustainability people. They now work together, but it's not necessarily official. And then there's the individualism in this idea of what a firm is. That's a mindset: that a firm is supposed to be competitive with all the other firms, and it's not necessarily supposed to be part of the community and so forth. And yet some of the biggest cost savings around sustainability have been when people in organizations have gotten together and done some long-term purchases of power and save millions and millions of dollars, so that the Finance people say, “Oh, my God, this is so incredible. Would you please do more,” but that's across organizational endeavor that kind of breaks the rules.

Ana Melikian: One of the definitions of mindset is that the beliefs, conscious and unconscious, that an individual or organization has determined the way they see the world, the way they behave. So, by creating and cultivating a place that allows innovation, new solutions can come up. If they see challenges as an obstacle that they cannot solve, there is not much room for innovation, but if they see them as something they can expand possibilities and play with, maybe some innovative solution can be generated.

Libba Pinchot: Yes. And, the context that the leadership creates. It's the culture that the leadership creates so that people are actually allowed to make mistakes. Failing your way to success, you learn. Are the mistakes above the waterline or below the waterline? Think of a boat and drilling a hole in a boat. Is it above the water line or below? You don't have the authorization to make a mistake that would harm the company, but you do have the authorization to make some little mistakes.

Ana Melikian: So, to cultivate this innovation mindset in the organization and individuals, there has to be room for playing, room for exploring.

Libba Pinchot: Yes, and that has to be the culture of the company, which is true in some companies, but not all of them. Paul Polman who was CEO of Unilever and wrote this book called “Net Positive” with Andy Winston, had a blog today where he said, that it's the employees that are going to be the key accelerator of getting business to be more environmental and more ethical. He said, what if CEOs treated their employees with the same respect that they treat their investors; and build a purpose-driven culture. So, when I'm talking about a culture, it's a culture that is very employee-focused.

Employees seem to have a more accurate view of what's going on in companies. If three-quarters of the leaders say, “Oh, we're doing everything we can for climate change” for instance, only half of the employees agree with that. And if three quarters say that the leaders put the same emphasis on sustainability as profit, only half the employees believe that. Yet, two-thirds of the employees – this was in 2017, I bet, it's way more now – two-thirds of employees say that they want their employers to more actively address social and environmental issues. And when you look at the great resignation that's going on – and I believe so much of it is people who have had an illness and inadequate daycare and inadequate social support – there are companies that are waking up to the fact that they're losing talent because they do not have a purpose-driven company.

Ana Melikian: And I think this is an opportunity. I think if we apply innovation to the great resignation situation is also an opportunity to come up with many changes.

Another concept that I think you are the originator of, that connects with this beautifully, is the concept of intrapreneurship. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Libba Pinchot: Intrapreneurship is a concept we've been talking about for 35, 40 years, and it's changed over time. Originally, these innovators who saw an idea, gather a team, and they always would have to find a sponsor because you can't get resources unless you have someone who's a little higher up and you have to be protected from the hierarchy. And they would get together and do a project. You can look at the history of the wonderful things, whether it's the scotch tape I have in my hand, or some wonderful technology or health care innovations. It often would come out of an informal team called intrapreneurs. We would do training and train the sponsors and train the intrapreneurs on how to basically have a small business within the organization. So, they had to learn to do all the aspects of a business. And although they didn't take home the profits at the end of the day, the company got stronger and they were so thrilled to be able to have that independence, to put their ideas into play. Nowadays we actually need that intrapreneurial spirit spread throughout the organization, in part, because the change that's required, the innovation that's required, given the incoming change in society and the planet requires so much innovation. And plus, people are not settling for just being cogs in the wheel.

Ana Melikian: It's almost that now intrapreneurship has to be part of the culture.

Libba Pinchot: That's right.

Ana Melikian: And, going back again to create that safe place, to play, to try new things, to fail forward and, and to make mistakes in a context that allows innovation and that allows people to try new things.

Libba Pinchot: One thing I've been thinking about in the last three or four months is the price of disengaged employees, the price of inaction. It's a psychological price too. We have a lot of despair in society now for very legitimate reasons, the health crisis among others, but inaction in itself produces a kind of despair. And I've been talking for a while about why inaction is so dangerous. There's something called moral injury. It's a phrase adopted from the VA (Veterans Association) for people who were in war and had terrible psychological trauma, and often was not so much what they had done, but what they were unable to change.

Ana Melikian: So moral injury is, for instance, you are in a war situation or in a crisis situation, it's not that you do the injury, you were part of our operation that had negative consequences, and you feel the moral injury because you were involved in that organization and you didn't, or you feel that you didn't do anything to, or you were not empowered to do something to stop that to happen.

Libba Pinchot: That's right, and it had violated your own moral core. And yet you had to be there. And, if you look at people in companies – I work with companies sometimes in the oil and gas industry – they're obligated to keep the company alive. That's what they sign up for. And they're obligated to keep delivering the things that you and I use. We drive our cars, right? And yet they know deep down – if they don't their children are telling them that – if they are maintaining the work without change, they are harming the future, their future, the future of the planet, the future of their children. And, it's a serious thing. They walk a really fine line. And to some extent, we all walk this fine line between we need to keep the system going because of the tragedies that would happen if we let the system collapse; and also knowing that it's coming toward a train wreck. And the youth know this. There was this study just a few months ago of 10,000 young people. And they were from 10 countries, 16- to 24-year-olds. It was a big and reputable study. And the researchers said that 75% of these 10,000 youth thought the future was frightening, seventy-five percent. And 60% say they were extremely worried and that they also felt betrayed by, either the governments or the adults around them, the next generation up. And 40% fear having children.

Ana Melikian: Wow. And that makes it even more important to cultivate innovation because it's almost that they are seeing the glass half empty, but if we managed to help them to see the glass half full through innovation, to empowerment in the sense that these are the people that can help us to meet the needs of the future. Yes, it's a fine line, a difficult line. And how can we change these huge systems? There are so overwhelming in so many ways. That we feel like we are victims of the system, but how can we be the butterfly flapping our wings to create that chain of events that can lead to a better future.

Libba Pinchot: The most interesting thing about this particular study of the 16- to 24-year-olds, it said – and this big group of researchers all agreed – this was a sign of mental health; this was a sign of having a strong moral code. These young people they're right on, they actually are more able to absorb the truth. Their mindset is more in tune with reality. And so, they're having a positive awareness and taking positive stances.

Here's the antidote. Whether it's in vets or in the youth or in the CEO. The antidote is action. It's getting together. For instance, what they do with the vets: getting together with other vets, openly discussing the situations that they were in and then designing some kind of action to take together, to make the world better. That's what the youths are doing. The youth is standing up and saying, “I actually have to find a place to work where I can make a positive difference.”

I think there's a bit of moral injury in all of us and in our leaders, which kind of gives you a sense of compassion for everyone, we're all doing the best we can.

Ana Melikian: And how can we support this change, how can we support the youth to take the action together? How can we be part of the solution and help create this culture where innovation can happen everywhere?

Libba Pinchot: I think integrity is the word. And, because I work in companies, let me say how companies can do that. Companies need to be able to walk their talk. They can't have these targets that they don't really intend to fill as far as making the future safe for the next generation, they have to have bold targets. They can't just have easy targets. And they have to not lobby for the opposite of their targets. That's what I mean by integrity, wholeness. And companies are catching on to that. They really cannot any longer get away without being a shining example of integrity, because people are going to get really pissed.

Ana Melikian: And everybody now has a phone in their hands. So, you can shine the spotlight, if they are not walking their talk, they can be exposed most easier than before.

Libba Pinchot: That's right. And on the other hand, I think it's important to remember that every single one of them is trapped in a system and they really want to do the right thing. The CEO has the board, the board has Wall Street, and therefore to the extent that we give them the chance by some lobbying, some citizen lobbying, or some good consumer lobbying, some support in finding ways to transform, of course, my work is supporting them in the transformation.

Ana Melikian: How can we be more open to the future? You said innovation is meeting the needs of the future. So, it's almost like we have to be in a place that is okay for us to look at the horizon and imagine what it can be. How can we help people in general to have that wider perspective, to be able to look and then to be able to play with different scenarios and solutions?

Libba Pinchot: One of my favorite quotes, it's from a fellow called David Orr, and he said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

Ana Melikian: Action again.

Libba Pinchot: Little actions that come to fruition. And suddenly you say “I've got a handle on the future. I did something, it got better.” Like the local Lions Club picked up all the Christmas trees for free. And they all got better thinking “We can get together and do something positive for the community.” Because despair can be transmuted into hope and we're always healing our moral injuries, our work it's continuous. And so, if we can look out and find, just help a little more, “I have to take care of myself, I have to be compassionate to myself, but how can I just have a little more compassionate action in the world?”

Ana Melikian: I love that it's not about blaming or shaming because that is again, feeding the negative circle that I cannot do anything and just blame and shame. It's about being gentle with ourselves, but that is not an excuse for not doing something.

Libba Pinchot: Yeah. And there's another mindset that I think we've forgotten and is that people are basically good, not a hundred percent, but almost everybody is doing the best they can. And so, you can look for people to surprise you and you can connect with them. And, and, and maybe find some common ground and everyone can change.

Ana Melikian: I love that. It's the belief. If we have to pick a belief, why not pick the belief that in essence, people thrive. It's the self-actualization. If we go back to Maslow, you are speaking about self-actualization. It's a positive force.

Libba Pinchot: And our job is to help each other be their best selves. And making the world better through our work.

Ana Melikian: I absolutely we can do that as individuals in our own lives, wherever we work because it's a big chunk of our lives and cultivating to able to do together, because this is not an individual thing, is a together thing that through small actions, we can make a big difference. This open us, expands what's possible in front of us. And that is one of the principles here in the Mindset Zone, it's exactly not seeing things such as one way but the diversity of possibilities and possible ways that we can explore.

Expand what's possible!