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Digital Velocity Podcast Hosted by Tim Curtis and Erik Martinez

40 Transcending Limits and Challenges Through Innovation - Carla Johnson

This week on the Digital Velocity Podcast, Carla Johnson, author of RE:Think Innovation, joins Erik and Tim to discuss how five simple steps can help businesses generate ideas and solutions to transcend limits and challenges.

Carla’s idea of limits comes from her background in architecture. She says, “…whether we realize it or not, we all have our, what I call third story limits, three-story limits. Taking it back to the world of architecture. In the late 1800s, there was a three-story limit on what architects believed is possible for buildings. And essentially that was three stories because, after that, the structures wouldn't be secure enough.”

Those obstacles and limits show up in personal situations as well as business settings. Carla says, “And I think as we look at how we see potential for ideas, we have to recognize and acknowledge what are our own three-story limits that we put in our work? Is it a specific client that we'd love to go after that we don't believe we could actually get? Is it a sales number? Is it getting access to a true decision-maker? Is it…the number of hours in a day or a budget? We all have three-story limits, but that really makes a difference in what we believe is possible. And that's how that statement, how might we begins to break through that three-story limit.”

Businesses that want to be successful must be willing to spend the time required to create ideas about how to overcome those challenges. Carla says, “For organizations who truly do care about efficiency, productivity, quality of the work that they're putting out, and I think more importantly now than ever, being highly, highly relevant to your customers, you have to take this time to step back and ask these questions.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how innovation can help businesses surpass constraints and obstacles.

About the Guest:

Carla Johnson helps organizations constrained by old-school approaches when taking on new-world opportunities. These companies struggle with unpredictability, frustrating inefficiencies, and a shortfall of results. They point fingers and say they have the wrong people, the wrong strategy, or the wrong product. But in reality, it's outdated methods.

As the world’s leading Innovation Architect and CEO of RE:Think Labs, Carla helps organizations design and build the ideal architecture to accelerate innovation, engagement, and growth. Having written 10 books and studied both innovation and architecture for more than 20 years, she’s developed specific frameworks to help leaders remodel their approaches in order to boost speed, reduce risk, and enjoy more predictable outcomes.

After collaborating with Carla and her team, clients experience modernized cultures that help them rise to the challenges of the day. By renovating the internal environment to meet current opportunities and challenges, she equips leaders and employees to innovate better outcomes, faster. This streamlined and creative approach leads to greater engagement, expanded competitive advantages, and sustainable shareholder value


Erik Martinez: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Digital Velocity Podcast. I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine.

Tim Curtis: And I'm Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: Today we have our first repeat guest, Carla Johnson, on the show to continue our conversation that we started last summer about innovation. Carla is the premier expert on helping organizations teach their teams on how to innovate by using the Five Step Perpetual Innovation Process. Carla, welcome back to the show.

Carla Johnson: Thanks guys and I can't tell you how happy I am to be your first repeat guest.

Tim Curtis: First repeat.

Erik Martinez: We have you like on this pedestal way [00:01:00] up here, so.

Carla Johnson: Well, that's your first mistake. Oh, I'll take myself right off there.

Erik Martinez: No, no. I have attended your workshop. It's amazing. So, Carla, since we last spoke, I started, but I have not yet completed the process of teaching the five step process to my team, and I learned a lot of things through that effort. Chief among them was that when I intermixed my groups with people throughout the company, the teams had a real challenging time going through the objective statement process. But when I put 'em together by department, they were able to effectively generate an objective statement that was on point. What's your experience with your clients when it comes to that piece of the process?

Carla Johnson: It's a great question because I think the smaller our little ecosystems are every day at work, the easier it is to create consensus but also an echo chamber. Just like diversity with ideas, the more diversity you have with setting that objective statement, it helps you [00:02:00] understand how well are we communicating the bigger purpose of what we do as an organization. Whether it's an agency or a big company or a small company or a nonprofit organization, is how well do we understand the bigger picture of why we show up every single day?

And I think teams are really good, in general, of understanding, okay, here's what we need to get done on a day-to-day basis, and it may be more tactically oriented. But when you start cross-pollinating teams, just like you did Erik, I think there's a lot of unspokeness about why are we doing this and what's the priority of what we do.

And it can help you understand some opportunities that you may not have discovered before about where can we bring greater clarity about the work that we're doing and how we articulate it. Really importantly, to your own employees, and then also out to your customers and the greater [00:03:00] market that helps distinguish you in talking about the work that you do and the difference that you make in their lives.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, I think that's a really good point because I think that kind of echoes what the team did. Now we did this really fast. We didn't do a two-day workshop. We were doing this about in hour and a half increments. So, you know, we'd do each step and we'd talk a little bit about it and that was kind of one of the things that actually got me to switch up the next day and put them into more focused groups.

Because the purpose for us that day, we were trying to do some team-building activities and we wanted them to work together, which is why intermixed the group. But they really struggled with coming up with those objective statements. So, that next day we put 'em in their teams to expose them to the process. It's not the detailed workshop that you did, I've never taught it before, so I have the book by my side. I'm like dog-earring pages.

Tim Curtis: That's what you're supposed to.

Carla Johnson: Here are your notes from our workshop, right?

Erik Martinez: Well, we bought copies for everybody [00:04:00] on the team.

Carla Johnson: Oh, fantastic. Fantastic.

Erik Martinez: By the way, you were sold out on Amazon, so I had to buy 'em on Walmart.

Carla Johnson: Oh, well there's also like, it sells through independent bookstores, which I'm always a big fan of. And there's The Tattered Cover in Denver, and I know other communities have their local bookstores.

And I think sometimes in your situation, Erik, because it can be a lot of newness to put together at once, it's a new process, it's a new mindset, it's a new group of people who work together. Sometimes having people set an objective statement for something completely unrelated to the agency could be helpful. It could be like, let's come up with ideas about how to have a family get together that's not what we always do. You know, those kind of things.

Erik Martinez: Believe it or not, we tried that and they still struggled with it.

Carla Johnson: Oh, really?

Erik Martinez: It was fascinating to me cuz I'd been through the workshop and we did it and I felt like, during a workshop, you did such a great job of setting the [00:05:00] context and providing examples before we tried it. Because I had a limited amount of time, we kind of dove in. So, maybe that was kind of the key part, right? You have to do a little more setup and process. And it was, of course, my first time trying to teach the process. So, it was a very, very fascinating experiment.

I gotta tell you what, though we didn't get through the generate step but we did get through the relate step and something clicked. Like, when we were in the workshop, as we've talked about, the relate step is like the hardest part. You know, how do you connect the dots and bring 'em together? And the how might we statements that the team came up with were amazing. We, I think we had five or six subgroups, and they all came up with these amazing, amazing how might we statements. And I'm sittin' there, we need to record that cuz there's a list of things for us to do for the next century, just in there.

Carla Johnson: It's crazy. I have, I have goosebumps because I love watching the [00:06:00] magic of that third step, the relate step. You guys know, you've heard me talk about it a number of times about this is really where the magic happens. When you can take something that you observe, just to refresh the steps. Start out with observing the world around you, distilling those things into patterns, and then relate those patterns into the work that you do. That's really what distinguishes iconic thinkers from those who are really just trying to copy and paste something that somebody else has done.

And if you ever think about it in terms of movies. Somebody will say, Hey, did you see the new whatever movie? And they say, yeah, it's, if you ever saw Star Wars, it's that, just different characters. So, all they did was copy and paste and dress it up a little different. It's not something truly innovative. But when you look at some of the movies that seem to come outta nowhere, it's because they really were different. Like, I love the movie, Tag. It's about these friends who [00:07:00] have had this game of tag since they were 10 years old and now they're in their like sixties and seventies. That is a funny movie.

 And they were able to connect the dots between what do we observe as kids and what are these patterns about friendship and kind of that nostalgia about the friends you had as kids. And how do we relate that into the importance of the world we have as adults and maintain those relationships? Okay, now how do we create that as a movie? And that turned out to be an amazingly hilarious movie. if people say, well, what's it about? There's no other movie that I can say, did you see that? It's like that only a little bit different. Like, that to me is the same thing for an original idea.

Tim Curtis: I think I go back to our original conversation and we sort of pivoted to, you know, that culture of original thinkers. Erik alluded to it earlier where when you sit down to do this process, right? I felt like I sort of went back to my master's degree. I have a master's degree and a huge chunk of it is in organizational psychology. And I really felt like, for us, it was [00:08:00] more about that setup. It was the work setting up ahead of any kind of ideation process. What I think is really interesting about that, when you go to the observed step, the number one step, what I felt like your process did, and in the book, it sort of, how do you say it? It sort of set us free, right?

It sort of released us to be able to look at things and take things from the outside. If you set up that example and you begin your process by saying, what unrelated to our company, what out there have you experienced as frictionless, that is a good experience? It's interesting what comes back. You have all sorts of examples, none of which parallel what you're doing in your work life. There's beautiful little nuggets inside of that, that I think really sets up that process. What a fascinating way to do it is by, you know, putting as much emphasis as you do on that. And I think that, at least in my mind, that feels like how you set up that culture of original thinker. You sort of emulate it until people really get that concept.

Carla Johnson: Erik you were gonna say something?

Erik Martinez: Yeah, [00:09:00] no, I was just gonna add to that cuz I think that was part of our experience. Cuz I remember the team, we're sitting in a small hotel conference room and we sent them out to do their observations. As we started going through the process, each step, I remember one of the team members saying to me, I did not understand how walking through a hotel lobby and writing things down could turn into ideas. It was like the light bulb went on and they're like, oh wow, that is pretty powerful. Like, you look at the world very differently now.

Carla Johnson: You do, and actually I learned a lot of this, my first stint in marketing was working for architecture firms of small, from six to 6,000 people. You know, local around your block to around the world kind of projects. The one really important thing that I learned that architects do is they look at that objective statement like, what are we here to accomplish? They'll say to [00:10:00] a client, design architects, how do you want people to feel in this space? Is it an entertainment space where you want people to feel excited and energized and a lot of flow through? Is it a big concert venue or something like that? Or is it an outdoor park where people go for calm and relaxation and reflection? Or you know, is it a place where people gather? What is it we want the end result to be?

Then what architects do, they actually do two things. They reverse engineer the outcomes. So, they know the outcome they want, now they reverse engineer how to get there. And the second thing that they do is that they connect the dots in fresh ways. As you think about architects, if they say, this is what we wanna end up, okay, now let's reverse engineer. In order to do that, we have to get our client to approve the pitch. In order to do that, we have to have really original ideas. In order to do that, we have to relate something new and distinctive from the real world into the work that we do. But from there we have to understand the patterns that matter to our client and to see the [00:11:00] patterns we have to observe the world around us and make those connections in fresh ways.

Tim Curtis: So interesting that you said that because oftentimes what I've observed is that in the process, I've had to make sure that both my introverts and my extroverts have their opportunities to think and contribute. Introverts tend to take more time to Crockpot ideas. They like to think, whereas extroverts are kind of just spewing things out. They're thinking out loud.

I've done the very same thing where I'm like, imagine the solution, we've arrived. What does it look like? You know, in our case, what's the client experience? How do we do that? I don't know if this is just a human thinking part. I think there's some science to this. Once we've identified the end, that reverse engineer process does seem to fall onto place easier for people than a completely blank whiteboard where you have to architect that entire process. That just seems like something that's worked well.

Carla Johnson: I would agree. And I think the interesting thing that I started to realize as I went from [00:12:00] architecture and marketing into this world of innovation, is that innovators do those same two things. They reverse engineer the outcome and they connect the dots in fresh ways. As we've seen, there doesn't have to be this magical shroud of mystery about how to reverse engineer the process. We now have five steps that people can learn to do it. So, in a way, anybody can be an innovation architect now that we have the process.

As you've seen, Erik. You've gone through the training, you've read the book, we've talked about it. It just takes practice. You know you would never imagine somebody giving Michael Phelps a book on swimming, giving him a quick demo, running through some strokes, and say, all right, let's hit the ground running and you've gotta meet next week. I mean, I wouldn't, but.

Erik Martinez: That's how I've lived my life, Carla. What are you talking about?

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Carla Johnson: There's always practice and refinement and honing, and observing what you did all the way through the process, you know, that reflection,[00:13:00] and saying, what did we learn? And even in your experience with getting people from across all parts of the company, of the agency to work together, having that time to reflect as a group and say, why was this so hard? Like, did we come into this with set expectations? And Tim, you've probably seen this a ton with your background.

Tim Curtis: Yep. I have.

Carla Johnson: What do we need to observe about how we interact or how we set up exercises or things like that, that we can help people?

Tim Curtis: It does seem like, and I'll give you another example. This is, for the listeners, I work out three days a week with a personal trainer, and it's pretty intense. But what I've noticed about myself, my superpower is that I seem to lose count in the middle of every set we're doing on my reps. And then I went back to my psychology courses and remembered I should start, let's just take 20. I should start at 20 and count down because my reptilian brain can do that. It doesn't lose track of the countdown, [00:14:00] but it loses track if you're trying to count up to it. There's little nuances within our psychology that causes us to struggle.

Some of our superpowers are not being able to remember names. You forget them as soon as you hear them. So, we have to set up these little tricks and this process. Yeah. Erik raises his hand. This process is no different. Once you understand and you kind of are able to set those expectations, as you said, you know, kind of that setup process, I just go back to reinforcing that, that really is where you begin to really get traction.

This thing can go, you know, one of two directions and, and like I mentioned with the extroverts and introverts. I really had to think about how do I set this process up to honor the introverts because oftentimes these processes don't honor them and it doesn't give them the same chance cuz they need time to process.

Carla Johnson: I loved your phrase, Crockpot ideas. That's such a visual metaphor of that. I had to learn this along the way with introverts cuz my husband is highly introverted but amazingly creative. I'm more of an [00:15:00] ambivert. But when I get going, I'm an extrovert extra.

Tim Curtis: Extraordinaire

Carla Johnson: Like, my brain is my mouth or my mouth is my brain and not, you know, 90% of it isn't productive, but if you're trying to get a word in edgewise, you can't. It is important, and that's why I think about the difference between a good idea and a great idea is time. That really gives a lot of power and helps extroverts and everybody recognize the importance of introverts, ambiverts, extroverts, as well as how different people look at the world differently. And differently can be finance versus marketing versus operations.

Tim Curtis: Mm-hmm. And don't we need that diversity?

Carla Johnson: Absolutely. And it can be a struggle though if you're not used to that. Like Erik, you talk about if your teams are used to working together and humming along, which is beautiful in a lot of important situations. Sometimes you miss that hiccup that makes you go, oh wait, maybe I am assuming a [00:16:00] lot of things. For example, what the experience of walking through a hotel lobby is like. Maybe there's all sorts of things I never noticed.

Tim Curtis: Until you're attentive to it.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, exactly. And then categorizing it down for it to make simpler sense, right? That's the distill process. And you know, it was really interesting because I remember going through the workshop and doing the distill process. And again, we had picked, I don't remember what our objective statement was, but I felt it kind of hard to do with that group of people that I was with that day. It wasn't like impossible, but it was just kind of hard. What I found amazing was when the team did it, they were knocking it out. It was crazy at how fast they were able to synthesize all of this abstract information in the categories and bring that together so quickly. I'm like, are you guys done? And they're like, yeah, we're done. Let's move on. What?[00:17:00]

Carla Johnson: It's cool because you get that cohesion and then all of a sudden the teams are starting to discover these undiscovered possibilities that they never imagined before. Where if you just started out with step four and said, okay, we need to generate new ideas too, and didn't fuel it with the first three steps, it'd be really hard.

Erik Martinez: Yeah. So, let's talk about the relate step because I think this is how might we concept is really cool. And like I said, for me, the light bulb went on. Reading it and even going through the workshop, I felt like I didn't totally get it. And I feel like I've got it now. How might we do whatever it is? Again, we had five or six different groups that were doing this. In literally an hour each one of 'em came up with 25 to 30 how might we statements to address the particular problem. And I was bummed that we ran out of time and we didn't get to the generate step, but that is on my list. We're gonna go revisit this whole thing.[00:18:00]

Carla Johnson: The really cool thing is everything you did in the observe and distill step already are there and ready for the team. And even the relate steps so far are ready for them to jump on and keep going with. To remind listeners, I can't remember if we talked about the how might we step in our first conversation. The idea of the how might we step came from a gentleman named Dr. Min Basadur, who worked for Proctor and Gamble in the, I think the seventies.

What he found is that his team was struggling with some ideas because their competition had come up with Irish Spring soap. And I remember when those ads came out. It was different, and it was like, I wanted Irish Spring soap and I grew up on a little farm in Nebraska, and like Ireland, you know, the smell of Irish Spring, couldn't be the furthest thing from the Nebraska Hog and Cattle farm. But I wanted it because it was this idea that they put into our mind through that product. Min really saw it hit their metrics in their P and L. [00:19:00]

And so what he did is he introduced this idea of the statement, how might we. Because he said, typically when we have a challenge or if we're looking to do something unique or different, we ask the question in one of two ways. Either how should we or how can we? Without us really realizing it, those statements are really loaded with judgment. For example, you know, even Tim. If I say, how should we approach our workouts every day? All of a sudden your mind goes to a right or wrong, where you shouldn't do this, you should do this.

We have these, whether we realize it or not, preconceived judgments of what's correct and what's not correct. So, when we get into an idea generation situation and we say, how should we think about retaining our existing clients, or how [00:20:00] should we look at growing them? All of a sudden there's barriers. There's sidelines that we didn't realize that start to show up, that limit the breadth and depth of our opportunity to come up with ideas. Because without realizing that, our brain subconsciously starts going, Ooh, I don't know if we should cuz we did it that one time and that was wrong, so we probably shouldn't do it again. That constricts what we feel is possible.

And the same with the word can. How can we increase our client retention? Well, you know what? I don't know if we can. We're coming outta COVID, everybody's talking about a recession. You know, there's all these places that your brain subconsciously goes. And so what Min realized is that, how broad and creatively your mind thinks and responds is dependent on the question that you ask it. And Tim, you know this from your background. Like, the question is as important to getting to the answer as anything else.

So, Min said, let's change the question that we ask and ask, how might we? And if you think about how that [00:21:00] feels when I ask you how should we do this, how can we do this, or how might we? All of a sudden those preconceived expectations of what can or can't be done or gone, and our brain answers the question, how might we do this? Right or wrong, realistic or not, your brain just goes into overdrive and starts coming up with those things, which is what you saw Erik.

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Carla Johnson: Is that your team all of a sudden went into how might we? Well, we might be able to do this, and we might be able to do that. And when you set this up by having an objective statement first, you realize that later down the line there's going to be the dose of reality and you won't pursue things that aren't actually applicable to your situation or too crazy and make you lose your job kind of thing. But it really gives your brain that mental space to think in ways that questions that include the words can and should, don't allow it to do.

Tim Curtis: I think one of the challenges that we have when we get to this step in terms of relating to see the bigger opportunity is we are binary thinkers and it kind of comes back from that fight [00:22:00] or flight instinct. We really are processing A versus B. Where I have been most successful in my career, and I look back at this pattern, I didn't recognize it at the time, and now having time and perspective, what I've noticed is that when I don't think in a binary, but I purposely either ask the question a different way or I look for an alternative, What are we missing here? That's really where I think I can begin to lean into the relate.

It's hard, but as a facilitator, you're exactly right, Carla. When you're facilitating that kind of exercise, what it really requires is framing the question in a way, sort of like with market research, you don't ask a question, you know, closed, right? Yes or no. You ask the question in a way that it's open, and when you do that and you set that expectation, you're really putting that behavior out there for the group that you're working with to respond in a way that really sets them up for success. But we are at our nature. We are binary thinkers. [00:23:00] To really get into that innovative process, we've got to not think just A versus B.

Carla Johnson: Exactly. Exactly. And one of the ways I talk about this now is whether we realize it or not, we all have our, what I call third-story limits, three-story limits. Taking it back to the world of architecture. In the late 1800s, there was a three-story limit on what architects believed is possible for buildings. And essentially that was three stories because, after that, the structures wouldn't be secure enough. When the idea of wanting to create these more dramatic, more impactful buildings as Chicago and New York and some of these bigger Boston started to grow and a recognition of architecture as an identification branding thing of a city came about, architects began to push that limit of what they believed was possible for height in buildings.

And Daniel Burnham is an architect at the time, and he [00:24:00] had already been very successful. He'd worked on the world exposition in, in Chicago, which we know as the White City. He'd done the master plans for Chicago, for Washington DC, for Manila in the Philippines. Believe it or not, that was master planned that long. But the difference that he had in the challenge before him at this time was height because he was commissioned to design the Flatiron building in New York City and he had this three-story limit.

So, okay, he gets through the three-story limit of height because steel was now a building material. But his next three-story limit is people don't wanna climb upstairs in the summer in New York City or Chicago or Boston.

Tim Curtis: Humid, humid, humid.

Carla Johnson: Yeah. And, and at the time a lot of women were wearing big skirted dresses and those kinds of things. So, then again, it was a three-story limit that they saw the possibility to break through with the invention of elevators and including those in designs. But even with elevators, as we think about skyscrapers, and I've [00:25:00] been lucky enough to go to Dubai and go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Which you go up, you change elevators, you go up, you change elevators. It's a long process because of having to wait for elevators. Is that it's, most are pulley systems, but they literally are just up and down.

And so if you've ever been in the lobby of a big building, especially if you're in a hurry or it's lunchtime, you're waiting. You're waiting, and you have to go up and you have to wait. Well, the three-story limit on elevators in the design world was thinking they could only go up and down. And then this German company named ThyssenKrupp came up with the idea of the multi, and this elevator goes up and down and side to side and back and forth. So, now all of a sudden the three-story limit that we had on elevators was broken with this design. And whatever's next, there's going to be another three-story limit.

And I think as we look at how we see potential for ideas, we have to recognize and acknowledge what are our own three-story limits that we put in [00:26:00] our work? Is it a specific client that we'd love to go after that we don't believe we could actually get? Is it a sales number? Is it getting access to a true decision-maker? Is it, you know, the number of hours in a day or a budget? We all have three-story limits, but that really makes a difference in what we believe is possible. And that's how that statement, how might we begins to break through that three-story limit.

Erik Martinez: Is there a magic number, Carla, in your experience of how might we statements that you need in order to start generating the ideas?

Carla Johnson: Typically what I've seen, and I would have to look it up in the book. I went through the math. Two hundred observations because the research shows that you don't really get to great creative different ideas until you've gone through 200 ideas. So again, reverse engineering that back. You need a good 15, 20 how might we statements, because each of those, how might we statements branches off just like a tree and [00:27:00] generates the idea. And as you go from each of the how might we statements to the others, you're gonna go back and go, oh, that makes me think of something else in that first one. Let's go back and branch that one out. You know, mind map that idea out.

There's lots of opportunities to look at how you can use some other idea-generation techniques when you get to that step to help expand what you've come up with in the how might we statement. But I think if you start out with only two or three, you're limiting the potential if you're in a situation where you truly need to generate ideas. But if you're just practicing the process, a couple of how might we statements is fine. You definitely need at least three because otherwise, I don't believe you understand and experience how your ideas can be very different and unique unless you compare them to the ideas you come up with from the other how might we statements.

Erik Martinez: So, for those in the listening audience, maybe we could take a few minutes, let's go back to the beginning [00:28:00], and let's talk about an objective statement. We're gonna make Tim do it.

Tim Curtis: Make Tim do it.

Erik Martinez: Because I've been through the workshop. We're gonna make Tim do it. We're gonna come up with an objective statement and then Carla, if I'm correct, there's three elements in the objective statement.

Carla Johnson: Yep, that's right.

Erik Martinez: And what are they?

Carla Johnson: The first one is we need new ideas too. And I can walk through it first, Tim, before we stick your feet too close to the fire. And I think this is one that most people are familiar with, is that we need new ideas to accomplish something in a situation. The next one, and Erik, you probably saw this or remember this from the workshop, is hard for people to articulate in a lot of cases. It's so we can. And the so we can is understanding what's the ultimate outcome that we're looking to accomplish here.

Are we looking to increase sales? Are we looking to improve brand recognition? What is that ultimate outcome that we want? [00:29:00] Many times teams will say, well, we need new ideas for a campaign. Okay, great. What do you wanna accomplish with that campaign? And that's harder for people to identify and agree on, and especially if it's people involved in the idea-generation process who are not all in the same groups. So, if you are looking at it from a client side, the marketing people and the salespeople may have very different opinions about the outcome of the so we can statement.

Then the third part is with these constraints. I say keep those constraints within the two to fourish. The reality is we could do anything if we didn't have constraints, but in the reality of the world we live in, everybody has some sort of constraints. Oftentimes time and money are two of them. Maybe it has to be able to be an outcome that can be sustained over an 18 to 24-month period or something like that. I have friends at agencies and they know that when they come up with a campaign, it [00:30:00] has to have legs of at least 24 to 36 months for their clients. Those kind of things. So, time and money are common ones, but they're not the only ones.

Tim Curtis: In the Flatiron example, it was perception. Which falls outside of time and money, but as we all know, perception is reality in many folks' case. And so that could be a huge one. That could be the biggest, right?

Carla Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Well, one of the groups I worked with, this was actually when I worked on the corporate side, is we needed new ideas to get a group of 15 executives from place to place. Like, all over the country in an extremely tight timeframe that was almost guaranteed schedule. Like, they knew they could be at this place at this time, but they couldn't use private travel because of the perception. They couldn't charter a plane because of the perception of what that cost and that the executives would come across as looking elitist. Despite the fact, it was more reliable and cheaper.

Erik Martinez: You're making me think of the auto [00:31:00] executives going to Washington.

Carla Johnson: Yes. And then the one group that drove, I think it was from Ford that drove like a Ford Fiesta or something like that.

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Erik Martinez: Yeah. I remember that whole bit. So, let's put Tim to the test on the objective statement. Sorry, Tim.

Tim Curtis: Yeah, I'll get you later. Let's, let's select a subject, so we're not so nebulous here. What are we gonna do this about?

Erik Martinez: How about some kind of simple business objective for your team?

Carla Johnson: What's something that's pretty common for listeners would you guess? A common pain point, maybe. Although after being listeners to your podcast, they don't have any pain points.

Tim Curtis: They don't. That's right. I'm struggling here because we've solved those issues for them clearly. No, I think, they need new ideas to break through. One of the pieces in Ecommerce today that's the biggest challenge is the ecosystem around it is tightening up. Privacy legislation has made it so much more difficult to drive traffic, yet they're still being put in positions to have to hit revenue goals and conversion goals. I don't wanna jump [00:32:00] down to constraints, but privacy legislation and the impact of that is a huge constraint. If we're gonna start with, we need new ideas.

Erik Martinez: To grow revenue by some percentage.

Tim Curtis: By some percent, yeah, and to increase conversions, site conversions.

Carla Johnson: Is what we need, because I wanna make sure that this is a clear and easy example for listeners to follow us through. Let's see, we need new ideas to what's a format. Is it because I think so we can, is to grow revenue?

Tim Curtis: Mm-hmm. That's what I would say. That number one goal they're placed under is to grow revenue.

Carla Johnson: So we can.

Tim Curtis: Grow revenue.

Carla Johnson: Okay. Then we need a different end of the statement for the first part of the question of we need new ideas to.

Tim Curtis: Okay.

Carla Johnson: Because it, it's a two-part question. We need new ideas to, what's your immediate thing that you're trying to do?

Tim Curtis: Yeah.

Carla Johnson: The outcome is so we can grow revenue.

Tim Curtis: So, we can grow revenue. So, we need new ideas to drive organic [00:33:00] traffic so we can build long-term revenue.

Carla Johnson: Okay. Okay. And then what kind of constraints?

Tim Curtis: Constraints. I'm gonna lean back into what are the real and present constraints today, and that is impact of privacy legislation. The second thing is the degradation of the ecosystem that is fueling the revenue. So, for example, the result of the privacy legislation is the platforms are losing visibility in targeting. So, conversions are going down. You know, matching percentages are going down. You're not hitting as many people as you used to be able to, and it really all came down to a flip of the switch. You know, Apple intelligent tracking prevention shut off a lot of the visibility to what was happening with the third-party cookies. So, the ecosystem is starting to collapse, in the sense of being able to drive the same amount of revenue. So, those are two major constraints.

Erik Martinez: We have less targeting data. Right. That's really the constraint.

Tim Curtis: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you, you think about it. Google, for example, pouring all this money into [00:34:00] AI, right, for their targeting. They've done a fantastic job, but yet what's happening now is that AI is dependent on huge swaths of data to pass through it in order to refine and really pick the right audiences. Well, now we're not able to send as granular of detail into those AIs.

So, the challenge is it's not targeting as well. The conversions are not there. So, that's sort of what that constraint is. It's sort of a downstream impact of the privacy legislation. And then, of course, I think budgets, money would be what I would say is maybe the tertiary constraint.

Carla Johnson: Okay.

Tim Curtis: Because it is a factor of money when you're talking about the ecosystem. It's all pay-to-play. That constraint works both ways. It also prevents us from fueling innovation because we shut things down because of budget. That's the Achilles heel of our thinking is we will shut innovation down right away if we think with our constraints.

Erik Martinez: And if you don't mind, let me throw one more constraint on there, which is really time [00:35:00] cuz we're always being evaluated either on quarterly or annual performance. So, let's use a year. Let's use annual performance.

Carla Johnson: Okay. Do you have a specific number about how much you wanna grow long-term revenue?

Erik Martinez: Let's just say 10%. just a simple example.

Carla Johnson: So, normally what I would say, especially something like this that's very data-driven, very detailed and people can get very much in their heads, is I would take the team completely out of their comfort zone to the highest degree possible. I mean, as we go into the first step of the process of observation, this is an objective statement that is very left-brain and head driven versus emotional and mindful kind of objective statement.

And what we need to help people who are on a team going through this [00:36:00] process, if you were doing it as a team, Tim is to take them away from anything that is left brain, that's thought-provoking and expose them to an observation environment that's very, very different. It could be a comedy club. It could be Disney World like we did, Erik. You know, if you're out in the midst of all the playfulness and things that are very, very different from numbers and data-driven kind of mindset. Does that make sense?

Erik Martinez: Yeah. So, if I'm interpreting what you're saying correctly, this particular objective statement is kind of left-brain analytical, but when we go do our observations, let's go out into Central Park.

Carla Johnson: Exactly.

Erik Martinez: Don't do it in a conference room with four walls.

Tim Curtis: The same conference room you're in all the time.

Carla Johnson: Exactly. And have client reviews in that conference room or employee performance reviews, things like that. Or, you know, where you typically do [00:37:00] idea generation activities and brainstorming. Once you set up this objective statement, you essentially put it on the shelf for a little bit, but it gives everybody participating a North Star. This is why we're here, this is the context that we will get to, but we're not going to start the five-step process by talking about the objective statement.

Tim Curtis: And isn't it possible that as that objective statement is on the shelf, and you're really Crockpotting the idea yourself, I think it's possible and sometimes very beneficial to see that left brain objective statement change to a right brain objective statement that really raises the level of the question about why we may need to have an objective in the first place.

In other words, what are we not seeing? And it could be how do we change brand perception so that we can engage, more potential clients, et cetera. I've seen that you [00:38:00] think you have the objective and then once that's on the shelf and you have time to think about it, that objective may change.

Carla Johnson: Exactly. Exactly. But until everybody comes to a consensus on where you start, it's like herding cats. And I think especially for very left-brained people. I mean, I come from a family of engineers and military people and very left-brain thinkers. If they don't have that anchor, this can be miserable

Tim Curtis: Very much so.

Erik Martinez: It could be a train wreck, right? Everybody's all over the place. They don't know where to start.

Carla Johnson: They've got a beef all the way through this because in their brain they need context. Even right-brain thinkers, it's helpful to have context, but I think the conversations that can happen. Even what we just had on a simple level about defining this is really helpful.

And yes, to your point, Tim, as people start to go through this process and their brain opens up as they begin to observe things like in Central Park. This ability to connect the dots in fresh [00:39:00] ways that architects and innovative thinkers do, is actually genetically wired into us. It's when we have the context for the problem that we need to solve, and then we shelve it and go do something completely different. That's how our brain starts to connect it. It's why you come up with great ideas in the shower, on the run, when you're driving, things like that.

When you give your brain the opportunity to observe the world around you, I mean, this is how the three of us ended up here today is because our ancestors spent time observing the world around them and noticed when was it safe to come out of the grass hut or the cave or when it was dangerous. We observed all these different things, dots. We distilled those into patterns, safety, danger, food, no food. And then we related those into the things that we did every day.

And so when people who aren't used to this process begin to practice observing the world around them, their brain kicks in. And a lot of this happens, I call it automagically. [00:40:00] and I have people who go through the workshops who come back a week later and say, I can't not see things, distill it into patterns. And start thinking of ways it relates to what I do every day. And it's because they've just woken up their brain to something that is very natural and genetic to us.

But we're so busy all the time. We're on our laptops, we're on our phones. We're watching Netflix. We have a lot to get done every day. And when we don't give our brain space to observe, and then all of a sudden you do, it's like you let it out of the cage and now it really grows and thrives. It comes back. It's like anything. You practice it and you understand how to use it as a tool when you need it, but it does change how you show up every day. It's really cool.

Erik Martinez: So, taking that into now a business environment, because we just did a little exercise with Tim and Tim, you will get me later, but I think it highlights that this is really hard work. it's actually fun.

Carla Johnson: It's thoughtful, thoughtful work.[00:41:00]

Tim Curtis: Thoughtful work. That's a great way to say it.

Erik Martinez: It's very intentional, and it takes time to do correctly. So, when you are talking to a client. Like I said, we did it in about hour and a half segments. Which I knew from going through the workshop was probably not enough time, but we wanted to at least introduce the concept to the team and start the process. We need to go back and revisit this whole thing. When we start talking about the culture of innovation in a company, how do you start to get leadership to buy into the idea of spending the time to do this?

Carla Johnson: One of the biggest challenges that people have with innovation is that it's not efficient, and especially as an organization scales, they're looking for processes and they're looking to squeeze out every bit of inefficiency, and get that flywheel going, right? Let's just get it [00:42:00] going and do, do, do. However, more often than not of organizations of pretty much any size, because there's no time dedicated to stop and step back, there is so much legacy inefficiency that crops up because nobody is asking what's our objective with even doing this.

And I see this a lot on marketing teams, is that they've just gotten in the habit of doing something. And if you stop and say why do we do this anymore? Like, I know why we started it, and you could probably create an objective statement for why it started. But if we had to create an objective statement right now, would we still wanna do this? And I think in a lot of cases the answer's no.

For organizations who truly do care about efficiency, productivity, quality of the work that they're putting out, and I think more importantly now than ever, [00:43:00] being highly, highly relevant to your customers, you have to take this time to step back and ask these questions.

Erik Martinez: You know, it's funny that you say that cuz I've been having some conversations within my team about slowing down the go faster. I had a scenario where one of my team members, she's just a little anxious. She does really good work when she takes her time. Anyways, this one day we had a problem come up and she made a mistake and it was a decent size, but not unsolvable, mistake. She made the mistake. She figured out what she did. She came up with a solution on how to go about fixing it. So, she's doing this and she involves some other team members and they've all spent like hours, hours and hours and hours doing this process.

And I was in meetings, so I knew something was going on, but I didn't know specifically. So, finally got outta my meetings. I call her and I say, what's going on? She goes, [00:44:00] well, I did this and this, and this is the impact, but we can't do. And I'm like, okay, slow down. We can do this faster, and we did. Within an half an hour or an hour, we had it solved. They had just spent three people's time for four hours solving this particular problem, which we were able to solve in an hour. It was simply the fact that she panicked and hit the react button. And I said, honestly, your best solution when you come up with these high-pressure fire situations is to pull back and think for five or 10 minutes.

Carla Johnson: Seven minutes. I give people a seven-minute challenge And I say, every day if you take your biggest challenge or like you had with this person in a time of crisis, you take seven minutes and just sit with it and observe it from every single direction. You slow down to speed up. You start to discover these possibilities that you hadn't seen before because you slowed down and just sat with it.[00:45:00]

I went through this process with a client. They're about an 18 billion company, and we went through this process. It would've been September of 2021. And what came out of that is that they actually ended up leapfrogging what they had planned to do and ended up so much further ahead than they ever could have imagined now. Not all only because of my work, but this started them down the path to ask questions about, wait, I never thought about it in this way. And to reposition a company that big and they also had a new CEO who had a slightly different direction. So, to be able to have a cohesive message with a cohesive direction and to be able to create it and launch it in 12 months, including investor relations, shareholders, employees, global employees, things like that. You start to see that [00:46:00] yes, you do need to step back and pause. Innovation can be significantly more efficient than we ever give a credit to.

Erik Martinez: Here's one more question related to that. Have you found that there's a right team size to do this type of work? Is it, Hey, I can involve everybody in the company or even a department? You know, we're a small company, so it's not that hard for us to involve a lot of people. But in these bigger organizations, what's the best way to kind of organize and start?

Carla Johnson: I'll talk about it in a couple of different ways. I mean, Jeff Bezos talks about the two pizza team. Never have a team larger than what you can feed with two pizzas because otherwise, you get politics, you get redundancies, and things like that. But I also like the way from history that it's talked about. The French military would say the ideal team size is six people because in six people you can cover all of the disciplines and the people who need to [00:47:00] make decisions are on that team. So, that is something to think about is why are you including the people you're including in this kind of a meeting? You know, we're all realists who live in the real world. We understand sometimes it's gonna be the last person you want in the room, but politically you have to have them in there.

Tim Curtis: Yep.

Erik Martinez: Yep.

Tim Curtis: That's a constraint.

Carla Johnson: We all know.

Tim Curtis: That's a good example of a constraint. Yeah.

Carla Johnson: That's our little written in invisible link constraint kind of thing. But it's also making sure that you have enough of a diversity of the people involved to reflect the kind of outcome that you need. Now, for Tim's objective statement, you probably don't need to include building maintenance people in it. That's probably a little outside what would be necessary for applicable diversity. But are there people in finance who would be important to include that we wouldn't normally think of?

Tim Curtis: Yeah. I think the key, at least for me, and again, I'm gonna be an audience of one here. What I have found [00:48:00] and what I've learned over the years is expect the unexpected. When I'm thinking about who to bring to the table, I'm always surprised by where the idea comes from. In other words, it's the person or more the role that you wouldn't think they have visibility to it, or they wouldn't be thinking along those lines. Because again, in corporate America today, everything is hyper-optimized for the lane you're in for whatever job you're doing. Everything's streamlined. So, everything's set up with like-minded people, right? If you're working in a accounts receivable, everybody around you has the same objectives.

But when you start an innovation process, one of the things you have to do is back away. Let's take the two-pizza rule. Get the people there. But I found it's also helpful that if we're talking about something in marketing, I may not put a marketing person in charge of it. In other words, I may let everybody else speak to it. One of the key tenants I've had over the years that has been very, very, very successful for me, and this is a little controversial, but [00:49:00] never let a digital person or a digerati, as we call 'em, lead the digital revolution at a company.

Let someone lead it who is not natively digital. Because what happens is their thoughtfulness about all of the offline processes are extremely helpful to the process. Digeratis tend to rush through things in setting up and getting from point A to point B in terms of tech. So again, it's diversity. It's doing the unexpected setting people in places where they're outta their comfort zone, but they're gonna think from a different perspective. We cannot keep thinking the same way if we're gonna be successful. Gotta change it


Carla Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely, and, and not that you'd want this person's job role in meetings all the time. That I go back to when Coors was trying to come up with the new name for a beer that they had that they thought was amazing, and they'd done all the focus groups and they'd, you know, done all the right things and the [00:50:00] executives were in the room going, I don't know, do we call it like this name or that name, or maybe this name. How do we make this decision? And one of the executive assistants came in and she was just listening to it, and she picked up a bottle of beer and drank it and said, well, not the whole beer, I would assume had a big swing. How's that? And said, man, you only get a beer that good once in a blue moon. And that's how they came up with the name of Blue Moon for the beer.

Tim Curtis: Interesting.

Carla Johnson: It was just the diversity of a perspective at that time that really nailed the sentiment of what they were trying to communicate. So, there's a little trivia, beer trivia for everybody today.

Tim Curtis: I love that. What a fun way to come up with a name.

Erik Martinez: Beer trivia is my favorite trivia. Well, I'm actually friends with one of the people that was on that team that created Blue Moon, so that was kind of a fun little anecdote.

Carla Johnson: Oh, cool.

Tim Curtis: As we start to wrap up here, Carla, love to have you give Carla's Pearl of Wisdom. What's that one [00:51:00] last piece of advice this go around, that you'd like to leave the listeners with?

Carla Johnson: I go back to what we just talked about, that seven-minute challenge. If you have something that you believe is a three-story limit on what you believe is possible, take seven minutes. You can do it as a team, you can do it as an individual, and just observe it from all different directions, and write down what you believe to be true about it and what do you start to observe about it. And I guarantee you, you won't solve the problem and you won't generate that big amazing idea right there, but in seven minutes, your mind will go down a whole other path that you've never given it the time and space to go before. And it will allow you to see that challenge and begin to observe things in a way that you haven't done before. That's really the big part, is just to start to build the momentum.

Tim Curtis: What a great way to create space for mindfulness.

Carla Johnson: Seven minutes. [00:52:00]

Tim Curtis: Seven minutes. Well, thank you again for coming back. We appreciate it. It's always fun to talk to you. It's fun to just kind of let the conversation go, and I hope the listeners today got a little bit more insight into, you know, those steps and the nitty gritty. Do go out and buy her book, RE: Think Innovation. It is fantastic. It really is one of those books that as you're going through it, you kind of have to take a little bit of time to pause and sort of put into practice a little bit some of the thinking and the steps. But man, it's intentional. That's what's so great about it.

Carla Johnson: It is a lot to consume all at once and it's intended to be thoughtful.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Well, it is. What's the best way for someone to get ahold of you?

Carla Johnson: My website is Carla with a C, There's no m, at co for the great state of Colorado.

Tim Curtis: For the great state. Awesome.

Carla Johnson: There you go. For the great state of Colorado. And you go there, you can also sign up for my email newsletter that comes out every other Tuesday. And there's always tips, resources, thoughts, and conversations there that you don't get [00:53:00] otherwise. There's a lot of resources and information on my blog, which goes back 10 years probably.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Great having you on. For all the listeners, make sure that you go out and listen to Episode 25 as well. That's the first part of our conversation. Thanks again. So, this is Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: And I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine.


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