Carla Johnson
May 13, 2022

B2B Innovation is a Learned Muscle

Guest: Carla Johnson - Author, "RE:Think Innovation"

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Ah, innovation. The buzzword of every company striving to be different, daring, and bold. But what the heck does it actually look like to innovate? And how can a CMO get their teams to start innovating in a way that actually yields growth (i.e., not just quirky ideas in brainstorming meetings)?

Carla Johnson is the perfect person to walk us through her foolproof formula for innovation that moves the needle. She’s a 10x author, and her most recent book RE:Think Innovation busts the myth that innovation requires any special degrees, training, or skills.

The key takeaway from this interview is that innovation is a learned muscle, and Carla lays out the exercises every CMO can use to shape their own innovation powers AND build a team filled with strong innovators. This episode of Renegade Marketers Unite is not to be missed.

What you’ll learn:

  • What innovation can do for your company (no, actually)
  • Carla’s 5-step innovation process
  • How to build a culture of innovation as a marketing leader

Resources Mentioned

Highlights

  • [02:42] A CTO, CMO, and CEO walk into a room… (The ParkMobile story)
  • [6:48] The value of ParkMobile’s annual Innovation Week
  • [8:48] Building a culture of innovation as a marketing leader
  • [9:44] Defining innovation in your own organization
  • [11:37] The difference between a new idea and an innovative one
  • [13:17] The perpetual innovation process—can innovation be learned? (Yes!)
  • [15:15] Innovation Step 1: Observe
  • [18:36] Innovation Step 2: Distill
  • [21:25] Innovation Steps 3-5: Relate, Generate, Pitch
  • [22:10] Tim Washer, stand-up comedian and Cisco’s B2B innovator
  • [28:41] Observe: Brands that capture CMO attention
  • [34:42] Applying the innovation process to reduce your meetings by 30%
  • [39:22] How to activate your marketing team’s innovation muscles
  • [41:01] How to encourage innovation virtually
  • [42:56] Drew’s wrap-up: Innovation is a learned muscle

Highlighted Quotes

“I can do things to innovate the way my work is done... I can turn my focus to things that are more valuable, that have a bigger impact on the business, that give me mind-space to start thinking more strategically.”—@CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet “Being much more present and observant is probably the biggest characteristic of successful, consistent innovators.”—@CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet “Once people understand how to connect the dots from what captures their attention, their personal interests, their passions, it really does inspire and activate them in ways that we don't realize.”—@CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 292 on YouTube

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Carla Johnson

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers! Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top-rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing-obsessed individuals. On this episode, you’re going to hear from Carly Brantz, CMO of Digital Ocean—let’s dive in.

Drew: Hello, huddlers everywhere. And welcome to today’s Bonus Huddle in which we’re going to challenge your notion of innovation. It’s not just about new product development or generating crazy creative ideas for ads or starting a new company. Although those are all good things. It’s really about a mindset to solve intractable problems and as CMOs, that’s what you do all the time.

But do your team members know how to do that? Do they know how to sort of from nothing, create something? For example, let’s say we all agree. We’re having too many meetings in general, too many unproductive meetings in specific. Does your team have a methodology to creatively? This major issue, or let’s say you’re finding that your ABM efforts are exactly the same as your competitors.

Does your team have an approach, a systematic processing, get them to think about this problem differently. If the answers to these questions are no. You’ve come to the right bonus huddle because today our special guest is Carla Johnson. World-renowned speaker storyteller and prolific author. Carla’s 10th book is RE:Think Innovation and it busts the myth that innovation is something that.

Requires a specific degree or special training. In fact, Carla explains why to be a successful company in today’s hyper competitive customer driven world. Innovation must be everyone’s business. So now in your book, it’s got a lot of wonderful stories of some really highly creative individuals, including our, our mutual friend, Jeff Perkins, who is now the CEO of ParkMobile.

I want to talk about him a little bit because, and share it with the audience that he’s one of the few CMOs that I know who became a CEO. And can you talk a little bit about how he helped create this culture of innovation? And let’s just talk about that a little bit. We’ll get back to more of the details in the book, but I thought he was a great place to say.

Carla: I have such respect for, for Jeff, not only as the COO and now CEO, but he’s such a down to earth person. And I first discovered his work and I can’t remember what I read that told the story of some of the things that they were starting to do with the innovation at ParkMobile. But while they were wanting to create this culture of innovation, It was when they hired a new chief technology officer that things really took off.

And it was a meeting between there then CEO and Jeff and their chief technology officer that the CTO said he wanted to host an Innovation Week. Everybody to be a part of it. And Jeff talks about how, then I kinda rolled my eyes a little bit secretly, it sounds like one of those geeky kind of tech things that goes on, I don’t know that it’s really relevant to everybody else in the organization. But the one that the CTO talked about it, the more it made perfect sense.

To Jeff and the CEO, because the CTO said, you know, there’s a lot that we do with software and helping customers, but it’s not just a tech approach to that makes innovation a reality in an organization. It’s everybody understanding the technology and a problem that it solves for customers. And how they can help contribute in whatever way that they have.

So they started their first Innovation Week and they literally shut the entire company down for a week and they let all of their customers know ahead of time and they let them know what they’re doing and what the plans were. And the first one that they did was open for. So they had tech teams who had this pent up desire about things that they wanted to fix in the software.

And so they would describe the projects that they wanted to work on. And other employees in the company would sign up and say, you know, I want to be a part of this too. Now we didn’t mean that they had to learn how to program. They had to down into the nitty-gritty of the tech part of what they sold.

Sometimes it was just somebody who is really good at storytelling, who could tell the story of the impact that the tech would have, or sometimes it’s somebody who was just really good at putting a presentation together or whatever it was, but it was this unlikely mix of people working together to solve a problem that had a direct relationship to the experience that they were delivering to a customer that ignited people across the organization.

Now for the first one, They didn’t have any kind of theme or focus for it. And Jeff said it was great. We got all of these ideas, but then we went, whoa, like, how do we start to prioritize? And what do we do? So for the second one, they had a theme so that they could focus the direction and the ideas that employees came up with.

And he said, they take this chance of may they go back and forth between making them open forum and making them address something specific either on the product roadmap or the direction of the company or, or something like that. But he said an interesting thing really came out of these weeks because by the time Friday came along, all these unlikely relationships and friendships and comradery had ignited by working together on these, on these initiatives.

Where now people understood in, in finance or an HR or in a completely different part of the business than the product itself, why these things mattered so much. And so once a product had been baked enough in the, in the product side, it moved through the rest of the organization so much quicker because everybody understood their role and how they could contribute to making this happen.

And so then people started to cross paths. More regularly because they have built these relationships. Now, one of the things that Jeff told me early on is that during one of the innovation weeks, there was a woman who worked in finance and we don’t often think of finances being a hub of innovation. And I think this is an example of why innovation with a little eye is so important when you can create the cumulative.

The fact of it across an organization. And when you can get it for people to look at either how to solve a problem in their area of the business, or take advantage of an opportunity. So this woman, one of the things her department had to do and finances, they spent 40 manual hours every month creating a report that was necessary.

And she said, it’s ridiculous. And she understood the need to innovate how they did it. She taught herself a programming language, wrote a program and took a 40 hour process. And turned it into something that took something like between 12 and 20 minutes to actually do. But the very interesting thing that made it even better is that there wasn’t this kind of apprehension about, oh no, like I’m going to be replaced by technology.

What really happened that mattered so much is that they understood that. I can do things to innovate the process and the way my work is done so that I’m freed up from that work. That’s a grind that’s mindless, that’s numbing. And now I can really turn my focus for things that are more valuable that have the bigger impact on the business that give me mind space to start thinking more strategically about the work that’s done.

And I think that’s been one of the big things that Jeff has talked about that fuels this desire. And this now pent up demand every six months for the employees across the board to bring these innovative ideas forward. And they have this track record now—I think it’s, they’re in their fourth year of doing this of showing when people bring ideas forth, here’s what actually happens to them and they see them actually being executed and put into place.

And it’s not just related to the product, it’s all related to how does ParkMobile show up as a business and how do they conduct business and serve?

And I think Jeff is probably one of those people who is the epitome of what a leader looks like who truly believes in and supports and creates space for a culture that supports innovation.

Drew: So a couple of the key takeaways that I have from this. And by the way, I mentioned Jeff in my book too, and talk about culture of innovation and, and sort of think about as you’re building an employee culture and you really want it.

This is one of the things that you can do it, you know, with an innovation day or an innovation week is a great way to get this cross-pollination as you described it. But the other thing that I just want to sort of put on your list is. By getting involved in this process and really building it out. Jeff demonstrated a leadership capability that went beyond marketing.

And if you’re thinking about a career beyond marketing, this is one of the ways to it. And it’s not the only way, but it is about leadership in its broadest sense, as opposed to simply marketing innovation. One of the things that we could spend a lot of time on, and fortunately you’ve narrowed it down.

Let’s just define innovation. I know you do it in the book so well.

Carla: This is one of those things that is so important for any leader or any organization to do is to define innovation in a way that’s very simple and easy to remember because there’s a lot of companies that have innovation as a core value, but that doesn’t tell you what the behavior looks like.

And I think it’s one of those things. It’s so broad can be so complex and so different from organization to organization. That it’s important to define it in a way that is truly representative of your own company. But what I look at innovation, I define it as the ability to consistently come up with new, great and reliable ideas.

And now this seems deceivingly simple, but each of those words is really important and it has an impact. So when we think about an idea that’s new. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an idea that has never, ever been done before. It could just be something that is new to your industry. Like, for example, I like to talk about how McDonald’s took inspiration for their drive-thru from a formula one pit stop.

So they looked at what is it? Allows a vehicle to come in and out super fast and the layout, how anything is delivered or serviced and what is it that they could draw from that and transplant into their own design. And so it’s, it’s something that really looks at the essence of what has been successful, what could be done that isn’t being done, but just having a new idea.

Isn’t enough when we look at the next word, the next adjective, it’s having a great idea. And as marketers, we all know David Ogilvy, and David Ogilvy talks about a great idea as being one of those that gives you like a visceral response to get goosebumps. So the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you have that MBM jealousy that you didn’t think of it yourself because it’s so amazing.

But even then just having an idea that’s new and great. Isn’t truly enough to be innovative. And it’s the third characteristic along with the two that really make a difference. And that’s a reliable idea. And a reliable idea is one of those ideas that has a bottom line impact either saves you money. It makes you money, but it has a true business impact.

And is when you have all three of those together. That you have an idea that’s innovative, but when you look at innovation, it’s the ability to consistently deliver on ideas that have all three characteristics that can be measured to a certain degree that truly creates that innovative culture. And it helps people understand.

What behavior leaders are looking for when they’re being asked to be more innovative, there’s something that’s truly concrete that they can look to and understand that it doesn’t have to be something huge and disruptive and, and things like that that can feel overwhelming and intimidating to someone.

It’s something that gives everybody an opportunity to contribute ideas and have an impact in their own way. So that innovation really does become everybody’s busy.

Drew: I love the notion. A great idea is one that you, you envy, the reliable part is just so important. And then of course, consistency. And that’s what you are really about is, is helping people do this consistently.

I’ve been a person who come up with a lot of ideas in my car, and it’s always been this sort of, I call it pixie dust thing, and you’ve sort of said, no. Maybe pixie does for you, but it shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about the process a little bit and get into the.

Carla: This is what I call the perpetual innovation process.

So I spent just about five years researching some of the world’s best innovators. Some of them are CMOs. You may know Kathy Button Bell. I know she’s a good friend of yours and mine. She’s probably one of the most iconic B2B CMOs that there is. She’s now starting her 23rd year CMO of Emerson and looking at people like that, looking at people who are solo entrepreneurs who start up big companies, small companies, different industries, different parts of the world. And the one thing that I sought to answer with my book is, is the ability to consistently come up with great ideas. That have an impact, something that can be learned.

And it turns out that whether all of these people I interviewed or researched or followed or watched and studied, they all follow the same process, whether they realized it or not. And this is the exact process that they. And when we think about what happens for us is as a team, when we need a new idea for a strategy or a campaign or a, whatever it is that we need a new idea for, we start with that generate step.

We say, let’s get together, let’s get in a room, get on a call and let’s start brainstorming and just start throwing out ideas. But we know what happens when we do that is that we generally end up with things that are just a different flavor of something that we’ve always done. Or we end up with something that’s really a copycat that’s been done someplace else before, or we end up with something that we may be excited about, but it’s so far out there that the likelihood of it actually getting an okay or funded or whatever that might be.

It’s pretty small and how you can prevent that and get around. All of that is that if you back up to the 12 o’clock position and you start to become more observant of what’s going on in the world around you, it can be marketing from other brands, definitely from other industries.

But if you start to look at any situation, experience, idea, company, campaign, whatever it may be that captures your attention, it’s taking the time to really step back and observe all of the details that you can about what that experience is.

And the interesting thing is that this one characteristic being much more present and observant is probably the biggest characteristic of successful, consistent innovators of anything that I saw in my research. And there’s other research that’s been done that shows that innovative people are highly, highly observant people.

And when we think about one of the Steve Jobs quotes about it’s easy, all you have to do is connect the dots, but sometimes it’s easier to see those dots and how they connected by looking backwards. But if we want to be able to connect the dots, one of the reasons that innovators are successful, Is that they start out by collecting a lot of dots in the first place.

So they’re curious people, they read a lot, they may travel a lot. They try new things. They’re not afraid to learn that all starts out in that observation state.

Drew: Let me stop for a second pause. There’s several things that is sent out. I’m thinking about Julie who was about to have a brainstorming session and they are going to go straight to generate.

I want to put a punctuation point on that and say that’s where most brainstorming started. And what you’re saying is there’s three steps beforehand. The other thing is I love the notion of. True that all the creative people that I know that have come up with innovations, they have little folders of just random ideas.

They have little books, they have things they’re always writing things down and observing. And, but this is not something that they alone can do is your point. Right. We could all have.

Carla: Absolutely. And I think it’s one of those things, Drew, that seems so simple, that it’s really easy to dismiss. And I know I’m a, I’m a notebook junkie and I will sit in a public place and just watch people and see what goes on, you know, especially if I’m.

That I’m not normally, I mean, I live in Denver, but I’m from a small town of 800 people. And I tell you go into a coffee shop down the street in Denver is way different than going to a coffee shop in a town of 800 people in very rural Nebraska. And what you observe are very different. So being able to pull that forward and, and understand why.

Observing the world around us is so important is really, really key. And once I go through these first three steps, I’ll give you an example of a brand and how it actually plays out when they start to push the envelope and in doing something that’s really doing.

Drew: Yeah, that sounds good. So I, and I think part of this, as you’re thinking about it, it’s something that any of us can do more of.

And if you go through the exercise and you sort of get this down, it is a teachable thing to your team, so that when you finally get to generate, that’s the whole point of this, when you finally get to generate, you’re not just going, you know, Yeah. You got anything because you’ve just been…

Carla: Bueller! Bueller!

Drew: Bueller. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Thank you. Okay. So now let’s talk about, we’ve observed all these things. We’ve made all this list. Let’s talk about the distill step.

Carla: Yeah, absolutely. And then, and then we go into the second step, which is distill and really what happens. Step is that you’re distilling all of these things that you’ve observed into patterns.

And this really is something that your brain does very naturally and probably genetically. I mean, if you think about how we have survived as humans over all of these millions of years, That ability to recognize patterns based on what you observed is the reason we’re all here today. So the brain’s ability to take what it sees or hears or senses, whatever your five senses are and distill those into patterns is very natural, but it does need time and space and relaxation to make it happen.

And that that’s an important part because once we start to recognize those patterns, Then we go to the third step and we say, okay, I’ve, I’ve observed these patterns. So maybe some of the patterns are around community. Maybe it’s about safety. Maybe it’s something about smelly things. Maybe it’s something about delight and excitement, whatever that pattern is.

There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to it at all. Now, how can we start to relate that into the work that we do? And what isn’t on this chart is that there’s a, a formula for defining an objective. For the challenge that you have so that you know how to, and what ideas to apply toward from this process.

And when you start to relate it into the work that you do, that starts to give this outside inspiration, that can be. Quirky weird, whatever it is, it starts to give it context. And relate-ability. And the interesting thing is, is that even people who are highly observant and are able to distill things into patterns, if they immediately jump right then and there to generating ideas, oftentimes they are never approved or they aren’t pitched well, because they’re missing this really, really important part about relating.

You have to understand. What is it about those patterns that relate to the work that you do? And this is probably one of the most important steps of the process, because unless you can give that pattern context in your world, your brand, your work, your challenge, your objective, then the idea is that.

Become quirky. And so once you start with these first three steps, then when you move into that generate step, you have much greater inspiration. You’re bringing a range of experiences of things to draw from. And those, those ideas that you generate are much, much more unusual, but they also have that context again, because what happens is that you’re pulling forward things that you saw that worked, that you liked that had resonance from other situations.

And you’re now able to connect the dots into the idea that you’re generating yourself. And so when you go to pitch the idea, you’re essentially replicating this entire circle, starting with observed, distill, how does this relate to the work that I’m doing? Here’s the idea that I came up with so that your boss, your coworker, your agency, whoever it is.

They start to see this opportunity that is in this idea, just like you do now. Here’s a, here’s a quick story about an example of how this works. There’s a gentleman named Tim washer and Tim was a standup comedian, worked with some of the best of the best. He was a writer for Amy Poehler on weekend update for Saturday night live.

He was a writer for Conan O’Brien. He still does work with bill Nye, the science guy and Tony had. If you ever watched your rusty development, he was Buster on there. He’s a really funny guy, but like a lot of very talented creatives like that. He thought, well, maybe I’d like a job that’s a little bit more, more consistent with the paycheck.

So he went to work for IBM and then later Cisco, and one year for Cisco, they were having a new product launch for a new device that they were going to release and it was coming out right before Valentine’s day. And Tim is thinking, okay. I like nobody ever really spends hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on a new product because of a traditional talking head video of an engineer explaining the tech aspect of a router like this.

So he said, what can I do to really make this stand out and help Cisco? Look different. And he happened to be in a comedy club in New York City one night and Ray Romano was on stage, and Ray Romano is the main character and everybody loves Raymond. And as a comedian, Tim was sitting there and he was watching the dynamics of the interaction that Ray had with the audience.

And he said, you know, it was a very, very short amount of time. That Ray got people laughing and they’re leading in and Ray’s talking about things like in-laws and spouses and kids and things everybody could relate to. And he said the more he got people to laugh, the more they put down their emotional walls in a very short amount of time, he was able to build this intimate connection.

So what he did right there, as he observed the situation he was in, you know, accommodating. He distilled it into patterns about building relationships, about putting down emotional walls. So people want to know you more and to be able to do that in something that feels very intimate human. And then the next step he did is that he said, how can I relate this into my objective that I have before me at Cisco with this product launch?

And he said that the essence, the things I want to transplant to relate into my work is that about. Building a relationship to use humor in a way to surprise and delight people and to make people just laugh and build that very human connection. And that led to the idea that he generated about launching this as Valentine’s day gift video starts out about there’s three ways to say, I love you to your Valentine.

You know, you can give. Diamond ring. You can give her roses, you can carve your initials into a tree, you know, and put a heart around it. But now the fourth is the ASR 9,000. Well, it was so ridiculous. And so out there that it had, he just gone to his boss and said, I want to make a Valentine’s day video and make the ASR 9000 a Valentine’s day gift.

It would say. Ridiculous. And he never would have gotten the go ahead, but by observing what worked in the comedy club, distilling it into patterns, explaining how that related to the work that they were doing with this product launch that gave context for what would normally be such an outrageous idea that nobody would ever say yes to it.

Now, the interesting thing about this one minute video is that they didn’t do promotion around it. They didn’t do PR. They simply put it out on YouTube. And they told the sales teams about it. The sales teams came back and said, this is the most amazing thing that we have ever seen. They were starting to open meetings with this video and he said it got people to laugh and to put their emotional guard down.

And all of a sudden they were hearing things from customers and prospects. That they had never heard before. And that’s because this one video did exactly what Ray Romano had done in that comedy club that night in New York is that it got people to laugh. It got them to see each other as very human individuals and it got them to put their emotional walls down and they began to talk.

Now it was also picked up by two groups who are particularly important to B to B company. The media and analysts. And that’s because both groups said, this is not your typical B2B tech kind of company play. And I think you ought to start to take a look at Cisco and some of the other things that they’re doing, because they are taking a very, very human-centered approach.

To the marketing and the storytelling that they’re done now at the time when this was launched, that was talking about human-centered marketing or some of these other things was really, really early in that process where those are terms that we hear more often now, but it was a way that the buyers, when they went to do their due diligence, They look to the two people who they felt were the most credible and trustworthy.

And they were saying, go take a look at Cisco. These are things that aren’t being done by other brands, and that was just gold for Cisco. And they found they were able to get in the door of three big prospects that they had been trying to get into for years. And this was the silver bullet that really helped him get it.

Drew: So, and I know Tim and I’m no long, long, big fan of his and have been for a long time. And he’s a very funny, clever gentlemen. And I think one of the things that I want to do is move this away from that type of person. And just say, because I’ve met a lot of really wonderful CMOs. I’m not necessarily creative, I’m not, but what your book says is can be, you know, you’re not going to be Tim washer writing, you know, jokes for Amy Poehler.

But so part of the process that you’ve devised is to be able to you come up with more ideas, you know, more ideas equals better ideas, right? If you have more to choose from, so how do we do that? If we’re not Tim and let’s take a less ad, which has sort of an, a creative object, but let’s take a, a problem that internal problem.

Let’s, it’s not even that sexy. But it’s a huge problem. And I’m a CMO right now and I’ve got 40 meetings next week, half an hour, back to back. Insane has to stop. It’s just breaking everything.

Carla: Like, Drew, let’s do brainstorm real quick. Right now. And I guess what we could do is anybody just for example, we’re going to use a brand just to make it simple.

What’s a brand that somebody really admires your respects or trusts or, you know, maybe it’s a little salt in your salt and your wounds because they are so good at so many things. Like what’s the brand somebody really looks up to?

Drew: I don’t know. Let’s say MasterCard.

Carla: All right. So when you think about MasterCard, what is it about MasterCard that catches your attention or makes you really watch what they do? And I’m going to jot some notes down over here.

Drew: Well, let’s see. It’s, uh, you know, there’s a priceless everything. And I’ve actually experienced priceless. I was at Yankee stadium. I tweeted it out and they tweeted back to me and he said, “Oh, Drew, thanks. That was a priceless response.”

So, therefore, next thing you know, months later I got a tweet from, “Hey Drew, how about four tickets to the Yankee game and a special experience” to sort of a random. Oh, I, and we have another one. But I don’t know enough. Katrina Klier, you would have to come on right now and talk about ServiceNow if you want to do this, and that’s fine. Katrina, you want to do that? You want to talk about why ServiceNow is a good one?

Katrina: I just think they’ve done some, some interesting things from a brand standpoint. Cause they’re, you know, they’re not a huge company. You’re a huge player and they’re things that are a bit in the background, right, for how their product works, but they seem to be popping up all over the place, either that, or I’m their target buyer?

I at my last company. Maybe they’re just tracking me to the new job. I don’t know. But. But I, it seems like they’ve maybe done some interesting things. I don’t know if anybody else on the…

Carla: So give me, give me some examples, give me some specifics. Like, what are you seeing? How did they make you feel like if you tap into your five senses, what is it about ServiceNow?

You know, if you’re observing what they’re doing, what’s capturing your attention? So like, in Drew’s example, there’s things like priceless, everything, responsiveness, it’s personalized. What kind of things are you seeing in that way from ServiceNow?

Katrina: Yeah, I think they’ve taken some of the one might say incredibly boring topic of workflow management, which probably all needed, right, and they’ve made it fun. You know, they’ve not made it arduous. They’ve made it fun. And they’ve leaned into some messaging that’s more about instead of a workflow dragging you down and feeling bureaucratic and feeling arduous and this stuff that you have to do that maybe your workflow could make you soar. Maybe it can make your business really interesting and different, and maybe it could be a really, really good thing. And maybe you could have some power over your workflow, as opposed to often feeling like your workflow has power over you.

I just thought it was kind of interesting that they seem to have made some noise that way and taken a topic that I wouldn’t say everybody was jonesing to do a lot with right around workflow management and everything.

Carla: So if we look at these things that you’ve observed about the brand, and now we start to distill those into patterns… If I look at some of the notes that I made about what you said, it looks like it’s one of the things is that they’re able to flip the perception of something that’s boring into something really interesting.

So would just say that’s one pattern?

Katrina: Yeah, definitely. Okay.

Carla: They’re able to take something boring and making, make it fun. They’re able to take something that was in the background and really move it in the foreground. Would you say that’s true?

Katrina: Yeah, definitely.

Carla: We’re just gonna run through this real quick just to demonstrate the process.

And I always tell people whenever I do workshops or work with teams, what’s most important is to understand the process. And then as you go back and you practice it again, you know what comes out of it will continue to get better. So those were our first two steps is that you observed things about workflow and if we would sit here another 10 minutes, you’d have a hundred easily, a hundred things that you would start to, to observe about the brand.

Now, if we look at just a few quick things that we’ve distilled into patterns: They flipped the formula, they’ve moved boring to fun, they’ve moved things from the background to the foreground.

So now as we look at how to relate this into what we’re wanting to do, with the relate step, there’s an interesting little mental trick that I use. And it starts with a statement, “How might we…” And this is something that was developed with one of the previous marketers from P&G. And he said, the language that you use around creating context is really important.

And if you look at what we normally say, we say, how should we, or what should we do to make the meetings less boring? What could we do to make the meetings less boring? And when you use words, like, should. Your brain starts to take off and already answered those questions. So how should we make these meetings less boring?

And it’s like, ah, I don’t know if we should, maybe we just should slog through them and suck it up and realize that’s part of the, you know, that’s just how work goes. Or if you say, how could we make these meetings as boring? You know, there’s plenty of people’s brains, whether they realize it or not are gone.

I don’t know if we actually can, you know, Uh, we hate them. It’s just something I have to get through, you know, day after day. But if you say, how might we, you know, make these meetings less boring or more interesting or more interactive, you know, how might we start to flip the formula? How might we make these less boring and more fun?

How might we move things that are in the background to the foreground that brings surprise and delight and things like that. That’s how you start to relate those patterns. Into the work that you’re doing.

Drew: So if we just take an example of how might we reduce meetings by 30%.

Carla: Well, yeah. You know what that could totally be at to like flip the formula instead of having more meetings, how do we reduce them by 30%?

And being able to articulate specifically what you want to do is in the formula for defining an objective. So how am I, we start to flip the formula and instead of having more meetings, I have less meetings. So now as you go to generate. You’ve now started with something that really inspires you like service now, and you understand what it is about service.

Now that really focuses on something just as boring as meetings that fill your calendar for hours and hours on end. You understand what they’ve done to make it work. And it’s those details about what makes it work that you’re wanting to relate into your own work. Now you come from that place to start to generate ideas.

So, you know, how do we flip the formula and start having fewer meetings rather than more meetings? And now your mind is going okay, well, how do I solve that problem? You know, what we’re looking for are more ideas because the more ideas you have, the better ideas you’ll end up having, maybe it’s a, it’s a scorecard who can, when.

By being the person who initiates the fewest number of meetings, you know, maybe it’s one of those games while you’re where your lowest score like golf, you know, how do you golf, uh, find meetings, you know, the lower your score, the better you are. Some things like that and use that as an opportunity to get your team’s input to say, oh, well, you know, another example that I saw is this, and this is how they began to.

Reduce the number of meetings. My husband talks about this all the time. And one of the ideas that came up in a team he was on previously is that everybody had to send out an agenda. They had to convince people to come to a meeting because there, it had said everybody has blanket permission to decline any meeting that they don’t see a direct reason why they should be there.

You know? So maybe how do you start to bring the background to the foreground? And start to say the default is to decline a meeting, unless there’s a reason to accept where now maybe the feeling is that you have to accept. Unless there’s a reason to decline. So instead of saying, people have to provide a reason not to be there.

Maybe it’s the meeting organizer who has to provide a reason to truly be there. Maybe that’s one of those things. So that’s, that’s just a quick run-through. Now, the pitch comes in. If you need to pitch this to somebody to get their approval, you know, I don’t know. In, in your position you probably have.

The ability to say, this is how we’ll do things, but maybe you’re looking to pitch it to your team to get buy-in so that there’s consensus so that everybody feels a part of it and agrees on the outcomes so that it feels right to not be in these meetings all the time. And maybe it’s the. Something that could be done to, to empower them, but that’s just a really quick down and dirty example of how this process can work.

And it doesn’t matter how big or how small you need the idea to be. What matters is that once you start to practice this process, you’ll really find it interesting that your brain kicks into overdrive. And I have. Call me and text me and message me and say, I can not shut down the ideas because it’s almost as if now the brain’s awakened and observes everything and sees the pattern.

And it just keeps connecting and connecting and connecting and connecting. So, you know, it can go from zero to a thousand pretty quickly, and it’s learning how to manage the in-between and most importantly, have a place to apply all of those ideas. Meaningfully that’s really.

Drew: And I’m not suggesting to all that.

You all have more meetings to do this. We’re going to take some meetings off to have this meeting. But what I loved about this is so many times we get into a room and we say, oh, we got to solve this problem. And we just start with the problem. And what you did in this process is we started with this sort of wonderful place service.

Now look at all the cool things we’re doing. Oh, how happy they make us. And then we get to. Oh, now let’s solve this boring problem, that process. So that was one part of this is that it, it made it just more interesting. And number two is this muscle that you are building that you’re describing. And so we don’t necessarily have to tackle using this process.

The biggest problems. Like we don’t have to come up with the new product tomorrow. And in fact, maybe by solving some of these smaller problems with this process, we can get to the bigger problems when we’re a little more muscular, ready to bench, press a little bit more. Is that sort of what you’re getting?

Carla: Absolutely because one of the consistent things I hear from CMOs is that they can’t get their team to share true insights. They may report information, they may report numbers and data and all of that, but to truly be able to have a team that is able to think critically. Either together or individually, it can be a skill.

That’s hard for them to understand that, how to teach and activate. But when you teach people how to connect the dots in this way, they do start to have insights in ways that they probably didn’t have a courage to share. But I know I’ve worked with marketing teams who were like, tell me what to think, and then I’ll go off and do this stuff, and then I’ll come back and you tell me if I thought the right things and did the right things.

But really if we’re looking at how to even activate the potential of marketing teams, one of the things that’s really powerful is, is teaching them how to connect the dots between what is it that they’re seeing out in the world. And I think once people understand that. How to connect the dots, again, from what captures their attention or their personal interests, their passions.

It really does inspire and activate them in ways that we don’t realize. How do you start to bring inspiration and some new creative thinking into the work that you do without it feeling like yet one more thing to add to your plate?

Drew: I was wondering, as you were talking about this, I think one of the big laments we’ve all had workarounds on all the business issues that happen as a result of virtual, but is.

Collaboration is harder than this feels like a very collaborative process. Have you in a post-COVID era, I mean, are there some adjustments that people need to make in order to do this via zoom?

Carla: Well, I think one of the things is just the mindset around what collaboration looks like. So. Is it harder or is it just different?

I mean, for some people being in a room with people and going through this in person can feel really overwhelming. And I think almost having the separation because we’re not always in a room together, like this can help some people who otherwise may be more introverted and tend to retract if they’re in a room with an extrovert.

I mean, I know. When I get in a room and I start working on this, I get excited. I get wound up and I can be overwhelming. And that means that people who aren’t comfortable in that environment tend to pull back and not share things. And I think that’s something for us to be aware of is that there’s an opportunity to use.

As a zoom environment, a more de-centralized working environment to help bring out some ways of thinking and bring out contributions from people who may not normally feel comfortable or feel like they have the opportunity to speak up in these ways. But I mean, there, there are a lot of collaborative ways to still continue to work together.

One of my clients, they worked on a program that asked employees to show how they would activate the values in their company. And there was a, a group in Europe who is normally silent, either in person or online or whatever it could be, who ended up doing the most creative wacky thing that you could ever imagine.

And part of it was just because it was a little bit different dynamics than what they were used to having them in a way it made them feel a little more free, but I think whatever you start to use for your inspiration is something that you look to in what that outcome can be.

Drew: Okay. I’m going to attempt to summarize today’s session.

So if you want to be CEO, learn how to do innovation too. This is a learning. This is not something that you’re born with you. We can’t all be Tim washers. He’s a very funny guy, but if you want to get to the next level or get your team, and one of the things that was interesting, that almost every story that Carla shared came back to this helps build a strong employee.

And, you know, the culture of innovation is a strong employee culture. And all of you we’ve talked about this in several huddles. All of you who said we have issues right now with retention, we have issues with recruiting. If your company has a reputation as a place where innovation just sort of happens all the time.

It is generally easier to recruit and your employees are more likely to stay because they feel like one way or another, they get to this process. There’s another thing that’s happening here, which is you are solving the problem that Carla mentioned that a lot of CMOs say my teams don’t know how to solve problems.

They don’t know how to find the insights. This, that you’re going to build, and it feels like we can solve small problems with it. And then we can sort of solve some of the bigger problems and really, really, truly innovate with a capital “I”, as opposed to a small “i” innovation, which may feel really good. I know there’s more, but that’s all I got for my instant recap. And where do they, it’s carlajohnson.com?

Carla: Dot. C. O. There’s no M. I always say CO for the great state of Colorado.

Drew: Alright, CarlaJohnson.co. Carla, thank you so much, really, on behalf of CMO Huddles. We’re delighted that you could spend time with us and I’m inspired and I hope everyone else is. So thank you. And I’ll be talking to you offline sometime soon.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me. Audio production is by Sam back. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about my new book and the savvy is B2B marketing boutique in New York City.

Visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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