How to Institutionalize Inspiration in Your Company
If every company institutionally implemented innovation practices, we might all be just as successful as Pixar, Apple, or 3M. Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect world, and while most companies would love to dedicate more time to innovation, it's just not plausible.
Dedicating time to an intangible activity with no direct cause-and-effect is difficult for most companies to stomach, not to mention afford. Most companies engage in innovation practices periodically at best. Andy Stefanovich, chief curator at Prophet, a marketing and innovation consulting company based in San Francisco, believes that every company ought to find a way to regularly practice innovation in order to grow.
Stefanovich offers a memorable and viable innovation system that companies can effectively implement without subtracting too much from day-to-day business: This approach is called LAMSTAIH (pronounced, "lamb's tie), which stands for "Look at more stuff; and think about it harder."
This approach serves as the basis for Stefanovich's new book, Look At More, which focuses on the most overlooked, but arguably most crucial facet of innovation: Inspiration. Most people have misconceptions that inspiration is a lightning bolt; on the contrary, inspiration can happen at any minute of every day, but to be controlled, it has to be practiced regularly. Armed with anecdotes, tactics, and insights, Stefanovich shares how companies can attain sustainable innovation to help rejuvenate fatigued and fading companies.
Why did you choose to write about inspiration, rather than applying innovation?
After working in companies of great size over the course of 20 years, over the last few years we really saw the mechanistic and the mechanical side of innovation drying up and not getting the outcome. What we really needed to concentrate on was the inspiration, which fueled the creativity, which in service fueled the innovation.
By being inspired as an organization and as a group of individuals who want to create better and more, and in service of the innovation agenda, it's all in service of a better and more profound group of outcomes. Instead of focusing on the outcome—which is the market value, or the product or service—we reversed our head space and thought about the input, which is the inspiration.
We're really stepping back and saying, "Are we inspired as an organization to create as much and as well as we need to?" We founded a company, where in fact by looking at more stuff and thinking about it harder, creating more—which is in fact what innovation is—we could create big, and unique, and different. That's why we focus on the input instead of the output.
How did you come up with LAMSTAIH?
Years ago, another correspondent asked, "How do you innovate? How do you do it?" I said, "We've overcomplicated it." We were trying to simplify it and deconstruct the whole sophistication level of the idea, and I said, "It's really just looking at more stuff. Looking at more stuff and thinking about it harder."
What I was getting at was the idea that we as individuals, or we as a company, don't look outside of our walls, which in fact helps us create. We need to look outside of the simple category assessment or category competitive landscape—even that typical ethnographic work around psychographics, or demographics of audiences—we very much need to look outside who we are in an organization to find beautiful things and put them in front of us so we in fact see differently.
Looking at more stuff and thinking about it harder was a very simple, impromptu line that came out of my mouth, and now it's stuck; like naming my own child, it won't go away, but for all the right reasons. It absolutely resonates with the biggest and brightest GEs, Nikes and others of the world. American Express uses it almost religiously... It's about experiencing more and sensing more, and thinking about it differently and more uniquely than with the typical methodologies or practices we might've approached it with in the past.
Can you explain the five key drivers that lead to innovation: mood, mindset, mechanisms, measurement and momentum?
When we were talking with a client, we were asking about innovation in a pretty limited way, or not in its most holistic way. They were looking at the culture or leadership or mechasms and levers they pull, in terms of the processes they use for innovation, or they were looking at the product and service outcomes. What we wanted to put into the dialogue with our clients was the continuum around how to look at the innovation agenda.
So when you look at everything—from mood, to mindset, to measurement, to mechanisms, to momentum—it's a full range continuum that helps you look at the most qualitiative and most quantitave aspects of the innovation agenda. Mood is the most qualitiative: "Do we have the mood for innovation and change and growth in our company?" When you walk into a restaurant, you know if you want to stay or don't want to stay. It's very applicable to walking into an organization. You can feel it or not.
And all the way down to the measures, to the more quantitative side, "Are we measuring the right things to drive growth and change and servicing of innovation? Should we be measuring and rediscovering the measures most in service of growth and change?" It may not just be market share, or products and services, within the pipeline; it might be uniquely different things that help drive growth and change.
Which of the Five M's do most individuals and businesses have a tough time grasping?
The two that the companies and leaders wrestle with the most are the most qualitative, and those are mood and momentum. Momentum is how to make this innovation systemic and long-term and cultural, to make it a part of the DNA of the organization, and mood is what the "weather pattern" is. It's the leader's job to walk into an organization and immediately create the right mood by actions, behaviors, language, and emotion, and be sensitive of the mood and helping to shape that mood.
In regards to momentum, too many executives and clients really look at the agenda as checking the box and moving on, as opposed to making sure that it's a part of the DNA and the cultural norm in the organization. There's nothing a person likes to do more than to feel self-worth and create, and when you can bring that as an actionable behavior and belief and cultural norm of the poeple inside of your company, you'll in fact let that create great momentum.
How can companies institutionalize these ideas into their corporate scheme?
We've been working on finding the right actions, behaviors and mechanisms inside of the mood and the momentum. The mood is really fascinating. Language is a really big driver in terms of culture and helping to effect a level of change.
I had a mentor years ago, Anita Roddick who founded the Body Shop. We were at an airport at Heathrow, and she said, "Andy, never forget that words create the world." And when you're thinking about words and language around these highly qualitative things, they serve as emotional levers for people to engage with and activate. On the mood side, we proposed the idea of a Chief Mood Officer. It's very actionable, and it's very directive, in terms of appointing somebody to this position.
On the momentum side, one thing we've instituted is the Inspiration Policy. We have human resource policies, profit policies, efficiency policies, safety policies... Why can't we have an inspiration policy? Just the language alone sets people back. It's a policy: It's been mandated and directed upon you as an associate to make inspiration a part of your day-to-day activities.
What's fascinating is the inspiration idea inside of the innovation idea has this multiplier effect, and this very elegant duality. Inspiration is that thing that services innovation, which is what companies are looking for: Innovation, change, growth around market, share of market, product services and market penetration. It has this nice elegant duality of servicing both the culture and the market outcomes.
Do you believe that every company should institutionalize some of these policies, or only the companies that have trouble with innovating?
I really do believe, at some level, everybody should [institutionalize these policies]. Over the course of 20 years, if I were to landscape my clients around the topic of innovation and the inherent qualities of inspiration, I often see them as two ends of the continuum.
One end is the highly quantitative financial services, insurances, or regulated industry, and the other end of the continuum is the most qualitative, imaginative, creative and brand-centric categories in the business industry. Those qualitative and imaginative—and most quantitative and most scientific—are in need of some level of this. Those companies on the left-brained side are in need of it, and they know that they need to complement themselves with this more qualitative side. And those on the qualitative side, on the other end of the spectrum in the right brain, know they have to be better at it everyday.
The "look at more stuff and think about it harder" philosophy really does service companies that are in dire need of it, and those companies that want to stay continually better at arriving at change and growth through inspiration. What's interesting about the Five M's is that you get to use it as a diagnostic. Not does LAMSTAIH help drive transformation at companies, but they can also use the 5 M's as a gauge in driving inspiration and innovation in their business. You can dial one up or dial one down based on the focus and energy of the company's needs. It's really dependent on time and space in the company.
Your book is filled with many interesting stories and anecdotes. Would you mind sharing your favorite?
We were in Napa Valley with a client who was a software company growing at record speed, with 12 to 15 top executives in seven figures in income, growing at a rate that was almost incomprehensible, like so many of these digital companies in that time and space. There was an amazing issue of finding engagement and level of camaraderie amongst them: There was this competitive, fiery thing that was tearing the culture apart while they were on this growth streak, which was the ironic thing.
What we wanted them to do was to step back and look at more and think about it harder. One of the things we did was we took them through a EUKs—Experience, Understand and Knowledge experiences—a two-day "look at more" tour taking them around Napa Valley, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco.
One of the stops was at Bob Cannard's organic farm; Cannard provides organic foods to all the greatest restaurants in Napa and down in the Bay Area, including Per Se, the Thomas Keller restaurant. Per Se is known for his great mushrooms, and one of the things that this organic farmer grew was Thomas Keller's mushrooms. So as we walked upon the mushroom field we saw what was not a pristine and perfectly organized field, but was a bushwacked, hay infested, rusted tractors, and topography with bumps and graduation all the way through it. Not anything what you expect all these beautiful mushrooms to be coming out of.
One of the executives asked Bob, "Wait, let me get this straight: You make arguably the best mushrooms in the world in that field, and it looks like anything less than a field that would net out that kind of product." And Cannard said, "You really need to step back and realize that you're looking at alternating rows of weeds and a rows of plants, because if I had a row of plants and a row of plants, although your intuition would tell you that you're looking for efficiency and effectiveness and teasing all that you can out of the model, you would suffocate yourself to death. You need to step back and realize that you have weeds to give yourself a deep breath, so you won't strangle your model to death."
It was an amazing observation that these executives got to walk away with in this jaw-dropping kind of moment. As a group of individuals and as an organization, there was no weeds. They were squeezing out all that there was in terms of sustainability by virtue of being too tight and too rigorous in their day-to-day effectiveness.
If there's one message that you want readers to take away from the book, what would that be?
I think that the world has fundamentally changed and business has fundamentally changed. And by virtue of business having such a strong directive and influence on people, directly and indirectly, that people have changed. There is, in fact, a bit of a human energy crisis right now inside of the organizations, the biggest and the brightest around the world.
There's a real role for inspiration at a business discipline level, and also a personal, passionate level. Look at More is the opportunity to explore the idea of how inspiration can serve as the fuel, and as that discipline for driving more innovation and growth and change within your company, and looking at the input of inspiration—and the model of the Five M's—in service of growth and change. What you were hoping to create is not always your outcome.