Self‐Innovation for Innovators: an Interview with Stuart Heller

by Courtney Schwarten

Self‐Innovation for Innovators: an Interview with Stuart HellerI was asked to interview Stuart Heller, a pioneer in bringing together and to us the DIY classics on change and transformation. Stuart is the co-author  of the “cult classic”, Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with No Time (with David Sheppard Surrenda). He has a big new project in the works. It’s a 21st century “book”, a new genre of transformational tools that connects the cloud to your life and to the world. (We don’t yet have a word to describe this yet, do you?)

As president of his company, Walking Your Talk, I’ve had many wide-ranging and highly focused conversations with him. This seemed like a good opportunity to draw out of him his perspective on innovation, especially self-innovation.

Even when your book Retooling on the Run was published almost 20 years ago, you knew it was a blueprint for a much bigger project.

My goal for the project was to present the timeless teachings of change in an easy to apply fashion. In the book, we laid out the core language and technology that supports all of Walking Your Talk’s emerging cloud-based resources. We tried to combine the depth dimension of retooling how and what you do with the real life constraint of “no time.”

What’s been one of the really enjoyable moments in this process of designing the cloud-based extension of the book?

It was after the first tele-call on coaching with the nonverbal, when I was told by the client that people were immediately applying the new practices they learned over the phone with their clients – with excellent results.

I imagine you are going through your own process of self-innovation with this project.

Always! Not only am I discovering new ways to teach using the positive limits of the cloud, I am also discovering how to be connected to clients around the world with my tablet. We need the tools when we need them. And, of course, the project of retooling my normal way of being and doing, is ongoing.

What contributions do you hope to bring to those serious about innovation?

Most importantly, to include yourself in the innovation process. How can your innovation move the world along if you (that is, your normal bureaucracy of habits) stays behind? The project of self-innovation, a.k.a., retooling, is one of the most basic elements of all of the classics of change.

Would you say more about the bureaucracy of habits?

In everyday language, we are talking about the “normal you”. Normal is a dynamic structure, that is meant to evolve with the times. And even though normal likes to stay normal, the actually opportunities for serious innovation live several sigma units away in the realms of the strange, the weird and the totally ignored. We‘ve learned how not to look. In Miyamoto Musashi’s classic on strategy, A Book of Five Rings, he gave us the secret: honor the insignificant. By practicing to appreciate the small differences, the quiet voices, the almost tangible sensations, we can develop the habit of spontaneous creativity.

I hadn’t thought of habit that way – what does that imply?

As a gardener, if the ground is not prepared, the seed cannot fulfill its potential. In all systems, living as well as invented, a new possibility has to coordinate with the bureaucracy in order to become the way things are done. A powerful contributing sabotage to so many change initiatives is the poor state of communication with our bureaucracy of habits.

To increase the odds of innovation acceptance, what if you explore translating your visionary words into the simple kinds of actions that your bureaucracy uses to make things happen. This is one aspect of learning to work with, not against, the forces of habit.

You often speak of the intimate relationship between word and motion. How does this translate in other languages and cultures?

Beneath the words (in whatever language) and shining through them is the vibrant power of life and spirit.  Interacting with others with this in mind, we easily discover how we are connected. Working together with our non-English speaking Russian colleagues we have helped to create a training and consulting company that shares the nonverbal dimension of our approach throughout the Russian speaking world. Our students are applying this in a wide range of languages from Chinese to French to Turkish to Spanish.

I know you get embarrassed about this…and I am going to ask anyway. What are all the things you have studied that have led you here?

(scream) OK, I’m just your basic mathematician, systems scientist, martial artist, dancer, bodyworker, educator, consultant, coach and husband – not in that order.

What is your current focus/driver?

This all leads to the cloud version of Retooling on the Run, Empowering Self-Innovation. At this moment, on the edge of launching this updated version into the world, the words I’ve found to describe it so far are: From the cloud to your life to the world. Making it easier to making changes in your life and work. Access the power of what you don’t know you know and can do. A 21st century redesign of the DIY classics of change. With easy access on your desktop, phone or tablet. So where do you want innovation in your life?

Editor’s note: Watch Stuart on YouTube Step Away from the Norm: Strange and Ignored – the two best places to find what you need to make the changes you need.

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Self‐Innovation for Innovators: an Interview with Stuart HellerCourtney Schwarten is president of Walking Your Talk. She collaborates with forward-thinking partners across the globe to bring a truly alternative – and effective – approach to learning and change.

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