Witnessing Real Change

by Michael Graber

Witnessing Real Change

We host several Innovation Bootcamps each month. After doing this work for years, you expect a predictable pattern at each session. Surprisingly, it’s not in the transformational new thinking about the enterprise and the potential value that is created.

The pattern I am exploring here is subtle, having far-reaching implications. It happens within the professionals attending the session. Over the two-and-a-half day workshop you can watch the change in the body language and faces of the participants as work unfolds.

No matter how carefully we try to orient a cohort, there is always this odd rite of passage.

When you amass a multi-disciplinary group of sales, marketing, engineering, product management, channel support, etc. from different business units of a large company, there is an instinct for the professionals to hold onto their roles and identities and reinforce their operating biases, even if these same biases limit the growth of the business.

Perhaps because this method is new for them that there is fear, and fear makes them retreat into what they know. They know a proven formula that has generated some successes in the past, so we understand; however, we have to coach them to try and not project the limiting orthodoxies and business models from their past. After all, this is innovation, not a codification of best practices.

After we have them remove these comfortable masks of the role they usually play in the organization, we then put them in even more uncomfortable space. Now, they meet end users, buyers, and influencers of their products and services face-to-face to empathize for those whom they are building solutions. They vow to listen, discern needs, not sell or persuade.

The body language the first day is rigid. Faces look quizzical. Questions are plentiful. There are always a few people who resist more forcibly than others. They have that look of fear that says either, “I’m not sure why I’m here,” “I’m out of my element,” or “what in the world is going on?”

Once we sort all of the empathy data and needs turn into actionable insights an air of calm envelops the room. Together, they have delved into the messy human factors of the market and made deep sense of it all. Now, they generate many solutions to meet these needs.

Over dinner, even those who looked most tense and uncomfortable say, “We need to use this method in all parts of our business.” By the next morning, the team has a relaxed spirit of deep collaboration and willingness.

Witnessing this change may be the biggest, perennial thrill of doing this work, more thrilling than creating millions of net new revenue that gets generated or even solving needs in the marketplace that no one else has figured out. Real change starts on the inside—the inside of the people of an organization. Once we witness this change, we know the organization is on the right track.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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