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Today I chat to Helene Cahen from Strategic Insights about Holistic Approach to Innovation.

She is an Innovation Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator and Speaker with 20 years of experience helping companies navigate innovation challenges. She guides Fortune 500, small businesses and non-profits to understand innovation, create innovative new products/services, build effective teams and support a user-centered culture.

In addition, she has been a facilitator, coach and lecturer for the Haas School of Business and the VP of Innovation for a start-up.  She has also spoken at numerous conferences on the topic of design thinking and creativity.

Trained in Creative Problem Solving and Design Thinking, Helene received an M.S. in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo New York and has a business degree from Sciences-Po Paris, a top French Business School.

We covered a few topics today, including Human Centered Design, Creativity within teams and her love of  The Business Model Canvas.

You'll find valuable links and the full transcript below.

Check out this short snippet from the show

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Helene has put together a special offer for listeners to help you grow your business and be more innovative.

Download and review our Nine Questions to Spark Thinking about Innovation

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If you're interested in Helene's view on using the Business Model Canvas she's written a great article you can check out here

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[00:01:07] What is Human Centred Design?

So did our thinking is really one of the core elements that I have in my practice. And there's a lot of definition and you can make it complicated, but I'm going to try to make it simple for your audience and what the core of it. That's okay with you. Yeah. So I did my master at Buffalo state studying creativity.

And it was a long distance program. I was in the, in the East coast for that. And then I'm here living in the Bay area and I'm like, what is happening in creativity in the Bay area? And at the time the D school at Stanford was just starting. Uh, and, uh, there were, you know, Studying and teaching, um, design thinking.

[So I went and met with the director, uh, and I like, what is design thinking? It was in you at the time at this becoming mainstream and he had this simple principle. And I think I always go back to it. When people ask me what is design thinking? The first principle is user centered. So, whatever you do, you have to think about the people that are going to be affected by the change you're creating and will be aware of it for the process.

And it can be the end users, but it can also be, uh, any anybody else that you're affected by the change could be internal employees could be our suppliers are not partners, things like that. So when you innovate and create change, Just be aware and be sure that the users are part of the process and part of it, the second principle is put a type two even, and it's really important because you can only talk so much.

You can have many ideas. But we added the reality hits. And so by creating prototype by creating prototype early, uh, fast and simply you can really try to see how you ideal look like. In reality, you can get feedback. You stopped fighting or words because I had a nice concept. People have really defined understanding of a concept, but if you put a flow chart or a drawing or 3d prototype or a sketch of what your service or experience would look like, then you have something very concrete and then you can really start discussing the power of this idea.

[00:03:30] Prototype

You can start testing and people can give you feedback. So that's part is really important. And the third principle is process, unfortunately, and innovation and nothing is nice and linear and you go from A to Z and at the end you have a successful product or services that doesn't happen. And so acknowledging that is innovative that as you go along, you will learn something and by learning, you might decide.

Hey, I have this idea, but really when I test it, it's not working. Maybe I'm working on the one problem. I have to go back to the drawing board or you have the way ideas, but the way that you're thinking about implementing it is not going to work. So really thinking as a circular, whether then the linear funnel I think is really powerful.

So that's for me the core of design thinking. And that makes total sense to obviously the first part, then a design thinking of interacting with the end user, but they customer or, or part of the team, et cetera. Do you have a technique for engaging them in that process? So there's a lot of tools and technique.

[00:04:38] Research Tools

I think the core of it when you need to start is the ethnographic research. Yep. And, you know, applying it in a, in a business setting and, uh, people are always scared of the world and research and they don't have time to do it and they don't have the money. And I try to really encourage people to say, let's make it simple, you know, talk to.

Three of you clients for an hour with open ended question and a lot of listening or to the office and observe them for an hour, two and ask question. I mean, that's simple and you're going to learn so much and if you have a team of five or six people working on some projects, If each of them do two or three interviews of salvation, you're going to get a lot of data really quick and we'll it cheap.

They can really help be sure that you understand the problem that you idea would make sense that you know, how you make this experience better for your users. Just enough personal experience. So many people think that the customers are busy and they don't want to help me, you know, that's my problem to solve the problem.

But I think that most people certainly in our experience. A surprise that, that the customers actually do want to help them. Do you find, I assume it's find the same sort of thing. Yeah. Uh, firsthand, uh, many years ago I was [00:06:00] doing interviews for, uh, supermarket buyers and it wasn't fun. There's a lot of big supermarket chain.

So those people have a lot of power. If they're the wine buyer for a big chain, that's a lot of million of. Dollars are yoyo at stake, and I was going to interview them and I'd go to the weight room and they have 20 people waiting for whatever, selling, whatever. And then I go into the room and I spoke for, I actually had an interview for two hours because that person was so happy that somebody is actually going to listen to them, whether it's asking them something.

And we did trying to understand the experience. So, yeah. People, uh, like to, because we don't do it, we don't listen. We take the time to listen. We don't take the time to appetize it's it's actually not that hard. Once you get one, you can see it's not that hard. Probably because most people's experience with market research is via pretty repulsive survey, which, you know, that's not exactly helpful.

And doesn't really give you an understanding of what people do in most cases. But that's probably a much bigger question that I'd rather, Eric's my partner be sitting here having that one with you, but. Nevertheless, I, we see that a lot that, you know, people relate to market researchers, just the cold boring survey, and you're right.

Just, just having that conversation. Do, I mean, and now how do you do it now, given that it's in many places in the world, it's difficult to go and have a conversation with people. Are you doing it online? You can do it online. You can do it over the phone, even. Um, you know, uh, even 20 years ago, I used to work for, uh, Clock's a big package with company here and we have this new products and we actually, we didn't have very little budget cause nobody was believing that product could be big.

So we just send a sample to people home and then talk to them on the phone. [00:08:00] For half an hour. And after 10 interview, we look at each other and say, we have a winner here. It was just, people were crazy. They were using for everything that we thought we needed to think of. And so, yeah, you can talk to people.

Now you can do video as well. And with zoom in now, if people are willing to you, they can show you their closet. They can show you their office. They can, uh, you can learn a lot. You can ask them to take pictures of their home, and then when you interview them, you can say, Hey, I'm noticing that in your kitchen cabinets, you have five blend of sales.

Tell me more about that or whatever that is. So there's a lot of things you can do actually with that. I mean, physical is better, but. Sometimes it's actually much easier because people might not open your home, but they might be open to do it through a conversation North zoom. It's quite interesting.

Really how much prepared to share, particularly if they are fans of your brand already, or, you know, that they're someone who uses that type of product. And, [00:09:00] and I can actually almost think now at the moment, it's like an entertainment for them. You know, so many people are looking for things to do so if you can make it.

[00:09:58] Working With Teams On Innovation

When you work on innovation team. And avoid a lot of conflict and friction that you don't even, people might not know where they come from, but they come from different preference for different part of the case creative process. So I usually do that as kind of a starting point with a team. And then I do training around design thinking.

And, uh, what I believe is that the twinning has. I mean, I can talk, but that's not going to teach you anything. So I took the least amount possible and it's really experiential learning. So I'll go in, in an organization and I say, Hey, do you have a challenge that you guys want to work on? And that's part of the training.

So that challenge is going to be the case that we, we learn about the tool and then we apply them and then we can see how much in a day or two. We actually move something and then we can see what it really means to use and apply design thinking. It's not something you can do one time and you know it, and you done a design thinking.

I can teach it as a process and tool, but at the end of the day, it's really minds, mind shift. You have to shift the way you think. And so I realized years ago that one time twinning is actually not that efficient and to have a lasting impact. And so I really tried to build programs of a three months, six months a year when you can have some training.

Experiential training, then people can apply it for a few months and then we might have coaching so they can really see, okay, now I'm back in my office that Monday, or, and this is what's happening with my boss and my team and on this project. And so I can support them. And then maybe three or four months in, we have a booster or sometime create a train the trainer program.

So then people can start diffusing it internally as well. I assume it's the leader of these businesses that are engaging you and wanting to embrace innovation. Is there something that, that you can pick is a standard? These leaders of innovation businesses have on one hand, I mean, every business needs innovation and right now, particularly in the U S and you know, where.

Things are changing at a crazy pace and we can't do business as usual. Innovation is definitely critical. Yeah. And I'm talking right now if this climate, it's also a time when a lot of organization kind of in survival mode. Yeah. So they're not necessarily thinking about innovation as a priority. And so that is somewhat of the challenge.

And so while every organization needs innovation, the people that tend to work with me are kind of mostly larger organization that kind of realized that is important and they're willing to invest. Mm, but I sometime work with small companies to pricing. Like I work with a team of lawyers and people that do environmental work.

[00:15:36] Current Rate of Change

But are you seeing, are there things that are coming out from your perspective in the U S here in California, we're in the midst of it. I mean, we don't see a place where we can just snap back and pretend nothing happens. Yeah. Because it's changing, for example, you know, in the medical world, of course, but just, I'm not talking about the coffee pot, but just your doctor.

I mean, before, it was almost impossible to do telemedicine. Now a lot of doctors do that. It's, uh, it was really hard to get medication. You had to go to the pharmacy and yet them, no, you can get them delivered in two days. You know, like this is great. I mean, that's one of your few things that is great, but, uh, so something are changing and I think that might not come back because there might be benefits to it or.

Some business, unfortunately are going to close. And so, um, I don't know what's going to happen to the restaurant business. What's going to happen to the Oh, tail business travel business. And there's a lot of this business, this, this, this, then they're going to be affected for the long. One and that really tough.

We've got a few friends who have got, um, you know, accommodation facilities and things, and, and it's just really tough. They're sitting there with all these empty rooms and they can't do a damn thing about it. So yeah, really tough on them. But [00:17:00] I, you know, so I'm going to change course a little bit in this.

Cause the other thing I really would like to talk to you about is. The business model canvas, which I've used a couple of times myself, and I'm not sure that I ever do it really justice and properly, but it's, I'd love to know your take on how using the canvas, that simple tool can help in an innovation space.

[00:17:25] Business Model Canvas

Oh, thanks for asking. I love this tool. Uh, I'm actually, uh, I would say an expert on business model canvas, because I've been working with a high school of business. They have a, a program for executive program for product manager, and that's one of the tool they use to kind of anchor the class. I have a specific column coaching the students about business model canvas.

So people I give them feedback and then I do one on one coaching. So I've seen probably. Seven or 800 of those canvases. I think that tool it's really simple for you audiences, you can search business model canvas, but it's basically nine bucks that kind of are a representation of your business. But what I found it really powerful is by seeing how different aspects are connected, you really start looking at system rather than silos.

And one of the challenges I found working cope, corporate. This people tend to look at it from a silo vision. So I'm a finance person. I'm going to do everything from a number perspective. I'm a marketing person. I'm going to look at the marketing elements. I'm a salesperson. I'm just going to look at the setup, but the reality of a product, so service.

So an organization is that those elements are connected. And so the business old canvas is really nice, a way to kind of see how different aspect of the business are connected. And if I'm a product manager or engineers, and I only understand. We'll usually I really understand what my product is and what my target audiences, but I'm not fully understanding other elements of it.

Then I can ask question with other people in my team. I can ask a finance guy. I can ask a marketing person. I can ask partners, how are we working together? How is this affecting our business? You know, the way we work together. And so for me, the business model canvas is we need two application. The first one is looking at your business kind of Broadway and getting alignment from a team.

Understanding that different function out, seeing the business with their own biases. And so by talking together and getting alignments, that's really helpful. And then talking about innovation, it's also a great innovation tool because you can look at to business as it is today, and then wonder where should I innovate?

And sometimes it's a new. Value proposition. So I'm going to offer something new to my customers. That's the most obvious one, or I might target another segment, which is another, you know, two additional way to think about innovation, but you might realize that those are not the place you want to innovate.

You want to innovate by partnering with a different organization, or you want to innovate by changing the way that you are making the product or services. Maybe you have your own plant or. Factory you making it and you want to auto set. Maybe you wanna, you know, bring something other people on board with different function.

So it really forced you to look at, you know, and then say, where can innovation can come up from, it might be a different channel, you know, this channels system. And maybe suddenly, if we innovate on the channel distribution, suddenly we might have innovation. So it's also a great way to think about innovation from a lot of different perspectives.

[00:25:01] Start Up Culture

So first you have to start with yourself. Uh, and then, you know, if there's a commitment to, to look at it, then, uh, that's where the tool and techniques can really help. Uh, when you get stuck, it's like, let's go back. You know, what's her problem. Let's look at. Um, but what different problems can we solve? You know, which one may make sense and let's test it with our users.

See if that problem actually resonate. Then once you have the white problem, which is the hardest part and what should take the longest time, because that's really important. Then you can look at ideas and, you know, look at a lot of ideas and kind of one them and narrow them down and test them and then, you know, put a type in and try to implement.

But, um, it's just a tool and technique can help us getting all of a head. You know, when we were like, I don't know, it's overwhelming. I don't know where to start and that we do nothing. Um, so it gets saying, well, I'd know if the, if my [00:26:00] challenges, I'm not sure what the problem is, is tool and technique. I can use to understand the problem if no, I understand the problem, but I don't know how to say it.

Then there's tool and technique. You can use to come up with a little of option. I have some ideas. I don't know which one, a good, I don't know how they work. Then I need to spend more time on the prototyping part. You know, of the process. I have some point to type, but. I'm not sure how to do it, then I should look at options and that to make it up and to test it.

Um, and I really believe in, um, you know, that traditionally in corporate, we want to be perfect and I want it to be perfect. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of money. And you know, you really using the design thinking principle, I always challenged my client and say, what is the cheapest fastest way to get this idea out and get some feedback?

Yep. And, uh, so that's, yeah, that's doing things differently. So it might not be the perfect thing. And we might test it with five people for a [00:27:00] day. Uh, and, but we'll get a lot and we learn a lot and not saying it's not going to be perfect and we might fail, but the learning in failing early quickly and cheaply.

It has a lot of value. Oh yes, definitely. That's actually probably the single best advice because, uh, I think a lot of us fall into the trap and I've done this in my past life. So as well as you, you want it, you want it to be totally right, so that you can explain and, and people to really experience it.

And of course the terminology that's used in the tech world is MVP, minimum viable product. I don't think when, when that was first told to me, that I really understood what that really meant. And certainly from a tech space, cause I've developed software is I don't think the tech guys knew exactly what that meant to that.

So I, that it really is the most important thing is to come up with just a simple, yeah. And that's probably one of the hardest things to do if when it's your baby. Yeah. And, and the culture, because it's how to go. And you boss a, you management and say, I have a half baked idea. Can I try it? So usually we want the 40 page deck with every single number and every T crosses and, and then, you know, but the, the one thing I think it's not talked enough about is the price of not innovating.

The price of not taking a risk and there is a huge place for it. But we with co incorporation, we tend to look at the price of having something new, wrong, but not the opposite. If we don't innovate what happened, if you don't have any, you think what happened to a business in New York two years, you don't want to try new things, you know, And for some future it's impossible.

That's why a lot of big corporation end up, you know, purchasing startup because they can't do that internally because the system will kill it before you even have a chance. That makes, that makes total sense. And, um, yeah, I, I you're right about the innovation and just, we have to, we have to get past this thing that innovation is this big, scary thing.


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