Is our obsession with KPIs blocking innovation?

They are important, but they only show what happened in your past. They don’t predict your future.

Intuitively we know that. But we seem to have this blind spot, which means we can’t move forward unless we have big data to back it.

In episode 6 we talk to Ideas Architect Geoff McDonald, on how creativity ultimately transforms into innovation.

You can access all things Geoff McDonald via his website https://geoffmcdonald.com/

For a quick teaser…check out this video

Or the full episode here …

[00:03:57] Staying Curious

If I said there was one thing about innovation, I'm like the obvious words for me are, I’m a creative, an innovator but ultimately, I think I'm a learner, I just want to learn stuff. And that's your curiosity.

I think once you start to know something, you just realize there's a whole lot more. I have this thing at Christmas, it's kind of a weird family thing where, my brother-in-law was in the fire brigade and my brother was in the army as a mechanic, so they’re used to fixing practical problems right. What often happens in Christmas is some problem will come up and they'll go, Oh, the answer is this. And good old Geoff can't help himself. I'll say, Oh, the answer could also be this, this and have you considered that.

And I think that's kind of where I got to see my mindset as an architect, I suppose that's the design thinking, that there's always a million different ways to design a house and it comes down to, well, how did you finish up with that one rather than all the other ones you didn't design.Whereas my brother and my brother in law are probably more interested in the one solution. Whereas for me fixing my computer or car is just not interesting because where's the curiosity. You just know you’ve gotta fix that and you fix it. Whereas I want to work out what it actually could be. So it's kind of a different aspect.

There's a lots of aspects of creativity, but I think the one that really appeals to me is that, it's the creative as an Explorer, that I like to explore things which comes back to the learning and the curiosity piece.

[00:08:10] Staying with Uncertainty

But if you walked into McDonald's and you asked for a burger, it's pretty obvious you point to it on the menu, you know how much it's going to cost and pretty much, you know, that it's going to be all done in about 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes tops. Whereas I think when you're getting to creativity, you actually don't know how long things are going to be. You don't know how long they're going to take. And ultimately to a certain extent, you don't know how much they're going to cost.

And I think with coaching, what I've found is I actually have to tell people how the coaching process works. And even with them manifestos, or I was designing board games or products and things for people in the past, it was like, I have to actually tell them that most of the time, I don't know what the answer is, but that doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing. A lot of people need the control or the sense of certainty.

Whereas I think that's the other thing, the curiosity kind of fits in that same place, that I can be with the uncertainty of actually, I just don't know the answer right now, but I'm okay with that. Whereas a lot of people chase down solutions just to close that open loop for themselves because they can't sit there not knowing. And I think that's why I can stick at things for longer and work out processes or create stuff whereas other people tend to jump for quick fixes.

[00:10:00] KPI’s and Creativity

I think if I had to pick one thing that stops innovation from happening in the workplace, it's exactly what you said, they're all driven about completing things. Which is really, really important. They wouldn't have their productivity and all that sort of stuff if they didn't have that, but it is directly opposite to what creativity is and innovation is ultimately about, which requires, if you're going to do something new, it means that you're going to have to explore things.

You're gonna have to test things. You're going to have to experiment and you're going to have to fail sometimes. So if you just want consistent, reliable results, do the McDonald's things and build a machine out of it and people can come and go as they please, you know, it doesn't matter. But don't give us the KPIs and put us on a strict timetable and deadline and costs and all the rest of it and then tell us to be innovative at the same time, because they're two opposites. They're two different things.

[00:15:13] Permission to Play

So if I'm used to seeing myself as CEO or CFO or something like that, where I work in a particular way, I need to get the person out of that typical way so they can explore other ways. If you can get people to play and explore then there's the possibility they might come up with something. So it's more about the activity and engaging people in those activities.

if you go back to the, the KPIs in that, it's kind of like, we'll reward you if you get the result we want and will penalize you if you don't get the result we want. And it's kind of the same in creativity, we don't, I don't even know what the answer is going to be myself when I'm doing something creative.

And a lot of the times you’re literally going down dead ends. And you’ve just got to try stuff. Oh, let's see what happens if I do that. Oh, that didn't quite work. Ah, but it leads me to that. Oh, okay. Now if I do that, what happens? The analogy I use is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together without the picture at the end, you'll put patterns together and you go, Oh, that one seems to fit and then it might not fit later or, you know, and so forth.

And I think that's where if you can get people thinking about things in a different way and therefore, the play, if they're willing to play and explore and to do that, you have to give yourself permission, particularly as adults. You know, mostly with, you know at school, we got told to sit down and shut up too much, or at least I did.

So we've kind of got to stop that and give ourselves permission that it's okay to go off on tangents and explore and do silly things and fun things and just see what comes out because that's really what the creative process is to a certain extent.

[00:20:29] A Safe Space to Contribute

So there's major problems with in showing up in the workplaces at the moment around mental health. And one of the problems, one of the things they're talking about is psychological safety. And it's kind of like we’ve done all this physical safety staff and particularly in the work, the production areas and that sort of stuff, you know, where you're steel cap boots wear your helmet, all that sort of stuff. And now we're starting to realize, and there's this thing called psychological safety.

And I think that's a key idea around creativity that if you don't, imagine you’re in a meeting, and you don't feel that it's safe because the boss is sitting next to you when he jumps on everything you say, and you might come up with the best idea ever to change your company's future, you know, but if he's sitting there and you've got an opinion about what you think might happen, you're not going to say anything.

And that's where innovation gets shut down. It's in those, like I created the program a long time ago called Innovative Spaces. And that the simple idea was that that innovation lives in some sort of emotional space that we feel free or safe to be able to say stuff and explore stuff and consider stuff.

And even if you've got the silliest ideas, cause sometimes the silliest ideas are the best ones that you've got to have like what Eric's was saying before you've got to have permission for yourself and probably permission for the group as well, in some way, even if it's not formal, and then you create this safe space that you feel like you can contribute into.

[00:24:13] Leadership Creates the Space for Innovation to Happen

I think the leadership creates, the simple way would be to say the leadership creates the space for whether the innovation happens or not.

I think the comparison would be if, if I was to manage, say, you two, and say, we've got a project or you've got to produce this result by Friday. And it was very practical. I could check in each day going, how's it going? You could say, Oh, well we've got two out of 10 done. We're on track. And that's actually pretty easy to manage. But if you're talking about innovation where you don't know what the result's going to be, you don't know how long it's going to take. And you don't know any of those details. It's, you're almost managing in the dark.

What the brain research is showing and I think this one hasn't, I'm really surprised this hasn't been picked up more, but they're talking, they used to talk about two sides of the Brain as being the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which physiologically is, is accurate.

But what they’re seeing in the MRIs and all this other stuff, they're now talking about the uptime and the downtime brain. And the uptime brain is basically whenever we're concentrating on a single task. Which makes sense. That's what we're doing most of the time at work. the downtime Brain is, is literally a different part of the brain operating more to the back rather than the frontal peace.

And it's basically saying, the downtime, like when you're walking, when you're wandering, when you're having a shower, um, maybe whatever, whenever you're not doing a specific task, that's actually when our Brain connects the dots. So if you've ever been in the shower and you've had the moment for that thing, you've been trying to bust your butt over for the last two weeks and all of a sudden you've had a shower and the ideas come that's because you've shifted out of your uptime brain into your downtime brain, and it's made sense of things and given you a new pattern around it.

And this is why I think it goes back to Eric's original point around the push on KPIs and productivity. And I think it's connected to this mental health thing. We're simply spending too much time in our uptime brains and we're not spending enough rest basically in our downtime brains. And I think it's exacerbated by people doing their work on their laptop and then going, okay, I'm going to stop typing in Microsoft word or my spreadsheet. Now I'm going to have a break and I'm going to jump on Facebook and they feel in their heads that that's a shift, but from our Brain's point of view, you're actually doing more of the same stuff.

And it's kind of, this is the piece where the leadership needs to be able to step in and provide rest and space for people. And that's a much deeper conversation than just managing somebody about whether the tasks are getting done. So it's absolutely, I think leadership, as the word says, they need to lead the way and ultimately create the space for how things get done behind them or with them or around them.

[00:30:49] Valuing Contemplation and Reflection

Yeah, there's a really old, I guess it's an old joke, but the old joke was the, the US CEO's visiting his counterparts in Japan and walking around the office, getting a tour of the office. And there's a worker in Japan with his feet up on his desk, fast asleep. And the American CEO is walking over about to shake the guys, waking him up and fire him. And the Japanese guy is holding him back saying, no, don't do that he's dreaming up our next big idea. That sums up that we have this attitude around work.

That is very much, this there's an East West thing that the West is very driven about activity and task focus, which. There's all sorts of reasons why that comes from. Um, but the East particularly, I think, the shining light is mindfulness. As you mentioned before, Judy and meditation, that they value contemplation and reflection. And that's really a huge part of where innovation comes from. It's in all the gaps between the doing, and if we're doing all the time, we're actually killing off the opportunities for our innovation.

And I know that’s completely at odds with all the traditional stuff about productivity, but if you want us to be creative, we got to do things differently. We can't be doing the same old thing. Otherwise, you know, the old rule says we'll get the same old results.

[00:34:09] Rest and Recovery

Well I’ll tell you the other interesting thing that's showing up in some of the things I've been reading about rest and recovery.

There's different opinions about how much work we should actually be doing like task focused, work, a day. Some of the estimates are as low as four hours a day, and the other ones are about six hours a day. So this way that we have to sit at their desk for eight hours to get a day's work done is ridiculous.

It's like one of those benchmarks. Where did that come from? I find, even for myself, my ideal day is closer to doing two hours solid work first thing in the morning, then I'll have a break for anything, for it depends what, how much I'm doing for the day. But I'll probably only do four to six hours a day and ideally I'll do half of that in the morning. And then in the middle of the day, I'll have two or three hours break where I do go for a walk or ride my bike or something.

And that's probably closer to what a lot of, um, possibly, you might go to the leisure class of, you know, the Charles Darwin's and these guys of that era. That was the way they tended to work. Not many of them actually spent all day, every day working their butt off. A lot of them worked solidly and intensely for a short period of time, like a couple of hours. And then they had long walks.

[00:37:43] Opening the Door to Innovation at Work

And if, for instance, you’ve given people the permission while they're working or the breaks, and actually have an innovation exercise going on, um, maybe it's like you set aside a week during that workplace where you're actually going to have innovation breaks and, lift the shackles, if you like, maybe there's ways of doing that. Well, I think that's a really smart idea because it's kinda like, if we fill up our diaries with meetings as well, we're going to get some results, but if we really want to put innovation on the agenda, then we need to put it into diaries in some level of activity.

The challenge on is what's the right activity. And I think it would be a bunch of things you'd do. It might be, and again, this is where people are different so some people would likely innovate in a social setting. So sitting them around in a team and having a 10 minute meeting to come up with some ideas might be what works for them.

Other people might be better off going for a walk on their own. Um, other people might be better off researching on the internet and yeah, kind of, I think when you look at the Google example where they're giving people one day a week to work on their private projects, I'm not saying that's the perfect answer for everybody, but at least it says, it's gives that permission and it says that innovation is important. And I think that's the leadership thing for leaders, you know, it's that old cliche, the leader stands up and banks the desk and says it is important here. We need to be more innovative offer you, off to your cubicles and be more innovative.

It's just not going to work unless you put some structure in behind it to say here's the time, the space and the emphasis on innovation. And then you've got a chance of something showing up. But if you close the door to it, you're not going to get anything.

Have you seen the Adobe's Kickbox program? So they've, they've actually made it open source. So, there's a YouTube clip on it, but fundamentally, yes, it's giving structure and guidelines and permission to go and innovate, but within strict guidelines and they give them a toolkit. So you get a box to start with, which has got all the things you need in it, to go off and create your idea and to do your homework on whether there's a business case for it.

[00:41:18] Why Your Business Needs to Innovate

Well, probably an example is appropriate here, I was talking to a guy who works in the retail space and he's finding that the retailers are just not willing to invest in things anymore, including training and innovation. And it's like, well, the way that market's going, the retailers are literally going out of business and you're seeing them fall left, right and center.

I just said, Oh, well, it's all because it's all going online. And he said, no, it's actually not, online sales are still only 10% of all sales. So what's going on there? And the conclusion we came to is they're not willing to try anything different and it's costing them their business.

So by all means we can stay in business as usual, but that really is the, the head in the sand approach of I'm actually hoping that things are gonna improve, and it's living in hope versus what I see innovation as being, where you're being proactive about creating opportunities for yourself. At the long end of that, you've got one group that it may be the difference between whether you're in business in the next six months or 12 months, but surely for all of us, if we're not innovating, then none of us are going to be in business in 10 or 20 years.

So it just comes down to the world's changing and we need to change in some way around that or with that, or ahead of it or something.

[00:47:00] If We are Willing to Learn Innovation Will Follow 

When you walk into a shop you want to Uh, interact with people, we're social animals. And it's just a shame because we'd love to see more retail do really well against the digital world.

Well, I think it's about learning and training. It's about curiosity and seeing what works or what could work. It's about the leadership. It's about permission. It's about creating the space. I just see it as an opportunity as well. It's like, yeah, the way we used to do what's no longer working, so let's, we have to stop that.

And it does have to become an experience, not only for the shopper, but I think you're exactly right, Judy, that it actually needs to be an enjoyable place and a thrill for the workers to go there and do their work rather than just turn up and slogging out the day and looking at the clock, that's not going to help.

And that's why I just see, for me, it does come all the way back to, if I'm willing to learn, then naturally innovation is going to follow because I'm going to learn something that's going to change my view of something. And I think that's why it all comes back to learning.

And cause if you look, yeah, well, even in Melbourne, we've got H&M and Uni glow, and these guys that have come in with innovative offerings and they're, they're going gangbusters. The guys that haven't changed that are going down the gurgler and it's simply because they're not willing to change. And that's the lack of innovation.

I think also if, if, if you looked at your own business and the same for the listeners, that if we look at our businesses, how much have things changed in the last little while?  But it's also about. Oh, I tried that, that doesn't, that worked for a while, but it doesn't work anymore. Or I tried that and it didn't work. I always talk about what I do is experiments. They're little tests to see what might work. And then sometimes it only takes one or two people to go, Oh, I like that. Okay. I'll develop a bit more and then see whether it becomes something. Um, but it does need some sense of, there is no guarantee going forward of anything working. So we do have to keep exploring the fringes to see what might work in the future or what might keep working.

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