with a twist.
Twisthink’s Managing Partner, Bob Niemiec, had the opportunity to unpack this company challenge with Carey Rome on the Caged Vision podcast.
“We just need help in determining what’s next for our organization…”
Does this describe your thoughts for you and your organization?
If so, you’re not alone.
Twisthink’s Managing Partner, Bob Niemiec, had the opportunity to unpack this company challenge with Carey Rome on the Caged Vision podcast. Be sure to download and listen today to gain insight on:
If you’re interested in connecting with Bob Niemiec on any of the topics discussed, fill out the form, and he would welcome the opportunity to connect.
Carey Rome 0:01
Hey Everyone, welcome to another episode of the caged-vision podcast with a very cool guest, Robert Niemiec. Robert goes by Bob, and he has got a pretty cool company I’m super excited to bring to you today. Bob, his company’s called Twisthink. And if you’ve ever thought about how companies come up with innovative ideas, Twisthink is at the heart of some of the coolest ideas that you may have already experienced. Bob, welcome to the show, why don’t you spend a couple minutes and tell us two minutes on your firm and and really highlight what you guys do.
Bob Niemiec 0:41
Okay, good afternoon. Thanks, Carey! Twisthink launched in 2001. Today, as a team of 50, really serving clients in a variety of marketsaround the expertise of innovation, acceleration and grow. So the premise 20 years ago was taking the skill of industrial design creative, right brain talent, and building a team with another great skill that we refer to as technology. But to go a little bit deeper, it’s the skill of electrical or electronic engineers.
So again, creative left brain, and bringing them together as one team, and I guess 20 years into it, it’s gone by like a blink. But for 20 years, that team kind of collaborating together almost naturally delivers innovation, acceleration and growth. And so we’ve started at five now we’re at 50. And, again, it’s a privilege to connect today and share a little bit about the story of that great team that I’m doing my best to try and represent on this call.
Carey Rome 2:04
Very good. But listen, thanks for that overview, always love to call it the Wayback Machine. Let’s say you’re working in industry, and something tells you, I feel like I need to be doing something a little bit different for our listeners. Internally, we call that caged-vision. That is someone that’s got a vision, and they get stuck on “I don’t know how to unlock that vision”. And the goal of the podcast is to help them unlock that vision. So I’d like to start there when you’re there. You’re an industry. You’re doing your thing, and you start to say, you know what, I think there’s something different than I need to be doing. Take me to that point.
“Let’s see if we can bring that same thinking of creative left brain creative, right brain, one team one goal and deliver.”
Bob Niemiec 2:57
Yeah, so that point? It’s great question. That point really goes back to prior to launching Twisthink 20 years ago. I’d spent nearly 18 years in the automotive industry. And this was a firm that I joined right out of university and had the benefit of serving both in North America and Europe. And what I noticed in that run was a traditional kind of Midwest manufacturing company that started to invest in two talents that had a dramatic impact on them over a decade plus. And those two talents were the skill of industrial design, and the skill of electrical or electronic engineering.
And again, this was a automotive supplier that produced products for the OEMs like General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and beyond, right. So this company started to grow their own talent in those two arenas, hiring industrial designers from across the globe, and hiring talented engineers from universities large and small. And to see the impact that those two skills had within the growth curve of this Midwest manufacturing company was a bit of a firsthand aha moment for myself.
The benefit to be a part of that organization for an extended period of time, it was a private company that was then acquired by a public company and I had the benefit to hang around even in the public organization for a solid four or five years before there was this lingering kind of nine around “Hey, that experience in the corporate round, maybe there’s a way to deliver that in a smaller entrepreneurial endeavor.”
And I’ll just say we all have our entrepreneurial journeys that we’ve been on. And mine started as a Detroit Free Press paper route carrier. When I was a young youngster. And my journey, even in the corporate round going to Europe to start, the European operations for this wildly growing private company, was a bit of an opportunity entrepreneurial endeavor to because I went alone, and then built a team that five years later, total 150 people, so you got to experience firsthand building something, in a sense from scratch. So I had the corporate momentum back in North America behind me.
So, you know, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of capital risk, but there was all the blood, sweat and tears of building something. And I think it was that experience and getting a taste of that. And then, again, private company is acquired by global public company, and after a handful of years there, you’re like, I’m going to try and get back to what I experienced in that startup venue. And that’s really what was the catalyst to this. And hey, let’s see if we can bring that same thinking of creative left brain creative, right brain, one team one goal and deliver that as a consulting service for a variety of organizations, which is what Twisthink is now doing for 20 years?
Carey Rome 6:51
Yeah, well, that’s a great story. And I love the fact that you highlighted the opportunity. And although you went to start a European division, and there wasn’t capital risk, there was risk to your reputation of whether or not you could achieve starting something from scratch. So I’d imagine once you achieve that first hurdle, you give confidence that, like the capital risk, is that fair?
Bob Niemiec 7:21
Yeah, that’s, that’s fair. I think to me, again, I wasn’t even 30 yet at that time. But to me, I had been planted in an organization that had a very strong culture around team. And so when I went to Europe, I think the risk and the exciting part of the whole endeavor was “Wow, can we try in another part of the globe, build a culture and build a team that isn’t exactly like what we had in North America?”
But it had some of the same characteristics and traits. And for me, it was both a risk and a challenge. But there was a lot of joy that came from really the lesson that it doesn’t matter where you are on planet Earth, people desire to join organizations that have a commitment to one another. And people globally want to be treated fairly and with integrity, and people really globally want to work hard and have a shot at doing that in that environment.
Again, this is back in the early 90s. As a young leader that was a great lesson to experience and then in 2001, to try and get to do it again. But in a much different situation. Now we’re building out a manufacturing company, a professional service, and a consulting firm. And guess what, now there is capital risk, but you still had the components of team building, that 20 years later, still is is exciting and challenging, and kind of the fuel to the engine that drives this. This business.
Carey Rome 9:25
That’s good. That’s great. So when you when you went to Europe, you mentioned the replicate the culture. Did you have an appreciation for culture before you went? Or was it when you had to build your own team that an appreciation for culture, the emphasis and culture, when did you realize how important that was?
Bob Niemiec 9:51
Well, I think I had been exposed to this unique organization, running hard and growing. Fast in the automotive industry, and there were certain components of the DNA of that organization that just kind of struck me both in the head and in the heart. And then to your point, you know, when you get shipped abroad, and you’re challenged with not just maintaining it, but trying to create it in the context of what might work in this part of the globe, because not everything you do in North America is necessarily appropriate for other parts of the of the world. So there were dynamics where there was appropriate pivots, but then there’s still like core values around building a unique community of teammates and a commitment to our standard for how we serve our customers in Europe that you’d say that was the same in Europe as it was in North America. And having the chance to kind of build that and defend that for new teammates, as well as new clients was, you know that you can’t go to a university that picked up that degree.
Carey Rome 11:16
No, you can’t. Alright, so I’m so glad you said core values. Fast forward to 2001.
Carey Rome 11:24
What were the core values when you started the firm? Have they changed? Or more over time? Or you can you say, No, as a young entrepreneur starting out, the core values have not changed?
“When you talk about the hard work of delivering innovation, acceleration and growth for our clients, and then these unique skills, the skill of design, the skill of technology, and the skill of strategy being twisted together. You know, as we grow, that’s, you know, that’s paramount, the team, you know, comes before everything and anything else.”
Bob Niemiec 11:41
Well, the one is funny that this is coming up on rehearse, right, we’re just having a conversation, like the one core value that was there on day one, and it’s their 20 years later, is it’s all about the team. And when you talk about the hard work of delivering innovation, acceleration and growth for our clients, and then these unique skills, the skill of design, the skill of technology, and the skill of strategy being twisted together. You know, as we grow, that’s, you know, that’s Paramount, the team, you know, comes before everything and anything else. And so that core value is consistent.
Now, there were others that we have a set of five that we use for the first 15 years. And then circa five years ago, we said, “Hey, we need to refresh some of those core values, just in light of what we’ve grown into over our at that time was a 15 year run.” And so the core values that we speak to today, talk about things like creativity. That’s a core value that we hold dear as a consulting service. Another one is agility. The core value of team from day one is still, as I mentioned, the important today. The core value of growth is a core. Its a key part when we speak of growth. We’re not just referring to top line growth, but we’re also as a professional service, a consulting service, one thing that is paramount for us as individuals is growth, the best learner the best leaders of the best learners, right, so what are we doing to stay ahead of technology trends and aware of user experience, trends and opportunities? And so yeah, what we refer to those been our, our four or five core values.
Carey Rome 14:00
Yeah, well, I’m really glad that you said that and that you said, you know, after five years, we felt like we needed to go a little bit deeper because I think some people if you’re talking about unlocking your caged-vision, some people feel like they spend way too much time over analyzing overthinking they get stuck on go when when when you knew in your heart, it’s about team but then you further define you know, our team is creative. Our team needs to understand what it means to be agile, so I’m really glad that you that you mentioned that Okay,
Bob Niemiec 14:33
If I can just make one I don’t want to disrupt you, but I’m gonna, I’m gonna I’m gonna miss the mark if I don’t speak to the fifth one. Just hospitality.
Carey Rome 14:44
Bob Niemiec 14:45
So how, when we’re recruiting a new talent, or we’re engaging with a new client, or when somebody Carrie comes to our space for the first time, or the hundredth time What does hospitality look like and feel like to them? So that that’s the set of five that we’re using to drive our growth over the past five years. And and I think we’ll probably hold on to those for another five.
Carey Rome 15:17
Well, I’m really glad that you pause the conversation to insert that one because really what you’re saying is that, when someone comes, whether they’re recruit a first time client or the client for after 100 times, that their experience does not diminish. Yeah, it is a hospital group where we’re sharing. That’s really, really cool. Okay, so take me back. Take me to the you know, we’re 2001 you started? And how did you?
How did you know how you are going to deliver what you’re going to deliver. You’re going to take this right brain left brain. You’re going to help solve problems. But when you started to identify your target customer, and started to say, at this point, this is when the target customer may be looking to engage with a firm like ours. Talk to me about that journey because a lot of people struggle with that.
“When you use a term like innovation, well, innovation, you know, your definition of innovation versus all of your listeners, if you were to ask them, hey, write down what your definition of innovation is, you tend to see a really wide number of responses.”
Bob Niemiec 16:19
We struggled with that, too. And I think there’s a number of reasons for that. But the work that we do, is, when you use a term like innovation, your definition of innovation versus all of your listeners if you were to ask them, “Hey, write down what your definition of innovation is.” You tend to see a really wide number of responses. And so we struggle over the 20 years, I think the last five years, we’ve really come on board. But those first five was a bit of a wandering journey in terms of being able to verbalize and articulate the skills of a great team called twists that young people. Their brow would go up for sake, what’s that all about?
Well, we’re all about innovation, acceleration and growth and twisting together these very different skills and even the elevator pitch required, up and down on the Sears Tower in order to get it clearly. Not only communicate it, but really have somebody following along, where they could walk away and say, “Hey, I get that. That sounds sounds interesting.” Yeah. Okay. And, and our, our challenge has been, we’re not accounting for…
“We’re, we’re operating in a strategic manner with many of our clients who need a fresh eyes perspective on how to leverage technology, and user experience designed for their good and those aren’t.”
Bob Niemiec 17:56
We’re not an IT firm. We’re not a law firm. We’re operating in a strategic manner with many of our clients who need a fresh eyes perspective on how to leverage technology, and user experience designed for their good and those aren’t. Those aren’t quick conversations to be had. I guess the first five years, it was a lot of prototyping, a lot of experimenting on messaging. And it was in that journey that we came up with a tagline that we then trademark that goes something to the effect of the science of design, the art of technology. When we frame that in 2005 2006, that was one good kind of short sentence behind what this diversity was really all about.
Carey Rome 18:57
Yeah. And I’ve got your website up here. And you describe the words, you twist, thank you got grow, but technology products that change the game, I want to talk about one that’s I’ve used I’ve experienced with Hylton. Why don’t you talk about that just to give people an example of the type of work that you do?
Bob Niemiec 19:26
Virtual key and gaining access into your whole room. So that technology solution that allows a room to be locked or unlocked, the user experience was completely transformed via that technology and that integration into a hotel or resort setting. So no longer even in a sense the room can be prepared for you before you arrive at the door to engage the remote key to unlock an experience upon your arrival.
Carey Rome 20:10
Yeah, Okay. So something like that or give me pick your, the client comes to you and are they? Are they at a point where I’ve got an idea of how to improve our customer experience? Or they do not have that idea? And they’re spit-balling? How does it start?
Bob Niemiec 20:32
It varies Client to Client. Some come saying, Hey, we got an idea. And we need your expertise in the domain of the internet of things to help bring our idea to life, some calm. And I think the trend, really before the pandemic, say 2019. But the jury, the pandemic, and post pandemic is the battle cry. We’re hearing is we need help and answering what’s next for our company.
And the pandemic, I think, there was a season where we all were forced to hit the pause button. And reflect on our organizations maybe in a way that we’ve never had the benefit to do. And one of the things coming out of that, for us has been more organizations wrestling with what’s next and trying to answer that question. And our premise over the 20 year run is there’s a process called Human Centered Design or design thinking.
And just like lean manufacturing is a great process to drive operational excellence, Human Centered Design or design thinking is equally a great process to drive innovation excellence. And so we’re finding opportunity now to help organizations leverage that process to answer what might be next for them. So back to the Midwest, a lot of automotive, manufacturing and supplier kind of companies. Okay, so how do you use a CD to maybe help them answer what other summits might they target and grow into beyond just relying on automotive for the next 10 years?
For all honesty, when you have an economy that for 12 years has been upward growth, you become pretty comfortable and fixated on just looking at the operational side of a business. And, again, back to the pandemic, I think, is maybe allowed organizations to take a step back and say, okay, with this new mega trend called electric vehicles, what might our organization look like in 10 years time? And how might we be going to pivot in order to remain relevant in the not only the automotive industry, but new industries to an ACD is all about looking and exploring and discovering other ways in other markets and other opportunities, V’s that can drive growth.
Carey Rome 23:40
It’s very, very cool. And I’m really glad that you mentioned other companies, and they’re challenged with what’s next. And the in the comment about when you’re in a long growth cycle, people get comfortable and they and I think that one other thing that a lot of people get lulled into and traps that vision is they stop thinking that the world is going to continue to change and they feel like the cycle that they’re in they’ve kind of figured it out. How do you give me some tips for those who to help them think outside of the box? Because really, that’s where you’ve got to start, or just practices that you have.
Bob Niemiec 24:31
Well, if your listeners forget everything that we discussed, the one thing that I would challenge everyone to go if they’re if they’re hearing this for the first time is go study and learn more about the process of Human Centered Design. There’s nothing more valuable to your company right now than for you to improve ASAP process and then drive it into the culture of your organization. And I’d even go on to say that it’s the only way for an organization to clearly answer what’s next. And it is part of the problem with innovation is many thank god. It’s just a random event that occurred that gave kind of energy to this new idea.
And our premise is just like lean, which has tools and methods that can be used to improve quality and reduce waste, and basically have a positive impact on any company’s operations. Human Centered Design is a process that has tools, and it has methods and when you engage in those. It lifts the fog on opportunities that an organization should wisely pursue. And, again, just back to us for a moment. So it’s that process. And then today, we’re seeing a lot of demand in the marketplace of digital transformation. So the power of AI, and the power of using data to create new user experiences. There’s opportunity for every listener and organization that they’re connected to large or small to grab on to that mega trend, to, in a sense, reinvent themselves. And companies that stop reinventing, are the companies that, in a sense, won’t be here two decades.
Carey Rome 26:49
So one final question. How do you encourage people to continue to innovate, but also be mindful of constant change? And how constant change can derail an organization, but focused innovation can drive growth for an innovation and people as the same, and they’re not?
Bob Niemiec 27:19
Yeah. And many times leaders make the mistake of saying, “hey, Carrie, we want to keep you a focus on this factory, and this product, or this service that we’re generating, within this factory, stay focused on that Carrie.”. And “hey, when you got some extra time, you can devote that to the creative aspects of our organization?”
And I think we all know what ends up happening is you just stay heads down on that today, and you stop thinking about the future. And so, , this is going to look differently organization to organization. But the fact of the matter confirmed by Harvard Business Review in 2016, is only 9% of public, or private companies in the United States are actually doing any process driven or serious innovation today.
And that just speaks to a number of points. We all fear failure. Most of us, if you’re in the C suite, aren’t all that excited about risk, and about even driving or experimenting in the domain of change. But organizations that can stand on both operational excellence on one foot and innovation excellence on the other foot are the companies that, in the sense, can run far faster in the marketplace. And their growth curve is far stronger, too. And it’s creating that appropriate focus and balance which again. One other comment that I want to make sure I share was the power of Human Centered Design. The other is organizations, large small product or service driven, figuring out a way to tap into the skill of industrial design, industrial design talent is priceless within any organization.
Carey Rome 29:35
That’s brilliant. Thanks for sharing that. I’m going to be the person that if if no one else does, I’ll be the person that studies Human Centered Design. Is there a book that you recommend on Human Centered Design?
Bob Niemiec 29:50
I think for just exposure and the kind of get the gears spinning those a boat led the design of business,
Bob Niemiec 30:00
Roger Martin. But it’s not a new book, it’s probably 11 years old. But if somebody does want to begin to unpack that process for their organization, and it’s a book that, quite honestly, [has] a nice tone and tenor for the C suite. But I would say start there. And then like, we all do, googling. And you can read countless articles and case studies, but I was about a year ago, I was speaking at an event in the Midwest, There were 500 leaders in the room. And before I got into my introduction on this process called Human Centered Design, I said, “Hey, raise your hand, if you and your company have invested in a great process called lean manufacturing.” Of course, everyone’s hand in the room with straight up. Okay, now, one more question. “Raise your hand if you and your company have invested in another great process called Human Centered Design,” and not a hand went up.
Bob Niemiec 31:11
And I do that. I think our team views that as a little bit of a battle cry behind the problem.
Bob Niemiec 31:25
And we’re thankful for what we’ve been able to do over the last 20 years. And we’re even more excited about what the next 20 years may hold by exposing organizations, even on a broader scale to this great process linked to the mega trend of digital or digital transformation.
Carey Rome 31:49
That is so very cool. Bob. Each week, our goal is very simple. We just want to help people unlock their caged-vision. And the goal for us is just to give one nugget. Fortunately, you blew it out the window. You’ve crushed it with so many tips and so many takeaways that I just know this is going to be an awesome episode. Thanks for being on the show. Thanks for taking the time. I appreciate that.
Bob Niemiec 32:16
Thank you. Keep in touch.
Carey Rome 32:18
All right, you got it.
Bob Niemiec 32:19
with a twist.