Inside Outside Innovation – Growing Innovation Excellence in Corporations

Hello, Inside Outside Innovation Podcast listeners!

Leaders need to have a balanced approach to invest in core, adjacent, and breakthrough innovations for the long-term sustainability of their corporations. Currently, corporations put 95% of their focus on operational excellence and 5% on innovation excellence.

On this interview with Brian Ardinger from the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, Twisthink’s Gordon Stannis discusses how you can help unlock innovation for your company.

You can find the resources mentioned on the interview down below. Make sure to look around the site to learn more and see the newest resources available, or fill out the form below and let us know what you thought of the podcast.


Brian Ardinger 0:00
Inside Outside innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, founder of insideoutside.io, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking pools, tactics and trends in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger. And as always, we have another extraordinary guest. Today we have Gordon Stannis. Gordon is the Director of Design and Strategy and Partner at Twisthink, Gordon, welcome to the show.

Gordon Stannis 0:42
Good morning.

Brian Ardinger 0:43
Why don’t we start at the beginning and tell us a little bit about Twisthink and how you got involved in this whole innovation thesis and the innovation process.

“Twisthink was born of frustration with several people working in a variety of industries that knew there was a better way to conduct innovation not just more efficiently, but with a greater degree of excellence and precision.”

Gordon Stannis 0:50
Twisthink was born of frustration with several people working in a variety of industries that knew there was a better way to conduct innovation not just more efficiently, but with a greater degree of excellence and precision. So we started the firm, nearly two decades ago, based on this presumption that you bring the best talent into a space you create the greatest environment possible for that talent to flourish in. And you twist together design-minded, innovation-minded individuals with technologists, really creative technologists, one of our taglines. We’ve trademarked this 15 years ago, the science of design and the art of technology. Because the average person presumes wrongly, that design is all about art. And that technology is all about science. And they both have a dimension of art and science to them. When doubling.

Brian Ardinger 1:46
One of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is you’ve had a chance to work with companies like Whirlpool and Stryker and that you’ve been involved in innovation space, not only from like just software in that, but you also get your hands dirty in the hardware space as well. So talk a little bit about some of the core case studies or core things that you’ve built, where this process has borne out and shown some fruits of the innovation process.

“in solving that safety problem, by driving a truck remotely with a glove, we actually did something even greater than solve the safety problem. inadvertently, we eliminated 70% of footsteps from workers each and every day.”

Gordon Stannis 2:06
We do 150 projects a year, and you play that out over two decades. So we’ve got a handful of things to choose from. But we have our favorites, we have a few things that have literally revolutionized their industry, one in particular that has had great global acclaim is something we did for Crown, and it’s a digital glove, it’s a powered glove, very lightweight only weighs about an ounce and a half. And this ounce and a half glove drives a three ton lift truck. And it’s doing so in a million square foot warehouse environment in which dozens of such three ton of objects are zipping past each other. And it does it safely and does it efficiently. And in fact, the reason that we were even asked to do this was to solve a safety problem, there was a significant safety problem with these lift trucks. And so in doing so in in solving that safety problem, by driving a truck remotely with a glove, we actually did something even greater than solve the safety problem. inadvertently, we eliminated 70% of footsteps from workers each and every day. That is a huge health and wellness benefit to our customer and their customers. And one of the reasons why it has led to such significant adoption. And I guess there’s another punch line associated with that particular project. And that is our client didn’t raise the price of the product by 5%, or 10%. Because they brought this new innovation, it was a factor of 2x. So there is a payback for taking a chance and investing in breakthrough innovation. We have countless case studies of significant paybacks like that.

Brian Ardinger 3:52
So maybe talk through a little bit of the process of how you work with clients. I know a lot of people come to design firms and that kind of after they’ve had the idea and that, how do you work with a client? And how do you come up with the proper thing to actually introduce into a marketplace.

“So the way we engage with our clients is a good old fashioned conversation and getting to know them getting to know their industry, getting to know who their stakeholders are beginning the process of ranking the stakeholders”

Gordon Stannis 4:06
When we started the firm, nearly two decades ago, there were these awful little objects called MRDs, or Market Requirement Documents. And it was this completely inappropriate, unfair task of some marketing leaders at some Corporation where they were supposed to imagine an opportunity. And imagine all of the attributes of the solution for a poorly understood stakeholder or stakeholders, and then document that on paper. So take complex ideas that they couldn’t possibly have a handhold put them into an artificial form on paper, and then send those to us. And we’re supposed to ingest these X’s and O’s and characters and convert them into delightful three dimensional user experiences. And everybody realized quickly after a few years, thankfully that those don’t work. They never work. It’s an impressive task to ask of marketing people. So the way we engage with our clients is a good old fashioned conversation and getting to know them getting to know their industry, getting to know who their stakeholders are beginning the process of ranking the stakeholders, from an important standpoint, beginning the process of understanding the journeys that their stakeholders Go on, which allows us to start to uncover the pain points within those journeys. And then only then we have entered kindergarten. And we stand any chance at all of solving problems with solutions and experiences that customers will love.

Brian Ardinger 5:39
Hey, listeners, I wanted to pause this interview for an exciting new announcement. We are bringing back the Inside Outside Innovation Summit right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mark your calendars for October 20. Through the 22nd. Tickets are on sale at theiosummit.com. We are going to have experts from the World of Disney, Facebook, American Express, Nike, all these folks are coming together to talk about innovation disruption, startups and the world that we live in today. Check it out at theiosummit.com and we’ll see you in October.

You make an interesting point, we talk a lot about in this innovation space, how this idea of uncertainty and how do you de risk particular ideas. And it seems like the only way you can do that is in the marketplace where customers are telling you what’s working, what’s not working. And you can’t do that in a garage or you can’t do that in within your own four walls of a corporation, you have to kind of get out and interact with folks, how do you go about that particular process of understanding what customers really need and developing solutions that actually solve those particular problems?

“And we create plausible scenarios, plausible products, plausible processes, and we visualize them in a way that they’re very easy to understand by the average person, the average pedestrian.”

Gordon Stannis 6:39
You’re spot on, we cannot do it in a cave. We shamelessly use any process that will yield excellent results as fast as possible for the least amount of money and time. So that can range between phone interviews, which are easy to do, you can do them globally. And they yield pretty good results. When we do a phone interview with somebody they’ve got a picture in their head, we’ve got a picture in our head, we’re again trying to use words to communicate complicated ideas. Most communication takes place gestural, you’ve probably heard this statistic about it’s 10% written and 20%, oral and the rest of its gesture. So we’re missing out on a huge component of communication. When we do these interviews, it’s better if we’re able to do them face to face. But the best method is to have a prototype and just shut up and let somebody use it. That is by far the best. But that’s a pretty expensive, we’ve invested a lot of money to get to this prototype that can stand alone and function and we just shut up and watch people use it. And we don’t coach them. We watch them fumble through their initial experience and so forth. But there’s this thing in the middle, which it doesn’t cost a million dollars to get to. And it doesn’t take six months to get to we can get there in a month. We’ve termed it a visual research tool. And so it’s better than an interview. It’s even better than plain old ethnography because we take the collective hunches of our clients, and the interviews that we’ve done with their stakeholders and our highly intuitive design team. And we create plausible scenarios, plausible products, plausible processes, and we visualize them in a way that they’re very easy to understand by the average person, the average pedestrian. And so sometimes they take the form of not a comic strip, but sort of a storyboard, okay? Like a Hollywood storyboard. And we create these very carefully. And we’re really careful with the way we draw them. So people don’t become enamored with the illustrations. They clearly communicate what’s happening. And so we create these illustrations with our clients. When we feel they’re good enough, we schedule our long go to meetings with one stakeholder at a time we review this process, we review this potential solution, we call it a sacrificial lamb. Because we know it’s absolutely impossible for it to be the right solution is just a good solution. It’s a plausible solution. The average person looks at that kind of like the Kickstarter idea. They look at that idea. They start to get lulled into this sense of it’s already done. They’re looking at it as if it’s real. And they’re imagining themselves using it and experiencing it. And then they’re telling us what they love and hate about it. And we coach them to be completely frank with us, and they can’t possibly hurt our feelings or offend us. We’re a third party to our client organization. And we just want to know what they honestly think and they tell us what they love and they hate and we use that information we do 10 or 15 of those. We use that information as a platform to start the actual design process and this process typically yield a couple of things. One is it confirms some hunches that our clients already had. Then it provides brand new information that they could not possibly have known is extremely useful. And it fuels the innovation process going forward. And this can all be done very quickly, for a reasonable price that the average corporation can digest, it creates momentum. And it gives people confidence and allows them to take the first baby steps into a full HCD process.

Brian Ardinger 10:20
That’s pretty cool. So you’ve been in this space for, you know, a couple different decades, and obviously, two decades ago to prototype and build things. And that was probably different than it is today. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen over the last couple years that have enabled your work to be better? And what kind of trends are you seeing that you think will impact your work in the future?

“Right now, the average leader, average corporation is putting about 95% of their weight on operational excellence in 5% of their weight on innovation excellence”

Gordon Stannis 10:42
Great question, hard question. Because we work in so many different industries, that’s really difficult to say, I wish I could say that everybody’s embraced Human Centered Design Principles. And everybody’s willing to make the investment to doing the right thing to surprise and delight their stakeholders so that they can grow their businesses. And I’m kind of saddened to say that, I don’t think we will ever be finished trying to inspire hope in our customers, hearts and minds. There’s such an efficiency mindset. My guess is if you visualize this visualize a leader of a corporation, and they’re standing on two feet. And in a perfect world, they would be putting equal amount of weight on each of those feet. And they’d have a solid stance, right? Well, one of those feet represents innovation excellence, and one of those feet represents operational efficiency. Back, excellent. Okay. Right now, the average leader, average corporation is putting about 95% of their weight on operational excellence in 5% of their weight on innovation excellence, we find that absolutely maddening, completely frustrating. And we spend an incredible amount of our time and energy, convincing leaders of the wisdom to balance their stance.

Brian Ardinger 12:05
That makes perfect sense from the standpoint of I mean, we see so many changes in the world today, whether it’s, again, technology that’s quickly changing the way businesses industries think, to the way even talent is being used. Are there particular obstacles, or case studies that you’ve seen that have helped corporations overcome that obstacle, make a shift to more of that balanced approach?

Gordon Stannis 12:25
It’s kind of simple, actually, they have to get a base hit and get a taste for it, they have to invest $1, and get $2 back and say, Hey, that was kind of fun. Let’s do that again, and then realize that that’s actually repeatable. You can squeeze a nickel all day long, and you’ll get little slivers of shiny objects shooting out of it, but you’re never gonna, like replicate the nickel. Right? And that’s operational excellence. So you get to a point, don’t get me wrong, I totally get the value of operational excellence. As it relates to projects we work on, we design something for a client, it goes into production, it’s very successful. And then they can tune their manufacturing process and their delivery process. And they can keep ringing out efficiencies, out of that innovation, so that they can maintain their margins over time, as that product service or experience goes from sunrise to high noon to sunset becomes irrelevant like a Walkman. Okay? It’s very important. But we don’t have to stand on a soapbox and tell people to do that. Everyone’s going to do that. Naturally. It’s absolute human nature. What is not absolute human nature is for leaders of organizations to have a balanced stance, and insist on investing in core adjacent and breakthrough innovation for the long term sustainability of their corporations. That is not natural. That requires the perpetual soapbox, and whatever you call those bullhorn things where you push a button like a cop, and you yell through the cone shape speaker, that’s always going to require a cell. And part of the reason for that is quantitative things are easy to understand. And they’re easy to embrace, one plus one equals two that’s doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking, to embrace those ideas. But innovation excellence is qualitative. And it requires a qualitative process and an embracing of Human Centered Design. And it’s not a spreadsheet, is it? There’s no rearview mirror oriented market survey that will tell you what to do tomorrow, they don’t exist.

Brian Ardinger 14:33
One thing it comes back to what you were saying originally, where it’s when you first come up with that particular idea, a lot of it is unbaked, uncertain, unknown until you start that process of building something out and testing it and trying things and moving forward and experimentation. Talk a little bit about this fuzzy front end this opportunity spark that happens when a company or person has a new idea, and then how does that play into the overall process of innovative works?

“Phase One is the innovation phase. That’s Human Centered Design. That’s the four step human centered design process of discovery, analyze, create and develop”

Gordon Stannis 15:02
The way we look at the world from a process standpoint and how exciting new ideas, get to the marketplaces, there’s two phases. Phase One is the innovation phase. That’s Human Centered Design. That’s the four step human centered design process of discovery, analyze, create and develop. So we’re there call it design thinking, Human Centered Design, and make up a new one tomorrow, who cares? That’s the innovation process. Okay. And then right next to that, to the right of that downstream from that is the product development process. Product Development is different. You know exactly what you’re trying to develop for production. There is no big discovery process, you have a specific thing, and you’re optimizing it. And you’re, it’s an agile process. you’re optimizing and tuning, and we use Scrum, I would advocate that anybody who’s in the product development world and fully embrace Scrum, whether it’s hardware or software, I don’t care. It’s smart. Designers have been using a scrum like process for 50 years, they just didn’t have a codified name for it. But so that’s the product development process that’s downstream from human centered design. Your question was about the thing that precedes both of those. And we’re absolutely fascinated by that. uncharted territory, because the way things get started, the way projects get started the way things the spark, the meek, but powerful little spark, that kicks off a human centered design process has got to come from one person. And then it sort of spreads to two people. And that requires imagination. So imagination is the precursor to all innovation. to us. It’s sort of a mathematical process, you have curious person with an imagination, who can combine that imaginative idea that happened between their ears with a team and they collectively collaborate creatively, and they create new opportunities together. And all of that leads to innovation. So we’re extremely keen to studying what happens at what is sometimes called the fuzzy front end or the watershed moment, or FEI (front-end innovation). How a leader or a small team within an organization determines that you know what, our compass needle is pointing in that direction, and it’s a hunch, and we think it’s worth investing a small amount of money and time to test that hunch. And best case scenario, is that begins to snowball.

Brian Ardinger 17:46
Yeah, absolutely. You got to have something to begin the journey on with the last core topic that I like to talk to most of my guests about is the idea of talent. And team obviously, doesn’t happen without smart people doing interesting things. What is your take on? How do you find and nurture innovative talent, whether it’s within your company or working with clients? What are the core competencies or things that you look for in an innovator?

Gordon Stannis 18:13
Kind of like that process I just outlined, we’re looking for curious people, we’re looking for courageous people, because let’s face it, creating new things takes a fair amount of courage. There’s a fair amount of discouragement that’s inherent in the process. We’re looking for people who don’t mind failing, who view failure as not just, oh, I have to deal with failure in the process of doing my job and innovating for my client. That’s not the right way to look at it. The right way to look at it is that failure is a necessary ingredient. It’s like oxygen to the process of innovation. without oxygen, you will die, you will go nowhere. So we insist on rapid, early failure, for the purpose of learning and developing trade secrets within our organization and our clients organization. Those trade secrets are incredibly valuable. They don’t get published. That’s collective wisdom. That’s tribal knowledge. You’re building muscles that allow you to move faster and see further onto the horizon when you embrace the idea of failure. So we’re looking for people that aren’t sitting in their cave waiting to be fed. They’re curious people that get out of their cave, and they run around flipping over stones, looking for new ways of doing things. We use the same tools and techniques that everybody else uses for recruiting but we are pretty careful about it. We have an HR person that is working perpetually, to recruit top talent in all the different spheres. We’ve got software engineers and hardware engineers, and cloud expertise, industrial designers and chemical Engineers and we’re constantly on the lookout for this unique set of skills, which is curiosity, strong work ethic, easy to get along with so that the person sitting next to them actually likes them. That’s important. It almost. Yeah, it’s it’s almost comical to say that it’s a requirement is sort of like a baseline requirement. But a simple thing, like being a team player, we can’t do anything without a motivated, hard working content team. We work five to six days a week, and we break a sweat every single day and you better enjoy who you’re breaking a sweat with. It’s all gonna fall down fast.

Brian Ardinger 20:42
And collaboration is so key. Gordon, I had an amazing conversation with you. Thank you very much for being on the inside outside information podcast today. If people want to find out more about yourself or about twisting, what’s the best way to do that?

Gordon Stannis 20:53
Twisthink.com. Twisthink is spelt TWISTHINK. So our website is pretty recently refreshed and we add content to it pretty consistently. We’re pushing blogs about our point of view. And that’s really at the end of the day, what we offer our clients is our point of view. We know where to make compromises intelligently. And we’re never to make compromises.

Brian Ardinger 21:21
Gordon, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today at the inside outside podcast. I look forward to future conversations. And thank you very much for being part of the show.

Gordon Stannis 21:29
Hey, it was my pleasure, great talking to you and have an awesome day.

Brian Ardinger 21:33
That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside innovation. If you want to learn more about our team or content or services, check out insideoutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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