Ep. 202 – Laurel Lau, Founder of SixAtlas and Author of Interplay: How to become a top innovator

Ep. 202 – Laurel Lau, Founder of SixAtlas and Author of Interplay: How to become a top innovator

Laurel Lau is the founder of the innovation consultancy Six Atlas and author of the book Interplay: How to become a top innovator. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder talks with Laurel about her experiences helping manufacturing companies innovate, the impact of the Corona virus on global supply chain, and what might actually happen after disruption going forward.

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 tools, tactics, and trends, and collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.

Interview Transcript

Brian Ardinger:  Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger. Today we have Laurel Lau. She is a founder of the innovation consultancy Six Atlas and author of the new book Interplay: How to become a top innovator. Welcome to the show.

Laurel Lau, How to become a top innovatorLaurel Lau: Thanks for having me Brian.

Brian Ardinger: Hey. I’m excited to have you on the show. You are living in Lisbon right now. We are taping this March 22nd so Corona virus has locked everybody down. What brought you to Lisbon? What kind of work are you doing in the world of innovation there?

Laurel Lau: I am helping a Chinese company with their innovation program. They bring international brands into China and help them sell there. They’ve worked with P & G and Unilever back in the days, but I was helping them with building up the innovation program, so help them to become more systematic in it.

Brian Ardinger: I wanted to have you on, because you’ve got a new book out called Interplay, and you’re talk a lot about the culture of innovation and that. Let’s start by telling the audience about the book.

Laurel Lau: The book is a result of me having experienced startup, working in startup and also doing a lot of coaching for startup founders. As I’ve gone through my journey, I realized that the way that we approach collaboration, yes we’ve been taught how to make it into process, and make it a little bit more systematic, but at the same time, there’s a huge communication aspect and relationship aspect that’s been missing for me to see that people are using these skillsets to be able to develop sustainable solutions.

Laurel Lau, How to become a top innovatorBrian Ardinger: So what are some of the core skills that you think make an innovator more effective than others?

Laurel Lau: Let’s bring it back to like where we’re at right now. Everyone is social distancing. Everyone is quarantining. The whole economy is collapsing at this point. How do we know how often these type of crisis will happen in the world? I think it’s being able to have foresight of seeing what kind of dangers our world is heading into and having that larger perspective is really, really important. One aspect that I bring CEO’s to be able to understand is to understand the daily nuance problems that people might be having, might be reflecting a larger issue, that if you use a right communication skills to get to the bottom of it, you’ll be able to unravel it much easier.

Brian Ardinger: Unpack that a little bit. Can you give a story or example about how somebody actually effectively does that?

Laurel Lau: A lot of times when I head into a company and do consulting, first I’ll do as a reality check and get a lot of interviews done. Read a lot of their reports. Go to a lot of their meetings, show out the factories and understand their product and the services that they provide. What happens during that time when I’m trying to understand more is being able to connect the dots.

A lot of times during this part of reality check, people might be revealing half the story, 10% of the story, but as consultants going in asking more questions and seeing what we’re seeing, there’s a gradual development of a framework that connects the dots of the insights that’s been developed. Being able to see that, is there an important, because that helps us see where the leadership and culture has been locked at. And so even though we’re implementing new technology, new systems, why are they not working so that we bring it up to a level where we’re collaborating at a greater speed and effectiveness.

Brian Ardinger: Is it an innovation readiness assessment that you go in and try to determine the organization’s adaptability?

Laurel Lau: That is definitely part of it. In working and allowing people to fill in this form and give us all the information and go through the interview aspect also, we’re are able to collect that information and be able to understand the industry problems as long as have the corporation problems. So many of these organizations are super complex and have complicated ways of compensation and motivating their staff and to be able to sift through the noise and be able to hear truly where the next one or two steps organization need to make in the next three to five years is super important to be able to get that information.

Because at the end of the day, the employees are collecting a lot of the right information. They are the eyes, ears of the company, and so they should be the ones who are reflecting what they want in a corporation to help the company to be a lot more competitive.

Brian Ardinger: Where our company’s falling down the most are the particular trends that you see or different activities that corporations do that inhibit innovation

Laurel Lau: In every industry, it would be a little bit different. So I’m much more focused in companies that have the factory aspect of manufacturing. What Chinese companies in manufacturing had to adapt to is the digital strategies and also be able to strengthen their supply chain, which is super helpful last year to be able to help them be stronger in facing the crisis of COVID-19 this year.

Brian Ardinger: That brings up an interesting point with regard to culture. You’re living in Lisbon right now. You’ve worked with Chinese companies and you work with American companies. What are some of the cultural differences or different ways different companies or cultures approach innovation?

Laurel Lau: And I think it’s important to understand the local culture and the company culture itself. For one of the clients we had, which is a Chinese company, it’s hard for you to change all the different aspects, but you know that the level of culture change that they’re willing to make and that’s comfortable for them, and that’s right for them. So it’s important to understand the local culture. And. What’s important for their innovation itself. And so there are different types of innovation styles that’s right for different innovation strategies. So to be able to understand what proportion of your company’s innovation strategies are more radical or just incremental, the different levels of innovation that’s required for the organization to succeed. It’s important to understand what level it is and also what area they lie in.

Brian Ardinger: And that’s an interesting point. In the manufacturing sector, you oftentimes think about those are more old school or stodgy types of industries because it’s difficult for them to change a complete factory line overnight. What are you seeing from the more innovative types of companies in the manufacturing space?

Laurel Lau: I work with them, solar companies, so they do have innovation capabilities and they are a change in market, but I wouldn’t say they’re super innovative, but maybe innovative in there region, in their market itself. And so automation is huge aspect and AI is a huge aspect of changing the scene and manufacturing. There’s lot more to see what happens in supply chain for the upcoming year and see how the industry cope with the challenges it’s been forced.  Amazon is only accepting certain types of products into their system currently to go alongside with what’s required this year for Corona virus outbreak.

Brian Ardinger: Yeah. I think we’re definitely living in an interesting time from the standpoint of we talk to companies about disruption in that, but oftentimes it’s thought of as this abstract thing where startups going to disrupt you or whatever, I don’t think we’ve been in an environment where the reality of disruption is really hitting everybody in every industry. Are there certain things that you would recommend for individuals trying to navigate the space and to be more innovative themselves or think more innovatively are there particular skill sets or things that you recommend or see.

Laurel Lau: There are so many new ideas and potential of each different industry. I think it’s important to understand what the customers are asking for, how willing the stakeholders are willing to contribute and collaborate with you, and what new open innovation that work you can actually create. At the end of the day, I want people to be focused on what drives purpose for themselves and their community. And without that, we can’t find the true meaning why we’re working in this day and age. It’s important to understand that there’s so much more to everyone, more than their job title, and to be able to divide that sense of purpose. It’s important for everyone to be instinct.

Brian Ardinger: I totally agree with that. I think interconnectedness that we are seeing is becoming more relevant and individuals are realizing the different roles that they play. And like you said, going back to, there’s gotta be a higher purpose in addition to the work that they do. Talk a little bit more about the book and how collaboration comes into play in that and when some of the things that you learned or talk about in the book.

Laurel Lau: When we bring teams to work together, definitely we have aspects of making sure that they are bringing their full selves into the room that they are collaborating in way, not just because the CEO are asking them to go through some training, just to put a check mark. What I want everyone involved to be actually excited. And if they’re not, maybe it’s not required that you need to be there.

We definitely bring in the innovation process that helps people communicate and communicate visually. So we have people draw, we have, it’s all the aspects of design process that people talk about and human centered design where you allow people to communicate more expressively and so that people are using their different types of intelligence to be able to interact in a way more smoothly. We bring people to  or through the innovation process itself, and find insights and develop frameworks as well as help people understand how do you use things such as business model canvas?

Brian Ardinger: Talk a little bit about some of the ways that you measure success. Everybody has a different definition for innovation, but how do you measure if you’re on the right track or if you’re making progress?

Laurel Lau: The way that I’ve done it is using the assessment itself and it goes through a bunch of different questions and helps organizations to understand the innovation capability that they are strong in. What’s important is to understand first the why of innovation for the company itself. The purpose of the innovation itself. Is it for market, is it for profit? And it also helps the organization to understand better the different styles of innovation and strategy of innovation that they are taking. And then being able to help them go from why, to how, to watch. They can discover it step by step, the leadership and culture. And there’s a lot more description to it, but it’s just too much detail too, to be able to share.

Brian Ardinger: What are some of the things that you’re hopeful for moving into 2020 given all this disruption, what are some of the things that you are looking forward to us coming out of this and being more adaptable, more innovative?

Laurel Lau: I have always been interested in all these different innovation companies. What the purpose of my work itself, a huge component of it is actually on wellness and using wellness as a center point for what we do. I was straining my brains thinking about how do we actually get nature aspect back into corporations and so that we are understanding ourselves as part of a food chain, rather than the top of the food chain.

And so I’m excited to see that when people are sitting at home, when people are working remotely, and we are all dealing with this change, that we have the time to heal, that we have the time to truly understand what we misunderstood about work and what we understood that connection was family itself, that would help us really find a better way of the meaning of work and how we assess work for the future.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: I think there’s definitely going to change the way we think about innovation and I think it’s gonna open up a lot of opportunities for folks that are willing to take the risks and be willing to adapt and change as the world changes. Thank you, Laurel, for being on Inside Outside Innovation. If people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what’s the best way to do that?

Laurel Lau: You can check out my website, sixatlas.com, find me on LinkedIn, or find my book on Amazon search Interplay Laurel Lau

Brian Ardinger: Thank you very much again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation.

Laurel Lau: Yeah, thank you for having me.

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


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