On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Shannon Lucas, co-author of the book, Move Fast, Break Shit, Burnout: The Catalyst Guide to Working Well. Shannon and I talk about the characteristics, roles and challenges that catalysts face in driving innovation within companies and how organizations can better identify and support these new change agents. Let’s get started.
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 consultant services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we give you a front row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.
Interview Transcript with Shannon Lucas
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Shannon Lucas. Shannon is the coauthor of Move Fast, Break Shit, Burnout: The Catalyst Guide to Working Well. Welcome Shannon.
Shannon Lucas: Thanks for having me.
Brian Ardinger: Not only are you a new author, the book’s coming out I believe tomorrow. You have been in the innovation space for a while. You’ve worked for great companies like Erickson and Cisco’s Hyper Innovation Living Lab and Vodafone. So, I wanted to have you on the show to talk about some of the things that you’re seeing and some of the great things that you put in your new book.
Shannon Lucas: Thanks. You have some great guests. So, I’m excited to be part of the crew.
Brian Ardinger: What made you decide to write another innovation book? What’s different about this take on it?
Shannon Lucas: It’s a great question, because there are so many books about how to do innovation better and innovation processes and change management. But there’s very few books that actually talk directly to the change agents themselves, about how to do that sustainably and more effectively. Based on personal experience of going through these very catalyst cycles of the intense mania when you start first sinking your teeth into a wicked problem. All the way through trying to orchestrate across an ecosystem or an organization hitting resistance, and more often than not hitting some kind of burnout.
I wanted to help other catalysts and other change agents see that they didn’t have to have the intensity of those cycles and how to do it more effectively. I think we need wicked change agents now more than ever. There’s a lot of positive change that we need to create in the world, but we need to make sure that they’re not doing that at the expense of themselves.
Brian Ardinger: What is a catalyst and how does that differ from a traditional employee?
Shannon Lucas: My co-author Tracy is a ethnographer researcher and the distinction, the categorization of catalyst comes from a lot of research that she did. And it’s basically people who take in lots of information from lots of sources from that they will see emergent new possibilities. They then sort of create a specific vision about something that needs to change and how they want to see the world be better. And importantly, they move into action and they move into action fast. Hence the name of the book.
And they’re often perceived as risk takers even though to them, it often doesn’t feel risky because they have internalized and synthesize so much of the data. Why it was really interesting for me is I had been spending all of this time creating intrapreneur circles within Vodafone, sort of externally as a support group. And I kept seeing that they didn’t all show up the same way.
We had grown the innovation champion program we called it at Vodafone from ragtag group of eight positive troublemakers to this CEO sponsored, gamified, rewarded all these things. We had over a hundred people, but it was often like the same 10 or 15% that showed up over and over, that would lean in so hard that we were like, Oh, hold on, we’ll get some of those barriers out of your way for you before you really break a lot of shit. And so it was important for me because it really helped me contextualize who these wicked change agents are. And then of course, how we could help them better.
Brian Ardinger: So, with that can you give some examples of the type of people that you’ve seen, or some examples of how catalysts change the organization or move it forward.
Shannon Lucas: First important note is that a lot of catalysts will go in and out of organizations. You’ll see on their resumes. Once you start to see the patterns, you’ll start to be able to see them on LinkedIn. They’ll stay in a role for a couple of years because they’ve moved on to the next big problem and they’re looking for new ways to do it.
They often are more comfortable than the average person moving into startups, starting their own ventures and then going back into the corporate world. It’s like for them, the question is wherever I can create the next change that I need to create and whatever tools are the best tools to get that done, is where they will go.
It’s interesting, actually, in one of the interviews recently, one of the catalysts said, you know, when people used to ask me where I’m going to be in five years, I never knew the answer to that. Cause he’s like, I never know what problem I’m going to be solving next. And he said, so now my answer is I’m going to be a catalyst that much I know. And whatever that looks like I can’t tell you.
Brian Ardinger: That makes sense. And I imagine a lot of the listeners that we have on this podcast are now light bulbs or, you know, shooting off in their heads saying, Oh, I think I’m one of those people. Is that curious and restless, we’d call it in our organization that we’re trying to find those folks that see things a little bit differently and willing to take action on that. Not everybody’s a catalyst. How can you as an organization, if you want to lean into the innovation and try to identify these catalysts and cultivate that, what are some ways that you can first, as an organization, identify who in your organization are these catalysts?
Shannon Lucas: Tracy and I sat with this question for a long time, as we’ve been creating our community and doing the research for the book, do we want to be the arbiters of who is a catalyst and who isn’t? We have the data, so we can work with organizations to create the quizzes and do the identification of the personality types. What’s more important though we found, is that people actually self-identify as catalysts.
We talk about patterns, not templates like showing what some of these patterns look like, and then letting people to your point, it’s like the light bulbs will go off when a catalyst starts to see and hear us talk about it. There’s this deep resonance and really like this thrill because they’re finally being seen and understood in a way that they really haven’t been before. Most organizations in fact, we haven’t found an organization yet that doesn’t have catalysts. So I would encourage all of the HR people and leaders out there to find them.
There’s often a strong overlap with sort of high potential programs as well, because it’s like, there’s a go getter-ness to it. They’re leaning in, like, as you said, hard with curiosity and wanting to make positive change. And then I think it’s important to create a cohort of the catalyst in your organization because catalysts get a lot of energy being connected to the other catalysts because it’s really frictionless.
In the rest of the organization, there’s always friction because they’re moving too fast and really hitting that resistance. And so, there’s this 10 X factor when catalysts are connected to each other. And then of course there’s a lot of support and training and development they can offer that we help organizations with.
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Brian Ardinger: I like that idea of letting it organically identify those people within the organization. One of the things we do at Nelnet is a monthly event called Spark. And the idea is to put a entrepreneur, catalyst, somebody on stage talking about some of the new things that they’re building. We find that that is a magnet for other catalysts when the organization to identify themselves as the person on stage and say, I can be on that stage talking about my project next month, things along those lines.
And we found it really has been a catalyst to finding other folks within that organization that raise our hand and say, Hey, I think I can do some different things within the organization and drive innovation. So…
Shannon Lucas: I think that’s right. And I would just say that usually when we go into an organization, it’s either a catalyst or someone who, who is trying to cultivate this, like an HR person, but they know the next like four or five people once we talk to them about who a catalyst is. And like, that’s what we did at Vodafone as well. We started with those eight positive troublemakers. And then to your point, there is a big marketing component to sort of building out these catalyst programs, just to do the evangelization of what this looks like and how do you connect with them. But growing organic plays a really strong sell.
Brian Ardinger: Once an organization maybe has identified some of these catalysts and that, what can they do to support this type of behavior and type of individual?
Shannon Lucas: Well, we talked about the first one, which is connecting the catalyst and important in that is giving them closed, safe space. Catalysts are unafraid, or they’re more comfortable with an iterative process. Let me say that. So they move from vision and action and iteration as an innate way of being in the world. What that looks like to the outside world would be that’s comfortable with failure. Although catalysts wouldn’t necessarily describe it that way. Right?
So, by having that safe space, they can talk about the things that they’ve tried and what the lessons learned were and get the collective wisdom of the group and catalysts will encourage each other to dream bigger and be really supportive. Beyond that we actually talk about some very specific tools.
So, in a catalyst journey, when they move from first trying to solve the problem, they’re really good at connecting the dots and creating the vision. Where a lot of catalysts fall down or don’t love even if maybe they’re good at it is the orchestration part. How do you get the executives to understand or your team to understand what the vision is?
We often feel like, well, we said it once you’ve nodded, don’t you get it. And really we talk about needing to repeat it over and over and over again, so that people are really internalizing it and understanding how to support the vision. We talk about building network maps so that you can identify who the natural supporters are and who the resistors are in create a game plan. There’s a lot of sort of tools and tips and tricks that can help catalyst be more effective and in doing so. They also, as I said earlier, minimize the burnout because we’ve taken away some of the resistance.
Brian Ardinger: What are your thoughts as far as creating these connections between catalysts within the organization, but what about outside the organization? What’s your thought on this inside outside play?
Shannon Lucas: I’m a big fan. And actually, so we have an online global community called the Galaxy, which is exactly for that reason. So, we can create closed user groups for an organization’s internal team of catalysts. But then by definition, they have access to catalysts from Amazon and Google and Facebook and Steelcase and Hitachi.
The cross pollination is really important. I mean, if you go back in terms of all of the innovation work that I’ve done within the last 10 plus years, I really started very early focusing on ecosystem innovation, because I don’t think that most companies can. create the positive change that we need to see in the world by themselves.
But the brilliance is if you then connect these wicked change agents who have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in these highly innovative companies, again, it becomes probably a hundred X accelerator at that point,
Brian Ardinger: A lot of our listeners would probably fall in this catalyst category and what can they do better to foster themselves and grow as a catalyst within the organizations?
Shannon Lucas: Well, so I talked about some of the organizational tools and the book is really dedicated to that. Once you do the self-identification, the rest of it really is tools to be a more effective catalyst inside the organization. Although it’s also applicable for entrepreneurs. The thing that I would like to share though, is it’s hard being a catalyst.
And when catalysts first connect with the community, often, almost every week, we have someone sort of breaking down in tears or having this sigh of relief because while we wear the badge of disruptor in troublemaker as a badge of honor. It’s not always intended that way when it’s originally given to us.
And what we’ve found is that catalyst can be really hard on themselves and they can internalize that feedback. I mean, we can become the lightning bolt or the lightning rod for resistance in an organization. So, with it, they’re attacking our idea, which is sometimes like a little extension of ourselves or sometimes just attacking us directly.
It can be really hard, can be actual trauma. That’s part of the catalyst experience. And so, what I would love to encourage all catalysts to do is to think about developing some of the resiliency skills to create the space to not let those things impact you as intensely as they might. And what we focus on our practices around mindfulness and self-compassion, because actually we interviewed a trauma specialist and that was her go to, which was very reassuring for me because that’s been the journey that I’ve been on.
Brian Ardinger: The catalyst is probably more likely to be working in ambiguity and uncertainty at a consistent pace. And that alone causes additional stressors than I guess, a traditional employee that knows that this is the thing that I need to do to optimize my place in the world versus create something new. Are there particular tactics or skillsets or other tactical things that a person can be doing to manage that burnout?
Shannon Lucas: You hit on something really important is getting clarity as quickly as possible in terms of what the expectations are of your organization. If I had to go back and do anything over, that was always, you cannot over dimension enough on getting clarity, making sure that your team below the executives above you at least have some sense of buy in because to your point usually the KPIs, the incentive models, the goals aren’t aligned to what you’re doing, because it’s net new. And so, if you don’t have enough, buy-in, that’s when the resistance will come. Even if it’s the right thing to do for the organization. Tied to that is going on what we call first listening tours and then co-creation and then feedback tours.
So, when you’re starting to do something going around the organization and essentially speaking with as many people as relevant. I don’t want to say as possible, deeply understand what’s emerging in the organization. And what you will get then is something that is tied to both the corporate strategy and everyone else’s KPIs and goals and incentives, which will then give you a lot of momentum behind you as you start to move that forward.
And then as we talked about, once you have that vision creating models and visual models a lot. The repetition and the clarity. It’s just all about clarity, you know, repetition and clarity. This is what we talked about. How do you feel about this now? This is the next iteration based on your feedback. How do you feel about that now?
And then as we talked about making sure that you understand the lay of the land from a network perspective, like who do you absolutely have to have on board and who can sit on the fence and who are the detractors that you might want to avoid until the end or ever.
Brian Ardinger: And that iterative approach is so important, not only for creating new ideas, but again, managing that expectation as you move the idea forward. Quite interesting. You’ve been in this innovation space for a long time and that. What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in the practice of innovation? You know, what’s been some of the good things that you’ve seen or some of the bad things that people have latched onto that shouldn’t be used nowadays, or what are the trends and that, that you’re seeing in the innovation space?
Shannon Lucas: For better or worse innovation theater is still very real meaning companies like to talk about the shiny objects that they’re doing, but it’s not making any actual transformation in the organization. I think some of the good trends are data and data as part of the process for that sort of action, the vision, action, iteration that most teams go through.
I mean, that’s Design Thinking, that’s Lean Startup, that’s everything. And just making sure when you’re iterating that you’re doing that based on real data. So I will say even compared with 10 years ago, the amount of people who are actually going out and talking to customers or talking to stakeholders, sort of breaking down the fourth wall, that’s become much more comfortable. And we started that at Vodafone. The salespeople were like, you cannot talk to my customer about things that you don’t know about. Like that’s not okay.
And I think that Design Thinking has become so prevalent in the world that even the salespeople are on board with that. The intrapreneur sort of innovation champion thing, like finding the people across the organization, instead of setting up these ivory towers of innovation, I see that as an important pivot too. And I think combined with those two things are actual learning journeys. So not just going out and talking to the customer, but going out into the real world, I mean, obviously that’s harder this year than it has been before and seeing how people are interacting in the ecosystem.
And I guess the final piece, which is exciting is the ecosystem. Innovation piece. Like it used to just be that companies would try and solve their own problems by themselves. Right. And the recognition that we need more sustainable systemic solutions across the board and that they can’t do that in isolation. So that sort of, co-creation trying to figure out the IP, like there’s a lot of challenges behind that type of stuff, but just the recognition that we need it now more than ever.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation about all the things innovation, and I’m excited to dig into the book when it comes out this week. And what’s the best way to do that?
Shannon Lucas: Yeah, the book is called Move Fast, Break Shit, Burnout: The Catalyst Guide to Working Well. You can get it on Amazon. And of course, you can find out more about myself and the company at catalystconstellations.com.
Brian Ardinger: Well, Shannon, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. Look forward to continuing the conversation in the years to come.
Shannon Lucas: Me too. Thanks.
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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