On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Kaiser Yang, Co-founder of Platypus Labs and Author of the new book Crack the Code. Kaiser and I talk about the mindsets needed to foster creativity and innovation. And some of the pitfalls you can avoid when trying to spin up your innovation initiatives.
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Interview Transcript of Kaiser Yang, Co-founder of Platypus Labs and Author of Crack the Code
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 Kaiser Yang. He is co-founder of Platypus Labs and author of the book Crack the Code: Eight Surprising Keys to Unlock Innovation. Welcome.
Kaiser Yang: Hey, thank you so much, Brian. I’m delighted to be here and be a part of your program.
Brian Ardinger: I’m excited to have you on the show. We got connected through Josh Linkner. I was interviewing him about his new book, Big Little Breakthroughs. And he reached out recently to say, hey, Kaiser’s got a new book out in and around this particular subject. You’ve worked with some great companies out there when it comes to Innovation, Heineken, and ESPN, and Coca-Cola. What are some of the most common problems that companies are trying to solve when it comes to Innovation?
Kaiser Yang: There’s a number of challenges that we help organizations focus on and prioritize. But it really starts at the leadership level of prioritizing Innovation. Building the right set of rituals and rewards that motivates team members to drive inventive thinking in their day-to-day responsibilities. And so, we do spend a lot of time working from the leadership level first. Understanding what the desired state is. What some of the desired outcomes are.
And crafting a strategy. And that strategy, it could involve a number of different things from bringing thought leadership to the organization, doing training workshops, running Innovation, bootcamps. Sometimes it even just comes down to creating inspiration and motivation in terms of ideas, like giving them the power to recognize patterns outside of their industry. So, they can innovate their own and challenge the status quo.
So, for us, I think when we first work with organizations, it has to start at the top. Meaning there needs to be a commitment to driving innovation and making it a priority. And then it makes the rest of the initiatives so much smoother moving forward.
Brian Ardinger: That is so important, that context setting. Because I think a lot of times organizations get off the wrong track because they don’t necessarily define innovation the same way. A lot of people think of innovation as I’ve got to come up with the next electric car or new Uber.
And as you know, innovation can be something much simpler. As far as, you know, how do you find it and identify a problem and create something of value to solve that problem. And a lot of the book talks about that creative problem-solving area that doesn’t have to be transformational, but it can be little breakthroughs that make a difference.
Kaiser Yang: Absolutely. It’s a philosophy that I share with Josh. And his book, Big Little Breakthroughs, is all about the fact that we should look for everyday acts of creativity or what he calls micro innovations.
And for us too, when we work with organizations, we obviously want to look at transformational opportunities, high growth opportunities. But sometimes when you look at innovation, just in that context, it can be paralyzing for most of the team members, right. Unless it’s a billion-dollar Elon Musk type idea that it doesn’t count.
When in reality, some of the best innovations start with small acts of creativity applied to solving the customer experience. Or driving improvement in internal processes. And those little innovations can stack up and make a significant difference over time.
Brian Ardinger: Well, you almost have to build up those muscles and, you know, to jump directly to starting a brand-new business or a brand-new idea is challenging. Especially if you’ve been hired to optimize and execute in a particular business model that you know, and have some certainty around. Versus a completely unknown kind of environment.
Kaiser Yang: For sure. What we see in many organizations is that there’s this tremendous creative readiness, this curiosity, this willingness to drive change. But where it falls short is the implementation side. And it’s most often these teams and individuals don’t have the right tools or the training or critical thinking skills to apply their creativity to innovative outcomes.
And that really is kind of the point of Crack the Code, my new book. It’s more of a field guide, a manual to help you unlock your creativity. And add a little bit more structure to the process. So rather than saying, hey, let’s solve the sales challenge or this customer experience problem, or this operational inefficiency and just brainstorming in the traditional sense. These are proven tools and techniques that really guide you through that creative process, so you can realize better outcomes in the end.
Brian Ardinger: Let’s talk a little bit about the book. You break it up into these four key mindsets that you believe individuals and organizations need to be building and growing on. Talk a little bit about the mindsets and how they came to be and the thought process around it.
Kaiser Yang: Yeah. I mean, these mindsets are really based on almost like two decades worth of research and real-world experiences. Having been a startup entrepreneur and starting my own businesses. Creativity is that one underlying skill set that was applied to drive growth and transformation and performance at pretty much every level.
And so, when we think about some of these mindsets, they may come across to you as common sense, but common sense isn’t always common practice. So, for example, the first core mindset that we start out with is this notion that every barrier can be penetrated. It’s this inherent belief that no matter how difficult the challenge is, if you apply enough creative energy at it, that obstacle can be overcome.
Right, the most powerful successful innovators out there, when they have a setback or they have a failure, what they don’t do is throw up their arms and get discouraged. They’re the ones that say not yet.
So, while it seems obvious that every barrier can be penetrated, if you look at organizations and teams, once you have a couple of failures or a few setbacks, a lot of times it’s like, eh, this idea is not going to work. Or maybe we should do something else. Instead, we believe that with the right focus of your creative energy, you can really overcome some of the most difficult challenges out there.
Brian Ardinger: And ironically, sometimes those constraints are actually the things that open up the creativity. Having a constraint, forces you to think differently about how you might solve that problem or what problem you’re actually solving. And I think that, you know, having that mindset of being able to overcome that challenge and think differently about it is very important.
Kaiser Yang: The other mindset that we often teach organizations, larger organizations we work with is this whole notion of compasses over maps. The main underscoring point is you need to start before you’re ready.
Too often, organizations wait until they have a full-on three-year business plan. The ROI has been vetted. They’ve got every stakeholder approved. But the most successful innovators out there, I believe, trust their instinct to course correct along the way and get started. So, they use more of a compass to guide their innovation journey rather than waiting for a detailed map.
And it’s so powerful when you know, you can arm a team to really start taking action and iterative experimentation processes to test a new way to improve customer satisfaction, or get payables reduce by 20%. Just these small incremental wins, it requires organizations to empower their teams to start before they’re ready. That’s what the whole compass over maps mindset is all about. So that’s one of the mindsets that we talk about in the book.
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Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I like that concept. It’s almost like you’re in a cave. Innovation is like you’re in a cave and it’s dark and you don’t have a map. So, you have to feel around the walls to figure your way out of it. And I think obviously a lot of people are not comfortable in that particular environment, but the more you get used to knowing that maps can be directionally important, but they’re not necessarily the actual be all end all to get you to the end goal. Especially in uncertain environments. The more likely you are to build that mechanism and that muscle of being okay with that ambiguity, I suppose.
Kaiser Yang: Yeah. I mean that ambiguity can be paralyzing for many organizations, where there’s a lot of uncertainty unknown. There isn’t a clear path forward. But we view it more as that artist’s studio where it’s all about discovery and exploration. And so, while it’s easy to say that much of the work that we do with organizations is giving that toolkit to overcome some of those anxiety driven moments led by ambiguity.
So, here’s a systematic process that doesn’t stifle your creativity, but rather provides more of a scaffolding around it and helps you guide you through the process. So even when we talk about understanding pain points and customer needs, really for us, that’s where the innovation process starts.
Just saying that is one thing but giving you some tools and systems and processes that help guide you through that journey. I think that’s super powerful. And it adds structure to that artist studio that many people might feel uncomfortable in.
Brian Ardinger: So maybe we can dig in a little bit about some of the tactics or some of the specific guidance that you have within the book, as far as action steps or things that people can do to both create these mindsets and then take action on it.
Kaiser Yang: Yeah, for sure. There’s eight different tactics that are built into the book. And they’re all my favorite tactics. And I think Innovation in and of itself, there isn’t a silver bullet in terms of ideation or process. Every situation is unique, and we encourage many of our clients to tackle the innovation challenge, using a number of different tactics and strategies, so you can see things from a various perspective.
And then you open up for exploration and deeper discovery. But for example, one of the ones that we have a lot of success teaching organizations is one that we simply called the Borrowed Idea. Right? It’s looking outside of your industry for key factors that drive competitive advantage. Drive sustainable success. And taking some of those insights and bringing it back to your own.
One of our partners that we work with often says that expertise can be the greatest enemy of innovation. Meaning when you know too much about an industry, or you’ve been in your role for too long, it’s really hard to embrace new ways or see things in a different way. So, this borrowed idea technique is a very systematic way of looking outside. Looking at business models, right?
So, in what ways are they leveraging technology? What is their customer experience like? How are they driving sales? What’s their pricing model? And for example, like higher education. What could they potentially learn from the hospitality industry or maybe higher education? What could they learn from consumers today engaging on Tik Tok? And borrowing those ideas and bringing it back.
And one of my favorite quotes was from Steven Jobs who a long time ago said that he’s sometimes embarrassed when people call him creative, because he thinks creativity is nothing more than the ability to connect dots. As we grow older in our careers and become more experienced, we’re very good at that one dot that we’re paid very well to do, but we forget about all the dots out there.
So, what can we learn from the field of music or athletics or, you know, getting into specific categories? That’s the whole concept of the borrowed idea. Systematically exploring as far away from your industry as possible and finding new ways that you can bring back to your organization.
Brian Ardinger: It’s surprising how focused a lot of organizations get with, they know a hundred percent what their competitors are doing and everything about that particular customer segment and that, but like you said, don’t necessarily take one adjacent step to the left or right to see what’s going on, that could significantly change the game. Because most of the people are playing the same game. And if you slightly change the game, you can outpace your competition.
So, we are living in a world of accelerating change. Obviously, innovation is much more important than it has ever been before. And I think a lot of people are now getting that or understanding that. What are some of the trends that you’re seeing when it comes to Innovation?
Kaiser Yang: There’s lots of trends. I mean, we can categorize it in terms of strategy and technology and, you know, market trends, things like that. But I think at the height of the organizations that we’ve worked with, one of the trends that we have started to see with larger enterprise organizations is building this culture of rapid experimentation.
We’ve all read about Facebook and, you know, case studies like Bookings.com, where they have 30,000 concurrent experiments going on at any given time. But even large organizations like Allstate and Mass Mutual, they’re building these cultures where they’re constantly testing. And I think it’s so cool to see because the old school was research and experimentation was a very linear process.
It was measured and calculate. But we’re seeing many organizations move to this very iterative model, not being afraid of failure. Taking responsible risks and applying this notion of rapid experimentation, constantly looking for new ways to better the customer experience or to serve their community.
And that shift, you know, for me, is fascinating to see like large 30,000 employee organizations move to this model of rapid experimentation. And whether it’s, you know, following the Lean Startup Movement or any of those other models out there, just seeing companies put aside the need for ROI and business plans and you know, every stakeholder buy-in.
But instead, just getting out there and quickly testing new ways to serve their customers. It’s one of those trends that hopefully we’ll see many organizations continue to embrace, because I think that’s the way you find the idea right. Like remove uncertainty through experimentation. Validate your concepts. And quickly move them forward through an iterative process rather than sitting on it for 12 or 18 months waiting for the R and D department to say, okay, let’s go forward with it.
Brian Ardinger: Great point. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to get over that fear. You know, that seems to be one of the biggest barriers is people fundamentally understand the theory around, well, I should be experimenting more, but like the incentives aren’t there, the rewards aren’t there, the culture is not there such that it enables that risk-taking. So, are there any hints or tips or things you’ve seen that might work to overcome that fear?
Kaiser Yang: I mean, again, like we said, at the start of this discussion, it does start at the leadership level, setting up the right environment that fosters learning. I don’t know if I would say fosters failure, but the ability to take risks on behalf of the company and try new things.
So even like there’s the case studies of issuing get out of jail free cards and building different rewards that recognize people that have taken action. So, I think it starts there at the leadership level, creating the right environment, that the team members feel safe in.
But more so we focus on the individual level. Because a lot of times that fear manifests itself by the fear of being embarrassed in front of our peers. Or the fear of my idea not being good enough. Or even sometimes it’s the fear of success that this idea might actually put me out of a job.
So, we focus more on the individual level of removing that fear by teaching them proven frameworks, to really experiment and validate and overlaying that with some of the mindsets that we talked about.
One of the mindsets that we often talk about, it’s not in the book, but it’s this notion of, if you fall seven, you stand eight. And the best innovators out there, always find a way of shaking it off, getting back up and no matter what the challenges they persist through adversity. And I think that’s kind of that mindset that’s critically important to pair with all of these tools and techniques that gives you the confidence, if you will, right. To come up with ideas and stretch your imagination.
Oftentimes when we sit with organizations, it’s your natural tendency to come up with the safest, easiest, most obvious ideas. Those are the safe ones, right? And it can be a little bit fearful to push your imagination to further limits, to come up with the wild or unusual, or even unorthodox wacky idea. But those are usually the ones that drive the most change and progress for any organization.
And so, creating the right mix of tools and techniques and mindsets to help team members get there, that’s where we see at least for us it’s so satisfying to find those what we call aha moments, where that light bulb goes off and you come up with some great, innovative ideas.
Brian Ardinger: Yeah. The other thing I’ve seen that seems to work is oftentimes just changing the mindset. I think a lot of people think they have to have the perfect plan before they can present it to their boss and move it forward. But almost changing that conversation to saying, I’ve got something I want to try over here. Or here’s a little side project I’m working on. Don’t have it all figured out, but here’s the next thing I’m going to try to do to learn or build out, get evidence that I’m on the right path.
That type of mindset or that type of philosophy around it sometimes change the game significantly versus I guess the old way of I’ve got to put together a 50-page business plan, figuring out all the obstacles and hope that I’m right. When I actually launch it.
Kaiser Yang: Yeah, for sure. I mean, just building crude, prototypes and running some simple experiments to remove some uncertainty can make a huge difference in the organization’s ability to move a little bit quicker. But even what you said about the strategic side, right. That oh my, I have to put a 50-page deck together to pitch our ideas.
We have something that’s called the Strategic Canvas and it’s an iterative six- step process that really simplifies the strategy building. So you’re not, hyper-focused on all the details and business models and assumptions and all of that stuff. But it builds a very strong foundation under your idea.
And it’s a very powerful way to be able to present your idea cohesively very succinctly and very efficient. wSo, we try to demystify that business plan process as well, to empower team members, to move a little bit faster and take their ideas and get some visibility and traction around it, in the process.
Brian Ardinger: A lot of our folks that are listening aren’t necessarily at the leadership level, they’re charged with being innovative or launching new products and that. But sometimes they’re at the process of trying to get that buy in from the top. Do you have any recommendations or thoughts around how, as an individual within an organization, to start building that culture of creativity and innovation within their group?
Kaiser Yang: There’s a couple of ways we can look at this, but at the first cut is just teams or individuals viewing the fact that creativity is really a muscle, that needs to be stretched out, warmed up and strengthened to do its best performance. A lot of times we just need to kind of shake off the cobwebs and dust it off a little bit.
But, you know, we don’t put as much effort into the preparation of creativity I think, then we should. And so, there’s lots of energizers and activities to help achieve hemispheric synchronization or to warm up your creative muscles. Platypus labs, we practice a lot of applied improve. Right. That helps you drive expansive thinking. But more importantly, it teaches you active listening. And it gives you this platform to really try to explore your creativity in a number of different ways.
And there are so many tools and techniques out there that do that, that if you build a culture where you’re practicing things and applying them to your day-to-day business. I mean, it’s just amazing to see the transformation and the creative capacity of the teams that we’ve work with. So, I would start there as really, discover some of these energizers, and workouts, if you will, for your creative muscle, that you can do on a day to day or even week to week basis.
For More Information about Kaiser Yang and Crack the Code
Brian Ardinger: Yeah. Start local and then go global. Well, Kaiser, I really appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation to talk about this book. I encourage people to pick up Crack the Code. If people want to find out more about yourself or Platypus Labs or the book, what’s the best way to do that?
Kaiser Yang: Our team’s website is PlatypusLabs.com. Specific to the book, you can go to CracktheInnovationCode.com and learn more about the book there. There’s actually an assessment on that site where you can see if the book is worth your time. So, I would encourage you to take that and see if it might be something of value to you.
Brian Ardinger: Kaiser, thanks again for being on the show, looking forward to working together again in the future. And let’s keep this conversation going in the future. Appreciate it.
Kaiser Yang: All right. Thank you so much Brian.
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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