No Drama Innovation with Janice Fraser, Co-author of Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama

No Drama Innovation with Janice Fraser, Co-author of Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama

On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with the amazing Janice Fraser, one of the leaders in the Lean Startup movement and co-author of the new book, Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama. Janice and I talk about the evolution of leadership and how today's world of uncertainty and change requires new behaviors and mindsets to lead teams and companies forward. Let's get started. 

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Interview Transcription with Janice Fraser, Co-author of the new book, Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama

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 Janice Fraser. She's co-author of Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama: How to Reduce Stress and Make Extraordinary Progress Wherever You Lead. Welcome Janice.

Janice Fraser: Thank you for having me. I'm so glad to be here. 

Brian Ardinger: This is a super honor for me, quite frankly. Janice, you, and I met over a decade ago and you've been hugely influential in my journey around this whole startup and innovation space. I think you and I met at one of the first Lean startup conferences in San Francisco, and this was when I was spinning up Nmotion startup accelerator and I said, I need somebody with the chops, who understands everything from customer discovery to product development to help our teams through this process and teach me quite frankly how to do some of this stuff. 

So, I brought you into Nebraska a while ago, and since then we've been friends and have learned so much through that process of watching you help teams and help people grow in this space. And, and now you're in a different journey, but how did you get involved in product development and Lean Startup, and then how did your career journey get you to the point where you've written this book? 

Janice Fraser: It's so lovely when I hear people say that I was influential. I'm always the most grateful when I've been helpful. Right? Honestly, that was the best compliment you could have ever offered to me, so thank you. Thank you very much for sharing that. 

My career journey, like so many of us in the innovation space has not been a straight line at all. And really it started my journey into product. And then from product into innovation, it really goes way back.

I accidentally ended up a product manager at Netscape in 1995 when we didn't even call it that for the work that I was doing. And from there I moved into user experience consulting, and I started a company that did that. And then it became Luxer where it was like, helping startup companies kind of get off the ground.

And when I look back over the arc of my career, if you remember the Crossing the Chasm model, like I'm that first person, you know, on the far side of the chasm, sort of like holding my hand out, helping people jump across the chasm. Like my job is to sit at the edge of the newest thing and make it boring.

I had to write a six-word biography at one point for some offsite or retreat or something, and it was knitting at the edge of newness. Whatever the bleeding edge thing is like I'm just sitting there figuring out like, how can we do it in a way that everybody, normal people can practice. 

And like I keep a sticker on my computer that says regular people just to remind us all like. The world is made up of regular people and they're doing extraordinary things all the time. And so, I want to just, I just want to help that process out. 

And so right now it's been innovation. Before that it was product management or starting a company. And it's, what I want to do is just figure out like, how can we do it reliably better?

And of course, that takes you to lean start up because you know, Lean Startup isn't going to make you successful, but it will keep you from failing or it will help you raise the floor on how bad that failure could be. And so that's how I got here. 

Brian Ardinger: I think you're underselling yourself to a certain extent. You've had a chance to work with some of the best companies in the world when it comes to innovation and you've kind of been behind the scenes player when it comes to a lot of this stuff and helping companies understand that. 

The next thing I really want to talk about is this book, because it's slightly different than a, you know, product strategy book or something. You know, Farther, Faster, and Far less drama. It seems to be a culmination of what you've seen in the workplace and in creating companies and working through this uncertainty that it, it is to create new stuff, but less from the product and the tactical side, but more from the people side, the leadership side. Talk a little bit about why you decided to write this book. 

Janice Fraser: So the book is co-authored by my husband, who was my co-founder at Luxr, where we had like 50 companies go through this 10 week program, which ended up being an accelerator kind of thing, right? He's still very much focused on product management.

He runs a team of like 50 people who all work with federal government clients. All product managers and product designers. I come at it more from the innovation side, from, you know, how do you get very large organizations to be more agile or more lean, or to simply create value from new ideas and especially new ideas that challenge the status quo.

That's a hard thing to do, to get a large organization that's been around for say, 150 years to begin to actually change their behavior. When we started writing this book, it was four years ago. That's when we first did the very first outline, and we thought that it would be a very tactical book for practitioners of like meeting facilitation. Because a lot of the ideas land at that moment of like, I need to run a strategy session, or I need to get more out of this leadership thing, and I was doing a lot of network then.

But over time and, and in consulting with some editorial folks and some of my closest advisors, my ex-boss, a guy named David Kidder, who’s a dear, dear friend David said, this is bigger than what you think it is. The way that you lead is different than the way that other people lead. And those kinds of feedback over a period of a year or two really gave Jason and I pause.

And so, we sat down and thought like, what is it really that we're seeing that's different and what I think is that the leaders that are most successful, whether it's agile transformation on the software side or innovation execution on the non-software side, what we see is that the most successful leaders were leading differently than the ones who seemed the most stuck. 

We can call it could be mindset like the Carol Dweck book. It could be any number of things. But some leaders were able to, as the book says, go farther, get there faster. And my favorite thing is to go there without a lot of bickering, without a lot of hassle, without frankly, drama. Like, we just don't have time to mess around these days.

And so these practices that for us became very practical as we were leading meetings or strategic facilitation or whatever. Those actually were simply manifestations of a larger story about a new kind of leader that has been emerging. 

And the leaders that we love the most, and I would include you in this, the leaders that we have had the most inspiration from, that we've seen being the most successful, are the ones who are a little bit more humble, a lot more collaborative. More likely to ask questions and lead from a place of questions. 

They're more likely to assemble resources based on what they currently understand. And so what we wanted to do was find the underlying framework that allows those kinds of leaders to be so much more extraordinarily successful.

So that's how we ended up getting to the book. It's like this is an articulation of the leaders we most respect. And what we want to see in the future as a new generation of leaders comes online. 

Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I think you mentioned it's an emerging generation of humble, practical, everyday leaders, and I think you call it capital L leadership.

Janice Fraser: Well, capital L leadership is the old style. It's the like, I want to be Elon Musk and I'm going to be all about my ego and I know all the answers and I've been promoted because I have every answer all the time, and I'm always right. That is this like Jack Welch sort of model of like, I'm going to call it the great man variety of leadership. And I don't think it's very successful anymore if it ever was. 

It's certainly not successful when the world is hyperdynamic, when things are changing constantly and like, hey, suddenly we're in a pandemic, or, Hey, let's invade Ukraine. Like things are not predictable right now in the way that they were 30, 40 years ago. And so, what we're seeing is that discovering an answer is a way better skill than knowing the answer. 

Brian Ardinger: Well, you're right that, yeah, this uncertainty in it inhibits the execution mode where we know the plan, let's just execute the plan, right? You're really much more of an exploration type of environment where you have to figure out the answers or figure out the ways, or figure out the people, figure out the everything around it to figure out if you're actually on the going in the right direction.

Janice Fraser: I'm all for planning. I think plans are great. I just think plans aren't predictions. Right? So we're going to make a plan, and circumstances could change around us, or we could discover that something that we assumed about our project plan turned out to be false. If we were paying attention, we would see it.

And then we would have to re-plan. And we need to plan for a degree of flexibility in order to reach the outcomes. And one of the big sections of the book is about focusing on outcomes and valuing the outcome you're intending to get to, way more than you value the items and the actions in your plan.

Brian Ardinger: Yes. That's not specific path or map to get there. It's here's the outcome we, we need to get to Cincinnati. But there may be a lot of different ways to get there. 

Janice Fraser: Yeah. And we think that this is the best way to get there. But you know, what if the road's closed? What if there's a snowstorm? What if we blow a tire? You know, like all sorts of things can happen on the way to Cincinnati. 

Brian Ardinger: In the book, you talk about the four leadership motions, I think you call them. Talk about what they are and, and how they are so important in this new way of thinking. 

Janice Fraser: So the four leadership motions are these. The first is Orient honestly, and we mean orient like orientation, like you know, you've got your map. Where am I standing right now? And what makes this moment complicated. 

So, Orient honestly is about alignment on current state and understanding the future state that you want to get to, right? So, point A, point B. Letters are point A. What's our point B. Do we all agree on those two things? It sounds really simple. It turns out there's a lot of complication in there. 

The second leadership motion is to value outcomes, right? We were just talking about this. We want to understand why we're going to take the actions and create the deliverables that are in our plan and we want to do that in order to be able to make the adjustments we need to stay the course. To really get to that true north goal that we're trying to get to. So, value outcomes. 

The third one is leverage the brains. And I always feel like a evil, like sweet, delicious brains. Like I, the best leaders that we've seen are the ones that are able to be very selective, but very inclusive of the kinds of mind that will solve the problem, whatever that problem at hand seems to be.

So instead of knowing all the answers and telling people what to do in a very directive kind of way, the best leaders are the ones that can leverage the brains, the minds around them, effectively collaborate effectively. Focus those people effectively to collectively solve the problem as well, as best as they can.

And then the fourth one, I think is where we really get into reducing drama. And it's make durable decisions. So much waste happens in our decision making methodologies, and I could talk about that for days actually. But if we can make decisions that last then we are going to eliminate a tremendous amount of waste and confusion and working to cross purposes that happens in a lot of organizations. 

What does it take to make a durable decision is kind of what that fourth part is about. So those are the four things, and these are, these are intended to be things that you can do as a leader. Like what can I do as a leader to go faster?

What can I do as a leader to set more ambitious, bolder goals and reach them? These are four things that you can do. Orient honestly, value outcomes, leverage the brains, and make durable decisions. If you just did those four things, you would be doing better than 90% of the leaders that we see out there.

Brian Ardinger: Of those four things, which are the most challenging for most folks to master or to get their brains around and figure out how to actually act on. 

Janice Fraser: We're taught so many mechanisms for setting goals, right? We have OKRs, we have OGSMs. We've been taught a lot as managers or leaders about setting goals. But we really have never been taught a lot about the importance of aligning on knowing where we are right now.

Like what makes this moment complicated. And if you think about it, that's the unlock that's going to help us get to the next step is like, where are we now? What's complicated about this? Are we in alignment about that? And as soon as people start doing this, point A to point B thinking that comes with orienting honestly, it's one of these like simple but really rich realizations of like, this is a missing piece. Yeah, so that's the one that surprises people the most. 

Brian Ardinger: Can you gimme an example maybe of, of a group that you worked with or where that light bulb went off or?

Janice Fraser: You know, I was talking to somebody yesterday, and this is someone, well, I'll say they are a deputy director level person in the federal government. So, part of a very large organization dealing with sort of mission critical, literally life or death kinds of situations all the time. 

And they're working on their leadership development program. And what we got to in our conversation is the idea that they don't even know if words mean the same things to the people in the room in a meeting.

A word like innovation. Like what does innovation? She's like, exactly I, she's like, honestly, I don't even know. We're supposed to be more innovative, but I don't know if we all agree on what that means. We're supposed to be innovative. But you hate innovation because it was shoved down your throat by some previous person.

Right. And I love innovation because I think it means that I get to invent new solutions in my little everyday job. And like this other person thinks innovation is about venture capital style investing with millions of dollars. And we're all trying to say, how can we create more innovation? But we're all talking about different things.

Right? And nobody notices. Right? And you're like, nobody notices. And so we start disagreeing even though we're on the same team. We all want something to change, but we don't notice that we're talking about different definitions. 

Brian Ardinger: Obviously in the book you talk a lot tactically about how you can start orienting the team and, and looking at these particular motions, I guess you call 'em. And practically then making progress against that. Are there particular tips or tricks in the book that you would like to talk about? 

Janice Fraser: Yeah, with Orient honestly, my favorite thing, came I mean this, this is I think, 50 years old now. The woman who invented it, her name is Barbara Minto, M I N T O, Barbara Minto, and she has this pyramid communication principle.

She developed it for McKinsey in the sixties. I just love it. It's so useful. She frames up situations. With this methodology, it's S C Q A situation, complication, question, answer, and just like if you figure out the situation and the complication. So, here's our current situation. Three of us are in the room trying to figure out how to make more innovation happen in our federal agency. For instance. 

Complication. A complication is we all think that innovation means something different, right? And so of course we can't agree on an outcome because we have different understandings. So question, what does innovation mean? Answer. Well, let's figure that out. One of the most important leadership jobs is to frame up the problem, right?

To analyze the current situation and frame up the problem so that the people under you can go solve that problem, whether it's right, increased quarterly returns, or enter a new market or whatever. And so situation, complication, question, answer gives us all a really easy framework to follow for framing up a question.

Brian Ardinger: One of the things I like about the book is that it's not only a business book per se, you know, you talk about how some of these principles and that can be applied to your individual work or your family life and that, can you talk a little bit more about that? 

Janice Fraser: I have observed that the people who are leaders tend to lead wherever they go. And I noticed this first in myself when my son was entering kindergarten and we were at an urban public school and half of the school had a very active parent community and the other half of the school had nothing. I was like, okay, great. I've started four companies. I'll just start the PTA. Big deal.

Turns out starting a PTA is way harder. I lasted exactly a year as the president of that before I was like, okay, I'm going to hand this off. Like, but you know, people who lead just, you just lead wherever you go. And ultimately what I'm in this for is to help people have the best lives they can possibly have, including making the most positive impact on the worlds around them.

Whether that is for-profit, nonprofit, at school, at work, wherever. And so if you consider leadership from a human point of view, you're trying to get people to be more productive and effective. And so, It occurred to us that the same techniques and tools could be useful in a variety of contexts. And so we, we started like 10, 12 years.

My husband and I started watching and we're like, yeah, this stuff is working kind of everywhere. So, we have applied all of these techniques in a wide range of contexts, including, you know, multiple ways that we've supported our child's school. 

We know people who are not employed outside the home but use these techniques with their families or with their faith groups, or with their, you know, fill in the blank endeavor. And so, the goal is simply to get people more effectively solving the most important problems. It kind of doesn't matter where that happens, I don't care where that happens, right? It's just let's get people to do more good stuff.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: I love that. Love that approach, and I love everything that you've talked about here. And if people want to find out more about yourself or the book, what's the best way to do that? 

Janice Fraser: I'm at, J A N I C E, Fraser, F R A S E Or you can just search wherever you buy books, Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama. 

Brian Ardinger: Well, Janice, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. More than that, thank you for being a mentor to me and helping so many people out there kind of navigate this uncertain world. So, love to have you back on and let's stay in touch. 

Janice Fraser: It's my pleasure and anytime. 

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 or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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