145: Encouraging Innovation through Conflict with Jeff DeGraff

By April 19, 2017Podcasts

 

Professor Jeff DeGraff shows how to stir up some constructive conflict to encourage innovative thinking in the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The extraordinary value of arguing
  2. Who are the four types of people at the workplace and what creative tensions emerge among them
  3. Effective ways to create constructive conflict at work

About Jeff

Jeff DeGraff is called the Dean of Innovation because of his influence on the field. Dr. DeGraff is a professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He has advised hundreds of the world’s most prominent firms. He has founded a leading innovation institute, Innovatrium, with labs in Ann Arbor and Atlanta. Jeff’s thoughts on innovation are covered by Fortune, Wired and the Harvard Business Review to name a few. Jeff writes a column for Inc. magazine and has a regular segment on public radio called The Next Idea. He is the author of several books.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jeff DeGraff Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jeff, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jeff DeGraff
Thanks for having me on, Pete. I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been so looking forward to this. Now, you have one of the coolest nicknames around – The Dean of Innovation, which is so fun. I want one like it. Tell us who first called you that and what was the story behind it?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I guess if you live long enough, right? If you’ve been in the field long enough. Well, when I was very young, I graduated very early. I was a very young man and I had a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence or what artificial intelligence was back in the day, and I turned down a position at an Ivy League school to work for a man who had been Chapter 11 two years previously, or two years earlier. I was one of the seven executives that built Domino’s Pizza.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah. Because I was kind of the first person who had an advanced degree they called me The Dean of Innovation and it wasn’t always in a really genuine way. It was kind of a mocking way. But, of course, over the years it stuck. And then when I decided to return to being a professor, I think I was all of 29 when I came back to the academy, it kind of stuck.
And back in the old days there really wasn’t a lot of people who taught innovation and creativity. There’s certainly Michael Ray at Stanford and maybe a couple of others, but I was one of the early ones, so I think it kind of stuck and I got very, very lucky that so many of my students went on to be these really well-known innovators. So that’s kind of how it happened.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that really is cool. I’ve skimmed the autobiography of James Monaghan which is the founder of Domino’s.

Jeff DeGraff
Tom Monaghan. That’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Tom Monaghan, excuse me. And so tell me where there any noteworthy innovations that you brought to bear at Domino’s?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, three of them I could tell you right off the bat. We built something called the team member workbench. And if you read a book called The Domino’s Method, what’s interesting about it is it looks exactly like Facebook and it was built 1985 with HyperCard. We worked on something called AppleNet which became a distributed data processing system, one of the first ones. It then became something called Connect, and then it became something called iTunes.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Jeff DeGraff
And I worked on something called PASS which, of course, was a regional sports network for the Detroit Tigers and others, and it became one of the five or six struts that were absorbed into ESPN. So this is very early on in the 1980s. You couldn’t buy a franchise at Domino’s and you had to work for it, and so we had a system called the management and training program. We called it MIT thinking we were being very clever.
And you had to work for a franchise, but basically we fronted you the money and we gave you the money for your first store and that’s why we grew in almost 300 percent a year for the years I was there. And the last thing I did was we put the company in order and sold it to Bain Capital and signed the paper with Mitt Romney who ran Bain Capital at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, I am a Bain alum myself and I’ve been pretty impressed with Mitt Romney and the lore associated with him and Bain.

Jeff DeGraff
So you see how it all crosses, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we were just about to fold.

Jeff DeGraff
Like I said, if you’re in the right place at the right time, and that’s really what that was. I’d love to tell you how clever we were. But we were very out there. Food companies don’t do things like that, and I think that’s what brought the interests in the University of Michigan and all the stuff that we had done to kind of up the road here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I do want to ask a bit about that. So what is the story behind The Innovatrium and what goes on there today?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I had been at Michigan for probably a decade, and the good news is we had had some pretty good students here. People like Larry Page had come out of this program and they had gone off and done pretty doggone well, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff DeGraff
And so what happened was the lecture halls became bigger and bigger and bigger and your impact becomes less and less and less, it becomes abstract. If you’re talking about how to build things to a hall of 180 kids, or I guess they’re not that young, but 180 MBAs and it really struck me that they weren’t really learning the trade. The way I learned about business, like I said, was building one really pretty much from the ground up.
And so we had a dean at the time who had asked me to take some associate deans around and show them some of the work I had done at places that are now kind of well-known as design firms and big firms that have design parts to them. When it came time to put the money the school said, “Well, we’re not really sure we want to do that.” But the dean was terrific and he said, “If you’ve got the money,” and I had made a little money, “why don’t you do it yourself?”
So, along with Dick Haworth of the Haworth company, an amazing man, amazing company, we acquired the rights to the bank across the street, and we tore the front off the bank and we tore the top off of it, and I gave keys to the seven coolest professors on campus and said, “Just come and do your creative work here. We’re not going to do normal work.”
And, of course, what happened was they bring their best students who are just brilliant. Us old guys, yeah, we still got a little game but it’s the young guys who have all the ambitions, they’re young, annoying people. And so all the great clubs started there, all the other faculty. In fact, one of the original faculties I did this with, Thomas Zurbuchen, and you might know the name. He’s the head of NASA now.
So it became doing the creative work that the organization couldn’t but never ever against the organization. So we started a lot of projects there and brought them across the street back into the organization. And that’s how this all kind of ecosystem started, and then that’s how it started in Atlanta and what we were doing in Detroit and all these other places. That’s how the whole thing began.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so exciting. So, I’m curious to dig into some of your actionable wisdom for professionals here and you’ve got a bit of that covered in your book The Innovation Code. Can you give us the big idea behind this one?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah. I’m coming up on three million miles for traveling so I spend a lot of time all over the planet. And one of the things that always strikes me is of all of the things that people talk about innovation, which incidentally, we can talk about it is most of them are wrong. I also study this and I also have this index that we run here. A lot of our assumptions are wrong.
But the one thing that we see over and over and over again is diversity. And the real question becomes why. Why is diversity such a key component? Now, whether you’re reading Richard Florida’s wonderful work. He’s at the University of Toronto now, or Michael Tushman over at Harvard. All of us see the same thing. And the answer is pretty simple. It’s because innovation is not born from alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jeff DeGraff
It’s born from constructive conflict. Constructive is the key word here. I want you to think about the gridlock in Washington and how destructive and how toxic that is. Now I want you to think about what happens when people are deep and diverse domain experts who don’t agree but are working towards a shared vision. And there are about 30 places on the planet that produce all of the intellectual property that creates our GDP, our innovation going forward, and what they have in common is this form of conflict.
And I think one of the things that we’ve forgotten how to do is how to have a good argument, how to have a good discussion, disputation as the old Jesuits used to call it, right? And I think what happens is we’ve turned into places with trigger words, with safe places, and we have social media, and if people don’t agree with us, all the same crap that we believe, we unfriend them, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jeff DeGraff
I mean, the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t have thought of this. So we never encounter the other. And what happens is we never get the hybrid idea, right? And if you think about whether it’s the space program, or whether it’s how we created all this amazing breakthroughs, and it’s not just America, all over the planet. It happens this way and this is historically true whether it’s the Roman Empire or the Song Dynasty, or the Florentine Renaissance, or New York in the 1900, or Shanghai in 2000. What you see is it’s yeasty, it’s bubbling and you can feel it.
And that’s why these little cities, I live in this tiny city of Ann Arbor that has more venture capital per person than any city in the world right now. But if you look at Ann Arbor and you look at it against all the cities within like a 50-mile radius, it looks very different, and this is going to be the key. So how do we do this in our organizations? How do we do this? How do we have that fight without being dysfunctional? How do we put these different groups together and what are the practices? And more importantly, what are the predictable outcomes? That’s what the book is about and how to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. I’m hooked and I want to know sort of all about it right now. So, can you give us some of those key principles for having that constructive conflict?

Jeff DeGraff
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I think you’re right – the safe places, the trigger words – that stuff. I see this a lot in terms of there is almost like a fear in the room to say anything that is contrary to what has just been said and particularly if it was a more senior leader who just said that thing.

Jeff DeGraff
It shuts it.

Pete Mockaitis
So how do you begin to make that shift?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m going to give you two ways to think about this. The first is I divide the world into four types. Now this is not a Myers Briggs test or a brain dominance test. This actually started with my research on trying to predict share prices. I noticed in 1993 that of the seven major indexes for innovation, not a single one beat the Russell 3000. And I’ve been tracking this since. Do you know that out of all the major innovation indexes none have ever beaten the Growth benchmark. Ever.
So I started looking at, “Tell me what goes on in organizations in terms of their types.” What C.K. Prahalad – one of the guys who brought me to Michigan, of course the most famous innovation strategist of the 20th century – called dominant logic. There are four dominant logics. The first one is what they call create dominant logic.

I want you to think of Steve Jobs. When I was really young I got to be an advisor to Steve. I want you to think about that kind of wild-eyed pistol-waving take-a-big-chance Walt Disney, Arthur Levinson, Nick of Genentech. I want you to think about those guys who are absolutely visionary but also high-risk and most of those companies don’t make it. I want you to think of that organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jeff DeGraff
Startups but they can’t compete in scope and scale, right? Or biotech. Remember, every organization has these people in them, right? Then I want you to think of the opposite, kind of that engineer archetype, the process person, the scientist, the engineer who puts all the pieces together. This is McDonald’s where some illiterate kid presses the cheeseburger button and simultaneously somebody shoots a cow in Argentina. Bang! And everything in between happens, right? You get cheeseburgers. Oh, come on, that’s where cheeseburger comes from.
And I want you to think about how one of these really produces radical organic growth, meaning speculating new markets and it produces breakthrough innovation, and the other produces quality and efficiency at scale. And I want you to think about how these two in your meetings fight all the time, sort of the artist and the engineer in a death grip, and sometimes one wins and if they win the organization kind of becomes hampered. It’s like having one real strong arm and one weak one.
But when they go together you start seeing companies that begin to scale. So it could happen either way. This can be Apple at one end, it can be Toyota at the other end, but the notion is you’ll see these two together and these two create the first dynamic of how much innovation do we want. Do we want radical with risks? Do we want incremental with no risks? It’s scalable. Can we get something better?
Let me give you a good metaphor that people can hang on to, or your listeners. I want you to think about Lennon & McCartney, the Beatles. John Lennon. Is there anyone more whack than John Lennon, right? And was anybody more tightly-wrapped than Paul McCartney? And these two, together, created some of the greatest music I can think of my for generation at least.
Now I want you to think of the other two archetypes. I want you to think of that kind of classic business person. Think of Jack Welch. I’d been an adviser to GE forever. And I want you to think about that hard-charging show-the-money quarterly results, the athlete, the marine. That person. They’re held together by goals. These are boomers. These are people my age, Pete. Right? We’re still great on a curve here at Ross at Michigan, right? Don’t send your ducks to the eagle school, right?
And on the other side I want you to think about our children, these collaborators, these kind of sages, these kind of socially-aware people who are held together by their values. And I want you to think about the kind of tension, and you see this in elections and you see this in the conversations between Boomers and Millennials. Boomers are all about, “We’ve got to win this,” and Millennials are about, “Well, we’ve got to learn to live together.” And this is the conversation between finance and HR in your organization.
Now, typically, this is how fast we’re going to move. Typically these two sets of opposition are things we try to avoid but actually they’re producing the generative power to create hybrids, to create new things. I was very lucky to be at the beginning of Domino’s or at Apple, a couple of times when they were sort of closing down and then starting back up again.
I want you to think about whether it’s Lennon & McCartney, with kind of this artist and engineer, whether it’s Ben & Jerry, when it’s kind of this athlete and this kind of sage. I want you to think that in your organization there are these players. And the issue becomes, “How do you know which player to use at which time? And how do you put them together in such a way that they don’t destroy things?” And there are some simple steps for that.

Number one, assemble of diversity of perspectives. One of the things I come and do all the time as you see an organization that’s brilliant at one thing and they’ve destroyed the opposite, and they just simply can’t start again, and I’ve been in about half the Fortune 500. So the issue becomes, “How do you change the gene pool?” if you will. Right? You’ve got to mix it up like a good dinner party.
Next, you’ve got to engage the conflict. You can’t avoid the fight and you want to make sure that the fight is purposeful, it’s respectful but it’s a real back and forth. This is one thing we could learn from universities. There isn’t a faculty I think I have ever been in that was nice and smooth. There’s always somebody who thinks what you’ve done is stupid, and a lot of times is they’re right. You have to establish your goal or vision between these sort of parties that are intense.
And, finally, the most important thing is you have to work to construct hybrid solutions. You have to create something that is new, a third way, a different way, and that’s how it works. So, look at what you’ve got, make sure that you’ve got enough balance in there, make sure that you’re putting these opposites together, and make sure that they’re going the same place, and finally make sure they’re producing something, in a nutshell.
And, of course, how to do it is what the book is all about. There’s a ton of how-tos and bullet points and methods and all the kind of stuff that I think readers want to hear. They want to be able to do this in their own place and examples of what companies do. But, basically, that’s the long and short of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is powerful and exciting. And thank you. I have so many follow-ups. I’ll try to organize a bit here. Okay. So, you mentioned these four sets of archetypes and sort of two herrings that create some conflict and some generative power.

Jeff DeGraff
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s see, the first one the Steve Jobs risky type and then the process engineer person. Can I recap? What are the names you gave to each of these four?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I called the forward position, let’s call them the create type or the artist. So have your listeners think of Larry Page or Elon Musk, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Got it.

Jeff DeGraff
Then I want you to think about the opposite, the engineer or the control type. I want you to think of like Michael Bloomberg who I love or Warren Buffett. These guys are kind of, you know, they’re technocrats, right? That’s the first tension. Imagine those people being in the same room together, right? They’re brilliant. They’re all brilliant. But the notion is, and one is going to be better than the other depending on what you’re trying to do. If you’re in biotech you want to have Elon Musk in your room. And if you’re trying to make a Ford, it’s automobiles, you want to have Michael Bloomberg in your room.
And, of course, when you’re working on this, Pete, during any given time somebody is going to be better at one part of the whole process. So the people who are better at the beginning is the artists because they like ambiguity and freedom, and they’re very divergent. But at the end it’s going to be the engineer because the engineer is going to be much better at putting things together, complexity, scalability, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And now, for the second set, we’ve got the Jack Welch marine types and the children collaborator types. What do you call these?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, the Jack Welch is the compete-type or the athlete. And I want you to think about Jack or think about Indra Nooyi over at Pepsico. These are kind of hard-chargers. Remember, women can be these archetypes, too, and they show up ever along the world. This isn’t just a male-dominated world. And this is Boomers.
And then I want you to think about the opposite which is called the collaborate-type or the sage-type. And I want you to think about Millennials or Jack Ma over at Alibaba, or think about Geoffrey Canada over at the Harlem Children’s Zone or Jimmy Wales at Wikipedia. I want you to think about people who are community builders. And I want you to think about that tension, right? According to The Pew Charitable Trusts the generation gap between my generation and my children is the largest of any generation they’ve ever measured. So this challenge between goals and values is a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is so good. Well, now you mentioned this is distinct from Myers Briggs and brain dominance. Although I can’t help it, as a Myers Briggs practitioner myself, I’m thinking artist sounds like N iNtuition, engineer sounds like S Sensing.

Jeff DeGraff
Absolutely. And you’re so right. You can map these. But here’s what I need your listeners to understand. The way this actually started was backwards. The way it started was I started looking at, “Could I beat these innovation indexes and beat the Russell 3000? Could I actually create technical financial outcomes for each of these? Could I predict value?” And the answer was I only lost to the Russell two years ever and that’s 1993.
Now, the second thing became then looking at what organizational cultures and, this is the other one, competencies. Just because you’re a type doesn’t mean you’re any good at it, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff DeGraff
So we looked at those and we started looking at a very large database of organizations, and this is where you’re doing a different kind of assessment. This is sounding a little technical but you’re doing what’s called socio metric assessments which means it’s kind of right but you can’t prove it. It’s like consumer confidence, things like that.
And then we started looking at what kind of leaders produced these type of cultures. So I want you to think of them, Pete, like Russian nesting dolls. The littlest doll is you, the leader. The bigger doll is your organization which has culture and competency, and the largest doll is the market where you’re producing particular types of value, and that’s what this is. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much. I want to make sure I hit the points for our investors in the crowd. How do we invest in the basket of companies that you’re into that outperforms the Russell?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, one of the things I think we’re going to do is to produce a general ranking when the book comes out in July. I think actually early August. We’re trying to do that. Whether we meet that deadline or not what all the individual pieces are, the general pieces we’re going to give away, the individual pieces you can imagine are going to financial investment firms. But the general stuff will be out in a ranking. It’s too complicated to do on the radio in 45 minutes. But, basically, there are analog metrics that go to all of these.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So with the book and the rankings we can get a rough sense, we’re not going to wait the portfolio and all kinds of precise ways.

Jeff DeGraff
You’ve got it. You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
But we could say top five, okay. It’s in the mix. Cool. So now, I want to dig a little deeper here when you talk about engage the fight. I think that’s the part that might seem just sort of the most countercultural and like if we’ve got sort of a Lone Ranger sort of professional who’s like, “I’m so inspired by what Jeff said. I’m just going to go there today.” They might find themselves just like people are shocked and awed and appalled at sort of what they’re doing in the meeting. How do you begin to get folks on board with this kind of a shift so that people are comfortable or, I guess, okay at being uncomfortable engaging the fight?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I hate to put it this way. I sign everything, if anybody has ever received an email from me, it says, “Vision. Courage. Freedom.” Innovation is a form of deviance. It’s a form of positive deviance. It’s a form of useful novelty. The deviance is created by deviants, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff DeGraff
You hear the inflection change here. If you’re really going to be an innovator you have to have courage. And I have to tell your listeners this, no one will ever love you. It really isn’t that kind of a game. Everything in an organization is designed to maintain its equilibrium. Growth is a secondary idea. Think of it this way. If your listeners think of it this way.
When do people really change? They really change when their life sucks. Their life sucks. They’re in a crisis. They lose their divorce. They lose the job. They lose the house. They go bankrupt, whatever. They get a bad health diagnosis. They change when their life sucks because the risk of trying something radical, and the reward at staying where they’re at is reversed at that end of the Bell curve.
The other only time when they change is when they’re on a roll, they get married, they have kids, they got a promotion. Same thing. That’s what risk capital is. The thing you have to understand right off the bat is innovation doesn’t happen from the inside out. It happens from the outside in. It happens at the edges of the Bell curve and moves to the middle.

And at the edges of the Bell curve is this whole idea that things are variant, that things are not normative by definition. So, when you start to innovate, you don’t want to innovate in the middle. The organization is designed to crush you. Going back to my Innovatrium example, you build it across the street. Coke Zero, how we did that was we had to hide it. If you think about how a lot of these innovations I’ve been associated with, how you build them is you have to start off Broadway because everyone is going to be critical.
Now, the second thing is you have to have courage. You have to have courage to have a voice, and if you don’t have the courage to have a voice, I hate to tell you, it’s never going to happen for you because people are going to kind of whip on you, and that happens. I was telling you earlier, one of the guys that I started the Innovatrium with is Thomas Zurbuchen who’s now the head of NASA. One of the things that I always loved about him was somebody has to got to say, “I think this isn’t working and we have to try something different.”
Now, the good news is what? The good news is once you start getting momentum you start things off Broadway, you proof the concept, you try things. When things begin to get momentum you bring them back into the group. So when you’re trying to engage in the conflict, you have to find people who don’t agree but have mutual respect and open-mindedness and are empathetic to each other. Now, the good news is every organization, Pete, has some of these people. And if you don’t have any of these people innovation is the least of your problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. Understood. So, having that distance, the off Broadway, sort of the across the street separation. That’s good. And you prove some momentum and hopefully you’ve got some sponsorship from on high that things are going to come up.

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, there’s always a sugar daddy, a sugar mama. And a lot of times they’re hiding in plain sight and it’s wonderful because a lot of times the person who got to the top, what they’re really frustrated with is they’re not in the game anymore. They want to take some shots, so it’s sometimes good to give them the ball, let them take a few shots.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very good. I like that. And then we talked about courage. Now, I guess I’m curious, is your experience with folks a little bit of, “Hey, either you got it or you don’t”? Or do you have some tactics, some mindsets, some growth approaches to step into that?

Jeff DeGraff
Two things or three things. The first is everybody who’s ever, I think, been successful knows there is a mentorship that we all have to go through, right? And I was super lucky. If some of your listeners are interested in design thinking, I’m the last doctoral student of Rudolf Arnheim who wrote the book Art and Visual Perception in 1948. I was his last doctoral student.
I was so lucky to be mentored, but being mentored is not the normal thing. Being mentored is what I call saw, do, too; see one, do one, teach one. So you have to start by watching the master and how the master deals with conflict, right? Then you have to participate in the conflict. This is how you’ll learn to be a doctor. You follow a doctor around for four years and then you become a resident.
And then, eventually, over time you develop expertise and you mentor somebody. So, the first thing you have to do is you have to learn the trade. And I think it’s something a lot of young people don’t do anymore. I did a really wonderful program recently with Twyla Tharp, the great Broadway choreographer, and her big thing was, her big criticism of Millennials was that they weren’t mentored properly and they really didn’t develop those deep skills.
Part of deep skills is it brings competence. The second thing is surround yourself with the other. The people that I listen to are people who have a lot of ideas about how bad my ideas are on a regular basis. In fact, one of my closest friends is extremely the opposite of me but I know he loves me. He built one of the largest corporations in America in the 1980s and 1990s. A very successful man. He’s an older gentleman but he always points out everything I’m doing is wrong.
But because I know he loves me and because I know he absolutely has my best interests at heart, and he’s brilliant, I listen to him, because that’s my blind spot, my dominant logic. So I’m in a situation where I’m dealing with the A-team that doesn’t agree with me and it moves my thinking. I want to have your listeners think about this for a minute. The University of Chicago, that Economics building, have you ever heard them talk about each other? Eighty-nine Nobel Prize winners, 89.
You’re in Chicago, you know what I’m talking about. But do they all agree? No. But, boy, tell me there’s a better team on the planet than that team right now. And can maybe Cambridge or Harvard or Stanford have something to say about? So that’s the second piece.
The third piece, which I think is the most important, is leave room for the stuff you don’t know. When did we all become experts at stuff? I get this all the time. I have this NPR radio program and I write a column for Ink and all this stuff. But one of the things I get is, “This is the way the world is supposed to work and I’m an authority because I have a voice.”
Can you imagine asking all your Facebook friends how to do a root canal, Pete? Right? You get a really bad idea and you’d probably seriously injure yourself. What you need to do is talk to people who actually have done this and be open-minded about it. Right? And say, “Oh, I’m probably wrong.” So, I’m always amazed at how everybody believes that they’re a military strategist or an expert on monetary policy. I was, for a while, an adviser to Federal Reserve in ’05 and ’06 trying to figure out how to build an innovation engine.
And one of the funny things was I get all of these people give me all this advice, and I’d say, “What do you do?” “You know, I’m a medical doctor.” “I’m a lawyer.” And you just laugh. You go, “What do you know about this?” And I don’t know anything about being a lawyer or being a doctor. I would ask you, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff DeGraff
You understand. This is what I would do to engage it. Take the edge off of it. And I guess the biggest thing is hate doesn’t get us anywhere. In this dominant logic all we’re fed is all the crap. The people who love all the stuff you do are probably not very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
That may very well be the quote we feature for this episode. Thank you. That’s good. And so before we kind of wrap it up with your favorite things, I’d love to check in and say, are there any sort of key tips or tricks or tactics or scripts, so sort of bite-sized tidbits that folks who want to jumpstart their innovation or ideation in a hurry might glom onto right here?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, I think there’s a number of them. Let me give you just a few to get you started. First of all, most of the creative work your company is trying to do you probably have to do outside of the company. You have to start it there. So get familiar with the coffee shop, get familiar with the place across the street and be brave enough to talk a little treason, if you will. Right?
The second thing, which is, I think, really important, is you don’t try to stop failure from happening. God bless Tom Peters, who I love, but this isn’t an amateur sport. What you’re trying to do is accelerate failure. If I asked all your listeners to take a piece of paper and draw a picture of their spouse, you could pretty much tell at what age everybody stopped learning to draw, speak a foreign language, play an instrument. It doesn’t matter whether you’re eight or 80. So the real question becomes, “How are you accelerating the failure cycle in a way that everybody can’t see it?”
Let me give you a couple other tidbits. One, hide inside Trojan horses. Every organization has a politically-correct project. It’s got money, guns and lawyers, everybody loves it. Take your little project, your little insurrection and hide it inside of that because it’ll get momentum and people won’t know that you’re hiding inside. And I’m sure your listeners are going, “But that’s kind of cheating.” Yeah, it is. You want to win, don’t you? Forget the 80/20 Rule.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is blaspheme.

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, forget it. And I know he was on, and I was on, but remember, the 80/20 Rule. I want you to think about that Bell curve. It’s easier to change 20% of your organization 80% than it is to change 80% of your organization 20%. You just got to find the part that’s in a crisis or the part that’s on a roll. Right? And, finally, the biggest thing that, I think, everybody has to do is, if you really want to make innovation happen, stop thinking big and start thinking fast.

The key is momentum. The biggest problem with innovation is people gather too much data and they get stuck in the planning cycle. Have you been to the meeting about the meeting, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Jeff DeGraff
Have you seen the report about the report?

Pete Mockaitis
And with consulting, “Let’s think about how we’re going to think about this, and talk about how we’re going to talk about this.”

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah. Even if you start the wrong direction you’re going to make adjustments. It’s all about adjustments. And innovation is an infinite game. You never get there – version one, version two, version three, version four. It’s iterative. So the notion is we spend way too much time thinking about it and not nearly enough time testing it. So that proof of concept, getting momentum on a proof of concept, I just think that’s so important and it’s really hard getting people to do that.
The people who really get how to do this are when you talk to the old entrepreneurs who built the company, and now their company is at that bulge bracket and they’re trying to get it to the next level, they remember and they’re brilliant at it and you just got to really encourage them to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jeff, this has been so, so thrilling and insightful. Great stuff. Tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure you mention before we shift gears and quickly hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I think the big thing is I have a massive open online course, tons of stuff, so you can help yourself. There’s a lot of kind of how-to in the stuff that I do, but you have to have the right mindset. So if you go to JeffDeGraff.com, all the stuff is free, no one will ever bother you. And this is sort of my gift to your listeners. This is for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is excellent. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jeff DeGraff
Oh, my favorite is on my door here. It’s from Schopenhauer, “Every man takes the limit of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, this stuff that I was talking about. My favorite piece is that when you start looking at innovation indexes, none of them have ever beaten the Growth benchmark ever, and I think that that should tell you how valid a lot of the innovation work out there is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I just read a book, and I’m usually not this gushy about a book. It’s called The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters and it’s by a young woman named Emily Esfahani Smith, and I just love it. It’s about how positive scholarship, this whole field of positive organizational scholarship has led into this whole renaissance of meaning-making that we haven’t seen maybe since Montaigne in the Middle Ages. It’s filled with research and brilliant insights. Love the book. And brilliantly written by such a young person. I’m envious in the best sense of the word.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool whether that’s a product or service or app, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I love PowerPoint. And the reason I love PowerPoint is it’s cinematic. I think people use PowerPoint all wrong. I don’t like a lot of the advice for PowerPoint. PowerPoint is making a movie. It’s a storyboard. And why I like it, is I’m one of those people that starts out with a zillion ideas, and I don’t really know how they all go together. And, in fact, this is kind of how some of my ideas came to be. So, I think we should all learn to be plastic thinkers.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you flourish?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, one of the things that I have a personal practice is I take catnaps. I run. I run every day but I think what happens is I get to the point where I feel like I can’t think creatively anymore. And I know some people meditate. I think that’s a great habit. I just take these little… I’m an old-timer in my office and I have this cheap place I sleep on, and I take these 18-minute naps. And when I get up I just feel like I can think again.

Pete Mockaitis
I love the precision of 18 minutes. Can you unpack that a little bit for us?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, there’s a lot of research. I don’t know about the research but I think once you start sleeping for a long time, you go into an REM cycle and then it’s hard to wake up. So if you sleep just a little bit, it’s not quite meditation, but basically what you’re doing is you’re turning all that chemo-electrical energy off for a while. And I think what it does is it resets your neural net.
I have a friend I’m writing an article with who has a very famous study, creativity in the brain. We have to turn to him to tell us what the exact mechanisms are. But you could pretty much steal 18 minutes on an airplane, or 18 minutes even if you’re doing a gig somewhere. I’d sit in a chair for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Thank you. And how about a favorite resonant nugget, something that you share in terms of your books, they get Kindle-highlighted, or they get re-tweeted, or note taken, just something that you have said that tends to really strike a chord with people?

Jeff DeGraff
Well, I think the big thing is how you innovate is what you innovate. How you do something determines what you’re going to get, right? And I think the other insight I would just add, I know you didn’t ask me, this is just innovation is the product of constructive conflict. You can’t have innovation without conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And the best place for folks to learn more or get in touch, would that be the JeffDeGraff.com?

Jeff DeGraff
Yeah, I would just go there. I’m one of the original LinkedIn influencers, all that stuff is there. And I think it’s easier to start there and then figure out what you want to do from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks looking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Jeff DeGraff
Yes, I do. I think we all have a responsibility to become free and independent thinkers. I’m terribly worried that what’s happened is we’re all listening to the same people and we’re not listening to disconfirming views. And my goal in my life is the democratization of innovation, and the only way we’re going to get there is we have to go back to being free and independent thinkers, which means don’t let people walk in your clean mind with their dirty feet, including me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, Jeff, this has been just a thrill. Thank you and good luck, and keep on innovating.

Jeff DeGraff
Thanks, Pete.

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The Gold Nugget

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