High Impact Innovation Leadership

Robert Tucker, The Innovation Resource

Robert Tucker

Futurist and innovation coach Robert B. Tucker has brought his practical and empowering message to thousands of audiences around the world. A former adjunct professor at UCLA, Robert is the author of seven books. His latest, Innovation is Everybody’s Business, focuses on how all of us can unleash the innovator’s mindset, toolset and skillset to meet the challenge of accelerating change. In addition to his live presentations, Tucker is a frequent contributor to publications such as Forbes, Strategy & Leadership, Journal of Business Strategy, and Innovation Excellence. He has appeared on Channel News Asia, PBS, Bloomberg, CBS News, and was featured on the recent CNBC series The Business of Innovation, hosted by Maria Bartiromo. A multi-year winner of the Top Five Speaker Hall of Fame, Tucker was recently awarded the prestigious Brand Personality Award by the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation, for his contributions to the field of innovation.

Video Transcript:

Robert is a former adjunct professor at UCLA and a freq contributor to publications such as Forbes, Strategy & Leadership, Journal of Business Strategy, and Innovation Excellence. He's appeared on Channel News Asia, PBS, Bloomberg, CBS News, and was featured on the recent CNBC series, The Business of Innovation. Finally, Robert is a multi-year winner of the Top Five Speaker Hall of Fame. It is my great pleasure to introduce to you Mr. Robert Tucker. Welcome, Robert.

You are good. Hey, everybody. How are we? Good, good, good, good. Glad to hear it. I want you to imagine that you are in the middle of the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming on a solo backpacking trip and you're lost, and you can't find your tent and it's dark. How did this happen? You wandered away across a meadow to check out a sunset and by the time you got back, now you can't find it. It's around here somewhere but you don't have your flashlight. Where is it?

Finally, after searching, you crawl under a pine tree with this Forest Service map as your blanket for the evening, and you wait it out. In the morning, when dawn finally appears, you get up and you look around and there's your tent 30 feet away. Being close did you absolutely no good and conditions ever so rapidly. This happened to me and that's why I want to make this session about your flashlight. Okay? Final session of the day. Are you ready? Yeah, because you see, when you stop to think about it, innovation, crowdsourcing is a tool just like this flashlight. If we learn to use it well, we're going to thrive, we're going to prosper. We're going to help our organizations. We're going to add value. We're going to see people in our company that were checked out, disengaged, couldn't care less, suddenly spring to life because of the challenge you gave them with a new idea that got them turned on again.

I don't know about you, but in the annals of things we get to do at work, that ranks right up there, so let's acknowledge that first and foremost. Then let's talk a little bit about the journey ahead because in talking with the folks at Spigit who are talking with you, what they're hearing is very simply this, that you're ready climb the next mountain. You're not going to rest on your laurels or say, "Hey, this engagement thing is good enough, so let's call it quits. Let's just circle around and do that." No. You want to involve the business side of your organization. You want to move more fully into new products, customer experience, R&D even, and a host of other areas. You want to take the tool there. You want to share it with those people.

In that light, in the brief time that we have to share a few ideas, I want to talk about having greater impact on the organization. I'm going to offer you a couple of principles here that are going to seem so simple after all the good stuff that we've heard today, that their meaning and value may just zoom right by you, but here we go. Number one, I want to invite all of us, no matter where you are in your journey, no matter where you are in your organization, I want to invite us all to take on the customer's problem. Specifically, I want you to think of your CEO, your Chief, your Business Unit Head, whatever, as your customer for just a moment here and enter the world of their problems because there are many.

Business has never been more complicated. I think we can agree to that, right? Never been more fast-paced. The challenges, the resource scarcities have never been greater. The patience of investors has never been higher. They got a lot of challenges on their plate, right? What can you do to help them out? I think almost every organization in this room probably faces at least one of these three challenges. Number one, the growth challenge. Very few companies, studies after study after shows this. Very few companies are growing at a rate that will entice investors or even ensure their long-term survival.

In 10 years, over 40% of the Fortune 500 will no longer be here. They'll be replaced by companies that probably don't even exist yet. This is the mill you, that your CEO, your customer is operating in. You've got ideas that can help the company grow, what are you waiting on? They want to hear about it. You got to knock on their door.

Number two. What I call the differentiation challenge. Now, right down the road here, HP over the last five years, they've laid off 33,000 workers. Those people are out there trying to find their flashlight. What's going on? What's going on is the differentiation challenge. HP didn't get ahead of it. Last year they split themselves into two. You think about their product and you see the product. There's no difference. HP, Dell, Lenovo, brand X. Who cares? They're all the same. When that happens, our products and services enter the commodity zone and we're seeing this industry after industry. For example, the airlines, where the only real differentiator is their wonderfully inept overbooking policies and procedures and their fees, as we're seeing, of late, but it's affecting even industries like automobiles.

Have you had this happen? Wow, look at that new Mercedes going, oh, it's a Kia. That's your differentiation challenge showing up, you see, so we need your ideas to help us differentiate our customer experience. We need your ideas to enter a new level. The third and probably the most significant of these three is the differentiate disruption challenge. When Clayton Christensen at Harvard 20 years ago first started writing about disruption, it was confined to a few industries like disk drives, maybe a few others. Today, virtually every industry, every business is susceptible to being disrupted.

Look at what is going on just in the last six to eight months in retail all of a sudden. Brick-and-mortar retail. Look at what is going on in money management, financial services, credit cards. Disruption. Look at what is going on in once stayed industries like utilities, energy. Even milk is being disrupted. You're probably thinking what is milk doing out there? Yeah. Fluid milk sales, cows' milk is down 36%. Did you know that? Why Is that? What's going on? Look in the fridge. Soymilk, almond milk. Who knew that almonds had udders? Fintech. Think about it.

Number two. Make the case for innovation. Make the case for innovation. That's what we got to do. That's what we got to do. By rights, this should be easy. Look at this. Boston Consulting Group. 84% of CEOs say, "Hey, innovation is vitally important to my company's growth." Slam dunk. There's no issue there, right? 85% of CEOs say, "Hey, innovation is one of my top three priorities." What's the problem? The problem is performance or lack thereof. Look at this. 94% of company leaders say that they are disappointed or dissatisfied with their companies' innovation performance. What gives? After all these books and all these seminars and all these conferences and all these thought leaders weighing in on this topic, 94% of them are disappointed. Almost makes you want to say lower your standards. Right? Lower your expectations. We're trying, but no, they can't because their investors are not willing to back off. That means either that's a problem or that's an opportunity for the people in this room.

The problem is we're still operating, as Scott said this morning and starting this meeting off, we're still operating in innovation 2.0. In most organizations today, it's disjointed, it's disorganized, it's on again, off again, it's those people over there in the R&D labs. It's a little thing we got going on over here. It's throw it over the wall. It's not invented here and it's not fundamentally working. It's not moving the growth needle the way it needs to. The good news is, and you all are a part of it, the good news is there's a new way emerging and crowdsourcing is a major part of it, and Spigit is a major part of it and you can be a major part of it.

The new way is integrated. The new way of innovation is systematic. The new way of innovation is connected. It's collaborative and it's crowdsourced and you are part of a whole new wave. I think in 10 years' time, we will look back on these days and just realize how amazingly backwards we were at this particular juncture. This is where it's going. The real question is here how do you want to hop onto this bandwagon? What's your role in this whole thing? How can you use this in your own career? Right? To navigate where you want to go.

What we do in my organization, we study the world's most innovative companies. Here we are not long ago in China, Hangzhou, China, working with or actually studying, in this case, a little company called Alibaba. You may have heard of them? Actually, they are not a little company. I was amazed. See that building behind us there? Just picture row after row and street and boulevard after boulevard of buildings just that big, and you get an idea of their headquarters. Then the employee housing starts. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

What we do is we study companies and we ask what works and what doesn't when it comes to innovation. Let me just ask you that. This is a room full of innovation experts. What is it that defines an innovative company? Right? I wished we had some time to really get into this and discuss it, but it turns out everybody's got a different definition. Maybe based on where they come from in the organization. Right? I love these lists that you see every year. The top most innovative companies, this, that, and the other, right? All the different magazines do. Thomson Reuters, a top 100. They base theirs on patents, and I guess on the premise that he who wins the most patents wins the innovation arms race.

Let me ask you this. Is that the full picture? Patents are great but if you can't commercialize them, where are you? Right? Is patents the picture? Similar with our friends at PwC. They rate or look at who's spending the most on R&D and every year in the report, I love reading the report, every year, down at the bottom there it says and there is no correlation between R&D spend and performance. Nevertheless, it's fun to tally it up.

Number three, BCG, this is probably the gold standard here, right? What is their method? They just go out and ask 1,000 executives what do you think? Who's innovative out there? I find it interesting that not a single Chinese company is on here, but nevertheless, I digress. Forbes, now a little full disclosure, I'm a Forbes contributor but I have absolutely nothing to do with this research, so I can bash it if I want to. No. No. It's fine, it's great, it's a measure of future potential, let's just say. They're crowdsourcing investor potential of these because the top two there, they seldom have made a profit so far, but it's what investors feel that they will do in the future.

Then my favorite, Fast Company, and what is their methodology? What are their criteria? It turns out, if you read the fine print, they bring the editorial team together, take a quick vote, and voila, they have their list for the year. I guess when you're Fast Company, you have to do everything fast. Right? Hey, who has time for research? No, I love it. It's great. I always hear about some new companies on this list.

My purpose here is not to bash these lists. I get great joy out of reading them, kind of a wonkish guy, but rather to have us ponder what makes an innovative company. What are the criteria? Because over the years, I've developed my own criteria, my own standards as I have traveled around working with companies in literally 48 countries, and in most of the Fortune 500, but they have less to do with patents and performance and popularity even, and really a lot more to do with the factors that enable a company to outgrow its peers and to sustain that success over time.

I want to share these with you but I want to invite you before I do to develop your own vision, because every thought leader has bitten off a piece of the elephant. Right? This is how you do innovation, this is the truth, this is it. The rest of those guys, they're a little misguided, right? I think it's time we all connect in together as one group, right? One practice area, one industry. Can we call this a field? What shall we call ourselves, right? What it requires is that you wrestle with the clay here. You wrestle with what you believe is the case and I want to suggest to develop your own innovation vision so that you are the thought leader inside your organization going forward on this topic of innovation. Let's take a look at my five best practices here.

Number one, they make innovation a strategic imperative. These vanguard companies we study make it a strategic imperative. Their leaders stay engaged. Many leaders make it a priority and then they walk away. We can't talk about this kind of thing when I'm speaking about your town hall meeting, but I'll clean up my act, but we're talking to innovation leaders here, okay? They stall engaged and it makes all the difference. There are so many things you can delegate in a company if you're the Chief. Innovation is not one of them. Take a look at the results of the last six CEOs of Procter & Gamble and then let's zero in on that wonderful performance there, man by the name of A.G. Lafley. Some of you may know A.G.

In the annals of the innovation field, this guy is a hero because what happened? What did he do? When he came onboard, this was a company mired in bureaucracy. Growth had stalled. Margins were sinking like that Teton son. He started giving out rewards to people with ideas. He started doing open innovation and he started setting stretch goals for every department and business unit in that company, and things started turning around. The most important thing that he did, he said, "When I came onboard, we had 8,000 people here in R&D. That was how we thought of innovation." He said, "Today, everybody in the organization has a role to play, and that's a sea change at P&G." Innovation, strategic imperative.

Number two, establish an idea management process. You see, this is Spigit's big contribution to our field. This is historic, truly, truly, truly. Ideas now have a place to go. We now realize that ideas more than machinery or computers or whatever else are the assets of the new era, and we need to nurture those and support those and manage those ideas. I'll never forget, I was having coffee with this guy, interviewing him for a book we wrote called Driving Growth Through Innovation a number of years ago. Simon Spencer, Borg Warner Corporation out of Chicago. They make drivetrains and automobile components.

He said, "Robert, at some point in our journey, we looked around and we said, we got a process for everything else around here. Why not for innovation?" That is the shot being heard around the world as more and more companies realize hey, you got to have a process. A lot of people think that innovation is about the dough, the money, and certainly it is. A lot of people think it's about the grow, but you and I know that it's really about the flow. The input, throughput, and output of fresh, powerful, compelling ideas through our organizations. We are really forced to be, encouraged to be, diagnosticians. Where is the blockage? Where is the issue here on the flow?

Number three. Collaborate with customers and strategic partners, the vanguard companies are not content to serve the present needs of customers or even the unmet needs of customers. They want to get out front of customers and look at what we their unarticulated needs are, and get there first with new opportunities. Jeff Bezos was quoted earlier today. At every meeting at Amazon, they have an empty chair. How come? Purely symbolic. They want to keep the voice of the customer in mind with every decision they make. Bezos said, "We start by thinking about the customer and working backwards." He said, "The other guys, the competition, they start with hey, what are we going to make if we do this idea? What kind of money are we going to make?" You see the difference there?

Cultivate risk-taking cultures. This is a room full of risk takers, right? Spigit should have on their software, warning, you're in the innovation space when you use this software. This is a very dangerous space. Truly, right? Come on. Think about it. You are risk takers. Yes. Prudent risk takers, perhaps, but you can wall yourself off in some cubicle somewhere and definitely maybe lower the risk, but no, that's not what you want. That's not what drives you. Am I right? Yeah. Cultivate risk-taking culture.

Yeah, we talk about it a lot but you know what? Maybe it's just me but maybe it's the companies that I'm working with. I don't want to cast any aspersions but I'm seeing the risk aversion has become a high art. This is an art form. Boston Consulting Group, 2006, publishes their list of most innovative companies. Check it out. Look at number eight on that list a company called Nokia. If you had a cell phone at that point in time, you probably had a Nokia. Yeah. They were riding high. Double-digit growth, they appeared unstoppable. Great company, very cool group of people and the phone rings and the HR Chief at Nokia out of Finland is calling me to lead a team of their best and brightest, their high-potential managers that are doing a workshop down in Palo Alto. Would I be interested? Absolutely.

To prepare for this group, I had them do a little survey. One of the questions, I still remember this, was, now what barriers exist at Nokia? Right? I half expected that they would send that thing back with that blank. What do you mean barriers to innovation at Nokia? We are Nokia, don't you understand? We don't do this kind of thing. Man, I'll tell you when the votes started coming in, they look kind of like a lot of other companies that we might look at. We're a risk-averse culture, we doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. I'll never forget that session for one reason. I happened to ask them a question. I said if I work for you and I have an idea, what do you want me to do with it? Do I know what to do? Do you have someplace for that idea to go?

A guy just stood up and he said, "Hey, I'd just tell you to forget about it. Don't beat your head against the wall. You're only going to frustrate yourself. Why take the risk?" There were a few gasps in the room, but you know what? There was also kind of a groan of recognition, as well. I didn't think much about it. I went to get on the plane for Bogota the next day. Kind of crossed it off of my mind as an anomaly. Hey, well rapid growth covers a lot of sins and didn't think about it. Then a year later, Apple happened to introduce this little thing called the iPhone and Nokia began their rapid descent, spectacular fall from grace and I thought back on what they were revealing about the true culture there. You all are in the business of cultivating the culture and that's an essential aspect of innovation success.

Finally, involving everyone in the enterprise. This is a real sea change going on. We get pushback on this. Oh, we can't do that. Everybody can't be involved. It's chaos. It's crazy. Spigit has come up with a way to organize chaos, right? We are on the cusp of a whole new era here because more and more people are accepting. More and more companies are accepting this notion that everybody can play a role. I wrote this book that you received there, and I'd be more than happy to autograph that at the cocktail party that we got coming up here, but I wrote this book not about extraordinary people in Silicon Valley and so forth. I wrote it about more or less ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and we went out and just sat down with them and asked them.

These are people that are like you, getting big and important things done for the Chief, and we should say, "Hey, what are your skillsets. Tell us about that?" They described a mindset, a skillset, and a toolset. That's what we did. We just wrote this up in this book. Everybody, yes, everybody, including a payroll person at Starbucks who figured out a way to cut the cost of doing payroll by 50% and Jennifer Rock at Best Buy and so forth and so on, and I'm coming up on time and I want to leave a little time for questions, so I'll abbreviate it.

Really comes back to your journey and what you want to do with this exciting field of innovation. Because you're connecting so many dots and hopping over so many boundaries here, I just want to say as somebody, a fellow traveler, if you will, in this industry, that really the sky is the limit for you. If you're willing to work on these skills. We've all got strengths and weaknesses and when it comes to this, and some of us are really, really good at solving problems and some of us are really, really good at spotting opportunities, but maybe we don't like to sell our ideas. That just turns us right off. I hate to go before the powers that be and have to beg for money or whatever it is, right? Dive into that one. Dive into the one. You'll see these seven in the book. Right?

Nobody has got them all [inaudible 00:28:21] out here. It's just not the way it works. Work on the ones that we're not so good on. Yeah. Go back and tell everybody you know that innovation is everybody's business. It's not just the folks in head shed. It's not just those geniuses over there in the R&D department or those people in IT. It's everybody. Folks in operations, sales, marketing, payroll, reception.

I'm going to close by telling you a little story about a receptionist by the name of Michelle. She works at a small manufacturing company in Ohio and she recently won the award for Innovator of the Year. A colleague of mine was there at the ceremony and he went up to there and he said, "Michelle, congratulations. I can't ... You're the receptionist here at the company. How did you happen to come up with all these ideas?" She said, "Well, I've got kind of a secret method but I could share it with you." I said, "Please do." My friend, eh said, and she said, "You know, I'm on the phone with our customers all day long and sometimes they're not real happy with something we did or maybe something we failed to do." She said, "When that happens, I don't get defensive, I just take out my pad and start writing and I take down the story, and then I love to ask them my favorite question."

My friend said, "Well, what is that?" She said, "And sir, what do you think we should do so that this never happens again?" Oh, and by golly, they tell me, and I write that down and I write it up and I submit that to our new ideas program. That's how I got the award. You see, Michelle could have easily said, "Hey, I make innovation in my business? You've got to be kidding." Instead, she says, "Yeah, I can do that. I'm talking to our customers all day long. I can look for ways that we can improve." That's the mind shift that we need to create out there in everybody, so everybody, not just a few, but everybody.

Because you never know where your next breakthrough idea is going to come from. Thank you very much. Thank you.

We have the time to take a couple of questions.


That will be wonderful. Time for a few questions for Robert. Got our boys with the yellow boxes ready to go.


All right.

Talk about innovation. I hadn't seen that one. Yeah. No.

You've stunned them. Please, Terry.

Speaker 3:
Thank you so much. What I wanted to really share with everyone is I had the opportunity to meet Robert last year at the Spigit conference. In fact, we didn't know each other. We sat down at a front table together and I turned around and went, "You look really familiar. Where do I know you from?" It turns out that we had actually used his book, Innovation is Everybody's Business, to really motivate our teams to get inspired about innovating at American Express, and we did it at a small level. It's not that everybody 80,000 employees have the book, but that's how I spearheaded it for our program and it really did get folks thinking about they can make a valid contribution to the organization and really kind of created our innovation movement in our organization, so I just wanted to thank you for that.

Wow, thank you.

Thank you.

Speaker 3:

Maybe we need another energizing activity. There we go. Here we go.

Good catch.

Speaker 4:
Great speech. One of the things you said that really inspired me, you said about getting the CEO to own the mission for innovation.

A little louder.

Speaker 4:
Can you hear me? Is that better? Can you hear me?

Okay, yeah.

Speaker 4:
Okay. Good.


Speaker 4:
One of the things. Barely? One of the things you said is getting the CEO to own innovation and you gave the example of P&G and A.G. Lafley there. We've heard some great presentations today where I think a common theme was the CEO is behind me, the CEO is behind me. We heard some great examples. I'm wanting for some of the people in the room that, perhaps, that's not there, who's, perhaps, part of the mission to go and get the CEO behind innovation and behind them, and what your advice might be around that.

I think it's pretty rare that CEOs will actually come to us. Frankly, they don't know the power of crowdsourcing. They don't know and they're somewhat jaded on this whole thing of driving innovation through transformation. I think we got to knock on their door. Lucky people like Nancy Snyder at Whirlpool in a famous example, the CEO, Dave Whitwam at the time, basically was in an appliance store and he said, I got pretty good eyesight, looked across the room, I couldn't tell our product from the other. That was a differentiation moment there, right? Or lack thereof. He come back, taps Nancy in the org development department to lead this initiative, which became world-famous. She's written two books about it. It's been all over the media and so forth.

She's taken this whole thing, but yeah, she was the beneficiary of that. Yes, she studied up on innovation, she knew nothing about it when it started, but for most of us in this room, it's going to be having to reach out, make friends, and spread the good news about what you're doing here. Evangelizing crowdsourcing and showing people through examples of how it can be a tool to help them get where they want to go. That wonderful speaker Lela, is it? Earlier today, are you still in the room? She's probably ...


Lale. She's probably on the plane back to Hong Kong, right? Did some more innovating back there but no, I was just so inspired by that example. See, that's the kind of thing that we need to do in a homegrown sort of way. We just need to be the initiators of that. My suggestion, knock on their door. Spread the good news. Don't keep what we've got under a bushel as we say. Spread it. Go to them.

Question over here. Thank you, Charlie.

Speaker 5:
Hi. Thanks for that. I was just wondering this morning, we talked a bit about the valley of death or that how do we commercialize these ideas, and I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on that and once you've got the great idea and identified it, how do you get it to market or how do great companies get them to market?

Again, I think frontiers of crowdsourcing are such that in a very short period of time, we're going to be able to crowdsource the efficacy of ideas. That was a point that I took away from earlier here. Right? It'll never, let's ask Watson, hey, what do you think? Just take the human element out of it. I think a lot of it in that input throughput phase there, right? That commercialization phase there or standing it up if not commercializing. If it's a process idea, if it's an internal improvement idea, still go through the same phases, right? You pilot it, all that sort of thing.

I see technology coming to the aid to some extent but it's always going to be leadership at the localized level and that comes back to you [inaudible 00:36:03] and the kind of skills that were discussed earlier. People skills, diffusing people's resistance before it ever really metastasizes or gets huge. Just as a little aside and this is not going to be [inaudible 00:36:24] the gentleman in the room, but I got to say I'm seeing a lot of women become very effective leaders of innovation in their organizations and I think there's a clear explanation for that. I think they're more attuned to the empathy skills and the collaboration skills and that sort of thing, so I would say to the gentleman in the room, I think we got to study up on this aspect of innovation. I know that didn't quite answer your question but took a stab anyway.

Terrific. Any more for any more? Robert, thank you ever so much.

My pleasure.

Truly terrific. Thank you. Thanks for joining us. Outstanding.