When Jeff Kirschner’s daughter saw a plastic tub of cat litter in the woods, little did he realize that it would be the spark for creating Litterati, a global community working to create a litter-free planet. Jeff is the founder and CEO of Litterati. He talks about crowdsource-cleaning the planet one piece of litter at a time and goes through the process of creating the app and how it has empowered communities to take action.
Dubbed as one of America’s top innovation experts by Inc. magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Dateline NBC, CNBC, CIO Magazine, and the CBC, is Doug Hall – an inventor, researcher, educator, and craft whiskey maker. Doug is the founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute, and Brain Brew Custom Whiskey. He talks about innovation and why it should be approached at as a system, as well as the key things that make people come up with meaningful, unique ideas.
We have Jeff Kirschner and Doug Hall here. Jeff is the CEO and Founder of Litterati. He’s a TED Resident and he created an interesting app that’s going to change the world. Doug is named one of the top innovation experts by Inc., The Wall Street Journal and Dateline NBC. We’ve got some very innovative minds on the show.
Listen to the podcast here
Creating A Little-Free World Through Litterati with Jeff Kirschner
I am with Jeff Kirschner who is the Founder and CEO of Litterati, a global community working to create a litter-free planet. With his four-year-old daughter, he saw a plastic tub of a cat litter in the woods and little did Jeff realize that was going to be a spark for creating Litterati. It’s a movement that’s crowdsourcing cleaning the planet, one piece of litter at a time. It’s an interesting story. I got to see him speak on TED. I don’t know if anybody’s seen that talk but he’s been featured on National Geographic, Rolling Stone and Time magazine. Litterati has been backed by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the United Nations Environmental Program and it’s an interesting story. I’m excited to have you here Jeff, welcome.
Thanks much for having me.
I loved your TED Talk. It was fascinating to me how one day walking along could change your life. Do you want to give a back story to what you were doing prior to that day? I like to have a little background on people.
I was working on a screenplay. I was writing a story about a lost motorcycle that was hidden in the Bolivian jungle based on the true story that I had heard. It was one that gripped me. I was immersed in research around Bolivia, Indian Motorcycles and I was living my life as a writer morning, noon and night.
You did say that your passion lies in storytelling and I could tell, you did a great job on your TED Talk. You’re a TED Resident. What does that mean exactly?
TED has this program where they invite people from around the world who are working on different ideas worth spreading to come to New York where TED is headquartered and effectively live with the TED family. Continue to pursue whatever specific project they’re working on. I was fortunate enough to be one of those people and it was an experience that is arguably one of the greatest of my life.
How long does that last? I’m curious about that.
About four months.Innovation can take its toll on you as you're fighting to get new ideas through. Click To Tweet
I’ve had many great TED speakers on my show and I had Daniel Goleman not that long ago and I’ve had a lot of people who have done some amazing stuff. I don’t know if I’ve talked to people about what they did with the resident program. That interests me.
What’s amazing about it is there are few places that I have found in the world where you can dream as big as you can possibly imagine and have the support network there that says we’re going to help you make that a reality.
What exactly do you do? You’ve got me interested. I want to hear more about it.
There are few organizations in the world that I am fonder of and happier to be part of than TED. Your day exist much in a way it would in your daily life anywhere else. It happens that you’re working from within TED’s headquarters and they are helping you move the ball forward. They are making introductions. They are helping you think new strategy. Perhaps most importantly, they’re surrounding you with, in my case, nineteen other residents who are facing some of the same challenges. Seeing the same opportunities albeit in different areas of focus but just that rubbing of shoulders with people who are trying to take on pretty ambitious goals is comforting and helpful. It culminates in a TED Talk. Not all of your time but a lot of your time is spent prepping for this presentation that you’re going to give. For many of us, it’s the biggest stage we’ve ever been on certainly from a distribution perspective. It’s a fabulous experience with wonderful people and I feel incredibly grateful.
They found you before you gave that talk about what you did with Litterati then.
That story is a sweet one. I was speaking in Hawaii and I got this phone call from my wife who said, “Have you heard about the TED Residency? You’ve got to check it out. They’re accepting applications for ideas worth spreading.” I think I said to her, “What are the odds?” She said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, just apply.” I did and the bridge showed up, and suddenly I was offered a position. I turned to my wife and I said, “Let’s get this straight. We live in Oakland, and I’m going to leave you and the kids for four months. They don’t provide housing and there’s no pay. How in God’s name could we possibly do this?” She said, “How in God’s name could we possibly not?” That was it.
You definitely would have had an opportunity cost there. It’s an interesting talk that you gave and I could see how they would be interested in what you’re doing. There’s no question. This is a fascinating story. I want to get into what you shared on your TED Talk with how you were walking with your daughter.
I was with both of my kids, my daughter and my son and they were four and two respectively at the time. We were hiking in the woods and my little girl noticed a plastic tub of cat litter that had been thrown into this creek. She just looked at me and said, “Daddy, that doesn’t go there.” It was this innocent comment but it was an eye-opening one. It reminded me of when I was a kid, I used to go camping. On the morning of visiting day, the camp director would instruct us to all go out and pick up five pieces of litter. You have a couple of hundred kids. We were all walking around and picking up five pieces and within a few minutes the camp was spotless, and I thought, “Why not apply that crowdsourced model to the entire planet?” That was the inspiration for starting Litterati.
What you’re doing is fascinating. I think a lot of people would want to know how you’ve come about taking pictures and what these pictures have done to change the world. Talk about your app and how Instagram led to that. I’d like that whole story.
I took this photograph of a cigarette and I use Instagram to do that. I took another photograph of a piece of litter, another photograph, another one and I noticed a couple of things happening. One, litters suddenly something became artistic and that was simply because of the power of Instagram and therefore it became approachable. That bottle cap that I was walking over a million times before, I suddenly stopped because it became a photo opportunity. The second thing that happened was that at the end of a week I had 50 or 60 photos on my phone. I had picked up and discarded each and every piece I had photographed. I realized that’s 50 less pieces on the ground. The same way that people measure the miles, they run with Fitbit or the miles they ride with Strava. I was measuring the positive impact I was having on the planet.
I was measuring how many pieces were no longer on the planet simply by the number of photographs on my phone. I have no idea what I could do with that. I thought it was cool. I started telling people what I was doing and to make a long story a little bit longer, that one photograph has crossed over 2.7 million images and pieces of litter that had been cataloged, mapped, collected by a community that’s in 115 countries. What started as nothing more than a hashtag on top of Instagram has turned into an iOS app and an Android app that is free for anybody to download and join in this solution. We feel like we are scratching the surface of what’s possible. The reason we believe that is because each of those photographs provides a ton of data about where the litter is when it was picked up and most importantly what it is. The brands and material and that’s what the application is optimized to do, to identify and catalog this litter while bringing in this global community together.
I found it interesting how you were using the data to make a difference. The cigarette story was an interesting one to me. About the sales tax, do you want to share that? I liked that story.
The city of San Francisco had this question that they wanted to be answered, which was what percentage of litter came from cigarettes? Years before we existed, they handed pencils and clipboards to a few people. Those folks walked around the streets of San Francisco and manually identified and counted the number of cigarettes. That information led to a $0.20 tax on all cigarette sales and then the city got sued by the tobacco industry who claimed that the pencils and clipboards weren’t precise and they weren’t provable. We got this call from the Department of the Environment who said, “Can your technology help us figure this out?” With Litterati data one week later, we had about 5,000 pieces that we analyzed. It was used to not only defend but double that tax and now it generates about $4 million a year in annual revenue for the city to clean itself up.
You said that each city has a unique fingerprint with the problem and solution you’re able to identify. Why is it different?
It’s a hypothesis that we are experimenting with. It’s on a huge insight. What lies on the streets of Stockholm looks a lot different than what lies on the streets of San Jose. Osaka is very different than Oakland. What we figured was, what if you could fingerprint at the most granular level, every single piece of litter that was lying on the city streets or sidewalks, beaches playgrounds, etc.? What might you do with that information? For example, with San Francisco, if we were able to help generate that meaningful revenue by understanding the percentage of cigarettes, what about coffee cups, soda cans, plastic bottles, gum wrappers, candy wrappers on and on? Could you use that data to do things in addition to generating sales taxes? Maybe you could be smarter about where you place trash cans and recycling bins. Maybe you could work with some of those brands to come up with more sustainable solutions. We think that this notion of being able to fingerprint or in layman’s terms, understand from a data perspective what’s lying on our ground. We think that can be powerful.
How do you actually do that though? You could tell locations from the GPS and different things but how does it identify what kind of trash it is?People are angry at their work and frustrated with where their company is going but won't change because they're scared of the unknown. Click To Tweet
The way in Litterati works is simple. You find a Starbucks cup, a Coke can, a bottle cap, a cigarette and you snap a photo. That photo tells a story. It tells us who picked up what, where and when. The who, where and when are all automated. You have a profile and there’s a geotag that is automatically affixed the moment you snap the photo, same for a timestamp. The when which in many cases is the holy grail to the what, the materials in brands is what everybody’s after is the one thing that is manually input by the community. You take a photograph of a Starbucks cup and you type S and we filter down the menu. They’ll say Starbucks, Snickers or etc.
What we actually launched is image recognition and the first version of machine learning into the application. The end goal is to get to the point where you take the photo and the AI immediately identifies what that is both from an object perspective like a cup, from a material perspective like plastic and from a brand perspective like Starbucks. That’s how we break it down. That’s hard to do because as you might imagine, much of what is on the ground are things in different states of decomposition. The Snickers wrapper is no longer in that pristine brown, blue that you would find on the shelf and it’s not even in the entire word. It’s maybe a quarter of the S because the N-I-C-K-E-R-S has been ripped off and blown away. How we use AI to train the model so that the moment someone snaps a photograph of something like the corner of a Snickers wrapper, we can instantly tell you exactly what it is, that’s what we’re working on.
How far had you gotten with what you do at Litterati when you send in your request for the TED Residency? Did you know that you were creating an app at that point? What did you tell them that you’re wanting to change the world in terms of doing this timestamping, fingerprinting type of stuff or how far were you into this?
We had launched the iOS app. That was in 2016 is when I was there. We had launched the iOS app and Android had not been launched yet but it wasn’t about selling them like, “We have an app to pick up litter.” Frankly, that’s not a compelling pitch. In fact, I rarely say that. For us, it’s about the larger vision, which is how do you create a litter-free world? What does that take? That was the story that I was sharing. What I was explaining to them was, we feel like we’re in chapter one of a hundred-chapter-long-story and it’s about the first version of an application. Tomorrow, it might be collecting data through drones. The day after, it might be satellite imagery and all that time. How do you use technology and data to not only change policy and influence better packaging but perhaps most importantly, how do we change behavior? That’s what I was sharing with them from a vision perspective and again, TED is all about “Ideas worth spreading.” What they saw was an idea that was and still is worth spreading.
You obviously have some background. You were Cofounder and Creative Director for two other startups. I’m sure you didn’t grow up thinking, “I’m going to change the world in terms of trash and taking pictures of it. I’m going to be this person.” You ran into this idea but you have this ability to be a Cofounder and Creative Director of a startup. You were destined to do something big. What led to being into that mindset to begin with? Did you grow up always being a curious person? I wrote my most book on curiosity and I’m always fascinated by what gets people motivated or driven to go in certain directions. Some of this was fortunate that you went by the cat tub when you did, but as far as the rest of it, there had to be a foundation of you being this entrepreneurial mind.
If there was or if there is a foundation, I think it was built subconsciously. I don’t think I ever thought, “I’m going to go build stuff,” that wasn’t me. Interestingly that I’ve had three tech-related startups, I can’t write a line of code. In fact, I would have no idea how to analyze or assess a code. I’m not an engineer at all. I see my role as the guy at the front of the line sharing the story of what’s possible and then trying to be the catalyst to make that possibility a reality. My life has been anything but linear. I’ve slalom through. You brought up curiosity, I definitely find myself having an insatiable curiosity. I’ve looked at life as a buffet table and there’re many different things that I’d like to try. When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do because I wanted to do it all. That is not necessarily a great recipe but it was my situation. I ended up backpacking around the world for a year. Maybe that was a delaying tactic but it ended up being one of the greatest decision I ever made. It exposed me to the way that other people live.
I had Rich Karlgaard on my show, the publisher at Forbes. He wrote Late Bloomers and he was talking about doing that very thing.
I’ve read his column for many years and I saw that he had come out with Late Bloomers. It’s a fantastic area of focus because I probably fall into that category. Part of me still has no idea what I want to do. I’m doing what I think needs to be done and feels right for me at this given point in time.
It’s a great book. I highly recommended it and he echoed exactly what you’re saying. Getting back to your Litterati of who’s doing this, who are using this app is what interests me. Are people doing this to clean up the planet? Do you have people do it to get data? Who’s the customer for this?
Yes and yes. It’s interesting, this is a problem that affects us universally and we’ve been approached by people who are interested in like you said, “The environmental perspective.” Others who are interested in the data, others who are interested in making a difference in their own community. When it was on Instagram, it was people who were interested from an art perspective. Our attitude has been, “We don’t care why you’re interested. We’re thrilled that you are and if we can build a tool that empowers you to make a difference and an impact, that’s exactly where we think we should play.”
From a psychographic perspective, there’s a common thread which is people who want to make a difference, people who care about the plant and feel that they don’t need to ask permission. They can go out there backdoor, start cleaning up their community and suddenly they’re part of the solution. From a demographic perspective, we don’t keep data on gender split, age or things like that. I can’t tell you that. Anecdotally, I can tell you that we do a ton of work with schools all over the world. Litterati has been implemented as a citizen science program in schools in everywhere from New Zealand, Ireland to the US.
We do a ton of work with NGOs. Brands have started engaging with us and in different ways. We launched an employee engagement program. We’re headed into the month of April. Earth Day is coming up. In June you have both World Environment Day and World Oceans Day. We’ve built this product for companies to bring their employees together in a way as a team building exercise. Another way brands have been interested is, some of the brands whose material ends up on the ground, they want to know where it is. A lot of those brands, many of the consumer package goods companies, they want to identify how they can stop that leakage.
Some of the brands even want it back in the case of some of the soda manufacturers, they want that plastic material back so they can repurpose it. The final group that’s been becoming part of this community are our cities. We have embarked in a number of different programs, San Francisco being one example where cities are wanting to know how they keep their streets, sidewalks and beaches a lot cleaner. We’re in our infancy and we need to figure out what is the right path forward for us to focus on because we’re a small team and we can’t do it all. That’s a little idea of who’s been in part of the community in our early days.
They always say, if you buy a blue car then all you do is see blue cars. How much do you see trash compared to what you used to?
I spend a lot of time looking down.
What’s the weirdest thing you had to take a picture of?Make a difference in your life. Make your work better. Life's meant to be lived and enjoyed. Click To Tweet
This is going to be hard to believe, but you’re going to have to take it at face value. I was about a mile from my house and I saw what was a ripped open paper envelope. I went to snap a photo of it, pick it up when I turned it over and it was addressed to me. It was a very bizarre moment, clearly what happened was at least this is my guess is it had flown out of a recycling truck. People think about litter and they think, “If we could just stop people from littering, the problem would go away.” That’s not a full picture. This is more than behavior. It’s around infrastructure and redesigning everything from our recycling cans, trash cans to even the trucks that pick those things up. That bizarre occurrence was something that made me realize that this is a very complex problem that goes beyond the “Don’t litter message” that you have seen through public service announcements for decades.
Does anybody ever take pictures of a mail like that with people’s addresses? Is there any problem with people sharing things like that?
We haven’t had that yet but there’s always a few bad apples. You have to put the tools in place to ensure that when inappropriate content is posted, it’s immediately taken down. When anybody does something that breaks our terms of service, they’re immediately taken off the site. We’re aware of those things but fortunately for us, that has not been something we’ve run into very often.
It’s so wonderful that you found this fortuitous way of cleaning up the planet. It was such a wonderful story that your daughter and your son, you can share with them. It’s an interesting way that you’ve taken what happened that day and turned it into such an amazing thing. I was looking forward to hearing your story. Thank you for sharing that. A lot of people are going to want to know how they could find out more about you, Litterati and if they want to watch your TED Talk, is there anyone particular or a couple of sites you’d like to share?
If you want to hear the story, google Litterati and TED. Most importantly, we would love to have you join us. If you’re on an Android device, an iPhone or iPad, the apps are free to download. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask how we can help support you. Support@Litterati.org is the easiest way to do that and you can find us on all the social channels and we’d be thrilled to have you join this community. We got a whole planet to clean and we’re just getting started.
It’s amazing what you’ve done, Jeff and thank you much for sharing your story.
Thank you much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Innovation As A System with Doug Hall
I am here with Doug Hall, who’s an inventor, researcher, educator and craft whiskey maker. He’s the Founder of Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. He has been named one of America’s Top Innovation Experts by Inc. Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and Dateline NBC. In his book, Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods and the Innovation Engineering System describes how to transport an innovation from random acts to reliable science. It’s nice to have you here, Doug.
Thank you for having me.
I’ve looked forward to this. I was looking at your bio and you’ve done many amazing things. I found it interesting that a study found that the average US home uses an average of eighteen products or services that you’ve helped invent or reinvent.
I’ve been doing innovation for a long time. Sadly as I’m looking up now, many of the people used to do it. Innovation can take its toll on you, as you’re fighting to get the new ideas through and I’ve been very blessed in that I’m as excited as I was many years ago. It’s a great time.
Innovation is a hot topic with the AI and everything out there. You couldn’t be talking about it probably at a better time but I want to get a background on you. For you to reach that level of success you’d have to have a little backstory that a lot of people would like to know. Can you share that?
Mine is a unique background. I started as an entrepreneur at age twelve. I had that entrepreneurial gene in me. I invented the Learn to Juggle Kit and I bought 600 balls, 600 rings and went into business. I always wanted to be an inventor. My dad encouraged me to be an engineer and then become a patent attorney. I did the first part of that. I became a chemical engineer, then I looked up and I decided, “I don’t think I want to be a patent attorney.” I went into marketing of all things at Procter & Gamble. I had this unique whole brain combination of market-facing from the marketing but an engineering background to the technology. It was that combination that enabled me to innovate and look at the whole look thing as a system.
Generally, we tend to work one silo with the other and I was able to work the whole. That’s probably been key to my success as well as my dad had worked with Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who famously went to Japan after World War II, who taught that 94% of the problem is the system, 6% is the worker. My focus has been on systems thinking and that’s what the Driving Eureka! book is about. This is my seventh book but this one brings together many of the others to teach people not only what is innovation, why you do it but how to do it. Approaching it as a system and that’s the key to my success.
I was noticing that even if you didn’t go out on to law school, you’re awarded a Doctor of Laws from the University of Prince Edward Island, a Doctor of Engineering from University of Maine and that’s pretty impressive. I worked for AstraZeneca forever and I’ve been in marketing and sales. Some of the backgrounds that you had was similar to people I’ve worked with. You have that to marketing ability, which is unusual to combine with engineering type of personality. I created an assessment to determine the things that keep people from being curious because I want to get people more innovative. Many people are held back because they aren’t figuring out the what, why and how. You can see why I’d be interested in your book. How do we get people to think more systems thinking? How do you do that?
I got some theories. I don’t have any answers because this is an epic challenge. People will sit there frustrated, angry at their work, frustrated with where their company is going but they won’t change which is so crazed because they’re scared of the unknown. I get it down to more basic dimensions. Inside all of us, there’s a little bit of curiosity and somehow we got to connect to that. We’ve got to let the curiosity go. However, not just curiosity and feeling the voodoo of what’s going on but then we’ve got to get them into a mindset that they had as a child, which was when they wanted to learn something, they try it and fail. They try it again, they fail, their parents will tell them, “Come on. Back up, you can do it. You’re going to learn to ride that bike.” We did cycles of learning. Deming called them plan, do study and act which is actually different than check, act which people may be familiar with. He taught them how to do rapid research, rapid cycles, rapid learning, fail fast, whatever which ones you call it. Somehow while we tell that kids and our grandkids to do that as adults, we have to get it right the first time.People fake it because they have to and for survival. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Click To Tweet
You need to have curiosity, and then you need to balance it with the discipline to confront the reality, you try it, it works, fine. If it doesn’t work, I change, try it again and we’ve lost that tenacity. We need to know the answer. We’ve got to get back to that spirit and discipline because let’s face it, 95% of the innovations, especially at big companies fail. That doesn’t mean that you have to fail. That’s because big, stupid companies get one idea and they keep pounding it into the ground instead of pivoting and changing. If you follow a systems approach of experimentation, which is the foundation of why Toyota can make a quality car and many companies can’t. It’s through those iterations and we’re very proud to have Toyota a customer who uses the innovation engineering systems that we teach. It is about that willingness to not put your ego in it much that if you do anything wrong, you’re going to crumble into pieces.
It’s not so black and white. I like to know what Toyota is doing in terms of iterations.
They embraced Deming. Deming basically saved their company in Japan many years ago and in fact, the price for quality in Japan is known as the Deming price. He was an American statistician who went there. He taught them what he called Theory of Knowledge about the need for doing those cycles and to approach manufacturing as a system of interconnected parts. He famously said, “94% of the problem is the system, 6% is the worker,” and you have to take responsibility for the system. What we’re doing is applying it to innovation and what they’re using it for is on how they create change. It’s one thing to use system thinking to reduce costs and to get quality. It’s another thing to use it to grow and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what they’re doing with us.
It’s interesting to see what some companies are able to create this culture of innovation. You mentioned something about even if the company is not failing that you could do it individually. That’s where I’m coming from with my trying to develop curiosity in people. I want all companies to give it to everybody this assessment. If you could find the things that keep you back from being curious, which I found were fear, assumptions, technology and the environment. If you work on those things that would build that sense of tenacity that you were talking about, you’d be passionate about the things because you’d be aligned better. Do you think that what we see is not the correct alignment with people to their job?
The lack of alignment is a monstrous issue. In fact, there’s a chapter in the book about alignment and how to do it but you’re totally right about the individual. Dr. Deming’s daughter, Diana said to me, “You have to change the person before you can change the culture of the organization.” While it would be wonderful to have the top leaders should be visionary, decide to enable, to be part of it and to walk the talk not outsource it but then to personally do it. The reality is that there aren’t a lot of leaders who are going to do that. Let’s be honest about the conversation. They’re not going to but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. One of the things that we’re finding some success with is related to what you’re saying there which is, you have a sphere of influence. You have things, which is bigger than you think it is.
You could impact how you do the work you do. You can impact it and you can learn these concepts. You can learn how to innovate. You can learn how to get better alignment between the people that you’re working with to make your work. That old time, “Work smarter not harder,” and then what we’re finding is when we get some people doing that other people turn around and go, “Why is your group having much fun? Why are you guys being able to, how do you do that?” Slowly but surely you get others. You can do it from the top down that’s the best, absolutely but if they’re not there, don’t sit there, whine and suffer. Get up, get out and let’s make a difference in your life. Make your work better. Life’s meant to be lived and enjoyed.
It’s funny because I often hear, “If your CEO doesn’t buy in, then your cultural change won’t happen.” I also buy into what you’re saying as what I’m doing with the curiosity thing is I’m having the individuals when they go through the training program, come up with ideas to help them become more curious, to give to leaders saying, “This is what would help me.” You’re actually helping leaders to help you become more innovative. What do you think propels the discovery of innovative ideas? That’s my way of coming at it. What other ways are there?
I measure 6,000 teams and I’m talking about Walt Disney, Nike, American Express and top corporations. I measure them in the act of creating. It was funny as I asked them 200 questions and the way I got to them is, how’d you get them to answer the questions? I said, “If you don’t ask the questions you could mess up the project.” They answered the questions. We took 6,000 teams and measured them. We found there were three things that drove their ability to come up with meaningful, unique ideas. First was the stimulus. In other words, ideas or feats of association. You’ve got to become a learner. You’ve got to keep filling that brain of yours with more stuff whether it’s insights and technologies.
What the competition is doing and trends, you’ve got to get more stimulus with your head to be able to connect. The second thing is diversity. You need to bounce it off people who think about the world differently and that’s actually an exponential kick and that’s the ability. Stimulus, learning, collaboration that creates ideas to the level that you drive out fear and because the higher that your fear of doing something. That’s why you need to have those rapid research, those rapid testing cycles you have to be able to do. With each step, little baby steps of tests and experiments, you build your courage and you drive out your fear.
A couple of things you said are sticking with me. We’re talking about diversity there, it brings to mind the perception that people have and how challenging it can be with doing global initiatives with teams. It’s such a different climate of how people are trying to innovate. There are companies like Google, is the famous one for giving people time to come up with their pet ideas. Do you go for that thinking? Give a certain percentage of the day to work on your pet projects. What do you think of that?
That’s the training wheels if you need it if your culture is overstressed that you have to do that. Generally, what I find is that when people have it within them, you find the time to do the stuff you wanted to go do. It’s part of your doing. I don’t like the idea of, “For 95% of your day, you’re going to be a droid and 5% you get to think.” There’s something that’s just inherently stupid about that. Whenever they have to give you permission to do it, you know it’s not in the culture. It’s like when people say, “We’re okay with failure,” you know they’re not. The fact that they even bring it up tells me that they’re not. It’s a way of being that is inherent in the leadership and my guess is that many of the high-tech companies, the stress factor that the people are under. We like to talk about all wonderful things, but this is a ridiculous level of stress that these people are under and ridiculously competitive nature. I win, you lose cultures. They put these things in theory to do it but it’s like I was talking with somebody, “My company is progressive. We could take all of the vacation we want.” I said, “How much did you take?” He said, “None. If I take a vacation, somebody is going to get ahead of me.” What are you talking about here? We’re people here and we need to come together with a common mission of what we need to do and make it that as Deming would teach that we all win together as opposed to a competition.
As you talk about all and bringing everybody together, my research on perception, there’s much gender bias. I don’t focus on women studies necessarily but it does come up a lot when you talk about technology and how women aren’t drawn to tech as much. What do you think is the perception of women in innovative companies compared to men?
I’m going to just add them all in there whether it’s women, whether it’s other ethnic groups, whether it’s older people or younger people. When there are people that are different than whatever is the cohort that is the mass of the culture, whether it’s a young culture biased against older people. I was at a conference where it was like I was at a mortuary convention. I had never seen many black suits in one place. I was like, “What happened in this industry? What am I, back in the ‘50s?” It was like Men in Black. Whenever there is a cohort that surrounds themselves with a belief structure and someone comes in, it’s different be it female, be it younger, be it male, be it black, white, green. I don’t care.
That organization has lost and I tell them, “It’s a capitalist business building tool the more weirdos you have. You need people that think differently.” We need to embrace this. That’s what made America the way it was. It was the differences of culture and somehow we’re becoming as dumb as the Europeans. The fact is that the monoculture doesn’t work and sadly, the downside of Facebook and such things is that it’s made it easy for people to retreat to their monoculture. It’s nice to listen to people saying the same thing you believe but that doesn’t make you smarter. It makes you dumber. It’s in that debate that the friction does cause heat and it makes the spark. In my organization, we worked very hard to hire people that are different.
The top of my organization, it’s heavily female but it’s not exclusively female either. We actively go after people who were very different to add to the team because that’s how we get smarter but again, it’s the ego. It’s ego that prevents that because you need to know all the answers. I created and tested over 25,000 innovations over 40 plus years. When I have an idea that’s different, I’ve got to go out and learn quantitative research. I can’t pick them because you don’t know. You could be ahead of your time. You could be behind your time. The minute you’re thinking you know something, you’re dumb.
We try to validate what we believe, and it does make it easier for us to be around people who are yes men and yes women. It makes it much more challenging because everybody ends up with status quo thinking that way.The thinkers, the problem solvers, and the dreamers are the people that are going to make the difference in the world. Click To Tweet
That’s what happens with innovations. With innovations, “We’re a marketing-driven company.” “That’s fine, but you have to ship a product.” “We’re a product-driven company.” “That’s fine, but the consumer has to buy it.” “We’re a financer.” “That’s fine, but we want to make money.” The reality is the success of innovations is the interaction of finance, product development, manufacturing operations, sales and marketing. It’s coming together and that’s the approach that we take with our work and what the book does. It drives people to think about it as a system of interconnected parts, which is very different. What we tend to do is you can find a gazillion books on marketing, consumer insights, on product development, on finance and on risk management.
This is the first time we’ve talked about it as a system of interactive parts and that’s the key. The numbers were crazy because what we’re finding is, when you think of it as a system, you increase your speed to market up to a factor of six. That’s like 600% and you decrease the risk of failure by up to 80%. Those are not impressive numbers when you think about what’s been done with the improvement of quality in factories. It’s those same almost order of magnitude improvements when you approach it as a system of interconnected parts and stop playing the blame game. We came up with a great idea but manufacturing couldn’t do it. I’ve got a company that the CEO brought me in and he says, “I’ve got a problem. My marketing people are great. My product people are terrible.”
When I went in and looked at it, I looked at what the marketing people came up and I said, “Your marketing people are on drugs.” He said, “What do you mean?” “They’re in delusion. They don’t understand the laws of physics. They’re creating ideas that can’t physically be made without literally breaking Newton’s Laws of Physics. That’s what you’re going to have to do to make this.” They go, “You’re not trying hard enough.” I go, “These people have no idea what they’re doing.” I said to the product people, “Why don’t you say no to this?” “We want to be a team player.” “Team player? You’re taking suicide missions, you can’t do that.”
I would have thought it would be the other way around. The marketing comes up with whatever to support whatever they thought could be made. You usually say the other way, isn’t it?
It depends on which industry that you’re in. It depends where the locus of control, where’s the ruling tribe. Look at the last five CEOs, I’ve got one company, all the last five CEO were all finance people. I can tell you what the ruling tribe is. It’s finance, or they’re product people or they’re marketing people, but they’ll tend to have a tribe that is one thing. That’s why small businesses are so much better at creating ideas because they have less of that trial. Everybody’s got to do everything. You don’t have the silos.
When you were saying that, it reminded me of the Theranos story. How she kept thinking that they would be able to eventually figure out how to make the machine do what they say they could make it do. How much does that happen out there? We’ve got companies that are faking it until they make it and they’re not even close.
Not a lot of that, you see that with the venture world because you have to fake it to get the money. You’ve got investors that are stupid who think, “Unless you can show it to me, I’m not going to invest but I can’t make it until you invest.” It’s very hard to get investments in early-stage technologies when it’s not real yet and so people will fake it because they have to and for survival. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the corporate world, people play it safe much. It’s rare that they’ll do that because they won’t but they will work on a project for a long time and then eventually dies. Another client, I saw a thing in that the R&D team was given a project. I said, “What are the odds of success?” They said, “3% to 5%.”
I go, “Why are you doing it?” They said, “Marketing and the general manager said we don’t have a choice. We have to have this.” I went to the CEO, “I don’t want to throw anybody out the bus but you do realize that you have projects going on that have literally 3% to 5% chance of success.” He says, “No, I don’t.” Let me tell you, Bill Conway who brought Dr. Deming back to the US famously which created the whole quality movement Lean Six Sigma. He told me, before he passed away, “One of the big problems is, leadership has gotten separated from the work. Leadership doesn’t understand what the real work is that’s going on.”
I told the CEO, “You don’t understand what’s going on and you need to get this issue. That’s not what your problem is. Your problem isn’t the project that I’m not going to tell you which one it is. Your problem is you’re not connected and you’re not being told the truth. You’re distant from the work that you don’t get it.” Most of my work, the Eureka! Ranch team, I’ve got a wonderful lady, Maggie Nichols, who’s the CEO. My team is mostly spent sitting with senior executives and quietly one-on-one having conversations about things for them to observe because they don’t know. It’s not that they’re bad people, they don’t know what’s going on because they were never taught. They were taught to take advantage of my spreadsheets and they can’t.
You’ve been known to help people to jumpstart their business brain, your book, Jump Start Your Business Brain was named one of the 100 best business books of all time by 800-CEO-Read. I can see that this next book is a natural addition to the way people think and it’s Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods and the Innovation Engineering System. If people are interested in this which I’m sure they would be, the last book was such a huge success. I’m sure that this is going to be amazing. How can people find out more about that?
Eureka! Ranch and all these things, they’re all kinds of stuff out on the internet. If they went to DougHall.com/vip there is a bunch of info but they can also get my newsletter. They can download a one-hour audio summary of the book for free. On Audible, this is ten hours of me. If you can’t sleep, you can listen to me talk for ten hours. About halfway through it, I said, “This is driving me crazy. I wrote up a one-hour summary that they can download for free and that can give them a bunch of information. The Ranch has got stuff. We’ve got online courses and classes that you can take and stuff that you can do.
Thanks, Doug. It’s interesting all the work you’ve done and I was looking forward to this. I appreciate you sharing all this with my audience.
Thank you much and keep up what you’re doing. We need to all do this. We need to keep nudging them because the future economy, it’s a wonderful time. It is truly the best of times. If you’re imaginative and if you’re thinking, the thinkers, the problem solvers, the dreamers, those are the people that are going to make the difference in the world. A lot of the other stuff can be automated. Computers can do it. There’re other things we can do, which is a good thing. It’s good that we don’t have a horse and plow, that we have a tractor. It’s only a good thing if we ourselves are becoming smarter and we’re learning how to think and that’s what you’re doing and that’s what we’re doing. As Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we’ll all hang separately.”
I’d like to thank Jeff and Doug for being my guests. If you want to find out more about Cracking the Curiosity Code or the Curiosity Code Assessment that’s all at CuriosityCode.com. You can always contact me through my main site at DrDianeHamilton.com for any consulting, speaking or any of those needs. I hope that you enjoyed the show because we get many great guests and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- TED Residency
- Daniel Goleman – Previous episode
- Late Bloomers
- TED Talk by Jeff Kirschner
- Doug Hall
- Eureka! Ranch
- Innovation Engineering Institute
- Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y
- Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods and the Innovation Engineering System
- Jump Start Your Business Brain
- Newsletter by Doug Hall
About Jeff Kirschner
Jeff Kirschner is the Founder & CEO of Litterati, a global community working to create a litter-free planet. When his 4-year old daughter saw a plastic tub of cat litter in the woods, little did Jeff realize that it would be the spark for creating Litterati – a movement that’s “crowdsource-cleaning” the planet one piece of litter at a time. Featured by National Geographic, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine, Litterati is backed by the National Science Foundation, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program, and was featured at TED where Jeff was a resident turning Litterati into an idea worth spreading.
About Doug Hall