The Leadership Habit Podcast Ep. 5: Innovative Thinking in Leadership with Ron Crossland

 

In this Episode, Jenn DeWall talks to leadership expert Ron Crossland about the role of Innovative Thinking in Leadership. Ron has over 30 years of experience in the field doing both original and secondary research and has helped develop better leaders, create more innovation, forge better internal and external relationships and inspire greater performance in organizations and individuals. Jenn and Ron discuss being nerdy, loving the topic of leadership, practicing both everyday innovation and long-term innovation in your organization.

Full Transcript :

Intro:                                   00:03                  Today we are talking with leadership development expert and Crestcom Faculty member Ron Crossland. Ron has worked with talent from the boiler room to the boardroom, helping individuals, teams and organizations develop better leaders, create more innovation, forge better internal and external relationships and inspire greater performance. He has advanced the understanding of leadership through original and secondary research, blending science, art data in philosophy with theory and practicality. Today we explore how innovation is key to great leadership and how to embrace innovative thinking to grow your organization.

Jenn DeWall:                      00:45                     Hi everyone! It’s Jenn DeWall and I am so excited to be here today interviewing Ron Crossland. For those that don’t know Ron Crossland, he is an organizational consultant, he’s an author and he’s also an educator with over 30 years of experience within the leadership and development space. On behalf of Crestcom and The Leadership Habit Podcast – Ron, thank you so much for joining us.

Ron Crossland:                  01:11                     Oh, I’m thrilled to be here. It’s a fabulous spring day here in Cincinnati and I can’t think of a nicer group to be talking with.

Jenn DeWall:                      01:17                     Oh, good. Well Ron, for those that may not know you, I know as part of the Crestcom family, you are one of our expert faculty members and you helped really educate and help people develop compelling and unique innovative strategies. So you are really that driver on one of the recent innovation modules that we created. For those that may not be familiar with you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ron Crossland:                  01:43                     I can! I became a student of leadership back in very early in my career when I was working for AT&T, a very large scale telecom here in the United States and actually was sent off on a project to study leadership because it was a critical juncture at AT&T, where they were being broken up into smaller companies and everyone was worried about what would happen. So a buddy of mine and I actually had the luxury of spending a year interviewing all the known leadership gurus across the United States. At that time. We met everybody and talk to them. We were formulating your own module, our own ideas about leadership brands, begun thinking about writing a book on what we’ve learned. And we went to AT&T and proposed a leadership institute within AT&T that could be turned into a profit center, that literally not only would we educate AT&T managers on the subject, but that we would then actually be able to sell those same curricula to other companies that would come to our leadership institute and learn leadership from us. And we were turned down flatly. They said, no, nice idea, but we don’t want to do that. And so my partner and I said, well, okay- and we quit and started our own business. That’s how I got started in the subject of leadership. And I’ve been not developing small businesses to deliver a wide variety of different leadership topics ever since then. In the last 12 years since 2007, I’ve been in my own private practice but actually have accelerated some of my research. So I think I’m actually smarter now than I was even 12 years ago at this time.

Jenn DeWall:                      03:26                     No, absolutely. Who are some of the people that you were able to interview during that time?

Ron Crossland:                  03:35                     People like Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Tom Peters and a wide variety actually of a CEO’s at the time. Other authors from the west coast. I mean, some of them I forget their names because they were big names at the time, but they were not lasting names. I would have to say probably the person that influenced me the most, was the former Secretary of Health Education Welfare, (John W. Gardner). He actually worked for Lyndon Johnson as president. He took me on as a project for a while. Like he was my mentor for a while. He probably still is the number one leadership authority and public sector leadership- and a fabulous man- former Olympic swimmer and a psychologist and a wonderful guy that worked for several different presidents in different capacities over the years. So those would be the cast of characters. So really it was a luxury year of study. I would say that for the folks that are interested and are listening to this podcast, the way that you could replicate that experience is simply go talk to people that you know about how they learned how to be a leader and they don’t have to be famous. They don’t have to have written a book and I have to know anything. Just go interview people once in a while you’ll be amazed at the stuff you learn.

Jenn DeWall:                      05:07                     Absolutely! I like to believe in the quote, “Every person you meet is your teacher and your student”. It is amazing just by having a conversation if you take out that pressure of being perfect or showing up in a certain way and you just truly engage in a dialogue, you can really learn some valuable lessons that you can apply to your own life.

Ron Crossland:                  05:23                     Yeah, absolutely.

Why Leadership Development?

Jenn DeWall:                      05:25                     Out of curiosity are on why, why leadership development? Why is that important to you?

Ron Crossland:                  05:32                     Well, how psychological do you want to get? I can tell you the public story or the private story. The public story is, I came of age in my own management career at a point in time when there was a huge change in North America. In the middle eighties was the engine where, uh, outsourcing first started pronounce itself. Globalization became a topic. And so leadership had exploded as a popular topic. Everyone was writing about it. Everybody wanted to know it because two important things were happening. One was that it was a growth period. So whenever there’s growth period, people are investing in and leadership development and their people- that that’s a trend that’s always true. During times of contraction, I lose my shirt. During times of expansion, I’ve got more work than I can take. Right? The second reason was globalization. That’s the very thing that is so popular in politics right now was the thing that drove the leadership explosion of the eighties and nineties because we didn’t know the real scientific answer, the scholastic academic answer to the question, can you take a leader from one country and put them in another country and actually make it work? And we were fascinated by what that meant and could you actually make that happen? And so I was simply living at a time when it was literally in the air and I got addicted to it.

Jenn DeWall:                      07:02                     Yes. That’s one of the neatest things about leadership development or with working for Crestcom, knowing that we work to develop leaders all around the world. That as much as people may see cultural differences as something that really differentiates us. We actually have so many similar challenges, right? How do we innovate? How do we communicate in a way that builds relationships and connection and has influence? I love that about leadership development because it is a bridge where we can all see that we do and are faced with similar challenges and we’re not that different.

Ron Crossland:                  07:46                     You have just basically summarize the field of research on this topic. Of all the talents that a leader can develop over the course of their lifetime, the one that is the most portable, meaning that it travels from one company to another or from one country to another, is the interpersonal skillset that a leader develops. And one of those wedges of interpersonal skill sets is your leadership abilities. That is the most durable- and think about it – our common humanity. As you study leadership, there are cultural differences in how it’s expressed in some fun ways. But the essence of it, the bottom of it is the same. We’re all human beings. Trust, communication, inspiration, helping people, motivate people. All those things are true for leadership around the world. There are some cultural nuances to that, but they are minor compared to the main things.

Jenn DeWall:                      08:50                     I’m loving this conversation so much! I mean, it’s just great when you can connect with other people that see leadership as this opportunity to bring people together. It’s really powerful. So I love this, but I know that’s not why you’re here- to talk about our mutual love of leadership. We’re here to talk about innovation today and its challenges. And the lovely products that result from innovation are all around us. So we’re going to talk about innovation and how that can impact the way that you look at it in your own organization, how you could potentially improve processes or your approaches to innovation. So let’s dive right in and help people figure out how they can really grasp that concept of innovation. And really develop or further develop that innovative mindset. So Ron, could you talk a little bit about the difference between everyday innovation and long-term innovation?

Everyday Innovation

Ron Crossland:                  09:50                     One of my favorite ways to get this word innovation has this big connotation, especially in business. We’ve got a practice innovation and we’ve got to come up with new things and it’s the driver of all of our future business growth. There’s a lot of truth to that, but it implies that it takes a closeted set of specialists over in some laboratory, someplace doing some stuff. And for a lot of small businesses its sort of like, “we don’t got none of that”. The reality is that everyday leadership is a fundamental aspect of higher level leadership. And what I mean by everyday leadership is – it kind of comes back to our common humanity. Human beings possess this great knack for figuring things out and coming up with Band-Aid type solutions to everyday problems. Think about, think about the last time, you know you broke a shoelace and you didn’t have time to replace it. You figured out a way to, what? deal with that through the day, right? That’s individual genius at work. Or you ran out of some paper or you didn’t have enough donuts for the meeting or whatever. You come up with a creative quick little solution to that. And that’s what I mean by everyday leadership. We are naturally two kinds of things. Storytellers and problem-solvers. That’s fundamental to all human beings and what stories we do we like most to tell, the problems that we solved. Let me tell you about what happened the other day, blah, blah, blah blah- and how I fixed it. Whether it’s about relationships, or it’s about the coffee service, whether it’s about the truck that broke down. It doesn’t make any difference. These are the stories are embedded in the fabric of our lives because this is how our brains work.

Ron Crossland:                  11:38                     So, I’ll give you an example of this, OK? I was thinking about a couple of recent experiences I had that might be pertinent to this topic. I have a group of people that I’m working with here in the United States. It’s a small company rapidly becoming a large company, and they have people scattered across the country and we bring them together quarterly for a little offsite to try to build some social bonds and stuff like that. And for a while we were doing in Chicago, the CEO of the company always wanted to take us to this special restaurant that he loved because he grew up in Chicago and it was his favorite pizzeria and stuff like that. And we would march into his favorite pizza place and that pizza place, well known in the Chicago area had a very precise way of doing things. And they marched you in and they lined you up and they serve food the way that they have been serving at for at least 20 years. Right. And that was nice and it was efficient- unless a glitch happened- if a glitch happened, it slowed the service down. And the last time I was there that particular night, there were three small glitches in a row that happened. And it took us probably an extra hour, to feed the 25 people that we had and we missed out on the next thing that we were going to do because of the glitch. They couldn’t handle exceptions to, their very precise way of doing things, right?

Ron Crossland:                  13:04                     Fast forward, last time I met with this group was back in February, we’ve changed our location from Chicago to San Diego. We went to a very nice Italian restaurant there that was suggested by some friends of ours out in the San Diego area. And family owned, I mean this is an Italian family. I mean the sons of the Italian owner kind of family. Right? And the sisters and the grandmothers and the other cousins that work in this place. Right? We showed up, we had made reservations, special place outdoors. I was a little chilly. So they had the big heating things, you know, that keep the guests warm and stuff when you’re dining al fresco and that you think, and they had lost our reservation. Nothing was set up and they didn’t even know who we were. But, so what happened? They said, “OK, but you’re here now”. What happened? They immediately took three or four people quickly out of the back and off the front, immediately started setting up the chairs and tables like that, talking with us the entire time.

Ron Crossland:                  14:12                     And in fact myself and a couple of other people said, how can we assist? And they said, come in and tell us how you want this design, how do you want the tables arranged? Who’s going to sit where, how many people you got? And we, and they actually enjoined us in helping set up and getting ready for our guests. And within 10 minutes we were ready to seat and start taking orders of 35 people. Off the cuff, immediate innovation. Why? Their customer service innovation was, we don’t turn people away. We bring them into the family. Think about that as an everyday way of thinking about innovation. We don’t have a standardized process. We have a way of thinking about your, our guests in our home. And it is that every day thinking about innovation that leads you to different kinds of solutions. It makes you think outside the box on a regular basis because you’re not bound by a prescribed process that everyone must follow. And if you have any deviations from it, then the process collapses. And so I use those as examples of how everyday innovation, everyday thinking about problem-solving, which is what innovation is and how it can actually occur. And at the second restaurant, they had an atmosphere of let’s just pitch in and solve this as opposed to how can we go back and fix a broken process.

Jenn DeWall:                      15:38                     Yeah, sounds like it was adaptive innovation!

Ron Crossland:                  15:42                     Very, very adaptive. Very much on the fly. And because of that and because, and the, and the guys helping us out, they were jovial. They were doing the over the top Italian singing while they were doing it and they made it an event rather than a grumbling request. Oh my God, we’ve got 35 unexpected people. How are we going to handle it? They made it like, oh, you got some friends over, hey, let’s break out some wine! See the difference? For any company in the world to look at innovation through that lens versus the others that know we must standardize a process. Now there are some things for which standardization of process is essential. I want a plumber that knows what they’re doing, right? I don’t want a couple of Italian pizza makers come in. and say, well I think I can fix this. I want a plumber that knows what they’re doing, right? But also wanting to a plumber that says, you know, you’ve got a kind of a screwy set up here, but I can figure out how to fix that. I want both things. And most of us do. We want our products and services be friendly and accessible and we want things to work well, especially when there are exceptions. And so I bring that to your attention as examples of everyday leadership, and everyday innovation thinking.

Jenn DeWall:                      17:06                     So if I can simplify what everyday innovation is – not that it’s meant to be simplified- but really to say that when you are faced with any new problem that you receive is an opportunity to look at things in a different way. Just saying that they’re okay, here’s the problem, here’s my response. That process of this is what we follow, right? It’s okay, well this is could be the same problem, but how could I look at it differently so I could actually resolve it or stop a problem? And so then what is long-term innovation? What is that long-term approach? Like would you say it’s about the results that you want to achieve or what that end goal is and your strategy to get there?

Long-Term Innovation

Ron Crossland:                  17:50                     Long-term innovation is a higher order of thinking. It’s not about how to solve the everyday problems that confront us like you got some unexpected guests. So if we take our restaurant example, for example, you can go this way – How are we going to be able to continue to feed people high-quality food when we can’t source it? How do we think about how we make connections with local farmers versus sort of the large-scale food delivery people that we have to rely on also, so that we have a combination of a steady supply of quality, say in this case, proteins. But, we want fresh garden, seasonal vegetables and things of that nature. And we want them from a local environment. That requires long-term thinking about which farmers do we actually get together and what happens if those farmers come and go?

Ron Crossland:                  18:49                     Because the small scale farmers are very, very mobile in most places. So how do we develop? How do we develop a schema that allows us to do that? Oh and oh by the way, exactly do we want to just own this restaurant for the duration of the patriarch? Or do we want to turn this into a franchise? Or do we want this to become a multiple location family business? Or how do we think about those kinds of things? It requires a different set of skills, and focus on innovation at a higher level, which requires, and this is part of my thing about innovation is that that level of innovation requires more risk because you’re risking time and you’re risking money to experiment. Experimentation for long-term innovation is that thing that most of us are afraid of, especially in small businesses. Because for small businesses it’s a high ratio of cost to profitability that you have to invest in to figure out if something’s going to work. But those individuals that figure that out, that are willing to invest in a riskier environment, tend to be the ones that then are more successful in growing a business. So a larger scale than up 10 to 15 or 20 person firm. That’s what a sort of way thinking.

Jenn DeWall:                      20:15                     So, if I could say to our leaders out there, if you want to practice having that innovative mindset, it really boils down to two things. Asking yourself, what is another way to approach this problem or challenge, right? There’s always a new way to look at it. And what’s the vision that you’re aspiring for? Do you have a vision? Or are you just kind of going through the motions, right? Like, where do you really, really want to be and how can you put that vision and articulate it in a way that’s compelling and inspires action and where it feels that it’s the reality. So you can see all of those steps and actions that you’re taking, how they contribute to bringing that vision to life.

Ron Crossland:                  21:00                     Absolutely. Vision and innovation are intertwined concepts, I love where you are going with this. When I was the head of some small businesses, we regularly had discussions about what do we want to try to achieve in the future as a group and how are we going to get there? Which begs the question, how? How will we do it? That’s where innovation comes in. Vision is about the end-state. Innovation is about how we’re then going to figure out how we’re going to reach that end state. Right? And, and so we regularly did that, and this is the thing that I would encourage all small business owners to consider. You have to get your employees together on a regular basis and say, how can we innovate? How can we do things differently? And it can go from the everyday experience of, well gee, could we simply have more flexible work hours? A kind of a chronic dilemma that small business owners have. Or do we really want to spend the money to open up down the street or in another city? Or move from this location to another location? Things like that, because the nature of infrastructure costs more money. And how do you get people involved in that? Where you’ve got to involve them in the decision-making? When they are involved, they will exert the effort, because it’s now a collective gain or loss. But if the owner is simply the one that makes these decisions, well then, it’s usually the owner that loses or gains big. And sometimes employees get left out of that mix and then you know, what happens? Then the work feels like a job, not like something you’re invested in. They go to work for something to do, rather than to do something. Which is a much different mindset

Jenn DeWall:                      22:54                     And they need to see themselves as a part of that solution. As you said, that decision-maker. To feel that I can add value to this, and I want to add value to this because I know the outcome that we’re striving for and I want to be a part of that. But it has to be that collective effort. We have to offer those invitations to people because one person cannot really be the driver of an innovative effort. One of the things that we wanted to talk about was innovation as a risk assessment. What does that even mean? Innovation as a risk assessment? I don’t even know.

Risk-Assessment

Ron Crossland:                  23:35                     It’s like I was saying – we’re going to open up or we’re going to remodel our restaurant. We’re going to open up another division. We’re gonna replicate our auto body shop across town. And say in a large city, we’re going to have two locations. So that is an investment in what? You have to think. It’s not just the cost of finding some new property, finding a new building, buying new equipment, all those capital risks, right? That you take. And it’s also probably the number one risk – which is who’s going to staff it? Who’s going to be in charge now that I can’t be in charge of both places? Are we going to coordinate our efforts? How are we going to increase the overall business as opposed to suddenly over a little bit of time, see each other as competitors, location A versus location B. And I’ve seen that happen in small businesses where when they expand that first division where they expand and have two locations of something. They actually become rivals because they’re at war with each other, and squabbling over their interpersonal relationships.

Ron Crossland:                  24:41                     So innovation is risk-taking. Risking in all those arenas, the economic capital, and financing and also the risks of a hierarchy. Who’s going to be in charge, who is going to lead? Are those things going to happen? How it affects hiring and firing, all of those kinds of complex things. Because I have to tell you, in small business, loyalty is probably a higher value feature than in large-scale businesses. And loyalty manifests itself in a wide variety of ways. Every fundamentally terrific, like Harvard case study, an example of a small business going big is when the owner-operator of that business has allowed their own people more judgment calls about how to innovate in the business. You know, we ought to have this machine instead of this machine. Or a client brings in a problem that is too difficult for us to sell, to serve. But then a couple of guys say, you know, gives us a chance, maybe we can figure out a way to solve their problem. We don’t know how to do it just yet, but we’ll take a crack at it if you’ll give us the chance. And so how many of those risks are you willing to take to expand your people’s abilities and knowledge? And what happens if three or four of them fail? But then one of them succeeds. You’ve now got what? Happy people, excited people, and another problem that you can now sell the next client, another solution to their problem. And so the risk assessment is around what’s your tolerance for failure? Nothing new has ever been done without multiple failures ahead of it.

Ron Crossland:                  26:43                     I’ll give you a couple of historical simple case studies. Everyone knows about mobile phones, right? And now why do we even call them mobile phones? Because telephony is the least used app that I use on my little pocket computer. I use podcasts two hours a day at least. I use telephony APP maybe two hours a month, right? So why do we even call it that phone anymore? It’s beyond me, but because it’s everything but a phone. But the reality is, the very first one with the screen on it, it took about six years and $150 million make. You know how men’s razors, have gone from one blade up to five or six blades now. The very first two-bladed razor that was developed took $200 million in investment to figure out. $200 million! And so you think, how could a simple thing like that require so much investment? Well, here’s the thing. No one had ever been able to make a razor thin enough to have two blades and not break and hurt the individual that was using it to shave. The invention of the processes to refine steel to that level of thinness and sharpness with flexibility and not being able to break, housed in a new device of durable plastics and metals that would allow that to happen. You would think that would be easy. It took $200 million to do it. So for larger scale businesses, things like that can be very risky because you, you can throw $200 million at something and never get the solution.

Ron Crossland:                  28:30                     So for a small business operator, just scale that down to -it’s a $20,000 investment decision as opposed to $200 million. It’s the same level of risk. It’s like I’m risking so much that it’s hard to recover if it fails. That’s why you need all of these geniuses at work with everyday innovation skills, helping you think through those problems. I can guarantee you and should probably get their spouses involved! You should bring them in because they’ve solved problems that you’ve never heard of before. So I’m an advocate of the more you can get, the more brain trust you can get, thinking on your team, the better!

Multigenerational Workforce

Jenn DeWall:                      29:17                     Yeah. Collective brainstorming! You know, we’ve talked about long term innovation, and now the risk assessment. But one thing that I’m more curious about is what is your take on how innovation has changed due to multiple generations in the workforce? How do you think that has impacted the coming of the millennial workforce crossing over with the baby boomers? How do you think that together they can work together to transform innovation or how they look at it?

Ron Crossland:                  29:57                     This is one of the most exciting arenas to discuss in innovation that we can discuss. Technology in my lifetime has transformed the world, especially the educational world. And how children are learning. I can guarantee you, I would have loved to have had a pocket computer when I was taking my engineering classes at university when I was a young man. Rather than using a slide rule. And for those of you who are listening to this podcast that don’t know what one is, look it up.

Jenn DeWall:                      30:29                     OK! I do not know what a slide rule is!

Ron Crossland:                  30:34                     To be able to access the world’s knowledge through a flat screen of multiple sizes, some stationary, some mobile, rather than having to go to the university library and hope that the article that I needed was there. Which it never is, by the way. When I compare the access to it. So number one, we now have more generations that are at the same intellectual knowledge place than we’ve ever had before. It used to be that apprenticeship was the path towards mastery. And to some degree that’s still true. But apprentices today, if you want to think of a young person in business as an apprentice, they have more knowledge and more skill at current technology than the generations ahead of them.

Ron Crossland:                  31:30                     So the idea that bringing that youthful exuberance and that not yet, well-tested knowledge that is already intellectually at a certain level with mine – to my long years of long-suffering, hard knocks and learn-by-mistakes kind of mentality is the best collision for faster innovation that this world’s ever seen. We utilize it poorly, in my opinion. We do not take advantage of the intergenerational effects of this. How many generations? How many different generations can you name by name? Starting with the octogenarians. I mean they are the depression babies. There’s still a few of them around in business, by the way. There are the people in my group, that’s the baby boomers. What are the, what are the multiple generations after that?

Jenn DeWall:                      32:22                     Yeah, Gen X. Millennials. Oh, and I think it’s Gen Z, is that the next one? Yeah, Gen Z, the one that’s going to be coming in next.

Ron Crossland:                  32:35                     We love to name them. We don’t even know what to name the next ones, but we’re already naming them because we know what? When they come in, they will already know as much as we knew who when we were 40.

Jenn DeWall:                      32:48                     Sometimes it’s very easy to think that innovation is limited to historical knowledge and experience. And it’s not in any way to say that those don’t have a high value, because they do. But it is really exciting to know that people that don’t have the prescribed notions or those defined rules and judgments about the way things are done, that you can really lean in and leverage those generations that may have a different point of view. And even if you’ve heard that view before, maybe the first time you heard it, it wasn’t the right time. But maybe now it is the right time.

Ron Crossland:                  33:34                     Precisely. Back in the 80’s I actually had a couple of buddies that, because I’m a nerd I think. I think scholastically and I’m always deep in academia. I’m just kind of one of those weird research-junkie kind of guys, right? A couple of buddies of mine and I thought about- back in those days carpooling was the big deal. To save the planet, you know, reduce on gasoline and stuff like that. If your community didn’t have good bus service or another sort of public transit then carpool, right? And we actually thought maybe instead of just carpooling for our friends, maybe we ought to just put up a poster at the local supermarket that says for 10 bucks a week we’ll drive you to work on our way. Isn’t that Uber? Why did that idea not work? Because the people that might have afforded that didn’t have a technologically easy way to connect with this. So what happened? A new business model that business model idea I was floating back in the 80s. I like to think I thunk of it, right?

Jenn DeWall:                      34:49                     We should really let Uber know!

Ron Crossland:                  34:54                     Yeah! I need to let them know that I sent out the mental wave and they responded. But think about it. So a new business model could come into being when the technology that that idea needed. The technology to support it. So that’s my caution for all the older generation of people. Is that the timing may not be right for several reasons. One of them, maybe there’s a technological advance needed. Number two, maybe the young person is simply more willing to try harder to make something work. Number three, they may have different connections than I ever can, that can bring resources to the table. I mean there’s, there are multiple numbers of things that can happen that let that old idea actually become the new idea that would work. And so it’s not this “oh it’s not invented yet,” or “gee, we’ve already tried that before” kind of mentality. In the innovation course that people take through Crestcom- if you’ll remember that little equation- that’s part of those arbitrary rules that, “I’ve already done it, that doesn’t work”. That’s an arbitrary rule. They need to regularly be re-inspected because now that rule that we discounted, may become a very valuable tool and so you’re exactly right about that. Letting those young people have more voice, simply inspiring the dialogue between the generations. It’s the thing that when you do more.

Jenn DeWall:                      36:33                     Also looking at it from that perspective of today, instead of that rule that we want to be risk averse and so we want to avoid anything that we’ve done before that has caused pain, failure, loss of resources. Today instead of saying we’ve already done that, tried it, it’s not going to work, we can practice being curious. Saying, what is another way to look at it given the change in the economic landscape? What is the environment that we’re operating in, or changes in the industry? And if you’re a leader, whether you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, it’s important to know that it will be very natural for you to be that person that says, “oh, we’ve already done that, or oh, I’ve seen that”. Right? And we lean into that for the right reasons because we don’t want to waste our time and resources. But when we’re doing that, we can become roadblocks to the innovation process.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Jenn DeWall:                      37:32                     We are the ones that can sometimes prevent our own companies, organizations, teams, etc., to move forward. Because we’re just trying to play safe all the time and it’s not about being risky necessarily, or high risk. It’s about being aware of that things change over time and that there are always appropriate times to go back and look at it. Even if you think of it on a basic level of how people dress, right? How we see that those habits continue to come back, that whether bell bottoms, they can come back! Or you know, skinny jeans or any type of styles. Typically, when we look at them out in the future we say, oh yeah, that’s really old. We don’t want that. And then all of a sudden the future comes to us and we’re buying those looks. We want to be dressed fashionably and relevant to what’s going on. Even though if you asked us a year ago whether we would ever transition from a wider leg pant to a skinnier jean, we would’ve said, “heck no! I can’t believe people do that”. And then they find themselves looking in their closet only to find 10 pairs of that pair of pants.

Ron Crossland:                  38:39                     Absolutely, you express that so well. And you reminded me, in my life – last fall, my sons came over for Sunday evening dinner. They regularly do this, but I was pleased as I could be that the youngest pulled out his mobile device, pulled out his streaming music service and pipe through the evening music as we had dinner a playlist of Sinatra songs. And I was just thrilled because he had gotten into that music because of the quality of the music. This idea that things come around. They do. We recycle ideas all the time. The old becomes new, the new becomes old, every time. In fact, I’ll come back to my original story. When my partner and I quit AT&T and just started our own business. It was because AT&T couldn’t imagine having a leadership institute that would be good enough that others would want to come to it. Within 10 years of us leaving and starting our own business, AT&T, GE, and other large scale companies were competing over which one of their leadership training departments were best in class and had the most to offer to other people.

Jenn DeWall:                      39:57                     Oh no kidding!

Ron Crossland:                  39:58                     We were 10 years ahead of our time and AT&T, for all of its promises, could not see the future outside old thinking technology. They couldn’t see the sociological trends coming. It was outside their scope. Sometimes you’ve got to listen to youth see the future.

Jenn DeWall:                      40:20                     I love that. Going back to what I said earlier- every person you meet can be your teacher and your student. That requires us to drop off ego and to say that yes, your experience is valued, but it’s not necessarily always the right experience for where we are today. If you’re going to let your past success drive where you’re going in the future. We want that diversity in thought and that scope and how we look at it.

Ron Crossland:                  40:58                     And from an academic standpoint- to back this up more scientifically than just anecdotally. The research on this has been proven multiple, multiple decades in a row. I’ve been looking at this research for 30 years, so every decade it’s re-proven, right? One of the two most common sources of innovation in any organization, smaller ones to sources of innovation that give you the most. The highest level of innovation may come from customers and from new employees because they haven’t been trained to think your way. They come in with a way of thinking that’s different. And that is gold. Any business person that wants to take advantage.

Jenn DeWall:                      41:51                     Well, I love that you said the new employees, because how often do we get everyone in the door, and are so excited that they signed the offer, and then we look at it as, “oh, they’re here now,” and it’s an untapped resource to give us an understanding how we are perceived. When you have this fresh set of eyes looking at these processes based on their experience? Is this an efficient way or is there a different way that we could look at it? You know, leveraging that instead of saying, “oh, they’re new and they have to go around the block to figure out what we know”. It’s saying, “oh my gosh, how can we use this before we corrupt your mind into our own way of thinking?” But I mean corrupt in a lovely way, right? Because we have to do that so we can all support the organizational mission. But yeah. How can we tap into that?

Jenn DeWall:                      42:40                     Well, you know, think that those are two great things to end on. I’ve really, really loved our conversation about innovation. And really thinking about untapped resources. Who can you go to, to gain really valuable insights into the way you innovate or how you could innovate? Knowing that it’s our customers, they’ll buy with us or they won’t buy. And that will be an indicator of where their preferences lie and what they want to see. And then, our new employees, right? How they’re looking at our business and how they can help to build and move our efforts forward. And we talked about a lot, right? Like really adopting innovation as everyday thinking and that essentially anything that you’re looking at is an opportunity to innovate. Should you want to, right? We may not need to innovate a new way to tie our shoes unless that lace is broken. But knowing that all of those problems are really just opportunities to say, how could we approach this differently? To not say that, “oh my gosh, you got it wrong”. Or, “oh my goodness, you made a mistake”. It’s okay. This is another opportunity to look at this problem in a different way. And also what’s that vision and how are we going to get there? Who do we need to have involved in it? How can we extend that invitation to them to be involved in our innovative process?

What is Your Leadership Habit?

Jenn DeWall:                      44:14                     You know, the last question that we like to end all of our interviews on, is about really understanding you as a leadership development expert, someone that has experienced much success within their 30 years in the industry. What is your leadership habit that brings you success?

Ron Crossland:                  44:34                     Well, being the nerd, it’s an easy answer. Mine is never-ending research. As much as I see that the landscape of leadership has many very, very stable features we talked about, the same things, generation after generation. There’s so much more to learn that’s new and refreshing. And, that requires research. For me, it’s academic research, but I would recommend for others to just talk to other business people. Talk to people that aren’t business people. You’ve got a problem to solve. You know, if you’re sitting in the hair salon having your hair done, ask you’re stylist! Just say, “you know, I was thinking about this problem I have. How would you handle it?” You might be surprised what you could learn.

Jenn DeWall:                      45:34                     I love that, and it’s a different way to connect, which is so valuable. Well, Ron, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed by me for The Leadership Habit Podcast. On behalf of Crestcom and you know, leaders everywhere, I’m just so excited that we had you on the show. And that we’re able to have that great high-level conversation and what we can do to look at innovation in a new way, and especially how we can embrace the multigenerational workplace that we have to solve our innovation problems. So thank you so much for joining us today, Ron. I we really enjoyed it and we look forward to working with you again soon.

Ron Crossland:                  46:14                     That pleasure is my pleasure. Thank you so much.

Outro:                                 46:18                     Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast. To find out more about Ron Crossland, connect with him on LinkedIn, also look through his books on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. You can find his book, Voice Lessons, Applying Science to the Art of Leadership Communication, or his books, The Leadership Experience or The Leader’s Voice, all from your favorite bookseller.

 

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