Season three

Trust, Communication and Psychological Safety

Web image emily levada.jpg

Have you ever found a framework, a diagram, that perfectly summarized an important and subtle idea? That somehow made that important idea concrete and easy to talk about?

That’s why I’m really excited to share today’s conversation with Emily Levada, Director of Product Management at Wayfair. We’ll dive into a Trust/Communication Map that, as a manager of a huge team, helps her navigate an essential question - is our team talking too much or not enough?

On the conversation design, meta side, I want to point out this important idea: The power of a visual to focus and shift a conversation. All conversations have an interface - either the air, a chat window or a whiteboard - a *place* the conversation actually happens. 

A diagram creates a narrative space for a much more clear and focused conversation to take place - the diagram triangulates all of our individual inputs and ideas.

I stumbled across Emily’s medium article where she breaks down this trust/communication trade off using this simple visual map. She points out that the map we talk about is commonly attributed to technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. In his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things he writes, 

“If I trust you completely, then I require no explanation or communication of your actions whatsoever, because I know that whatever you are doing is in my best interests.”

With Communication on the Y axis and Trust on the X, you clearly don’t want your team in the lower-left quadrant - low trust and low communication. Things will get pretty rocky there, fast. Increasing communication can help, but wow, will your team get burnt out, fast. The upper right quadrant, from a manager’s perspective, is waste - in this region, we’re having too many meetings. We can likely decrease communication, slowly, until we find a perfect balance - low friction, high trust teams. 

Emily, at the end of the episode outlines how she uses this diagram to have this crucial conversation with the teams she manages: Where does each member of the team feel we are on this chart? Are we spending too much time talking or not enough? If you use this diagram with your team, please let me know! Email me at

As Emily points out, when there’s total trust, there’s a sense of safety - When my collaborators trust me to make things work, I feel empowered to find my own way, even if I take the long path, down some blind alleys.

Psychological safety is at the absolute core of teams that can make great things happen. We need trust and safety to make good decisions. Amy Edmonson, who coined the term Psychological safety, opens her book “The Fearless organization” with this amazing quote from Edmund Burke, an English philosopher from the mid-1700s

“No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

With the right balance of trust and communication, teams can feel safe to act, learn and iterate. 

For all of this and a lot more, listen to the rest of the episode!

Show Links and Notes

The Trust/Communication Curve

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the trust equation.png
psychological safety and accountability.png

High CUA Organizations, from High Output Management by Andy Grove

Helpful summary is here:


Daniel:            Emily, we're going to officially welcome you to the conversation factory. Thank you for making the time to do this and for waiting for me while I fixed all of my technical difficulties.

Emily:              Thank you for having me.

Daniel:            Awesome. so you can you tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what your role is?

Emily:              I can start. Sure, sure. I'm a director of product management at Wayfair. I own a set of technologies that sit at what we call the bottom of our purchase funnel. So when you're shopping on Wayfair, that's the product detail page, the page that tells you about the things we sell, ah, they cart and checkout experiences. And then some other things like customer reviews or financing, how you apply for financing, understand financing on our side, our loyalty program. And I run a team of product managers doing that.

Daniel:            Yeah. And so we talked a little bit about how do you get a hundred designers to all talk the same language. Like, cause you've got to, you have a big team. How do you get them all pointed in the same direction as a word? Like tell us about managing that conversation cause like you literally can't have a conversation unless you're speaking the same language. And so like there's that step back that you're working with.

Emily:              Yeah. So I just shared an article that my design partner had written about our written design process or design toolkit as you might say. I think, you know, in any organization that scaling how you build the mechanisms for people to build shared vocabulary to be using the same tools. It's one that we invest time in. I don't know that there's any magic to it besides you know, making the time to have the conversation of what's the language that we want to use.

Daniel:            Yeah.

Emily:              ...And being really intentional about it, right? What's language we do want to use, what's the language we don't want to use? How do we want to talk to new employees about these things in ways that are simple and digestible for them. And then they can build on over time. And then creating the mechanisms to make sure that coordination keeps happening. And you know, I think as we get more into this, you'll see that for me, how, how people communicate across the organization is a big part of what I spend my time thinking about.

Daniel:            Yeah. I really enjoyed Jessie's article. We'll definitely link to it. One of the things that kind of blew me away was this idea that because I've worked with organizations where they're having a sense that, oh, we should have our own proprietary design thinking process. We should have our own flavor of agile. And he's like, we wanted something that anybody coming in would generally recognize. And so it's like, yeah, it's nothing. Here it is, it's kind of the double diamond. It's, it's the basics of design thinking, but doing it is the hard part.

Emily:              Yeah. And I think one thing that's interesting is that we're actually not that dogmatic about how those things get applied. So really there's a lot of license to do what works best for your team. Right. Designers are part of a cross functional team with engineers, and analysts, QA, product managers and the designer should bring the tools to bear that are gonna help us understand customer problems and talk to our customers and prototype and test things. But we, but we're creating a toolkit that designers can pull from in order to do their work effectively.

Daniel:            Yeah. It seems like a lot of work went into, into building that, that toolkit that they can pull from, but also like, I mean, this is the, this is the essence of agile, right? It's, it's, it's people and interactions over processes and tools or am I misquoting it? That's embarrassing. It's something like that. So like, let's talk about your origin story. Like how did you get into this work? How did you get your start and you know, where are you hoping to sort of ...what's next on your journey with, with the work that you're doing? Sure.

Emily:              More so. I, rewinding to, let's say college I have two degrees. I have a degree in psychology and a degree in theater production. I'm a theater kid.

Daniel:            That's amazing. I could see how that could prepare you for many, many, because everything's a circus and you know how to put on that. Let's put on a show like you know how to do that.

Emily:              Keep the drama on the stage, we say yes. I actually, there's a tremendous number of parallels that I think are really interesting. But psychology and theater, they're both studies of how individuals behave. One scientific and one's artistic, but that's a common theme. And as I transitioned in technology and got an MBA, I fell in love with the idea of customer insights. So that we could understand it and influence people's behavior with the technology that you build. And so that's kind of one thread that pulls through here. And then that, that also fuels a passion for organizational behavior. How do I understand the behavior of the people around me and how we interact with each other in the conversations that we have in our organization? And then I think the other interesting thing about theater, well there's a, there's a product management tie. Building theater is cross functional. You have designers, you've technicians. I've learned over the years that the conversation that happens between a set designer, a stage carpenter and a scenic painter is no different than the conversation that happens between the UX designer, a backend engineer and a front end engineer.

Daniel:            Okay. Can we, can you break that down? Cause like I don't think many people know those roles in maybe, maybe those words in either context. Yeah. Lay those out. Cause like this is the difference between like the, like the skin and the concept and how it works, Maybe....

Emily:              Right...Well, so, so in both cases you have someone like a designer who's coming up with a concept or understanding maybe it's user behavior or the story that we're trying to tell. The content that we want to have in what we're publishing. And then but having the concept or having the vision is different than having the executed product. And so then you have a technician, right? You have engineers you have carpenters and painters and, and then really that's really just specialization, right? Those people are delivering on the thing that's been designed. And and they may have different types of specialization. And then I think where the thing that's the same in my role about that is that what you deliver is never going to be exactly the thing that you designed. And there's a constant process of learning and discovering the unknown and prototyping or having to cut to meet a budget or a timeline changing scope.

Emily:              And that's the same, right? It's actually the same conversation. So I found a lot of skills in software development, product management that were skills that I had had developed earlier and loved that, that managing that conversation between those people and that translation between the functions. And then the other thing that I think is super relevant to the trust part of the work that I do is that the theater is a space and it's a workspace where coming to work emotionally available every day is part of what allows you to deliver the work. Like my, my early career, my conception of a business meeting was a bunch of people get in a room, we'd watch, a play. And if at the end of the business meeting everybody wasn't crying or laughing or right, whatever it was then like your product was not delivering the emotional experience that you need it.

Emily:              And so your ability to then work through you know, how do I build something that resonates more emotionally, it was a, it was a critical part of that experience. And so I think that in the business world that translates into being, you know, high EQ, whatever that means. But there are some notion that that idea that you sort of come to work present and authentic and kind of with your emotional switch "on". That is something that I'm just really interested in and passionate about. That's kind of the way that I'm built. And and so how that translates into a different, you know, range of the world that I'm in today has been interesting question. I mean, so like, let's, let's dig into that a little bit because I think the idea that our product should turn the customer on like that it should hit

Daniel:            Them and the gut the way like a great production should is a provocative one. And then like, so there's, there's these, there's that level of the, it should have that effect on our, our end user, but we should also be excited about doing it. And then I also need to sort of manage myself through that whole process of, you know bringing my best self to that dialogue, the interaction with all the people who are supposed to be making this thing. But there's a lot of, there can be a lot of conflict intention in that black box of making something that people are gonna love.

Emily:              Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I definitely, I think sometimes it's surprising to people that even just this concept of, hey, I want to build something that people love, that hey have emotional reaction to that, that I might talk about ecommerce that way. Right. Can we stupid. You're selling stuff, right? Yeah. But we all have to buy stuff, right? You right. You still want an experience that people really love. And also, you know, your home is intensely personal. And so for us, the experience of finding the right things for your home and crafting a space, crafting an environment that is a backdrop for really important parts of your life and your family and your friends your kids that's very emotional. It's a very emotional process. And so you want the tools that you're giving people to, to, to go through that journey to be emotionally resonant for them.

Emily:              You know, I think this is, there's lots of conversations about this in the product world. This is sort of, you know, you're aiming for a minimum viable product versus a minimum lovable product, right? Yeah. It's that that difference. But I think for me the organizational side of it is equally as important. You know, we, we know that we, we all want to have teams that are creative, that are risk tolerant, that move fast. And then we have these really complex organizations and at the end of the day, like how do you build teams that can do those things? My point of view is that you really need to have the emotional component in order to build teams that can, can embody those qualities.

Daniel:            Yeah. So I want to go back, I want to, I want, I want to go deeper, deeper into the trust and safety piece because that's, that's important. But I was trying to find this diagram that I just sent to you. And the chat window, I need to find who originated it. This was like one of my favorite diagrams when I was getting started in UX, just to like talk about the difference between like vision and concept and details. This is another version of it. Product is functionality. Product is information. There's so many versions of this just the idea that like, there's all these different layers in the process of making something real and my own sense that like everybody wants a seat at the table, right? Cause like even those people are highly specialized where they're like, oh, I'm just gonna make an "x". If they don't understand the vision and if they're not bought into the vision, people feel excluded. Yeah. People feel like, oh, I'm just a doer. Like, so I guess my question is like, you as a leader, how do you make sure that the people who are part of creating that vision feel like they're all included? Like how do you create inclusion?

Emily:              Yeah. I mean it's interesting because yes, they want to feel included, but I would actually go so far as to say that they need to be included if you want to get the right product. Because if you tell people what to build, they'll build you what you tell them. If you tell them why you want to build it, they're going to build something better than what you asked them to build.

Daniel:            Yeah. I'm just...that's a solid gold quote right there.

Emily:              Uh and so I think that the question then very tactically becomes when is the right moment in the process to involve which person, what pieces of information are you giving them? But I think really it is about orienting around why, why are we here, what outcome are we trying to drive, not what are we trying to build. And you know, ultimately the conversation shifts to what are you trying to build. But I think partly there's a, there's also a listening aspect here, right? You listen to the conversations that people are having and if people are getting stuck and you start listening and are having conversation about the what you try to back them up to the why, right?

Daniel:            Yeah. No I agree. Yeah. I mean there's so many avenues to go down because in a way like there's another piece which is like how are you seeing the patterns and all of that and all of those conversations that you're, you're, you're pulling together cause you're, you're looking at this at an organizational level as well, right? Like you're in a lot of different places and listening to a lot of different things. Like how do you make the time to start to weave it back together for yourself and to a clear narrative like "this is What's happening?"

Emily:              Some of it is I think about pattern recognition, right? This is true of all feedback. So one thing that I say about feedback a lot is that you know, any feedback, whether you're giving, receiving feedback, it's a data point. And if you, if every piece of feedback you get, you took immediate action on and treated as equal to every other piece of feedback, like you'd go mad. And so when you get feedback or when you hear a thing, it becomes a piece of data and then up to you to look at all of the pieces of data, have you got and, see the patterns, prioritize which things you want to act on and then go act on them. And so I think, you know, as an organizational leader, as I'm doing one on ones or doing skip level meetings or listening to questions, people are asking in various forums or listening to the water cooler talk. It's sort of data that goes into the pattern recognition machine, right?

Daniel:            Which is your brain. Are you using a whiteboard or a like a dashboard or anything to track that? Or is it just really like just filtering …

Emily:              Yup. I have some, I have a notebook that I you know, clutch very tightly and carry with me everywhere I go. That I think is my primary, you know, hey, I'm just gonna write down things that I see or observe. I have a window of time. I get to work very early in the morning. I get to work at seven. And so from seven in the morning until nine when the kind of meetings start is my time to really kind of step back, reflect on what I'm need to do or what I've heard, what's new, where things are and get some focused work time. And so I think being able to just carve out the time to sort of step back and say, okay, is there anything here that I, that I need to be paying more attention to or taking more action?

Daniel:            I have to say like in so many of the interviews I've done, one of the insights for me is that of all the conversations that we have to manage and maybe design the one with ourselves is maybe the most important one. And so having just, just having a notebook is like, like that's, that's huge. Right? Yeah. Really amazing.

Emily:              Yeah. You know, I'm also very lucky, I have a wonderful set of people around me who are great sounding board for all the Times that I'm like, Hey, I think maybe there's a thing here, but I'm not really sure. I let me just say it out loud to you and play it back for me and you know, help me see if there's really a pattern or not. Yeah,

Daniel:            Yeah. Analysis through dialog. Super important. So I think it would be useful for us to talk about like, so I found that this medium article that you wrote using this, you know, don't I just love visual frameworks of trust versus communication curve. And how did you, like where did that how does that framework filter into your life? Where did it come from for you and how do you, how do you actually apply that in your own work you use? Just talk to us a little bit about that little knowledge chunk and then we'll, sure, sure,

Emily:              Sure. So we, we first introduced the concept of psychological safety, which related but not the same in 2017. I actually, so psychological safety I think was popularized based on Google work, Google's project Aristotle. There's a New York Times magazine article about it that profiles a woman who's on Google's people analytics team. And she was a classmate of mine in my MBA program. And so I had been following the work and thought it was really interesting. And we actually introduced a concept of that is one level higher than the psychological safety concept, which is the learning zone. So the, the researcher who, who came up with the concept of psychological safety actually has a framework that's two axes and psychological safety is one access. And the other access is accountability, accountability to results. And, and when you have both of those things, you get this magic thing called learning.

Emily:              And I think that what was really important about that, cause you ain't swim it cause like I'm looking at that as a two by two from like very accountable and very safe means I've learned something. Yeah. Put that together for me. Yeah. So, so very accountable means like there's pressure, there's pressure to do, right? Like you, you, you're gonna run fast because there's pressure. But if you have high pressure and low psychological safety, you get anxiety, you get fear of failure, right. That, that and that is a killer, right? Especially in an agile process where there's a requirement to like take risks and try things and it, you know, that every single thing you do is not going to be a win. What you want is for every single thing you do to teach you something, right. The, to be another step on the journey to understanding where you're going.

Emily:              Oh, this is incredibly important in spaces where I remember it's it's Andy Grove. It's from high output management. He has this concept of, high CUA organizations or tasks that is complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity, right? So you don't have a roadmap. You don't know where you're going. You have some idea where you're going, but you might be wrong. You don't really know how you're going to get there along the way. And there's a high degree of complexity that you need to be able to fail and you need to be able to challenge people's ideas. You know, we know that the creative process, it's not that people just have brilliant ideas, they actually have not great ideas that then other people add slightly less, not great things too. And then, you know, you build, you like you, you build on top of each other and you make connections and then all of a sudden there's an Aha moment that you, you've landed on something that has value, right?

Daniel:            So I would say that these CUA things can only be done through conversation. It's only through like one person can't do it by themselves. Through that, you have to…

Emily:              Right, right. And so you have to have a group. And that group has to be willing to say stupid things and to say that they disagree, to challenge the status quo. And you can't do those things if you don't have psychological safety. If you're afraid that you will be judged for what you say or for challenging, then you don't get any of that behavior. And so, so when you have psychological safety, that's when you get... And performance pressure. That's when you get, okay, we're going to try something and then we're going to learn from it. And so learning becomes the kind of cornerstone to continuous improvement with that flavor of, hey, we're willing to take risks.

Emily:              We want to move fast. We're listening to each other. We understand that the solution we get you together is going to be better than the solution any of us could come to individually. And so that, that, it was a few years ago that that really became an important piece of how my department was thinking about the culture that we wanted to build. And, and in that I was thinking about, okay, what does this mean for my teams and how do I figure out when my teams are feeling that anxiety and how can I help them have the right conversations to get them back into that learning zone? And one of the observations that I had is that we spend a lot of time talking about how we talk to each other, right?

Daniel:            Amazing!

Emily:              I say to the conversation designer but, but that in the organization that often takes the format of, you know, do we really need to have this meeting? We should add this meeting. We should remove this meeting. I think we should write a new update email. We're getting too many emails. I, everybody needs to go into this spreadsheet and fill out this information. And there's just this, there's a cycle of "add a bunch of communication and process and then think there there's too much and take it away. And then I think there's too little and add more."

Emily:              And there's a justification that, that sort of a natural cycle. And the observation that I had a, and I talk a little bit about where those pieces came from, but the kind of connection that I made in my brain at some point in doing this is that the amount of communication that you need is the dependent variable. The independent variable is how much trust you have. It's not an objective, hey, in order to do this thing, I need this amount of communication period.

Emily:              The amount of communication that you need to be successful is dependent on how much trust already exists between the individuals doing the work. And so for me the interesting moment was, hey, let's reframe all of these, communicate all of these conversations that we're having about communication into conversations about trust and what does that look like? What would that mean? Yeah. And that actually you, you these, the costs of all of this communication, we call it coordination cost often. Yeah. That it's, that it's not a given. Like as your organization gets complex, you will need more communication. That is true.

Daniel:            So I'm going to, I'm going to sketch, this diagram just for the listeners. So they don't have to go any place else like okay, it's the, the y axis is amount of communication required. The X-axis, is access trust between team members. And in a way what you're implying is that there's a, a curve, a line that goes from the upper left to the lower right where basically the more trust you have, the less communication is required.

Emily:              Right? That's exactly it. To accomplish any goal, the amount of trust that you have and the amount of communication that you need or inversely related. So if you have very little trust, you need a tremendous amount of communication. If you have a lot of trust, you need way less.

Daniel:            Can I push back on this concept? Just like, cause I feel like in a way like when there's a lot of trust, communication flows really freely to be like I can see on the graph anything that's above the line is inefficient use of resources and anything below it creates like friction of confusion or like, and I've seen this in projects where you're like waiting for someone else to like tell you it's okay to do what you think needs to be done. But at the same time I feel like my fiance and I talk a lot, you know, we, we have a lot of communication. There's also a lot of trust. Like I'm checking in with her and telling her my evening plans, not because I think she's worried that she doesn't, you know, where are you off with? She just wants to know and I want to tell her. So like maybe that's, maybe that's different cause it's, it's a personal context. I don't know.

Emily:              Yeah. Maybe trust and communication are actually self-reinforcing. And so when I say you have high trust and low communication that that implies that you actually have a higher degree of communication. I think, you know, maybe you could think about this as sort of additional communication or required communication, formal communication, right? And there are lots of different ways you could cut that. Although I do think that you actually just see less communication partly because one of the primary pieces of that is if I trust you, then I trust that you will understand when I need to be involved and you will proactively communicate to me and therefore I don't need to be doing the inbound communication to you. And so you know, you, I do think that there's an opportunity. I think the, and the really important piece of that is that we think we spend a lot of time talking about how we can add or subtract communication. And my thesis is that if you actually invest in building trust in teams, you can run more efficient organizations because you reduce the amount of communication that everybody to do.

Daniel:            Wow. So that upfront investment pays off. And your, I mean this is the classic go slow to go fast. Like you're like definitely has proved for you.

Emily:              Well yeah, I mean you, you, you invest in trust that allows you to pull out this communication. It certainly makes people happier and it gives you more of these other things like a willingness to take risks. You know speed to delivery risk tolerance. Yeah. Some of those other components that I think are really important.

Daniel:            So can we talk a little bit about the mechanisms, cause you, we talked about this in the pre-talk, like what are the mechanisms of creating value for the company through that, but then there's also the question of how do you actually, what is the process by which you create this kind of trust and psychological safety in your teams? So this is like the two side, like how do you do it and then how do you show that it's, how do you prove that thing that we, we were just talking about that it's, that the investment's worth it. Yeah. Cause people ask me all the time and I have a mixed answers for that.

Emily:              Yeah. I think, you know, I do think it's hard, right? It's hard. This is why the, some of these concepts like psychological safety and trust and vulnerability and Kulik they feel squishy cause it's hard to understand the value. But I do think that one of the things that's been interesting about this framework is that it is pretty easy when you start to look around and you start to diagnose, okay, where are my teams? And you start to actually selectively pull levers like, okay, I'm going to add communication here or I'm going to just remove communication here. That as a manager, having a framework like this just helps you be more active in how you manage those things, right? So if, if a manager can, if having this framework and diagnosing where their teams are effectively allows them to pull, you know, just a handful of pieces of communication out of the system without impacting the result, it's being delivered. You're delivering value right now. If you pull that communication out in a place where you don't actually have their trust, then you, you risk poor execution on the work. Right? And so the ability to make good decisions about where you can do that and where you can I think is what I'm trying to help managers do. I think in terms of actually building trust I have one go-to tool that I share. Although there's really many, many different ways to think about this. I'm a big fan of the trust equation, which is from the book the trusted advisor. Yeah. The trusted advisor is really about building trust in client relationships. But there's this concept in it called the trust equation, which is just a one way of breaking down what does trust really mean? And that trust equation says that trust is needed before components.

Emily:              There are three things that create trust, credibility, which is I trust your words. You know what you're talking about. You say, I don't know. When you don't know what you're talking about. That's one. Reliability is you do what you say you're going to do. So I'd say trust your actions. And then the third is they use the word intimacy. That can be a loaded word in business contexts. I tend to think of that as discretion is, is probably the closest thing. Like I, I trust you with a secret. Or I trust your judgment. It can mean I, it can mean you sort of know me personally. And then there's one thing that is sort of the great destroyer of trusts, which is self orientation. So if I believe that you will act in your own self interest instead of in my best interest then I don't trust you if I believe that you will take into account my best interest and think about my point of view, then we build trust.

Emily:              And the really important thing or the reason that that's my sort of critical tool is because it allows us to give feedback about trust that's much more specific. So it allows us to give feedback, allows me to give feedback about communication that's happening in the workplace. That is feedback about trust, but using those underlying concepts. So, Hey, when you well... Shit your way through the answer to that answer in that meeting and then had to go back and admit that you didn't know what you were talking about, you damaged your credibility with that stakeholder. Yeah. Right. Or when you didn't respond to that email, you damaged your reliability yeah. Or, right, then and then the positive version of that to hey, the fact that you thought to include that person in that meeting showed low self orientation and helps you build that relationship. And so more than anything that's just given people the vocabulary to have a conversation about trust without using the squishy word of trust.

Daniel:            Yeah. Breaking it down into components. Use the word levers, which I like. I talk about that a lot in my conversation design work, which is like, wow, how do we actually grab hold of this squishy thing and say like, oh, how do we manipulate it? How we actually move in? And you're like, at least you and you can focus on reliability, credibility, intimacy and intimacy is important. Like, I, I've begun to realize like the importance of actually spending time getting to know people. Like you forget this, otherwise people think it's just transactional. And that's, that's really, really critical.

Emily:              Right? And, and I think that also sorry, I just lost my train of thought for a moment.

Daniel:            I mean it's amazing by the way, like, I don't know like that you had the trusted advisor equation in your, in your brain. Like, so you get, you get a tunnel pass, it may come back to you.

Emily:              It meant that's okay. We can keep going.

Daniel:            What's that?

Emily:              I said we could keep going...

Daniel:            Oh, so we, yeah, we are actually getting close to our time. So like I usually ask the, what haven't we talked about that we should talk about, which may or may not jog your memory…

Emily:              I remember what I was thinking.

Daniel: Yeah. There's the key - distraction!

Emily:              So the other thing about the trust equation is that it's actually true that different people value different parts of that equation. Well, the other thing that it allows you to do is have the conversation of saying, you know, sometimes like I've had situations where I'm kind of not connecting with someone or we just seem to be missing each other and not building the kind of relationship that I want. And then the ability to have a conversation that's like, Hey, I, what I'm looking for really is, you know, intimacy. And the other person says, well, I really want reliability and I don't really care about intimacy in this relationship that that allows you to figure out what matters for trust in that relationship more effectively.

Daniel:            It does. And so when you, you talked about how you spend a lot of time in your team talking about conversations like this is, this is the conversation about what matters to you in your conversations with the conversation about how often you want to be talking, the conversation about all of these different pieces of it. And I just did an interview with my dear friend Jocelyn Ling. We'll publish soon as well. She was the first person who ever I sat down in a meeting with who said, let's talk about how you like to work. Are you a calendar person? I mean this was almost 10 years ago, so there was no Skype, there was Skype, there was no slack, there was, there were fewer tools, but it was still an important conversation to have.

Emily:              Right, incredibly.

Daniel:            Like I have a calendar/ spreadsheet orientation and that's like if somebody is making something in a word document that could be a spreadsheet. It, it, it, you know, cause me hives.

Emily:              Right, Totally. And you know, it's important to know if you're working with someone who really needs time to digest before they get into a room, then writing that preread is going to be that much more important. Right. Or if you know, obviously understanding the intimacy part, understanding what parts of the day are more difficult for people. You know, for me, I get in super early, but then I leave, I need to get home to my kids. And so, you know, if you catch me while I'm walking out the door, I'm not going to be, no,... I'm less likely to take the time to stop and have that conversation right.

Daniel:            And don't have an extra five minutes!

Emily:              I really don't. Yes. So I think that that's, those things are super important and, and actually just giving people the ability to have those conversations really openly, really directly or giving them tools to do that.

Daniel:            That's awesome. So is there anything we haven't talked about that we should talk about around trust, psychological safety, organizational conversations?

Emily:              Yeah, there's, there's no one big thing. I think, you know, my, the thing that I hope is just that people feel like this is a tool that they can use and, and to really think about that the next time they hear somebody having a conversation about communication, to think about, hey, are we really having a conversation about, about trust? Right? So somebody is asking you for communication, is it really because they don't, they don't trust some piece of this, they don't trust you're going to deliver something or we've missed an opportunity to, to keep them informed and vice versa. If people are complaining about having too much communication. Is that really because there's more trust than you're building credit for and how do we, how do we change the conversation more?

Daniel:            Yeah. Well that's awesome. We, I guess, I mean I'm, I'm going to try and squeeze in one more question cause like I said, I'm looking at that framework and I'm thinking to myself is that a framework for Emily to think more clearly and to talk with another manager about stuff or is it a conversation that a team can have? Like it's not like a two by two matrix. I'm not looking at it as like a importance difficulty matrix where somebody is doing an exercise with it. It is, it is both. So there's definitely, yeah, only a piece

Emily:              Of it that is as a manager, I want to have a sense of where my team is or where different project teams that I work with are and be able to actively manage. But there's definitely a team component here and I think it's a really interesting exercise to do. It requires a really good facilitator, which is get your team in a room, draw the framework on the board, two axes and a line, right? Make sure people understand it and then say, everybody grab a marker. Where do you think we are? Or, or if you don't think your team has enough trust to do that, everybody grab a sticky note and draw the framework on your sticky note and fold it up and hand it to me, right? We'll do this sort of anonymously and then you plot on the graph like where does the team think we are?

Emily:              And the interesting conversation is not about coming to objective alignment that "we are here today", but actually that some of your team members think your team has a high degree of trust and some of your team members go, right. And how do we, you know, some, some team members think that we've got too much communication and some think we have too little because they actually have different communications styles. And, and communication isn't connecting on the same for everybody. And then how do we use that as a lead in to this conversation of, hey, how do we work more effectively as a team?

Daniel:            I'm so glad I asked that question because I think that's a really, that, that's a, it's a classic visual facilitation move of where are we, where do you think we are? And then the, the benefit is not, oh, we need to get into the same place. It's like, Oh wow, you think we're here and I think we're there. Let me hear more about what you think, why you think that. And you talked to the other person about why they think they think that's what they think. That's awesome. Okay, then we're definitely out of time now, Emily, I really appreciate you making the time for this. This is really delightful conversation. I think this is super duper important stuff for everyone to get a grasp on.

Emily:              Thanks for having me!

Daniel:            Awesome. And we'll call it "and scene!"

Disciplined Imagination


Today’s conversation is with my dear friend Jocelyn Ling, a tremendously talented Business Model Specialist in the Office of Innovation at UNICEF. She’s  currently on sabbatical from the Organizational Innovation consultancy Incandescent. She’s been an interim biotech CEO, an investment consultant at the International Finance Corporation, the private investment arm of the World Bank Group, and even an instructor at Stanford’s DSchool.

The Show Notes section of this episode are pretty epic, since Jocelyn dropped a lot of knowledge and wisdom on me and you - frameworks aplenty for you to get a handle on designing the innovation conversation and leading the process, with, as she says, healthy skepticism, suspended judgment, and disciplined imagination. 

I wanted to give that Hubble quote it’s full space to breathe, because it’s so lovely...I’m going to read it in full here:

The scientist explores the world of phenomena by successive approximations. He knows that his data are not precise and that his theories must always be tested. It is quite natural that he tends to develop healthy skepticism, suspended judgment, and disciplined imagination. 

— Edwin Powell Hubble

There are a few subtle points that I want to tease out and draw your attention to as this all relates to conversation design and shaping them for the better.


Jocelyn highlights one of my favorite ideas in conversation design - invitation. A leader invites participation through their own openness, not through force. Anyone can lead that openness to new ideas, even if they’re not an “authorized” leader, through their own example. Invitations can look like asking the right questions or hosting teams or creating physical or mental space for the conversation.


Jocelyn talks about the tempo of a team or an organization, and these larger conversions do have a tempo, just like a 1-on-1 conversation does. Leading the innovation conversation often means slowing down or speeding up that tempo to create clarity and safety or progress and speed.


Conversations start when people have a goal in mind. Each participant in the conversation will have their own idea of what that goal is and the innovation conversation is no different. Jocelyn points out, rightly, that it’s critical for a team or an organization to develop their own clear, shared definition of innovation. I did a webinar recently with Mural and my partner in the Innovation Leadership Accelerator, Jay Melone, on just this topic, and you can find a link to the templates we used in the show notes...I think you’ll find those helpful, too.


Storytelling and coherent narratives are core components of everyday conversations and the innovation conversation is no different. What Jocelyn asks us to focus on is the idea of stories as memes - what happens to your story after you tell it? Does it communicate or convince? Great. Does that person retell that story and evangelize it for you? That’s even better. Leading change means being able to tell the second type of story - viral anecdotes.

That’s all for now. The full transcript and show notes are right there in your podcasting app and on the website.

Show Links and Notes

Jocelyn Ling on the Internet

Making a Team Charter if you want a template (or just have the conversation!)

Michelle Gelfand’s Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire our World

All in the Mind Podcast:

Clayton Christensen, Disruptive Innovation

Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

A blinkist version

Square Pegs and Round Holes in Apollo 13

Google vs Apple in One Image, their patents map

Edwin Hubble Quote:

The scientist explores the world of phenomena by successive approximations. He knows that his data are not precise and that his theories must always be tested. It is quite natural that he tends to develop healthy skepticism, suspended judgment, and disciplined imagination. 

— Edwin Powell Hubble

In Commencement Address, California Institute of Technology

10 Jun 1938

More on Hubble:

The Innovation/Ambition Matrix

Core, Adjacent, Transformational

Innovation Ambition Matrix.png

How to have the Innovation Conversation:

The 21st Century Ger Project:

Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation:

Six Sigma and the Eight Types of Waste

The Forgetting Curve (Distributed Practice!)

Behavioral Design with Matt Mayberry from Boundless Mind



I'm going to officially welcome you to the conversation factory. So we're going to start the real, quote unquote real conversation now. Um, because I feel like every conversation we have is like, is interesting and insightful for me and it's never on the record.


Lets make this on the record!


We're going to make this on the record! And if you ever want me to, if you want me to take any pieces off the record, you just let me know. I think the reason why I wanted to have this conversation with you about innovation leadership is, I'm going to go way back. One of my earliest memories of you is back when we were co-designing early, like an early iteration of what the design gym was going to be. we were sitting down with, you Me... Maybe it was Andy, it was probably Andy and you were like, let's have a conversation about our working styles.


Oh Wow. I don't ever remember that. Yeah, that does sound like something that I do and I did. I still do it till today, with any new team


Yeah. Well, so like that was my first time somebody had invited me into that conversation and it blew me away because I'd never really, I mean this is going back. I mean this is 2012 I guess this is a long time ago. I had never really thought about how I work. Nobody had asked me that question. I'd never had that conversation about how and where do I like the, what I would now call the interfaces of my work conversations to happen. And I'm just wondering like, who introduced you into that conversation and where did you learn some of these soft skills? I mean, this is a quote unquote soft skill. Where did you learn some of the soft skills that you do in your work that you use in your work?


That's a great question. I think that probably learned a lot of my soft skills through day to day interaction. I think I've had the privilege, like in my job, given that I was an investor before, as well as in consulting to have exposure to a very broad range of working styles and leaders. And particularly so in the consulting world, you are especially attuned to how clients work. And so I always try and make sure that I am not only understanding how teams come together, but also how individuals work because as a consultant it's up to me to match and really tap into what is an invitation into their world. So I think that's how I survived, absorbed it over time. I think specifically maybe at that point in time and I continued to refine how I work with teams over the years, but maybe back in 2012 likely from, um, a really wonderful mentor in Boston, mine who I worked at International finance corporation at the World Bank. Um, my boss at that time, BG Mohandas is and continues to be an amazing person in my life. Uh, probably taught me that specific question and style.


That's amazing. And like, do you ever feel like, um, that that's an unwelcome conversation or is it ever hard to bring that topic up for you?


I often find it's as easy and very welcomed conversation and that is an investment of even 20 minutes with a new team member goes a very long way to setting the tone for their relationship and for the partnership.


Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting this idea of, of a pattern matching like perceiving patterns in somebody else's behavior and then making that effort to sort of like alter your own.


Oh, absolutely. I think that, um, and this is something I learned in my incandescent work. It's like the concept tempo. And I think you and I might have even spoken about it before, that not only understanding the tempo of an organization and by tempo I mean like the speed of how a team comes together and moves and how an individual does work. So you can imagine and overly generalize and say a startup has a really fast tempo comparatively to a larger fortune 500 company, which runs a little bit slower. And it's in the more that you're able to understand what Beat and Tempo you're stepping into, I think the more than you can learn to be effective in the kind of work that you want to achieve.


Yeah. Well so perceiving that tempo and then the ability to do something about it. I was literally, I'm bringing it up right now, so I'm just listening to a podcast, um, called all in the mind and they're interviewing. Who are they interviewing? Why is it so hard to find the show notes on these things? This is ridiculous. I can't believe I'm doing this on the phone. Um, Michelle Gelfand, she, she wrote a book, um, about um, making and breaking cultural rules and she has this idea of tight and loose cultures like cultures where social norms are tight and people follow all the norms and loose cultures where people don't. So I love the idea that you're also noticing, you know, there's, there's probably tight and loose work cultures but fast and slow ones. Right




I'm wondering, this seems like a good time. I feel like I have a tendency to like plop people in the middle of a conversation. Um, if you want to backtrack and tell the folks in radio land a little bit about your career journey, like what you're doing now and what brought you into what you're, what you're doing now.


Yeah, sure. So my background, it's sort of like a combination of different things. Um, I like to think that, um, any exploration that I take always leads me to another interesting opening. Um, I started out my career in finance, um, with the Royal Bank of Canada and then followed a slightly untraditional path in that I then moved, um, from where I was living at a time from Vancouver and I moved to New York to then, uh, be in full exploration and ambiguity mode. And that's when you and I met Daniel to start this, start the Design Gym, which was something completely new, entrepreneurial in a new field. And that's also where I got introduced to the world design and absolutely fell in love with it. We started an accidental company together.




And then along the way ran into visa issues. And got kicked out of the United States, if you remember that, too!


I do!


And then found myself in Kenya where I then work in impact investing with an amazing nonprofit and then later on the World Bank and then found my way back to New York. The US couldn't get rid of me that quickly! Came back to the US legally with a visa in hand and, uh, worked for a strategy consulting organization, design firm called incandescent. And I've been there for the past, uh, five plus years now and, and right now I'm on sabbatical with the firm and have taken up residency at a UNICEF innovation team. So it's been a meandering path, but all for wonderful teams and causes.


So not everyone will know this, but like, I feel like, um, you are amazingly one of the many people try to get in touch with you through me on Linkedin. Um, when they're, when they're interested in organizational design and organizational innovation...incandescent, like is, uh, is a decent player in that space. Um, I don't know how they, how they managed to build their name. Maybe it's...I'm assuming they do good wor


Oh, I hope so!


I don't know none of it from firsthand, but like five years. Can you tell me a little bit about what, what organizational innovation and uh, and some of the tempo work that you're doing with that you did that incandescent? I'm asking you to sum up five years of work!


I'm going to reframe your question slightly because I think that what might be more interesting instead of me naming off projects for folks is to share some first principles of how we work, which could be interesting cause we bring that into every single client engagement that we do. So Indandecent was founded by a man called Niko Canner, a wonderfully brilliant individual, also a mentor in my life. Um, and I've learned so much from him and joined the firm when it was just him and another individual. So I was his second hire. Um, and it was found with the focus of how do we understand, how do, how do we build beautiful businesses? Um, and how might we build this in an intentional way that you're really looking and thinking about the whole system from the start? So that's one of the principles of how we look at things.


It's like how do, how does a organization as a system work together? I think oftentimes when consultants like step into a project, their worldview is a very specific task or project that has been carved out for them. When Incandescent steps into a project. We always ask the question, how does this touch our other things and how do we ensure that all of the nodes that it touches works together? So they were designing something that sustains and lasts and not just some designing something for in the moment.So that's one, one of the mindsets and principles are how we bring, um, things in l


Long term thinking!


yeah, absolutely. Long term thinking. The second one would be, um, we literally do our work in principles. We will spend a lot of time upfront, um, whether we're designing, uh, how a team comes together, whether we're designing a strategy. A lot of it, a lot of our time that's invested upfront is in what are the principles of how a team would work together, what are the principles of strategy? Um, and once you clarify that, it just unlocks so many things. It has a waterfall effect, um, in terms of just like designing everything else from that. So I think that's another way of how we work. And I think the third is probably a high amount of, um, intentionality and co-creation. So we always designed something with the client. Um, and I think that part of that then hopefully leads to really great work because we're not designing in a vacuum.


Yeah. So a lot of it goes to like, this is, uh, I've, I've just recently been reintroduced to the term prejecting. There's the project and then there's the preject. But it seems like the prejecting phase where you really think about the whole system and the team principles and Co creation, a lot of that just sort of falls, falls into place from that, right?


Yep, absolutely. And let me give an example of that, just to bring it to life. So about two and a half years ago, we were approached by three major foundations like the gates foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and Ciaran investment foundation and they came to us were referral and they said, we're interested in designing, we're interested in putting together a conference in the world of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and to bring together designers and global health folks and put them a conference together and on the call with them we set food. That's really interesting, but we're not really just conference folks and event planners. There are many people who do that, but if you're interested in what the representation of what this conference is, which is if you see this as a watershed moment for how design can be brought into the world of adolescent sexual reproductive health, let's talk about that


Let's talk about like what this conference is enabling a strategy which hopefully the three foundations would might have or is interested in doing and the three program officers were really interested in having a conversation. They had an Aha moment on the call and said, we want that. You want to think about a larger strategy and how us as funders can come together. And um, that kick started two years worth of work where we did end up designing a convening and a conference. But we also ended up really bringing to life a strategy that, um, was unique to the field. And that was very much co-created with these three program officers through lots of working sessions remotely and we were all in different locations over time. So hopefully that example brings to life some of the things I think I've spoken on before.


It does. And it also like is a wonderful case study of reframing and engaging stakeholders in conversation. Like not starting from a no, but starting from a, Oh, isn't that interesting? Or Oh well why is that important to you?


Yeah, it's like my favorite Albert Einstein quote, it's like if I had 60 minutes to save the world, I'll spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes coming up with a solution. So like if you're solving for the wrong problem or if you don't even realize what you actually really want. I think there's a lot of room to think through that together.


Yeah. Well, so I mean this goes to this, this question of like what innovation even means, what problem solving means and it seems like it's really attached to systems thinking for you and at least in your working in Indandecent like defining what the boundary of the problem is is really, really essential. In that sense it almost makes a like a linear or simple definition of innovation really hard I would think.


I mean innovation is such a complex topic of which there are many, many definitions. Like you can range anything from Clay Christensen's disruptive innovation definition to um, I don't know, Steven Johnson's book, which I really like... Where good ideas come from. He defines innovation in a different way. And all that really matters is that the organization that you work for and the team that you are on has one single definition of which all of you agree on. And that's clear.


We'll wait, hold a second.


There are so many!


Well, let's, let's roll. Let's roll it back. Cause like I'm, my, my brain is remembering Steven Johnson's book... It's like, yeah, I think of it as like, um, that moment in a, I think it's Apollo 13 when they like dump out all these, the bucket of parts that they're like, this is what the astronauts have on board and we need to literally make a square peg connect to a round hole. Like let's figure it out. And it always felt to me like Steven Johnson's definition was the more parts you have, the more pieces you can put together. Um, it's like, it's, it's having a wide ranging mind and absorbing lots of influences.


Yeah. I mean, Steven Johnson, I think he talks about, I don't know whether he likes specifically names a concise one sentence definition, but I think he talks about the fact that innovation happens within the bounds of the adjacent possible. In other words, like the realm of possibilities available at any given moment.


Yeah. Right. And that we build on those adjacent possibles. So I guess maybe where I would, I'm backing myself into agreeing with you cause like I was like, Oh, do we all have to have the same definition of innovation? Um, we, we do, in order to try something we have to say like, Oh, here's all these things we could try. I think this would be more, uh, impactful. Right. And that that's a conversation that, that somebody needs to be able to dare I say, facilitate in order for the innovation conversation to proceed.


Yup. Agree.


Okay. Glad you agree with me! Well, so then like what, um, what, how, how can I be more provocative and get you to disagree with me? What, like what, what do you, what have you seen in terms of like a leader's ability to, uh, foster, uh, or, or, or what's the opposite of foster disable innovation inside of a team, inside of an organization, in your own experience?


Um, I mean, I think the role of a leader, I have a feeling you're going to agree with me, but I think the role of a leader is very simply to create the conditions that, that foster and support innovation. What I mean by that is openness. Um, and to extend invitations out to their teams, whether that's actually literally or even in a physical space or to, uh, lead by example. I think once you create the leading by example and the creation of conditions, there could be many other elements to that. But those two are to me, feels core to what a role of a leader should do.


Yeah. Well, so then this goes to the, the idea that a leader doesn't necessarily have to be authorized.


No, not necessarily. Yeah. On that note, I actually think that it really depends on the organization and, and how far the authorization can take you. So for example, if I compare contrast and apple versus Google, um, and does a really wonderful graphic of the number of patents that each organization has filed over the years. And in Google's, it looks like it's all over. You can see sort of like patterns that emerge like literally visually from all over the organization and from our authorization standpoint. Like folks are welcomed and encouraged to explore ideas and invent new things. And you see that through patents that had been filed across the organization versus apples, it's a lot more concentrated because it's a lot more centralized and they have much more of a stage gated process. I would imagine. I'm not to say that one is correct or wrong, it just, again, it depends on the kind of organization and how clear you are. Um, overall on how innovation is being fostered..


Yeah. Well, I mean, how, how, how does a leader maintain that clarity I guess? Is, is, uh, it's an interesting question.


That's a great question. Um, maybe they can think about in clarity in terms of creating a discipline and a ritual where, I know it sounds counter intuitive, but I think a lot of, when a lot of times people think about innovation, people think about it as serendipitous moments that come to you. I actually think that innovation comes to you in a much more disciplined way when you actually continuously put sustained effort, um, into exploring x, whatever that x might be. Um, again, very close. I'm gonna bring up Steven Johnson again. But like I think that his ideas around the exploration of the adjacent possible, unless there's sustained probing, you're not going to suddenly one day come up with a huge Aha if you've never thought about that topic. You know, for example, like I have never thought about a topic of um, the reinvention of, of uh, space rocket,


I love that you're struggling to think of something you've never thought of!


Right! Like...How to I reinvent a space rocker, I don't know! I've spent hardly any time thinking about that. And so it's highly unlikely that I am sitting here with suddenly come up with something breakthrough right in that area.


Whereas there's people who are literally pounding their heads on that boundary constantly. And of course those are the people who are going to be like, what if we...?


Yeah, absolutely. And so as a leader, if you create the space of, Hey, every week we'll have a ritual and this is just a very specific tactical example of I'm going to solicit ideas from the team around the boundaries of building a new space rocket. Then maybe it will have interesting ideas. They eventually come up over time.


So there's like my, there's a couple of things I want to probe on. Like one is we were talking about cadence and tempo of organizations and then you use the term ritual. Uh, and I feel like those two are really intimately related to, I'm literally working, the podcast interview I'm working on right now is all about ritual, uh, and designing rituals for people in it. And it's sort of an interesting thing to think about what the cadence of these, um, innovation rituals, uh, could be like. And, and what are you find are some, I don't know, do are, are there some that you're like, oh, here are the basics. Here are the essentials of innovation rituals. We talked about one, which was like the team.




Team alignment conversation. It's like a really powerful ritual for at least making sure that we're all working in this in, in ways that are harmonious, which is really, really valuable.


...great question. Well, one ritual that I really like is something that I know, uh, the design gym that we do. And also folks that I you does as well is that they have inspiration trips. Um, that teams would go and say, hey, we're starting something new and here's a new topic that none of us have really thought about before. How, how might we go and get inspired? And if you have that as a ritual when you start, whether it's a new project or even midway when you're stuck, I think that could be a really powerful thing to get unstuck. Um, instead of churning internally. And I really liked that concept. Um, overall to just look externally, whether it's true, take a moment and actually physically be in another location or to learn by having conversations with others that are different.


Yeah. Yeah. I think the, and behind that is this idea of being able to identify what the real need is. I think about it in two ways. One is like, let me go see where else this problem is being solved. Like specifically like, and then there's like, let me see in a broader sense like what other types of problems are similar to this? And, and this could be like, oh, let me, like if, if any other countries willing to share with me how they're doing rocket flight, then maybe I can learn the totality of the problem. But you can also do the thing where like, hey, let's look at what bees do and let's look at what seagulls do and let's look at other types of propulsion. Um, and so I feel like that's like that that definitely goes to the like the breadth of, of inspiration...




Well I think, and I guess that's where like, you know, cause what I was excited to talk with you about is like good leadership and bad leadership skills. And it seems like a really, really powerful leadership skill is the willingness and the interest, the curiosity, but also the willingness to sort of like look at the boundary of the possible and say what else is possible.


Yep. Absolutely. I also think that a great leadership skill in when leading an innovation team is, um, knowing what bets to place at any given period of time. So one of my favorite quotes is by Edwin Hubble. Um, and he says, and he said this in like a 1930s in his cal tech commencement speech being says that a scientist has a healthy skepticism, suspended judgment and disciplined imagination. I'm going to say those three things again because I love the combination of the three assigned. His has a healthy skepticism, suspended judgment and discipline imagination. And he talks about it specifically in the world science, but I think it's actually really applicable in the world of innovation because he describes a way of being, which is kind of strange. You're supposed to be skeptical, but you're also suppose to suspend your judgment. You're supposed to have the imagination, but this upland because you don't want me to go too wild. And I think that, um, the balance between the three of how do you actually observe ideas that come in, gathering facts, understanding it, testing your expectations against them, um, is I think a quality that I would hope anyone who's leading innovation would have.


Hm. That's really beautiful. I, and when did you absorb that quote that's like, it's seems really close to your heart, which is beautiful.


Um, great question. I learned here when I was interim CEO of a biotech company in incandescence portfolio, I'd taken over and I was new to the world of science, also new to being an CEO of a startup. And one of the biggest lessons I took away was that quote is I think that there is such a beautiful orientation in terms of how scientists discover things. Um, it's really their way of being. Um, and my brother actually is a scientist and I see how he thinks about problems and how he approaches them. It just, that combination of when is it the right moment to imagine something really amazing. Because a lot of scientists, they don't know what they're discovering. They're just out there. Yeah. Um, oh, when is it? The moment when you were gathering back a set of data and you're saying, hmm, does data's actually telling me that it's not that great and that is not the direction that I should go in? And just being, and really refining the balance between the three modes whenever you're faced with facts or contradictory pieces of evidence, I think is, um, something that I will always be very grateful for for my time. And as a biotech CEO,


something I can't say at all, I've never done that,


hey, one of my other lives, you know.


Well, so this actually goes back to, um, like an organization has got to have multiple bets, right? And they need to have, uh, uh, a roadmap of, you know, crazy bets and less crazy bets. And in a sense like I would, I would integrate that as an innovation leadership skill. 100% is the ability to like, uh, you know, what would you call it? Handicap, um, various items on the roadmap, but then also like to, to, to, to make sure that those bets are spread out.


Yup. Have you heard of the ambition matrix before or seen the framework of it? The ambition matrix?


No. Illuminate me!


so it's a pretty simple framework. Um, where I think on one of the axes is solutions. The other axis is challenge, but in any case it's basically concentric circles like moving out of core, adjacent and transformational... and where it talks about how do you actually categorize your bets in terms of innovations or core innovation is something that's very different but also very needed comparatively to something transformational. Um, and I think visualizing it that way could be really helpful when facilitating a conversation.


Have, have you utilized that in your, in your own work?


Uh, we are actually looking at the application of it at UNICEF right now where we're looking at how we're, how different projects could be core, adjacent and transformational.


Uh, can you, can you say a little bit more about that and maybe tell us a little bit about, uh, the, the role you're, you're doing right now? because I don't know too much about it yet.


Sure. I mean, and now we're getting sort of like a little bit into the new ones of like how has variation different in the world of international development versus in the world of the private sector? Um, there, there are different lenses that one might me take. Um, at UNICEF and my role is as a business model specialist on the scale team, the current innovation team is divided into three pillars. We have a futures arm where we look at what are new landscapes and markets are sort of shaping out there. We have a ventures arm which looks at um, deploying capital in frontier technologies. So think block chain, drones, all fall under the ventures arm. And then we have a scale team and that's where I sit. Um, and the way that we think about innovation is like how might we accelerate projects or programs that are demonstrating a lot of practice but need to go to scale and actually spread a lot faster than your current rate of expansion. So those are three different lenses. The very definition obviously of innovation varies depending on the lens that you take. Because like a venture's lens for example, is they're using now we're getting a little bit more into the strategy side, but were they using capital as an accelerant versus ... we are using actual internal capabilities on the scale team to uh, accelerate innovation.


Huh. That, that's interesting. Well, so like can capital accelerate the innovation itself or can capital accelerate the spread of the putative innovation or learning about whether or not it is in fact effective at scale?


Probably both. I think that UNICEF takes the fans that we are a catalyst in an ecosystem and if somebody else is doing something that's really wonderful, like what is the best role that we might be able to play? And in that case it could be the provision of capital. Um, in some other areas like in scale, it might be the deployment of internal capabilities and in the futures team it could be putting out a thought leadership piece on how urban innovation works or, um, one of our other projects is, you know, just to give you an example is, um, what we're calling a 21st century Ger project where we have brought together different partners in the private sector and academia. Um, Arc'Teryx, North Face, University of Pennsylvania to help us redesign a Mongolian Ger, uh, which is those Yurts that, uh, folks live in. It's a materials design project in order to increase an improved installation of these structures that folks live in, which would help with air pollution. Because right now these yurts are not insulated very well and families end up burning a lot of coal internally, which causes a lot of health issues. Um, but if we're able to actually improve the installation, then we're able to, uh, help from a health perspective for all of these different families. But that's a futures project... no one else is doing that in the market, it's pretty niche but much needed in terms of urban innovation. And we have a really fantastic set of partners that are working with us on it.


That's so cool. And, and what that really illustrates for me is like how many levers there are for a change. Like, cause obviously you could also be working on the combustion side, right? Or on the electrical generation side.




And, and doing and it sounds like there's been a decision and it makes a lot of sense actually. Cause this I've known about this problem, it's like I never once thought about it from the installation side, which is really subtle.


yeah. Um, there's a really wonderful framework. I feel like I'm throwing a lot of frameworks,


I love frameworks!


I figured it's you, so I'll just throw out all the frameworks in the world because they know you love them. Um, if you haven't seen Doblin 10 types of innovation, sure. I would highly recommend that you take a look at that because he talks about, uh, it breaks it down into basically three large categories, configuration which is made out of your profit model and network structure process you're offering. So product performance, product system and you experience, so like your service, your cattle, your brand, your customer engagement, you can innovate along any of these things, um, and have it be a really wonderful type of innovation. Or you could even combine different categories together to actually have something more transformational. So for example, a core... Just use the ambition matrix against this new types of innovation.


A core innovation for um, a, let's see, a channel or brand could be a new campaign that they have never thought about before. And it's fundamentally, you know, people, or a brand might choose to use Instagram, which is a channel they may not have ever used before in terms of reaching a completely new segment of audience. Or they could combine different things together, like a profit model combined with product performance combined with customer engagement, which are three different things, which is the example of the Mongolian Ger project that I just gave you, which is how do we actually improve not only on the product or on the distribution on it and involve the Mongolian government to help with the profit model side and then also engage users as part of the understanding from a health care standpoint that burning so much coal, um, would affect your health x ways.


So this really goes back to the, the idea that this can be a discipline and Yup. And, and, and my mind is going back to, like, six sigma. Like here are the types of wastes and yeah, you could also think like, okay, well how can we improve this system? And what you're doing is you're reducing the loss of heat, right. As opposed to focusing on the efficiency of the generation of the heat. That's just really cool. Um, but at the same time, I feel like sometimes these, the, the discipline is not a replacement for somebody seeing potential. Like, so this goes back to like your skill as a business designer, which is like how did you do this? How does one decide if something's got a putative legs? You know, you're like, oh, this has got, this is there's some juice here that's worth the squeeze.


Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think that, um, on that particular project, I, I really have to credit the team behind that where it was not only the partnerships team that, so a lot of potential, but it was the futures team and also the head of the scale team that said, oh, there is something really interesting here. I think that this reframing of how we relate to heat could result in something really breakthrough. And we have a really fantastic partner arc'teryx who said, great, let's try it out. What's the worst thing, you know, in the spirit of design thinking, let's try out a prototype and see what happens.


Yeah. Well, so then, yeah, this, this is, we're like building out a, a lovely model of innovation leadership here. Why don't we just like a fearlessness, a willingness to prototype, but I think there's also another piece which, which we're like getting towards which is like storytelling, which is like the ability to communicate to somebody an opportunity that you perceive that maybe they don't perceive.


Yep. How do you think that, given that you work so much in the conversation side of things, how do you think that storytelling or facilitation changes with this innovation leadership lens? Does it change or does it not change from a skillset standpoint?


I mean, I think just reverse interviewed me, Jocelyn! I mean I believe that a storytelling is like really fundamental. Like I, my, my love for storytelling and narrative is like one of the reasons why I made a narrative phase in the design gym model. There isn't a narrative phase in ideas model, which I think is actually a major failing. It sort of stands outside of the design thinking process. Whereas I think that it is, it is design thinking is a way of telling stories. Um, I have to think in when we talk, each phrase that we respond to each other with is forming a story and like, what's like, if I say a non-sequitur, it's like we define a non-sequitur as something that's not linked to the rest of the conversation, it doesn't, it doesn't connect or it doesn't relate. So I think, um, great story telling makes things seem obvious, right? Like it, which is sort of like, hey, here's this amazing opportunity and here's this huge problem and we should do something about it right now. Like that's just the fundamental innovation storytelling model, right? That I know, like, I dunno what, what, what's your, what your core story telling you know, framework is like, when you want to make sure that you're communicating that value to someone else. Like what, what you, how do you make sure that rises up from all of the, the, the charts and figures.


Yeah. I don't know if I have a storytelling of framework per se, but what I do think storytelling needs to be, are powerful anecdotes that somebody else can tell the story on behalf of you. So you maybe it needs to be memorable enough. Yes. And one of the stories that comes to mind, um, and this is not a client that I've worked with and is more of an anecdote that a colleague of mine has told me is that, um, when he was visiting the headquarters of Alcoa, which is a mining company, um, and he was running late for a meeting and he was in their London offices and arrived like just on time. They made him sit through a 10 minute training video on safety, even though they were in the middle of London. There were no mines around anywhere.


They were in professional building. But you have to sit through 10 minutes of training because that was one of their core values, um, that it, that they really wanted to talk about in Alcoa. And the reason for that is when the new, and this is, um, this is definitely a couple years ago when a new CEO of Alcoa came in to take over the company. At the point in time, he decided that the way that he was going to turn around the company was through a message of safety. And so every single call that he did with his earnings, with his leadership team, um, with employees that he would meet, he would ask them, how are you actually talking or implementing safety in your teams? Um, and it's one of the safest places to work right now. Um, which is kind of insane. Well, for a mining company and even more so than than, um, other mining companies that are out there. But then he just really drove that message home by building it into one of the core values of the organization. And that culture is spread through asking that simple question and that people could retell and say, here's how a CEO and a thinks about it. Yeah. It's not really sort of like on the innovation lines, but I think it goes to your storytelling point around how the things get told, um, and emphasized upon.


Yeah, it's that drumbeat. Uh, and whatever you are talking about is what will be on top of people's mind and it's what will happen. It's really cool. What a great story. I'll retell that. I don't think people often think about storytelling, uh, in terms of what will happen after I tell the story. Um, yeah, and designing for retelling is definitely a really important heuristic for, for, you know, if you're going to architect the narrative for sure. simplify. Um, so Jocelyn, we're coming up against our, our, um, our time together this time together. Is there anything else that, um, that we haven't talked about that you think is worth bringing, bringing up, uh, on these topics? Any thread that we've left loose that, that's, that's, uh, sticking out of your mind?


Um, the only other thing that comes to mind is the topic on learning, which I feel like could take a whole other session on its own. Um, but I wonder whether there's anything that you would like to unpack around there because I think so much of creating a discipline in ritual for yourself is also paired from a complimentary standpoint of how does one learn and how does one practice? Because that's it goes hand in hand. You can't really create a discipline without actually practicing something. Yeah. Um,


well you talked a little bit about this in terms of like, uh, uh, the organizational capability is part of the innovation, but then inside of that capability are people and people, uh, change at the rate of, uh, people, human conversation developmentally happens. Yeah. I don't know, at a certain pace, um, in which case like, how can you, you know, increase that for an organization? How can you increase that for, for a person. But I think it seems like you're, you're positing and I agree with you that like, um, having some, some discipline around it, having some frameworks about can, can really help people.




Couldn't agree more. We just tied a bow around that. Yep. How do you feel like you've grown in your own capabilities? Like I feel like you've, you've gone from strength to strength, your increase in your career. How do you stay focused on, on your own growth?


great question. I think, um, from a practice standpoint, I think something that I do, and I don't know how intentionally I truly do this, but definitely it's woven into, uh, my day to day is that I practice, I do a lot of distributed practice. I don't know if that's an that's an actual term. I don't know, maybe I just coined that.


Well, it is now!


And what I mean by that is, um, I try and make sure, like whenever I learn a new concept or a new skill set that I, I, uh, practice it sporadically and in a very spread out way. So for example, I'm not in the world of design thinking right now and neither am I a designer. There was a period of my life where I was very immersed in it and that was all I was reading and thinking and speaking about on a day to day basis. Now I have a different lens and focus, but I still upkeep my design thinking side, um, to whether that's like sporadic engagements or, um, and I teach stuff like at the d school and that's pretty nice, like longer term cadence to force me to actually think about like new concepts in design or I go to design events or read books and there isn''s no way near the intensity's uh, we read it, my intensity a hundred back then.


It's like now it's probably about 15 to 20% of my time and attention, but I kind of keep that on the back burner so that I don't actually lose touch of that. Um, and to also make sure that I remember a lot of the things that I've learned because I think it's easy to pick up something and just let it go and never touch it.. And what's learning something if you don't actually retain things that you're interested in?


Yeah. This is like, you are using the forgetting curve to your advantage. This is the forgetting curve. I'll, I'll send you a link. I'll put the link in the show notes. I, well, I interviewed somebody, a behavioral, a guy who works for a behavioral Science Company called Boundless Mind and behavioral change works with the, like if I tell you a number today like your, it has no emotional impact but you may remember it in two or two or three or five or 10 minutes, um, the odds of you remembering it next week and very slim. But if I call you up tomorrow and say, Hey Jocelyn, I'm going to call you tomorrow and I'm going to ask you what the number is, you might remember it. And then if like I call you up in, in like another week and I'm like, Hey, you remember what that number is? You're like, oh yeah, I remember the number. Or at least like what the range is like. So it's about like, just like, like, like the radioactive decay curve.


Um, oh, got it. Okay....that's the name of the concept. Not really distributed practice,Daniel:

but I like distributed, I think distributed practice is much better. But yeah, that's like, that's the idea is like you're making sure that you are being intentional about keeping it... As my father would say, a used key is always bright.


There you go. Yes. I love that.


Um, the, the fact that I got into a quote from my father means that it's time for us to stop.


Um, thank you so much for having me. Really Fun as always.


Yeah, it is. We enjoy our conversations. Likewise. I really appreciate you making the time.

Innovation is a Conversation


Innovation. We love to talk about it, everyone wants it. Innovation is critical for people and organizations to grow. But we all mean different things when we say it.

Today I have a conversation about how innovation is a conversation with Brian Ardinger. He’s the director of Innovation at Nenet (which owns my student debt! Hi Nelnet!) and the host of, a community for innovators and entrepreneurs that produces a great podcast and a conference that brings together startup and enterprise organizations to talk innovation.

There are three key conversations worth designing that we discuss and I want you to have your ears perked up for each as you listen to this episode. Each conversation can help you navigate the innovation process inside or outside your organization. 

These three are the pre-conversation, the conversation about where to look for innovation and the conversation about patience. Brian specializes in a unique perspective on where to look for innovation. More on that in a moment.

The Pre-Innovation Conversation

Before you even start to talk about ideas or technology, it’s essential to start with the end in mind. What kind of innovation is the company really looking for? Skip the pre-conversation and you have no idea of where you’re heading. As Brian points out “without having that definition, then it's sometimes hard to know if you're playing the right game to begin with...the process itself of level setting... I don't think it takes a long time.”

Brian and I didn’t dive into tools to help with that conversation, so I put a few into the show notes. Mapping the innovation conversation can be done in lots of ways. One is thinking about evolutionary vs revolutionary change, another is about tangible vs intangible change, like rethinking policies or business models vs remaking product or space design. 

I *just* did a webinar on this topic with my partner in the Innovation Leadership Accelerator, Jay Melone, hosted by the amazing people at Mural. Templates of the two innovation leadership frameworks we outlined are there in Mural for you to download and use, along with the webinar video to help you along.

Also check out Mapping Innovation, by Greg Satell. You can download his playbook free here. 

Where to look for innovation

Brian’s Inside/outside perspective is that innovation can be a conversation between the inside of a company and the outside world. Some innovation will happen internally, and some innovation can be brought from the outside in: the exchange and acquisition of ideas and technology from outside your organization is an important conversation for enterprise organizations to be having.

When you’re trying to innovate, it can be tempting to look in familiar places. If you’re a financial technology firm, it can be tempting to look to fintech startups for what’s next and to try to innovate through acquisition. But you’ll also be looking were your competitors will be looking. Try an innovation approach based on Horizontal Evolution - look to the sides and edges of the landscape. Brian describes this approach as “playing a different ball game”. 

The conversation about patience

Innovation does not happen overnight. Real change takes time and that takes real patience. Brian also points out that organizations need to be having a bigger conversation, about what else needs to change to make real innovation flourish inside the organization. Hint: it's generally more than you bargained for. 

As he says “Corporations are doing exactly what they should be doing...They figured out a business model that works and they're executing and optimizing that particular business model...And to radically change that, the people, the resources, the compensation, all of that stuff has to kind of morph or change to play in a different environment. And so I think that's where the challenge really begins.”

Often people think innovation is about the idea, but it’s a much, much longer conversation. That is, in fact, the first “Myth of Innovation” from Scott Berkun’s excellent book: The Myth that innovation is about an epiphany, not hard work.

It was a real treat to have a conversation with Brian about some of these key issues...I hope you enjoy the episode and happy innovating!

Brian on the Web:

Innovation Leadership Models from the Mural Webinar

Mapping Innovation by Greg Satell

Download the Playbook for Free:

Horizontal Evolution

An amazing summary from Scott Berkun about his solid book, Myths of Innovation:

A few more gems from Greg Satell on the Rules and questions central to innovation:


Daniel: Welcome to the conversation factory. Brian, I'm glad we made the time to make this happen. Um, the reason I'm excited to talk to you is, is that not everybody is, is open or interested in the, the analogy that a company has to have a conversation with the outside world that they can't just, you know, put up some walls and just figure everything out inside those four walls that they have to go outside and have a dialogue with the world in lots of different ways. And the way you do that is, is through helping companies think about inside innovation versus outside innovation, which is my way of like teeing up the how you, how do you talk about what you do with people when you, when you meet people, like how do you contextualize what it is that you do?

Brian: Well, I think a lot of things, uh, Daniel around this particular topic, it's this whole inside/ outside innovation. It's kind of come to us over the years of working first on the outside with startups and trying to understand how do they develop new ideas and, and build things. And then, uh, you know, as I was having conversations with startups and helping them navigate that, I kept having conversations with corporations and bigger companies saying, you know, how are you doing this? How are you taking these early stage companies and through an accelerator program and that, and, and kind of getting them traction in that faster than we can do in our own walls. And so that started to have conversations with the corporations and the people inside organizations and saying, hey, how can we interact with the outside world and, and think and move and act more like a startup or, uh, become a little bit more adaptive in how we do that. So I think it was an evolution of just having conversations and figuring out what's working, what's not working in this world of change and disruption that we're living in.

Daniel: Yeah. So like there's two layers here, which I think are interesting to unpack. I've learned this new term, the idea of an accelerated work environment and this idea of like, let's speed up the conversation about innovation and let's not just put our feet up and look into space and hope a great idea comes to us. Like, let's structure it and let's do it faster. And so can you talk a little bit about like how you structure an accelerator? Like what does it mean to accelerate people through the innovation process from your approach?

Brian: Yeah, so I think a lot of it, like when I go in and talk to bigger companies, first thing I like to do is kind of do a level set of what does innovation even mean to the people in the room. Uh, because innovation has become such a word that's, you know, so limp, so to speak. It can mean anything to anybody. Uh, and so kind of understanding that level set of what does innovation mean to the company? How do they define it? Um, is it transformational innovation where it's, you know, we've got to become the next Uber and disrupt our industry? Or is it a innovation from the standpoint of value creation where we're looking at ways to optimize and incrementally improve what we're building? And so from that perspective, you know, it's, once you have that level set, then you can start thinking about, well, how, what are the particular tactics that you can work through depending on what kind of objectives you want to have and, and what you're trying to accomplish.

Brian: So I think that's the first place we start. And then how we do that. Um, again, I think a lot of is trying to help them understand that you've got to place a lot of bets on innovation and innovation is not, um, you know, it's by default working in the new, it's working in this area of gray and this area of uncertainty,

Daniel: which means there's got to be failure, right? Like there's going to have to be failure.

Brian: Yeah. So, yeah, this uncertainty by default, requires you to figure out and make assumptions and, work through this... Areas of the unknown. And that's very difficult for, a lot of folks to work through. You know, especially at companies and people who are used to having a plan or having an execution model that, that they just execute on. Corporations are doing exactly what they should be doing...They figured out a business model that works and they're executing and optimizing that particular business model…

Brian: And to radically change that, the people, the resources, the compensation, all of that stuff has to kind of morph or change to play in a different environment. And so I think that's where the challenge really begins.

Daniel: So...I'm comfortable with taking this seemingly simple question of like, we want to innovate more and turning it into this, really stretching it out into a much more complicated conversation. Like I'm wondering if people you deal with ever get frustrated with, (you): "well, Brian, you're just making this complicated. Like, we just want to innovate. Just teach us how to innovate. Let's get started." Versus like, let's talk about your strategic goals. Like I can see how some people might get a little impatient with the, with the bigger picture, with the strategic thinking approach.

Brian: Sure. Yeah. And I think, and I think it doesn't have to take a long time on to go through that particular process, but I think if you don't start off on that common definition, then you run the risk later on. And you know, why are we doing this? Why is it not working? You know, we said that, uh, you know, we need to have x, Y, z outcome and these brand new bets that you're putting on the table are not getting us an outcome that we want. Um, but you know, without having that definition, then it's sometimes hard to know if you're playing the right game to begin with. So I think, so the, the process itself of level setting I don't think takes a long time to, to make that happen. And I think, but I do think in general, to change a culture or to move the company towards having that innovation mindset set or innovation as a competency to so to speak, does take a long time. Um, but you can do that through a variety of tactics and in ways that doesn't, um, change, change it all overnight. You know, it doesn't have to be something where, um, you know, you're basically creating something brand new and, and throwing out everything that you've done in the past and, and hoping that the new thing works. Uh, it's really a series of iterative bets that you kind of de-risked these new ideas as you're, as you're approaching them into the world and seeing what happens.

Daniel: Yeah. Now, now here's the, the piece that I think that, that we were talking about that's interesting is that companies can innovate through outside acquisitions or through outside collaborations, like through working with startups. And maybe that makes it seem "like, wow, that's neat, there is an easier way to do this". we don't have to do it all ourselves. We can, we can turn outwards and see, uh, not just learn from other people, but actually like bring that outside innovation inside. Like, and that seems to me like, uh, a complicated process to navigate. Like how do you facilitate, how do you facilitate that conversation and make it smooth for people?

Brian: Yeah. So I think, at least for a lot of folks, you know, the idea of looking outside is not become, it's not a novel concept anymore. You know, maybe five or six years ago it was like, oh, what's one of these things called startups out there? And you know, we're, we're seeing more and more hearing more and more about it. So it's, it's not a novel concept that, hey, the ability for two women in the garage or in a dorm room to spin up something and get some traction and create something of huge value in the world...that's, that's there and that's not going away. And that's speeding up. And so I think, uh, that, uh, first part of the conversation happening, having people understand that, people have the power and tools and capabilities and access to markets and cheap technology, et Cetera, to really disrupt things is there.

Brian: So if we understand that, then what can we do to kind of help navigate that? And, and I think the first thing is just, you know, raise your hand and say, Hey, there are things going on outside. Let's, uh, let's take an inventory or a map on discover what's going on...and one of the, pitfalls I see a lot of companies jump into is let's look in our industry. You know, what's happening in our industry. And that's great, and that you should do that of course. But, um, that's also probably where 99% of your competitors are also playing in that same field. And so I find a lot of times it helps to look at adjacent industries or industries far and away, uh, different from your own to see what's going on, and look for clues or models or technologies or, or talent that may give you a different advantage, if you put those pieces together differently than playing, in the same ball game as your competitors are playing. So, you know, I, I see a lot of people going to these conferences and looking for startups in the fintech space and all you have are corporations in the Fintech area looking at Fintech startups where a lot of times I think, it's better to maybe go to a more of a horizontal conference and looking at AI or uh, you know, different types of data conferences and that would give you a different perspective on how those technologies could be used in your industry or in somebody else's, industry, for example.

Daniel: Do you have a story like, cause it's funny as you're telling me the story, like I'm realizing this is, this is the classic innovators trick, right? Which is, yeah, it's, and it's a classic trick from nature, right? Which is, people don't realize that evolution isn't just, um, vertical where you adapt and survive. But there's horizontal transfer of, of genes in nature. Like literally the reason we have mitochondria is because we ate them, you know, a billion years ago. And all of the energy in our bodies is made by an alien organism that has its own DNA, which I find a very, it's always just like an extraordinary fact. Um, but you know, and I've been telling my clients this for a long time too. Like what do you, do you have, uh, a story to share of a surprising transfer of, of innovation from industry to industry in case there's any doubters in the world.

Brian: Yeah, it's, let, I'm trying to think of one off the top of my head, but I know I've seen it on the reverse side. For example, we've seen, because I run a conference called inside, outside/innovation. And, one of the things we do is we, uh, go out and find startups in a variety of different markets, bring them to a showcase and then bring corporations around to kind of see what they're building and why and hopefully make some connections for that. And where I've seen it happen is a lot of times where, a startup will be working in a particular vertical market, early stage, uh, and they think they've got a solution in, you know, retail or whatever, and a corporation conversation will come around and they'll say, hey, I love your technology, but you're looking in the retail space. Did you know that you could apply this to insurance?

Brian: And the light bulb will kind of go off in the entrepreneur's mind. It's like, oh, this is an opportunity for me to potentially go into a different market or get traction with an early customer that I didn't have before. And so I need to happen that way. Um, and I'm sure the reverse could happen as well where a corporation, uh, is, you know, looking at a variety of startups out there and say, hey, that startup's, not in our industry, but we could definitely apply that technology to what we're doing and leverage it in some way.

Daniel: So that actually sparks, I mean, I definitely, I want to make sure we talk about the conference before we, before we leave, but in a way, like you said, this thing that was really interesting about startups, you know, they're, they're trying to, uh, you know, iterate and build their own, um, you know, their own growth engine. Right? Um, I would imagine that some of them are not necessarily open to this idea of like, well look, we're, we've got our roadmap and we're trying to build our own flywheel and move it, get that moving. This, they may not be open to this, this pivot or this expansion. Uh, there's like, oh, you know, well, we're just focusing on market X and like, do you want me to also like expand our, our code base so that we can also take advantage of, of why and collaborate with these guys. Like I how do you sort of, I know you've done a lot of work on building community through, through the conference. Like how do you find startups are expanding their perspectives to being open to this collaborative conversation versus like, nope, we're just doing our thing.

Brian: Yeah. And I think a lot of it depends on where the startup is in their lifecycle. A lot of the folks that we bring in are probably seed stage and so they, they haven't figured out their business model. They haven't figured out the exact markets sometimes. Uh, and they're looking for that early traction. And you know, one of the reasons we hold this in the Midwest is because, you know, venture capital and the traditional ways of kind of scaling a business in Silicon Valley don't exist out here. And so you've got to find customers. You've got to find ways to, um, to, to get that early traction. And a lot of that means, you know, getting out and finding those early customers. And so having conversations with customers, uh, real people out there and trying to define what problems are out there in the marketplace and then create a solution, uh, to meet those problems and then meet the market where it's at, I think is more effective way a lot of times in the Midwest here or in places outside of your core tech hubs that don't have the, the against the, um, the advantage of getting a venture capital and being able to have a year or two young, two year runway to figure out, uh, how, where that market is.

Brian: So I think, I think so part of that is that, um, I think when I'm talking to start ups, you know, I put my "accelerate" hat on and working as a person who is helping startups through that process, a lot of times I'll quite frankly tell them to stay away from corporates until they, until they figured out some of that stuff. Cause it's very easy to go down the rabbit hole of um, hey, if we just get this one big customer on our plate, we'll be good to go. But a lot of times you know that the timing of the two types of organizations don't match up and it can very, very easily kill start up really pretty quickly.

Daniel: Yeah. And it can kill them in that what they're, they're focusing, they'd lose their focus or their, they spread themselves too thin. You know, so like what, what sort of, I think beautiful about what you do is that there's this symmetry in a way you have a community driven approach to innovation through the conference you do building community, but building community so that you have a group of startups who are interested in this type of thinking so that companies can have an innovation community. So they're not just going it alone, that they have a view to what's, what's open in the world for them. I mean, I guess my question is like, have you always been so community driven? Like how did you come to value community as an approach, as in a solution to, to these challenges that you're seeing?

Brian: So, I mean, I guess I've always felt community is, is a way to accelerate your learning. Uh, and I think early stage ideas, no matter what they are, whether they're inside a startup or inside a corporation, the key to a lot of those taking place in actually taking hold is that the speed of learning. How fast can you, um, take your assumptions and navigate those and understand where you're on the right track or not, and, um, get to that next stage that you need to get to. So, um, community's always been away from me, uh, personally and otherwise to help accelerate those learnings, whether it's, you know, again, connecting somebody to somebody else who can, uh, an expert in a different field or, um, someone who can help me navigate to something else that I didn't know I needed. Um, and so I think it started from that perspective and it started because, uh, you know, quite frankly, when I started a lot of this stuff seven, eight years ago, uh, the, you know, entrepreneurship and startups were, were smaller, uh, both, you know, nationally as well as in our own backyard.

Brian: And so part of it was like, well, if we're going to do this, we're going to, we can't do it all are ourselves. So how do we create a community that allows startups to raise their hand and first say, Hey, I want to be entrepreneurial. I want to try some things. I want to build something. In my backyard. Yeah. And then what do I need and what am I missing and how do I then can be that catalyst to help, um, folks figure that out. Uh, and so it was an evolution of just having conversations, going to different cities, uh, meeting different people, starting a podcast, you know, telling stories, um, you know, starting a new newsletter and then, uh, eventually a conference and everything else around it. Um, and then all the while, you know, consulting and helping companies kind of figure it out on both sides.

Brian: And, um, it's been fun. It's been fun to see that journey and continue to figure out what the, what the next phase is as we build it out.

Daniel: Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess I'd begs the question, what is, what's the next phase? Can you talk about it? Is it Secret?

Brian: Yeah, no! Um, so yeah, so inside, outside innovation, you know, we started four years ago actually with the podcast and the original idea was it was called inside, outside, and it was an inside look at startups outside the valley with the idea that their stories, outside the tech hubs that need to be told and how can we help our entrepreneurs, uh, figure that stuff out. And so that's where it started. And again, it'll happen with further conversations as, as we built that particular audience and had conversations around those particular topics, we kept getting asked by innovators in bigger companies, you know, it's like, how are we doing this?

Brian: How, how's this working? We want to be connected to startups. We want to understand this new way of innovating things like design thinking and lean startup in that work, uh, becoming methodologies and tactics that could apply to, you know, start ups outside of a big corporation or, or startups within a corporation that were trying to spin up new ideas. So through that we started the inside outside innovation podcast as the, as the way to have those conversations and talk about corporate innovation and how we're corporate matching with startups and how corporate venture play out differently and how we're internal innovation accelerators popping up all around. And what were the different tactics that folks were using through that. We've kind of created this weird community. It's almost like two communities, but the, the advantages by bringing them together, they both learned from each other. So that's kind of how, that's how it's kind of evolved. What's next? We're trying to figure out the third year of the insight off the innovation summit. Uh, we haven't got the dates and, and that solidify, but it's looking like we're probably going to do it sometime in the end of October. I'm in the process, I'm looking at writing a book around this concept of collaborative and innovation and this innovation as a competency. And then, um, we'll just continue with the podcast and the newsletter and keep growing our conversations with great people out there.

Daniel: You know, Brian, it's really, it's, I mean it's, it's lovely to talk to you about this stuff because, you know, the, the ecological approach you have to this, to this processes, you know, it's, it's clearly organic. Like, like anything else, it's starting a conversation and then you've gotten feedback from the world and over time you've, you've built more than you've added to it. Like it's, it's a, it's just guy. It's a wave that is sort of, it has its ups and downs clearly. But you're just continuing to, to ride that wave, which was really awesome.

Brian: What the, it comes back to, you know, my feeling is that obviously with the world changing in the, in the speed of change that's happening out there, everybody is going to have to take on some of the skillsets of, of the early innovator. You know, again, a startup entrepreneur or, um, or innovator are going to have to have kind of core capabilities or characteristics that allow you to adapt and be nimble and, and, uh, execute.

Daniel: Unless you want a robot to do your job!

Brian: Yeah. That's executing different ways that, that you didn't have or that were different in the way that you could execute in the past. So things like, you know, curiosity having a bias towards learning characteristics like having a, an a customer focus and this bias towards problem solving for that customer. You know, the, the skill of collaboration and you know, knowing that you can't build everything yourself.

Brian: There's bias towards team, um, you know, some of the characteristics of just speed, you know, how can you have this bias towards action and experimentation. And then finally having kind of the reverse of that you are having patience and that bias towards that long term value creation. You know, I think those are some of the core concepts that make up, um, this new world that we're living in. And the more individuals, whether you're, you know, a traditional manager or a entrepreneurial founder, those are the skillsets that are going to take you to the next level in the world that we're living in.

Daniel: It sounds like a good book already, Brian. I don't know. I like it.

Brian: I'm still outlining.

Daniel: It sounds like a pretty good proposal to me. Um, so listen, I, I, we're, we're up against our, our, our time together. Uh, is there anything I haven't asked you about that I should, that we should talk about? Any, any, any final thoughts?

Brian: Yeah, I'm curious for, you've obviously been in the space of helping people have conversations and that I'm always curious to understand what have you learned from helping companies and people kind of navigate a, this world of change, uh, and in this world of innovation, what are some of the things that are obstacles or things that stand out that, uh, I could take back to my audience as well? Well,

Daniel: I mean, do you have a hard stop in the next three minutes because, no, go ahead. We can go over a little bit. Well, I mean, for me, what really resonated in what you were talking about is the necessity for patients. And I think this is one thing that's really, really hard, um, for people because we want to go fast and we want to have results. Um, but we also need to slow things down. So one of the things that like I'm becoming more aware of in my own work is psychological safety, which people, you know, Google identified as like the main characteristic of effective teams. The ability, the willingness, the openness to saying what's happening, to be able to speak your mind, to say what's right or to say what's wrong. And that, I don't know, that stuff doesn't really come for free. Uh, it's a really, you have to cultivate that environment.

Daniel: And so for me, you know, my angle and entry point is always that somebody, somebody has to design that conversation. Um, if a group of, you know, if a group of people is gonna talk about what we're going to do next and how to innovate, we can either contribute content or we can contribute process. Um, if the, to me, the most important and precious conversation is when a group of people is coming together, the fact that you're willing to, that you have a framework, I'm guessing, to stretch out the conversation about what's our innovation roadmap and where are we placing our bets allows people to say like, okay, what's my holistic view of this? It creates, it creates safety, right? It creates a moment where, where we can have the conversation about innovation, we can have the conversation about how we're gonna brainstorm.

Daniel: We can have the conversation about how we're going to, uh, evaluate ideas and how we know if they're good or not. Um, and so for me, I think, um, I feel like I'm ranting now, but I was at a problem framing workshop, uh, with my, my friend Jay Malone, who has a company called new haircut. They do a lot of design sprint training and he was teaching a problem framing workshop. And at the end of the workshop, he presented, uh, you know, on one hand, a very straightforward, like, here, this is what problem framing is in the essence. Like, uh, who has the problem, uh, why does it matter? Um, when does it happen? Uh, like, you know, think about like, where to play and how to win. And this one woman said like, well, yeah, what about, uh, uh, how do we know when it's been solved? You know, how do we know if it's working? And this is, I think one of the biggest challenges with, with companies is we don't know like what good looks like. We don't know when to start. We don't know how to stop working and grinding it out. Um, well, and the metrics

Brian: are so different from existing business model versus a new business model that you don't even know who the customers are and the value proposition you're creating at the beginning.

Daniel: Yeah. So I mean, for me, like I find the, one of the biggest challenges of innovation is that people bring me in to say like, okay, let's help this team coach through this process. Meanwhile, they've already got a job that takes 100% of their time. Um, and they look at me and they're like, this guy has just given us extra work to do. You know, the workshop that I come in is taking them away from their quote unquote real job. The, the work that I asked them to do to go out and do the interviews and to, to get customer contact looks like it's taking away time for them. And so this idea that that innovation's like something you can buy or pay someone else to do. To me, I want people to be earning their own innovation. But the problem is that most people are at 110% capacity.

Daniel: And You bring in somebody like me who says, okay, let's do some design thinking stuff. Let's do a, you know, even if it's a week long sprint, which doesn't give you everything you need, you know, if it's a six week process, it's people are like, Oh man, that was great, but oh, that was hard and I never want to do that again. It's like, it's really, really challenging to get people to find time to innovate. And that's frustrating to me.

Brian: Absolutely.

Daniel: As a person who just really wants people to get their hands dirty with it so that they value it and, and participated in it. So, I don't know. I don't know what the balance is there. That's... I don't know. I don't know if that's a question with an answer, but

Brian: I don't know if there's a clear answer for that one. No, no.

Daniel: that, oh, so, yeah, I mean that, that's, that's, that's my perspective. I don't know if that, if that's helpful to you at all, but that's, that's…

Brian: Very much so, very much so.

Daniel: Is there, is there anything else we should I this, this is definitely the shortest episode. You know, I'm, I'm sort of enjoying or slash you know, floundering in the, in the 30 minute time zone. So I just want to make sure that we've covered everything that you want to cover …

Brian: No, it's been great, thanks for having me on the show and the opportunity to talk about and everything we're doing.

Daniel: Yeah. So like that's the, that's the final question. Like where, uh, where can people find all things insideoutside and Brian Ardinger on the Internet.

Brian: Yeah. Thanks Daniel. Yeah. So, uh, obviously you can go to the website that has our podcast, our newsletters sign up for that. Um, and obviously I'm very, um, out there on Twitter and Linkedin in that happy to have conversations. So reach out and say hi.

Daniel: Well we will do that. Um, Brian, I really appreciate you taking the time. It's really, it's always interesting to have some patience and just slow down and have some of these conversations about this stuff, that's I think really, really important. Like you said, the future is unwritten and uncertain and all of us need to have skills of adaptability, the inside and I think both sides of the ecosystem that you're a co-creating - the innovator, the startups need to learn from big companies how to scale and big companies need to learn from startups, how to be more nimble. So I think it's really a really important dialogue that you're facilitating. It's really cool.

Brian: Thanks for having me on the show!

Power , Ritual and Wayfinding


Today I’m sharing a conversation with Larissa Conte, who I connected with last year at the Responsive Conference in New York.

Larissa is a transformation designer, systems coach, and executive rites of passage guide through her business, Wayfinding. Larissa specializes in facilitating aliveness and alignment across organizational scales to cultivate power that serves.

In her talk, she did a physical demonstration with the conference host Robin Zander that really inspired me to connect with her and have her on the show. (Also, you can check out my conversation with Robin on asking better questions here).

She and Robin did a sort of “push hands” play to show how you can push back against a force coming at you, or let it flow past you while holding your center of gravity. It was a powerful physical metaphor for dynamics we have all experienced in our relationships and work and illustrates different choices we can take in these tense situations.

Larissa and I have a far-ranging conversation about power, structure and ritual in our work as consultants in team and organizational transformation. I want to draw your attention to a few interesting ideas:

Rituals can be designed.Teams run on rituals, day in and day out. Week by week, patterns are followed, usually without question. Re-designing those rituals takes time and consideration, but it’s worth doing.

Facilitators can use ritual to create comfort for themselves and others.There are lots of patterns and exercises I use to build safety or energy for myself and others.You can create your own safe space and the more often you do, the easier it becomes.

Power can be taken, given or used. You can also choose your own response to power sent your way. I like to say you can fight the power or dance with the power.

Larissa makes an essential point though: there is power that is socially or culturally conferred or inferred based on stories we tell ourselves and each other. These stories are based on nothing more than what we see: skin color, gender or other body characteristics. Power that is given through these cultural stories is privilege. Power taken through these stories is oppression.

One of the most powerful things we can do as change-makers is to notice and question these stories.

Seeing is the first step. Larissa points out that if you can’t feel the energy in the room, it’s hard to do anything to shift it. If you don’t see the effect these stories have on our day-to-day lives, it can be very hard to change them.

Wayfinding is seeing signs and finding our way on poorly marked paths. Wayfinding has it’s roots in traditional cultures: The Polynesisans could use the stars, wind and waves to find their way across tremendous ocean distances. Similarly, Native Americans used signals of all sorts to find food, shelter and sacred spaces.In her Wayfinding work, Larissa is calling our attention to these old ways of seeing and asking us to use our own senses to see the signposts in our lives and work.

Inner sensing is valid. One thing I always try to convey in my facilitation masterclasses is that you are in the room and you experience what is in the room. It can be hard to know if we,ourselves, are anxious about our role as facilitators or if the room is experiencing anxiety. It’s only by getting in touch with our inner sensations that we can ever tell the difference between our own experience and our experience of what’s happening in the room. Larissa points out that there can be a stigma to that which is felt and that which exists“only” in our interior,beyond the reach of measuring tools.

I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

Larissa Conte on the web:

Larissa’s talk at Responsive 2018

Robin Zander on Asking Better Questions: What's Your North Star?

The Future of Work

The Teal Movement:

for more on Self Management check out my episode with Sally Sally McCutchion on Holacracy and Self Management at all levels of organization

Othering and Belonging:

Alan Watts on The Intelligence of the World

Jon Young

Wade Davis: The Wayfinders:

Tom Brown

Kate Quarfordt On the Seasons of Creative Conversations:


Daniel: (00:00)

All right, Larissa, welcome to the conversation factory, then! We're here...


Larissa: (00:04)

That you so much, Daniel! So happy to be in the factory!


Daniel: (00:10)

You know, so I don't normally talk about this, but it's like, it is this really sort of confusing analogy cause it's like it's this thing that's organic and then you, yet, here we are, we manufacture them. Which you do, right? So you, you design rituals, which, um, which seem to be, uh, what sort of I'm looking for inherently paradoxical, which I've never, you know, we didn't talk about talking about this, but that's something interesting. Can you, can you, when, when you're at a party, uh, what do you tell people you do when they ask you that really horrible question of like, what do you do? They're like, oh, so Larissa, so what do you do? And you say...


Larissa: (00:49)

I usually will respond based on how we've already been speaking. Yes. Because I'm aware of the listening they're bringing to the conversation. Yeah. And so, um, I often share that I have my own business called wayfinding and that I work with people to cultivate power that serves through bringing forth aliveness, connection alignment across scales of self, relationship and organization. Oh and I love the quality of the noticing you just had about ritual and the, the paradox in it. Um, in my designs, what I'm doing rights of passage with people, um, and I'll share about this and we can see how things unfold from here. Um, I try to find the minimum necessary structure to hold the space. It's very Goldielocks and the three bears. Yeah. It's like not enough structure.. Like you don't get the fire. It's very similar to starting a fire. It's like if you have like four pieces of kindling that are spaced very far apart, like that thing's not going to start. And if you have too much structure and there's too much wood jammed in there, again, there's not enough air. So you need a balance between structure and space for the flow of like the creative life force and the beings participating and in life itself to do its dance. So I try to find like, what is the tone of what this person or this group needs to support their unfolding.


Daniel: (02:22)

So, so we're going to go back now... That's like... Wonderful because there's like, there's a ton of stuff to unpack there. And, and so like I have, um, one of my, uh, I'm gonna, I'm in a men's group and a men's community and one of the leaders, he, he sort of like sometimes puts up all like a little flag where he's like, okay, so we're going into the "woo woo" part. And for some of you who are not into the woo, this is woo, but there's still stuff in here that is that one needs to know because when I come into facilitation stuff, some people think about energy and energy in the room and some people don't. Like some people can feel the energy in the room and some people are like, what are you talking about? Right? And like you're talking at the analogy you're using of like it's a fire and you kindle it and you maintain it and you don't, you make sure it doesn't burn out. And I add more fuel to it. Like, like as a metaphor. It's really, really powerful metaphor.


Larissa: (03:16)



Daniel: (03:18)

Do you, do you ever find that like where's the fine line between people who are like, this is too much, this is the right amount or I want more woo from you in your work. Cause I know you do work inside of companies as well. And like companies have different appetites for, uh, you know, the age of Aquarius, right?


Larissa: (03:41)

Which like I'm not necessarily like waiving the age of Aquarius banner. And yet the things that I bring in my toolkit and my experience and my consciousness to people can get labeled in the "woo woo" which is hilarious to me because I have a, I did my master's with a cultural focus, a cultural anthropology focus to understand the origin of the idea in western culture that humans are separate from nature. And I track the unfolding of that through Europe and colonization. And then as it's spread across what is now the United States. And so I'm constantly listening. It's fascinating that we call things "woo woo". And I'm going to, we're getting there. Yeah. Um, because it connotes a stigma to that which is felt and that which exists in our interior.


Daniel: (04:33)



Larissa: (04:34)

And all of my work is fundamentally based in helping people recognize that our sensing intelligence.


Larissa: (04:42)

One is actually an intelligence and two that it's not, um, that is not secondary to our intellect. So one, it exists and two it is incredibly powerful. And so how do we begin to build muscle with sensing and recognize that, um, and I, the way, so the way I find this edge with groups is I listen and I do so much work to make the invisible visible. Because all of these energetic dynamics, if we're, so we're in a, we're in a meeting, let's say you and I are in a meeting and we have another colleague and we all happen to be in a company and we're discussing like the budget and we're just going over the numbers and you say something that triggers me based on my background, based on the two physical bodies and identities we inhabit all of a sudden something else's in the room.


Larissa: (05:40)

And something else is happening. But we keep using words that refer to the budget. But there's another silent conversation, that takes the foreground, it takes the stage. And so a lot of what I do with people is I help them gain the awareness and the capacity to recognize the invisible conversation of power and connection or disconnection that is always speaking. People can be like, oh, that just got so weird. And it's like, well, like here are all the reasons why that's just got weird and here's what we can do to come back into connection. Yeah.


Daniel: (06:20)

So like there's several things I want to unpack there. Yeah. Cause this guys, I think this idea of talking about making the invisible visible is really cool. And this goes to where we met. So the thing that I think would be interesting when you, when you talked about making the invisible visible and power dynamics, I've thought what was really cool was the, let's call it the physical play that you did with, with Robin at the, at the Responsive Conference last year, which was last year now where you, you did a power play, um, with your bodies. And I'm wondering if you can potentially talk a little bit about that and cause you definitely made this invisibility visible.


Larissa: (07:15)

Yeah. Yeah. So I can describe that experience. It's something that I've found really immediately makes these things go from the subtle to the obvious and they like pop into the foreground. So the first thing that I did with Robin was I demonstrated how there are two primary like responses that humans can have when they come into a situation where like their boundaries are pushed upon or which we can call conflict. Um, and, and, and like, um, neuroscience... It's (inaudible) like fight, flight or freeze from the Amygdala. But physically what really happens is someone will either, like I had Robin come up and I put my hands up in front of me and I asked him to push me and I demonstrated one response. And one response is like taking a step back and, and losing your ground,


Daniel: (08:10)

taking the hit basically.


Larissa: (08:12)

Yeah. Taking the hit, um, which can be like flight or freeze. And then the other one I said, okay, now I'm going to show you the other end of the spectrum. And I asked him to come push on me and I pushed back really hard.And he was like "agh!"


Daniel: (08:25)

Cause he didn't expect it. Cause I think the first thing you'd demonstrated, to him is like, I'm a pushover


Larissa: (08:33)

I am literally a pushover. And then, and then like I'm a push backer, which is like I'm a fighter. But there's a third way that we get to practice is how, how to stand in our center. And then when a push comes, um, to like disarm the patterning that we hold internally, that the other person is our adversary. It's like, no, we're just having tension. And like, I'm not gonna fight you, but I'm also not going to, to give way on my needs and my space and my boundary in here and I want to be in conversation with you.


Daniel: (09:15)

Yeah. Yeah. And, and that sort of, uh, it's like when you, let's push hands, right. And it's, it's using your center of gravity to flow with their center of gravity. I, I, what I loved about that was it is a physicalization of what's my relationship to conflict. Yeah. Yeah.


Larissa: (09:36)

And what, what are the subtle things that comes through that is when I've had, I've led many groups through doing this and I only, I'm just, you know, spoiler alert, anyone who might do this with me, um, I'll have groups do it and I won't tell them what we're going to do at first because your body just does, it just responds naturally. Like people just do with their bodies what their wiring is. And that's actually doing all the time and conversation anyway.


Daniel: (10:09)

Well, so how do you set it up? Do you say like, oh, try to push each other over or are you like, so how do you, how do you try to


Larissa: (10:14)

I have people like take up the amount of space that feels good to them with their arms and they're like air shape it and like feel what feels good and were kind of laughing cause it's ridiculous and people look like idiots. And that's a very good way to like disarm people. Um, and then it's also a very good effective way to get people to walk into what feels woo and recognize there's wisdom in it. So I have them shaped the space. And then I have them stand in front of a partner and for one partner to volunteer to receive a push first, but by taking up the amount of space that felt good to them and then to just notice what their body does notice, like talk about what both of them saw and then they do it. to the other person. And then we have a room conversation.


Daniel: (11:00)

Yeah. Yeah. And, and just sort of unpacking people will have their own natural responses to those two things to, to, to that pushing and maintaining boundaries.


Larissa: (11:09)

Because the way we do anything is the way we do everything. So it's like you can't undo it. And it's also interesting because the two similar to the Yin Yang symbol. Um, they fold into each other. Yeah. So if someone's a pushover, there'll be like a pushover, a pushover, a pushover, right. And you could, you may have experienced this personally or in a relationship or like someone will take the hit again and again and then there'll be this like explosion of resentment and push back.


Daniel: (11:38)

Yeah. Yeah. And so people are then reflecting on that experience, right? What I love about this is that when I teach facilitation, I often talk about the difference between an icebreaker and an eye opener. And


Larissa: (11:54)

Oh, nice.


Daniel: (11:56)

And very often I feel like there's a lot of people who are like, oh, I need to break the ice! Like how do you do that? Like, I want an icebreaker for this, this, and this. And you're like, what would you really want to do? Is like what's an activity that can get people to be energized but also get them an entrance into something deeper. And I think, um, this is a really interesting example of like something that, you know, how to like this, I'm guessing for you, if you do this often it's potentially a ritual for you and your workshops. Like it's something that is comfortable for you to lead.


Larissa: (12:25)

It's an easy time, a little doorway to walk through. You know, cause then people are like, oh, with like my parents and my boss and my like that friend of mine, I'm like, that one teacher I had, you know, they just start seeing the map of their life in a different way. And a lot of my, like what I love about that is because I like supporting people to redraw the maps of their life. Two questions. The lines that have been drawn, the territories that they're told are, um, like successful to aim towards the territories that they're told to avoid and to instead reconsider and start to become more proactive authors of the maps of their life and the routines of their life and their relationship habits and their self talk and what they create in order to bring out more aliveness in their own being. That's my number one metric is alive.


Daniel: (13:27)

So I think this is where we can do the entry point into the pre-question of what's the conversation you're trying to create in the world and how are you designing it? Because wayfinding is a, is a powerful analogy but also like a very different way of talking about personal leadership and some of the, there's, there's more traditional ways and then there's this other entry point which are bringing in like talk to me about this metaphor and how you came to it. Like take me on your journey into this being your entry point to wanting to this to be your conversation with your, with, with the world.


Larissa: (14:05)

Hmm. Yeah. The heart of the conversation that I aim to foster in the world is greater awareness of worldviews and behaviors that support disconnection and worldviews and behaviors that support connection.


Daniel: (14:25)



Larissa: (14:27)

And to understand the, how these patterns live and breathe through our relationships, our society, our storytelling, our values, the things we consume and where we're habituated to and how power in particular in changing our relationship to power, how we can cultivate a relationship, power that serves connection rather than disconnection. Yes.


Daniel: (14:58)

So what, like in this context, like what does wayfinding mean? That's, that's a, that's a, it's a different metaphor for what you're, what you're asking people to do, what you're offering. On their path... I mean, I can see when we finding and path they are, they're like, I can see how they're, they're related, but it's, it's, it's sort of a surprising way to talk about it.


Larissa: (15:24)

Yeah. So then the reason why I chose wayfinding, um, is that I mentioned my masters that I did, right. I basically mapped, I was unknowingly mapping the main historical points that kept nudging this unfurling of disconnection patterns from the, like European experience that then cascaded over the entire world and affected all people in all ecosystems.


Larissa: (15:55)

So one of the first untruths but can be held is like people of European descent were never indigenous and it's like, no, that's not true. Like everyone at some point in their ancestral line had indigenous ancestors meaning to be deeply have a place and to meet in a culture and that was based on connection based on relational understanding and rhythms. And that's just like we are nature. There is, we're not, we're not like in these little glass boxes outside, we are also animals. And in the course of my curiosity after my master's, um, which happened to coincide with my dad dying, I became intensely curious. Yeah. I became curious...


Daniel: (16:47)

Yeah, I know that Dad''s die, but like that's, that's sad... Yeah.


Larissa: (16:51)

I just, I was saying "yeah" 'cause I saw what happened on your face and I appreciate the empathy because it mattered. You know, I had this intellectual side happening simultaneously at this personal life side and, and Ha, which fuse together to inspire me to follow the question of like, what is connection feel like in life? And I have an amazing family. I love my family so much. I'm so lucky to have had the dad I had for 22 years and...


Daniel: (17:25)

yeah, I saw you went on a trip with your mom to like Ireland. Was that like, yeah, to Ireland. I was like, wow...vacation with folks, amazing life goals. You know, that's the thing is that, is that your indigenous..? Is that your, your, your, your place of origin?


Larissa: (17:46)

Um, Ireland is one of my family's place of origin. Dad's side was all Italian. My mom, Irish, Scottish, um, like mainland Europe.


Daniel: (17:56)

I'm gonna loop back around on something if you'd ... have you seen the series "Salt Fat Acid Heat" Um, which is an amazing food documentary series ...when she goes to Italy and you just talk to these people who've been farming olives and making pesto. There's just like, yes, they're talking about the quality of a fat in like what's you know, alive about it. Um, yeah, but I also want to put a link in here. I don't know if you've ever watched Alan Watts. Um, somebody's Matt Parker and, uh, wait, I'm mixing up their names. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys from South Park did a video where they animated an Alan Watts video, a speech where he talks about how if you go to the planet, this planet, you know, a billion years ago with like aliens, they visit the planet. They're like, oh, it's just some dumb rocks. Um, there's nothing interesting happening here. And they are like, whatever, let's keep going. And then they come back in a billion years later, they're like, oh look, the rocks of peopled. Interesting. There's people now... We thought they were just dumb rocks, but now they're, they've peopled. And he talks about this idea of like, um, you know, watch out. You never know when something, this idea that we are a smart things that came out of a dumb world, it's clearly not the case. It's just a question of timescales.


Larissa: (19:16)

Yeah. Yeah. And, and really like questioning: well where does intelligence sit? Is it a dumb world? And that that's also part of this larger question. So, um, got to power and got to way finding through recognizing, you know, so the wound of disconnection that happened, um, that was happening in different places around the globe. You know, there was like adversarial warring and different aspects, but then Europeans took it to a whole other level with colonization and starting to "other" people too, um, subjugate people to build overseas empires based on oppression and subjugation and then like, Tada the United States. Um, that's, and, and so all of these facets of the question of what brings our wholeness back. You know, in the future of work community and the Teal Organization framework, wholeness is one of the fundamental values of a teal organization. So we cannot possibly address the future of work and self management and wholeness without asking "what are the ways in which I have fractured myself in my own lifetime. And what are the culturally inherited wounds that I am inhabiting and benefiting from or being like massively unbenefited by, wounded by".


Larissa: (20:55)

And that I see the leverage point of working with leaders and raising consciousness around power and all of these aspects of identity because power can be um, we all have inner power and then there's socially conferred power and we're at work...


Daniel: (21:18)

is that your term? is that like a fundamental bifurcation when you think about types of power? Cause I was hoping we would have this conversation


Larissa: (21:23)

I make that like I have thought about my own definition of power. I've looked at the etymology of power. Om power is sometimes used to describe physics, sometimes used with like a controlling warfare-based Paradigm.


Daniel: (21:40)

Yeah, force and power are not necessarily the same thing, though


Larissa: (21:42)

Precisely. And so my definition of power is power is the capacity to move energy through systems.


Daniel: (21:51)

I'm just going to let that percolate for a second. Power is the capacity to move energy through systems.


Larissa: (21:57)

Yeah. So power doesn't have a valence in terms of being positive or negative.


Daniel: (22:04)

Yes. Yeah. It just stays. It's like a gun.


Larissa: (22:07)

Exactly. Or it's like a big tree. Yeah. Or like a big mountain or like the ocean or like lightning or like a rattlesnake and ...


Daniel: (22:17)

Let's just keep naming things. No, no, I like this game!


Larissa: (22:19)

Exactly. Or like a paperclip!


Daniel: (22:21)

or a moose!


Larissa: (22:24)

I was trying to name things that like we culturally associate power with.


Daniel: (22:29)

Yes. Oh, you mean like a good or badness, too. Like, a volcano.


Larissa: (22:34)

Yes. So we can tell. Um, so in our society we can tell a story that power has... Is like a is like a negative thing. Even though it's something we hunger after. And I, in my personal understanding, when we clear and create alignment in our own beings to move, move energy through the systems of our life, that's something every single person, regardless of their background, has access to. It's just part of the human experience.


Daniel: (23:05)

Okay. So this is like, I really want to unpack this...I'm so so excited. We're talking about that because there's the inner power, like I talked about this with regards to conversation where it's like we all have the power of speech. If we, you know, have physically working bodies, like you can't actually, unless you use force, you can't stop somebody from speaking. And so there's this fundamental inner power of I am here, I can participate, but then there's this other part which is systemic or... Uh, you know, based on authority. Um, but then I think there's this other piece which is like distributing power versus taking power. And I don't know, cause I know for myself, like I sometimes feel uncomfortable taking power. Um, and so I reflexively distribute power, which is a kind of taking a power.


Larissa: (23:53)

Yeah. So my current working hypothesis and the way I deal with it is like inner power, you know, which is connecting to my deepest desires...


Daniel: (24:02)

She's gensturing towards gesturing to her, to her core.


Larissa: (24:08)

For all you listeners, all you listeners.


Daniel: (24:10)

Yeah. There was no video for you.


Larissa: (24:14)

And then the other distinction I bring is societaly or culturally conferred power. Yes. Which are the rules we make up about what it means to interact with other humans. And one of those sets of rules can exist in like the type of conduct we have in a particular organization. So, and like the future of work community, we're talking about organizations and primarily businesses and there is um, there is a very common pattern of power arrangement in businesses today and people who are like the CEOs or the leaders or the executives have generally the most power and capacity to move energy through the system.


Daniel: (25:07)

And that is how we define their power in a way.


Larissa: (25:10)

Exactly. And the movement towards self managing systems requires a transformation of that state. Another very, very important aspect of culture and socially conferred power are the stories we tell about the bodies we're in, the identities we inhabit, the um, like religious and spiritual practices we have, our able-bodied-ness or not, um, all the facets of body being like the color of our skin, our, um, gender, you know, all of these aspects of identity. Then we tell stories and create valence about those identities.


Daniel: (25:52)

Sure. Like we assume types of power based on what we know about somebody.


Larissa: (25:59)

Right. And so just to get explicit, like in the United States of America, the fabrication of Whiteness is something that has been reverberating through this country for 400 years. You and I both inhabit bodies that are classified as white. And so we both privilege from that.


Daniel: (26:19)

Totally. And so again, and when I was in college, I remember reading the wages of Whiteness, which I'll try to dig up a link to where even the lowest class, you know, white trash, dirt, poor dirt farmer was still better than a slave, like hours. That was the wages of whiteness. Like even the lowest of the low totem pole. White Guy. Still one tick above. You know, and that is, and that's one of the things that helped reinforce the system. Obviously fear comes up when we try to the...oh man, we're going to talk about this now, like the, the making of a quality makes, feels like dis-equality to people who are that one tick above. And now it's like, Oh shit, I'm just the same as everyone else. I no longer even have that.... Just terrible.


Larissa: (27:11)

Right. And still how so in this like very large conversation that I feel is, you know, I'm just like one tiny little helper in it and there's millions, millions of people around the world and around the country contributing to the connection/ Disconnection conversation to recognize like there are consequences and costs of the disconnection story and behaviors to every single person operating under the illusions told and the disconnection stories. It's like, oh, sure. Like, so if we look at privilege and oppression, it's like obvious how, um, any group of people inhabiting like the oppressed vector side are not winning in the disconnection story. But then when we look at the privilege, um, experience, uh, I have a very embodied experience in my life.


Larissa: (28:18)

I've experienced near fatal accident and healing for eight years and the somatics of, clearing trauma. Yes. And I believe the human organism. And I've experienced how the human organism, when we are not connected, we're not, we don't, we literally don't have as much life force accessible. And the burden of what, um, hate does in the body to organs, and to our systems, and to our creative capacity, and to our energy and to our hearts. And what fear does and what, um, what like deep, like long held anger


Larissa: (29:14)

In traditional Chinese medicine...So I, um, we'll bring this in. I did a medical Chigong practitioner training last year cause medical Chigong was very important for me and healing my own body. Traditional Chinese medicine, they're, they're, um, like five, at least five. There are more. But like there are at least five main organ systems that are looked at and they all have what's considered a psycho-emotional aspect. So if we look at the liver, for example, the original nature of the liver is kindness. The acquired nature of liver is anger. When we do not have clear boundaries because the liver is the organ that filters our blood when we're not like correctly filtering... Than we feel violated. And that can make us angry.


Daniel: (30:05)

Hmm. So when we can release those, those negative experiences, that positive experience is available to us.


Larissa: (30:13)

Yeah. And that so many aspects, I mean there are plenty of scientific studies that have better demonstrating that deeply held emotional experiences in our body have physical ramifications.


Daniel: (30:29)

Yes. Yeah.


Larissa: (30:32)

So, so like it's all, it's like one thread pull on this whole system and the reason to come back to like why wayfinding is because the sensing intelligence...see, getting there! we didn't lose it.... Um, the sensing intelligence in our beings just like a plant that is sun-loving is always moving towards the light. It's always moving towards that which feeds us. And so when we tap into that listening, it will tell us how to navigate into deeper relationship with each other, into greater trust, into clear understanding of what our needs are. Um, the grief that we haven't yet released, the forgiveness we need to embrace. And when we clear away the blockage or stagnation, then that creates the space for flow.


Daniel: (31:30)

Yes. Yeah. Well, so I want to ground this because this is really, I know that this stuff is valuable and you know, just from the simple aspect of when a company thinks that when we think we're separate from nature, it's okay to pollute nature, right? When we are separate from other people, it's okay to create, um, more unequal, more inequality by our practices. Right? Um, and the question of like is this, you know, I have a friend who's, who's an engineer and he's at inner conflict with himself because he's automating jobs and he knows it's create stress in him where he's like, I'm an engineer and I'm doing my best work and I'm creating misery in the world so that I can make money and pay for the coaching and the retreats and my own growth. And like what the actual f about that. And so my question for you is, um,


Daniel: (32:33)

I know that people need some of this work. I know that what companies generally ask for is how do we go faster, cheaper, and smarter. And you know, when I come into an organization, it's like, okay, facilitation skills, we need those. Because it helps us sell better and build better, you know, innovation, product design. Like that's my entry point. Um, how, where do you start the conversation with an organization? What are they asking for and what do you want to offer, right? Like what's the balance of like of the conversation of like, oh we are think we're getting this but I slipped, you know, you're putting spinach into the brownies versus like maybe I'm, maybe I'm, you know, cynical or, or small minded and companies are like, "yes, Larissa show us how to wayfind!" But I'm guessing that people are like, Hey, can we talk about inclusion and power?


Daniel: (33:30)

Like that's something I know. Do you know what I mean? Like there's an anchor point for every consultant who's listening and then there are many like how do you mix the like here's what I, here's what they're asking for versus like here's, here's my north star. Cause I'm guessing that not every company is, is where your, there's not enough teal companies in the world who are asking for that. Is that wrong? Like, do, do you under, do you, do you follow them?


Larissa: (33:58)

I totally understand that question.


Daniel: (34:00)

And a lot of people are asking for conversation, help us redesign all the conversations at our company. Right. That's not, that's not a, that's not a thing. It's like the secret sauce. So I'm just assuming that that's potentially of your context too.


Larissa: (34:14)

Yeah. So I worked for several consultancies, um, and I also had a business prior to wayfinding. Um, and we're at this interesting moment in cultural evolution where if you look at the phenomenon of companies caring more about their people, companies caring more about the earth. But also if we like just look at companies caring more about people. When you start pulling on this thread like this desire to be a more human work workplace to value culture, to value the human experience at work, to make meaningful work, to have purpose driven work, you start pulling on that thread and what you surface are all of the tensions around disconnection. And so what comes up is an integrity moment.


Larissa: (35:25)

And I tend to accelerate the consideration of that question.


Daniel: (35:30)

That is the most wonderfully euphemistic phrase! "I accelerate the consideration of that question" are a catalyst for crying. That's what I'm hearing.


Larissa: (35:43)'s basically like...So here, here's what I, here's how, here's an example of a conversation cause I will work with people at different levels and through the course of my career I have had a shifting baseline of, of um, base requirements. So now one of my base requirements for, um, engagement is like if I'm going to do a deep engagement with the group and this is excluded from if I'm like doing a workshop for them or we're doing a ritual or a ceremony or like things that are even more "entry". Um, but if they want to step into longer deeper work, one of my requirements for being in relationship is to have permission to mirror the points where I see, um, ego being surfaced and how it impacts the infrastructure of the company.


Daniel: (36:44)

Yeah. Being willing to call out.


Larissa: (36:46)

Yes. Because if I don't have permission to do that, then I'm dancing around the whole conversation that I can see that I know is impacting every other conversation. And so what I illuminate is, look, you can either invest in a brand new strategy, which is like building a house on like a rotting, like set of a rotting foundation or broken foundation. And so like you can sync like the money and the time and the energy and like the branding campaign for the new strategy and then the internal employee experience branding campaign and then like, oh, like it's, we still have a leak. Or we can do the courageous thing, that is uncomfortable and that will require us to put down aspects of denial. And to go on the exploration to see what courageous and connected leadership looks like.


Daniel: (37:51)

Yeah. So what I love about that is the thing that I've been thinking about lately is in any conversation, any interaction, there's uh, there's surface, there's, you know, we can have a fact based exchange where there's a willingness to go deep and to go even deeper. And,,, It's just interesting to hear how you're looking for signals of their readiness and availability to talk about the real stuff. And to create a boundary for yourself of, Hey, listen, I'm not going to make myself vulnerable and participate in a toxic culture. Like I don't care, you know, if you want me to come in and do a ritual a week for the next 10 years, it's like, whoa, there's no interest in what's really going to matter about that. So it's just really, I love hearing how you're sensitized to that


Larissa: (38:43)

it is a really nuanced conversation because, um, because then it raises the question of compassion and engagement. So I, I have a deep belief in human beings and I also know how the structure of the human ego operates, you know, and so that it's, um, I love supporting people who are open. I am not in the business of like, I'm not brought alive by the act of Oh, of opening, of being like, oh, I don't care about this at all. To then being like, oh, maybe like there's a, there's a level of commitment or current operating investment of energy in the disconnection, in disconnection patterns that there, um, so many practitioners and service providers who their contribution to the cycle is like, is like, let's start considering more connection based worldviews and paradigms without using that language.


Larissa: (40:00)

Um, and my sweet spot, I also just know like my, we can't live in all parts of the ecosystem, you know, and my sweet spot is have you started playing with some things and do you really have this longing? Because also there's this amazing aspect in human beings, once we start to experience more aliveness and creativity and connection and more power in self and in group, and to see what becomes possible, then we're like, let's go. And it gives us, that gives us the motivation and the fuel to encounter what is uncomfortable and to heal and to be courageous and to try new things. And that's, and then, and then when like people start seeing it working, they're like, oh my gosh, look at this. And so also in the grounding, I can give an example.


Larissa: (40:57)

I worked with the founding team of four partners for nine months, did a cascading rite of passage from their relationship constellation to their relationship constellation, um, with their six reporting directors and then how that like respired out to the rest of their organization. And that we did relational healing and um, asking like, how are, what are we bringing to the table that gets in the way and what are the unconscious aspects of our inhabitation our and to acknowledge what's occurred to date.Because we can't move on very well if we don't acknowledge.


Daniel: (41:40)

And that requires tremendous slowing down and tremendous noticing, which is uncomfortable and people would rather not do it mostly. So I, I feel I'm looking at as the facilitator of this conversation...We're getting close to our time together and so on. I'm wondering is, with all of that time thinking about, um, two things, one, what happened, we talked about that we should talk about, is there something that we haven't touched on about your work that's important. And one thing that I'm thinking of is we haven't really talked about ritual and designing ritual. We just seeded that in the beginning and we're like, oh, that's another thing. Because rituals are things that sometimes I think we think of as given and wrote and like Passover, which is a ritual. Versus like designing ritual. And I think for me, I'm trying to think about how teams do need to have rituals and, and I'm wondering like where your ritual work. That's something I'm interested in talking about. Maybe you want to talk about something else, but that's, that's sort of what's on my mind of like something I really want to get from you before we, before we go, what else is on your mind that you want to touch on before we go?


Larissa: (42:48)

I'm happy to go there. Okay. I have one thing I want to say before....


Daniel: (42:53)

She''s moving her fingers like a Mr. Burns sort of way


Larissa: (42:57)

So, um, one thing, so the story of wayfinding, um, that name, which this is important and the honoring.. Wayfinding is, um, if you look it up online, it's like considered the skill of being able to navigate, um, like poorly marked paths or unknown territories. And it can be like dead reckoning or value across landscapes are how you cross oceans. And, um, I, after my master's I had the wonderful fortune to learn, um, you know, skills of becoming of a place again. So animal tracking, wilderness survival, wildcrafting and, um, learned from a man named John Young.


Daniel: (43:54)

Can you give us some links to that where people can learn more about that stuff?


Larissa: (43:58)



Daniel: (43:58)

I remember reading Todd brown stuff where it's like,


Daniel: (44:00)

John Young was mentored by Tom Brown... He was Tom Brown's first mentee and he was the first one who received this like deep, deep nature connection mentoring. Tom Brown is a man who lives in New Jersey who was mentored by an Apache Elder names Stalking Wolf


Daniel: (44:17)

which makes them, doesn't sound as interesting as he is. Like, he's from Jersey, not New Jersey.


Larissa: (44:24)

Hey, let's not dump on New jersey for a minute...they take a lot of heat


Daniel: (44:25)

Sorry. I'm from's part of our story.


Larissa: (44:27)

No, no, no. I get it. I get it. It's part of the story.


Daniel: (44:33)

but I mean for me, like when I think of Tom Brown...the thing where he's touching your chest and like using yourself as a pendulum to try and understand where to go to next. Like there's some really deep stuff when it comes to wilderness... Being in the wilderness and, and not losing your way. Hashtag not a metaphor


Larissa: (44:52)

exactly like the, um, to recognize the indigenous lines that John was representing, this teaching to me. So like a Acumba of east Africa. I'm Hawaiian Culture, Lakotas and Apaches of North America. Um, the, these like different traditions of, of understanding how to read the signs of place and life. And wayfinding specifically was a role in Polynesian navigation culture. And so that they're, uh, anthropologist named Wade Davis wrote a book called the wayfinders about different wayfinding traditions. Um, in like the largest aspect of the definition. And I grew up as a sailor. And the conversation between wind and water was in a lot of ways, the beginning of my understanding how to listen to subtle, very clear, but also complex patterns. To find our way. And so that's, that's like the line and that's the honoring that I want to give and naming that.


Larissa: (46:06)

And that's also how it connects to ritual and ceremony because in that, um, training and this, it was a similar part of my life and my dad died the first ceremony, I designed was my dad's memorial service. And it was a really amazing opportunity and I realize like what a beautiful creation of love it got to be because we, it was, uh, you know, we weren't following a rote religious form for my dad's memorial service. Um, and then since then having the experience of ceremonies from different traditions and realizing this erosion of symbolic acts where as symbolic animals, when we externalize an experience with /through metaphor or um, you know, whether it's like where you were working with fire or, um, like I did an initiation ritual with a philanthropic board the other day where I had them use redwood seeds to symbolize the seeds that they're planting for this large vision they hold and then Pacific Ocean water because it's the water that unites their countries of the members present and then the branches to represent like, what are you putting down as you start this? So there can be more space.


Larissa: (47:41)

When we do that, it actually more deeply imprints into our being the consciousness of our choices and the updating of the stories and the internal conversations we have. So I choose ritual as, um, as an important vehicle to bring people into spaces of coherent awareness and meaning and to let their aliveness breath through in ways that we're not used to. And I also know that we are, we often feel like ritual and ceremony are like need to be deeply steeped in tradition because of those, the like disconnection reverbs that have been happening through time, a lot of ceremonies and rituals have been lost. And one of the beautiful things about human beings is we can listen to the energetic needs of a group and create an experience that meets them there. And in that way we're reweaving what's needed.


Daniel: (48:52)

I think it's beautiful and very much in line with my thinking of how I design a facilitative experience as an experience of where are they now and where do they need to get to. But we're speaking not just to their intellectual needs but to their emotional needs and providing them with metaphor to ground them. that is really powerful.


Larissa: (49:16)

So I have a question for you.


Daniel (49:18)

A question for me?!


Larissa: (49:19)

Yeah. For you! So when you, cause we, we have a similar frame and I'm curious, what are the things you consider when you see where a group is at present and where they need to go and how do you decide what to put forward to help get them there?


Daniel: (49:39)

Hmm. Well, I mean like you said, it's a question of like what they're ready for. It's a question of like the aperture, like what, what their level of interest is. Also like, you know, a nine month engagement with, with the six person leadership team, like that's great to get that level of buy-in. Um, in my own work, uh, stretching it out from this is not going to be a two day workshop. It can't be a two day workshop. People love it for just be a two day workshop and it's so much easier to do that. And so to me, like very often I still do think about the like, hey, how do I fit this into the smallest amount of space possible? For me, I think it's a question of when I teach facilitation stuff, I, I talk about how, um, the metaphor, the model you use determines what ingredients you put in.


Daniel: (50:31)

And so like, I'll reference and if you haven't listened to it, it's one of my favorite interviews, um, with Kate Quarfordt. Um, her, she uses this four seasons, a wheel that she co-created with one of her students. And when I teach people the four seasons, we all, they're like, wait, celebration and, and reflection are, are the part of the, the, the, the cycle? And I'm like, yes it is. And as a winter in my mind, I had my palate on when I was, when I was a teenager because, because of my mother, um, who will listen to this? Thanks mom. I love having my colors done, but it was weird. Um, winter is about regeneration, right? You can't, you can overwork soil, right? It's not doing nothing in the winter, right? It's you, you, you plant mustard grass and Dandelion and you just turn it over and then it's good again, like you, it needs to rest.


Daniel: (51:26)

And two years ago when I did a facilitation masterclass with my friend Mathias, who does a lot of visual thinking stuff, he's super into reflection and I don't think I was, I don't know if I'd done the, the, the interview with, with, with Kate at that point. He really spearheaded, he's like, no, we're going to do this if we're going to this masterclass, right? We need to have like 30 minutes of reflective journaling before lunch on day one and like 10 minutes of reflective journaling... after lunch on day two, and I was like, wow, nothing, right? Like people are paying money for this experience. We have to do things with them and teach them things. Um, but like giving them time with themselves is, is regenerative. Right? And so to me, it's actually like what's in your spice rack at all, right?


Daniel: (52:19)

You have some things in your spice rack that are not in my spice rack. Um, like water from the Pacific Ocean, not on my spice rack, right? But reflection is, and celebration is like, I've seen people run innovation days and workshops where, you know, at least they know that everyone in the group should high five each other, right? Like at least like the littlest moment of like, yeah, we did it. Versus like, no, we need to share the story of our project and I've, I've done this, made this mistake myself where people have created this thing and you're like, okay, great, let's do the critique. And it's like, well, no, they need to share it out. They need to get the, the reinforcement that they did a good thing, right? And so to me like it's about what are your, what are even your ingredients of the experience?


Daniel: (53:05)

And so to me, like my fundamental ingredients are opening, exploring and closing, generating, supporting and then landing and then like what you put into those things are whatever. But to me, like I think celebration and reflection are now will, like because of Kate just baked into my brain of like those two seasons, autumn and winter are just essential to me. Kate if you're listening you, you're the best. And that wheel, even if I don't use it explicitly, it's implicitly, always part of what I do. Where there will be celebration. There will be a reflection. Does that answer your question at all? I don't know.


Larissa: (53:43)

It totally answers my question. I also learned the wheel. The um, you know, many, many cultures have a four part, um, in particular many Native American cultures you know, medicine wheels...And what Iearned from John Young, It was like what are the eight directions or these energies that like flow to each other? Cause we can, and this is why to make this accessible. If someone's like, what are you talking about? I don't like what are the seasons? Um, this is the reason why ergonomically when we show up to a meeting, if we dive straight in, yeah. Straight into the content. It's interesting because if you think about showing up to someone's house and you get in the door and they're like, welcome, completely sit down for dinner, you're like, Whoa, whoa. Was that like, where was the arrival?


Daniel (54:42)

Where do I hang up my coat? I take my shoes off. What's going on?


Larissa: (54:47)

Exactly. Hi. Nice to see you. We need to have opening just like we need to have sunrise just like we need to have spring.


Daniel: (54:55)

Also like I don't think anybody would argue that...Well, what's interesting about Kate's approaches, like obviously there are these moments in the year, but this is when we'd go back to your, your not your thing. Um, but like the thing you mentioned about how we are disconnected from nature is like what really pisses me off about daylight savings is this idea that like that we should just like have the same working hours all year long, but we aren't connected to nature. Like there should be winter out. Like, you know, it's like summer Fridays. Like there should be Winter Mondays, right? Just get to stay home and be depressed, you know, or just can I sleep later on a cold day like this? Like I just need some more time with my oatmeal. And so we, we obviously work, it's a very, it's a privilege to say the lake that my work should flow with the seasons. There's a lot of people have jobs that like we all rely on people showing up and doing what has to be done right. Regardless o f how they feel. But we also need to talk about the cost of that...Wow we're just spiraling. I love it.


Larissa: (56:02)

I like it because these of the patterns I've seen in our conversation (This will be the last thing I say) is the capacity for these topics to expand to like great, take up great space and to occupy, you know, a lifetime of work or long engagements with clients or hours of conversation... But they can also pack down, they can like go down into a little seed yes. Into a little high five. Into five minutes of journaling that there are ways to start and sprout and keep going. And I am, uh, I have loved this. I am so grateful to you for the conversations you host for the reflection that you host on how we have conversations. Um, and when, when I learned about conversation factory, uh, and your work, I was just so excited that you invited me to participate. So thanks.


Daniel: (57:04)

Thank you. Okay, well, so like I want to ask you one more question. This is those as this is one of Tim Ferriss' favorite questions and I, and it just, it, it sparked in my brain. So I'm going to ask you like, cause we're talking about seeds and Compacting it down and planting that seed. Um, one of his favorite questions is like, if you could, if I'm going to give you a billboard. Hmm. You know, on a very, very, you know, well traveled highway, um, what's Larissa's message to the world that belongs on that? Like the, the thing that you want people to, you know, and I remember they have to be able to read this, uh, at at 65 miles an hour and not die.


Larissa: (57:44)

MMM. Okay.


Daniel (57:48)

Her left eyebrow has gone up ladies gentlemen. And


Larissa (57:52)

I'm gonna, I'm gonna give you two variations of it cause I'm like, oh, this 60 miles an hour, um,


Larissa: (58:02)

Tend your aliveness like a precious flame... Or variation B...


Daniel: (58:09)

That was good. I liked that.


Larissa: (58:10)

Thank you. Or: Tend our liveliness, like a precious flame.


Daniel: (58:19)

That's really lovely. Thank you. And, and being aware of and sensitized to that alive in a room and a group in an organization that is the skill of all the people who want to create change like you first, which was to your question of like, how do you even know what's going on? You're like, well, I have to, I feel it. I detect it. You know, looking for little little twitches and putting two and patching together a narrative from that.


Daniel: (58:50)

Well, it's been a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate you making the time. It's really lovely to have this reflection time with you. Um, I will call ...and scene!



Organizational Change is a Conversation


Buckle in, ladies and gentlemen, for some straight talk about the future of work, the nature of the universe and the power of changing systems to change behavior.

Today I’m sharing a deep and rambling conversation I had a few months back with Aaron Dignan, author of Brave New Work and founder of the Ready, an org transformation partner to companies like Airbnb, Edelman and charity: water. He is a cofounder of, an amazing community of like-minded transformation professionals. If you haven’t checked out their conference, it’s great. I co-facilitated some sessions there last year and I can highly recommend it. You should also check out the episode I had recently on asking better questions with Robin Zander, who hosts the conference.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Aaron. It was his OS Canvas, published in 2016 on Medium, that got me thinking differently about my own work in Conversation Design and led me to develop my own Conversation OS Canvas. His OS Canvas clarified and simplified a complex domain of thinking – organizational change – into (then) just nine factors. In the book it’s evolved into 12 helpful prompts to provoke clear thinking and to accelerate powerful conversations about how to change the way we work – if you are willing to create the time and space for the conversation.

Aaron doesn’t pull any punches – as he says, “the way we work is badly broken and a century old”. And he figures that “a six year old could design a good org, you just have to ask the socratic questions.” His OS Canvas can help you start the conversation about changing the way you work in your org and his excellent book will help you dive deep into principles, practices and stories for each element of the OS.

You’ll find in the show notes some deep-dives on the two core principles of org design from the book. The first principle is being complexity Conscious. The second is being people positive. For more on complexity – dig into Cynefin (which is not spelled the way it sounds). And for more on people positivity, there’s a link to Theory X vs Theory Y, a very helpful mental model in management theory.

Another powerful idea that I want to highlight is Aaron’s suggestion that we all have our own “system of operating” or “a way of being in the world” which is “made up of assumptions and principles and practices and norms and patterns of behavior and it's coded into the system.” 

Aaron goes on to say that “people are chameleons and people are highly sensitive to the culture and environment they're in. And the system, the aquarium, the container tells us a lot about how we're supposed to show up. And over time it can even beat us into submission. And so we have to change the system and that's hard to do when we're reinforcing things that we ourselves didn't even create,”

From my own work on conversation design, it’s very clear to me that communication is held in a space, or transmitted through an interface – the air, the internet, a whiteboard. The space your culture happens in is one very key component of how to shift your culture. Check out my episode with Elliot of Brightspot Strategy for more on changing conversations through changing spaces:

Changing your physical space is easy compared with shifting power and distributing authority more thoughtfully in your organization. To do that, we need to shift not just our org structures, but our own OS:  we need more leaders who can show up as facilitators and coaches rather than order-givers. And that takes, as Aaron points out, a brave mindset. 

If you want to become a more facilitative leader of innovation and change in your company, you should definitely apply before August to the first cohort of the 12-week Innovation Leadership Accelerator I’m co-hosting with Jay Melone from New Haircut, a leader in Design Sprint Training. It kicks off in NYC with a 2-day workshop in September, runs for 12 weeks of remote coaching and closes with another 2-day workshop. We’ll have several amazing guest coaches during the program – a few of which have been wonderful guests on this very show: Jim Kalbach, author of Mapping Experiences and head of Customer Success at Mural and Bree Groff, Principle at SY Partners and former CEO of change consultancy NOBL.

Show Notes

The OS Canvas Medium post that started it all for me:

The Ready

Brave New Work

Complexity Conscious: Cynefin

Being people positive: Theory X vs Theory Y

Capitalism needs to be reformed:

The Lake Wobegon Effect

Game Frame

The Four Sons as four personalities at work in us:


Fish and Water:

The Finger and the Moon:

also from Amelie!

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones


Open Source Agility:

The Heart of Agile



Information Radiators

Asking better questions:

Loss in Change:

Mapping experiences:

Interview Transcript:

Daniel: So I'll officially welcome you to the conversation factory. Aaron. I really do appreciate you making the time to do this. You are in the long, you're in the long tail of your sprint, getting your book out into the world,

Aaron: ...almost there, almost there, and happy to be here. This is going to be fun.

Daniel: Thanks man. I mean obviously like I think back to like when I met you and we're like sitting in the park and...

Aaron: Yeah, you had an instrument of some kind?

Daniel: yeah! ....And you had this dream, like you were building this new thing and you're like, I feel like you've just crushed it .... in the most beautiful nonviolent way of crushing it, building this thing.

Aaron: Well, it looks good from afar. It's actually been, you know, difficult and fun and challenging and you know, up and down. But uh, it is, it's working. It's, we're doing the work that we want to do in the world.

Daniel: Yeah. And so like that's ... So I think that's actually a great transition because like the call to action on your book is strong. Like it's like, are you ready to change your organization? Like I could see how this is pushing out the idea that you're really passionate about. That's what this book is about, is trying to like, get people to say like, yeah, I am ready to do that. Tell me how!

Aaron: we had a, we had a big debate actually at the, at the publisher about, you know, what's the right subtitle for the book. And obviously as you're alluding to the message of the book is that, you know, the way we work is, is badly broken and, and, and you know, in most cases a century old and needs to be changed. I'm to something more adaptive and more human. But um, but the question of how to say that was, was really a challenge. So we tried all these different subtitles that they all felt like sort of traditional business bookie, sort of titles, you know, ditch bureaucracy and change your life forever. It Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah

Daniel: "A five part manual to blank, blank, blank, blank and blank."

Aaron: Exactly. And then someone said, why don't we just do a question? Like no one's done a question as a subtitle in a long time, why don't we do that? And then it became really clear because you know, the work is, is curiosity led. It's about questions. It's about asking yourself things we don't always ask ourselves. So it was cool to start with, are you ready to, to reinvent your organization? And you know, for most people the answer might be no. But for a lot that I run into the answer is hell yes.

Daniel: Yeah. And you're definitely this rallying cry like, and then here's the tools, here's how to do it.

Aaron: Right, right. Here's the way to start at least. I mean, I think one of the, one of my big goals with the book is not necessarily for everybody to have some "from to" journey cause I don't think that's what it's about, but it's really just about like, you know, are you ready to start being more deliberate and more considered in the way you work as an individual, as a team member, as a founder? Like are you willing to sort of take this stuff seriously?

Daniel: Well, so this is, I didn't actually think I would start this conversation this way, but like I think one of my theses in, in looking at things through the lens of conversation is that conversations are organic, ongoing and iterative. And as opposed to, you know, one that's mechanistic...

Aaron: They're not speeches

Daniel: yeah, they're not speeches. And in a way like starting with the question is starting the conversation of like, well are you ready to start changing your organization and what does that mean and how do we start and what does it look like and what does done mean? Does done ever happen? Like it seems to me that changing the organization is, is a conversation.

Aaron: Absolutely. And I mean in many ways an organization is nothing more than a set of conversations. Right? Like the, the main, the main fuel that flows through any gathering of people is communication.

Daniel: Yeah. It's like a bundle of like, I think of it as like a topography, like, uh, you know, like water flows and certain valleys in and other places. And it's like, so this gets to the question of like, what can you change about the topography, right? What's changeable?

Aaron: Right, What can we change about the structure that changes the conversations. Yeah. And the nature of the relationships, right? Cause if we can change the relationships, then we've changed the entity. So how do we change the relationships between us? And that means looking at, you know, our relationships and how they touch to things like power and information flow like we just described and structure and resources and you know all the other things that we get into.

Daniel: Yeah. It's like, I mean my mind is crackling with you know, cause power. It's something I want to understand better but which parts of this is not, I'm not leading the question, where are those questions going at all, but like which parts of the conversation are hard, where does the conversation hit a snag. And I would guess that power and shifting power is one of those those things

Aaron: For sure. Yeah, I mean I think one of the things I find surprising is that the first and foremost snag is to have the conversation like that at the time and space and, and a commitment to say, hey, let's stop working.

Aaron: Let's stop rushing. Let's stop our never ending quest for growth for one hour and talk about how the way we work is serving us or not serving us. That already is, it would be a huge step forward because we just don't have the conversation.

Daniel: Yes.

Aaron: You know, people go from meeting to meeting project or project week two week job to job until they retire or die. Yeah. And, and it's sort of like, you know, how do we actually make pause and make space and they're out the drawer a little bit so that we can think and we can observe and reflect. And so I think that's the first impediment to the conversation. And then, yeah, I think the second one is about, you know, identity and ego and power, which is, you know, if, if we're moving to a model as, as I'm sort of proposing and observing frankly in the book, it's not like I'm just making this stuff up.

Aaron: What I'm, when I'm observing in the book is organizations moving to a model that is more decentralized and requires more, um, you know, sort of more power and more ways and more transparency, um, and more participation in shaping the, you know, not just the work, but the way of working in the organization than a lot of people start to ask questions like, well, who am I then if I was the Checker, if I was the reviewer, if I was the yes, no person, then what does that mean for me? So I think there's, there's a lot of that kind of stuff going on and also just, um, the conversation of being uncertain and uncomfortable. Right? So what might happen if we, you know, what if got rid of a rule that's driving everyone crazy and we didn't have a replacement, what might happen? Right? And how do I feel about that uncertainty?

Aaron: And you know, that that control, I think sometimes even more than power is, is actually the hot button. It's the thing that we're worried about.

Daniel: Yeah. I mean, could, I mean, I don't control different than power?

Aaron: Well in a way..

Daniel: Or are we, like, putting too fine a point on on that?

Aaron: Yeah. Let me see what I mean when I think the distinction is, and it may not be that you know, this is dictionary level true, but what I think the distinction is is often when I talk about power, I think about power with and over others. So how I relate to others and what I can tell people to do or not do. And you know, that kind of thing. I think about control certainly of other people, but also thinking about control of in the world, right? Can I ever really control what happens to me and to my business, my family into the market and, and this illusion of control that we're so in love with, with the plan and the, the rules and the boundaries that say like, Oh, I'm safer now because everything's in place, right?

Aaron: That when I talk about control, I sort of mean controlling the universe. Right? And not just other people

Daniel: You know, it's a friend of mine who's a senior Ux leader, he is being pushed by his organization to like make a five year plan. And he's like, no I won't. And they're like "no you have to!",

Aaron: He knows how crazy that is.

Daniel: Like I can't give you a three or five year roadmap. Like I don't know if people are going to be using apps like I don't know if people are going to be people anymore like

Aaron: right!

Daniel: But that's really scary. But we'll, so I mean cause I mean we're talking about some really fundamental things to like, pardon the French but fuck with, because this fucks with people, I mean just in my own experience

Aaron: And it's really just a trade, right? I mean I think the, when you first started talking about new ways of working and and self management and self organization and things like that, people's, I think many people's heads go to the idea of like, oh well the options then control, no control, chaos or bureaucracy.

Daniel: Like everything is false dichotomy there. Those are false dichotomies.

Aaron: And the reality is like, no, I just want you to trade one kind of control for another. So I always make the analogy, if you were, you know, sailing a boat across the Atlantic and you could steer once or every minute, which would you choose? Everyone's like, obviously I would choose every minute. Why? Because it gives you greater control. And then I'm like, cool, tell me about your annual plan. And it's like, you know, we're just doing the exact opposite in a different context because somehow it feels more like control.

Daniel: That's sneaky! That's not fair. You know the answer to that question, just setting people up to fail with that thought experiment!

Aaron: I do a lot of that, Actually I do a lot of that in my speeches, in my workshops. So I sort of, I ask, you know, questions that, that the commonsensical answer is yes.

Aaron: The point though is, is that yes, common sense is actually pretty good when it comes to org design. Like, if you actually just listened to your comments and sentence and then translate it. It's that we have all these other ideas that we've absorbed and metastasized that, that make the way we work. So, you know, weird and Byzantine and inhuman. Yes. Um, so like we're actually a six year old is capable of designing a good organization. You just have to like ask the Socratic questions.

Daniel: Do you think this is a very potentially controversial question? Like is all of this stuff that we're trying to do create more human companies being more um, uh, distributed? Is it, uh, in opposition to capitalism? Like are...

Aaron: no, no, I don't think it is actually. I think, um,

Daniel: because it seems like capitalism like, concentrates power necessarily and, uh, it's about ownership of the system versus authorship and...

Aaron: it is in opposition to advanced capitalism and crony capitalism. Yes. Um, but I think, you know, there's a big difference between the capitalism that we live in right now and capitalism, the idea ...of you say like, do we need competition and free markets? I would say, hell yes. And in fact, most of the companies we study in the book have extremely marketplace oriented systems, right? They have people serving people in relationships and agreements that you know where the things that work continue in the things that don't work, die. So that's very capitalist. The question though is in service of what, and so if you know, if you're capitalism os basically says that this is in service of never ending growth and ultimate winners who control monopolistic enterprises, that will lead you to a very particular definition. But if the, if the free market and the competition is about who can do you know, what's best for the community, then we're still competing.

Aaron: We're just competing on different terms. And so to me like capitalism is, you know, yes, obviously there's some, some aspects to, you know, who owns labor and who owns the means of production and all that kind of stuff. And, and I think you can get into that, but it's becomes a gray area to me. Like yeah, we already live in a world with a lot of socialism and a lot of capitalism and guess what I think the future is going to contain. Bits of both. Yes. And that's all fine.

Daniel: That's not American! Aaron, first of all, I'm just telling...

Aaron: sorry!

Daniel: ...but did you ever get pushback from leaders on this of like, well if I, if I let go of this control, it's, you know, they own the company, right?

Aaron: No, actually what's funny is with people who literally own their company, they don't have a problem because they're probably quite wealthy already and they're much more interested in the meaning and impact and nature of the work they do and being less stressed out by having to try to run everything.

Aaron: The problem is people who run companies but don't own them, who are subject to the demands of a faceless investor class that that effectively, that's where the real issue lies, right? That you know, your, your 401k holds shares in a thing alongside a big, you know, police pension fund that are demanding a certain rate of return actually, you know, nobody's really accountable for, and then it's put on the, on the, you know, sort of before the feet of the CEO. So, but what's weird is like in the book I talk about these two, mindsets, people positive and complexity conscious and the people positive mindset was the one about how almost all the cultures and examples I looked at, take it, take it as a given that people can be trusted and should be respected and should be, you know, that they're motivated by autonomy and mastery and purpose and connectedness and all these sorts of things rather than carrots and sticks.

Aaron: And rather than saying that people are sort of inherently untrustworthy or evil or stupid or any of the other myriad things that most businesses assume in their, in their model, right?

Daniel: Yeah, yeah.

Aaron: If you, if you have a clock where people punch in and punch out, you are assuming and not people positive characteristic that people are going to take advantage. So, so that was one view. And then the other view, complexity conscious is about recognizing that the world is complex. It's dynamic, it's uncertain, it's unpredictable. And so therefore we need to, uh, solve problems and build models and build organizations to adapt to that, to be, to be able to, you know, respond and sense accordingly. And what's weird is when you put them in tension with each other, that's where things get really interesting. So it's sort of the map back to the capitalism question, you know, all way itself, the complexity conscious mindset leads to these companies that are like relentless learners at the expense of the people inside and the customers themselves.

Aaron: And you can think, you can think of who I might be referring to, right? Like you can think of companies that learn really fast, but it sounds like they're ultimately not going to be good for us. Um,

Daniel: well cause we're gonna automate everything and put people out of business, out of jobs

Aaron: but they're just gonna, they're gonna follow the data to our, to our lowest common denominator,

Daniel: out worst impulses of clicky, click, click, click.

Aaron: yeah, we end up in the Wally World. So I think that's, that's one side of it. But then the people positive side pulls in the other direction says, no, you know, what's the most humanist, most human centric, most community oriented thing we can do. And of course that left to its own devices becomes really bad because you end up making you make bad stuff. Like it's, you're not even necessarily learning, adapting, you're not, you're not competing in a market of ideas.

Aaron: And so you end up with some really lazy work and some, you know, some, not all, but some nonprofits kind of go that way where they're there. So people focused that they almost suck at what they do ultimately. Right? Yeah. They've sort of forgotten what that is when their in tension, that's when things get really interesting. And I would say the same thing for capitalism and socialism, right? Like it's when we, it's when these things tug on each other that things get interesting.

Daniel: I think it's interesting and I'm glad that, I mean like I assume you saw the, um, the Ray Dalio video where he was talking about like, capitalism needs a reboot.

Aaron: Yeah.

Daniel: And so it's great that people are questioning the rules by which we live by. I I want to talk about OSs, but I will before we go into that, like we sort of touched on this idea of theory x versus theory y and I want to make it like explicit because I think in the book you made a really interesting point that, uh, for ourselves we're like, oh yeah, I'm conscientious, I'm, you know, thoughtful. But those people like...

Aaron: those other people...

Daniel: Yeah. So like that's a really, that was kind of an interesting, I'd never really heard x and y sort of put in that sort of like us versus them way of like, well, I'm responsible

Aaron: I think it's the lake Wobegon effect like gone awry, which is that, you know, we always think of ourselves in a better light. And then when we look at others, particularly distant others, we that are very, very unlike us. We just, we attribute all these things to them that are probably not the case. And so I just noticed that, um, you know, yeah. When you think about like am I creative, am I self directed? Do I seek responsibility and greatness? Yeah, of course. Yeah. What about the people at the grocery store and it's like, oh well the people at the grocery store obviously lazy and don't give a fuck.

Daniel: Okay, so here's our opening to talk about Game Frame! You gave it right to me! I was reading game frame, your first book that you're trying to bury with this second book, there's like the woman's not the, it's like she's there on job. And on her first day she was like, okay, there's lots of stuff to do. I'm learning things. And then everything flattens out and then, "I'm bored. I'm disengaged". She doesn't, you know, she's just clocking in and clocking out. And so the thing is like, it's not her fault, it's the way the thing is designed. And that...

Aaron: That's my general thesis about all of it is that um, people are people and people are chameleons and people are highly sensitive to the culture and environment they're in. And the system, the aquarium, the container tells us a lot about how we're supposed to show up. And over time it can even beat us into submission. And so we have to change the, we have to change the system and that's hard to do when we're reinforcing things that we ourselves didn't even create, you know, um, Seth Godin had on his podcasts recently, this story of this psychological or I guess a biological experiment where they have all these monkeys, they're reaching for a banana up on a tower and they spray them with a hose. And so the monkeys obviously don't like that. So they come down and then they bring new monkeys in and the new monkees see the banana and they're like, I'm going to run up the tower and get it.

Aaron: And the older monkeys had been sprayed, stopped them and they're like, don't, don't climb young blood. And then, and then they take out over time, all the monkeys who have ever been sprayed. And when a new monkey comes in, the monkeys who have never been sprayed still stop the, the new entrant from reaching for the banana because that's just what we do here now. So it's like when I ask questions of teams, like why do you have meetings this way? Or why do you budget this way or why you need a boss that looks like that or acts like that. It's just like, I dunno, that's what these monkeys do.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, so this gets to the point of like, why is it designed the way it's designed? Was it even designed?

Aaron: Why indeed!

Daniel: and this also goes back to the question of in this happens in my work where people are already operating at 100% and when you give them new tools, you know, I go in and I teach them new facilitation methodologies or design thinking or whatever. And they're like, yeah. So it was really hard to get those two days to even think about this stuff. You know, there's no time to think about how to use these tools in our work. And so it's just like, where's the space to like

Aaron: yeah, it just bounces off.

Daniel: yeah, it just bounces off...Cause they were like, well we're already at 100% like we don't, we can't think about designing our systems because we're using our systems all the time. So there's no time to design the system or to redesign the system.

Aaron: That's right. Yeah. If I find the same thing. And in many ways I think like the, the simplest version of explaining what myself and other people at the ready actually do is we're just good at asking slash helping people make that space. Like it's, you know, at the end of the day, a lot of the value is just in having a partner who's like, Hey, on Friday we're going to not do that. Like we're going to change our rhythm, we're going to make space and we're going to kind of hold ourselves accountable to that. And, and if you're not ready to do that, obviously it's not going to happen. But if you are ready to do it, I think having, having someone around who's encouraging it and coaching to that is almost more valuable than the ideas. And the, you know, new fangled way ways and not like all that's great, but you can find all that if you stop anyway and just pay attention.

Daniel: So like if, I mean the kind of clients that you and I work for are ones that are asking the question. Um, this is like, this is, oh, it's Passover coming up. This is perfect. Um, this won't release during Passover, but, you know, do you know, do you know about the, the, the, the, the question, the four questions. In other words, there's a story of the three sons, um, and, and uh, one of the sons, I'm going to get this wrong in the middle of like a horrible Jew, but the, the idea is like, one of the sons says like, okay, well what's going on? Like why is tonight different than all other nights? And you're like, okay, well here's why. Like, where's his, why we'd Matzah this is why you tell them the story of Passover. And then, um, the other son's like, well, why do you do all these things?

Daniel: And so he's separated himself from the question. And then the, the response is to say like, well, this is what God did for me when he brought me out of Egypt and this is what you speak to your own experience. And then there's another son that where they're just like, they don't even know how to ask a question. And, and for that you sort of like take time and you really stretch it out and you break it down piece by piece for them. And I imagine that there's like the spectrum of people who read this book, some of them are like, this is already a priority for us and we have budget for it. And that's why we're going to make time and space for it by paying consultants to do it. And there's others who are like, not even asking this question and some who's gonna read this book and they're stuck in the middle of this fershlugenah organization (that just working my Yiddish in there and get it in). And they're like, where does somebody start when the, when the company does not have the extra resources, right. Mental, emotional, physical to be having this dialog.

Aaron: Yeah. And I think, I mean, if somebody reads this work and it speaks to them, then I think that's one thing and it doesn't speak to them and who cares? Um, but if it does speak to them. Then they kind of have two choices. And I've seen people go both routes. One is that it feels like the organizational debt is just too high to pay off and by that I mean, so many policies and practices and norms are out of whack. That and the level of openness is so low. Um, then the easiest thing might be to just not work there. Um, and if that's a privilege that you have, then it's a privilege you can enjoy. Yeah. Not everybody has that privilege, but I think if you can choose where you work, then choose better.

Aaron: Um, so I think that's, that's one piece. But the second piece is if you, if you choose to stay or are you have to stay, then you can start where you are. And that means, you know, do I lead a team? Do I have, do I lead a project? Do I have an open ear of someone who does? Um, so that we can start by asking the question, you know, what's stopping us from doing the best work of our lives in this domain, in this space, in this sphere? And then start, um, start iterating, start playing with, with, with how we show up. So I think sometimes we get overwhelmed by the scale and the magnitude and all the other people we have to convince and it becomes this big thing. But reality is like, at least 50% of the stuff is driving us crazy is right here.

Aaron: You know, is right...And they can't see me. I'm waving at my face.

Daniel: Aaron's actually the problem, everybody. that was a metaphorical...

Aaron: So it's in the way for everyone. Like it's, it's going on with us. How we, uh, how we meet, how we share information, how we plan our work flow, how we do what we do. And then, and then certainly the people we're closest with, our teams are our colleagues. The people that trust us. Like there's, there's a lot going on just in those small pockets that frankly, you know, if you move on some of the stuff and you move it in the right direction, everybody else notices and they notice the, the energy and the engagement and the commitment and the service level that your group or team is providing. Um, and they start to be curious themselves.

Aaron: So I think the best way to create curiosity sometimes is to, is to just start acting where you can. Yeah. And then the other thing is, you know, being brave enough and it's why it's called brave new work, you know, being brave enough to ask these questions in larger forums like to ask, because one of the things I find is people are like, oh, I want to change this, this and this, and I go to my leader and maybe they won't like it or they won't agree or they won't hear me or I already have and they don't give a shit or whatever. And I'm like, don't ask, don't do that. Go to them and ask, what do they think is holding back the team from doing the best work of its life? And then they'll say, oh, well, you know, I, this is like everybody has an answer to that question. Everybody's got a thing that's on their mind that's, that's holding the organization back. Nobody's ever like, oh, it's perfect. Just keep doing what you're doing. So though when they say, then let's start there, let's start with what's true for them. And that's a way to invite and open possibilities up. So I think a good way to...

Daniel: I'm a big fan of that word invitation. Uh, you know, in my own model of conversations, you can either just initiate them or you can invite them. And what's interesting about the canvas is this idea, this is, I think this is a direct quote. The canvas can provoke the conversation. I also feel like it contains the conversation and in and in both good ways.

Aaron: It focuses it

Daniel: Yes, it focuses it and provides, like in my language, every conversation has an interface, something that mediates it. Like, like the luminiferous ether of, of space and time. But it's like, it's like it's an interface for the, for the dialogue. It's a place where it can happen.

Aaron: Yeah. And I, I did not want to create it as a, as sort of a frame or a tool to limit, but I did want to create it to focus because if you've done this work for awhile and you've had these conversations and you're, and you're digging deep, you're going to find all these nuances and interconnections and other things you want to talk. And that's all great because now you're doing it like it's going to the gym, your 500th time versus your first time, right? Like 500 time at the gym, you can make up your own circuit, you know what I mean? But, but for the people that I was encountering that were sort of coming to this fresh are coming to this for the first time or in a long time, they were kind of like, there's so much in our way of working. Like where should I begin? Where should I look?

Aaron: Where should I, where should I start to ask questions? And so the thought was these 12 spaces are the spaces where the organizations that seem to be working most differently that have ditched bureaucracy and found more human, more adaptive ways to work. These are the spaces where they're doing things most differently and where they're most aggressively flipping the table over. And so it's a good bet that if you dig in these holes, you're going to find little opportunities and treasures and, and things to, to act on. And then, yeah, if you want to go beyond that, are you, are you figure something else out? That's great that I'm not trying to restrict that, but I am trying to say, boy, if you haven't asked yourself the tough questions about these 12 spaces, we haven't even done the work of 21st century org design. Like you're not even there.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. You know, it's, it's amazing. And I, and I wanna I want to honor your work because like I read the medium article that you wrote almost like 2015. Now it's long time ago when it was just nine elements and uh, um, I think the idea of a, an operating system was interesting and inspirational for me and in my own work, you know, so the book that I'm working on, I think I sort of tried to ask myself like, what is the smallest number of elements that one can think about to make a canvas for what, what is controllable and what is alterable about a conversation? And it kind of blew my mind in the book that you, that you expanded it from, from nine to 12. Um, changing the symmetry significantly and, but also maybe being, is it, is it, is it MECE now is, is that even, does that matter?

Aaron: No, but it is, but it is more MECE now. So it's not,

Daniel: Oh, and can we define MECE for those people who are not as geekalicious as you and I are...

Aaron: mutually exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive. It's actually an old consulting term. Yeah. So, no, it's not, it's never, it was ever intended to be. But what I found is that the first version, while it had nine boxes, really each box had many words in it. It was like a run on sentence in each one. So it wasn't really fairly nine things. It was, it was these sort of groupings of things

Daniel: you've chunked.

Aaron: Yeah, they were chunked. And so it was arbitrary in a way. And what I wanted to do is actually simplify it and say, all right, one big idea, one focal point in each space. And, and so in a way the 12 is actually a reduction.

Aaron: It's actually a simplification of what was there before. It just feels like more of a pain in the ass. I mean 12 not that many things. Um, right on top of things of things that you could, you could count. There's lots more numbers. There's 12 months. We can name them all. We're fine. Totally.

Daniel: So I think the thing that's really amazing is that in the opening of the book, I think you, you explained this idea of an operating system very well using the intersection analogy. Like, I don't know, where did, did the operating system concept come in from the game frame book, like your interest in games on, like how did that sort of filter into your brain and then into my brain?

Aaron: No, I mean I think it was, this is a, a way of using that phrase or that, that term that was bubbling up in culture in lots of different pockets I think over the last decade. In some ways it's a bastardization of the term, right? Because if you should go real technologists, like an operating system is a very specific thing and it's not this thing. And I was like, and then I, and then I talked to people on the, on the very like sort of teal, you know, um, new work side of the spectrum and they're like, an operating system is way too mechanistic a metaphor. It's a terrible metaphor for that reason. So, so I'm like, I don't, I don't appeal to either. I'm not trying to appeal to either of those things that I'm trying to say is there is a a system of operating, a way of operating, a way of being in the world and it's made up of assumptions and principles and practices and norms and patterns of behavior and it's coded into the system. It's sort of, it's the foundation upon which other things happen.

Aaron: And so what I mean by that is like, you know, we walk into a conference room and there's a table and chairs in there, table and chairs, our assumptions are baked in from the get go and no one who works in the company gets to change that. That's just the way things are. And so if you want to do something in a meeting where you want to move people around, tough luck. If you want to have another whiteboard in that space, there isn't one. Like it's just the choice has been made for you. And I think when I was, when I was originally scratching at was this idea that there seemed like there all these things in culture and the culture of business, particularly Western business that were like, the decision has been made for us, we're going to have an annual budget.

Aaron: That's how it is. Nobody even thinks to say, wait a second. Does that make any sense anymore? Did it ever make sense? Yeah.

Daniel: And this is the water the fish are not noticing

Aaron: exactly. Yeah, this is water. Yeah. So, so I think, um, that was the thought. So I don't mean it literally, uh, I, I just mean, you know, I know as a way of working a, a set of assumptions and, and so, uh, that metaphor, good or bad has really helped people that I work with connect the dots and be like, Oh yeah, I get it. Like there is an underlying set of stuff that we're living and breathing in and that might need to change. And so what does that look like?

Daniel: Yeah. But I, going back to that mechanistic thing, it's, it's um, I mean we're definitely, it's, it's, it's, it's interesting that we're using a technological metaphor instead of like a truly mechanical metaphor. We're using a metaphor of our age that people understand this idea of like an operating system and applications you can install on it.

Aaron: Yeah. But one, by the way, that's one way to go with it. I take umbrage at that as well because I'm like, look, DNA is an operating system. Physics is an operating system. Like don't tell me that they're not.

Daniel: They are, well, I mean, as a person with a physics degree, I would say I have a hard time with physics as an operating system versus like, the geometry of of space and time.

Aaron: But that's what I mean, the, the underlying first principle rules of physics or an OS layer on this universe and like do stuff that they don't allow.

Daniel: Sure. I mean with the presumption that there's, and, well this is an amazing rabbit hole, but there are other universes within our multi-verse where gravity is stronger. Right? But there's still gravity.

Aaron: And there are other companies for whom their OS is different.

Daniel: Yeah, totally. Well, so here's the thing. You cannot, uh, cut and paste somebody else's operating system, right? Like, which is, which seems frustrating, I would guess to some people where they're like, can we just do 20% free time and be, you know, as profitable as...

Aaron: Yeah, and we'd be Google

Daniel: Right...and be Google …can we do, because the cookies are not Google. I mean the cookies in San Francisco, Google, San Francisco office are delicious, but that's not what makes Google, Google. That's an outgrowth. You're looking at the wrong thing.

Aaron: Right. And also, I just think again, it mistakes the Organization for the complicated system. Like a watch and not a complex system like a garden. Yes. You know, you can't, you can't rubber stamp. So yes, if you, if you like my watch, you can buy all the same parts and build your watch. It'll be exactly the same. It'll work just the same. Yes. But if you like my garden, what are you going to do? Yeah. Talk. The only choice you have is to nurture and grow and look and try to compare and see what works and what serves because your sunlight is going to be a little different and your seeds are going to be a little different and your soil's going to be a little different. You can't rubber stamp my garden.

Daniel: Yeah. Micro climate. It's a thing. Um, so like the thing that's, um, it's, it's on my, my sketch notes near this, this idea of uh, the, the moon and the finger pointing at the moon. And this is like, um, I grew up reading zen, zen flesh and bones and I was sort of like pleasantly surprised to see that story, that analogy in your book. And maybe can you talk a little bit about that idea because it seems relevant to this context of the goal versus the path.

Aaron: Right. One of, one of the, um, results of having a culture of work that really came out of a factory model and that came out of a very mechanistic, complicated oriented model is that we, we want things to be the one best way and the answer and the method and the checklist and all that sort of thing we hunt for that were actually trained to look for that in business school. You know, the whole idea of the MBA business case, it's sort of like look for the lesson and apply the lesson liberally everywhere else you go. And so that we look for that stuff. And as a result, a lot of the emerging trends in ways of working like agile or lean or open or you know, you name it, um, are become kind of get turned into something else other than what they are.

Aaron: So instead of looking at like, what is the essence of agility, we look at capital A agile, how do I get certified as a scrum master? Right? And one of the boxes I have to check to be a, uh, you know, scrum organization and now I've done it and I've checked the box. And so I've done. And so the point of the, of the story obviously is that if you, you know, if you mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon, then then you sort of go down this path that is not wise, that you lack the wisdom. And in the same way, you know, when people get obsessed with the tactics and the practices and not the principles and the, and the meaning, they get lost as well. So there's so many teams I've coached who are like, Oh yeah, we, you know, we use a Kanban board already.

Aaron: We're hip to that. We got that stuff figured out. Cool. Why, why, why, what does the Kanban board, why a Kanban board, what does it do? Like what does it mean? And they're sort of like, it's the, it's a box that we chat. Like we're doing it as opposed to saying like, oh, well, you know, theory of constraints and here's how I think about flow and stock. And like, you know, all the ways in which

Daniel: Transparency!

Aaron: Yeah. Like information radiators and all this stuff that would like explain that they understand the reasoning behind the math behind that practice. And if you took it away, if you'd like, you can have a Kanban board, they'd be like, we can figure out another way to have all those things because we understand what all the things we're trying to have actually are. And so to me, the finger pointing at the moon was just a really good, you know, obviously little piece of Zen wisdom. But the idea that like, we love to look at the finger and we love to standardize and we love to sort of get preoccupied with the, with the best practice and with like, you know, the magazine article on what the cool company does.

Daniel: Yeah.

Aaron: It's much, much harder to wallow in the reality of figuring it out for yourself.

Aaron: That's true. Right. It's, it's because it's, and it's, and that's why, you know, conversations are messy and organic and fluid and, uh, there's no endpoint necessarily, right? Because right. Raymont until the company goes out of business,

Aaron: you can't, you can't borrow wisdom and you can't finish. So it means that you to decide to be a player of the game. Right. You know, you have to, the infinite game is something you have to be like, I'm going to do it.

Daniel: I'm so glad that I feel like every interview eventually has to touch on finite and infinite games. One of the books that everybody should read if they want to understand how the world is, well, how did you find the book that, that, um, which we would used to be a big secret. And now like Simon Sineck, as you know, I'm not going to get ripped off. Yeah. I mean, I'm a little offended that he's like, yeah.

Aaron: Well, I hope he does. I mean, obviously it could go either way, right? Like you could be, it could be very much a regurgitation of someone else's great work. But what I hope he does is um, mainstream at more because it, it is a secret thing. Like it is a kind of like passed from one person to the next kind of a book. Yeah. Yeah. I'm not sure that it never found its full footing. So if nothing else like, like I like seminar, the big platform can maybe help it find, find broader flooding, a best case scenario. But um, yeah I honestly don't remember how I got it. That's the whole point, right? It was like, it was sort of, it was handed to me. Um, and you know, and I think it's, it's an idea whose time has come for sure. Cause we, we've been obsessed with the finite for the last century and you know, start it's time to start thinking longer term than are the front of our own nose. Yeah. Is that, is that the sort of the fundamental yeah.

Daniel: What was the life lesson you took from that book? Like what, where, where does it, where does it live for you? I can tell you where it lives for me.

Aaron: Um, I think there's a lot of lessons to take from it. Obviously. I mean it's, it's, you know, how attic and weird and it's applications. My, my take is just that simply that, um, you know, they're like operating systems. There are different ways to approach problems and there are different ways to approach showing up in systems. And if we, you know, there are, there are games that are deemed finite and that have ends and winners and things like that. And there are games that are deemed infinite and don't have winner and continuing or more conversations, et cetera. I think what is, what is not necessarily set overtly in the book, but that I believe is that like the, that's totally arbitrary. Like we get to decide which games finite and infinite. And we, and so as a result, like when we, when we characterize it the wrong way, we've, we lose. And if we, if we characterize businesses finite, we lose. If we characterize politics is finite, we lose, if we characterize the environment as finite, we lose. So, um, so in some ways I think it's just about, uh, elevating, you know, to it, to a higher level of play. Yeah.

Daniel: Yeah, totally. Um, so we're, we're almost at the end of our time together. Like, is there anything we haven't touched on that you think it's important for us to, to dive into about,

Aaron: I mean, this has been, this has been pretty far reaching. Yeah. I haven't attended the physics operating system of the multiverse. I feel like I would be remiss to criticize the size, the scope and breadth of the conversation.

Daniel: Well, fair enough. I mean, I'm looking at my notes. I think, I mean, I guess the one question I would have is like his bravery enough.

Aaron: Hmm.

Aaron: I think it, I think, yes, I think it can be, um, you know, obviously the work that we face ahead of us to rethink our institutions. And I mean that very broadly, um, is, is huge work and it's the work of the next decade plus of it's the next generation plus that have to have to deal with that. And so I think the question is what are we willing to risk, um, and what are we willing to give up. And in many cases, you know, to let go of one vine, you have to grab the next. And you know, there's like a little bit of a, of a fear and a vulnerability and an a loss that goes along with that. So to me, I think the bravery, um, if we had a lot more of it would certainly go a long way. The bravery, you know, to be, to be vulnerable, to be bold, to take risks, to leave space to, you know, to do more with less. You know, all those things I think require us to sort of face ourselves and, and face the void. Um, so yeah, I mean, I mean Shit, you know, we could, we could use a lot of other things too, but I think if we had a lot more bravery, uh, pointed at how we work and solve problems together, um, that would, that would be quite far reaching.

Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's really powerful. And also just like the thing you said about loss, I haven't published it yet, but I did have a wonderful episode with um, with Bree Groff who obviously, you know, um, her, we talked a lot about this idea of like, change requires grieving loss and dealing with, with, with loss and letting go of the, of the old. And so I think that's like,

Aaron: Yeah, it's a rite of passage, It always is

Aaron: Yeah. So I think there's like that piece. Yeah. And we maybe don't talk enough about the sort of like, I think maybe there's a yin and Yang of, of bravery and also grieving.

Aaron: I think that's true. Yeah. I think that's very much very much the case. But of course you can't, you can't grieve what you're not ready to, to lose so that, you know, they go one there, one, two punches. I think, uh, which we could use more of all of it. Yeah. More of all of that. I say "pay attention...bring it!"

Daniel: So, I'm going to conclude our conversation. Like people can find you. Where should people go to look for the more of the things about, you know, all the, all things Dignan... Like obviously they can just Google brave new work and they'll probably find you

Aaron: They'll find stuff. Yeah. I mean is the site for the book, which is nice. And we've got information there about, uh, workshops and other things going on around it. Um, the is the site for the organization that I work with, with that sort of tries to do this work in the real world. And then I'm uncleverly Aaron Dignan on almost every social platform that I participate in.

Daniel: So it's reliable. That's, you know, there's nothing wrong with that...

Aaron: Full name, no spaces, hyphens, no underscores, just

Aaron: not love death and robots..Dot..You know, whatever?

Aaron: No, No, none of that.

Daniel: Well that's, yeah, that's pretty straightforward. Um, Mr Dignan, I really appreciate you making the time for this conversation. I'm glad we made it happen.

Aaron: Yeah, me too. Yeah. Thanks a lot. This is fun. And, uh, you know, we'll, we'll talk again when something happens or the next one happens.

Grief and Loss in Organizational Change

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Design means change and change means loss of the old. Even if a new design is better in every way, there is no design so perfect that you can “flip a switch” and step into the new instantaneously. Change takes time. And in that space between the old and the new there is a sense of loss. I’ve been doing my own work around trauma and healing it, and I couldn’t agree with more with Bree Groff’s sentiment that “Sometimes you have to step into the darkness with people” in order to heal things. Don’t fear the pain and loss, anticipate it, embrace it, design for it.

Today’s episode features Bree Groff, who at the time of the recording was transitioning from CEO of Nobl, an organizational change consultancy to Principal at SY Partners, a transformation agency based in NYC and SF.

Our conversation focused on a few key ideas around organizational design. Design, in the end always seems to require deep empathy and co-creation for it to be a success. Bree points out that the conversation about Org design should include as many people as possible, in order to make the change process as co-creative as possible. If you haven’t checked out the IAP2 spectrum, I’ll link to that in the notes.

Bree has identified six key types of loss to consider when designing organizational change: 

Loss of Control

Loss of Pride

Loss of Narrative

Loss of Time

Loss of Competence

Loss of Familiarity

I really love this framework to help focus our attention on the key needs of people we’re designing change for.

I highly recommend you also check out Krista Tippet’s interview with Pauline Boss on ambiguous loss to learn more about loss and how to process it. I’ll link to it in the show notes.

I’m also really excited to be working with Bree on a special project: She’ll be joining the Innovation Leadership Accelerator as a guest mentor. The ILA is a 12 week intensive workshop and coaching experience to help you grow as an organizational leader. I’ll link to the application in the notes as well.

Enjoy the show!

Bree’s Website

finite and infinite games by James Carse

“anyone who must play cannot play”

The IAP2 Spectrum of Power in Collaboration

On feedback: 

Adam Connor & Adam Irizarry

Designing a Culture of Critique

Being Soft on the People and Hard on the Problem (in negotiations and in life)

Robert Bordone on turning negotiations into conversations

Krista Tippet on Ambiguous Loss

The Innovation Leadership Accelerator


Bree:                   You have to start by understanding what people are feeling because, whether you address it or not, people will feel it. Of course, my intent is to get everyone feeling energized about change positive. Really first, sometimes, you have to step into the darkness with people and address the kind of frustrations or resentment, even like a PTSD that they're feeling from change in the past.

Daniel:                Today, I'm talking with Bree Groff, who, at the time of the recording, was transitioning from CEO of NOBL, an organizational change consultancy with an amazing newsletter, to principal at SYPartners, a transformation agency based in New York City and San Francisco. Our conversation focused on some key ideas around organizational design. Design, in the end, always seems to require deep empathy and co-creation for it to be a success.

Daniel:                Bree points out that the conversation around her design should include as many people as possible in order to make the change process as co-creative as possible. If you haven't checked out the International Association's Public Participation spectrum, which is just IAP2 ... It's a long, long thing ... check it out in the show notes. It's a really, really helpful framework when you think about involving a large number of people in a complex process.

Daniel:                Bree has identified six key types of loss to consider when designing organizational change. Talk about them well into the midpoint. It's a really, really amazing framework. Very simply, it's loss of control, loss of pride, narrative, time, competence, or familiarity. When you're doing change, you're always going to find one or more of these types of loss at play. I really love this framework to help focus attention on the key needs of people we're designing change for.

Daniel:                I also highly recommend you check out Krista Tippett's interview with Pauline Boss on ambiguous loss to learn more about loss and how to process it. I'll link to that in the show notes. Also really excited to be working with Bree on a special project. She'll be joining the Innovation Leadership Accelerator that I'm running in September as a guest mentor. The ILA, as we call it, is a 12-week intensive workshop and coaching experience to help you grow as an organizational leader. I'll also link to the application in the notes as well. Enjoy the show.

Daniel:                Welcome to The Conversation Factory. Thank you so much for joining me. Can you tell the universe here who you are and a little bit about what you do?

Bree:                   Sure, yeah. My pleasure to join. I'm happy to be here. Let's see how I got here through a few various careers, first stop in education, second stop in innovation and service design and realize that it's really hard to get good ideas out into the world unless you have an organization aligned and excited for those internally. Did my master's in organizational learning and change, got properly nerdy about how companies and also industries evolve.

Bree:                   Now, I have the pleasure of doing that with all of our clients every day, so really big Fortune 500 organizations who are doing transformation work and really quickly scaling startups, as well, who are trying to figure out how to grow up gracefully.

Daniel:                Yeah. I, too, have had the heartache of trying to help companies with innovation when they say they want to innovate, and then, when you show them what it looks like or even when they show you what they want to do, sometimes it still doesn't actually happen after they leave the engagement.

Bree:                   That's right. Yeah, Words are easy, and a lot of times in companies, people get what the right answer, quote/unquote right answer, is. I found, in innovation work, that it can be easy to dismiss change for a variety of reasons, everything from, "Oh, we had this offsite, but nothing's really going to come of it. It's a flavor of the month. Oh, our CEO read a book again, and now we're doing that thing."

Daniel:                Oh man, when CEOs read books, that's the worst. "We're going to scale up excellence, everybody. This month, we're scaling up excellence."

Bree:                   That's exactly right. Yeah, it's like, "Oh no." It's like, "Disable that guy's Kindle." Yeah, for a variety of reasons, it can be easy to dismiss change or dismiss innovation and feel like, "Hmm, if I just sort of keep my head down, I can go back to doing the things the way that I know and like." That's not to say that everybody doesn't like change, but for those who don't, it sometimes can be easy not to.

Daniel:                Yeah. This is where I get hung up because it seems like there's a limit to the idea of organizational design because there are people that are part of the organization that maybe aren't part of the design conversation and then ... like any design, like I design a product. I put it out into the world. People use it in a way that I do not intend for them to use it, and then we have to redesign our product.

Daniel:                So I'm wondering about ... Again, this is just my own ax to grind about everything is a conversation, but it seems to me that org design is, in fact, a conversation between different parties. Who's at the table or not at the table? Who are the stakeholders in the org design conversation?

Bree:                   Yeah. I would say, first, fundamentally, leaders have to be on board with, if not leading, cultural change or organizational change and organizational design. But changing some structures around will be for naught if it's not in the service of actually helping people do their work better or helping people collaborate better. So fundamentally, those conversations need to be with the people whose mindsets and behaviors you're trying to shift.

Bree:                   So you can design organizations a thousand different ways. You can design them for efficiency. You can design them for creativity. You can design them for novelty in a market, for perfection or design sensibilities. There's so many different ways that you could set up an organization to have a certain culture, a certain set of values.

Bree:                   But to not involve the people on the ground or everyone throughout the organization, it would be like almost declaring a bunch of people that they must now have a new religion. It doesn't work. You can make them, I guess, show up at some church on Sunday, but fundamentally, to get people to behave differently or think differently, that's a conversation with them. That's the co-creation.

Daniel:                Yeah. Have you ever read a book, Finite and Infinite Games?

Bree:                   No, I haven't.

Daniel:                I think you'll dig it. Well, I always say there's two types of people in the world, those who think there are two types of people, and those who don't. But the people who have read Finite and Infinite Games, it's like it's one of these ... It messes with your head. One of the things the guy who wrote the book talks about is that anybody who must play can't play. You can't force somebody to play. You can force someone to show up. You could put a ball in their hand. You can tell them to run up and down the field, but they won't be playing. They'll just be acting the part. They won't be living it.

Daniel:                It seems like there's a really big difference from changing the culture to just like saying like, "Oh, we all fill out this new form now," or, "Here's this new interface where all issues are funneled through." Those are two very, very different things.

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I would argue, too, that the employees are who the culture is for, if that makes sense. You set up a culture so that employees ... so that their work can be a little bit easier, so that they're all making decisions in the same way. They're all valuing ... Not that you shouldn't have diversity of thought, but generally, everybody understands, "Oh, this is how we operate. This is what we value. This is how we get our work done." So it's really for the people executing the work, and so it's a little counterintuitive then to make people buy into a system that really should be for them.

Bree:                   When I'll do organizational design, cultural design work, it always starts with an interview of people who are doing the work to say, "What's easy about your job? What's hard about your job? How could we change some of the systems around you or the processes around you to make that easier?"

Daniel:                Yeah. You said something a moment ago that blew my mind, this idea that an organization can be ... There's a heuristic by which you can judge the design of the org, like speed, efficiency, variety, joy, whatever. It sounds kind of socialist ... I'm just going to say it ... that we should be designing it for the people who are part of the system.

Bree:                   As an example-

Daniel:                I mean, I don't think it's a bad thing. I agree with you, but it feels like a mushy thing.

Bree:                   It's a little mushy, so let me give some examples. Apple, for example, the beauty ... They've always been a user-centered and aesthetically driven and design ... and all of that. In order to create products that maintain that standard, you need people internally to accept a culture of design perfection. It has to be in the blood of the way that people operate and think and user-centered versus ... If you think about Amazon's operational wing, that needs to be execution- and process-focused. If you're going to get people paper towels in two hours tops, then you need a culture in which efficiency and process is prized above all else.

Bree:                   In that way, like the culture ... It's such a mushy word ... or the water you swim in, it should be in the service of helping everyone know what's good work like here.

Daniel:                Yeah. Yeah, and that we all agree on that standard.

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel:                Then org design sort of shows up as a co-creation challenge, like many other co-creation challenges, like from the product-design side where I come in. There's a spectrum of power and engagement. Are you informing people of what you're doing? The org design we're designing, it's top down. Or it collaborative? Or do you empower people in the org to design it for themselves? How do you sort of play with that dial of power and empowerment when it comes to ... because you said the top needs to be involved. But obviously, like one person who reads a book in the middle of the organization can't necessarily say like, "I'm going to change the org. Today's the day."

Bree:                   Yeah. Honestly, we have done both. Depending on the employees in the organization that we're working with, sometimes, it'll be much more, "We're going to teach you how to change your organization." Sometimes, it's middle of the spectrum, like, "We're going to facilitate and lead you through this." But sometimes, it is more top down. It's top down in the times where it feels a bit like chaos, a bit like Lord of the Flies. In those situations, what we've found ... I've actually made the mistake in my career of trying to teach people how to design when they're drowning.

Daniel:                Here's how to design a life preserver.

Bree:                   Right, exactly. You're like, "Let me teach you ... give you a swimming lesson." They're like, "For fuck's sake, you have a life preserver there."

Daniel:                Yeah. "Please just hand me ..."

Bree:                   "Please just hand it to me." There's a certain level of capacity and stability that an organization needs in order to learn how to design for themselves, which is an ideal situation because consultants can't nor should be around forever. A company that knows how to org design themselves is like ... Well, that's just brilliant. You're going to be in business a long time because you can ride the changes of the market.

Bree:                   But there are some times when, for whatever reason or whatever changes have gone on or whatever fatigue exists within an organization, that sometimes, you need to throw the life preserver, which sounds like, "Try out this way of doing it. Let's see if it works or doesn't work. You're still in control of telling us. Did that make your life easier or harder?" But there are some times where we have to say, "Here's three other ways that companies have done it. Pick one and give it a go."

Daniel:                Yeah. Well, this goes to one of the sticky notes I have here, which is about starting the org-design conversation. With many things, like somebody who's got a crappy website may not even know that they have a crappy website and probably doesn't have a big digital transformation budget ... They're not even thinking about. Like somebody who's desperately ... whose org is just totally broken, they may not even be willing and ready and conscious of the need.

Daniel:                How does somebody pop up and be like, "Okay, this needs to happen"? What's the arc of that conversation to bring somebody in and say, "We're ready to do this"? Because it seems like a potentially unclear timeframe and arc from when you become obsolete, from when we start the engagement to when you've made yourself successfully obsolete. Good job for you doing that. That's not nothing.

Daniel:                That was a meandering question. Take whatever you can from [inaudible 00:15:45].

Bree:                   Okay. So I'll start with the ... what if you see ... Someone doesn't even know they have a problem. In that case, from our perspective, they don't hire a consultant.

Bree:                   But if you are internal and you see, "Oh shoot, our website is a disaster," and no one seems to recognize this, then the best thing that I've found is to start a conversation, not putting yourself on one side and other person on the other side ... "I think our website's bad. You think it's good" ... but rather to go and find the effects of a bad website, so like, "Oh, we got this customer feedback that they were really confused, so I'm just the messenger. Here's what I have," or anything inside, even if it's not external-facing, just asking for a survey to be done or just simply talking to three people, like, "How did this expense policy screw you up?" "Oh, it's screwing everyone up and slowing us down," and just bringing some evidence.

Bree:                   Or rather like if you were doing product-design research, you'd go say like, "Hey, try this product. Let me watch you use it and give me your feedback." Same thing with an organization, so it's going to find whatever you feel like might be wrong. The website's bad, or some policy internally isn't good. To go search down what are the effects of that makes it much less scary to ... internally than saying, "I think ..."

Daniel:                This is so interesting because it feels like it mirrors, as many things do, one-on-one dialog, giving a person feedback and saying like, "So can I give me some feedback?" Like blank.

Bree:                   Nobody likes that.

Daniel:                Nobody likes that, and it's not feedback. The question of when does feedback become feedback, is it when it's asked, given, and utilized? Or is it feedback when it's given and rejected? Is that still feedback? It's interesting, this idea of oppositional versus like, "Let's look at something together," like, "I'm not opposing you. I'm just saying, hey, here's this thing. Would you look at this thing with me? Let's look at some data together."

Bree:                   Yeah. Yeah, absolutely, because, especially internally and especially in our day and age where people very much conflate, for better or for worse, their identity with their job in the company, it can be really hard to hear at times, like, "Oh, this didn't work," or, "I'm unhappy about this," or everybody's grumbling. That's why change gets such a bad rap internally because people can be angry about it, and I get it. I totally get it because your work can be very personal. But if there are ways to say, "Here are the effects. Let's look at this at a systems level," rather than, "You did this to me, and I did this to you," level, I've found it's a much more productive conversation.

Daniel:                Yeah. That's really just focusing ... In negotiation, they call it being soft on the people and hard on the problem.

Bree:                   Yeah.

Daniel:                I think there's an interesting aspect of like, "It's not your fault this thing is happening."

Bree:                   Yeah, and I feel like that's always half our role working with clients is ... I'm going to steal that. That's great ... like hard on the ... What did you say?

Daniel:                I went to the Harvard Negotiation Institute. It's like five days in heaven. I just did negotiation simulations with mediators and lawyers. I had Bob Bordone, who's my professor, on the podcast. Actually, he came to the workshop that Mathias and I did, too. The idea of turning a negotiation, which we think of as a hardball thing, into a dialog, is like we think we have to be soft on the people and soft on the problems because, otherwise, we'll break the relationship. It's being soft on the people and hard on the problem. It's like, "It's not you. It's this."

Bree:                   Yeah. That's exactly right. When we hear internally like, "Oh, this department, blah blah blah, and they're doing this, and we're doing ..." or like, "Joe in accounting always blah blah," it's personal. I guess what I'm trying to wake up in organizations is the idea that it's possible to be happy and kind to each other and forgiving and still fix whatever problems exist within an organization.

Bree:                   But it's hard. There's no shortage of fraught, toxic workplaces with stress and, honestly, bullying, and so there has to be a way to separate ... It's like, at a base level, we're all going to be nice to each other. It's so very like kindergarten rules. My daughter has these rules at school, like, "Be nice to each other. Respect each other."

Daniel:                Yeah. When did we forget those things?

Bree:                   Yeah. It's like, you have to want to come to work. You just have to be nice to each other while, at the same time, fixing whatever problems may exist from an organizational perspective.

Daniel:                Well, so that, I think, goes to the question of loss and healing of loss, right?

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel:                Because the pain that I feel, the resentment that I feel towards Charles in accounting or Maggie in HR, it's a small trauma, but it's a trauma nonetheless. I feel like there is a sense of loss that like, "Well, I just have to move on. We have to do this new thing," and you have to heal that. Do you have to? Does one need to? Or how does one heal those pains? Because just saying, "Let's be nice, and let's move on," I don't know if that would necessarily cut it in all these cases if there's truly a ...

Bree:                   Oh yeah. I mean, I'm saying that here, but that does not cut it. You can't say that to people.

Daniel:                Well, what do you say to people then? Help us, Bree.

Bree:                   That doesn't work.

Daniel:                What do we say to people?

Bree:                   You say, "I hear you." That's just the very first step. Yeah, I talk a lot about loss. I do a lot of public speaking, and the talk that I give most often is on the six types of loss that people experience through change.

Daniel:                Six types? That's a lot of types.

Bree:                   Yeah, not seven, not five. Yeah, you'd be surprised. There's just six. They are, if I can rattle them off, loss of control, pride, narrative, time, competence, and familiarity. You'd be surprised how you can map any sort of resistance in an organization to one of [inaudible 00:22:14]. If there is resistance, people are likely feeling one of those six types of loss. "So they're changing this whole thing, and I have to figure out a new system, and it's taking me twice as long."

Daniel:                Familiarity.

Bree:                   Loss of time and familiarity. Both, actually. Yeah, they're overlapping.

Daniel:                Like, "What is this new thing? Why do I have to use it?"

Bree:                   Right, or if the company pivots to a new strategy, and that can oftentimes be loss of pride. "All of my work to date, was it for nothing? Why are we changing our position in our work? Was my work not good?"

Daniel:                I feel that. I really ...

Bree:                   Yeah. You have to start by understanding what people are feeling because, whether you address it or not, people will feel it. So the spoiler is it's better to address it than to let that fester. So you just start by making sure that people are heard. Of course, my intent is to get everyone feeling energized about change positive, being nice to each other. But really first, sometimes, you have to sort of step into the darkness with people and address the kind of frustrations or resentment or even like a PTSD that they're feeling from change in the past.

Daniel:                Yeah.

Daniel:                Hey, everyone. We're at the halfway point. Now is a great time to stretch your legs, refill your popcorn, and head over to to check out the show notes for this episode and, while you're there, explore the other amazing episodes or visit the Resources page for handy templates and activity guides to transform your collaborations and your communications.

Daniel:                What's the origin story of that model? Is it yours? Is it founded on other research? Where do those six steps ... I'm new to that model. It's fascinating to me.

Bree:                   Yeah. It's mine, actually. I sourced it or came up with it having done lots of different transformation projects, my first one being in the field of education. I started to track what I've heard in terms of resistance. Then, once I started to know the people behind that resistance a little more and to try to suss out what they were feeling, I just started categorizing then what were the underlying feelings behind outward anger or resistance.

Bree:                   After lots of years of categorizing those, I came up with those six. Actually, a lot of them I saw when I was working in education. My very first job was a teacher, and then I was an instructional coach. Then I worked in innovation. I led an innovation department within a school. I had so many brilliant ideas, I thought, about education, and I was like, "Well, why is nobody agreeing with me or changing their behavior? What could be wrong with these people?"

Bree:                   To really sift through ... like loss of competence, for example. A lot of teachers, they can have the same job description for 30 years. If you, all of a sudden, tell them their way of teaching is no longer modern or good, they have to stop and consider, "Will I be any good at the new way if things are changing so quickly? I have decades of experience doing it, what's now considered an outdated method." So you start to see that across organizations, though. As I started to categorize all of those, those six really floated to the top.

Daniel:                It's fascinating. Your brain is amazing because I feel like, on one side, there's this very deeply human aspect, zeroing in on the human loss and connecting with people in a very, very human way.

Daniel:                Then on the other side, there's this analytical piece where ... I feel like there are some practitioners of these things who would never think about categorizing the types of loss and sort of taking that 35,000-foot view. Do you have a sense of where these two sides of you ... Do you see what I'm seeing? I don't know, but it's an interesting ... Not everybody is a reflective practitioner is maybe what I'm saying.

Bree:                   Well, thanks. I should say, I am a sort of math/science person by brain chemistry.

Daniel:                What did you teach?

Bree:                   Yeah, I taught a high school math and physics.

Daniel:                I didn't know that. My first degree's in physics. I'm all about physics.

Bree:                   Ah, no way.

Daniel:                That's why, when I was talking about air pressure, you were like, "I got you."

Bree:                   Oh, I should have guessed. I should have guessed. All right, well, next podcast, we talk about physics.

Daniel:                Well, I mean, people write about the physics of organizations, for sure. It's a thing.

Bree:                   Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It's always come easier to me, the quantitative aspects of the world. But I think that's why I like this work because it was harder to understand people's motivations, the complexities of human systems. That, I felt like, "Oh, this is going to be interesting forever and infinitely complex, and I'm never going to get it." I think that's always been what's been attractive to me about really going into people, a very people-focused field.

Daniel:                Yeah. Do you feel like having this framework helps you be a better practitioner?

Bree:                   Yeah. It's like, consultants are famous for frameworks and 2x2s, but ...

Daniel:                Is it in a 2x2? Are the six in a ...

Bree:                   It's not. I should fit it into one. Yeah. Yeah.

Daniel:                Well, I mean, are you going to write a book about it?

Bree:                   Maybe one day. That's a good idea.

Daniel:                You don't have to have a diagram in order to have a book, but it's nice. I'm just saying.

Bree:                   Well, if I write a book, I'll say it all started here. But yeah, it's helpful to have them, I'd say, for two reasons. One is people can soak up frameworks better than they can soak up ... I don't know ... long-winded explanations. So for public speaking or communicating with clients, it's a way for people to organize their thinking. When we work with clients and say, "Oh, you're experiencing a lot of resistance internally or a lot of frustration. Let's try and map that against these six things," it gives people something generative to do or a way to hold onto the ideas.

Bree:                   The other reason is, candidly, for my sanity, I think. It can be really easy to get sucked into all of the different swirling dynamics of a company that you're working with. In order to be a good consultant, you have to hold onto something that's a little bit more 40,000-foot view that keeps you out of the swirl enough to be able to give sober counsel.

Daniel:                Yeah. Not that it's intellectualizing your emotions so that you don't feel them, but it does give some helpful distance to know what's happening to be able to have a name for it.

Bree:                   Yeah. You have a name for something, and all of a sudden, you have the concept of it, right? Just like 16 different types of words for snow.

Daniel:                Yeah. Exactly. Totally. Are you familiar with ... I feel like, when you were naming the types of loss, do you know the ... I forget who was the ... It's about the types of power. French and this other guy had this sense of charismatic power and social power, legitimate power. A couple of those felt like they were connected to these types of power. Loss is about loss of control, in a sense. I wonder when it's like loss of blank, where that comes from.

Daniel:                I'm thinking about what little I know about psychology and how it's related to how a person works. These are all things that people really want and need. They want ... Familiarity is a way to help us use less energy every day, right? We're just asking more of people to give them something unfamiliar. It's just literally exhausting, like it demands more of our working memory.

Bree:                   Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Within those six losses, there's just a lot of very simple human needs, so as you say, a need to be able to roughly predict our future, a need to feel pride in our work, a need to be able to tell a coherent story about like, "This is my work. This is what I do. This is how I contribute to the world." At the biggest level, it's like, "Here's the legacy of my life's work." There's a lot of needs in there, need for control, all of those, a need for time to sleep and enjoy your life, as well. If you mess with those of your employees, then you have to address them.

Daniel:                Yeah, yeah, unless you want to design your org for misery, obviously, in which case ...

Bree:                   That's also a choice one could make. Yeah.

Daniel:                "I think unhappy employees do better work," said nobody ever, maybe.

Daniel:                So it's interesting to me because, in a way, loss seems an interesting entry point. Maybe loss isn't the entry point to the conversation because that seems like a very hard ...

Bree:                   Yeah.

Daniel:                Maybe explain to me, when we're talking about starting the org-design conversation, what are people asking for? What's the pain that they're asking to solve when they sort of kick off that process?

Bree:                   Usually, things are ... They're either pretty tricky, or pretty good. By that, I mean like companies thinking about org design, either they've gone through a lot of change. Maybe it's good change, new leader, new strategy, merger, acquisition, so there's some pain there. Their initial ask or the reason why they want to think about org design and change is because we want to take away some of the pain.

Bree:                   There's also a situation in which companies are growing and they're doing great. This is a lot of the work that we do with scaling startups. It's just a matter of we need to figure ourselves out so we have some way to operate without having to make it up for the first time all the time. The conversations, they can either be like, "Oh, we've gone through a lot," or, "We're about to go through a lot."

Bree:                   There's always a need there to think about not only how do we get through this period, but also, how do we continue to grow in a way that's ... Ideally, org design serves the company over many, many years, the idea of how you work together, and isn't just the band-aid. Yeah. Sometimes, there's pain. Sometimes, there's excitement at the start of a conversation. Sometimes, there's simply things that people or companies need or want to leave behind, especially after a bunch of layoffs. Sometimes, the beginning starts with an ending, actually. What's no longer true, and what are you helping people to accept, that something is lost or gone? Then what do you want to help people get excited about?

Daniel:                This is just crazy because I want to go back to this human side that ... I think some people feel like, when somebody's had a loss, just saying like, "Better stuff's on the horizon," is what helps them. There's a lot of research that shows that that's just not the case.

Daniel:                It's interesting because I feel like, on the org side, I think people would feel that we should be selling the vision and selling the mission and selling the goal. The idea that we should stop for a moment and say, "Something beautiful has died. We are at this inflection point, and we know that this is hard," that takes a lot of bravery, I would think, to sit with that discomfort.

Bree:                   Yeah. Yeah. We always say there's three steps to change, first an ending, then a transition point, then a new beginning. That model is from William Bridges. Most leaders want to start with a new beginning because that feels so leaderly, like, "Oh, shiny, new vision. Here we go starting a course ahead." But a lot of times, that's just not where people are. People are still dealing with an ending.

Bree:                   I often give the example of ... I guess it was Prince Charles who was asked by a reporter once if he was excited for the day he'd become king. That sounds exciting, right? But he was like, "No, that would mean my mother just died." I'm pretty sure that reporter's not asked back to Buckingham Palace.

Bree:                   But the idea that it can be so tempting to look at the future, especially if you're a leader who's been thinking about that future for a while or having lots of conversations about that future, likely in board rooms, it can feel so tempting to dangle the shiny in front of people. But a lot of times, it's just not what people want or need when they're still coming to terms with ending.

Daniel:                Yeah. How do you coach a leader to have that kind of inner fortitude to stay with that discomfort?

Bree:                   We do, actually, what I advised before, which is survey people, interview people, get the human statements, the quotes and verbatims from people, and share those with leaders so that they can empathize with what their people are going through because even the very best, most empathetic leaders we know usually just aren't in the room with their people a lot of the time. They're in board meetings or C-suite meetings, so if a leader has that kind of empathy ... The good ones all do ... it's just a matter of showing them what their people are feeling and then just giving them a little bit of time to process. The good leaders will understand that that's what people need. We help them get there and can literally craft what are the words that you can say to help people feel heard.

Bree:                   I use this other example of a fast-food rule. The idea of a fast-food rule example ... You go through the drive-through at McDonald's, say, and you say, "I'll have a burger, fries, and a shake." Then what's the first thing they say back to you? Can you guess? It's not a trick question.

Daniel:                Oh no. I literally have ... I haven't ordered fast food in so long. I can't even imagine. They're like, "Go down to the next window," I think, is what they say.

Bree:                   So close. [inaudible 00:37:09]. That's probably the second thing that they say, but the first thing they say is, "Okay, so that'll be a burger, a fries, and a shake." Very first thing they do is they make sure that you are heard.

Bree:                   We coach leaders as well around this principle of, first, you have to make sure people are heard before they can listen to you. That's the order of operations in a conversation because, otherwise, they're just going to keep trying to be heard. Then it's just two different parties talking against each other. In those situations, we always do the FFR, if you will.

Daniel:                FFR is ...

Bree:                   The fast-food rule.

Daniel:                Oh, the fast-food rule. I got it. That's the order of operations in a conversation.

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel:                I'm obsessed with the idea that we can design conversations. It's very interesting to just have that heuristic, that rule of thumb where you're like, "Acknowledge them first." It's active listening, right? "What I'm hearing you say is this." But it's also interesting to me that you coach the leaders on ... because you can say what they said exactly, or you can rephrase it in a way that can soften it or deepen it or hearten it. Finding the right balance of pessimistic and optimistic or empathetic and forward-looking ... It sounds like there's a lot of knobs there for you guys to jiggle with those.

Bree:                   Oh, it's all art. It is all art. Yeah.

Daniel:                It's copy. Everything's copy.

Bree:                   Yeah.

Daniel:                Our time together is almost up. Is there anything we haven't talked about that we should talk about, anything that I haven't asked you that you have the answer for, that I don't have the question, but you have the answer?

Bree:                   The other thing that's been exciting me lately ... I mentioned I've been doing a bunch of speaking. I've been working with this amazing speaking coach. I'll give him a shout-out. His name is Nick Morgan, and he's phenomenonal. Because I'm getting on so many stages, he helps me think about my voice, my body. How you embody your message makes such a difference.

Bree:                   There's some research that, when your body and voice are in conflict with your message, people, of course, they believe your body and voice 10 times over. If you ask your significant other, "How was your day?" and they say, "Fine," there's not a chance in hell you're like, "Great. You had a fine day. I'm so pleased to hear that."

Daniel:                Yeah. "Thanks for sharing. My day was fine, too. Let's have dinner."

Bree:                   Right. Right. Yeah, your body, your voice, it just screams over any words that you're saying. Particularly when we help leaders talk about change, coach their people through change, when they are dialing up those knobs, as you say, I find it fascinating and also really impactful to think about what does your body and voice, as a leader, say. Are you overconfident? Are you empathetic? I know that this is a podcast, and no one can see me, but are you slouching your body? Is your shoulders back? Are you putting your hands in front of you, which demonstrates a bit of protectiveness, or are your arms wide open?

Bree:                   Those things can make a huge difference. Even beyond the copy that we help ... Here's what you can say, or here's a message to make people feel heard ... it's like, "How do you show up in your body and voice to let people know that you are open, accessible, listening, and still confident?" That's a bunch of the knobs, as well.

Daniel:                I think they're all really amazing ways to think about designing the conversation in a way that gets you what you really want and gets other people what they really want, too. If you want to be heard, here's how. Hear someone else first. That's really important and super critical and deeply, deeply human.

Bree:                   I know. We just all want to be listened to, right? It's so, so very human. We just want to be understood. That's it.

Daniel:                Well, that seems like a perfect place to end. On the internet, if people want to go on the internet and learn about all things Bree Groff, where do they go? We will send them there.

Bree:                   Yeah. My husband got me this awesome URL for my birthday last year, which just describes how nerdy our relationship is. It's from Estonia, and therefore, I got the URL, my name. That's where you can find me.

Daniel:                Nice. I love that. That's cool,

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel:                That's badass.

Bree:                   Thank you. Yeah. I was really excited about it. He was really excited about it. It was a real high point in our marriage, getting that present.

Daniel:                That man is smart. Those are husband points. That's how you rack them up. Understand your audience.

Bree:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel:                You heard it here first, folks, All right. Bree, thank you so much. That was really ... I'm delighted to spend some time with you.

Bree:                   Thanks for having me. This was a ton of fun.

Daniel:                Oh, I'm glad you think so. I think it's a ton of fun, too. I like talking about talking and changing things. That's all we talk about.

Daniel:                We'll leave it right there. If you made it this far, you're a rock star. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify to never miss an episode. If you want to help spread the word about the show, head over to iTunes on your desktop and leave the show a review. It only takes a few minutes and really helps.


Asking Better Questions: What's your North Star?


Today’s guest is Robin Peter Zander, an author, strategist, and performance coach. (scroll down for Robin’s full bio and links)

The big insight for me in this episode is to ask myself a simple set of questions, often: why am I opening my mouth? What’s my goal?

Wanting the best for the other person you’re talking to is a fine place to start. But there’s a level of humility we could all benefit from: Starting from a firm belief that each person has their own wisdom, rather than believing I know better what they need than they do.

We talk about four levels of questions:

1. Fact based questions

2. Judging questions

3. Questions that elicit Stories and Narratives, ie, questions that pull at a thread

4. Loving Questions, which are present and non-judgmental

I shared a 2 X 2 framework I’m working on in my book, How Conversations Work, that contrasts these two question stances: Asking vs. Telling. We’ve all heard (and asked) these type of non-questions.

The North Star Conversation Framework

The North Star Conversation Framework

The other axis is being problem-focused or solution-focused in your questions. “Have you tried this?” is a really different question from “What have you tried?”

We reference two magnificent quotes about questions that I want to offer here in full:

In the word question, there is a beautiful word - quest. I love that word. We are all partners in a quest. The essential questions have no answers. You are my question, and I am yours - and then there is dialogue. The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue. Questions unite people.

Elie Wiesel

Krista Tippett, the host of NPR’s On Being, suggests that “questions elicit answers in their likeness. It's hard to transcend a simplistic question. It's hard to resist a generous one. ”

If we’re willing to take risks in communication others can respond in kind. The shift has to start somewhere, with someone.

More about Robin

Robin Peter Zander is an author, strategist, and performance coach. With a diverse background ranging from management consulting to the circus, he has spent his life working with individuals and organizations to maximize potential. He is the founder of Zander Media, a creative agency which works with start-ups to grow brand and culture, and Responsive Conference, which convenes annually to explore the future of work. Learn more at


How to do a Handstand

Don't Trust the Process


On this episode, I’m talking with Bárbara Soalheiro, founder of the Mesa method, a five-day process for bringing people together and solving extraordinary problems. Sound familiar?

Think again. Mesa is unlike any other accelerated work environment I’ve encountered. And Bárbara  is the first facilitator I’ve heard say “don’t trust the process.”

We philosophize about power distribution, problem framing, Masculine vs Feminine leadership and the difference between a mystery and a quest. It’s a jam-packed hour of conversation, so buckle in. 

Bárbara started the Mesa method based on a few fundamental principles, essential beliefs abut human nature and the future of work.

  1. That work is actually fun and what we’re here to do. 

  2. In the near future, the best and the brightest people will be impossible to hire. They will be busy doing their own thing

  3. If you want to solve the biggest problems you have to work with the best minds.

  4. The only way to work with the best is in short, clear bursts.

  5. The best way to work is to be 100% focused on results

The Mesa method brings together internal stakeholders with external talent – in Bárbara’s language, “pillars of knowledge” – for five days. This external talent shows up for day one with no briefing, with just the general mission in mind. And they end their week, not with user testing, like another sprint model you might have heard of, but with a prototype that is as close as possible to what the company will build.

Barabara’s perspective is a breath of fresh air and unconventional thinking, and her approach has resonated with some big names. She has been helping organizations such as Netflix, Google, Coca-Cola, Nestléand Samsung make bold moves and she’s worked side by side with some of the most extraordinary professionals of our time, people like Kobe Bryant, Cindy Gallop, Perry Chen, Anthony Burrill, Fernando Meirelles and many others.

Find more on Mesa here:





The space is in New York and New York is in the space: tokoro and three other Japanese words for space

Oblique Strategies

Facilitating Co-Creation


Douglas Ferguson is a deep and brilliant facilitator, entrepreneur and technologist. Douglas and I met at the Google Sprint Conference and got to know each other a lot better when he came to NYC to join my Facilitation Masterclass. It’s always humbling to see the caliber of leaders who come out the masterclass.

Douglas’ Innovation Agency, Voltage Control, is hosting a Facilitator Summit in Austin May 23rd and I’m excited that he invited me to do a session on Narrative Models for facilitation. We’re also co-hosting a pre-conference Masterclass. I’m really excited about it and I hope you can make it out. Learn more and get tickets here.

Douglas and I go deep on Innovation, Co-creation, sprinting and he talks about his journey as a facilitator and how he keeps learning and growing.

At minute 19, we dive into why and how diversity helps groups solve problems and towards the midpoint Douglas reveals his facilitator’s secret resource: Camp counselor activity books.

By minute 35 we muse about a leader as someone who sets the cadence of work, and who makes sure that cadence doesn’t become a rut or burnout.

At minute 40 we talk about the Austin facilitation summit and why we’re co-running a masterclass together.

Finally, at minute 53 we talk about how to talk to a CTO and how, not surprisingly, they are people.

Some other episodes you can dig into to learn more about sprints and conversation design:

Things we dig into, and some links to help you dig even deeper:

Co-Creation cultivates Advocacy, ownership and Mutual Understanding

Co-Creation builds requisite Variety/Diversity

IAP2 spectrum as a model for the spectrum of co-creation

Complexity Theory

Liberating Structures, a model for modular workshop mechanics

Cynefin (kuh-nevin)

The power of Making and Sharing Tools (The Voltage Control Sprint Scorecard)

The History of Design Sprints and the power of AWE (Accelerated working environments)

Jake’s Book:

Google’s Toolkit

Timeboxing and Raising the Stakes

More on Holocracy in my Interview with Sally McCutchion

Liberating Structures: Troika Consulting

Liberating Structures: 1-2-4-All

Note and Vote as a Modular Component (thinking alone before thinking together)

To Engineer is Human

Places to Learn about Douglas and Voltage Control: