November 3, 2020

Editor's note: I always look forward to sharing ideas about the most effective ways to solve tough problems and approach innovation, and my recent conversation with Dr Jürgen Strauss at the Innovabuzz podcast stands out. Among the topics Jürgen and I discussed were what it means to be a risk taker; how to get your organization to adopt a problem-centric mindset; and why the only failure is in not learning. Thanks to Jürgen for having me on the podcast. Below are some takeaways from the interview that first appeared on the Innvabuzz blog.

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In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Peter Newell, a nationally recognized innovation expert whose work is transforming how the government and other large organizations compete and drive growth.

A retired Army Colonel, Pete is the CEO of BMNT, a Palo Alto-based innovation consultancy and early-stage technology incubator that helps solve some of the hardest real-world problems in national security, state and local governments, and beyond. Pete is also co-author, with Lean Startup founder Steve Blank, of Hacking for Defense (H4D)®, an academic program taught at 40+ universities that teaches students how to quickly solve critical national security problems while performing national service. Prior to joining BMNT, Pete was Director of the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, charged with rapidly finding, integrating, and employing solutions to emerging problems faced by Soldiers on the battlefield

In our discussion, Pete talked to me about:

  • The idea of practicing risk-taking in a safe environment, to learn about the value of “failure”
  • Moving from a product centric to a problem centric mindset
  • The art of discovery — the best way to get over your fears and to test your ideas

Alexander Osterwalder in episode 293 and Steve Blank in episode 326 introduced us to Pete.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Listen to the Podcast

https://omny.fm/shows/innovabuzz/peter-newell-the-art-of-discovery-how-to-innovate/embed?style=artwork&image=1&share=1&download=1&description=1&subscribe=1&foreground=1d313f&background=f1f1f1&highlight=6ab2e7

Show Notes from this episode with Peter Newell of BMNT

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • Emerging technology can either be your best friend or your enemy depending on which side of the hunt you are on.
  • Get out of the office. Talk to other people about what it is that you do.
  • Create better relationships and be more helpful to people whose job is to deliver something. Rather than doing it for them, do it with them.
  • Be very deliberate about changing the focus of your organisation from being product-centric to being problem-centric. Stop talking about the products you are delivering and start talking about the problems you are solving.
  • Pay more attention to problem gatherers rather than product builders.
  • Educate your team. Send them to training and let them interact with people from different industries.
  • You can’t take a shortcut in discovering. Discovery should be second nature to anybody involved in innovation. It has to be endemic to every system and process that you have.
  • When you have an idea, go out and talk to people who will tell you it’s a dumb idea. Start getting feedback before you talk to people who will clap and rave about how smart you are. You need to chase that diversity of thought before you get comfortable that you could take the next step.
  • OODA — Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Observe something that is changing. Orient on it. Decide what you are going to do, and take Action.
  • Putting some tech out there and dominating everything is temporary at its best. You are only going to be there until something better comes up.
  • Speed is a huge advantage. The speed at which you do things determines whether you are going to be successful over the long term or not. It’s less about how good your technology is. It’s how well you built your infrastructure and ecosystem that helps you learn what you need to learn in order to keep the loop spinning.
  • Innovation is not an idea factory. You don’t have innovation until those ideas get scaled and used to solve a problem.
  • You can’t just innovate on technology without understanding the business process for applying that technology or the policies that you may have to temporarily lift so you can get enough exploration in order to understand what the real impact is going to be.
  • There is nothing more powerful than a problem owner. A true entrepreneur is someone who looks at the problem and doesn’t stop until he solves it.
  • Serial entrepreneurs don’t take one problem at a time. They are driven by solving problems, and they do it over and over again. They work on a lot of things until something gets their attention and that’s what they are going to do.
  • Innovators are people with ideas. Entrepreneurs are people with skills. They know when and where to take risks, and they are masters at manipulating their organisation into doing things the organisation didn’t think were possible. It takes an entrepreneur to actually take an idea or innovation and ensure that it is delivered.
  • Building out a core innovation requires finding nodes within all other organisations that you work with and figuring out who the go-to people are that can help you continue to make progress.
  • Innovation is more of a sociology problem rather than a technology problem. It’s all about getting the right people aligned to get the technology to move.
  • Failing is where you get to understand where you should accept risks and where you shouldn’t.
  • Risk is always a constant measurement, and it goes in two ways. You have to deal with the potential of failure but you also have to deal with the potential that it will work well. Don’t waste that opportunity.
  • Every startup is a potential for somebody to learn and fail.
  • You can’t get the confidence to make hard decisions about accepting risks without having failed at some time.
  • Innovation is not a one-person game. The more diverse the group you have, the better off you are.
  • The only failure is failing to learn from something. Everything else is an opportunity.

The Buzz — Our Innovation Round

Here are Pete’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative — Go out and discover. If you want to be innovative, you have to be more inquisitive. Go look for problems, ideas, and people who you could combine in one place to actually deliver that. Figure out how to use every sociological trick in the book to get small groups of people to collide and catalyze on something, and get them to move forward.
  2. Best thing for new ideas — The best time to develop new ideas is in crisis. Build new ideas before you have a crisis so you have something to pull from in crisis. Have a pipeline that delivers thousands of ideas, problems, and people, with the opportunity to collide in order to scale.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation — A private guru, mentors.
  4. Keep project/client on track — Pay attention to them. Look for opportunities to accelerate them. Take any chance you can get to get ahead and seize the opportunity, otherwise, somebody is going to take it away from you.
  5. Differentiate — Get educated. Practice. Get out there and get experience. Confidence comes from the repetition of doing things, and that repetition has to be made in an environment where you are uncomfortable. Understand where you can be resilient and where you cannot. The more you do this and the wider you get, the more opportunities you can work back and forth.

To Be a Leader

The art of discovery is the fastest way to get over your fears. Being receptive to feedback will teach you a lot about yourself. When you have an idea, immediately look for people to share it with, not for them to tell you how great you are but for them to give you feedback on whether your idea has legs.