Applying innovation to career councelling

Home / Wisdom of others / Applying innovation to career councelling

An interview with Trudy Lloyd, Founder of  Innovation Consultancy Anatello and most recently midlife career advisory services, Career Reinventors

Bettina: Trudy, thanks for taking the time. We have known each other quite some time, and i am very intrigued by your latest career move :-).

You have been working in innovation all your professional life. First within corporate, with Rank Hovis Mcdougall and Allied Domecq,  then as partner at Synectics, then as founder and managing director of Anatellô.  It would be lovely if you could share some nuggets from your experience in corporate and consulting.

Trudy: One of the key themes that emerges looking back is the need for innovators to be courageous.

There are many things that managers can draw on to support their innovation activities: processes, tools, and not least methods that help teams understand what their customers might want in the near and not so near future. Some great and innovative concepts might emerge as a consequence – and yet, without ‘courage’ such great, innovative ideas are not likely to see the day of light. It is only too easy to fall back to what’s within the organisation’s comfort zone, meaning to what is close to what we know, and what is easier to predict. Courage is required not only in the selection of the initial concept but throughout the entire innovation journey, when the ‘crazy idea’ needs to be sold to colleagues and senior management, and the customer.

The innovation team needs to be courageous and choose to develop the original and creative ideas that respond to what they’ve learned about unmet customer needs. This sounds obvious, but so many times I’ve seen teams come up with brilliant innovative concepts that respond to  what customers seem to want, but then the team fails to take them forward because others in the organisation cry ‘there’s nothing like it out there!’ Exactly. Now is the time!  I’ve heard leaders in organisations say they want innovation but then noticed how they feel uncomfortable in the presence of ‘unfamiliar ideas’.  One of the most frustrating situations for me is when a team fails to progress a well designed concept, grounded in good insight and then six months or perhaps, a year later a competitor launches a similar product which performs well and the competitor organisation take all the plaudits for coming up with the ‘original’ concept.

So for me,innovation culture is about creating an environment where people feel comfortable to be bold, to take risks – and push so far that yes, sometimes they fail. But at least by doing so, they’ll have learned something new and they can take that learning and channel it into future projects. Yet this is truly hard against a backdrop of quarterly reporting and very little ‘organisational slack, and a culture where innovation teams are expected to deliver revenue streams with the same reliability and predictability as the established parts of the business.

Even methods such as Agile and Lean Start Up through which uncertainties  and financial risks can be managed, are often not enough to counteract anxieties, even fear of embracing innovation. Such fear also kills the energy, sense of excitement, playfulness, inspiration around possibilities, and problem solving that are all needed to release creativity and innovation.

Bettina: Is there one case study that would be particularly helpful for an innovation-enthusiastic reader?

Trudy: One other key insight in the context of innovation is the importance of bringing together people with different mind and skill sets, different bodies of knowledge.

A few years back I facilitated an expert panel discussion to get early stage insights for a food ingredients company who wanted to enter the clinical nutrition market. The panel was made up of doctors and medical professors from a number of different specialities. Other panel members included experts from the fields of nutrition and pharmacology.  One of the panel members shook his head in disappointment when he established I wasn’t medically qualified. Perhaps he felt I wasn’t ‘qualified’ to talk to him.

We started with the basics – the what, why, when and how of clinical nutrition etc before getting into some of the challenges that clinicians face in maintaining adequate nutrition for their patients. With such a wealth of knowledge among the panel – the discussion came easily and the panel members shared many great insights and stories.

Afterwards, the doctor who’d been cynical about my lack of medical qualifications approached me. He admitted he had been quite shocked by his experience that afternoon. The discussion had been completely different from any he had previously had with medics. He’d had many ‘lightbulb moments’, and he was now viewing his own knowledge and that of his peers in a new light. He had new perspectives on topics on which he’d previously had a fixed point of view. “You asked a different kind of question”. He told me.

This anecdote encapsulates two principles of innovation that I have observed over the course of my career:

  • Individual knowledge is not just a fixed, explicit and easy accessible lump of information that can be captured in a book, a deck of charts, a research paper. Rather, our own knowledge and that of other people will show up differently depending on our ‘filters’ and assumptions, on the context, or the questions asked. Asking different questions, looking at things with a different set of lenses, identifying our underlying assumptions, all this enables us to put pieces of knowledge together in a different way.  Bringing people from different backgrounds together is even better to combine knowledge in new and different ways, hence creating new knowledge. This is what leads to innovation.
  • This is, perhaps obviously so, connected to the second principle: the importance of collaborating at every stage of innovation. There are one-man visionaries but they’re rare – think Steve Jobs – and even he would not have been able to realise his vision without the many people of different skill sets and backgrounds. Collaboration is essential; it facilitates the pooling of knowledge and hence enables new knowledge to be created. Collaboration and the shared excitement for a project can also be critical in sustaining a project and driving it forward. The tenuous flame in the head of one becomes a burning torch in the hands the many.

Bettina: It seems that with your recent venture, Career Reinventors 40+, you are moving away from innovation – or are you?

Trudy: To me Career Reinventors 40+ is a natural evolution of my work to date, and it’s an exciting next step. I’ve always been fascinated by people and in particular their life journeys and the life choices they make. With the world changing at breakneck speed and people also living for longer, people need to innovate their lives and careers to stay employed and fulfilled for what may be a longer time before they choose to or are able to retire. What is more, it seems to me that in these uncertain times people ask themselves more what life is really about, and often find that their current path is not really what they had in mind when they set off. (Yes)

So I’m bringing my skills in innovation, branding, coaching and facilitation to Career Reinventors 40+ in order to help midlife professionals move forward with new clarity and purpose to the next phase of their career.

There are many different reasons why midlifers need to or want to reinvent themselves.

    • They may need to make changes because they have caring responsibilities or health issues.
    • Their role might have changed or their role will be made redundant due to new technologies or company transformation
    • Even more so, they may no longer enjoy their role or feel fired up about it.
    • Or they may have unfulfilled ambitions and long to run their own business e.g  microbrewery/become a personal  trainer/offer sailing trips.

And when it comes to offering career support I’m definitely looking to innovate. The process I’ve designed for career reinvention Reinventu is underpinned by research from both the psychology and innovation bodies of knowledge.

For instance I’ve drawn on the research into ‘the nature of insight’* by Sternberg and Davison, two Yale Psychologists.  For them ‘insight’ is about ‘shifting’ our mental representations to solve problems for which there is no routine procedure available to  solve them. Often such problems are future orientated, and relate to complex systems. An insight–led approach by their definition,  is a creative process for solving such problems.

Because of this ‘future orientation’  their work is relevant to innovation in general and here, innovating career paths in particular. What’s more Sternberg and Davison codified a process that models how the human brain natural gets ‘insights’ .  Reinventu  is informed by this.

This means that by using this process, would-be career reinventors don’t need to wait around for inspiration or a flash of insight as to how to change their career.  The process helps people to identify the career challenge they now face. Then it helps them collect and review  a dossier of ‘stimulus material’ – their career history, personal and personality  information and more. Then the process enables them to gain fresh insights which can become platforms from which to reinvent their career.

For those who are interested in the work by Sternberg and Davison, the title is “Source the Nature of Insight” and it’s been published by  MIT Press 1995.

Bettina: How does what Career Reinventors 40+’s approach differ from other career coaching services?

Trudy: Well, I feel that the entire Reinventu process is rather unique. My background in innovation has shown me how important it is to not just analyse the ‘products’ and ‘markets’ – which is what many career specialists do with psychometric tests: analyse their clients or ‘products’. This is useful, of course, but I feel there is an opportunity to help people get really creative about their future paths. To help them think big, and in a more strategic way, as you would with a brand; to dream the impossible and then develop a plan to make it happen – innovate radically if need be.

At midlife if people find that they are unhappy or  unfulfilled in their career  it is quite a complex problem to solve. If they go to a recruiter – she will typically want to talk to them about moving into the same role/ or a role one step above in the same function in an organisation in the same or similar industry. Recruiters are driven by getting a ‘very low risk hire’ for their client companies. Recruiters will encourage a ‘linear progression’ of the candidate’s career to keep the risk to the hirer low.

Would-be career reinventors face a lot of questions: they may have some idea of how they want to change their career – or they may not; they may just have feelings of dissatisfaction; they may or may not have given deep thought to understand their ‘strengths’ and, what motivates them – now as opposed to when they started out; they may or may not have given thought to their financial situation, and how they want to work – location/ commute /hours/ culture etc. They may have constraints due to health/family/caring; they may or may not be aware of what skillsets are in demand currently or are likely to be in the future.

Because of all these factors, reinventing your career at midlife can be described as a ‘complex problem’. One for which there is no routine problem solving method available. Therefore I am suggesting that it could be solved by an ‘insight’ approach. An insight approach to ‘problem solving’ encourages the solver to gather a rich stimulus base of information, ‘process’ the information in new ways (spotting new things in the data, combining pieces of data  in different ways), shift their mental representation of the problem and ultimately gain (career) insights. These insights can be used as platforms to develop new career (concepts). I have used similar insight methodologies very successfully for new product and new service development for many years – all informed by the work of aforementioned Sternberg and Davison. These insights – enable people to make ‘mental leaps’ as to what might be the new path for them in the future. And the insight approach means that the needs of their family/health/skill market/motivations etc   are all included in the insight process.

Bettina: So what is your key advice to those 40+ – or indeed any of us!

Trudy: I’d love to borrow from Bronnie Ware, the palliative care nurse from New Zealand who documented in her book ‘Top 5 Regrets of The Dying’ what the response of her terminally ill patients was to the question: what is your biggest regret. Top of the list was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

There’s no doubt that our families and friends, and other factors such as our education and the media, significantly influence how we live our lives, and which ‘scripts’ we follow. Midlife is the perfect time to check in where we are in life, and whether it is where we want to be. If you haven’t worked out what YOU want by the time you reach midlife, then it’s time to get your skates on. Get clear on who you are and what you want, and live more authentically for the  second half of your life… And Career Reinventors 40 + is on a mission to support people to do this.

Bettina: Courage is the key word for me again (and interestingly connects to a blog I wrote June 2016 titled ‘Courage, the currency of the 21st century’…)

Dear Trudy, many thanks indeed.

For those who are intrigued by Trudy’s latest adventure, you can find out more  here.

We'd love to hear from you

Do you have any questions or thoughts in the context of innovation then please get in touch!

Start typing and press Enter to search