Taking Ideas to Scale Within and Beyond Organizations
An interview with Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn about ways to generate a greater volume of ideas when faced with a challenge.
Too often when faced with a problem we rush to find a single solution – something safe, based on solutions we already know.
These comfortable answers are nice, but what if you could create an opportunity to not only solve the problem, but excel?
Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn are the co-authors of Ideaflow: The Only Business Metric that Matters. It is a book that explores how you and your team can generate a volume of ideas for any situation, by overcoming outdated, stagnant thinking traps.
Jeremy Utley is a dynamic and engaging speaker who co-leads the d.school’s Executive Education programs at Stanford University.
Perry Klebahn is an Adjunct Professor and Director of Executive Education, also at Stanford’s d.school.
We start our conversation discussing Ideaflow, and how the creation of ideas can be summed up as a complex mathematical equation of ideas over time. Perry explains how, when rushing for a solution, we often fall short because we don’t have a volume of ideas. More ideas means more potential directions to overcome a challenge, and even ideas that eventually get discarded may have something to offer our final solution.
People often think that generating ideas is a task for a single, individual mind – but that’s not the case. In fact, creating ideas with a team can create broader insights, by drawing on a wider pool of perspectives and backgrounds to create ideas that might be outside the experience of a single person. The more, the merrier!
Much of the work Perry and Jeremy do is with entrepreneurs and students. For more than 10 years, they’ve been encouraging their students to use Launchpad, an accelerator which shows teams how to incorporate, develop prototypes, find customers, and prove their proposed offerings are viable. This kind of rigorous idea-testing is invaluable if you want to create solutions that make a real difference.
If you want to increase the ideas moving through your organization at all levels this is one episode you won’t want to skip!
Three Key Takeaways:
- To find great ideas, you have to let the unworkable and goofy ideas flow, as well. Don’t stifle the process!
- In the early stages of business, resist the urge to “lock in” on something just because it is working. Continue to generate ideas and innovate.
- To become a better idea generator, ensure that you are working with a wide net of professionals and not the same small team every week.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage or reach out to Bill Sherman on Linkedin!
Bill Sherman How do organizations maximize the flow of good ideas? It’s a critical question. If your organization wants its people to practice thought leadership, good ideas need to be nurtured and curated. And so today, I’m happy to speak with two experts who have taught and advised some of the world’s top leaders and entrepreneurs. Meet Perry Klebahn and Jeremy Utley, who have written one of my favorite business books of 2022. It’s titled Idea Flow: The Only Business Metric That Matters. Both Perry and Jeremy teach at Stanford’s d.school, and they’ve co-led the executive education program there. Today, we’ll be talking about taking ideas to scale within and beyond organizations. And we’ll also be talking about their newly launched book.
Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman. And you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show.
Jeremy Utley Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Perry Klebahn Thanks, Bill. Good to see you.
Bill Sherman So, Jeremy and Perry, I’m excited about this conversation on a couple different levels. First off, the two of you spend a lot of your time both professionally and sort of by passion, thinking about taking ideas to scale and thinking about what our ideas. How do you find the best ideas? And I’m excited to talk with you about the new book Idea Flow early in that book. You say something that caught my eye as a thought leadership practitioner. And I want to start with you, Jeremy, and ask you the question. You say every problem is an idea problem. What do you mean by that?
Jeremy Utley You know, the awesome observation. The fundamentally, when you’re faced with a challenge, you come up with a solution or you come up with an idea. That’s the goal. We would distinguish by the way problems from tasks. Tasks are straightforward. You know how to do. The answer is apparent. It’s just a matter of execution. But a problem is something that you’re not exactly sure what the right way to handle it is. And in a problem space, most people think in terms of a solution or a answer. And when we say every problem is an idea problem, setting aside tasks for a moment. What we mean is when you have a problem on your hands, the first thing you need to recognize is what you need is lots of ideas. Problems yield to ideas and we feel relief in the face of a problem when we feel like we have a good idea. That’s air quotes for those of you who can’t see me. But we’d say before good or bad, ever enter the picture. First generate a volume of possibilities before evaluating them. And we call that an idea problem when, you know, the thing that you need is lots of volume before selection, before implementation, before experimentation. We’d say you have on your hands an idea problem. And the truth is for any problem distinguished by tasks, by the fact that you’re not exactly sure the way to proceed, we’d say every single problem in our lives is an idea. Problem meaning? First, focus on volume before you get to. Evaluating based on quality.
Bill Sherman So, Perry, let me turn to you. In your experience, you’ve had times where quick decisions and attempts at managing risk have led to the opposite results. And you’ve got an example of one time at Patagonia, where the lack of many ideas and one in the moment which felt like a good idea, went significantly wrong. Can you share that story?
Perry Klebahn Yeah. We read about this in the book. It’s a story that stuck with me about this topic. For those who don’t know, Patagonia is a clothing company making outdoor clothing with a great environmental message, message and mission. And I worked there in the early 99 to the early 2000s and was executive vice president. So ran a bunch of different divisions. And at that point, we had just gone through the events of September 11. So as you can imagine, that was tragic in itself and affected sales quite a bit inside of a clothing that just nobody was out shopping for a period of time. And in that period of time, you know, in the history of the company or in my career, I’ve never seen, you know, stores that were having negative sales. The whole thing that happened in store, imagine the store. All that happened an entire day when somebody came in and returned something. Those are the kinds of days that were happening. So we’ve no idea which way was going to go or any and what was going to happen. And that period of time, we had to place orders through factories for future seasons. And I thought. In this moment? Well, it didn’t really do what Jeremy talked about in Flood, an idea of a web flood. The problem with ideas, I thought, well, we have to make a really safe bet in this in this crazy time. So if you go into a clothing store, you might not lose it. But there’s lots of colorful items. Well, a lot of what people buy are the dark items, the black items, the great items. So I made the decision and pushed for it and advocated that we cut all the colors. And as we’re heading into the tax season, really go with winners, which were black and gray jackets and such. And as we came past September 11th and things became more normal, people going outdoors and spring was coming and all this stuff, people went back in the Patagonia stores and a lot of black and gray items were there because, you know, I cut the oil, you know, said cut the orders and go with just these basics. And that was it. It was a moment that struck me, which was I didn’t generate any ideas. I didn’t stop and get a bunch to that and say, let’s come up with options. And I think I go back in time and I think I think we would have thought through it if I had bounced around a bunch of ideas. One of them might be, How do we have a colorful store? It wouldn’t have to necessarily be just the clothing. I might have spent money on some art or borrowed some art to run the store or something to make it look more colorful. But it was a it was something that stuck with both Jeremy and I as a story from my past. So to put in the book, because it was a story about in a point in work, it tends to be there’s a lot of pressure. I want to find a solution quickly and that this problem just needs a solution to get resolved, as opposed to going through the stage in between of generating options and generating ideas and sort of flooding it with options, if you will. And out of that, I think at least even when we got to the point that we realized I’d made this mistake, and this is a situation in which we might have had some ideas to go back to and rectify it and change things. So an idea of it’s a great story about the lack of idea flow, if you will.
Jeremy Utley It’s an interesting example of how the thing that seems safe can actually be most dangerous. And we make a point of that in the book that Perry was making, by all accounts, the safe bet, and it ended up being a really dangerous way to take things. But he didn’t know it at the time. He didn’t know it because idea flow wasn’t on his radar as a leader. And that’s one thing that we’re hoping that this book does is puts idea flow on the balance sheet or on the measurement dashboard of every leader.
Bill Sherman All right. So we’ve been using this term, the three of us, “Idea Flow,” but we haven’t defined it. So Perry, what is idea flow?
Perry Klebahn Well, it’s a complex mathematical equation. It’s really ideas over time and simplistically. And the idea the big idea behind the book is. Are you are you even measuring radio flow? Do you have any ideas? You know, you in advance and a list of questions. Did you generate that list of questions, though? We’re kicking out this email before. And did you get to ten and just stop or did you have 30? Did you have 50? Do you have that? And the point is, in I in my day, as I go through my day today, am I aware of where I have problems and am I even aware of my deal flow? How many ideas are my generating if I’m stuck in my actually thinking about did I generate ten, 15, 20 ideas? If I ran out of ideas and my using some different techniques to throw more energy and get a lot of ideas against that problem.
Bill Sherman So, Jeremy, how many ideas do I need if I’m trying to solve a problem? You know, we just heard the story from Perry. That one idea sort of like drove a little bit off the cliff. Do I need five? Do I need ten? What does the research say that you need for ideas?
Jeremy Utley Well, I’ll end by saying you don’t want to just focus on generating before doing anyway it before doing anything. So. But before I end, let me begin to answer your question directly. You can do a little bit of reverse mathematics and you can understand what it takes to succeed. And my experience shows that if people do this reverse mathematics, they can surprise themselves at their intuition. So if you think about wanting to achieve commercial success, how many products that are in the market succeed? What percentage of them? It’s a small percentage, call it five or 10%. And then you can say, okay, of what percent of all the stuff that organizations make ends up in the market? It’s a pretty small percent. And then you can say, well, what percent of the ideas people have ends up getting made by organizations? Again, a very small percent. But if you compound the number of ideas it takes to get a handful of prototypes, the number of prototypes it takes to get a handful of in-market offerings and the number of in-market offerings it takes to get to commercial success. If you just go backwards through that funnel, what you realize is and what Stanford research demonstrates as well is that you’re looking at about 2000 ideas at the opening of the funnel of the white into the funnel to get to a commercial breakthrough. And what I said at the beginning, which I said would be the end, is that doesn’t mean stop and come up with 2000 ideas before you do anything. That’s the wrong message as giving a presentation to a bunch of bio designers last week and someone said, Well, do I have to generate all the ideas before I do anything else? I said, Not at all. No, no, no, no. All. That’d be an idea. Pond And we don’t want we don’t want to dam it up. We actually want the flow of the river. But the question is over time, is that the kind of volume and scale of your raw idea output? If so, you can be reasonably assured that you’ll achieve commercial success on a regular basis. If, as a corollary, you aren’t achieving commercial success. The answer probably isn’t we aren’t picking the right ideas. To his point, it’s probably we aren’t generating nearly enough ideas in the early stages of our process.
Bill Sherman And you alluded to something that I want to go back to when you told the story from Patagonia you referred to. I had this idea. I communicated it to my team rather than reach out to others to brainstorm, to come up with ideas. It is a lot harder to come up with 2000 ideas on your own. But most of us, if we reach out to a team or across an organization. That number becomes less daunting. So do you just need really smart people to generate ideas or.
Perry Klebahn No, no.
Bill Sherman Anyone game for this?
Perry Klebahn Even quality, any. Anything about it? We cannot. The people as quality of your ideas becomes higher if you want to think about sort of the unexpected. If you and I brainstormed, you know, questions to ask, the next person is going to be your guest on your podcast. You know, I might come up with questions because I know the background. I haven’t done it. You know, I would come up with questions would be unexpected to you and those would provoke your idea flow. So it’s this, this weird thing. If you want to get quality ideas, there’s some techniques we could go through about, you know, messing with your own brain to get you to come up with outlandish ideas that you would, you know, just sit here and write down. If you write a list of questions, we can talk about those. Certainly the thing that’s interesting about brainstorming with another person is the purpose is to get also to get those diversity of opinion. So imagine if I go back in time of Patagonia, if I had asked, you know, somebody from the supply chain, somebody from marketing, somebody from sales, somebody from merchandizing in the store to come in, we would get all kinds of wild ideas about what we what we, what can we do in this conundrum? You know, sales are way, way down. We really want to have a product line we’re proud of. Let’s go. What could we do? You know, and I think we might have come up with all kinds of ideas. We can pull stuff out from the warehouse that super old and put it in the stores. Oh, let’s try that. You know, we might have come up with all kinds of creative ideas that would have been super interesting. You know, let’s have a retro day, you know? I don’t know. But we didn’t that wasn’t that was the course of action. I’d done so.
Bill Sherman Well. And I think one of the things that you have to give yourself and your team permission to do and this is something I talk about and I want to see if you agree, is to embrace the concept. The most of the ideas you initially come up with are going to be awful by definition, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s necessary.
Perry Klebahn Yeah, yeah.
Jeremy Utley It’s there’s we would say if you think about the distribution of the quality of your ideas, I’m a statistics nerd, right? But you can think about a normal distribution. Everybody’s roughly familiar with the bell curve in most natural phenomena fall on a bell curve. So the height of the average American falls on a bell curve, right? IQ you look at many natural phenomena. IQ may be a bad example, except maybe a flawed test, but you get the idea. Ideas are similar. There are natural phenomena that tend to fall on a bell curve, which means what? Most of our ideas are pretty average. Occasionally we have far right hand distribution outcomes, we have genius ideas, and occasionally we have far left hand outcome, far left hand distribution outcomes, which are pretty goofy or just silly. Right? And where people make the mistake is they think, you know what, I’m okay with the average and I really want the genius stuff, but I just want to chop off the goofy side of things. What they don’t realize is the quality of your ideas is a function of volume and variation. And when you cut off the left hand side of the distribution, you cut off the right hand side as well. And so what we like to say is to get genius, you got to embrace goofy. You got to be willing to put up with both. Goofy is the price of genius, and very few people appreciate that and accommodate that necessity in allowing themselves, let alone team members, the freedom and the permission to say goofy stuff, saying, Oh, there’s no space for Goofy here, just reasonable, just implementable. And we’d say, no. Some of the most implementable stuff gets inspired by the goofiest, non implementable stuff imaginable. And if you don’t give yourself and your team the space to span that spectrum, you dramatically eliminate your variance on both sides of the distribution.
Perry Klebahn Yeah. And I’ll digress to the story we can cut this is a this is an amusing but we did have a session it was years and years ago for a and we just started to learn about this data. So we thought a really fun warm up question, which is when you start with this, how many ideas to come up with a breakthrough? Right. And there was a big two. We’re in this place in San Francisco and there was a series of tables in this big auditorium. And we said each table come up with a guess, you know how many ideas you need to come up with a breakthrough. And we were just you know, I looked at this research that was interesting and we said the answer is about 2000. And we go on the table and this table says 100 and this table says 30, and this table says, you know, 25. And then the CEO of this organization, not to be named, stands up at the table. It’s in the center table, right in the middle, and says one good idea. And that was kind of that was kind of as you know, that would be the end of the creativity workshop this year because for the middle, like the rest of what we were going to do with this group mean generally like what we’re going to do with them for the next hour is kind of going to run against that and don’t listen to this here.
Bill Sherman So, yes, so let’s talk about that as a chilling effect, because you can create a chilling effect as a leader. Yeah, it’s command and control almost and say I’m in search of the one good idea or you can self-censor and go, okay, I got my idea, let me polish it. And that’s what we’re going with, right? So let’s talk about that self-censorship and the limiting. Jeremy talked about it from sort of lopping off the sides on the distribution. But where would you talk about self-censorship?
Perry Klebahn I would say right now in this conversation, we’re all, you know, want to have a great podcast, right? We want to sound perfect and, you know, no ums and buts and, you know, all this stuff. So we’re going to really pay attention. And as a result, I am thinking about what I’m going to say right now and I’m trying to think about whether it’s good at the same time. So I’m trying to generate and evaluate in almost simultaneously best possible. It is going to be a funny story, this kind of fit. I’m trying to figure out all this stuff at the same time and good idea flow is these techniques to to in a way sort of do our best to take away the validation part of it. So I’ll give you a great example. A great example is let’s brainstorm ways. This could be the worst podcast ever. Well, Bill, you could have a hamburger in the middle of this interview and have food in your mouth while you’re here. That’d be terrible. You know, we could and then we could we could have a, you know, a clown run through the room. We could have my dogs bark during and we could have all these things. And then we take each one of those and say, how could that be a really interesting thing if Bill had a hamburger in the middle of our podcast now?
Bill Sherman But this is.
Perry Klebahn Yeah, exactly.
Bill Sherman But, you.
Jeremy Utley Know, we could.
Perry Klebahn We’d come up with ideas, but it’s such an outlandish idea. It’s hard for me to evaluate ideas associated with Bill Sherman eating a hamburger during my podcast interview with them on his part, you know, so it giving ourselves sort of permission. There’s these tricks like brainstorm, we call it brainstorming the opposite in the book and reversing polarity. It’s a great way because I know in my head this is outlandish. So there’s no I’m not going to evaluate it because it’s so outlandish. I can now brainstorm and generate a bunch of wild ideas. To folks listening, those may seem like stupid ideas. And yet we’ve seen people turn those around and use that content because it somehow breaks their biases up and stops their evaluation and lets them generate a bunch of other ideas on the heels of it that are good and get them to that territory Jeremy was talking about, which is at the fringes. These are things I wouldn’t have ever come up with had I not thought of this goofy thing that I let go of my internal monitoring, if you will, and sensor to your point belt and generated a bunch of ideas.
Jeremy Utley No. And Bushnell is the founder of Atari who tells us this great story in his book, Finding the Next Steve Jobs. He was the first person to hire Steve Jobs, and he tells the story about how at Atari they used to take an annual retreat to Bandon Dunes, which is a kind of a coastal town in California. And he would have everybody put up all the ideas they could think of and then rank them, and he’d go from best or worst. And they take always take the bottom six. And he would say, if we could only do these six, how can they be amazing? And he said that’s where a duck hunt came from as an example. And there he said, very often some of our best material came from us, limiting ourselves to the worst material we had to work with. But so there are kind of wild ways to do it. There are other ways that I would say from a leadership perspective. One way is how do I get people to think of crazy ideas or create permission? The other way is maybe less obvious, but more natural, which is how do I increase variation in the context of what we’re doing? So there’s a famous professor at Stanford named Bob McCann, and he and my mentor, David Kelly, told us a story about how any time a student asked him for feedback, he said the same thing. You know what it was? Three words. Show me three. He never wanted to see one thing. He said, I always want to see three. And so for a leader to say, you know, if somebody brings you a new to the world idea or a proposal for something to do or an early stage nascent thing, right? If you know a priori the likelihood of it working is very low, just given the, you know, the odds of innovation that are not in your favor, if for any one thing, a natural question should be, that’s great. What else are we trying? It’s a variant on Show Me three and it’s a variant on, you know, let’s choose the bottom six. But this idea of do I have a bias towards variation drive a bias towards optionality, or am I subliminally or implicitly reinforcing this sense that someone’s trying to show me the right answer and I’m saying whether I think it’s the right answer or do I know as a leader that the right answer is actually volume? The right answer is actually options. And I’m drum. I’m hitting that drum beat every chance I get. Options, variation, alternatives, etc..
Bill Sherman Well, and an important point on Show Me three. That’s not gold, silver, brass, bronze. That’s give me three different and distinct approaches. Ideas, right, right. To drive that variation.
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Bill Sherman You all have worked with entrepreneurs in the school context and that’s entrepreneurial ism is a place where you’re looking for the one big idea, the one big business model. You’re in search of unicorns right now. You’ve had students who have gone and found unicorns. Right. But I want to talk to you about the process of working with students in that case who are seeking their big idea, the investors to take to scale. Because I think the work you do with them is key to thought leadership of how do you find good ideas. So let me hand it off to you, Perry. Talk a little bit about your work with the entrepreneur classes and how you get them to think about ideas. And then I’ll ask Jeremy the same.
Perry Klebahn Yeah, thanks. Well, so the program is called Launchpad. So Launchpad at Stanford.edu and that it’s a it’s something we’re super proud of. It’s been around for over ten years and we help students start companies using these techniques and they’re embedded in the class. So students have idea flow challenges. You know, if they’re if they’re stuck on a problem, how do they flood the problem with ideas? What’s interesting is we have now started to use these techniques to create something we call lock in. So what happens a lot with entrepreneurs is they get that initial sort of pain point. They found nobody else’s out in the marketplace and they get a glimmer of something that’s working because before that there’s loads of ideas flow naturally. They’re throwing all kinds of different ideas at something, trying to get something to work. But the second they get something that their target customer likes, they think, Great, this is awesome. You know, I’m going to start scaling this and sort of building a business around it right now. What are we doing? I need to hire some people. I need to do that. You know, they started thinking that way. So to combat that, we’ve started to do some of the things that are in the in the book, which is really forcing them to clash different things together, which is a lot of what generates ideas is and I think the example with go to market strategies. So that means how they’re going to take a product to market. So they might be working on we have a female and female duo that’s got a clothing company, so they think, great, we’re going to put it on a website, we’re going to sell this clothing. It’s going to be amazing. And we say, Well, what if it was a subscription model? What if it was? You have to say different go to market strategies and just class them with your business. Even though they might not want to do it. They’ll have an assignment to class three or four of these together with their business and say, what are the implications to hiring? What are the benefits to hiring? What are the benefits to the customer? What are the benefits to your competitive advantage out in the field? Are there additional sources of capital? And it’s just that cognitive bias, maybe it’s another kind of bias is this bias that I’ve got something that’s working. So by no means do I want to jump over here and try a bunch of new things. But that’s precisely the thing that we want to keep them nimble and doing is realizing I’m so early right now, I would be nuts to lock in and not try all these things. So one of the things in terms of idea generation, think about. Yeah. It’s really a combination of two unexpected things or a couple of unexpected things, and that’s an example of forcing this sort of clashing of two things together that that maybe the founder didn’t expect to generate a bunch of new ideas.
Bill Sherman Jeremy?
Jeremy Utley Please repeat the question.
Bill Sherman So the question is, working with students in the context of Launchpad, how are you guiding them to see variation, to experiment, to get to look for the big ideas rather than get tripped up?
Jeremy Utley Yeah, that’s great. So it’s a it’s a fallacy to think that anything is one idea. Finding Nemo is Finding Nemo an idea? It’s like 10,000 ideas, right? Every plot twist is an idea. Every line of dialog is an idea.
Bill Sherman Every the visuals, the style of a shimmer.
Jeremy Utley Yeah, exactly. It’s all right, Bill. I want to have a podcast. Is that an idea? Yeah, but then who’s my guess and what are the questions I’m asking? And how do I produce it? And what do I care? There’s 10,000 ideas in any idea, right? So these entrepreneurs, they’ve got an idea, right? Well, there’s also 10,000 ideas that it’s built of. That’s component parts, we would say. So backing up a level two behavior, which is actually more interesting in some ways, we’d say the key defining characteristic of a spectacular entrepreneur is they are rigorous in their experimentation. They’re constantly trying and iterating and trying and iterating again and again and again. That’s what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. Ideas are the lifeblood of experimentation. What are you going to try next? If you only had one idea, you go all the wells dry that I was really hoping that would work because I have nothing else. Well, what are ten other ways to price the product? What are ten other ways to go to market? What are ten other partnership? Right. And so we actually assign them when we ask the question, how do you get entrepreneurs to do it? The daily idea quota. We tell our students every single day. Take whatever problem you’re working on that day and instead of thinking of the answer, generate at least ten answers every single day. Not because they need new business ideas, but they need new ideas for their business. Right. Whether it’s positioning, whether it’s pricing, whether it’s hiring, whether it’s finding the right customer, you need ideas just to fuel experimentation. So the class launchpad really foregrounds experimentation as the primary behavior. But implicit in an experimental mindset is you’re constantly generating ideas because that’s what fuels the experiments.
Bill Sherman So I think some organizations have a cultural component that presents a challenge that either ideas are perceived as they come from the top of the house or they come from this one group in research or product, etc.. And my take on thought leadership and I’d love to hear your perspective, is the role of senior leaders and ahead of thought leadership is to help encourage, nurture and even sometimes curate good ideas. Right. And the more ideas that are being brought to the table from across the organization, the better the strength of the ideas overall. Right. Because if you’re only relying on one or a handful of people to come up with ideas, that’s a weak organization. So if you’re a leader and this goes to some of the suggestions in your book, if you’re leading parent, what can you do to improve the culture of ideas flow within your organization? How do you amplify and increase ideas flow?
Perry Klebahn Well, getting back to sort of some of things we’ve talked about on the earlier part and even my story from Patagonia, it would be having that thought to think about my initial reaction. One piece of the problem is what is the idea for my senior team? What do they do? Upload the teams being effective? In fact, in my in my even aware of that as I’m as I’m tackling things and I think there is a bit of Emma dexterity Charles O’Reilly to the Stanford and Michael Tishman from Harvard read a lot about ambidextrous leaders they need to name to be able to be sometimes command and control and sometimes, you know, nurturing that creativity. And I grant you, there are situations where sometimes the decisions needed and we’ve got to move on. And that’s great when things are is uncertain. For example, in my career that situation is very uncertain situation and it’s weird. But as almost as uncertainty ramps up, you know, you need to be aware. I think as a leader, do I still have the teams generating and the people working with me generating a lot of ideas because inevitably in an uncertain situation, we need a lot of ideas to figure out a breakthrough that’s going to get us through this new situation and might even in a way we were just talking about Leader and I instrumenting that or measuring that. We’re talking about different techniques to measure that individually as you can. You can measure how many ideas as teams you can measure. We have associated artists in the book. Phillipe is who works at Michelin. And they measure the number of prototypes built, even measure the number of failures because they know if they get enough failures, they’re doing it right. You know, so that’s sounds like, oh, that’s not for every organization. But there’s something to that in terms of if you’re in the business of getting breakthrough ideas and you have a challenge that you want to get a breakthrough. One of the things you can do to be really effective is to put some instrumentation in place, to measure, idea flow, to measure the number of ideas going, generate, measure the kinds of numbers of things that are getting tested or thrown out there and evaluated with the team. That would be a good question. To be me as a leader, how many ideas have you come up with? How many ideas are you evaluating in a meeting? You know, when your last meeting, you know, to kick out one idea for 45 minutes or did you kick around 20 ideas in 45 minutes? And you’d want to have them kicking around 20 ideas if you’re trying to solve something that’s new to the organization that you need a breakthrough in.
Bill Sherman And then, Jeremy, if you were to equip our listeners with a tool or two that they could take into the workplace now things that would help them increase idea flow. What’s something that you would suggest that they can put to action?
Jeremy Utley We’ve talked a lot about ideas and we talked a lot about experiments. I would encourage you to go upstream. So think about experiments and then commercial success is downstream. We want to be directing people’s attention to the upstream inputs to the process and what’s an input to an idea. It’s other ideas, it’s other perspectives. We’ve talked about team dynamics and collaboration and things like that with what we would say is that folks who are. Exceptional ideas, generators and exceptional innovators are really thoughtful about the inputs that they seek, the inputs to their thinking, their inputs drive their output. So a couple of simple things that you can do if you want to take some practical next steps here. One is audit your portfolio of collaborators. Who are you working with? Look at your calendar this week. Look at your calendar last week and see who have I been meeting with and working with and interacting with. Is it all people from my team? That’s an F? Is it all people from my organization, but maybe some beyond my team? Okay, you’ve got a D, right? Is that all people from my industry? Maybe a little bit beyond my organization. Okay, you’ve got a C, right? But is it people from beyond my industry, an organization that’s probably a B? Right. And then A-plus is going on the offensive and deliberately seeking folks like that out, seeking out unexpected perspectives. Right. So that’s one source of input. The other source of input is something that we write about it. We call it doing an idea collider but is basically taking a problem into the world with you, into the wild and entertaining the possibility of a divine appointment as interacting with the outside environment as if it were handpicked to serve up inspiration. So you say, you know, we’re trying to build trust among our supply chain partners. Okay. You walk outside, you take that problem in mind and you go on a walk and wonder wander, and you start to entertain the possibility that this playground done passing has something to do with the challenge of building trust. Oh, there’s a gate. There’s a do not enter signs. There’s warning signs about cameras. Right? And then I pass by a nail salon and I see a menu of pricing on the outside of the door. Right? And then I go buy a T shop and I see an on and on and on and then an Amazon truck passes by and I go, How does Amazon help build trust? Right. And it’s imagining or entertaining the possibility that the world is actually a place rich with inspiration. When folks are trying to solve problems, they tend to get deeper into this machine and they get they tend to get deeper into their email or they procrastinate and they do other email or something. They rarely look up and say, Who can I talk to or What can I try? Or What can I look for that might have some bearing on my problem. So for us, it’s really always helping folks go upstream and interrogate the inputs of their thinking. And oftentimes if there’s a problem downstream, especially in commercial commercialization, but even in experimentation in ideas, is because they’ve neglected the input side of the equation.
Bill Sherman Fantastic. Thank you, Jeremy. So as we begin to wrap up, idea flow is out now. Idea Flow. The only business metric that matters is a fantastic book. I’ve had the joy and privilege of reading it. It’s going to be on myself as a must read, and I know I will be giving many copies away. But if you’re practicing thought leadership, if you’re interested in the field of ideas and how to take ideas to scale, check out this book. But let’s say Perry and Jeremy, people want to find you personally. How do they do that? Let me turn to you first, Perry.
Perry Klebahn Well person that read about our class. We’ve got launchpad, Stanford edu. Sometimes we’re hosting events that meet. Those are really terrific and we love having anybody interested in the startup world and the kind of creativity there. It’s, it’s, that’s a super place to find us. I’m on LinkedIn so you can look me up there and we do another. I’ll let Jeremy chew up the Masters of Creativity, which is a really amazing podcast that he and I and Catherine Segovia at Stanford put on.
Jeremy Utley The only problem I have with your t bill there is you use the word but twice which invalidated what came before. It’s an excellent book, but I’m going to be recommending it. But how do people stay in touch? It’s an excellent book, Bill, and I’m going to be recommending it. And if people want to stay in touch. We teach with a guy named Bernie Roth, who’s the academic director of the Peace Corps for a long time. He is on a vendetta against butt and that was a primary example. It puts in conflict two things that aren’t actually in conflict anyway. That’s a free gift repurchase. Where can you find me? Certainly on the on the Internet. LinkedIn slash Jeremy Utley. Twitter slash Jeremy Utley. Probably medium slash Jeremy Utley. And of course, Terry mentioned our courses and things like that. You can find us on Stanford. And then we’ve got a really spectacular web series that we’ve been putting out for the last year now called Masters of Creativity, where we showcase all sorts of practitioners of creative mastery, masters of creative practice, I should say, from the arts and entertainment and entrepreneurs and authors and scientists, all sorts of amazing individuals we get the chance to showcase and platform at Stanford and so folks can check out MOOC at Stanford.edu. It’s MOOC for Masters of Creativity. And there we have a list of upcoming events and guests and things like that, and you’ll see us most of the time just nodding our heads emphatically in the background, enthusiastically appreciating what somebody else is sharing with our community. And we’d love to welcome folks at Community.
Bill Sherman Jeremy Perry, thank you for the conversation and congratulations on the launch of your book.
Perry Klebahn Thank you both. Thanks for having us.
Jeremy Utley Thanks so much.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. OrgTL.com and choose. Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.