So what do Heineken, Mars, Microsoft, Motorola. Phillips, Coca-Cola, Bayer and Dow chemicals all have in common. Well, they take the advice of our guest today. Today we are speaking with Rowan Gibson. Now Rowan is a leading innovator and futurist, and he is widely regarded as one of the most important business innovation thought leaders in the world.
In fact, many people call him Mr. Innovation and a guru among gurus and his books on innovation and strategy, including Rethinking the Future and Innovation to the Core have been published in 25 different languages. Now for more than two decades, Rowan has been showing a roster of blue chip companies, like the ones I just mentioned, how to recalibrate their organizational system around innovation, enabling them to seize new growth opportunities.
New markets and transform their business. So why is he on our podcast? Rowan is, and I have a conversation today around the point of innovation, why we do it, what businesses are looking for, and more importantly, how we can leverage that in schools. Right now. I’m excited for this conversation. I think that you are going to hear so many great ideas from Rowan.
You’re not gonna be able to capture them all in one moment. And also, I think he makes innovation more practical for all of us. So let’s dive in. All right. Welcome Rowan. I’m so glad to have you on the show today.
It’s it’s a pleasure. No, no.
Wonderful. So, you know, this is a, a show for educators and school leaders, and so many of them may not be familiar with your work.
So could you give us just a little bit of background about who you are, what you do, and what projects you’re working
Okay. I have been called Mr. Innovation by the media. There’s a reason for that is that I’ve spent several decades focused on how companies and how individuals can enhance their innovation capability, their creative capability.
So basically what I, I’ve written three best selling books that published in 25 languages. I have traveled the world I think 65 countries many multiple times to, to bring my message to to the world. And I consult for major corporations pretty much everywhere to help them to, to, to innovate their way.
So that’s a kind of a brief, Yeah.
Brief description in a nutshell. Yeah. It’s exciting. So and one of, one of my positions way back when I was actually still in schools was as the, I think it was the longest title I’ve ever seen, it was the curriculum title. Not one of my book titles was it? No. It was Curriculum Development and Innovation Specialists.
Like, I was like, let’s put this all together. And it was funny because somebody asked me once, like, What do you think in. Is, And so that’s what I’m gonna ask you. I’m gonna start with, with that, what exactly is innovation and how can we leverage it?
Great question. Very simple to answer actually.
Surprisingly. Yeah, because a lot of people struggle, struggle, and struggle with, you know, what is innovation? And of course it’s been thrown around so much that you think it’s going outta style, you know, as a, as a, as a term. But here’s my simple definition of innovation, creating value by doing things differently.
That’s my definition of innovation, creating value by doing things differently. So there are a couple of very important elements there, more than a couple, but I’ll, I’ll, I’ll just touch on two. One is creating mm-hmm. . So, so there’s gotta be some form of creativity, some newness in there, but also by doing things differently, you know, So there needs to be some form of departure from the past, but doing things differently.
For example, if you go back to, I dunno, Leonard Da. He came up with some wonderful ideas about how to do things differently. You know, let’s have a helicopter, let’s, let’s have a parachute, you know, or whatever else. But, but those ideas couldn’t create value at the time. Why? Because we couldn’t fly, you know, we didn’t have the physics in place to, to be able to do that.
But but, but when you combined the two. , when you come up with an idea for doing things differently, that actually creates value and you can, you can implement that, do that. Mm-hmm. Like Elon Musk for example, is done with, I dunno, rockets that land vertically. Yeah. That’s creating value by doing things differently.
So there’s my definition. And what was the second part of your question, Susan? Well, it was how
do we, how do we leverage that? So if we know that innovation is, is doing things differently, is creating and doing things differently, then how can we all leverage that no matter what our position is or, or where we are and what we’re doing in the world?
Well, I mean, you could, you could apply that to, to your own life. I mean, I mean, lets, before you even get into sort of, I don’t know, the creative process and education and art, whatever else, we can create value in our own lives by doing things differently. Mm-hmm. , you know, so we can literally sit down and say, Okay, so.
What things would, would, would be of value if I changed my behavior now. So that’s kind of at the, at the level of the person, the, the, the, our own lives. And very often we are talking to executives that are, you know, let’s say in a midlife crisis and thinking about their future. You know, and it’s very much what we do, but we’ll get to that in the moment.
But but you know, so then we get to the level of we’re we’re at school. We’re trying to do something creative, for example, or in in education itself. How could we create value in education by doing things differently? What things could we change that would create value? Or if you’re in a company, you know, you are running a global corporation, what things could we do?
Differe. That would create value for our customers. So it very much applies right across the board actually. Mm-hmm. , that’s how we would leverage that, that definition of innovation.
Yeah. So the way that I was introduced to you was w was reading your book, The Four Lenses of Innovation. I would love to, to have you touch briefly on what those four lenses are.
Let’s start there. Let’s start with just what the four lenses are your definition around them, and then we’ll dig a little deeper into those.
Okay. Well allow me if I may, just to give you a very quick background on the four lenses cuz it didn’t sort Yes, please. Outta nowhere. It’s not, it’s not just a sort of a bit of management theory, it’s actually sort of management science in the sense that I was able to study hundreds of cases of innovation.
So starting with, you know, business innovation in the last decade, but then going back in time and thinking about I don’t know, Thomas Edison, you know, serial innovator or Emory, Ford, you know, whatever. And then going back to the Renaissance and thinking, how on earth did they come up with some of those amazing ideas, whether it’s good and bad with the printing press or whatever.
and what I was able to distill out of that study was that there are four particular ways that innovators tend to think there are four ways. There are four perspectives of view that tend to open up new opportunities, and I call them lenses. . So the first lens is called challenging orthodoxy. You know, it’s really about being contrarian about doing things differently, right?
So, so you start to ask, you know, if everyone’s zigging, what if we zag? What if, what if we did the opposite? So it’s what if and why not? And those kinds of questions. Mm-hmm. . The second lens is called Harnessing Trends. So there are always trends in the world. There always have. Right back to, you know, if you go back to the Renaissance or, or even further back, there were always trends, agricultural trends whatever else.
Mm-hmm. , geopolitical trends, et cetera. How do we harness the trends in order to create new value? So today of course, we have many, many trends across, you know, a wide sort of panorama of things that are going on very, very rapidly. How do we, how do we harness the power of. Bring it into the business model or into the educational model, whatever, to create new value.
The third lens is called leveraging resources in new ways. So how do we leverage, for example, skills and assets, the things that we know how to do and the things that we own. How do we leverage them in new ways to create new value? Or how do we leverage somebody else’s? So for example, if we see that we’re, we’re moving into a world of robotics and drones and AI and whatever, we don’t know how to do.
How do we partner with people that do in order to create new value, right? Mm-hmm. . And then the fourth lens is very, very simple. It’s understanding needs. So it’s basically about saying, let’s think from the customer backward or think from the need backward and try to design solutions from the need backwards.
So those are the four lenses, challenging orthodoxes, harnessing trends, leveraging resources, understanding needs.
Yeah. When we’re looking at those four lenses, do you need to, does innovation only happen when you use all four, or does innovation happen within each of those lenses themselves? You
can base a, a huge innovation on one trend.
Oh, sorry. A one lens, I mean, so let’s take the trend. For example. Let’s, let’s imagine that you are Netflix, you know, some years ago and you had a DVD rental business. It wasn’t like the blockbuster business, so they already challenged an orthodoxy. They already said, Okay, well let’s do things differently.
Let’s ship out DVDs rather than having stores. But then streaming video came along, streaming media. And so Blockbuster said, Well, there’s no future in DVDs. Let’s shift to streaming video. So there’s a trend. So you see a trend going on that’s a technology trend in that particular case. And you say, Okay, how do we harness that trend in order to create new value?
Whereas someone like Blockbuster says, Yeah, we see the trend out there, but we’ve got thousands of stores. We’ve got five, 6,000 stores across the United States. We’re not gonna close all of those down, you know? Yeah. Just, just to harness that trend, so, So come back to your question, yes, you can build an innovation on one of the lenses, but the big, big innovations, the really game changing stuff tends to happen at the interaction points between the four lenses.
So if you go back to Netflix, you’ll say, yes, they harnessed a technology trend, but didn’t they also challenge. Didn’t they say, Okay, well we need to shift away from DVDs to streaming or you know, challenge their own Orthodox is that, Hey, we’re a company that ships out DVDs. Yeah. But we could challenge that.
We could say, Why don’t we become a different kind of company? So those are two lenses already. How do we leverage resources in new ways? There’s all this content out there that’s on DVDs or wherever it is. How do we make sure that that’s now streaming? We’re leveraging resources in new ways and understanding.
So in that case, the US as viewers, customers, you know, how do we then design a solution from the need backwards so that we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, you know and so on. I just pay one subscription fee. So again, just as one example, it’s a combination of the four that really leads to the big game changing stuff.
. So In, in your description of understanding needs, the one thing that actually stood out to me was describing it as identifying unmet or unvoiced needs and trying to address them. The idea of unvoiced needs. I think we see this within our organization just in trying to support educators the way that we do.
Oftentimes we’ll send surveys and, we’ll, we’ll ask them what their what needs they have. And it’s almost frustrating because we get back no, it’s. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Or, or they don’t know what they don’t know. Yeah. And so, and, and I see it in schools a lot as well, when administrators come in and they want to support an innovative new effort they have a vision for whatever that might be, and they’re working with the, the teachers and the staff to get them on board and they’ll ask, you know, those, those point blank questions of what do you need so that I can help you meet those needs.
And they get that blank stares. So how do you dig to find the unmet or unvoiced
needs? Yeah. It’s a very big issue. You know, and, and you’re absolutely right when you get, when you do these surveys, the point is that everyone else is locked into their own orthodoxies as well. Mm-hmm. , you know, so they have their own assumptions about the way things are.
So generally also, when companies do this, they ask, Well, what you need? And people say, Well, I want the same thing, but make it, make it cheaper. You know, or whatever, . But it’s just, it’s just, it’s just not gonna, Or it’s like if you asked if you, I dunno, if you wanted to innovate around the hospital system healthcare mm-hmm.
And you went up to someone laying in a hospital bed, say, What do you need? You know, I mean, I’m not in a position there to try to reinvent hospitals when I’m Yeah. So, so the, the point is that we have to really dig you, you use the right term, dig deep to try to find you know, needs that sometimes people are not even aware of or they can’t envisage a solution.
So I’ll give an example. When I was working with a company in China called Hire, they, they make electronic appliances like Whirlpool, right? Mm-hmm. . They went, So we went out to the rural areas of China to see how people were actually using their appliance. And we found that, for example, people were using the washing machine in some parts of China to wash not just clothes, but also vegetables.
Some people were washing prawns, you know, in the washing machines or making goat cheese in the spin dryer of the washing machine. So, so, so, so then instead of coming back and sort of making a sticker to put on the front that says, Warning only used for intended purposes, what we did was redesign the machines and, and allow people to switch between functions to washing clothes or washing vegetables or washing prawns, or even, here’s a recipe book and how to make great goat cheese in a water machine.
The other thing that we found was that, you know, out in those rural areas that rodents were coming in, you know, underneath the machine and biting through the cables and stuff. So we did two things. We changed the base plate of the, of the appliances, but we also changed the wiring in there and, and put a kind of a, a metal casing over the wire.
Mm-hmm. so that the rodents couldn’t bite through it. So you have to go out and dig. You have to find stuff that’s out there that perhaps, you know people are not even aware of cuz they just accept that this is the way things. They can’t envisage a washing machine that switches between different functions, so they just use one that’s available.
So the uny needs are really important. I mean, none of us, if you think about it, none of us needed, Oh, lemme put it this way. None of us were asking for FedEx. Nobody was asking for you know, Uber. No one was asking for Airbnb. Nobody was asking for Twitter. No one was asking for any of that stuff. No one was asking for an iPhone.
Frankly, back in the day of, you know, 2005, six, no one was asking for an. But clearly we needed all of those things. We needed Instagram, didn’t we? We didn’t ask for it, but we need it cuz now we spend, you know, so much time every day looking at it. So it’s a neat, So how do we somehow tap into those fundamental needs that sometimes people are not even aware of and address them, you know, with new solutions.
So your, your suggestion is to go out and observe in the field.
Partly that, Partly that, but also to, for example, sometimes it’s a combination. We could be looking at a technology trend, right? That’s come along. So something has become now technically possible, and then we say, Okay, how could we apply that to a need?
Mm-hmm. , you know, So for example, I don’t know, a smart walking cane for blind people. You know, blind people not gonna ask you for a smart AI based. Kane, you know, that uses radar or something to, they’re not gonna do that. But you could say, Okay, but now we’ve got these new technical possibilities. What could we apply that to?
Where, what needs are out there that people are not even voicing? Mm-hmm. that we could sort of we could match. So there are some companies, one of them is Proctor and Gamble that talk about matching what is. with what is needed. Mm-hmm. , sometimes you start with a need and then you come back and say, How do we, like Elon Musk wants to land a vertical rocket.
How do we make that possible? Right. There’s the need. How do we match it? Or you start with a new technical possibility and you say, What needs, could we match that to what, what things are now becoming available that we could, that we could change in terms of people’s expectations and behavior.
Yeah. So we were talking a lot about trends.
I’m curious, how do you know whether a trend is something that, that we wanna harness versus something that’s a flash in a pan? Right. Like I, I think about things like Snapchat versus TikTok. You know, when TikTok came on the scene, I was like, Hm, this sounds like another Snapchat, Which doesn’t, which is only really based for teenagers.
It hasn’t really taken off for most of other, other you know Folks that are, that are using the internet. You know, Instagram’s a little bit more popular, but I was totally wrong. You know, talk TikTok is totally taken off as a trend that’s here to stay. So how do you know the difference?
Well, is it, That’s the question.
Is it here to stay? I mean, it’s also generational. For example, now, if you, if you’d gone back and know 10, 15 years and you’ve talked about Facebook, you know everyone, Oh, that’s the thing. It’s here to stay, you know? But even Facebook doesn’t wanna be Facebook anymore. Now they wanna be met, you know, they wanna be in virtual reality and so on.
So it’s also generational. One generation uses something, but then the kids, their kids grow up and say, I’m gonna get used that thing. It’s from my parents. I’m interested in Facebook, I want TikTok. Right? But then their kids are gonna say, or the next generation, not even their kids, the next generation comes, Ah, no, TikTok is from their last lot
Now we’ve got whiz bang, or whatever the next thing is. So, So, but that, so the actual platform is not the trend. Now, that might be a fad or something that appeals to a particular generation, a particular time. You have to look at the underlying trend, you know, so you might say social media is a, is not a, it’s a discontinuity.
It’s more than a trend. It’s a, it’s a combination of things that come together that, that create a real difference. E-commerce, you know, it’s not just a trend, it’s a discontinuity. It’s a combination of all kinds of other things that fundamentally changes retail. So I think we have to, we have to ask ourselves, is this a fad or a flash in the pan, as you say?
Is it time based also, could, could something affect the trend that would send it backwards? I’ll give you an example. Before Covid, we would’ve all said, Yeah, no, the trend is is the sharing economy. You know, we all wanna share everything, right? We don’t wanna own anything anymore. We wanna share cars, we wanna share like Airbnb Places we wanna share, women wanna share handbags we wanna share everything.
And then suddenly Covid comes along. I mean, who, who knew? Right? Right. And yeah. And then the sharing economy goes backwards because now nobody wants to share cars. They don’t wanna share handbags, they don’t wanna share, you know apartments and things like that anymore. So we have to, we have to be aware that sometimes trends can go into reverse.
So, but they may spring. , You know, So the, the point is really there, I, in the book somewhere in the four lenses, I talk about trying to understand the difference between, you know, a ripple on the ocean and, and a tsunami. Yes. You know, could this thing grow into a tsunami? So if you think about education and you think about something like digital transformation.
Mm-hmm. , is digital transformation a trend or a discontinuity? You know, I would say that every single industry on earth, including education, has a digital destiny. You know, that’s something that’s unavoidable, it’s inevitable, and we better get, you know, our stuff together and figure out how, you know, we become a part of that, or we, or are we gonna die.
So, you know, I, I like to say that everything that can be connected will be connected. You know? Everything that can be digitized will be digitized, you know? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . So, so those are things that are, this is not a. , this is a tide of history. And you know, we better understand what that destiny is and we better make sure that we get to that future as fast as we can.
Yeah. Uh, As, as an industry, you know? Right. Embracing the change. Yeah.
Well, and that leads me to my next question is, and, and I find this so fascinating because I, I keep thinking about the difficulty of getting people to embrace change. Mm. In industries that so desperately need it. I mean, I think if there’s ever an industry that needs a change, it’s education.
You know? Mm-hmm. Particularly here in the us it’s based in the, the industrial model of the early, you know, 19 hundreds. It hasn’t changed. Oh, agree with you. It hasn’t changed, you know, in 200 years. And it needs to, I mean, it’s
so, You sound like me. Your system is my exact words. It hasn’t changed in 200 years.
It’s still based on the principle of, you know mass. Production, you know, it’s mass produced education whatever. Yeah. Anyway, but you, you sound exactly like I do
. Well, and we recognize it. Right. And I think almost all educators recognize it. But what’s interesting to me is if I ask, if I go into an individual school and I ask.
You know, do you believe that education needs to change? Every hand will go up in the air, and when I say, Do you believe that your school needs to change? Nobody raises their hand. It’s, you know, it’s it’s the fear of embracing change and what that means for, for all of us. So how do we, how do we get people on board with innovation when it, we know that that means change.
Well, I think there are two things that move a human being from where we are to kind of where we need to be. Either there’s a threat, you know, or there’s an opportunity that’s, that’s it basically. Mm-hmm. , we, we, otherwise we wouldn’t change. So something comes along that threatens us and we may see it from afar.
You know, it may be a ripple on the ocean. Yeah. We’ve got a few years before it turns into a tsunami, so we’ll just sit back and and keep doing things the same old way. But, but very often that threat becomes imminent. You know, and that’s what pushes us to, to, to change or we recognize an opportunity, you know, we go after that opportunity.
So you know, if you look at, at any innovation, it was either based on someone recognizing a threat. Even the I iPhone was based on Steve Jobs recognizing a threat. The threat was that, you know, our entire business right now is, is living off of the iPod. And very quickly, all the other phone companies in the world are gonna be downloading music files to the phone and no one’s gonna walk around with two devices in there.
You like one in one pocket, one in there. So one’s a, a dedicated music device, and the other one’s a phone with music files on it. I mean, I, so we have to make a phone. So that was based on a threat. But then there are other innovations, many innovations that are based on seeing an opportunity, even if you go back to Gutenberg and the printing press.
Mm-hmm. , you know, it wasn’t a threat, but it was an opportunity to, wow, this could really change the game. So I think, you know, we as human beings, whether, so we go back to the school, the education system or whatever, either there’s an imminent threat to the system mm-hmm. or we see disruption, you know, as an opportunity.
And we say, Okay, what things, how could we create value? mm-hmm. by doing things differently and by creating value, not, I mean, if we create value for enough people, we will be able to capture value out of that. Meaning that it’ll be business value as well for us. We’ll be able to grow our, our own, you know, business.
Because at the end of the day, it is a business. But but is, you know, is there an opportunity for us to create value by doing things differently? Mm-hmm. . So that’s really what it comes down to, is, you know, so take it, take education, apply the four. So, yeah. Yeah. We know it needs to change. Okay. But how do we change things?
How do we innovate? Right? Well, let’s challenge our orthodoxies. Mm-hmm. , let’s challenge those 200 year old orthodoxies and assumptions about what education’s supposed to be. Because, you know, it’s an outdated model. We all know that. So what are, but where, where are the, the, is the dogma, the conventional assumptions, whatever that need to be challenged as that.
Mm-hmm. Secondly, What are the trends that we need to harness? They could be technology trends. They could be demographic trends. They could be geopolitical trends, they could be all kinds of trends. What are the trends that we need to identify and then harness to create new value? Then third, we could say, Well, what resources do we have?
And I’m not talking about money, although it is a resource, but of course we’ve got a faculty. Mm-hmm. , we’ve got a body of knowledge. You know, we’ve got all these, all this knowledge that’s either in books or on the internet, whatever else. Mm-hmm. , we’ve got people with experience. How do we leverage that in new ways?
And also how do we, What are the. What do people really, really need? I mean, do they really need to know you know, PGOs I mean, do they really need to know all this stuff that we are filling their heads with, or are there needs that we’re not even addressing? I mean, Dale Carnegie back in the 1930s basically said, You know, what we really need to know is human beings we’re not being taught in schools.
You know, how do you, how do you win friends and influence people, Right? That, that kinda stuff. No, yeah. So, so it’s really about, about doing, I’ll give you just if I may, so a very, very quick example. Prior to Covid I was doing a lot of management education in face to face events. Like everyone know, we do events where people come together and in that case it was the executives that would come together, maybe 25 executives and I’d have them for three, three days, four days, whatever.
And I’d be doing. And teaching, you know? Mm-hmm. , and then Covid came along and nobody could travel. No one could go to hotels. No one can have events. So what on earth do we do? So I literally changed the model into vr. So challenger orthodoxy. Now, why do we need to meet together in a room? One of the trends, well, one of them is, is virtual reality.
Could we, could we use that? Leveraging resources? Well, I have my content, I have my style. I, you know, I do what I do. Could I leverage that in new ways by using virtual reality? And then what do people need? Well, they still need, at this time, during covid to, to know how to innovate more effectively. They need that mm-hmm.
So, but how do I get that to them rather than them having to come to me or go somewhere else, like fly to, to London or fly to New York or whatever to get that thing. So we literally reinvented. The masterclass to become a five day virtual reality master with, you know, with goggles. Wow. And we have Avir virtual auditorium.
We have virtual breakout rooms with virtual whiteboards and virtual marker pens. And virtual erasers. And virtual, Yeah. And people are advertised and we’re talking to each other in virtual reality. That’s, that is a, an example of reinventing education. Very small. During that period in order to kind of innovate our way out of the crisis.
Yeah, I, I love that. We we did something similar that we had a online conference through the summer, you know, that we had done previously, but just being able to leverage. The the opportunity that we didn’t need to explain what it was anymore. You know, everybody understood then finally what an online conference was, and then we could reach a larger audience.
I think that was, that was super helpful. So
but you could have done it prior to Covid, but it’s like, Yeah, Yeah. But what’s the point? Then we got, now’s a threat. Right. There’s, and any, we can’t do it any other way. So we gotta innovate. That’s, so we got to innovate our way out of, out of the situation.
absolutely. So I wanna, I wanna honor our time together today. So I, I always close with a, a similar question for all my guests. If there’s one thing that you’d like us to know about the innovation process, just one thing that kind of would, would lead us and to make strides in it, what would that be?
I think it would be that you know, human beings are tool. You know, we all have innate capabilities, but by making tools we can sort of enhance our capability, right? We can do things that we otherwise couldn’t do. That’s what a tool does. Mm-hmm. . And the creative process can be enhanced with tools.
Mm-hmm. , you know, So the four lenses is a tool, it’s a, it’s a process. It’s a system, it’s a methodology, but it’s a tool. I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a manmade, you know, a human made methodology for enhancing the creative process. So by, by sitting down and actually using those lenses, So, you know, go back to your online conference.
Go, Okay, how do we challenge orthodoxes, do things differently? How do we, what’s the trend right now? Okay, It’s teams or whatever, Zoom or whatever we’re using right now. Yeah. How do we leverage resources differently? Okay. We could leverage that in that new platform. What do people need? Okay. How do we address that need?
How do we create value by doing things differently using those four lenses? So again, that, that, I think the learning for me is that everyone’s. Everyone on Earth is creative. We’re all innately creative, but, but we can enhance our capability by using a power tool. And you know, in this particular case, a very, very powerful tool is the four lenses of innovation.
Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Rowan. It was a pleasure to work, to be talking with you today.
Likewise. And let’s do it again sometime.
Sounds good. All right.