Cultural Wazing – navigating innovation culture. (Episode 67)

Cultural Wazing – navigating innovation culture. (Episode 67)

Interview with Yaron Flint, VP Global Technology Validation & Sourcing at Stanley Black & Decker.

We all know that every organisation has their own innovation culture, but very seldom do we talk about the need of being able to quickly grasp this unique innovation culture when one joins a new company. So today I want to talk about that. Let’s call it: Cultural Wazing. My conversation partner for this discussion is Yaron Flint.

Yaron Flint is a person I have interviewed about innovation multiple times. His insights around corporate innovation and his experience in driving innovation in large organisations is something I find very valuable.

When we talked Yaron had just switched to a new company, Stanley Black & Decker, as VP Global Technology Validation & Sourcing.

So what is “Cultural Wazing”? Well, Waze, if course, is the Israeli app that helps millions of people get to where they want to go as quickly as possible by sharing traffic data about things like traffic jams, road blocks etc.

And “Cultural Wazing” is your ability to quickly understand how a, for you, new organisation works with innovation so that you can begin to get traction on your ideas.

Yaron, who has previously worked for Deloitte, Delphi, and most recently was Head of Israeli operations at Co-Pace, the start-up organization of Continental gave me these insights around how to do Cultural Wazing.

“Large organisations are very complex and it can take years to fully understand their innovation culture. But there are ways to speed up this process.”

When I asked him for some ways of doing it he shared with me the following:

1) Find the key innovation stake holders.

“When you are introduced to new people as part of your onboarding process ask the people whom you meet: ‘Who is the best person to talk to about what goes on in the company?’

After asking a few people a few names will come back over and over. The people behind those names are the people you want to connect with.

A lot of people focus on getting (connected to) the top executives, and while they are great to connect with, it’s often not the top executives that people will mention as “key innovation stake holders”. It might be a person who has been with the company a very long time, a brilliant innovator that does not like to be a top leader, etc.”

Find the key innovation stake holders and you unlock more access to your new company’s innovation culture.

2) Be aware of what to be aware of.

“Another good question to ask is “What should I be careful about?’.”

All organisations have unwritten rules and unofficial power structures. Be ignorant about them and you will also be ignorant about why your ideas are not becoming a reality.

To accidentally step on the wrong toe can be as dangerous as it is unnecessary. Learn which toes not to step on and which cages not to rattle.

3) Learn, don’t preach.

“Do not go in to a new organisation and introduce yourself as “coming from innovation”.”

Instead of trying to come in and offer ideas, go in and offer questions. Communicate that you are there to learn and to understand the pain points that this specific department might struggle with right now. When you have understood that, then later you can come and offer your ideas.

4) Connect your connections.

Yaron, who is a master networker, shared how a senior leader had asked him if he had any information about the covid situation in Austria. Yaron, who happened to know a virologist stationed in Vienna (!), connected the two people and Yaron had immediately built a reputation with this senior leader as a person who had valuable connections.

Anyone who comes new into an organisation is bound to have connections that the new organisation does not have. Leverage that.

5) Do your pre-work.

Do not start your understanding of the innovation culture of your new company when you start your job. Then it might be too late. Reach out to new and old employees of the company even before you accept the position and research the pro’s and con’s of the specific innovation culture of the company you are thinking of joining. They might be super innovative, but unless that culture also is compatible with your own creative process it will not work. (Let’s say you thrive in a collaborative culture and the company turns out to have a very competitive culture where everyone is trying to get ahead. It might be working, but it will not be working for you.)

Yaron: “Do a cultural due-dilligance specifically around the innovation culture before you accept the job. If your creative processes does not match you will not be happy.”

6) Level up.

Just like many computer games let you access a more advanced level once you have cleared an easier one so works the access to an innovation culture. Understand that there are layers of culture and once you have figured out the culture on one level, make sure you “level up” to understand it on a deeper level.

7) Get structured.

“Just like people do the mistake of going to a conference just hoping to meet with people, many people do the mistake of joining a new company without a plan. Instead, make a plan of the people you need to connect with, the people who need to know who you are, and the people who can help you understand the organisation.”

Be organised about joining a new organisation.

I asked Yaron how long it takes to understand the innovation culture of a new organisation. For Yaron it takes two months.

(Now, I will have to add that Yaron is a professional networker so for most it will likely take a bit longer.)

8) Use the key people you identify as consultants.

Most likely many of them would become your strongest oppositions since they are passionate about what they do and would not like outsiders to interfere

Consulting them and asking them to provide guidance would turn them from opposers to supporters (everyone likes to be consulted with).

I then asked him how does one know that he or she has figured the organisation out?

Yaron gave me a really clever answer: “When you know what is going wrong inside of the organisation – and you also know how to fix it. That’s when you know you understand the innovation culture.”

Just like the Waze app uses datapoints to help guide you right, you need to collect enough data points to successfully navigate how your new organisation innovates. In a dream world the organisation will help you with that. But since most companies do not operate on a “dream world scenario” it’s up to you to become your own “innovation waze”.

Because, as Yaron put it: “Before you have a map of how innovation gets done you will not be able to innovate.”

How is it it in your organisation? Are you helping new people navigate the maze that is your innovation culture? And how long did it take you to feel that you understood the innovation culture in your current organisation?

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