3 ways in which developing human potential leads to disruptive innovation

Most marketeers agree that a genuine insight into their customer can unlock disruptive innovation and infuse new life into their brands. It’s no surprise therefore that vast amounts of money are being spent to unveil these precious truths that have the ability to make your customer feel fully seen and understood, in ways that even they could not express themselves.

However, the return on insight generation research is typically not very good. Rather than walk away from the research with one or two heart opening insights, we typically end up with an overload of information that provides a new spin on something we already knew.

So if money cannot buy insights, what can we do to increase our chances of uncovering these hidden gems?

It is said that innovation happens at the fringe, or the intersection of different disciplines. As I continue to explore the coming together of my current work as a coach in human potential development and my experience in market research, I have come to the following conclusion:

Our ability to discover and harness an insight has more to do with the quality of the researcher’s presence than the “insightfulness” of the subject being researched. Even the root of the word (prefix “in” plus the word “sight”) suggests that an insight literally means “seeing inward”.

Here are three ways in which mindfulness increases our chances of landing a powerful insight and harnessing it as a source of innovation for the business:

 

Pay less attention to WHAT customers are saying and more to HOW they are saying it.

As coaches, we are trained to feel beyond the words and sense into the energy that clients bring into the session. For example, it’s not uncommon for somebody to come into a coaching call with the objective to work on their leadership so they can grow into a more expanded role in their organization. Often though, there is a deeper desire, not yet being expressed by the client, but subtly coming through in their body language or the energy of their words.

Good coaches can tune into this tension and bring more awareness to it. They might say something like: “I hear that it’s important for you to grow into the next level of your career, but I don’t feel a lot of excitement in your voice when you talk about it. I’m curious if there is something else going on that we might want to look at first.”

Usually, the intuition of the coach is spot on and the client will get in touch with other aspects that are triggering the need for change. For example, it might reconnect them with a passion that was put on hold many years ago when they entered the business world and create an opening to relook at it again.

Clearly, the quality of insight that is generated, and the impact it has on the client, is hugely different between a coach that simply addresses WHAT the client asks for in a transactional way and one that takes a more transformational approach to the conversation.

Isn’t this exactly the same in the consumer research context? Could it be that the really powerful insights, the ones with the capacity for breakthrough impact, are being left behind because we aren’t sufficiently trained to tune into the “unsaid” of the consumers we are interviewing? What if the biggest tensions (between WHAT is said and HOW it is said), also deliver the biggest insights!

 

Become aware of the current assumptions & beliefs you have about the customer so you can minimize the inevitable interference it has on your ability to pick up new information.

As coaches, we believe in the resourcefulness of our clients. When they feel safe, trusted and seen, it becomes easier to access deeper layers of knowing within themselves.

Therefore, as coaches we strive to show up for them with an innocent mind, leaving our own judgments about what is right or wrong / good or bad behind. This is not as easy as it sounds.

It’s much easier, and sometimes very tempting, to offer advice and suggestions based on our own life experiences. However, as soon as we enter into this dynamic, we lose the capacity to stay open, curious and present for the client to discover their own truth. In other words, our world view, beliefs and ego are coming in the way and preventing the client from accessing their own deeper knowing. They might leave the session with some valuable advice, but they won’t walk away with the breakthrough insight.

The more I grow as a coach, the more I realize the importance of “emptying my mind” before I work with a client. This might look like a 10-minute self-attunement practice before the session.

During this time, I will simply bring attention to my breath, become aware of the “baggage” I am carrying at the moment and consciously choose to set it aside. I might also bring to mind the client I will be working with and take a moment to visualize their brilliance and set an intention for our time together. These simple steps don’t take a lot of time, but the impact can be enormous.

Imagine a marketing team applying some of these basic principles before engaging in research with their customers? What more could we see and discover when observing our customers free from our own judgments and pre-conceived ideas?

 

Be prepared and open to embrace the change that comes with a good insight. You and your business will inevitably be invited to step into a new direction.

Aha moments will typically trigger a desire for change, or to create something new, and propel us into action. This might mean leaving a job or relationship, moving to a new country, starting a new business or reinventing ourselves within the current circumstances.

I can think of many of those moments in my own life over the past years. Each time it involved a transition from the known to the unknown. This would trigger doubts, fear and a longing for the status quo. However, when reconnecting with the insight that initiated the change, I would also discover a renewed capacity to imagine and dream; to experiment and play.

As coaches, we support our clients on this adventurous journey (from the known to the unknown to the new known). When they get stuck, we invite them into a creative space of exploration. When they fall back into old patterns, we reconnect them with the new possibilities that lie ahead. When they stop believing in themselves, we remind them of their brilliance.

The innovation process is no different. Finding a mind opening insight is only part of the journey. We must also find the courage to act on it and rebuild the business around it. As a marketing team, how much attention do you currently put on cultivating the new mindsets and putting in place the conditions that will allow an insight to flourish into a competitive advantage?

As coaches, we can help you navigate through this transformational process.

Over the course of the past 20 years, I have spent half of it perfecting the art of market research and the other half developing human potential through coaching. I am now grounded in the intersection of both and am available to help you and your business teams get breakthrough returns on your insight generation investments.

The world is VUCA – Do we compete with it or collaborate with it?

A few weeks ago, I was catching up with some old colleagues from my Market Research days. As we were sharing stories, I was reminded of the brilliant minds I used to work with. Market Researchers are naturally drawn to asking lots of questions, understanding why things are the way they are and applying their vast knowledge to predict future trends. At the end of the day our role within the organization is to bring more confidence and accuracy into the decision making process. The more complex the decisions that need to be made, the more we need to rely on these brilliant minds to connect dots and pierce through uncertainty.

In this particular conversation we were talking about the profound changes taking place at all levels of society as a result of Covid-19. Of course we ended up with the million dollar question: “Will things eventually go back to normal or have we entered unchartered territory where we are just scratching the surface of the changes that lie ahead”? If so, how do we navigate this hyper VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world that we find ourselves in? Most of us could agree that going back to the way things were would be very unlikely. However, there were many different perspectives and opinions on where to go from here.

What struck me as I listened into the exchanges was the incredible amount of data and analysis being shared. It was as if my ex-colleagues were attempting to counter the high levels of uncertainty about where things are heading with equal amounts of research and knowledge.

Reflecting back on this experience a few days later, I became curious about the mindset underpinning the conversation I had witnessed with my ex-colleagues. What was motivating this attempt to “out-smart” the volatile market conditions? Was it the belief that with the right amount of knowledge it would be possible to control, or more accurately predict, the emerging future?

Certainly there is tremendous value to be found in books and research studies but I was becoming aware of the need to also access other “ways of knowing” and other methods of moving through these turbulent times. Instead of trying to compete with the VUCA environment, I wondered what it would be like to collaborate with it. What if we allowed ourselves to extend the concept of collaboration beyond person-to-person exchanges to also include collaborating (or partnering) with the transformational process itself? What would that mean and what new skills would we need to learn?

These are the questions I have been sitting with, and to a large extent experimenting with, over the past ten years of entrepreneurship. I have discovered the value of Presencing as per Otto Scharmer’s work with Theory U or the Potential Based Approach championed by Alan Seale. These alternative ways of leading invite us to navigate uncertainty by looking inside, relying more on our intuition and choicefully altering our relationship to external circumstances.

Let’s take the pandemic for example. In most cases we are acting as if scientists understand it and can control it. Social distancing, masks, lock downs, travel bans, vaccinations….are all designed to eliminate or out-smart the virus. It assumes that with enough brain and will power we can defeat it, and eventually get on with our lives.

An alternative, or at least complementary approach, would be to see the virus as nature’s way of bringing our attention to the unsustainable ways in which we have been living over the past decades. Rather than a random event disrupting our lives, what if its purpose is to awaken us and challenge us to re-examine some of the foundations upon which our society is built. Constructs like maximizing shareholder value or productivity or globalization are all ripe for reinvention. If we look closely we will see exciting new seeds have already started to sprout but they are still fragile and need our nurturing before they can grow and replace the old.

In closing, I am not suggesting we should do away with the analytical, problem solving approach. Nor am I saying that masks and social distancing aren’t effective ways to minimize the risks of the virus. They are important, but only part of what it will take to move forward. What I’m proposing is to widen the lens through which we perceive reality to also include a deeper, more interconnected, understanding of the world and our role within it. Our ability to access new creativity and ideas will be greatly enhanced in this expanded playing field. As researchers & coaches we are ideally positioned to support organizations in this exploration by inviting them into a space of collaboration where we can dare, at least a little bit, to let go of control.

Transformational Leaders in Transformational Times webinar series – A harvest of deeper insights

2020 has been a year of pausing, letting go, reflecting, listening, renewing, and recommitting. In many ways this year has been about laying the foundations for the tremendous opportunities emerging on the horizon.

The webinar series that we organized at the end of November / beginning of December beautifully encapsulated all of these dimensions. Taking the time to pause and deeply listen to the transformational stories of the transformational leaders we have been fortunate to work with over the past years was inspiring and a clear reminder that the time has come to further expand human potential development work into the world.

Reflecting back on this amazing experience, we realize that there was so much more going on beneath the surface which only now we can start to comprehend. In this retrospective we would like to share some of these insights with you and hope to open up a dialogue on how we can continue to support each other’s growth into our transformational leadership potential.

 

An unexpected “rite of passage”:

 

Throughout this process, we assumed that the main purpose of the series was to inspire the audience. The stories shared by our clients would help the audience see expanded possibilities for transformational leadership in their own lives. The focus was on the audience. However, could it be that this experience was equally significant for the speakers?

We realize now that for some of them, this may have been the first time that they revealed their inner process and stories in such a public way. Did we naively assume that participating in this webinar would be a natural extension of how they were showing up in their teams and organizations? Did we overlook the rite of passage that this invitation may have represented to them? In hindsight we can now sense how this could have been experienced as a stretch out of their comfort zone and, in doing so, a significant step in their development as transformational leaders.

This is an important reminder that the journey of a transformational leader always starts privately with a subtle inner impulse to bring more of who we are into what we do. Then it gradually expands outwards to impact our immediate sphere of influence (family, team, organization). As we start to see the results of our transformational leadership, we grow in confidence until we are naturally ready to take a step beyond. For example, Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton Budgens supermarket in London, spoke about the plastic free initiative in his supermarket being an experiment he has already leveraged to inspire and persuade much larger retailers to do the same important work.

Could it be that the deep insights Laura Saldivar Luna (CPO at Teach for America) has gained about what it takes to shift an organizational culture are setting her up to become a champion for culture change at a societal level to foster larger systems change? Is Tanya Gonzalez’s extraordinary leadership in unleashing the resourcefulness of her team to respond to the great challenges brought on by the pandemic a blueprint for other organizations in the non-profit sector? Do KS Saravanvasan and his team hold the keys to unlocking the highest impact initiatives in an organization?

Looking at the webinar series through this lens makes us even more grateful for the gift of their courage and the significance of this process.

 

Releasing transformational energy:

 

The second unexpected discovery about the underlying potential of this series is the energetic impact it has had. Looking back, we can see that creating the space for these stories represented an unpacking, or unleashing, of energy. Prior to the webinar this release of energy was contained to the people directly involved in the projects. We would talk amongst ourselves about the lessons and insights but very little of it was visible to the outside.

By intentionally sharing the stories beyond our immediate circle we can witness the freed-up energy moving and expanding, gracefully reaching new people and inspiring new breakthroughs.

 

Proactively welcoming the “tipping point”:

 

The tipping point has always been a fascinating concept to us. It’s that moment when the NEW has developed to a point where it can naturally and effortlessly replace the OLD.

In the context of our work, I can imagine this happens when enough people have come to the conclusion that the kinds of interventions they have relied on in the past to achieve their objectives will no longer work to navigate their organizations into the future. Until now I have assumed there is very little I can do to influence the arrival of the tipping point, other than lay the foundations so we are ready to respond when it does eventually come.

The experience of this webinar has profoundly shifted the way I think about my relationship with this phenomenon. Releasing and freeing of this transformational energy has created a new openness to receive, and a more expanded awareness about the need for transformation?

I no longer see the tipping point as something “out there” that we need to “wait for”. Instead, I now look at it the other way around – as if it is waiting for us. Waiting for us to welcome it, from a deep place of groundedness, into the heart of our collective Being and Doing.

Without doubt, the time to do so is NOW. So dear tipping point, let 2021 be the year we proactively take steps towards each other, in partnership, so we can discover and co-create a thriving future for all.

Human Potential based restructuring at Omega HMS

In early 2017, Omega Healthcare Management Services, a global leader in business outsourcing for healthcare service providers, underwent a restructuring aimed at further strengthening their number one corporate value: CUSTOMER SERVICE.

As a result of putting the customer even more at the heart of their operational processes they have managed to increase business amongst existing clients by 70% and business generated by new clients by 30% between 2017 and 2020. Internally, the newly redesigned customer service teams had the following observations:

  • “It’s easier to connect with the Operations team and partner with them in problem solving”
  • “It has facilitated client outreach and business growth”
  • “The closer you are to a problem, the easier you will be able to solve it. The CES Team has been able to provide better insights and also analyse the situation better. We have been able to look at problems and put them in a working model, instead of directly saying yes for every client’s request. We are able to negotiate better with clients”.
  • “The challenges are discussed in more depth and there has been a collaborative effort with clients, Operations and other internal teams”.
  • “As part of CES formation the small clients started feeling valued and having the human touch. These smaller clients are growing along with us and there is a more collaborative approach”.

What made this restructuring so special and impactful is that the Omega Talent Development Team, led by Mr. KS Sarvanavasan & Mr. S. Ranganathan, found a way to match the people most likely to exhibit a service oriented mindset with the newly created client facing teams. In other words, they took on the challenge to reorganize the teams in a way that not only considers the past performance of an individual but even more importantly their future potential to deliver the following qualities:

  • Empathy / compassion => to better understand the needs of the client
  • Curiosity & creativity => to continuously look for new and better ways to meet those needs
  • Collaboration & trust => to be able to seek out the win-wins

Their vision was inspiring, and the potential benefits significant. Customers would receive better service and innovative solutions, Omega would be rewarded with higher levels of customer loyalty, and the Omega employees would experience more meaning and greater flow in their work. In order to turn this vision into reality they reached out to Being at Full Potential, a professional services company specializing in human potential realization. KS and his team were particularly impressed with the way they were able to measure the highly relevant but somewhat abstract concept of HUMAN POTENTIAL. When they first saw the reporting framework (see figure 1 below), they immediately recognized the correlation between the leadership qualities they were looking for in their client services team (compassion, curiosity, collaboration, service) and the measures generated from the human potential assessment.

The first round of assessment was conducted in 2017 by all managers band 2 and above. In total 686 responses were collected to give an overall view of how the organizations was performing at the time in terms of realizing the potential of its people. KS and his team did not stop their analysis at the overall organizational level. They were curious what the data would reveal when they break it out by teams and key managers within the organization. In collaboration with Being at Full Potential they created a state of the art analytics tool where they could easily dig out the areas of the organization where there was good alignment between an individual’s potential for customer focused leadership and their role, as well as areas where an individual’s potential could be further optimized. In doing so they identified three kinds of teams:

  1. Teams where the customer focused leadership potential of both the manager and the team members were well expressed.
  2. Teams where the customer focused leadership potential of the manager is more expressed than the team members
  3. Teams where the customer focused leadership potential of the team members is more expressed than the manager

In the first instance, no action was needed. However, in the other 2 cases they saw a huge opportunity to restructure and realign the teams in a way that optimizes the potential of the team members and hence their ability to deliver the highest level of customer service. The following figures show the clear impact that this reorganization had on the team’s ability to express more of its inherent potential.

  1. Customer Orientation score went up from 78 to 85
  1. Compassion score went from 74 to 81

Conclusion:

Omega HMS can be considered a pioneer in the way they went about unleashing human potential in their organization. It’s the way in which they look at “Human Resources” that made all the difference. Their starting point was to see the organization as already being whole. In other words, they believed the talent they needed to create an outstanding customer service team was already there. They just needed to identify the people who have the inherent capacity for compassion, collaboration & curiosity, and then reassign them into positions where these qualities can be fully expressed. This approach is in sharp contrast to the usual way in which we go about talent & organizational development. In most cases we assume the inherent resourcefulness is lacking and therefore extensive (and often very expensive) training programs need to be put in place.  

Imagine the amazing efficiencies that can be achieved by following Omega’s human potential-based approach to leadership development? Imagine the incredible impact it will have on the self esteem and engagement of employees when they are seen as whole and resourceful? Imagine how the increased engagement levels will effortlessly translate into an improved bottom line?

To re-enter, or not to re-enter, the workforce?

Recently, I have opened up again to the possibility of joining the workforce. For the first time in 10 years I am scanning the jobs section of LinkedIn, curious about the kinds of positions companies are looking for these days. I also dug up my old CV and started updating it to better reflect the person I have become. And finally, the cover letter, a fascinating challenge to reconcile the multi-faceted nature of my entrepreneurial past with the specific demands laid out in a job description.

All of this is of course just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to re-entering the job market. Beneath the formalities (CV, cover letter, application…) lie the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what is possible. I’m aware how important it is to also address these. By bringing them up to the surface, it becomes easier to release them and reshape them in ways that support us in moving forward.

There are two stories in particular that I would like to share. The first one is about the nature of success and the second one about choice. Although the specifics of these stories are unique to my experience, I believe there is also a universal aspect to them. I trust that by bringing them out in the open it’s possible to release the grip they have on me / us and shift the conversation in ways that make the job search experience more enjoyable and ultimately more effective.

Success:

When I set out on my entrepreneurial adventure 10 years ago, the odds were stacked against me. It was hard to imagine how one could create a thriving business around the idea of prioritizing the “BEING” in organizational contexts that mainly thrive on DOING. Not only is the concept of BEING an abstract idea, it also can be perceived as a direct threat to a world that single-mindedly focuses on action, deadlines, and results. The business case for BEING is not an easy one to make and therefore most people close to me either advised against it or hesitantly supported this bold initiative.

My response at the time was to reassure my loved ones that if my entrepreneurial ambitions didn’t work out after a couple of years, I would simply turn around and get another job. At least I would have followed my dream and given it my best effort. At the time this was a very reasonable approach, but it was also the beginning of a story – a story that equated going back into the workforce with failure of my entrepreneurial venture. As I start my job search, I notice this story is still alive inside of me.

By reworking my CV and applying to jobs am I admitting that Being at Full Potential did not live up to its potential? Am I admitting that those who doubted me ten years ago were right? What does it even mean to live up to expectations or fulfill potential?

If it’s about impacting lives, creating a movement, thought leadership or giving birth to innovative tools, then it would be considered a great success. On the other hand, if the measure of success is a sustainable business that my family and I can reliably live off, then there is still some way to go.

This is the moment to reshape the story. What if opening up to rejoin the workforce is a continuation of the entrepreneurial journey rather than an end to it? When I look at my work through a broader lens – one where the focus is on human potential realization, then it doesn’t really matter so much what vehicle is used to get me there. Being at Full Potential may have been the vehicle that served me best until now, but maybe going forward I can be more impactful in realizing my mission as an internal change agent within an organization.

This new perspective takes me out of the either/or, success/failure paradigm and brings the focus back on the unique value I can bring to organizations. The purpose remains the same, it’s just the vehicle that changes. This is the new story I am embodying and want to share as I explore re-entering the workforce.

Choice:

Conventional wisdom would suggest that it is important to make a choice. Either I’m an entrepreneur, and continue building Being at Full Potential, or I drop it and re-immerse in a job that leverages my past experiences and aligns with my future aspirations. The idea that a choice is necessary is perhaps the most ingrained story that I have been telling myself over the last years. In fact, it lies at the essence of what Being at Full Potential is about:

We are what we CHOOSE to BE.

In other words, there is a direct relationship between what we are able to attract in our lives and the choices we make. As I write this, I am reminded that the story of choice is more subtle and complex than first meets the eye, and therefore can easily lead to misinterpretation.

As I further break down the story revolving around choice, I see how easy it is to confuse CHOICE at the superficial DOING level and CHOICE at the deeper BEING level. I also realize how important it is to make this distinction and genuinely enquire within myself where I stand on these different dimensions of choice.

Am I re-entering the job market because I’m prioritizing financial stability over my calling? Or am I re-entering the job market because, at this point in time, it may be another vehicle for me to realize my calling & purpose in life?

On the surface it seems like the same choice is being made (re-entering the job market) but at a deeper BEING level they are in fact very different. The first one is coming from a need for security and stability and the second one from a place of service and openness to new forms of realizing my purpose. In other words, the WHY is more important than the HOW.

In this respect, the story of success and the story of choice are very much intertwined. When success is defined as serving organizations in harnessing the human potential of their people then there is no need to choose the “right” vehicle. Instead I simply need to be open to all possible vehicles and boldly explore the gifts they have to offer.

This is the choice I am making!