The coronavirus has changed everything. In the first in a series of special Brand Lab Series™ episodes, we talk about how to rethink strategic planning with Bob Moesta. Bob is the President and CEO of ReWired Group, an adjunct lecturer at Kellogg, a guest lecturer at Harvard and MIT, and a research fellow at the Christensen Institute.
In this episode with Bob, you’ll learn about…
“It is about putting on a pair of lenses to find the good that can come out of this and figuring out what you can do today to get there faster.”
If you have questions for Brian or Bob send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or use the hashtag #AskBrianAndBob on Twitter.READ FULL TRANSCRIPT
Hello everyone and welcome to a special episode of the Brand Lab Series podcast. I’m excited to have Bob Moesta with me today. A couple of caveats as this is not a typical Brand Lab Series show. Like all of you, we are both sheltering in place and working from home. The only thing certain right now is uncertainty. And what Bob and I hope to do today is help you rethink planning in an unknown future. Our goal today is not to inject any fear or opportunism in the conversation. We really hope that we can instill some sense, if possible, of calmness, and a sense of excitement about some of the possibilities that could lie ahead in this new era that we find ourselves in. I’m so grateful to have Bob on the show. Bob, welcome.
Thank you Brian, this is a pleasure to be on. I always like to spend some time with you, so this is great.
Yeah. And I was excited to get a quick behind-the-scenes video peek of where so many of your companies began before the show. And I have a lot of fondness because the last time we were together, I was with you in Grosse Pointe, we were having a glass of wine. But as we’re gonna talk about today, life is turned upside down. Hopefully we’ll be able to talk a little bit about what this means for you, for your business, for your industry, for your job, for your family. Because in all the scary headlines, there will ultimately be a light at the end of this tunnel, and there will be some unique opportunities to rethink the way we do business today and the way we do life today. So Bob, thanks for being on.
Which is exciting, I think. That’s the thing, is that in tough times, we always have to figure out news ways to do things. And I’ll say, being an innovator and building things that have never existed before, this is where I usually live. So the notion of planning in my world, I don’t think really exists. I think planning is guessing, and you guess the best you can. But you start to realize that it’s all about preparation, and being able to read the right signs, and be able to make decisions in real time. And so you start to realize that people who have been dependent upon planning for so long realized that plan is only if it’s a stable system, and we’re not in a stable world anymore, right now.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think having worked with a lot of organizations through the years at AE Marketing Group, that do focus on some of that. The other lens of the strategic planning is oftentimes I find that they’re basing a lot of forward-facing decisions on what they’ve seen in the past, they’re looking at that as an exercise almost in risk management. And I think as we’ve talked, you and I offline, I think the current environment and the coronavirus, for now, have completely made planning and possible.
I don’t think anybody could have planned for this. It’s in one case, I think it wasn’t a question of if this was ever gonna happen, but it was more when. And nobody could plan for the when. And so what they’re doing in terms of sheltering in place and doing all these things… When you first heard what they were doing in Italy, you thought it was crazy. And then next thing you know, it’s not enough. And so I think there’s some really, really good lessons for us around business to learn in some of these things. At the same time to realize that by focusing on progress, what does progress mean now? Three weeks ago it meant one thing, but progress now means something else. And at the same time, what are those… The context has changed, so what are the new struggling moments that you, your family, and even your customers have that you can pivot your business to start to help people move through it? And I think there’s some phases we need to talk about in terms of levels of uncertainty and phases of that.
Well, you have always been someone… As you said earlier, you’re as much an engineer as you are an entrepreneur. And you’ve helped create and design and build thousands of products, so innovation to you is always at your core being. But I think what’s interesting is innovation is often about doing things that you don’t know. And as you said, three weeks ago is different from three days ago, which is different from three hours ago. So, struggling moments are changing so rapidly, and I think it does create some unique opportunities. We’re already seeing some companies evolve and adapt as best as possible under these incredible circumstances right now.
Yeah. Yeah. I gave a talk yesterday at Northwestern and then TechStars about the phases of what’s happening, and I think we have to break this down into what happened three weeks ago and where we were at. There’s this phase of shelter in place where anxiety is building, nobody knows what’s really going on, things are getting worse, people are trying to survive. And it’s this notion of almost we’re all stopped, but we’re trying to figure out what to do next.
Then there’s gonna be this zone of, “When is it gone, and when is it clear? And how do we come back?” and this transition period. And then there will be this new normal. And I think the reality is that trying to get people to think about what the new normal is, is we don’t have enough information. But I think that there’s things that we can start to think about in terms of, one is, “What can we do with our business today? Or what can we do to volunteer to help people who are in this shelter in place situation?” ‘Cause there are lots of people struggling and there are a lot of people who are sitting, and I think that there’s lots of things we can be doing that at least help us feel productive and give us a sense of progress and that we’re helping the world and doing things. I think the hard part is thinking about that transition, but it’s starting to see what are the struggling moments of, “What does that transition look like?” And so I think the reality is we’re probably gonna be here at least until May if not until June, and then we’re gonna be worried about a second cycle. There’s a whole bunch of data around that. But the reality is transition’s gonna start pretty much between June and September, October. And then from there there’s gonna start to be some emergence of a new normal and I think that’s where we have to be prepared. And so from an innovation perspective, I always talk about the notion of planning is guessing and I’m doing the best I can what the data I have. But the reality is, “What are the unknowns that I don’t know? And when will those unknowns appear and how do I make them appear?”
Clay Christiansen, who’s been a mentor of mine for over 20 years, he’d always say, “You wanna look to the anomalies and the anomalies is what this is about.” And so, how do we actually study the anomalies and then do emergent learning as fast as we can to then figure out how to pivot. So the notion of big data and the ability to make those really big financial projections… We’re gonna have very little data about anything because we don’t have any data that describes this situation we’re in. And so this is where you have to be able to learn in very small ways, very, very quickly to learn and do things.
Well, you raise something that I think is a real challenge for a lot of individuals and a lot of businesses right now though. You talked about Clay would say, “Look at the anomalies.” And I think the problem right now is everything about the coronavirus at a broad level is an anomaly. I check in with my parents every day. My father is 80, he’s never seen anything like this in his lifetime. So the whole thing is an anomaly. And what I hope we can try to do for our audience is figure out how do we break down a couple of things you just talked eloquently, per usual, about the different phases that we might be in, but what are the things that we could potentially be doing in the next 30, 60, 90 days? And what are some of those actions to think about? And I agree with you that the anomaly is and important thing, but I’ve also been surprised how many people almost now use that as a status quo thing. Like, “Well, we’ve never seen anything like this, so we’re a little bit of paralyzed right now, if you will.” And I get that, but at the same time, what would be maybe an anomaly that you might look for in a situation like this?
I think the first thing is to realize… My first inclination was, “When has something like this ever happened before?” And the reality is we’ve never seen this in our lifetime, but in 1918, we had the Spanish flu or influenza that came through and 500 million people were affected, and anywhere from 20-50 million people died and there were 165,000 people who died here in the US. And so we’ve been through this before. It happened to be right after World War I. And at some point, the economy was able to come back after that and it came back stronger. And we had the Roaring ’20s in that era. So my thing is, there’s a lot of things that we can look back in history and see that… At least look through it and say, “We can be okay.” I think at the same time that we are so much more mobile and this happens so much faster because… In 1918, we barely had cars. We had boats and trains, but people weren’t flying all over the world, and so it took a lot longer to happen in 1918.
So part of this is to realize there will be an after of this and the reality is that this is nature, if you will, at its finest. In terms of this is what happens. You can’t predict these things. And at the same time, we have to be able to figure out how to survive as humans, if you will. So I think that one is to realize there is a timetable that’s happened before, so we can at least start to think about how that went. We can… I know it’s different from 1918 to 2020, but the reality is that there’s at least some sense of how that’s gonna play out. I think the other part is for us to start to realize, “What can we do in these different time frames?” And so I talk about this notion of a time wall. And the time wall is one of those things that you manufacture or you create that literally creates pressure for you to do something and get something done.
You can call it a deadline, you can call it something else, but having done all these interviews around people, is people create these artificial time walls, where as they get closer and closer to it, they create their own motivation and pressure to do something. And so one of the things that I’ve been talking to people about is, I think this shelter in place is… You have to be able to see it as an opportunity. And it’s an opportunity to either unplug, in terms of get your sleep that you need because you haven’t slept enough. It’s about learning a new skill. It’s about helping other people. It’s about learning to cook. A friend of mine I had talked to yesterday, he’s in Romanian and he’s like, “I’m learning to bake.” He’s like, “I’m doing all these things, but because I can’t go out, I’m learning how to bake. And I get all these different ingredients and I just have the basic ingredients and then I’m learning how to experiment with very different forms and different methods and different tools.”
And so to me, try to use this time to either learn a skill or take a portion of it for yourself so you can be better as you come out of shelter in place. I think the other part though is that how do your community or your family, the close in community and the farther out community, as you start to think about these things? Especially if you’re in a healthy situation and you can do something, I would say try.
I can appreciate your sentiment on all of that though, because I’ve struggled a little bit with the shelter in place for a couple of reasons. Not so much that I don’t think it’s an important thing to do. In fact, I’m on day 20 or 21, so I started that even before it was officially the rule here in Illinois. Where I struggle a bit is that I’m wired to be moving fast. I think speed has often been an advantage for me for a marketing group. I’m competitive. So there’s parts of me that struggle when I down shift, but at the same time, it’s so rare that I have the opportunity to down shift. So I have had this perspective of, “Hey, you wanted to make 2020 a year to think strategically about the long game of your business, your role in your business.” You and I talked about that the last time we were together in Grosse Pointe.
I think this is a blessing for me because I don’t get to see my children as often as I would like to, and now they’re unavoidable, and they’re being nice and quiet right now. But I think that that’s something really good. And then I think the other thing is we see, coming back to the business side of all of this, I’m seeing how my company is adapting to a completely remote workforce. Some of our team was already remote, but now everyone is remote. I’m seeing how our customers are adjusting to that. And I’m also seeing some of the needs that have emerged that our brands have and our customers have. And then I’m seeing, in some ways, some unmet needs for some other segments that we typically wouldn’t go after. So to your point of, “How do we think about evolving and paying it forward?” It’s definitely an interesting time. And I know the last time we chatted more from a podcast perspective, we were talking a lot about your recent book of choosing college, the types of jobs to be done in education, the way some of that industry is changing. And then this whole thing of pivoting everyone, whether you’re in first grade or in junior year of college, to a true e-learning environment has really transformed that whole sector.
Yeah. I think there’s… I go back to the remote learning or remote working situation, where most people would say, “Well, I’d like to go to the office.” And my brother, he runs a construction company, and he’s a CFO of this construction company, and he talks about the fact of like, “Well, nobody can work remotely ’cause we can’t see what they’re doing and accounts payable is different.” And so in January, I kept talking to him like, “Dude, you should have them work remotely. They’ll be happier, they’ll be more productive.” He goes, “No, I just can’t do it.” And literally two weeks ago, he’s like, “How do I do this? Where do I start?
So the whole aspect of where before it was, “It’s never gonna be as good as working in the office so remote working won’t work.” versus, “Remote working is better than not working at all.” Which all a sudden it’s the new reference point, which then causes you to say, “Okay, we can get through some of these things.” And so because the reference point has changed, us being able to do this podcast via… I think we’re on Zoom, right? So the whole thing is, there might be some break up and that kind of stuff. Usually we do it face-to-face, but the reality is, it’s better than not having the podcast.
And so this is where, to me, this is the beauty of this. Is that it’s gonna allow us to actually have some really cool innovations and cause people to try things, because now it’s not as good as “We can’t do the other so this has just gotta be better than nothing.” And so, in education world, I think the thing is, is that there’s been a lot of talk around the fact that… It’s about the credit hour is the linchpin, it’s the kernel of all education, it’s how you buy it, it’s how you get money for it. It’s all the different aspects in higher ed. And you start to realize at some point, if they know it, it doesn’t matter how long they study for it. And so you start to realize the credit hour doesn’t count anymore. It’s now about outcomes. And so you’re seeing the schools where outcomes have been measured and worked on, they’re getting it where they’re still trying to make sure that the students have so much lecture time or teaching time.
And so I think there’s a lot of good that’s gonna come from this, I’ll say, disruption or this interruption that’s gonna force people to realize they have to be responsible for their learning. I think the fact is that schools who were, to be honest, struggling to begin with are gonna be in dire situations, which then means they have to either change their ways or do something completely different or go out of business. And I think that sometimes that feels like it’s a bad thing. But the typewriter had its time, and it was very valuable at a point in time, but there aren’t any more typewriters. And so I think this is where we have to look at… This is how evolution happens and so we have to decide what we’re gonna do and how we’re gonna evolve after this. So, it’s not revolution. This is evolution.
And a key word that you said that jumped out at me as part of that was “outcomes”. And you know Jason and David well over at Basecamp, and literally they’ve written the book on remote working. Literally they’ve written that book.
They did. By the way, I think it was on e of the… Of the four books that they wrote, it was probably one of the ones that was least read. And as everybody got shelter in place, it can’t stay in stock. It’s flying off the shelf. To be honest, they’re doing an amazing job talking about what it’s like. They’ve been doing it for over 15, 16 years. They have an amazing company that basically the whole… “I’d rather have the best customer service person and if they live in Iowa, I don’t care. I don’t care where they live, but I’m gonna pay them as if they live in San Francisco and I want them to be the best at whatever they wanna do. And they can work from home.” And so that’s why their company is small, but very nimble and very, very successful. And if you haven’t heard of them, it’s Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hanson. They have four books but the one book is called “Remote”, and they have been preaching and talking about this for years, and they are the masters in it.
And I think one of the underlying things though that makes them successful is what you said about outcome, because if there’s one thing that I have noticed for our own company and our partner companies and our customers where everyone is remote now, it’s almost like a rebirth, if you will, of the early years of our company as a startup. And what I mean by that is you can really see who’s having an impact and who’s not. In a startup, there’s nowhere for anyone to hide it. So, the same way you were talking about e-learning and education, and a little bit more ownership on the student and some of those other things, it’s also true from the employee who’s working remote right now. I think one of the things that have made… And I’ve read the book, but the thing that has made David and Jason’s mindset work is that they recruit the best, they expect the best outcomes, but whether that’s packaged in 9:00-5:00 sitting in an office, that doesn’t matter. It’s the outcome. And it’s pretty interesting. I’ve talked to a lot of other executives and you can start to see who’s treating work from home like it’s a paid vacation. And there’s only so long that that’s gonna last for certain people, and I think the outcome is what counts.
The other thing they’ve done, to be honest, is they’ve studied, “What is the most meaningful amount of work you should be doing? And how much of it has to be together and how much of it has to be apart?” And what David, and Jason, and Ryan, and that team they talk about it, is to do really deep good work, it takes long periods of uninterrupted time. And so you start to realize all these meetings… What I’m hoping that this experience will do is to realize we don’t need all these meetings.And that the thing about Basecamp as a piece of software or a service, if you will, is that it allows you to get updates when you wanna get updates as opposed to reacting to everybody.
To me the other part that I’ve done in this… Alright, now that I’m sheltered in place it’s like, “What is this designed for? What work can I do?” I have a company called Scribe Media that I’ve hired to help me write a book. I’ve got two of them going. I’ve got a third one where I’m doing interviews with Michael Horn and Ethan Bernstein from the Harvard Business School on your career path, helping you understand how you hire your next company. What progress do you wanna make in your job kind of situation?
But I’m also painting more and being able to paint digitally, and then I have resources to be able to help me build my art business. So there’s all these different things that I framed and said, “Well if this is not possible, what is possible?” And trying to then figure out how to utilize that time. One of my greatest mentors, his name was Dr. Genichi Taguchi. When I was 19 years old, I was in Japan, he presented me with a Saka watch. And he was about 64 or 65 at the time and he told me… And again 18, I didn’t realize all of this, so he had to translate it for me, but it’s more or less, “Time is the most precious of all resources, and that you should not and should never waste it, and don’t let anybody take your time because they’re worse than a thief.”
And the reality is, if somebody takes your time, you can never get it back, you can’t save it. We all have 24 hours in a day. And so, to be honest, it’s like, “What can I do with this time?” And whether your bank account is full with money or not, but your time bank account is the thing we have. And so to me, it’s like, “How do you use that time to help make progress for yourself and for others?”
It’s definitely taken me a while to get there, but I will say, the last few years I have realized time more important than health more important than money. And it does take some learning and some growing to help you get there to realize that. And I know we’ve talked about that quite a bit, but as we come back to… I know we’ve talked a little bit in general about some companies and some strategies for taking advantage of this shelter in place and how we’re adapting to that and how employees should be adapting to that, but if we can come back a little bit to this idea of strategic planning is out the window for now, and if we think about some of the needs to think and be different, what I’d like to hit on a little bit is also there’s some bumps or some risks in the road of that. And I think one of them is when I think about the way a company might communicate with its customer or its potential customer now is a big moment where we have to think about how intent and perception can be radically different. And I think that that’s something we, on our side, are advising our customers about quite a bit. There’s this slippery slope between coming off potentially tone deaf, whether that was your intention or not. Coming off as opportunistic, whether that’s your intention or not.
When we wrote “Choosing College”, we had somebody write a review about the book that was like, “Well, this is nothing new. We’ve heard this all before, we know what it is.” And what we realized is… And basically, “I don’t see why you need to buy this book.” And it turns out that the person who read it wasn’t considering going to school at all, it was more like they were a book reviewer for college books. And so what happened was is that I told Michael I gave him a high five to say, “They didn’t get the book and that’s great, because the only people who are getting the book are the people who are in the moment of trying to choose a college.”
So we wrote it perfectly for the people we were targeting, but we didn’t care about the people who were reviewers, if you will. And so I think part of this is to realize at some point you wanna make sure that you’re very choiceful about how you reframe what you’re gonna do and how you’re gonna do it. But at the same time, don’t be so say so afraid that you’re worried that it’s not actually gonna resonate with the right people. So I think that this is where I think we have to… It’s going to take some effort and some thinking to do it. Which, to be honest, I think that this is the one thing that we’re really gonna have to gear up for. Is that I believe that a lot of businesses were on autopilot. Like, “4% growth. We do this. Here’s the things we do, and we just do it over and over and over and over again.” And now it’s gonna force people to have to think way deeper and way harder than they used to.
And so I think this is the opportunity as you start to think through this notion of the intent and the perception of what’s happening and where people are at. And it’s almost like if you come out with the message that’s too early, that you’re doing it for the new state, the new how it’s going to be in the future versus where we’re still a shelter in place, it could be taken completely the wrong way and vice versa. My thing is that being able to be very sensitive to the context people are in, and being able to understand where they’re coming from, and understanding the progress they’re trying to make, and being able to resonate with them is even more important today than it was three weeks ago.
Absolutely, and along those lines, we had talked about, real briefly, innovation being really core to you and the organizations that you work with. And when you peel it down, innovation is about doing something unknown or something that you’ve never done before. And I think what we try to look at in our own business and try to encourage our customers to think about right now is, “What are the struggling moments that you potentially see in your customer base?” And it almost gets back to your comment also about Clay Christiansen of the anomaly. You might be in one business, but is there something that’s happening to your existing customer pool that you’re serving where you could add more value to them? Or you could be a resource to them? Or maybe there’s a new product or service that you hadn’t thought about before that might help them short-term address what they’re doing.
Because like you said, businesses are on autopilot or we’re on autopilot, so going about business as usual, forward-facing won’t work. It might require you… And you also talked about evolution earlier. It might require you to let certain ways that you deliver your services die in a way to create some new ones. And we’re already seeing on our own side… We’re a small company, but we see, “Wow, there’s some things that our customers are really grappling with, and they don’t seem to have a resource for that. And what are some things that we could look at doing and how could we pivot to try to help them think differently in this time?” And so when you think about trying to do what you haven’t done before or doing something unknown, ultimately innovation, what’s a good jumping off point in this time?
I think, again, that you have to look at it as it’s an evolving situation, and it’s more about being able to break it into chunks and be able to see when things change. And so I think between now and, like I said, end of May, possibly June, the shelter in place is one phase, and we’re gonna have a bunch of intensity and things going on around it, and there will be opportunities to be able to help people make progress in that. But come, I’ll say, July, August, September, or at least as far as I can see, the thing is, it’s gonna be a different mode because we’ll now be out but we won’t be out like we were three weeks ago or four weeks ago.
We should be learning and learning and learning. And if anything, it’s building a way in which you can learn from the market and evolve fast, as opposed to having to have lots and lots of information to basically make a big decision for something in 2021. I don’t think the notion of strategic planning is gone. I think it’s evolved to now a skill that you have to have in being able to make strategic decisions in a much shorter time frame to know the direction you wanna go, but not necessarily have to be going in the right direction all the time, but not necessarily going in the wrong direction. So the difference is, when my kids went to college, what we did is instead of asking what they wanted to be, we had them eliminate what they didn’t wanna be. It was all about elimination theory or elimination. “Exclude what you don’t wanna do, and we’ll be left with what you wanna do.” And out of that, we were able to then do that. I think that’s another way to frame this is, “Let’s make sure that we’re understanding what’s off the table, and then we’ll eliminate to getting to what’s on the table.”
I like that advice, both for work and for life. And in times of crisis, and in times of calmness. Because we are used to having so many options and so many choices. It’s probably one of the reasons why Western countries have struggled so much with the idea of sheltering in place. We’re so used to being able to do whatever we want and not have some of that stuff limited for us. I do think that that… Again, I know we’ve talked about this for the last 30 minutes or so, but I do think the shelter in place is a unique opportunity that’s forced upon us, unfortunately, due to a global pandemic, but it’s been forced upon us. And I think the real issue now is like, “What can you take and learn from that? And how can you recharge your batteries? How can you think differently? How can you find those anomalies? What can you do that… ” Normally you’re going 24/7 and you don’t stop to see some of what you can’t see. And I think this has been a weird way to force that upon a lot of people.
Yeah. The thing I always go back is one of the things my mom always used to say. “You can’t necessarily control the situation, but you can choose how you react to the situation.” And so this whole notion of being able to say, “Where is the good in all of this?” There’s a lot of evil around and a lot of bad around all this. That’s where everybody else is talking. And what I’m trying to say is, “How do you put on a pair of lenses to say ‘What are the good things that can come out of this? And what are the things I can do today to be able to do that?'” To be honest, I think, for example, if we’re thinking about helping people who are sheltered in place is, set a goal to get something done by the time we’re done sheltering in place.
Learning a new language. Learn how to make sourdough bread. Knit. Something that you can help yourself for a minute and take some time to learn a new skill. Life has been so fast and so many things. And my thing is, “Take a minute and take a deep breath.” What you’ll start to realize is that that deep breath is not a bad thing. I think that’s the one thing, is set some time walls up and realize, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen in June, but the reality is when June comes, I will be ready for it.”
So that’s the way I innovate. I innovate by setting milestones and time walls of where I wanna get something done. And then what happens, I realize I’ll reserve capacity for June, July, and August for whatever’s next, but I’m not smart enough right now to figure out what I’m gonna do in June and July, but I know that I’m gonna need some amount of resources or some amount of time and some amount of something to help me figure out what to do. And I’m gonna reserve the capacity. I’m not gonna plan it for it. I’m not gonna plan in terms of… The interesting part is Ryan Singer and I have been wrestling with a lot of this language. And when you’re an innovation, you talk about a plan and a budget. And the plan and the budget have a level of certainty to it.
And when we talk about innovations, we talk about appetite and we talk about a bet, and we talk about the unknowns. So most innovations are about unknown. They’re not about knows. And so, to me, this is the way we’re really at, is in this realm of, “We need a different language to talk about planning as not certainty, but more, ‘What are the unknowns? How do we uncover the unknowns? How do we shape what we wanna be able to do and realize we’re gonna evolve?'” And Ryan has a great phrase in this. He goes, “There’s a whole bunch of imagined tasks we have to do. Imagining what’s gonna be possible. But as you do the work, you discover a whole set of new tasks that you never planned for.” And so we have to realize planning will not be what it used to be for a long time because there was so much unknown we don’t know, that the reality is we’re gonna have to do stuff to discover tasks, discover things we have to do. So don’t be so rigid in the plan, but figure out what the bet is, figure out what your appetite is, understand the uncertainty and the unknowns, and literally seek to answer those unknowns.
And as we joked at the start of the conversation, that this is not how we would typically record a podcast, we were caveatting the audience that the audio quality may not be as good as it normally is, but I think it’s that same mindset of, you said it yourself, “This podcast is better than no podcast.”
And one of the things that we’ve been trying to encourage some of our customers to do is, “Try little things right now that you otherwise wouldn’t be thinking of trying and see what type of impact that has.” And if there’s ever a time for forgiveness, if you will, it’s now. So it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna try something.” And we’re gonna see, “Does this get some stickiness? Can we get some learnings from this? Is this helping our customers from a value perspective? What can we learn from this small little experiment?” Again, I think if you caveat that also with what we had talked about earlier, which is trying to make sure you think about the context, and the end event. And the outcome and the perception, I think that’s important, but I think there is a time now to say, “We’re gonna try this, we’re gonna try that.” I’m surprised because some people have put the breaks on everything because they’re like, “Oh my God, we don’t know what’s gonna happen so we’re gonna stop everything.” I don’t know that that’s ever worked.
That’s right. And I think the other thing that you’re bringing up though is that, and this is one of the other skills. I have a talk that I gave, or it’s one of the books I’m working on, it’s called “The Five Skills of an Innovator”, and what you realize is really good innovation people, they prototype to learn, they prototype to answer the unknowns. They’re humble enough to know that they don’t know, as opposed to foolish to say that they know what’s exactly supposed to be and the prototype is to verify. And so I think this notion of being able to prototype and do small things and being prepared to fail, but to realize what is the amount of failure you’re willing to accept. For example, I have a two-and-a-half-day class on jobs to be done. Nobody’s gonna be buying that at all. And so the fact is what I did is I took people who have been doing jobs and saying, “How do we take your interviewing technique to the next level?”
And literally packaging it into three hours with an hour follow-up and homework before and homework after. And there are people flocking to it. It’s one of those crazy things where they’re learning how to do these interviews. We have a beginners and an advanced, and I never would have thought of doing that before. But if people are down, and they’re sheltered in place, what can they learn while they’re in this time frame? And so this is one of those things I’m trying to slot in.
Now Will it work? I don’t know. But the reality is it’s better than not having the ability to go to a class or to learn something. And so we’ll see. But you have to try and you have to prototype, and you have to prototype to learn, not prototype to verify. Which is a very big difference where most people build something and say, “Well, I know this is gonna work.” And it’s like, “No, I don’t know if this is gonna work and I’m gonna push the limits to see what works about it, what doesn’t.” We have three route… The way they wanted to do it is they wanna do one near the end of our April. I said, “Nope, I wanna do three. I wanna do one next week, the 7th. I wanna do on the 14th and on the 23rd.” Something like that. And they’re like, “But we’ll never fill it.” I’m like, “I don’t care. I don’t care, if we fill it or not. Because filling it is a function of marketing and getting the word out. But at the same time, I’m gonna be able to learn how to teach this way.” So, I’m now teaching my classes for the universities I work for that way.
It’s like, “How do I do this in a different way?” And so, it’s all these really, really exciting things to try to figure out how to get better at it. And I don’t expect the first one to go perfect, but at the same time, it’s better than not doing it. And so that’s my reference point all the time. It’s better than nothing.
As we wrap up, I think there’s an underlying thing that you haven’t explicitly said but that we’ve talked about throughout the last 45 minutes. And that is it’s about learning. We’re in such a time… As I said at the start of the show, the only thing certain is the uncertainty. But that has created a really unique opportunity to try to learn. Maybe it’s a different way of life and being at home. Maybe it’s learning a different way to approach your job function. Maybe it’s a different way to learn about how your business can and should operate. Because, as you said just a minute ago, which I think was extremely profound, you innovate to learn, you don’t innovate for that verification.And I think that what we can learn now can prepare us for whatever that future state will look like. And you’re one of the smartest people I know, but if there’s one thing I know you can’t do is you cannot with certainty tell me about the future. Nor can I.
I have no idea. The only thing I can tell you is how should you prepare? And my thing is, you prepare by understanding the unknowns. You don’t prepare by understanding the knowns. And so this is the thing. I think planning is gonna change. I think of innovation as learning and learning is innovation. And most of the time we think of innovation as technological innovation, but the reality is there’s market innovation and the market has to evolve. And as a consumer, you have to choose a new way in which to do something. And so part of this is, as you learn something new, you are innovating. And so part of this is to realize that learning is at the core of this. And most people are uncomfortable learning things they don’t know or they feel that they can’t excel at. And, to be honest, being dyslexic and realizing… I would barely get a D in anything. The reality is, at some point, I don’t care about being wrong. I care about trying to make sure I’m making progress. So focus on the progress you’re trying to make and iterate and iterate and iterate, and learn and learn and learn. I think that’s a great message for right now.
Well, Bob, as always I appreciate your time, I appreciate your insight. Most importantly, I appreciate your friendship all these years. I’m glad that we could spend some time chatting today. I hope it’s stimulated our audience to think a little differently. Again, our goal was never, “Let’s throw a more fear into it. There’s plenty of headlines for that.” It’s more, “What are the unknowns? What are the anomalies I should be looking at? What can I learn? How can I better prepare myself for that unknown future state? How do I rethink planning?” Hopefully there’s been some good nuggets in here for our audience, and it’s been really great to talk to you again today.
That’s why I always call you the Jimmy Fallon of business. We had some pre-show notes, but the fact is I think the way that you were able to direct me in and be able to talk about it, I think that you’ve helped me as well, so I always love to be on. Thank you, thanks again for having me on.
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