Whenever I’m involved in creating strategic directions with an organization, I always begin by listening to the patter of their natural conversations. You know, there are certain people drawn on and on to have others respond and like I’m, like a two or three no music piece that continues to repeat itself over and over again. Well, if this is the case I know that the potential for us to initiate innovative thinking is definitely gonna be a challenge. I don’t know if you realize that conversational patterns are the single most significant cultural queue for strategy development. Well, conversations that spark innovation are more like improvisational jazz, the players simply feet off of one another and go wherever the spirit of the music takes them. That indeed is the nature of this week’s dialogue with Kathy Manners — a master innovator. Kathy got her start in no other than the mother ship of innovation –3M Canada. By the time she was ready to move on she was responsible for 3M’s power brand posted notes. While providing leadership in her next posting with the Ontario government, she was awarded the ministry of community safety and correctional services “Leader of the Year.” She established globally recognized leadership development programs. She pioneered and led a culture of talent management, performance management and employee engagement in two very large complex organizations. She served as the executive lead for one of the province of Ontario’s reorganizations, this time it involved 16,000 employees. With such significant and unique leadership experience under her belt, Kathy has launched her own business brand called “KM”. Now she magically blends to innovation practices from both the private and public sectors in her own distinct formula for social innovation. You can find her at www.KathrynManners.com — that’s K-A-T-H-R-Y-N-M-A-N-N-E-R-S. But now, with no further ado, let’s experience some innovation jazz.
Lesley: So Kathy Manners “The magician of innovation” from my sense of your experience, what would you say have been the most significant changes in innovation over the last decade or so in both how we see it and how we practice it?
Kathy:Okay great! So, I grew up in an innovation company, grew up in 3M Canada, and for us it was a value more than anything else. It was who we were as a company, who we were as individuals. And I think how it’s evolving is it’s becoming more of an industry, and that so many people have identified that we need innovation as we move forward. So people have tried to kind of com-part rise it and make it into something that is very specific. So what I mean by that as far as a practice goes, again, back when I worked at 3M it was a cultural piece of what we did. We could spend time working on things that we just had a hunch about things that we just felt had some promise. And now I think there are so many people trying to find a tool or an approach that’s automatically gonna make it into some invention or innovation and it just doesn’t work that way.
Lesley: Let’s just go back to “It’s a value.” So, you know, I think for many organizations they have these lovely values on the wall and everybody sort of like knocks them off, “Can I recite them?” But in your experience and whether it’s 3M or as your other experiences in the public service now in lots of different projects, what really is the way in which a value becomes truly part of the cultural milieu?
Kathy: Yeah. So it’s about behavioral examples, like where can we see innovation living? So that to me when the values become more than just what’s written on the sheets of paper that are passed around organizations. So when I see people of diverse thinking coming together to try to solve some sort of problem, to me that’s an innovative way of looking at the world.
Lesley: So one of the interesting things that about innovation in terms of the gender difference between men and women is that the latest research says that men are perceived to be more risk takers and stronger in the innovation process in terms of initiation than women who tend to be adaptive and responsive. What’s your take on that?
Kathy: Yeah it’s interesting. When I managed leadership development, we used to look at something we would call risk to innovation ratios. So, would you sacrifice something for the company when in fact you really believed it was an innovation? And I’m not sure that we saw gender differences but I see that in what I know with women is that I think we have a stronger kind of intuition. So, what I like about innovations when you follow a hunch when you don’t really have language around the innovation yet, that you just are…you know that it’s the right path to follow, you just don’t know where the path is going at that point.
Lesley: And so, what kind of environment needs to be set by the leadership to allow something to emerge that doesn’t yet have a language?
Kathy: Yeah. So the leadership need to really be welcoming around failure and possibility kind of balancing that. And certainly I saw a very big differences when I worked in Ontario public service, like obviously they’re very concerned about the citizens of Ontario and how their funds are –you know– taxes are being used. And so, it was often really hard to take those risk. And so, a lot of times even though there was a lot of good ideas, lot of smart people trying to make a big difference, so many things were stopped way early on in the innovation process. And so they never really got to be incubated and to be taught of in any kind of details, so that’s always a problem. When you don’t give people the time, you know, they often stay in the question as long as you can trying to really think about things before you try to problem solve the end results.
Lesley: So let’s talk about staying in the question. Because, one of the things that I’ve observed in most innovation work is that it starts with a question for which nobody has the answer. And so, can you think of a project that you have worked on and give an example of what was the question that started the process of innovation to take place?
Kathy: Yeah. So I’m working on a big one right now for Rural and Remote Access to Justice. So what we mean by that is we have, um, people who live in small remote communities all over Ontario generally have low income who have legal issues such as land or tenant issues, consumer law issues. And they find difficult to get the access they need to lawyers, courts to be able to help solve their problems. So that’s a big social concern for a lot of people. So, you know, what we started to think about is, what if we change the experience of justice for people? So not only made things better from helping them find a legal clinic that can support them, helping them get the transportation they need to get to the courts, but also just the perception of fairness. And what if people just felt that they were being treated better? What we know is they actually…that makes the big difference, that’s an innovation on its own if you can start to shift some of the feelings people have.
Lesley: So the question was, how do we change the experience? How did you come up with the question?
Kathy: It all started by talking to end user clients. So talking to people who had lived experience with low income, people who have experienced the justice system, and then we work very closely with community legal clinics. So we have four prototype clinics that we’ve been working with.And so, they live everyday with this question. So they helped us really shape what was the question that we were trying to work with them on.
Lesley: And, it’s my experience that the very nature of the question is probably one of the most significant pieces to the innovation process, because it informs not only who are asking the question of but the nature of are…it created pursuit. And so in that respect I want to take you to the fullness project that you worked on. So tell us a little bit about that project and then could you tell us the question that that project was based on?
Kathy: …the example I just used is one of the Boldness projects. So, though I work with the gentleman name Rick Yan, he’s one of the pioneers in social innovation in Canada and he has created what he has created what he calls “The boldness project”. I’ve have been have the pleasure of working with him for the last few years on this. And so, we wanted to create was transformational change in whatever domain area needed some work. And so we have worked in community change as far as trying to make a community healthier, we’ve looked at early start education.
Lesley: Stop there for a second. Making a community healthier, so what would be the question that would be leading that pursuit?
Kathy: So that community looked at 20 percent demand reduction in healthcare by 2020, so that was the question. Could we reduce healthcare demand? So not what was happening in the healthcare system but they’re actually keeping people out of the system. Is that possible and could you take up to 20 percent of that and not have it enter into the system? So that was their question.
Lesley: So let’s talk about the notion then, um, innovation as you first describe it which is that it’s a way of being. It’s in your soul, it’s how you get up in the morning as suppose to it’s a thing that we do when we go in a room and we’re now gonna innovate. Um, so, let’s move to the notion of social innovation. How do you define social innovation?
Kathy: So for me because I grew up in innovation and it is in my spirit, so I don’t really see it any differently. To me it’s still got to betransformational, it’s got to be looking at large systems in a way that we’ve never looked at before. So from a social innovation perspective — you know — what we’ve determined is what we learned in the private sector can be translated into the social sector. So there are large social concerns such as poverty reduction, food insecurity that need to be looked at. And we can’t stay on the course that were currently on because we’ve been…still systems are stuck. And so, what we’re hoping is taking the good thinking that comes out of the innovation world and applying it in a social…for social problem, social concern.
Lesley: Well, one of the main…some of the leading statements of is this social innovation is are we attempting to deal with an intractable social problem? So there’s something about the intractable nature of the problem that requires this type of thinking. But before we go on with that, I want to find out you say innovation is in your blood. If I’m sitting here right now, how would I know if innovation was in my blood?
Kathy: Well for me it’s I have one of those mindset. I’m constantly inventing, constantly thinking of new ways of doing things and many of them just flow away in the day and then other ones stick, other ones end up becoming ideas that in the right moment they start to be implemented. So, I often think of things and then I just kind of tuck them away and then I wait for the right environment, the right opportunity to be able to pull that idea forward.
Lesley: So it goes back to you one of the statements I made earlier which is counter to the research, which is that you’ll maintain to be more risk-taking and more in-charge of the innovation process as supposed to women being adaptive. What you’re saying is that you are so comfortable in your skin that it’s okay for you to just float this ideas to just allow yourself to open up to whatever possibility there is.
Kathy: Yeah, and I think that comes with aging and with…as you get more comfortable with the talents and skills that you have, you start to define yourself around the element. So, when I first started at 3M I was– you know– rate out of University. So, I was lucky enough to just be in an environment that I didn’t even identify as something special or unique, it was just what I was growing up in. And then when I left that environment I started to realize how important those lessons were for me as I move forward, because– you know– I moved from a leadership style that was very open to ideas. You know, I worked for a community safety and correctional services, those are very paramilitary leadership approach. So, I think it’s taking me a while to realize that this was such a part of who I was, who I am.
Lesley: So if I am somebody working in a system such as you were and I experience all of the system barricades to me being open, and I even had a thought about myself which is I’m not creative. What’s your advice to both the self-talk and to those who are living in an environment which actually self-reinforces that you need to be creative and innovative?
Kathy: Yeah, that’s where the tools and techniques kind of come in because I think everybody has creativity competencies. And so, you can certainly — you know– when you work with groups of people you’ll all…I’m always amazed that how creative people can be when given the opportunity. I think with innovation it’s moving it into action, right? So taking these ideas and being able to actually make something happen with them. And that’s where when you work in these tougher organizations that’s words things like political equity really comes in, because there are moments where you just can introduce new ideas because people aren’t ready for whatever reason. And so, you have to really– often at times– just hold on to those ideas and hope that the right moment comes on, comes available to you.
Lesley: And look for those opportunities which brings me to one of the models of social innovation, is that it starts with prompts and inspirations. So we’re prompted.So, in this spirit and I know that you have…one of the first graduates and you’re an honor student in the Waterloo School in social innovation, what is an example of a prompt that somebody would have…that would start them into this social innovation process?
Kathy: Yeah for me it’s often a conversation with the person that’s gonna be affected by the transformation. So for me I work a lot in the area of poverty reductions, so it’s a conversation with somebody who lives in poverty that says something like, “If only we can work on this, this will shift my world, change my world.” And so that often prompts– you know– wanting to abroad in the conversation, wanting to look for ways that you can actually support those individuals on that area.
Lesley: So that’s interesting to me because as we apply it to the person who’s self-talking, “I’m not creative” or sits inside the system that is not supporting innovation.Prompts can happen over coffee conversation when any number of people that allow as to shift our perceptions about what’s going on in the world.
Kathy: Exactly. So there’s the author Steve Johnson who wrote the history of innovation, and he talks a lot. He’s got a whole chapter dedicated to coffee houses, And I believe very much in that…if it is a conversation then and I often work out in my community sitting in coffee houses and sitting in community spaces, because no doubt I run into somebody or hear some piece of information that will spark and start to bring together some other thoughts that have happened in other days. And so, I think that’s very important to kind of be that connector of lots of different pieces of information.
Lesley: So in terms of the next step after prompting it’s “Proposals.” So, you know, I think sometimes we get caught up in the grand scheme. You know, let’s do the macro proposal where we can get all things done just as big as we possibly can. I want to go into your magic bus…which is prompted by obviously a question, and then the idea of using a bus to help transform a community became something that went into action. Tell us about the question that started that and then tell us about the magic bus.
Kathy: Sure absolutely. So, you know, really the question was “How can we change the community conversations that are happening in many cities?” So, my small town — very typical like lots of small towns — wanted to have a community conversation about how to make the city healthier and happier. And so very traditionally, we wanted to host a one day meeting where we invite as many people as possible. But what ends of happening is the usual suspects get invited and lots of people can’t come because of either room capacity or they’re just not available that day. So the question was, “How do we get to as many citizens as possible to be able to engage in that conversation about happy and healthy?” So, I have a Mayor here who used a bus during his campaign to be elected, and so we knew that was available to us. And I also…the idea sparked from something called the campaign was “Before I die.” It was a woman out of New Orleans who lost a significant member of her family, and she took chalkboard paint and painted a building in New Orleans and just had people write “Before I die dot dot dot I wanna be this, I wanna do this.” And it ended up becoming a worldwide movement of conversation around– you know — your bucket list and how people want to live their life. And so I was aware of that and so that idea sparked when it be great if we could have all billboards in all neighborhoods in my hometown that people can write how we really could be really healthier and happier. Well that didn’t seem practical because how would we have these billboards all over town, so then we went back to the bus and thought what if we created a mobile suggestion box that could move around the community. And so we doctored up this bus with vinyl and we have the markers that car dealerships use to write on their cars when they put their sticker prices on it. And we’ve been driving it around town for the last six weeks, and we’ve been able to engage around about 600 ideas that come out of just driving into neighborhoods and going to events. And so very confident the event is tomorrow but I feel very confident that — you know — there won’t be all of those people in the room but at least we will have represented all kind of social economic, all neighborhoods within the community in the conversation.
Lesley: And as part of the posting to this program I’m gonna be putting up pictures of this bus, and you’ve got some pretty young participants writing on this bus as well don’t you?
Kathy: Yeah, we were lucky enough to engage, we have it college and university in our town. So I engaged the research students from Georgian college, and so they’ve been coming out with me and they’ve been doing some more qualitative research. And they’ve just been out with that great youthful energy encouraging people to write on the bus, and we’ve been at both the university and college also on campus with the bus and I found a lot of fun with the students seeing what they want the community to be.
Lesley: And what I understand is that you take the bus back every night and you wash it down and it goes back out again, and it allows itself to get repopulated with ideas.
Kathy: Yep, I take pictures of everything that’s on the bus and then we wipe it down. It’s the ultimate role of a good community leader, you think of the idea then you actually have to drive the bus then you actually have to wipe the bus.
Lesley: Oh there’s lots of glamour…there’s lots of glamour at this. So, I think what I want to just move to now is the fact that you came from jobs that had positional power. And now you’re in projects where you are a member of the community, you are there but nobody’s put a sticker “Mayor” on your head — you don’t have that. What is in the nature of this influential role that you play that others need to understand? How do you influence without that kind of positional power?
Kathy: Yeah, that’s been a really interesting transition for me, because like you said i worked from large companies and I held positional power for a lot of years. And so, what I learned and moved to a community and so had to build a lot of relationships, so that was the firs thing. I just got myself out there and I involve myself in lots of conversations and volunteered in lots of different… And so I built some credibility with the community that I would deliver on the things I said I would deliver on. And so, you know, and I think I try to be as open as possible with who I am, so you know, not everybody likes me but people that do really know who I am as an individual, so I try to take really authentic in value kind of based approach.
Lesley: So, just to underline that for one moment in the studies of the difference between positional and personal power. Personal has far greater impact, and there’s qualities that you actually just mentioned to personal power. First is “dependability”, and so people have to know that they can depend on you. When you say you’re gonna do something you do it no matter how big how small. The second is “trustworthiness”, which is I can trust you. I can trust you to keep a confidence, I can trust that you’ll have me in your best interest, you’re the real notion of true trustworthiness. And the third is “personal warmth” and that’s your nature of openness. So, I think that you’ve just illustrated, these are not magic ingredients in the sense that we all have human capability to embed this in our behavior but they’re critical in the sense of the amount of influential power that we have.
Kathy: Yeah, I think the one that I would add that I was thinking about from a…like a female perspective is I always say the mother bear. I have children and I would fight tooth a nail for anything to do with my children, and that tenacity I think is also really important when you only have personal power that there are often times when you suggest something or you have an innovation idea. And then less you don’t have the tenacity, the kind of stick with it and have lots of conversations around it, that idea will float away pretty crackers if you can’t.
Lesley: Yeah, I love that edition. And, the one other thing I think is critical to this sort of personal warmth is the notion of empathy. And you know, you and I’ve chatted before about how different that might be if we go back to “women who lead” in the name of the show the difference between men and women and empathy. What’s been your experience? Is there a difference between men and women and their ability to empathize?
Kathy: I really think there is like I have been a Chair of a couple of Board of Directors– you know– that had gender balance. But certainly what I have observed is that the women on those Boards really always go back to the people who are serving, and really on a regular basis think about the changes and the decisions that we’re making at this Board level how will it affect the people that ultimately get the service that we’re working on. So, I think it’s really important — you know — especially once I started working in social innovation– um, you know– the empathetic view, the client center design piece is very, very important to me. Although when I look at it from my business days when I was a marketer, I mean it was customer, right? You’re always starting with a customer, so it’s a big part of what you have to do to get the innovation right.
Lesley: Well, you know, if we go back to the conversation that we had about the question in terms of the framing of the question and how we ask it, there’s a lot to do with the two forms of empathy which is “cognitive empathy,” which is I can relate to what you’re thinking, and then there is the “effective or the emotional empathy” that I can feel what it is you’re feeling. And less we combine both of those, we can’t be in the conversation with the question in a real authentic way. And so, I’m curious, in your experience how does one develop that sense of true empathy as you go into populations that who have lengthy experience completely different from your own? And yet so quickly you need to be inside their experience, how would you develop that?
Kathy: Yeah, you know, and I think it’s just evolved like part of it for me is just listening like more than anything else. So I have the honor of attending the world indigenous conference in Darwin, Australia, and we did an art installation where there was a conversation, a story called “The magic canoe.” And at the end of the story we invited people to come and paint canoe paddles in the spirit of their culture from all over the world, all indigenous people from all over the world. And what I found is that act of art with just sitting with people the story started to come out, and we had film makers with us but we couldn’t have just rush people into talking to the film makers. We had to just sit with them and build confidence and build relationship, and then the stories just started to flow. And so, you know, there was very little I think that I did other than sit kind of an environment that was comfortable to people and give them the space to be able to start to tell their story. And I feel the same way when we went around last year and talk to people who’ve lived experience with poverty, we had some opening questions but then generally we just sat there and listened.
Lesley: Well, I could sit and listen to you all day. Your experience is so vast and so interesting, but we have come to the end of our time together. And I guess what I’d like to finish with in terms of that is that one of the thoughts that came to me in listening to you is that regardless of who I think I am, whether I think I’m not creative or creator is that essence of pure human curiosity. And I wonder in leaving in this show, what’s your advice as to how do we unleash that innate curiosity in ourselves?
Kathy: Yeah, I think it’s…you know, part of it is just the wonder. Like for me, there are so many interesting things happening in the world, so many interesting people, so many different interesting places. So just to be able to stay curious like you said it’s so important and to have faith in the future, like I really do believe that –you know– there will be great change happening like I am optimistic about all that. Look what happened with the Canadian politics, you know…
Lesley: Exactly! Beautifully stated and for those in the U.S who may not know, the fact that we just elected a liberal government after a decade of a very performed based conservative government. And the difference was is that the conservatives played on the palate of fear, and Justin Trudeau our new Prime Minister played on the belief of hope. And I can’t think of a better way to end this interview then that our belief that the future will be better, it’s what’s gonna make it better.
Lesley: Kathy, I can’t thank you enough for such a wonderful conversation.
Kathy: Thank you!
Belief in a better future. I made a so defining belief of a better future. The type of feeling that runs throughout your body and never leaves you, that is the core essence of leadership today,and of course it initiates the most incredible sense of human wondering curiosity. The whole innovation process begins with this search for the right question, and that question is found through the experience of those who will be most affected by the innovation process. I mean, sitting inside somebody else’s experience is a very special privilege and only one that very unique leaders can do. They do it by suspending judgment, they do it by believing that as people find their voice magic happens. Now that’s what I call innovation. Stay tuned over this week as we tell you more about Kathy and her work, and of course we’re gonna be posting picture of the magic bus. You can find Kathy at KathrynManners.com, and of course you can find us on facebook at women who lead radio show and on WomenWhoLead.co.
Tweet me, find me on Linkedn, Lesley Southwick-Trask. I don’t care how you find me but please find me, because remember this is your show and I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time!