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In this episode of the Explicit Content Podcast, Carla Johnson discusses the need to enable corporate innovation and ideation with Katie Martell.


Katie Martell: Hello and welcome to another episode of Explicit Content. I'm your host, Katie Martell, and you are listening to Truth, Lies, and Digital Marketing. We are coming to you from the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in beautiful San Francisco, and I'm here with the renowned international best-selling author, keynote speaker, and extraordinaire storyteller, Carla Johnson. Hi, Carla.

Carla Johnson: Hey, Katie. It's good to be here. Sounds like a lot to live up to there.

Katie Martell: I feel like Oprah right now, but like that you're this A-list celebrity that I've somehow scored onto my couch, so I'm going to own this moment. And really, we are actually really lucky to have Carla because you're now living in Spain.

Carla Johnson: I am, for a year.

Katie Martell: I love that.

Carla Johnson: You know, if you want to be an international digital marketer, maybe you should see what it's like on the other side of the pond. It's been very interesting to see marketing from that point of view.

Katie Martell: How is the marketing scene in Spain? Do tell.

Carla Johnson: I'm teaching a couple of classes at a small university there, and it's very interesting to see the level of sophistication in the students that I see in Europe versus the U.S. who attend there. I do see why the outside world looks to the U.S. for what needs to be done and should be done, and how to do it in an incredibly effective and ROI-driven way, so that's been wonderful to see.

Katie Martell: So, you are the official international ambassador for marketers in the U.S.

Carla Johnson: Yes, exactly.

Katie Martell: I love that. No pressure or anything. The reason I really wanted to sit down with you today is because I love you, first and foremost, and if you don't know Carla Johnson, you need to and you will soon, is because you had a great talk this afternoon. It was called the Innovation Factory, and I really wanted to dig into that a little bit, because people think of innovation and they think of it as, I don't know, something that happens, and I love your very practical way of approaching this topic as both a process and a skill, so something that people can learn and adopt. Tell us about the talk at a high level, and let's dig into some of your favorite parts of it.

Carla Johnson: You know, when I started to dig into this idea of innovation, it came after I wrote the last book with Robert Rose called Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, and one of the things that people would come up to me consistently and say is that we love this process. We love the content and creation model, but what we are struggling with is how do we come up with the great ideas to start with. You have the great ideas, then it works better to go into the model.

What I started to do is look at the people, the brands that are consistently putting out great ideas, innovative ideas, consistently showing up in ways that make people always peek around the corner and get excited about what's coming next. When I looked into this, I saw that what tends to happen is people look at either a specific innovation group within a organization for the new ideas, or the research and development or something like that, and that has street cred because they use the word innovation to start with.

And then maybe there's a creative group somewhere in the marketing arena, but they don't look to them for innovation, and they don't have the respect that an innovation group has. They're the group that makes things look pretty. So there's this fluff and optional approach to it, and then there's this very credible but very boundaries group. I look at it as in there's companies that innovate, and they're the ones who have this specific group of people that are tasked with coming up with new ideas, but those companies generally focus on doing it for the products and the services that they sell.

If you ask somebody else in that organization for a new idea, to look at how they approach their work, or something else that they do, they say one of two things. They say, "I'm not that smart," and they point to that innovation group and they say, "They have the PhDs. They have the design thinkers. They have the cultural anthropologists," or whatever else the team is made up, data scientists or something. Like, "I'm not smart like that team is smart. I don't know how to come up with ideas." Or they say, "That's not my job. My job is over here, and they are the new idea team." It's a very siloed and segregated way to come up with ideas, and that means that they don't infuse within the rest of the organization. It's not a cultural adoption of innovation or new ideas.

And then you have this other company that they are truly innovative, and they look at new ideas as being something that everybody is accountable and responsible to bringing to the table. And that doesn't just mean all these ideas that ... You know, "there's no such thing as a bad idea", and all this stuff that creates so much chaos and inefficiency. They understand that if you're innovative, you're coming to the table consistently with ideas that are intended to drive business objectives forward.

That's one of the things, when we talk about being able to infuse innovation throughout an organization, it makes some people really nervous, because they feel that they don't have a control over it, and they don't want to waste a lot of time with all these people coming up with ideas that are ridiculous, that they have to somehow just make sure their feelings don't get hurt, and the ideas go someplace, but truly innovative companies understand that it's not just about the idea, it's about better ideas. And before you can get to great ideas, you have to start with better ideas. And before you can get to better ideas, you have to start with more ideas.

Katie Martell: Tell us about what makes a good idea and what makes a not-so-good idea.

Carla Johnson: Well, first of all, the foundational thing of a good idea is that it is intended to help drive something forward. So, a good idea should be there in order to support a business objective and have something that can be measured on the back end. It also has to have constraints, because let's face it. There's lots of ideas that would be phenomenal even to drive a business objective forward, but we all live in the reality world. Maybe it's a time constraint. Maybe it's a budget constraint. Maybe it's we have to make sure that Joan in legal will be okay with it because she hates anything with cats and this idea involves cats, or whatever it is. There's always these hard-end kind of subjective constraints, and they have to be able to work that way within an organization.

The bad ideas are ones that don't even have respect for that or no nod or even take that into consideration. And that's what the stereotype is of a more open innovation-type culture is that it's just people coming up with crazy ideas all the time, that don't really relate to the work that they do, that don't drive the business forward because it's not tied to a business objective, that don't take into consideration the constraints, and then also aren't measurable.

Katie Martell: Right, right. I think a lot of getting your pitch across when you have an idea is half the battle. I mean, no marketer is unfamiliar with the concept of pitching. Right? It's what we do for a living. But when you're pitching an idea, can you give some advice to somebody who is owning it, and trying to sell it, and trying to get someone to see the world the same way they do?

Carla Johnson: You bet. A big thing, like when we look at even marketers, or if you learn about marketing, we know the four Ps, but it's really this fifth P of pitching that makes all the-

Katie Martell: Love that.

Carla Johnson: ... the difference in the world about

Katie Martell: Love it.

Carla Johnson: ... whether or not an idea is successful. To be able to pitch successfully, one of the things that you have to do is look at it as your ability to tell the story of an idea journey. Many times what happens is that people will try to ... They'll see something that somebody else has done, and I think about this a lot.

After the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, so many nonprofits wanted something crazy viral like that too, and so what they did is they did things that were over the top to try to get that kind of traction and spread, but what they missed is that they were just copying and pasting something. What they weren't doing is looking at the essence behind why that was a success and taking that pattern and relating that into their brand, and that's really where a big breakdown happens.

Katie Martell: So, if you're somebody who's pitching an idea, is there some kind of formula?

Carla Johnson: Absolutely. What I look at is, even if you use something like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and you start to observe all these things that went on with it, so that's a big part of it is take away your judgment that makes you say, "Oh, that would never work in our world." I call that brand detachment disorder.

Katie Martell: Love it.

Carla Johnson: It's this tendency that I think we naturally have is to look at these great brands and say, "Well, I could never do that because what I sell is different," and especially, being at MarketingProfs, we look at B2B. B2B people have a lot of excuses for why they can't do anything more creative, but the truth is that they don't know how to take what they've observed and distill it into something that shows them a broader meaning because that's what we look at. Even with the Ice Bucket Challenge, it was about creating a community that had a tight sharing network in a way that was very organic.

So, you distill it, and then they take that and then they relate that essence into the brand. That's how you get away from that copy and paste that makes things look ridiculous, that disrupts the expectation in how a brand shows up, that makes people internally say, "No, that's too different for us." And when you take this, what you've observed and then distilled, and you relate it into the brand and say, "Here's how it matters to us," that's when you start to add credibility to this outside inspiration.

When you tell the idea, the story of your idea through this journey about what is it that you see in the world, what it is that people love, are attracted to, and you distill that into the essence, and then you relate it into the brand, and then you use that as to how that prompted, how you generated that idea, and you tell it in that way, then people are able to see, "Okay, well I see how this connects, and I see why it could work in our brand, and it makes me more comfortable because I see how it succeeded over there."

But if all you do is say, "Hey, this is what that brand did over here. I think we should do something similar," it's an emotional disconnect, and that activates fear within people. They feel agitated, physically agitated, and they want to squelch anything that makes them feel like that. It's too risky.

Katie Martell: Right, and a lot of managers, I think, don't quite know how to give the right kind of feedback when they're given new ideas from their team.

Carla Johnson: You know, that is a great point, and it's something that I call the gladiator effect. People will go to their managers or to their clients and they'll say, "I've got this great idea." Maybe they followed a formula like I just talked about, or maybe it was just kind of a crazy idea that came out of nowhere, and the manager either says a thumbs up or a thumbs down, either the idea lives or dies.

But let's face it. There are few ideas that are going to be great right out of the gate, and so what managers need to do is to realize that if they're not getting great ideas on a consistent basis from their team, they have a lot of responsibility for that, and a big part of it is how they give feedback. So, what I coach people on is to talk to people who come to them with these ideas and give feedback in two ways.

The first is what I like, and to start out by saying, "Here's what I liked about your idea." Because just the fact that the person had the courage to come forward and share the idea is a big thing, even if that's the only credible thing that you can find, but I'm sure if you start to look at what are the parts and pieces that I like, that's great.

And then the next part is to say, "What I wish ..." This creates an interesting dynamic for managers because all of a sudden instead of just criticizing it and saying, "Well, it didn't have this and this and this and this," what it forces them to do is start to say, "Well, what actually do I want to see?" And if that's what they want to see, then it makes them start to think about, "Okay, then what are my priorities, and why does this matter?" It starts to make them give more specific feedback that is more business objective-driven or department-driven or whatever they're responsible for.

When the person then receives the feedback, they're really more equipped and armed and focused, and so they know what to go back and work on. Then they can come back around. They've iterated the idea. They can go through the journey again, and so every time, each idea keeps getting better and better and better and better. When they go back through this process the next time they need a new idea, they can think ahead to say, "What might my boss want to see in this, and what maybe isn't here that should be?" They can start to see each other's point of view, and it becomes a much more collaborative and actually exciting process.

When you use this process to pitch, one is that you feel more confident about it. The more you do this, the better you get at it, which makes you competent, and it's that competent that really brings out the confidence. And then that really drives your passion too, so you get more excited about the ideas that you do pitch.

Bosses will look at the excitement level of somebody, because they think, well, did they just come in here and go, "Yeah, here's something I was kind of thinking about doing," but if you say, "Oh, man. I can't wait to tell you about my new idea," that's a whole different level of excitement. If they're going to give somebody the time and the budget to invest in the new idea, they want somebody who's truly confident and passionate about it.

Katie Martell: True. It's true. What I love about you, Carla, is you make something so complex and yet so simple as ideas and innovation very accessible by breaking it down in this way. Your process is something that I think every company can adopt, but I think it's also something every company should adopt.

I think things are changing so quickly in our world, not only as marketers but anyone working in technology that without this kind of process, without this kind of culture, you're really not going to be able to keep up, adapt, and survive. So, going into 2019, I think everyone should be very tuned to what you're saying, and on that note, where can they find out more about you, and what's coming up for you? Any new books? Any new exciting things you want to preview?

Carla Johnson: Absolutely. I'm so happy you asked. You can find me online at CarlaJohnson.co, not com, .co, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, CarlaJohnson303, and I am in the process of writing this next book that I call Rethink Innovation. It's about how you bring new ideas into an organization, so I have seen the research about only 10% of innovation really focuses on the products and services that you sell, the other 90% is a big part of it that people don't pay attention to.

Katie Martell: Wow.

Carla Johnson: If you really want to be an innovative company, focus on the 90% that you really do have a lot more control over. That's much more cost-effective.

Katie Martell: Carla, we're going to link to some of your social profiles and how they can find out more about you in the show notes, so please check those out. Any last words of wisdom about this process and culture of innovation for our listeners?

Carla Johnson: I just believe that everybody wants to come to work and believe that they can make a difference in the work that they do, because that's what fuels their heart and their soul, and it is so much easier to do than people believe, and it doesn't ... You don't have to turn your entire world upside down to start to bring some creativity and innovation even in the smallest little things in the work that you do. All you have to do is start connecting the dots between what it is that really inspires you as a person, what are your passions, and what it is that you do at work.

Katie Martell: Well said. Thank you, Carla, for being here today. This was another episode of the Explicit Content Podcast, Truth, Lies, and Digital Marketing. Thank you all for listening.

Jeff Julian: Thank you for listening to the Explicit Content Podcast. For more information, check out EnterpriseMarketer.com.

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