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Soren Kaplan, IACPR Keynote Speaker

Leapfrogging - Creating a Breakthrough Culture

Soren Kaplan Talent Acquisition Interview on TotalPicture RadioSoren Kaplan

HR leaders and executive recruiters are trained to avoid risk and don't like surprises. Why should they embrace Soren Kaplan's concept of "Leapfrogging?"

Soren Kaplan, keynote presenter at the IACPR Spring Global Conference, is Managing Principal, Innovation Point, the author of Leapfrogging and the founder of the Leapfrogging Alliance, where he advises start-ups and also consults Cisco, Colgate, Disney, Medtronic, Visa, and others. He led the internal strategy group at HP and is an adjunct professor in the Imagineering Academy at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands.

Leapfrogging connects new research, unconventional strategies and practical tools for navigating the seemingly "messy" process of achieving business breakthroughs. The book draws upon Soren Kaplan's twenty years of hands-on experience, research studies from universities around the world, and case examples from global companies, start-ups, and nonprofits - including Gatorade, Intuit, OpenTable, Philips, Four Seasons, Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Etsy, Apple, Google, and many other smaller firms. He was interviewed by Peter Clayton in Philadelphia at the IACPR Spring Global Conference.

Leapfrogging gives HR and recruiting leaders the tools to do exactly what they're taught to avoid: embrace uncertainty and invite surprises. Soren shows how anyone can harness the power of surprise and demonstrates that...

Soren Kaplan - TotalPicture Radio Transcript

Reimagining, reinventing, meeting today's talent challenges. Welcome to Philadelphia and the International Association for Corporate and Professional Recruitment Spring Global Conference 2013. This is Peter Clayton reporting. TotalPicture Radio's official coverage here at the IACPR Conference is brought to you in partnership with Riviera Advisors, a premier global human resources consulting firm specialized in helping organizations develop stronger, internal recruiting and staffing capabilities. Visit rivieraadvisors.com for a wealth of resources focused on corporate talent acquisition issues and solutions.

Hi, this is Peter Clayton reporting from the beautiful Rittenhouse Hotel here in Philadelphia. We are at the IACPR, the International Association for Corporate and Professional Recruitment Spring Global Conference 2013 and I'm sitting down with Soren Kaplan who gave the keynote address here this morning. He is the author of Leapfrogging and Managing Principal at Innovation Point where he works with organizations including Visa, Disney, Colgate-Palmolive, Metronics, Philips, PepsiCo and numerous other global firms.

Soren, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.

Soren: It's a pleasure, Peter. Good to be here.

Peter: So right after your session, there was a session on innovation which actually had several of your clients in there, and they left up one of your slides on Leap Competencies which I want to talk about in a few minutes. First of all, your book called Leapfrogging, I think it would probably be helpful to our listeners if you would define for us what leapfrogging actually means.

Soren: The whole field of innovation has boomed and blossomed and what I wanted to do is really just write about innovation from the perspective of a term that it would apply to anyone not just products and services, but if you want to innovate or take things to the next level, you want to leapfrog to the next big thing whether you're in an HR department or you're in a finance department or you're going after product services. I wanted to create a term that essentially anyone can understand around creating the next big thing.

Peter: A lot of what this leapfrogging has to do with and a lot of about what you write about in your book is the element of surprise. From my experience most folks in HR and recruiting get paid to make sure there are no surprises. So how does this concept of leapfrogging and your ideas around surprises being really great for business and great for innovation mesh with an HR or recruiting leader?

Soren: First, you're absolutely right, and part of my research I went on to Amazon, did a search for management books with surprise in their titles; 100% of them are about how to avoid, minimize or prevent the phenomena from occurring. Business hates surprises, point #1.

Point #2 is that if we want to go after new territory, whether we're going to reinvent one of our HR department or whether we're going to go after a new market, the fact is if we're blazing new trails we've got to live with a little uncertainty. Uncertainty, the heart and the essence of uncertainty is surprises. Good things are going to happen we can't anticipate and bad things will happen we can't anticipate and we have to be ready for them. So surprise really is about dealing with uncertainty which is everyone's business today in today's environment.

Peter: Yeah, that certainly is true, and you kind of went into the definition of what a business breakthrough really means and Soren, that's one of the terms du jour in Corporate America like innovation. Everybody's talking about business breakthroughs, but what does that really mean and how do you really identify when there is a breakthrough?

Soren: To me there's different levels of breakthrough also, but a breakthrough to me is something that really challenges assumptions and makes you kind of think. The fun example that I gave in the meeting was pop rocks. When I was a kid I tried pop rocks and I thought to myself "I didn't know candy could do that." And so whether it's the things that we hear about Cirque de Soleil, iPads, whatever, they challenge our assumptions about what we think is possible.

Now you can look at that on a small scale if you're just in the HR department and you're going to kind of reinvent how you do something, or you can look at it on a whole scale business model standpoint and you want to surprise the market. The notion about breakthroughs is that - and your comment about surprise - in order to do things that surprise others in a positive way, that challenge assumptions and add value, we've got to go through a process where we experience and tap into surprise ourselves so we can get to the point where we know what we want to do to surprise the market.

Peter: One of the examples you gave in your presentation around breakthrough which I found really interesting and which you wrote about in your book, is DuPont and the example you gave really came out of the legal department and you really don't think about lawyers doing much around breakthrough. Can you tell us about that?

Soren: I wanted to find an example of a breakthrough in a big company that might be the least likely place you'd look. So a legal department in a company like DuPont, their legal department, their chief legal officer, Thomas Sager, reinvented the legal department. They had had in the late 1990s about over 300 law firms working on their dime. They essentially reinvented the whole legal model for a corporate legal department. They scaled it back down to about 37 firms, I believe.

What they did is they started instead of incenting their attorneys by paying them by the 6 minute increment like most attorneys are, they decided to create an incentive system so that they would resolve cases faster and more efficiently than before and that became the metric. So they completely changed the business model. They also decided to shift how they look at lawsuits. Rather than looking at them as something to fight, they decided let's look at lawsuits as giving us competitive and market intelligence to say well maybe there's ways in which we can learn from these lawsuits and improve our businesses and maybe it's cheaper and more effective to actually change ourselves rather than fight the lawsuit.

The last thing they did, which I think is admirable and critical in today's environment, is they incorporated a value for diversity in their own legal department because they want their legal department to reflect the diversity of the markets in the world they're in and then they've cascaded those values and those requirements for diversity amongst the law firms that they work with as well so that they can reflect the diversity in terms of the kind of representation that they provide.

Peter: In that example, I would assume that that individual had to do first was get buy in from the C-suite to go ahead and implement this very radical change that you just told us about. I think that is so true, especially with large corporations which I know you do a lot of consulting with; if the C-suite doesn't buy it, it's not going to happen.

Soren: The challenge with a lot of these "breakthroughs" is that - and I talked about this in the presentation - a lot of times there isn't data that tells us what to do. We can't basically say "Look at the data, we need to do this." We might know that there's a problem or there's an opportunity, but it's really in finding the balance between our gut instinct about what we believe we need to do to add value to the market, to our customers, to ourselves, to our organizations and the data that supports that. So it's this balancing of data and intuition and you need to communicate that to the C-suite and others in a way that lays out the business case but also the compelling view of where this could go and why you need to really create a transformational change.

Peter: One of the audience members asked I thought what was a really great question in that after your presentation she got up and she said "Tell us, Soren, about the companies that aren't part of your slide presentation here, the ones that didn't follow your recommendations, the ones that aren't doing breakthrough work, the ones that you went in and did consulting with and left them and hit yourself in the head in going "Oh man. What's going on here?" How does that translate in the real world out there where there are companies that just aren't Kodak.

Soren: Yeah I get it. I'm going to oversimplify this and basically say and my answer included this in the session; in order to get innovation you need either to give people time or you need to give people resources. You look at some of the great examples from the past, 3M at one point was a very innovative company and they were known for giving people a day a week to innovate in whatever area they wanted to. That has been adopted by other companies like Google.

The companies when I walk away and I think they're really going to have a hard time innovating is when every one's heads down focused on quarterly numbers, they don't give anyone time to think about adjacent markets or the future, that the metrics and rewards are so driving towards short term thinking that there's no room to innovate. All it takes is a leader of a team or a leader of a business unit ideally or the CEO to loosen up the reigns a little bit and recognize "Yeah we have to deliver on today's results but we also need to foster this kind of thinking and we're going to give people a little time and we might set aside a little resource to reward people or to separate out an organization that can start to experiment a little bit."

I'm over simplifying it but when you look at process, structure, metrics, rewards - those things, when none of them are in place, then that's going to be a big challenge.

Peter: So many companies today are just driven by the quarterly results and Wall Street expects them to hit the numbers and if they don't hit the numbers, their stock tanks.

Soren: I totally agree with what you said, and there are things that you can still do to stir things up. For example, the New York Times, an icon in the traditional publishing business, they've now opened up their corporate office to start media start ups that are doing innovative things, so that they could just kind of bring the outside in and cross fertilize some of the ideas and shake things up a little bit. It's doing "simple" things like that that can really help to start to change the culture.

Peter: I want to go back to innovation for a second, fresh in my mind we just go out of this session, you had a slide from the Wall Street Journal which showed the number of times that corporations had used the word innovation over 33,000 time and how many of those companies are really innovating.

Soren: I think that that's indicative of the environment.

Peter: The corporate buzzword du jour.

Soren: That's exactly right and it's too bad because innovation has become a buzzword but it's still so important for companies but it's become watered down. So the slide I showed, showed that over 33,000 times in 2012 the word innovation showed up in the Fortune 500 annual reports. Also, that same slide showed that in a 90-day period last year, over 250 books were written with the word innovation in their titles and there's never before been so many resources on innovation.

The challenge that we have is to really make the topic meaningful for organizations when there's just so much buzzwords out there. You'd think we'd all have it nailed because there's so much resource out there, but in actuality I think it's more confusing than ever.

Peter: One of the things you did in writing this book, which I think is really cool, you moved yourself and your entire family to Paris for a year to write this book. What was the motivation behind that?

Soren: The first motivation was I traveled the world with a lot of global companies; I wanted to give my family, my two daughters who were 9 and 11 at the time, a cultural experience outside the US. That was one goal. We put them into public school and they didn't speak any French. So it was a marvelous struggle and an illustration of the adaptation of kids who they adapted pretty quick and spoke the language after the first year.

But the other thing is I wanted to write my book and I felt like I needed to push my own comfort zone, push the comfort zone of my family in order to see my own work in history and knowledge from a different lens, in a different perspective, and that experience definitely helped to do that. I stumbled into a little café, which out of 35,000 bistros and cafes is ranked the number one coffee spot in Paris, all of the things they're doing around innovation really inspired me and they became a focal point, actually, of my book and the theme of surprise percolated, so to speak, out of me after stumbling in that little café.

Peter: At one point in your career you led the internal strategy and innovation group at Hewlett Packard, a great storied company who if Meg Whitman called you up today, what would you tell her?

Soren: When I was at HP in the late 1990s, HP had been an icon in innovation. At the same time, HP was also moving to a spot where it was a $40 billion a year company, over 100,000 employees and the growth had stalled. We actually called it the growth stall. How do you grow that 10% a year when you're already a $40 billion a year company? The challenge that HP had at the time is that we would only fund a new business if we could prove it would be a billion dollar business in three years, and that notion of experimentation had started to fade even then.

What would I say? There were some real values that HP had called the HP Way that pretty much has started to disappear in that company. I think that there's some elements of it around really being close to the customer, around this collaborative dimension that I think that they could probably get back and tie back in to the heritage of where that company came from to really start doing some things that foster innovation in a different way.

Peter: You mentioned this in your presentation, it took Apple 3 years to develop the iPhone. HP was in the tablet business for 10 minutes. To your point, some of these things just take time to get out there to develop and to get market adaptation. It doesn't happen overnight.

Soren: I shared that Apple experience because three years in a tech world is an eternity.

Peter: It is, absolutely.

Soren: When I was at HP we told the story inside. The LaserJet took 11 years to get to market, and there was a tolerance at that time at HP to steward things along and to cultivate them and to recognize that a big disruptive innovation might not happen overnight. I think it's challenging in today's environment because in some internet mobile space it is happening relatively quickly overnight, but I think that that's... I don't know that that's necessarily the rule. I think that there are examples of that but in the end, we need to be able to be tolerant of things taking a little bit longer than overnight.

Peter: From your perspective is corporate entrepreneurship an oxymoron, or does it really exist?

Soren: I definitely think yeah, it does exist. Some of the examples that I shared today are examples of that. I think that the question is how do we either find the individuals who are already doing it because that's who they are, they happen to work in a big company and not be outside being an entrepreneur. They're inside trying to make a difference, identify those folks and really give them more resources, tools and visibility and then be able to create the kind of environment that allows for that little extra time, that little extra motivation, resource recognition, doesn't have to be financial so that others can recognize 'you know what, leapfrogging, doing things radically different to kind of add value and challenge assumptions, anyone can do it in no matter what role they're in.'

Peter: You've developed a set of what you call leapfrogging tools in your book. Can you describe what some of those are for us?

Soren: What I try to do is distill down the process of what does it mean to create a breakthrough and there are times in which it's exciting and there are times in which I call it the failure zone. You've got to push through the process or you're going to give up and you'll never succeed. The model is called leaps and what basically leaps is it's a step by step process, although I wouldn't say it's step by step. It's really iterative, in which you go through the path from listening to yourself in order to figure out the value you want to create in the world. That's where data won't necessarily tell you to do it. You have to listen to the value you want to create for yourself and for the market.

The E is explore, go out there in the market and talk to customers and talk to people you wouldn't normally talk to.

A is Act which is take small steps again and again. So you might fail but that's okay. It's all part of the learning process.

P is persist which is about failure. It's like taking the surprise out of failure.

Seize, the journey is the destination. The last step is really recognizing you've got to be humble with all of this. You've got to go through a process where if you're going to learn about yourself, you're going to challenge your assumptions, you shouldn't think you have the right answer because if you do, you're probably going to be wrong.

So it's really about those dimensions and going through those in an iterative way so that you can learn and adapt to whatever breakthrough you're trying to create.

Peter: I think one of the main reasons that they asked you to speak here at the IACPR Conference is because of this Leaps competencies that you've developed. As you know, the recruiting industry is going through massive transformations and I think that having some kind of a structure like what you've developed is only going to help them because they do need some breakthroughs. They need to push the boundaries out there. They can't operate their business the way they have for the last 15 or 20 years and survive. When you go in and talk to HR and recruiting departments what is the biggest concern that you see and what of your book, of these leapfrogging takeaways is most useful in a recruiting or an HR environment?

Soren: I think one thing that's in a lot of the people's mind is the retiring baby boomers. That's a big kind of talent suck.

Peter: We're never going to retire.

Soren: I think in today's financial environment no one may retire ever.

I think that from an HR standpoint, I get called in a lot of times to do leadership development on innovation and when I come in, a lot of times I'm with cross functional teams that might be from R&D, marketing, strategy, product development, HR, legal, finance. A lot of times what happens is I get people coming up to me from HR, finance, legal and they say "How does innovation apply to us? Innovation is for marketing or it's for product development."

Peter: Right. Exactly.

Soren: I think that it's HR's job and overall to help understand what kind of environment do you need to create in the company culturally so that everyone sees some element of innovation applying to their job and then demystify this glut of information out there on innovation and say "Here's what we believe we need to do in the world to make a difference and if we want to achieve these kinds of things for our customers, for the market to benefit the world maybe from a triple bottom line perspective we need to do things differently."

That's what innovation is. You don't have to call it innovation. You have to call it adding value to the world, adding value to the company. That's really at the essence what innovation is, and I think we're getting caught up with the buzzword innovation.

Peter: One thing that I didn't know is how YouTube started.

Soren: That's a great question. I gave at the end of my presentation a little innovation quiz and I showed a number of different companies, including YouTube. YouTube started out as a dating website. The idea was somebody might put a who wanted a date, put up a video of yourself kind of saying here's who I am, here's who I am interested in and someone else might see it, post another video of themselves and trying to make this social connection. Didn't exactly work out that way but obviously YouTube did work out when they opened it up and broadened it out.

Peter: Yeah it sure did. Soren, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today on TotalPicture Radio.

Soren: Thank you Peter. It's been great to be here.

Peter: Thank you.

You've been listening to the official IACPR Spring Global Conference 2013 podcast series produced by TotalPicture Radio in association with Riviera Advisors. You'll find a complete transcript of this interview in the Talent Acquisition Channel at totalpictureradio.com and a complete library of in-depth interviews featuring talent acquisition and HR leaders in the newsroom and events link on rivieraadvisors.com. Take a moment to visit Riviera Advisors and learn what makes them different, and please connect with Riviera Advisors and TotalPicture Radio on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This is Peter Clayton. Thanks for tuning in.

Business breakthroughs deliver surprise. Our brains are wired to appreciate positive surprise. Great ideas surprise us with a strong dose of remarkable newness in ways that add value to our lives and challenge our assumptions about what we thought possible. Surprises are strategic tools that drive breakthroughs. By proactively seeking out and using surprises as "guideposts" when they occur, we can gain new insights, generate ideas and discover new directions for ourselves and our organizations. Business breakthroughs transform people and organizations. Breakthrough business success doesn't simply result from a great idea. It involves a challenging and transformative journey through deep ambiguity, unforeseen events and inevitable failures in order to come out the other side to achieve business breakthroughs Leapfrogging shows how any organization or business function can "change the game" - and delivers a revolutionary formula for rethinking your business:

Use unexpected events and surprises to create focus and direction Push personal boundaries to challenge mindsets and assumptions Apply intuition and judgment in strategic decision-making Tap into failure as a catalyst for success Manage the paradoxes of organizational innovation Using Soren's LEAPS process (Listen, Explore, Act, Persist, and Seize), leaders learn to recognize and harness surprising experiences and events as a way to create solutions that leap beyond the current expectations of customers, partners, employees, the market, and the competition.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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