0508 | Orly Lobel

David Burkus —  April 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

Orly Lobel is the author of Talent Wants to Be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding. Lobel is the Herzog Professor of Law at University of San Diego. Her work has been featured in CNBC, Fortune, CNN Money and HuffPost. In this interview, we discuss how to REALLY win the talent war and why we should learn to live and work without non-compete clauses.

Listen below or subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher.

This podcast is supported by Audible.com. Get a free audiobook (including The Myths of Creativity) just for trying it at www.audibletrial.com/lead.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a major bank.  The discussion involved how to create new financial services for their high net worth clients (a.k.a. people who are way richer than I’ll ever be).  I offered my opinion that directly engaging their clients could provide an important stimulus for their ideas.  “We can’t talk to our customers,” they replied. “Their relationships are way too important to us.”  The real message was this:  They were scared of their very own customers.  Behind this fear was the concern that loyalty might be jeopardized if they approached their customers with questions about their needs and desires.  They were also concerned that their most cherished customers wouldn’t want to take the time to talk to them (e.g., the fear of rejection).

During an organization’s start-up days, it’s much easier to strike up conversations with the market since there’s not much to lose.  With only a few customers in the early stage of the game, any open-ended conversation with someone interested in what we’re doing is welcomed with enthusiasm.  But the growth of a company can have an inverse relationship on customer focus.  Incremental improvements become the focus.  And cautious behavior becomes the norm.  Makes sense – why mess with a good thing?

But look and the most innovative leaders and companies and you’ll see that they continually engage customers to help them reinvent their offerings and their organizations.  And they do so strategically.  A different bank, for example, recently created an incubator where early-stage ideas could be seen and worked on by employees only.  They recognized that certain ideas simply needed more time in the conceptual oven before they felt baked enough for customer feedback.  But they also created a “lab” where they brought in real live customers to test-drive new online banking products.  The lab proactively recruited customers who were pre-screened as forward thinkers who were interested in providing input.  Using this “back room – front room” model, the bank kept certain ideas away from customers until they were “ready” and then used the lab to gain inputs from the customers that they knew were pre-disposed to “co-creating” the future with them.  Through rapid prototyping, the bank was able to bring a mobile banking application to market in just 60 days (versus the typical 12-18 months), and at approximately one-tenth of the cost.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Identify the leading edge customers (customers that think creatively, ask for new things, or are your early adopters)
  2. Create an agenda (list off the 4-5 key things you want to discuss, understand, or test)
  3. Engage in dialog (start with a broad understanding of their needs, desires, and “day in the life” and then drill down into your questions once everyone’s warmed-up)
  4. Identify new opportunities (consider an “opportunity” anything that will add value to your customers or company)

What is often true in human nature is also true of corporate culture: we resist stirring up the status quo.  So, the next time the topic of talking to customers comes up, be sure to ask:  “What are we most afraid of losing…  a customer or a big opportunity for innovation?”

This is a full transcript of LDRLB episode 0507, an interview with Denise Brosseau.

DAVID:            So who are you, and what do you do?

DENISE:          My name is Denise Brosseau, and what I specialize in is helping leaders become thought leaders. What do I mean by that? I work with executives and entrepreneurs. I work with social entrepreneurs and professional service folks, and I’m really all about having you amplify your impact in the world. How do you multiply your influence? How do you get a seat at the table? And really, how do you leave a legacy, so for a lot of my older clients and folks that I work with that have been in their world for a long time, it’s what are they going to leave behind?

DAVID:            And the book in that aim is the latest culmination of that goal, Ready to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success. There’s a company behind all of this though, and I think this is really quite fun. We have Denise Brosseau, founder of the Thought Leadership Lab here on LDRLB.

DENISE:          (laughs)

DAVID:            So I absolutely love that it sort of exists, that that play on these words exist. But I want to talk mostly about the book. It would be really boring if we had a podcast talking about a podcast, so let’s talk about the book instead, and let’s talk about Thought Leadership Lab. First, I kind of want to ask where this sort of impetus came from. You have a very unique niche in the world in that you help leaders, people who are already leading organizations, leading movements, really be seen by the external world as thought leaders, as credible sources. How did that all come about? How did you get into all this mess?

DENISE:          Well, it actually began about twelve years ago when I became an accidental thought leader. And I like to share that because I really had no plan and no idea that I was building a platform, but I was one of maybe three or four folks in my niche which was high growth, women’s entrepreneurship focused in the technology arena. Really, people who are building big businesses. I was working in Silicon Valley. I had a non-profit that I started to grow to multiple cities, and then we started the first venture conference for women entrepreneurs called SpringBoard.

The world was just awash in entrepreneurial money. It was the dot com craze here in Silicon Valley. So the world was very interested in what was happening with women entrepreneurs. I was part of a trend in venture capital in high gross startups, etcetera. I kept getting all these phone calls. I kept getting invited to be at the table for a lot of really interesting conversations about that, and the world was truly finding great and amazing until it all stopped. The dot com crash changed everything, so I went from sort of being on the cover of magazines to not a getting a single phone call in a month. That reality was very apparent to me.

Five years later I get a call one day from a friend who said, “You know how you became a thought leader in the world of women’s entrepreneurship? I want to do that.” And I think it was the first time anybody really ever said that to me. First of all, it identified me as a thought leader, but secondly, said I want to do that. So for three years, we worked together. I actually helped her take the journey, from completely unknown to testifying in front of the U.S. Senate, recognized by the White House, headhunted by the Governor, and appointed to a big position in California.

During that journey, I realized there was a step-by-step process that you could take, so you don’t have to be an accidental thought leader. That was the opportunity that I wanted when I had the chance to write a book. That’s what I wanted to write about. You know: What are the steps you can take? How you do this? How do you do this in a way that really builds a platform and a way to make a change in the world?

DAVID:            And I love the ideas in the book … Well, first of all, there’s an acronym in the book that makes the whole path really easy. We’ll get to that, but in the meantime, I love the approach to it which is very much: “here’s why people follow.” You may have some experience in that form the standpoint of leading an actual organization, but interestingly enough, it also works when you’re trying to get ideas to spread, and that’s kind of what we’re all about. I personally have always said that kind of my mission is to facilitate the transfer of good ideas. So I love this … The whole concept of this book is facilitating the transfer of facilitating the transfer of good ideas. There’s a very cool meta thing going on here.

I guess the easiest place to begin is a the beginning. I have a couple different chapters that really stood out to me. One of the first being this idea of that driving passion, that why, the thing that you want to really get behind. I think too often people put the cart before horse and say, “I want to be a thought leader. I want to be famous.” Uh, What do you think about? “Uh, I don’t really have anything I’m all that passionate about.” Why is that driving passion so important?

DENISE:          It’s so funny you say it that way because I have had that happen to me. People find out what I do and they say, “Oh, should I start tweeting?” I’m like, “Well, do you have anything to tweet about?” Is anybody going to listen to your tweets? So I like to start with that idea of the driving passion because for me, this takes a while. Thought leadership does not happen overnight. If you’re not passionate about your niche. If you’re not really committed to making some big change happen, you’re not going to stick with it long enough to actually build that platform and have a real impact in the world.

So I talk about this sort of overlap. I call it “Pen your Venn.” You know, finding this Venn diagram intersection between your experience, your credentials, and what you’re passionate about. And that niche, that thought leadership intersection, is where you can make the difference, have the biggest impact. And then of course, aligning to trends, aligning to the big future that you’re trying to bring about, that you’re committed to. That’s when it all comes together. And if I can start people there, it allows them to get the momentum and the excitement and the commitment to make the real difference.

DAVID:            The other thing I think that comes out of this is … This is my segue, watch this. The other thing I think that comes of that is if you identify your passion, it becomes easier to figure out who are the people who are a fit for my message that will help me spread it, and who are the people aren’t. In your book, that was first chapter. This is second chapter. You talk about this idea of ripples of influence, which I thought was really fascinating from a social scientist and a psychology standpoint of how ideas spread throughout an organization. It’s the same thing you can use, this ripples of influence thing, to become a thought leader.

DENISE:          Yeah. Really, thinking about how do ideas spread, how does a meme become a meme, how do things go viral, I mean that’s the sort of big meta picture, but I’m trying to help people understand … If you’re trying to create a different future, what I call the “what if” future, there’s so many paths to get there. I mean for me, I was trying to create a future in women’s entrepreneurship that said, “Less than one percent of venture capital funding was going to women.” I wanted fifty percent. That was a pretty big trajectory that I was looking for. There’s many, many, many paths that I and my team could take to help the world get there.

So you want to be out building the ripples of influences to say here’s where I want to be, this big future, and then listen to lots of ideas: Here’s what’s this person’s doing, here’s this thing that didn’t work, here’s some ways you can build on others. So it’s testing your ideas, getting feedback, and listening the terrible naysayers who are always out there and actually getting value from that, what isn’t going to work as well as refining your thinking along the way.

DAVID:            I think there’s a lot to that especially what I’ve seen is … People, especially the initial early adopters, the initial followers, but I think people in general, whether they follow a movement or an idea or a person, they usually don’t follow the person for what they are a hundred percent. They follow them for the vision that they want to also see. So those people from a entrepreneurship standpoint, it’s not that they want to see you leading that charge, it’s that they also want that fifty percent goal. Their path might be a little bit different, but because that end goal is the same.

The leaders that really rise up and become senior leaders, become leaders of whole movements, are the ones that are able to see what other people have as this envisioned future, crystallize it, align themselves with it, align everyone in together and say here’s where we’re headed. And here’s how we get here. Here’s one of my way to get here, but let’s all focus in on how to do that.

DENISE:          Yeah, what I find with my clients is that the more I can get them to align with that ecosystem … First of all, to understand they’re part of an ecosystem, no matter if they’re in health care innovation, or they’re in education, or wherever they’re playing, there are many, many people often working in the same arena. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a really technical place or wherever, there’s others that you should align to. And the more you can raise your head and get aligned to those initiatives, that is when you’re going to be powerful because you’re all doing a little part of a bigger puzzle, and together you have a chance to really move things forward.

I think about huge changes that happened in this country, even the recent change of Don’t ask, Don’t tell, one of the people I showcased in the book is someone who spent seventeen years working on that issue as the only women in the military, only gay person in the military allowed to stay in the military, and for seventeen years she worked on getting rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Well, she was obviously not alone. There was many other people across the world who were working on similar challenges, and now here we are many years later seeing the ripple effects of her efforts and many others.

DAVID:            Yeah, and the interesting thing I think too often when we retell the story though, we forget how many people are involved. We love to talk about the one lone person that changed the world. We forget to talk about all those, what you call “ripples of influence,” and the downside is for aspiring leaders, for aspiring thought leaders, you almost forget how important exactly what you’re talking about is because the stories we retell cut those people out, yet those people are so vital to getting things done.

DENISE:          Yeah, and I think that the more that … It is very lonely to do this by yourself, so the more I can remind people that if you align with the ecosystem, you’re going to have some partners in crime here and partners in your efforts, and the less lonely it will be. The more likely they are to sort of get out of their own little cubicle and get out and talk to other people … because the fact is that there’s going to bad days just as an entrepreneur no matter what you’re doing, there’s a lot of bad days, so you want to have other people who are on the journey with you.

DAVID:            Great, great advice. Now, there is one chapter I especially loved in the book. It’s the one that I keep going back to, mostly because you made it easy for me by making an acronym. But it’s this idea of putting yourself on “SHOUT.” “SHOUT” as this sort of … All of the tasks that you kind of have to do, the things that you need to really to do … Really, to me that’s what emphasized though, what you said earlier about it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens by consistently doing all of the actions that are “SHOUT.” Okay, so break down the “SHOUT” acronym because I think everybody listening is going, “Okay, enough of it. Tell me what it means.” And then also let’s talk about how do you do that. How does one put themselves on “SHOUT”?

DENISE:          Well, it starts “S.” “S” is select. It’s selecting the audience. Who are the people who are listening at what is it that you are … What is it you want to get across to them and who are right folks? The next is “H,” which is honing. Honing the message so that it’s something people will listen to, so that’s often about getting into in front of small groups of people and testing the idea. So I share this experience about comedians. You don’t go on the big stage of the first day and try to get in front of thousands. You really want to hone a message that is resonating with a small audience.

So “O” is all about overcoming resistance. This is the idea that you probably have a lot things that are standing in your way, and these are the reasons that: I don’t have enough time; I don’t have enough skill. All of those pieces that are often the internal things that hold us back as well as the other people’s objections like, what is it that’s going to stand in the way of people hearing your message? So this is the piece really about committing yourself to understand other people’s point of view, and encompassing that point of view in your own message so that you’re not beating people over the head with your ideas, but instead building on their ideas with your ideas.

Then “U” is about understanding potential pitfalls. Understanding potential pitfalls is really this idea that there is a hundred different things that could get in your way as a though leader. There is making a mistake. Goodness gracious, we do make those mistakes. There is being boring. I call it the Al Gore challenge, where you just so repeating yourself, repeating yourself, repeating yourself that people have tuned you out, so there’s a lot of different pieces … It’s understanding about sticking to your pond, not trying to be an expert in fifty different things. So there’s lots of different pieces in the “U” category around this understanding of pitfalls.

And then the last one is where I spend a lot of time at the end of the book which is about transforming individuals into a community. This idea is that … If we’re going to create a movement, it can’t be one person, two people, three people, it is about actually creating a common message and a common resonance together by amplifying each other’s voices. That’s when we can really be effective.  So if you look at the real transformation that’s happened in the world, it’s when people understand about that they’re just not building followers for themselves, but they’re building a community that supports each other.

DAVID:            The greatest leadership lesson that I think I’ve ever learned is it’s not about being a leader, it’s about sort of how do you being about the world that other people want to see. I shudder to call it serving people because we then get into this huge debate about what is serving leadership. As a new empirical theory, I don’t want to dive into that, but it truly is-, it’s about what can you do for the community of people who are all working to that goal, and as you begin to put that value in, it comes back out. It’s the weirdest thing about life. The more value you give to the world, the more value they give you back.

But as you said earlier, that’s a really long process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and so one of the things I was really curious reading the book to ask you when we finally got to talk, was when you’re working with your clients and you sort of begin this process of how do they go from leaders to thought leaders, what do you tell them to keep them motivated throughout this process? I mean this is a lot-, Seventeen years in one the examples you gave. This is a long fight. How do you stay motivated?

DENISE:          Well, each one is a little different to be honest. But let’s say that one of the tricks that I use myself to stay motivated is, as I created a little index card, and I put the word “Why do I want to finish this book? Why does this book belong in the world? Why do I want to do all this hard work?” Because like you, we’re running businesses, we got families, we got other things to do … So I put that little index card, the top ten reasons, and I put it next to my bed, and I read it in the morning, and I read it at night, and I encourage my clients to really do that. Put the top ten reasons why you’re doing this thought leadership journey.

When you think about the different people, each one has a different motivation. One of them, she’s a real leader in the world of education, and she understands that in her role, if she doesn’t have a seat at the table, the people that she represents are not getting a seat at the table, so she’s sort of the one for this community. I think similarly with Zoe Dunning, that the person mentioned in the military, she was the only one that was allowed to speak as the only openly gay person in the military, so she had a community she was standing for.  And I think if you can connect to that broader community that you are the one for, you’re going to be far more likely to stay with it.

But I think others actually are doing because they really want the next job. They want the next … They want to be connecting to people that matter to them. They want to build a new community or connections to a new community. There’s a lot of reasons. Some people want more money. So I’m not judging whatever the reasons are. I really just want you to stay really true to that.

DAVID:            It all circles right back to that driving passion idea that we talked about earlier. If you’re looking to figure that out, first figure out your why, but then if you’re looking at it to spread that, figure this out through Ready to be a Thought Leader. It’s a solid book on how you go from being a leader, manager, or even just somebody with a brilliant idea into a true thought leader. If it’s okay though, I want to switch from the thought leader’s thoughts to the thought leader herself. Denise, so I want to ask you a couple questions. First being, what are you reading right now?

DENISE:          I think the most fun about writing a book, is that people keep sending you their books.

DAVID:            Isn’t it totally awesome?

DENISE:          It is! It’s like, “Oh! I didn’t even know you were writing a book.” So one of them is this woman who’s been hugely helpful for me in getting me a lot of folks to review my book and to put Amazon reviews up, and her name is Judy Robinett. She’s got a new book coming out. It’s called, How to be a Power Connector. And I got to tell you, this woman is a power connector.

And then another friend, Sarah Granger. I got her manuscript this week, and it’s called Digital Mystique. It’s sort of the insider’s secrets predominantly for women, but for folks who want to be very digitally active as a leader, how do you get in front of folks? So I’m eager to read that. And then the one I had been wanting to read for a while is my friend, Sarah Miller Caldicott. She’s the great grandniece of Thomas Edison, and her second book just came out. It’s called Midnight Lunch. It’s all about team collaboration and how Edison taught people collaboration and innovation. This is right up your alley. How did the people do innovation using some of his techniques.

DAVID:            I really wish that book would’ve been out when I was writing mine. It would’ve made my chapter on Thomas Edison as lone inventor being a myth and all of his rules for collab-, It would’ve writing that a whole lot easier, but-

DENISE:          She would the one to interview.

DAVID:            Yeah, yeah, I know. Maybe when there’s an updated edition I’ll have to get her on record for it. The other question I have for you-, I mean by no means is this book launched. It’s been out for about two months. Thought Leadership Lab has been around for a while, but I’m also curious to get into where your mind is going in the future, and ask what’s next for you?

DENISE:          Well, I don’t think six months ago I would have ever, ever, ever say I would write another book. I’m sure you’re been there. You’re in the middle of it. You think, “I can’t possibly imagine every doing this again,” but I finally understand why people write books, is so they launch books. The launching has been so fun. Getting to have real conversations with people about things that are not the weather, you know, just talking about important topics-, So I’ve decided there’s probably another book, and where it’s come to … There’s sort of two pieces that are intertwined. There first is that, this book is for individuals. Now, there’s a lot of ideas for how groups can work together, but this is really for an individual to become a thought leader.

My next book is going to be how do groups do it. So I had an opportunity last year to work with a group of nurse leaders. We spent an afternoon developing their messaging, and here’s nurse leaders from across California working together to develop a message they can amplify together. And that was so powerful for them and for me to realize that is all the better if you can a group of people all on the same topic to build thought leadership together. So that’s the next book. It’s sort of thought leadership for groups.

And then I have this crazy idea that we should a award for the best companies to be or become a thought leader. So I’m incubating this idea. I’m just going to host a little dinner in a few weeks to talk to people about how I would put an award like this together, and I just think we should be celebrating companies that are helping you become thought leaders, but also teaching those who don’t know how to do it. That would be by creating this criteria for an award.

DAVID:            I think that’s a solid, solid endeavor. I actually really resonated with one of the things you said earlier, which was the idea around launching the book. I don’t know if this is the case for you or for anybody else that’s written a book that’s listening, but I always tell people now when they come to me and say, “I think I want to write a book,” I always tell them, “No you don’t.” You want to have written a book. You want to launch a book. You want to talk about something you’re incredibly passionate about. You don’t want to actually write it. You just want to get the idea to spread. And I think that’s my awesome segue of why I really, really, really liked your book is that it’s about how you get idea to spread. Writing is the hard part. Getting it to spread is the fun part.

DENISE:          It totally is, and I just enjoyed it. All my various groups have been hosting me, and radio and podcasts and things like this. This is when you get to have the dialog about a topic that you can’t stop thinking about, talking about anyways, so now to engage with others … It’s right up my alley.

DAVID:            Absolutely. And for that reason, I want everybody who’s listening to check out Ready to Be a Thought Leader. Whether you are a leader in an organization that wants you to take on a more proactive role and become a thought leader, or whether you’re like me and Denise, and you just love to geek out on great ideas, and you want to be able to turn that into your own ideas and spread them, there’s a lot of great insights in the book Ready to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success. Denis, thank you so much for joining us inside the LDRLB.

DENISE:          Thank you. I had a great time.


Denise Brosseau is the author of Ready to be a Thought Leader. Denise is an award winning author, thought leadership consultant and keynote speaker with a long track record of results with an international clientele including Abbott Labs, Deloitte, Cisco, Gracenote and Roche. In this interview, we discuss how to how to increase your influence, impact, and success.

Listen below or subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher.

This podcast is supported by Audible.com. Get a free audiobook (including The Myths of Creativity) just for trying it at www.audibletrial.com/lead.

If you read this, you probably think a lot about design and creativity…and all that thinking has resulted in patterns in the way you see and think. These patterns, often called mental habits or dispositions, help you to be more creative and to engage in design thinking and design processes as a default when facing a problem. But…what about your students, or clients, or employees? How can you help them develop these habits of thinking? In education, problem-based, experiential learning has become quite popular, and a design-based approach comprises many of these efforts. Often focusing on real-world projects, design provides students the opportunity to work through various challenges that highlight processes and replicate problems students will ultimately encounter in their respective design fields. A critical key to productive engagement in this approach to education is the development of habits of mind, in this case design thinking habits like generating lots of solutions (divergent) or pursuing other perspectives (multi-disciplinary) or noting the balance between desirability, viability, and feasibility (integrative).

Like any habits, habits of mind form through deep and persistent engagement, critical feedback, self-assessment, immersion, and continuous practice. Often academic or workplace trainings, particularly those that are project/problem-based, are (a) self-contained, (b) within a single discipline, (c) complete by the end of the semester or session, (d) not owned by the students or employees, and (e) of limited engagement with professionals outside the classroom or workplace. This model frequently fails to engage learners beyond the criteria of the project and parameters of the training, and provides limited opportunity to develop mental habits.

Consider a different approach – a macro model of developing mental habits. A macro model project approach looks beyond the artificial constraints of the typical education or training scenario, and offers a deeper and more extended engagement in exercising the habits of mind you seek to develop. In my work at the university, we utilize the macro model approach through an annual project undertaken by three professors from very different disciplines. Students are charged to design an interactive, educational exhibit for a major international trade show. The project moves beyond the traditional semester, and runs as a yearlong endeavor consisting of all phases of the design process from initial brainstorming to user-research, prototyping, implementation, and evaluation. Professors coordinate various activities across multiple university courses and student organizations. A diverse core group of students work on the project from start to finish, and subgroups of students move in and out of the project.

This approach – one that disregards traditional academic time and discipline constraints, and comprises numerous subprojects (and sub-problems) within a larger project – is more completely owned by student leaders who emerge within and outside the classroom context. Students benefit from engaging with other students and professionals outside their discipline, and who are critical in helping to solve design challenges in a more comprehensive manner.

As we strive to engage social and other ‘wicked’ problems, aspiring leaders, educators, and designers increasingly find themselves part of a multi-disciplinary collaborative team that requires both creativity and leadership – a role that requires a broader understanding and cognitive skill set beyond their respective field. Macro-project engagement can help develop persistent habits of mind including deep empathy, purposeful ambiguity, persistent divergence, engaged collaboration, and a desire to work in an integrative setting. In what creative manner could you transform your trainings into a macro model?