How Storytelling Transforms the Innovator with Siva Muthukrishnan of L’Oréal

How Storytelling Transforms The Innovator Untold Stories of Innovation

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“The most important part of storytelling is the stories you tell yourself.” - Siva Muthukrishnan, Innovator and Associate Vice President of Advanced Research for L’Oréal

From today’s episode you’ll learn:

We speak with Siva Muthukrishnan, Associate Vice President of Advanced Research for L’Oréal.  Siva talks about how storytelling transforms the innovator, what he looks for when recruiting innovators for his team, the essential role of storytelling to our “best guesses” for the future and research, and how diversified thinking is essential to propel innovation.  Diversified thinking not only allows for varied perspectives in the workplace, but allows innovators to provide creative solutions for complicated problems in the workplace.  Diversified thinking, in teams and in individuals, goes a long way in advancing research and technology.  Interested in learning how innovators tackle problems using Process-centric and jugaad-centric approaches?  Siva Muthukrishnan explains his two main ways of innovation and elaborates on how to develop and incorporate both to maximize innovation potential. 

Today's Guest:

Siva is the Associate Vice President of Advanced Research for L’Oreal. Siva believes in user and environment-centric, frugal product design to create a rich consumer experience.  He believes that traditional models are becoming outdated, and one needs to remain open to new ways of innovating, where new models and organization structures not only change the way we invent and innovate, but the way we live.  Siva leads L’Oréal, in development of new, sustainable, smart materials and technologies.

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Podcast Transcript

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Katie [00:00:00] Our guest today is Siva Muthukrishnan. He is the Associate Vice President of Advanced Research for L’Oreal. Siva, I’m really excited to talk with you about innovation storytelling today.

Siva [00:00:12] Me too, Katie. Thanks for having me.

Katie [00:00:14] Absolutely. Can you tell me where your personal story of innovation began?

Siva [00:00:19] I think – you know, I come from India. And as well as invention, just to begin with, the suspect difference between invention and innovation, invention is just finding how something can be made to work. Innovation is how to put them to use and monetize them in one form or the other. So innovation started very young in my life because when we found out how to make something work, we have to always be resourceful to valorize this material. So I go to a scientific example because I don’t want to give some personal example. That was pretty pragmatic at a street level. Scientifically, I was … in the lab in India. It’s in China that I spent some time after my master’s degree. And this lab did not have a dedicated glassblower, but we had some, you know, that at most we had experiments to be carried out. And I was not trained in it. So I came up with some contraptions that would work and get things done. And in this process, it was more of the creativity. And in fact, the story I told myself, then you can do it this way because somebody did a similar kind of a contraption to make something else work. That’s what actually brought this. And that would be my first example that I made a very sophisticated scientific experiment that would have required a very complex set of very expensive setup. I was able to make it work with a really cheap set of regular arcs and blast pieces available in the lab, glass tubes and stuff, and made it work and created something very interesting in making nano clusters made out of platinum.

Katie [00:02:01] Wow, incredible. And so you saw something similar happen in – did you say it was in an adjacent industry and you sort of modeled your solution?

Siva [00:02:11] Right, exactly. It’s really not an adjacent industry; it is pottery. Basically, if you think about how you would set concrete in a very high water flooded area. They create a dry area, a dry zone by using whatever is available in that area, in the najin constructions. That’s what they do. So they were able to keep away moisture for a temporary time when they poured the concrete down and let it solidify. So similarly I was wondering if I have to mix two reagents through an inert environment instead of waiting for something that it’s really not. Why can’t they simply fill that balloon with argon and then with a tube and put it together and allow the argon to flow in and mix and make reactions work? And apparently it was a very common thing that organic chemists did all the time. But at the time, I was not trained in organic chemistry in the lab. So it was funny that when I showed that to my friends in organic chemistry, they said they were doing it all the time. 

Katie [00:03:09] Sure, sure. And yet thinking outside the box and using some creativity helped you sort of reinvent it for the purpose that you were looking at.

Shiva Absolutely. 

Katie So what brought you to L’Oreal?

Innovators and Time Experience

Siva [00:03:22] Well, it’s a very complex story, so I wouldn’t get into it. I’m a person who flows with life as it comes. So basically, whenever there is an opportunity, I measure time in a very unique way. This is my personal philosophy of time. Time is not something that’s measured using a calendar or a clock. Time is something – it is a set of experiences you gain and the value you create within a given space. So, for example, in 10 years you can call 10 years as a measure of time. But then somebody could have achieved a lot of things in just one year that could normally be possible by somebody else only in 20 years. So what is time here? So for me, time is not the regular meaning. I think time is simply the experience you can track. So how I measure my success in every professional journey: I look at what is my experience and what is the value I am creating and the time when I realize that my value creation has reached my potential, that I don’t think I would do any more disruptive shifts. I would only do incremental shifts. I tried to look for the next adventure, or more often than not, the next adventure comes towards me. So, that’s how I was. It’s like the teacher coming to visit you when you already have a student, right? The right teacher shows up when the student is ready. So I was in Cincinnati. I didn’t know even Proctor and Gamble was there in Cincinnati. People would not believe me if I say that, but it is the truth. I’m not from Ohio. I am from India. So I don’t know the geography or the, who are the big players in which city in Ohio. So then I ended up in Cincinnati. I didn’t even have a clue Proctor and Gamble was there. So I ended up looking for a post-doc. And then as life would take me, I went from that and did a post-doc in Ohio State, then came back to Proctor again. And Proctor, I worked there for a couple of years, learned a lot. Amazing learning ground. Then Proctor gave me the opportunity to relocate to Singapore and build something in Singapore. Storytelling transforms the innovator. Learn a lot and deliver some business and gain more gains within the business. Then move to India again in Proctor and Gamble. Then luck would happen. I will not begin. Companies wanted to hire me for succession planning and I moved there and spent a couple of years. And since I also had moved off from the United States I wanted to come back and L’Oreal had an opening to come back and that’s how I came back to L’Oreal. So all along, it’s just the right opportunity and the right timing. Things automatically fell in place.

Katie [00:05:46] How do you think innovation cultures are different around the world since you’ve had such an intercontinental experience in research and development?

Innovators and Process Innovation

Siva [00:05:56] I think first and foremost, there is two fundamental systems, in my opinion, globally, of innovation. One is systemic innovation. Other one I would call – I’ll use an Indian term, a Hindi term called jugaad. No, there is no equal word in English, just that you can hear he can call in English. Maybe – Ben Franklin was the best jargon practitioner. “Make it work.” “Doesn’t matter.” So Ben Franklin, I would call as a proponent of jugaad in the western world. It’s pronounced as “you got.” So there are only two types of innovations. One is the “make it work” philosophy. The other one is a process. Innovation is a process. So if I look at every country in the world, each country automatically falls into their own definitions of innovation and they can be classified within these two segments. And it is, interestingly, very much tied to their food. So if you – if you eat the way in which people prepare food and eat food tells you whether they are a process driven culture or whether they are a jugaad driven culture. So, for example, it is a certain way. So the food, there is a certain way you eat it and they’re very picky about all of that, that’s naturally a process-centric culture. Easily you can classify Japan and certain aspects of China, certain parts of China, some European cultures, and they all fall into this very process-centricity. This is the way to hold the knife. This is the way to hold the fork. And that’s how you have to eat it. And that’s a – that is culture’s radical process domination is very vicious. And here comes in the United States. I think the United States is not the best country of jugaad. Hey, I don’t care about how you eat the pigs in Italy. We just go look and pick it up in our hands and eat it. So you just make it work. It was kind of a mindset. And this is broad to the trends in innovation. But the key difference for me is how do they come along together? The process innovation is important for you to scale up the business, scale up the value of the innovation and the messy part. A jugaad is required for the creativity. So whichever country has the messy part, the creativity is very high. For example, India. India is a – it’s a very naturally jugaad land because you have to make it work. There is always a shortage of resources in one form or the other. The population is big. It’s a wealthy nation. But just because of the population, the small. So you have to make it work within that. So the constraint puts you under a lot of pressure to make contraptions that work in a very quick and dirty way. And it makes it work. But when you scale it up, you need to then add a process. That is when you can control the quality and give you the correct output for innovation. So broadly speaking, the globe can be divided into two. Between jugaad and process. But for me, an amalgamation of the two together is what creates the biggest of innovations.

Katie [00:08:40] I can see that.

Katie [00:08:41] And, you know, so much of what we’re interested in in this podcast is storytelling and communications around innovation and how – how storytelling can help accelerate the pace of change. And so do you think different storytelling techniques are – are prominent when a culture is more process oriented and its innovation approach versus jugaad?

How Storytelling Transforms Innovators

Siva [00:09:06] Absolutely possible. Let me start with the key of stories. The most important part of storytelling is the stories you tell yourself. Every morning, you like it or not, you’re actually telling stories to yourself, mostly subconsciously, because we have made a habit of telling a certain story to ourselves here. “I’m tall and brown. I am – I am aware. I am thin, I am heavy, I am flexible. I am not…” all of these are stories you say to yourself, and it starts very young in childhood, I believe, because my grandmother showed me the sky and say, “hey, that is the constellation.” Really, the constellation doesn’t exist there. It’s a story that she just connected a random set of marks and showed that it looks like a big spoon. So you call him the Dipper, so that is – so you create a story for yourself. 

Katie Mm hm.

Siva And then if I – if I really put those experiences in the computer and store those experiences as experiences, there’s no story, then it’s not that human. So we had to make those experiences come together. And then the mosaic forms an image and the image is what is the story you carry with yourself. And we all as a child to adults and to old age with various stories and memories. And half of it is a lie, by the way, most of the stories are lies, which means it’s not – they’re very innocuous, lies they are not really malicious in any form. But these are later life. And Daniel Goleman dutifully calls this – that’s vital – simple truths, right? You’ve got to tell yourself these pictures. So coming to innovation, you get the same thing. When you put four or five data points in front of you, you are connecting them in some way to tell the story. You can put – take the same set of data points and tell three or four different types of stories and which story you’ll say and which story you act upon – telling is one thing. Then you follow with an action on the story. That is what will determine how successful you are for your innovation model.

Siva [00:10:59] And coming back to the jugaad processes, the process of innovation. The stories are very different. The process always looks for failure modes. The jugaad always looks for optimism. So that’s a very fundamental difference between the two. The process is there to prevent failure, it’s there to make it efficient. Just another form of saying that I won’t fail in losing my time. I won’t fail in losing my quality. That is what process is meant for. It’s a failure prevention mechanism.

Katie [00:11:29] That’s a great point, too. And it’s meant to reduce risk, right?

Siva [00:11:33] Yes, exactly. So this mitigation is – is the whole idea of process. Let’s wait for scaling, you need the process. However, if you think of a jugaad, it’s all about fantasy. You’re fantasizing in a way I’m not. Like when I was looking at the concrete being poured into a small contracted cylinder to keep away the water, to set up a particular pillar or a beam inside – inside a bit of land. I was just imagining, oh, that means – I didn’t even think whether water and air is going to behave in the same way, if oxygen and water are the same size in their – I mean, their difference or variation. I don’t care about all the physics and chemistry because this is a leap of faith and imagination. That is, if that was in a way the one could apply that in the constructions, why can’t they put that into a glass, that leap of faith? It’s more about a fan – almost a fantastic optimism. And that is what is the story that you’ve got to focus on when you are looking at creative aspects of animation.

Katie [00:12:32] And so really leveraging both being able to express the sort of creative, futuristic, opportunistic storyline, as well as thinking about the avoidance of risk and creating a narrative about really, process and feasibility. Really, the balance of both of those is critical to an innovation story.

Siva [00:12:54] Absolutely. And it is so interesting, in my travels around the world and working with so many cultures – more than 65 countries. So scientists I worked with in my career now and I can tell, like, it’s fascinating. Doesn’t matter where they come from. People automatically gravitate to one or the other styles. The people who are generally on the very fantastic and creative side are those who struggle to scale up and people who are really good to generally scale up, those who are struggling to fantasize and there are very few people – well, I call them the ambidextrous people in the middle who can do a little bit of both. And these people are the – essentially, integrators. They are the bridge between the two extremes and success of an organization depends on how many people you have in the middle, as well as how many people you have on the other extremities. You need to have a fine balance between all three.

Katie [00:13:50] What advice do you have? I’m sure so many of the stakeholders and leaders and engineers in the innovation community are listening to this podcast and kind of placing themselves within this narrative. So they are either falling on the more process-oriented side of their approach to innovation or jugaad.

Innovators and Opportunities

Katie OK. So on the jugaad side, more futuristic and opportunistic. I think we’re placing ourselves in this narrative as we hear it. What advice do you have for jugaad-oriented innovators, in terms of helping them tell innovation stories and think about innovation in a way that they don’t, that they can leverage their creativity. But also keep in mind that the realism that’s required to get by and for their idea.

Siva [00:14:41] It is on both the stage in which you want to make your innovation. For example, now I am managing very upstream auditing activities in advance research. We work a lot in very upstream work. In my previous job, I was managing a factory and so I was the company head of quality. So I cannot apply the same principles in two of these places. I don’t want jugaad in a factory. I want to minimize jugaad in a factory because I don’t want the improvisations along the way. Rather, like, to make a contraption. Yes, it can be done as a stopgap measure. When there is a pull line stopping, now I can just temporarily put some back tapes and make it work. That’s okay for a day. If I have a plan clearly to get the socket out and then do a low cost analysis and put the process in place to prevent those failures. However, when they come to very early phase experimentation, I cannot paralyze myself thinking about the process involving the scale-up and the efficiencies and the losses – that really paralyzed me. So every stage of innovation we need to look at the closest probability analysis. If you do this kind of jugaad, what are the risks and what’s the probability? Same way if you do this jugaad in the downstream process, in the scale upstair situation, what are the risks and what are the probability of the risks happening? And once you are very flexible, you’re agile, you have to be dexterous to go between the two extremes. So what I have tried to develop all my career, is try to be in the center and a – more like me to be reactive or responsive to whichever side the particular problem is and the question is. So I think having a very centrist mindset is really useful. That would be one of the key advice. And the second thing is to be very comfortable with – with changing – is changing your strategy from jugaad to process, because the problem belongs, as the maturity of the problem was and the mistake of the problem as it was. Sometimes the stakes of the problem is very high. Sometimes it is not. And that changes along the course of the problem solving. So key is flexibility and populate your team with two types of people: those that have the jugaad mindset and those who have the process mindset, and maintain the active tension between the two mindsets. It’s very important to keep the healthy tension between the two main points.

Katie That makes so much sense.

Katie [00:17:06] I’m also thinking, this is a really interesting sort of parable for what we see amongst big corporations at the enterprise level working to innovate, and also startups. And we could sort of put them into these two camps: that startups embody the jugaad mindset and that enterprise organizations embody the process mindset. And so could you speak a little bit to – do you sort of see that same parallel there in terms of a future where – we as regions, we as a world, are really trying to leverage both and create partnerships and venture opportunities.

Siva [00:17:42] That’s a fascinating question. I think you bring up a very, very interesting observation that you are spot on: when you are trying to build something from scratch and trying to set a way you don’t get a vote: what is the process? Because.. if your – your business card may say you are the CEO, but you may also be very well the janitor of the office if you are only a two to three people company. So, so, it’s a – you are just making it work. And in fact, that flexibility is what pays your bills and that is what allows you to establish yourself. And then you start worrying about the scale. But what gets you from this starting point of two to three people company, to let us say, you make it a 300 people company. You can no longer be doing the job of the janitor because you have more value addition to add, other than that. Not that it is any less to do the job of a janitor. But – but it is just to say that like you can hire somebody and give them a job to do that and you can take care of it. So you are absolutely right, as the organization’s complexity evolves, specialization starts. It is actually nothing unusual. This is exactly what happened in the industrial revolution. Initially there were – a generalist and then specialization emerged and then the – the generalization came back once again. It’s a cycle between specialization and generalization. Even Einstein’s relativity theory. He first had the general theory of relativity before he had the special theory of relativity. And – but in reality, when he was able to establish the mathematical proof, he was not able to do it in the same order. He actually first had the special theory of relativity, because he was up late, what would be the particular photoelectric effect? Then he wanted to expand from that and then he built onto the other gravity modules and then he had the general theory of relativity. So the tour continues. You go from specialization to generalization. And what is interesting is the big corporation, which survives maximum shocks such as the Great Recession or the Great Depression of the 1930s. They are the ones which had a confined jugaad. So in other words, they somehow have codified the mindset of jugaad. The company itself will have a massive restructural process in place. But there will be some wildcards and take the company between the allowed back to zero. And if you take any company, even if you take the Good to Great analysis of Jim Collins’ book, you can see very clearly that certain of the companies that had this flexibility of both process and jugaad had a very significant advantage. My one, you know, with a lot of the legalities and the liabilities and all those generalization of policies, we have put ourselves way too much on the process train, especially in the Western world. While I’m not against this because they are bad for a safety reason, but more often than not, it’s a knee jerk reaction after a couple of safety incidents. There’s so many extra protections and stuff I put in place for every little thing and I ask myself, like, what happens? So you are so constrained that you can’t even try very little deviation from anything? And unless we really released those constraints and balanced the risk versus probability in a very smart way, I think our rate of innovation will start to stagnate and it will not really grow. And what is paradoxical to me is many of the developing countries which are trying to move into the forefront, they are also not able to come up with because they are on the other end of the spectrum. They completely lack any processes. So they believe that everything can be done by “on the go” kind of things. And that doesn’t work. So this is where we stand in smaller organizations. Yes, there is a lot of jugaad, but they need to start building in processes, not just thinking today about 200, 300 people. They may want to think about what happens when they have a 2,000 people workforce or what happens when their consumer base goes from mere 200,000 to two million or five million consumers or customers. And that is how the processes have to be in line, a way of improving. It’s a continuous implement, that is the key. It should be the continuous implement – implement of the process that jugaad should have some room to claim the smallest skill and venue and deploying it in the larger scheme. That is less of a jugaad, not zero, and more of process.

Katie [00:21:58] Inside L’Oreal and that brand division, how do you balance this? You know what – what can you tell us about some of the initiatives or projects that you’re working on and the ways that you – do use a stage gate process inside your innovation teams? Storytelling transforms the innovator.

Siva [00:22:13] I can talk to a L’Oreal spirit. L’Oreal is actually truly a company that has somehow balanced jugaad and process fairly well. And it probably goes back to the founding father, who was a chemist himself, Eugène Schueller, and he somehow, although he was a chemist, he always maintained his own lab. Even though he became the CEO of a company that became 80, 90 billion dollars, uh euros, or franks at the time, in those days in the 1940s, he already had, by the time – still he was practicing, spending time in the lab. He used to come to the labs very often. So in the labs, he maintained the jugaad mindset. While he was running the business, he was in the process mindset. So I think it was there in the DNA of the company since it was founded some hundred and ten years ago and gladly stands today. I think that is still very much in the company. But I would definitely say that the jugaad has a little bit of an upper hand in certain parts of the company than the other parts of the company. And what we are constantly striving, is to find a balance. We don’t call it jugaad, it is just the term I use because I’m coming from India and I’m a big fan of the term. And I wish I would make it more popular because there is no other equal employed in any other language for it, to my knowledge. And I think in my case of advanced research, our goal is to find materials of the future – like five years, 10 years into the future, hold the material, integrate with your electronic systems into your digital environment. How will they do? Very responsive to your environment to be smart of those kinds of material. So here when we want to test this material, we cannot wait to test it in the process because the process involves humans. Storytelling transforms the innovator. You have to go through safety clearances and a whole lot of things. So we – and we we are really strict about not doing animal testing at all. So how do we come up with our creative solutions? So, first then, before we started listing a lot and testing them in the–  in the real process, which we have to test them before launching a product. So that is where a lot of jugaad comes in handy. We are able to practice it with some surrogates, put some very interesting tricks and in the trade to really test them at a cheaper price. How do we fast failure? We do failure very fast. And you get the maximum learning from a single failed experiment. How do we design that experiment? That is where the jugaad mindset helps us a lot.

Katie [00:24:41] Absolutely. I agree with you. The term is so helpful and I love that you borrowed it from one culture and you’re trying to sort of amplify its presence. I think you should write a book about that particular term.

Siva [00:24:53] There is a book already.

Siva [00:24:55] Already, there is a book by a professor from Oxford, InnerCity already wrote a book called Jugaad Innovation.

Siva [00:25:00] But I do plan to write a book on the topic because the purpose of being not really from India didn’t drop as they had some misunderstanding about the term, how would this be practiced? But maybe someday when I have the time, I should sit down and write; you’re right. 

Leveraging Stories with Innovators and Innovation Teams

Katie [00:25:18] So tell us, you know, building materials of the future. How do you leverage storytelling inside of your innovation teams? Do you feel that story plays a role in leveraging jugaad and that mindset?

Siva [00:25:35] I probably think it’s all stories. It’s not just telling stories. It’s all stories. Why? Because how – how we go about doing this work, we need publications from various professors around the world. We go to patents, you know, this is five years ago, the data is available, the US granted approximately some fourteen or fifteen million patents, which is a crazy number of patents. So there is no way anybody can make a logical sense of these patents. The one only way you have to do, is you can say, “hey, what is this particular company filing this patent at this time? Probably they are trying to launch a product, without our knowledge.” We just told the story. Storytelling transforms the innovator. I just ended up killing a story, that is a product conceived, there is a consumer benefit, there is a market for it. That’s why this company has invested so much money to make some eight or nine patents.

Siva [00:26:26] So when we look at information and connect them together, it’s stories which helps us make sense. It’s the stories that helps us; we had hypotheses. We don’t call them stories, we call them hypotheses. Hypotheses, it’s nothing but a plot. Yes, they’re stories. So you are, you’re testing whether the plot is true or not. So, and so in every stage, it’s not your knowledge that’s going to save you. Knowledge is history. Knowledge is passed. Knowledge is all about what we already knew about. And what allows us to further knowledge, it’s actually imagination. And without stories, you cannot have room for imagination. Storytelling transforms the innovator. So I tell my two teams very often, I am very careful about my words when I talk with them. I ask them, “what do you think about this idea?” Next I ask them, “what do you feel you could do with this idea?” So there is a very big difference between the two; when I’m talking signs and crosses, that is thinking, and when I’m talking imagination and storytelling, that is feeling. So, it’s little that I have never seen someone make a breakthrough. So in fact, when I interview candidates, I look for one key trait: how are they able to put their technical knowledge into a story? And it’s very important.

Siva [00:27:42] And if they cannot do that in a very coherent manner and cannot go between logic and story back and forth, I think then they have not mastered their technology sufficiently enough.

Katie [00:27:54] I would love to hear, I think, some examples – or, I know you probably can’t share specific, you know, projects or prototypes or concepts, but could you share an example of a moment where someone on your team grew in their ability to flow between the data and the evidence and the way that they’re communicating it?

Siva [00:28:16] There was an incident where we made a product, we made a prototype, and the debate was that this prototype, it may not be stable enough a certain form of package. So the regular engineering mindset would say, hey, take these five, six different packages, would make a design of experiments, create a matrix of all the limitations and combinations and throw them in and put them into the people, the mold and check them regularly. Storytelling transforms the innovator. So this is a very lenient mindset and it would take almost like 60 or 70 experiments to do. But however, there was one of the team members who came up with a very interesting story saying, hey, I’ve actually seen that particular kind of packaging commonly used in this kind of material, in this kind of chemistry. So I am imagining there is a good reason why they do that. So probably this kind of material is compatible with that, and this is not compatible with this. So why don’t we just do a binary testing between the two? And well, we went from a 70 experimental design to just two or three experiments. 

Katie Wow. 

Siva And this leap of faith was very powerful. Yes. If they failed in that, so what? They just lost a day. That’s at least. But they at least give themselves a lottery ticket in hand, that big. If they won, they won the jackpot.

Katie [00:29:32] That’s right. Yes. Yes. And so it was the ability to borrow an insight from another – another product or another package design and – and apply that thinking to this particular challenge and – and have a lean mindset at the same time to say, you know, 60 or 70 experiments is – is too many. What else can we do?

Humility and Innovation

Siva [00:29:57] Yes, it’s a form of humility, right? Because it doesn’t start with a belief that I know it. I can design it. I have a PhD. It’s not that. Instead, a lot of others do. How are they looking at it? Here is a grocery store. How does the chips company work on this particular paper package? Ah, its chips. You know, it is sold for a dollar. Come on, you know, that’s not how you look at it. Same way you travel in Thailand and you see how they made a package instantly out of palm leaf, or some other leaf, and wrapped some momos or something for you to eat. You know, that’s – that’s a great observation. If you are a very good, curious scientist, you observe these little things in various places and see how you can play some role. It’s more like, you know, I’m a mechanic and a car mechanic. A good car mechanic will constantly update the tool box. But he or she will not care about who’s going to bring what car to the store. They will just keep updating the tool box. And when the car comes, they just do a permutation, combination and two experiments and guesses. They will use the tool and try to solve the problem. 

[00:31:05] A similar question to lean – to keep leaning into this line of thinking. What advice do you have for innovation leaders as they try to identify team candidates who really have that ability to translate technical information into clear or compelling storylines?

Diversity Among Innovators

[00:31:26] I see. Somehow, the modern hiring processes have started unconsciously self-selecting hiring of people of similar cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. So – and also conformities of big universities. So if we start screening this person, you know, hey, this person is from an Ivy League school, so it must be good. And that’s the starting point. I think we need to throw this model into garbage, first of all, because we need to start looking at candidates from a very holistic viewpoint and be very comfortable with people who are very different than you. And that’s so important. And diversity for me, it’s not just at the level of gender or race or color or nationalities or whatever. I think it’s about thinking diversity of thought process, diversity of approaching problems. So look for people who are diverse in thinking. And it is very, very uncomfortable to accept the diversity of thinking because most often than not, it is not race which divides people, it is diversity of thinking. People are very uncomfortable with people who think differently –

Katie Yes.

Siva – and innovation suffers when people start thinking very similarly.

Katie Yes!

Siva Homogeneous thinking is the enemy of innovation. And that is why when I look at resumes, I just tell them, hey, don’t even talk about your school, how great it is and which background you come from, What’s your pedigree. All those are absolutely useless information. And the hiring groups, so the hiring manager, should be very conscious about this bias. All of us have biases and we’ve got to be very watchful of this bias of socioeconomic status. It’s very sad and interesting. People from a certain set of mannerisms say, I take it for dinner and let us say this person is from a very, very low socio economic background and did not know a certain set of table manners. This is going to hold against the candidate. Unfortunately, in a very unconscious way. And we need to be careful to stay away from the bias.

Katie [00:33:28] I think now more than ever, here in 2020, at least especially in America, embracing and trying to understand people of differing viewpoints is more important perhaps now than ever before.

Siva Absolutely.

Katie [00:33:41] And it applies to innovation.

Katie [00:33:43] Of course, it applies to any kind of change or ways that we’re going to be able to advance as a society. So I’m grateful for that advice. That’s a great perspective to share. 

Siva Thank you.

Katie Siva, you know, from the innovators perspective, do you have any other advice you’d like to share about how they can be empowered to tell effective innovation stories?

Harnessing Creativity and Humility for Innovation

Siva [00:34:11] The first thing for me is: acknowledge the story is not meant to be a scientific perfect’s. And also acknowledge that there are a certain element of nonfactual content in stories. Most of them get into trouble when they stop using storytelling, especially in innovation and science is because they don’t give this disclaimer. This is very important. And why this disclaimer is important is not for any legal reasons or any professional reasons. First and foremost, it is for ourselves, because we release ourselves from the constraints we do to ourselves on what is the story I can see and what is the Holy Grail assumptions that I’m going to break. Because without breaking Holy Grail assumptions you can never have innovations. So first, permitting yourself with this is very vital. Second, stay extremely curious and humble. And by humility. I don’t mean to say that “talk less” say that “I am meek,” “I am weak,” or using “we” in the place of “I;” that is not humility. Humility is willingness to be corrected by anybody and willingness to learn from anybody. And that is very important. And staying curious, you can – you can learn and pick up ideas from anywhere around you, anywhere in your vacation, in mine, in the farmer’s market, in their village in China. In some parts of Thailand, you can pick it up from anywhere and challenge – travel alone to visit different cultures in time with them and then look at it. Don’t go and tell me something nonsensical in Asia. Oh, I found a McDonald’s. I really found the real food. Hey, come on. You know, that’s not the way you express your humility in the first place, you know?

Katie That’s right.

Siva [00:35:55] And that is – that is a fundamental arrogance. So that needs to be turned off, if you ever want to be a good innovator. So I think just this handful of guidelines. I wouldn’t call anyone ugly because I – because it’s not great to be arrogant. So I don’t want to sound that way. It is just a thought process, it’s just a framework.

Katie [00:36:14] That’s right. Yes, absolutely. That’s – that’s great advice about the fact that humility is not necessarily about not speaking up or not adding your voice, but it is about being willing to take correction or take feedback and take it to heart and work to really understand and value the opinions and viewpoints of others. 

Siva Mm hm.

Katie Siva, I’m so grateful to have had this conversation with you on the podcast. It’s incredible to  – to learn about jugaad and these different mindsets that can help us really understand what our proclivities are as innovators and how we can storytell to either amplify those proclivities or try to work across them with people who maybe have a different approach and mindset towards innovation. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. 

Siva You’re welcome.

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