Purpose is the Key to Leading With Innovation
The question: How do you think about innovation with purpose?
The answer? You don’t.
To innovate with purpose, the question needs to be flipped, Dov Seidman, LRN’s founder and chief executive (photo, second left), said during a panel at last week’s World Economic Forum gathering in Davos.
“To understand innovation, you have to flip that and have purpose-led innovation,” Seidman said during the discussion led by Paul Daugherty (photo, first left), chief technology and innovation officer at professional services firm Accenture, and author of the book, “Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI.”
Business is about human endeavor, people coming together to do something, and there are two ways for humans to come together on a sustainable basis, said Seidman. One is through wielding power and using carrots and sticks to achieve desired behaviors; the other is working together to achieve common goals for noble purposes.
“We know how to use carrots and sticks to shift behavior, but innovation is elevated behavior,” said Seidman. “Elevated behavior is us at our most human. When we have a dream and when we inspire, innovation is the most elevated way for us to be.”
The only thing that has ever elevated another human being is a purpose and a mission worthy of their dedication, he said, adding, “The only people that elevate other people are not formal leaders but moral leaders, people that lead in such a way that they would inspire you to hang with them.”
While innovation is a big priority for companies, Daugherty said at the same time there are lots of questions, such as those questioning the motives of technology companies, and questions about diversity, inclusion, ethics, bias, where jobs are going, security, privacy, etc.
“So the big purpose question is, as we are changing the world of innovation, what is our purpose in doing so?” he asked. “What’s our purpose with respect to the employees that we have, consumers, the communities we operate in?”
Entertainer and tech entrepreneur Will.i.am said because of the rapid changes being served up by technology, and because it just should be a human right, he believes when talking about innovation there must be discussion of how to empower people to take ownership of their data so they can decide what to do with it.
Part of the issue is people presently are willing give up the rights to their data for what Will.i.am called the ease of access--whether it’s trading data to get music at a click, or to hail a ride. “If you’re poor you can sell your blood, your plasma, for money, but it’s not the case for your data right now,” he said. “You don’t have a say in who has access to it, and that’s because we are all under this access level of society.”
Will.i.am said he expects a data revolution by 2030, as people get wiser about all of this and demand control of their information. “Data is power, data is currency,” he said. “There is value in your activities. I am my data.”
Without Trust, it's Just Rest in Peace
One of the foundational issues for organizations dealing with consumers--being able to innovate with purpose--starts with customers trusting them on basic matters such as privacy and security, said Daugherty. Panel participant Stephanie Linnartz, chief commercial officer at Marriott, explained what the company did in the wake of its massive data breach last year to communicate with customers in the days and months that followed.
When the breach was discovered, Linnartz--who is responsible for IT and security--met with her boss, the general counsel and the CEO to map a response. They put out the information they had, even without fully understanding all that had happened. They readjusted their determinations of the impacts as new information became available and then communicated those results.
“It’s all about being completely transparent, communicating,” she said. “Our trust with our customers--we’re a 91-year-old company--is the most important thing. The only thing you can do is just get out there, be truthful, deal with it, be completely honest and get through it. If you do that, if you admit what happened and do the next right thing, I think you can keep trust and hopefully earn more trust in the years ahead.”
Daugherty said you can’t innovate without trust “because customers aren’t going to let you do new things if they don’t trust you.” Seidman agreed, saying it’s all about trust, then explaining how trust ties in to risk, innovation and progress.
To make progress, achieve prosperity or improve performance, people must innovate, said Seidman, adding to innovate means to take a risk and the only time people are willing to take a risk is when they trust. The upcoming LRN State of Moral Leadership in Business report found trust is high right now at just 11% of organizations. That’s because people don’t look at trust in the right way, he said.
Put another way: risk, innovation and progress spell out "RIP," or rest in peace. It takes trust to spark the "TRIP" that leads to the journey of innovation.
“We think trust is something we can go look for--trust and verify, can I trust you?,” said Seidman. “But Aristotle taught us the virtue of trust lies in the person giving it away. If I trust you, I’m giving you the power to do right by me, or let me down. So we go inspecting for trust, we don’t get it, as opposed to scaling the giving it away.”
He named some business examples of what happens when people give trust away. The band Radiohead made more money on their album when they let listeners pay what they wanted than when they set the price for their earlier offerings. Dominos ran an ad campaign about how awful-tasting their pizza was, even having top executives saying, “It tastes like cardboard,” and pledging to make a better pizza.
“Their journey of innovation started when they trusted people with the truth,” said Seidman. “If you want this type of purpose-inspired innovation, the only time you get high trust is when there is purpose at the core. We’ve done studies when executives and leaders set a high moral bar which is purpose-inspired, they get 10 times more creativity and 13 times more innovation.”
And, as the world moves more toward artificial intelligence becoming a larger part of everyday life, Seidman said it will be up to companies to express their humanity as part of their value equation to customers.
“One company after another is saying ‘Buy here, work here, invest in us, because of our humanity.’ But it’s one thing to proclaim a humanistic mission and purpose, and it’s another thing to translate that into practices and operating dynamics and procedures and leadership and individual behaviors that are human,” said Seidman.
“I think the innovation model and blueprint going forward is going to have to require a translation of the proclamation of humanity into how we do that. ... The innovation we're talking about is innovation in humanity, in how we lead, how we harness human potential.”
Click here to watch the entire panel discussion.