Building your Innovation Muscle through Exploration & Experimentation with Lorraine Marchand, Author of The Innovation Mindset

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On this week's episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Lorraine Marchand. Lorraine is the author of the new book, The Innovation Mindset. She and I discuss how innovation starts, how you can build your muscle of innovation through exploration and experimentation, and much more. Let's get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what's next. Each week we'll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today's world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best in the brightest, innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneering businesses. It's time to get started.

Interview Transcript with Lorraine Marchand, Author of The Innovation Mindset

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I'm your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Lorraine Marchand. She is executive managing director of Merative, which is formerly IBM Watson Health. And she's author of the new book, The Innovation Mindset: Eight Essential Steps to Transform Any Industry. Welcome to the show, Lorraine.

Lorraine Marchand: Thank you, Brian. Really happy to be here.

Brian Ardinger: I'm excited to have you. You have been in this space for a while. For the past three decades, you have been in product development, working with companies like Bristol Myers Squibb and Covance, and Cognizant. How did you get involved in the realm of innovation?

Lorraine Marchand: Well, it started when I was actually pretty young. I was reared by my dad, who was an inventor. And when I was growing up around the house, he would always challenge my brother and me, to find three solutions to every problem, usually problems that he would identify. And one summer morning, he really brought that point close to home. And he took us to a local diner called the Hot Shops Cafeteria in Wheaton, Maryland.

And our job was to determine what was slowing down table turnover. So we sat in the big red vinyl booths eating our breakfast of scrambled eggs and orange juice. And after three days of using our stopwatches and writing down notes, and even interviewing waitresses and bus boys, we determined that the culprit was sugar packets. People were spewing them all over the place.

True to his tenant that we had to find three solutions we did. And we ended up taking one to an MVP, minimal viable prototype. And that was the sugar cube. And we ended up selling it to the Hot Shops cafeteria that summer, and pretty soon it was distributed throughout the Baltimore Washington area.

So early on, I learned that problem solving was fun and lucrative. And fast forward throughout my career, whether it was at the National Institutes of Health or Bristol Myers Squibb, or founding my own startups and the diagnostics and ophthalmology area, I found that I really did love this idea of being able to clearly define a problem, and then as my dad had taught me kind of systematically evaluate and choose solutions.

And to me, the heart of the innovation mindset that I write about is an insatiable curiosity, a passion for problem solving, and embracing change. And so I have found myself, whether in large corporations or in startups, desiring to be that agent of change and bringing that problem solving methodology that I learned so early at the age of 13 with me in all of my career endeavors.

Brian Ardinger: I love that story and I love, you have this in the book that one of the key mindset essential steps is this innovation starts with at least three ideas. Can you talk a little bit more about why it takes more than one idea to get something going and that process?

Lorraine Marchand: You know, I like to say that first of all, your first two ideas, one of them is probably a solution that you've already been mulling over before you even confirmed that you had a problem. Because I find that we, as human beings, love to go into solutioning mode before we've really carefully defined the problem.

So, if you are making your way around a problem, you probably have a bias in terms of what one of the solutions is. The second solution is always to do nothing, right? The competition is always the default, the status quo, I'm not going to change.

So right there, you already have number one and two. So you have to be true to the problem solving discipline and this idea of brainstorming and coming up with the three solutions, because it could be that third one that is the winner. If you go a little bit beyond the three, I'm okay with that, but I don't allow my students or any of the individuals I coach to cheat and come up with fewer than three. That you can't do

Brian Ardinger: That makes perfect sense. Like you said, you've been in this space for a long time and you've, you've helped create products, you've helped create companies and that. What are some of the biggest maybe obstacles or misconceptions that people have about innovation and starting this particular process.

Lorraine Marchand: I think a lot of people are intimidated that they think that innovation has to be at the hands of some of the quintessential greats like Edison and Jobs and Musk and Gates, etc. And so, the first thing I like to do is educate and inform individuals that not all forms of innovation are disruptive. They're not all big hunt.

And it is absolutely honorable, and it could be your style of innovation to create incremental improvements. To do more renovation, retooling something for another type of use case. To be optimizing, which actually my story about the Hot Shops Cafeteria, truly if I'm honest about it, it's more about optimizing than truly innovating.

But I'm okay with that because like you, I'm very passionate about just encouraging more people to access the freedom, the excitement, the job satisfaction that comes from innovating. And I'm okay to use a broader set of terminology in order to attract more people to just find ways to get started. So that's the first thing. I think people are really put off by that.

And then I think that a lot of innovators find that it's very difficult to do customer research. Where do I find the customer? How do I talk to them? Do they want to talk to me? How do I really write a question guide that doesn't bias them toward my solution? So that's one that is very difficult to do, and I find that a lot of individuals will gloss over it.

You know, I, I say you have to talk to a hundred customers. And my students look at me with their eyes crossed going, I can't possibly do that. I can't even find five. And I say, well, how are you going to sell your product if you can only find five people to talk to about it? Okay. Right there.

And then I would say the other area is pivot. I'm a real fan of pivoting you never fail. Some people will argue with me, but I like to say, you don't fail if you're constantly adjusting your strategy based on the data, based on the market dynamics, and you're moving in the direction where you keep learning and improving what you're doing and moving it closer to the customer. We don't fail, we pivot. But a lot of founders, fail to see the warning signs. That maybe things aren't taking off the way they thought. And so pivoting too late can be pretty dangerous.

Brian Ardinger: You spent some time both in bigger corporations as well as a startup entrepreneur. Do you see any differences about how those types, either early-stage startups innovate versus bigger companies, and what are the differences and similarities?

Lorraine Marchand: I think that one of the big challenges in a corporation is, number one, the corporation exists in order to systematize, routinize, and scale. So, by its very nature, it's not really incented to be an innovative type of organism because innovation is the opposite. Innovation is about experimentation. It's got to create a safe environment for you to try something and fail. The only time I'll use the word fail.

You have to be able to experiment and know that it's not gonna move forward. And as we both know, so often corporations living quarter by quarter, they just don't have a lot of patience for investing time, money, and important talent and resources in creating new ideas that might not make it to market.

So that's one of the biggest challenges, and I tell my corporate colleagues who wanna innovate or even head up innovation, how important it is to embed it in the culture. And one of the first tips that I give them is you have to create an environment where experimentation is encouraged, and failure feels safe.

And failure is also even encouraged and incentivized. And I do like the way Jeff Bezos positioned that within Amazon. So, he had try, fail, learn. And if I had to reiterate a mantra to my friends in the corporate world, it would be you have to create that kind of environment. And if he did it, with a logistics company, surely you can do it too.

Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. It's interesting to talk a little bit about that. You know, you mentioned earlier about how you define innovation. And I think that's so important in that early-stage process to get people comfortable with the fact that I can be an innovator even though I'm not a Steve Jobs.

The idea that just taking an idea and creating value around that idea, that's how I define innovation. You know, being able to take your idea and move it forward to create value from it. That alone gives the individual person on the line permission to see a problem and say, I can fix that. And that is innovation and appreciate that particular type of approach.

It also then allows you to start building that muscle. To take on maybe bigger things down the road, bigger, more adjacent or transformational types of innovation. As you kind of learn about the process and learn that anybody can go through the part of taking an idea and creating value from it.

Lorraine Marchand: I really love that, Brian. In fact, I love that metaphor of the muscle. I was talking with one of the innovators that I profiled in the book, Sarah Apgar, who invented a piece of fitness equipment called the Fit Fighter. She's just phenomenal. It's a nationally recognized business and brand now, and so we use that metaphor when we were talking about Fit Fighter and innovation that it’s like a muscle.

I might have a goal of doing a half marathon. And I go out in day one, I've never run before. But I'm going to run half a mile and then the next week I'm going to run another half a mile and I'm going to build up to it. Because building a muscle, practicing is what makes you the half marathon runner. And building the muscle and practicing is what makes you good at innovating.

Brian Ardinger: So, you mentioned one of the stories that is in your book, but the book is packed full with a variety of different case studies and and things that you've seen along the lines. Can you tell us some of the success stories that you highlight in the book?

Lorraine Marchand: You know, one that I don't often get an opportunity to talk about. So, thank you for letting me choose one of my favorites. I had a fantastic opportunity when I was a professor of entrepreneurship at Princeton, to judge a business pitch contest at a prison in a local New Jersey County. And so that day I drove out to the prison not really knowing what to expect. And it was just the most enlightening and humbling experiences that I had.

The inmates had really worked hard over the 12 weeks in the entrepreneurship program. And they had studiously written their business plans down on loose leaf paper with pencils. And so, when I came in, I read the plans and then they had an opportunity to present their ideas and to pitch their ideas to me. And they were so engaged in the feedback. So responsive and receptive to it, and they really just wanted to learn and get better. And you could just feel the energy in the room.

But the best part of the story was three of those gentlemen went on to found the businesses that we had discussed in the session that day. And even though I couldn't stay in touch with them because of rules around these sorts of engagements, I was able to get information from the warden later that they had been successful. And really not too many stories have warmed my heart like that one.

Brian Ardinger: It's excellent to see that again pretty much anybody from anywhere can find problems to solve, and if you go through a process to make that happen, you can actually create value and change lives, so that's amazing. The other thing I like about your book, you have a section in there talking about women innovators and some of the unique challenges that they face. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Lorraine Marchand: My focus on women is around increasing awareness and raising women up and encouraging them to step up and stand out and give innovation a try. And I just think that for a lot of women, it's not something that they naturally think about being entrepreneurs or innovators.

And we do find that the data indicates that even among venture capital firms, there's still only about 2 to 3% of them that have women partners. And when we look at investments in women founded companies, it's also still hovering at around 2 to 3%. And I'm just such a fan of innovation for all the reasons that we've talked about because I think it can be so satisfying to take an idea, to take a problem that you've personally observed and bring it to life, bring it to market as we've been discussing.

I think that's tremendously satisfying. And I also think that it can be economically satisfying and help women find economic freedom. And a sustainability of their economic freedom and status. So I want to get the word out. I really encourage women in STEM. I encourage women to figure out ways to access capital. And I have a resource guide to help women with that.

And then very importantly, I like to help women think a little differently about their own networking. And the truth of the matter is you have to be comfortable networking with accountants and attorneys and investors, and maybe not those folks that are in your social circles on a day-to-day basis, but you have to get out there and be able to have those conversations and pull those people into your network. So those are some of the tips that I give to women.

Brian Ardinger: They're great tips and they apply to everyone as far as that ability to build a network. I think a lot of people think of innovation as this sport that you do in your garage and the tinkerer who figures things out on their own. But like you said, there are so many different components that have to come together to create that value, whether it's the accountants or the lawyers or the other people that can help build the product, whatever the case may be. Collaborative nature of innovation is so important. How do you stay fresh and current and connected with the new things that are going on in your world, and how do you stay on the top of, of your game?

Lorraine Marchand: Well, I am always reaching out to new innovators. I get so much inspiration from the students that I teach at a graduate level. Or I'll be going to the Philadelphia Venture Fair later this week. And so, I'll get to talk to the early-stage entrepreneurs there. And share ideas and explore and create with them.

So, I need to put myself in an environment where I'm around innovators too and entrepreneurs and I feed off of their energy. So that really is what does it for me, is just staying out there with other people, with ideas that want to create and grow. And by linking arms, we move this whole movement forward and it keeps me fresh too.

Brian Ardinger: It's always important to keep in touch with where those new ideas are coming from and that. Do you see any new trends or things that you're excited about?

Lorraine Marchand: I think the area of AI is absolutely fascinating. You know, I was recently reading a report that AI innovation about a 1.1 billion cagr, but the fastest growing area, even though it's very much focused on manufacturing, automation, automobiles, for example, the fastest growing sector is in healthcare. And I just think that's incredibly exciting if you think about the ability to use artificial intelligence on information about a patient's cancer tumor, have it diagnosed earlier, precision medicine in terms of knowing how to treat it.

Or even being able to develop the sensors that can go into devices and help to measure and monitor pain or someone's activity around the house. So, I definitely love the healthcare applications of AI, one of those areas that I'm particularly passionate about.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: I want to thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to kind of share your insights and that. Look forward to having the conversation again in the future as we talk more about some of the crazy things that are happening in the world. If people want to find out more about yourself or more about your book, what's the best way to do that?

Lorraine Marchand: I'm on LinkedIn, so I'd love for you to connect with me, Lorraine Marchand on LinkedIn. And if you would like a copy of the book, it's on Amazon, The Innovation Mindset with my name. You can buy a copy there and you can also go to the Columbia University Press website, and you can also purchase the book through Columbia.

Brian Ardinger: Well, Lorraine, thanks again for being on the show. Appreciate the time and looking forward to continuing the conversation in the future.

Lorraine Marchand: Thank you, Brian, and continued good luck with all of your fabulous endeavors as well.

Brian Ardinger: Thank you. That's it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.

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