A conversation with Deborah Jann, Vice President of Client Experience and Growth at Connective Intelligence Inc. and inventor of Roll Out.

Growing up, Deborah Jann was an only child and lived in a neighborhood with very few children her age, so she began to entertain herself by creating stories, games, activities, and continually looked for ways of doing things faster and easier. To say she set herself up to be an innovation guru from an early age may be an understatement.

She had no idea that a random three-hour car ride with two total strangers would lead her to create a new experience for creative problem solving, but that is just what it did. When Deborah offered a ride to two fellow conference attendees to the airport near her home, she discovered they all had challenges both professionally and personally that they could work through and solve together. At the end of the inspiring ride, the term “carpool innovation” sparked an idea that led to what she called Roll Out.

“While you’ve got the passing scenery, neuroscience, and you’ve got people who are all open-minded to helping one another, we had gone through the creative problem-solving process while we were driving. As I’m driving away after having an amazing, very impactful three hours with two strangers, I drove away, and I said, ‘That was so cool, what if I were to scale this?’

Deborah Jann, Vice President of Client Experience and Growth at Connective Intelligence, Inc.
Deborah Jann, Vice President of Client Experience and Growth at Connective Intelligence, Inc.

Rolling innovation

Deborah immediately starting thinking about how she could capture what had just happened on that car ride to the airport. How could she bring this into the work she was already doing within her company? She started looking at transportation options from buses to limos; the idea was that an event could take place at a destination, but how much could be done on the way to the destination? Why not use downtime to facilitate conversation, transformation, and allow strangers to help one another?

Why not use downtime to facilitate conversation, transformation and allow strangers to help one another?

“The transformation that happens just by people working with one another. They were all strangers; they were all individuals that wanted to try to have some breakthrough thinking on their challenges. The way I designed it was that everybody had a takeaway, everybody had an action plan on what they could do to move forward more productively on these challenges.”

While the idea was a popular one and people loved the concept, citing logistical problems and safety concerns, the plan had to be scrapped.

“But the type of work that I was doing, I don’t do it on the bus anymore, but I had so many people when I would talk to them about the Roll Out, they said, ‘I love the way you think Deborah. I love the process. What if we take the bus out of it?’”

Eventually, she was able to adapt her process, her design, and her IP to set up programs in more traditional settings or by challenging people to choose a less typical location. “I did a strategic planning event in an art gallery. We would move into different parts of the gallery to do different steps of the process so that they had the visuals as inspiration for how to look at their strategic plan in a different light. I tried to emulate the [bus] experience by having a more original location.”

You can check out a video on her Roll Out concept here.

Everyone can be an innovator

Deborah finds it curious when companies have an innovation committee, given that every employee has the power to innovate, whether by challenging the status quo or by adding new value.

“Everybody has it within their capability to make a minor refinement to an existing process or product.”

She believes that problems or complaints are simply nothing more than opportunities or needs that are not being met. When a company has an innovation committee or deems certain people responsible for innovation, they do a disservice because everybody has the power to innovate. Innovation shouldn’t be a box that has to be checked off.

Innovation should be something the whole team can be a part of.
Innovation should be something the whole team can be a part of.

Many innovation committees seem to work under the pretense that innovation only comes from the top or senior staff, but Deborah believes that best practice would be that you’re driving innovation from the top. “While everybody has it within them to innovate, do they necessarily feel empowered? Are they rewarded and recognized when they are innovating or if they bring forth ideas? How are we going to drive innovation, and how are we going to make sure that we’re rewarding and recognizing innovation, and that we have an innovation process?”

Deborah shared how she would propose a company shift from an innovation committee to team-wide innovation. Her first step would be not to call it an innovation committee. It needs a new name. “ I think coming up with a name for something congruent with either the values of the company, the strategic direction, the purpose, the focus so that everybody is feeling inspired to be in service of that focus.” Then she would task them with how they could work in collaboration with senior leadership, to drive innovation through the company.

And if your company already has an innovation committee, you can quickly reshape and re-purpose. “It could be that you have different people on the innovation committee responsibility for different projects. Maybe one is in charge of organizing hack-a-thons, and others in charge of deciding how innovation should be rewarded and recognized. They could be each having their own, and engaging the rest of the organization, and coming up with ideas that ultimately are presented. That’s how I could see it work out, that it’s not them making all the decisions, but they’re canvassing the organization. They’re the team lead, so they’re responsible for an area, they’re not accountable. Ultimately leadership is accountable, but they are responsible for different components or elements of driving innovation.”

How can you measure success?

Conference attendees getting excited about Deborah’s ideas.
Conference attendees getting excited about Deborah’s ideas.

While it is nice to think that generating a bunch of ideas will lead to new business, how can you measure whether the ideas being put forth are good for business or driving everyone in the right direction? How can you tell if you need to change course?

Deborah says there may be many different ways to measure the success of ideas: “They’re measuring it with some psychometric instrument, doing some gap analysis, probably aggregate reporting. Then, targeted intervention around development. Whether it’s leadership development or a values refresh, and then being able to attach that to performance targets and performance reviews to show demonstrated behaviors in that area.”

Putting some model into practice will help the company determine what initiatives are making a difference and which ones might not be hitting their mark. Even being more focused as to what types of meetings you are having and their purpose will better drive success.

“Is the meeting a brainstorming meeting to generate new ideas? In which case, we want to defer judgment for a while in that meeting. Or is it a reporting meeting, which is a very different type of thinking? Or, are we here to make decisions, to knock things off the list? You’re probably going to have a better meeting if you’re all thinking about it in the same way. What are you trying to achieve?”

“I think having meetings run more efficiently and having them more organized according to applying different types of thinking, will lead to more productive meetings.”

Deborah also mentioned that you have to weigh the accuracy and efficiency of your decision. This is a big part of the process of bringing success to your ideas. “Do you have a well thought-out decision, but you took so long you missed your window of opportunity? Or is it that you didn’t do enough work on the front end? You didn’t have enough of an original idea? Or you didn’t do your homework or gather enough research, and now you put something out that was flawed in logic, and superficial.”

When asking Deborah how she would structure a successful innovation program, she stated: “Innovation needs to be driven at the senior level. We know from Dr. Brett Richards that systems like the OGI (Organizational Growth Indicator) can measure an organization’s adaptive capacity and ability to create new value through innovation. Involving leadership, having innovation processes like design thinking or CPS in place, and communicating innovation efforts, learnings, and successes are key ways to raise engagement and drive innovation.”

Deborah’s Innovation Silver Bullets

  1. Socializing ideas (including co-creation)
  2. Using marketing techniques to create buzz and results

“It’s like the Hollywood script. I’ve got an idea, but it’s a great idea in my mind. I’m only going to find out if it’s a good idea if I start to share it. Then you get feedback. Then you tweak it and try it again. You socialize it so that when you present it to the key stakeholders, you’ve already anticipated some of the objections and you’re going to have a better chance of success.”

While Deborah has had some great success, she has had some fails along the way that taught her a lot. She heard some great advice from an innovation leader from Disney at a conference that stuck with her. “She had this great expression: ‘Have affairs with your ideas, don’t marry them.’ Going back to the Roll Out idea, I married that idea — I didn’t have an affair with it. I was convinced that it was going to be the new way, that it was going to be cool, that it was going to go viral. I didn’t listen to some of the feedback because I was convinced this was a winning idea. Had I had an affair with it, I could have saved myself some time and money.”

Deborah building excitement.
Deborah building excitement.

If you want to read my other articles about innovation experts and practitioners, please check them all out here.