A conversation with LaunchStreet President & Author Tamara Ghandour

I recently spoke with the incredible Tamara Ghandour–author, founder, and president of LaunchStreet, keynote speaker, and creator of the proprietary Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) assessment. She has helped thousands of people to unlock their power and unique style of innovation to gain a competitive edge and be their best selves. 

“By combining her 25 years of business experience with neuroscience, brain mechanics, and behavioral psychology, Tamara has made innovation tangible and accessible to all of us.” –LaunchStreet

Tamara is an expert in driving innovation and growth in an ever-changing marketplace. It was a pleasure to dive deep and explore her perspective of what innovation is, how to best measure it, and how to make it a success. We also discussed her new book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business, and what she’s learned thus far as a trailblazer in the world of innovation. 

Tamara Ghandour

The key to Tamara’s success, according to her family, is arguably her dyslexia. 

“Most people don’t know that I’m dyslexic. While most people say ‘sorry’ when they find out, I remind them that it’s forced me to think differently, find different ways to solve things. I think it’s a blessing.” 

Tamara said her father recently reminded her that because she’s had to alter her approach to everyday thinking, “I walk through life thinking the rules don’t apply to me. I know they are there, but they are for other people.” 

This is why her family is convinced that her ability to navigate around the learning challenges she’s faced is a huge aspect of the key to her success. She’s utilized this creative mindset to experience great accomplishments in the business world, including creating the first of its kind innovation assessment system, the Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) assessment. 

“I developed the only tool to truly measure how you naturally innovate and then give you the tools to turn that strength into your daily competitive advantage.” The highly regarded and sought after IQE has helped many leaders and teams ignite peak performance and develop high-performing, innovative teams.  

“Being innovative is one of the most human things that we could possibly do, and most of us just need to understand that that’s something that we’re capable of, and something that we have a strength in.”

Tamara talks about her IQE Assessment.

Tamara has curated her experience helping companies identify and employ their innovation superpowers in her new book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business. The title of her book is both a stance and a call-to-action on how to structure a successful innovation program. “The idea that innovation should be siloed is false and sabotages most organizational efforts to innovation. While someone/leadership needs to be accountable for driving innovation across their teams, everyone is responsible for it. Your job as a leader or ‘innovation VP’ is to enable innovation in an inclusive way.” 

Tamara says there’s an important difference between collaboration and consensus to be mindful of, as it influences innovation. “Collaboration is the right people, at the right table, at the right time, having the right conversation. Consensus is watering down to appease everyone. Real collaboration happens when everyone is applying innovative thinking to their work.

She talks about the road to get to this groundbreaking perspective in her book. It started on Madison Avenue in NYC at the second-largest global advertising agency. It was there that Tamara became, as she puts it, obsessed with human-centered innovation after an eye-opening experience while working her first job as an account coordinator at Y&R. One day she was put in charge of organizing the company’s annual creative strategy meeting–the big meeting to set the agenda for the upcoming year. The energy of the room was traditionally spearheaded by the creative genius of Steve, one of the top creatives whom everyone looked to for his brilliance. When he didn’t show up for the meeting, employees from various departments like accounting and media began to share their own innovative ideas–a great surprise and delight to Tamara. It was that experience, she says, that set her on a path to better understand how people innovate. 

“‘Steve’s not coming, sooooooo…’ A painful silence fills the room as we look around at each other, into space, at the floor. Then, the most amazing thing happens. Jill from accounting speaks up. She says, “I know I just look at the numbers, but I’m seeing this interesting pattern, and it gave me an idea.” Then Frank from media buy says, “I’m seeing some trends with our competitors and it got me thinking about a few ideas.” Before I knew it, the room was bubbling with innovative ideas—without Steve. That experience set me on an obsessive path to better understand how we innovate. If given the ability and room to innovate, is everyone capable of being an innovator? And, if yes, why bestow special powers upon select people, like Steve, when anyone can unlock their own innovation superpowers?” –Innovation is Everybody’s Business

Tamara has since extensively explored and shared the concept that everyone has the power to unlock their ability to be innovative when given the room and the opportunity to innovate. “That’s why I created the Innovation Quotient Edge assessment and the tools around it. To give people a glimpse into how their innovative mind works and the knowledge and tools to channel their innovation superpowers into their advantage daily.”

To Innovate is to be Human

The all-inclusive, innate capacity to innovate is the concept that Tamara founded her company LaunchStreet upon, of which she is also the president. The business provides professional innovation training and coaching to companies wanting to dominate the marketplace. It’s based on human-centric innovation: “Helping people understand how they naturally innovate and how they can do more of that so that they can perform at their peak and have a stronger, more valued voice. And contribute more innovative ideas and solutions to their life and work, and understand their value and their contribution in the world.” 

Tamara said she and her team at LaunchStreet crafted a definition of innovation that engages everybody and gives people permission to roll up their sleeves anytime, anywhere: innovation is “thinking differently about what’s right in front of you to create a competitive advantage.”

This concept is also the reason why Tamara believes that the time to innovate is evergreen. Some people may question where innovation fits in with the current state of the world right now. “Why innovate when I’m just trying to survive?” Tamara says: “Innovation is survival right now. It always has been, but now it’s dialed up.” 

The ability to help people discover their own innovation capabilities and spark their creativity is Tamara’s driving force. She believes that the ability to innovate is anyone’s greatest competitive advantage. “But unfortunately, most of us have been trained out of it, and we’ve either started to believe that other people are the innovators and we’re not. Or we believe that….we weren’t born with that capability. We say things like, ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body.’ Yet the neuroscience, and also my years of experience, have shown me that actually innovation is universal, we all do it. But how we innovate is unique to each of us.”

Participants at one of Tamara’s events.

Tamara said that she used to think her work would always be with consumer package good companies, namely big innovative brands like The Apples, The Disneys, and The Proctor and Gambles of the world, because consulting and product development were where she first started out in the innovation. “It turns out that the clients that we really connect with, the ones that reach out to us, the ones that we provide a ton of value to are everybody else. So it’s public electric companies, printing, the US Army, restaurants, retail, healthcare, insurance, and people–like teams. Teams of engineers, internal auditors, sales, so it’s not the ones that you look at and go, ‘Oh, they value innovation. They already get it. They already do it.’ It’s the other 99% of the world that we’re working with. And for me, that’s even more rewarding, but also it’s kind of surprising, I just didn’t expect that going into it.”

The powerful interactions she has with this clientele constantly remind Tamara of her “why” to continue her work, she said. 

“It is really rewarding to see the light bulbs go off in people’s eyes when they realize that they are actually innovators in their own way and that not only can they do it, and they probably have been doing, they didn’t even realize it, but they have so much more room to provide more of that.”  

Innovation is a whole-brain experience

“Innovation is something we are all capable of and responsible for, so when I talk about innovation I’m talking about a mental model that all of us can use.” -Tamara Ghandour

According to Tamara, the secret to human-centered innovation isn’t in abiding by a particular process. It’s not about a process at all. “When we unlock the innovation at the human center first and then build the process and the culture out of it, innovation wins, it actually works, people are engaged.”

Tamara uses her IQE tools and human-centric approach to draw out what makes individuals unique, and thereby powerful and valuable as crucial parts of a company’s whole. In other words, the more people tap into and hone their own creative genius, the better they can contribute to the team in a meaningful way. The team then operates from a strong foundation of diversity, each person being their best self, which is what leads to the most overall success.

“It’s about tapping the power and the diversity of thinking. Even deeper than the ones we already know like race, ethnicity, and those are all important, don’t get me wrong, they’re very important. But we’re talking cognitive diversity too. The cool part is your brain is as unique as your thumbprint, so no two of us are wired the same.”

Bringing together fully realized diversity to collaborate most effectively takes alignment versus consensus, according to Tamara. “Consensus is trying to make everybody feel right, and people don’t need that. What they need is to be valued and heard, and what that means is listening, taking in, and then explaining why you’re moving in the direction you’re moving…And we’ve really found, over time with our clients, that is the key to building a collaborative workforce. Making sure that people feel valued and heard and that they’re recognized for their contributions.”

Tamara speaks at an event.

Measure behaviors, not outcomes

When I asked Tamara how she measures innovation, she said she focuses on behaviors, not outcomes. “In my experience, the fact that we try to measure innovation by outcomes only leads to failure. If you want to truly build and measure innovation, measure the innovative behaviors that ignite innovation rather than the outcomes.”

Tamara said she sees two major problems when it comes to measuring innovation. The first is a “process first” challenge. Companies spend a lot of time and money investing in the “latest and greatest” innovation process, whatever that is at the time. But because they don’t first take the time to understand their people and how they best operate, they have trouble getting employees to buy into the process. They chalk up the lack of engagement as a failed process and seek out a different process to integrate. The pattern repeats itself.

“What ends up happening a majority of the time is the initiative itself fails. In fact, it causes initiative fatigue, because people think, ‘I’ve got another process I have to follow, don’t I have enough?’ So we’re measuring our people using the process, and then innovation tends to fail because the companies don’t take a step back and invest in their people first.”

“I can’t tell you the number of calls we get, where it starts with, ‘We invested in X, Y, Z process, and yet I feel like we’re still not getting engagement. We’re not getting results. Nothing’s changing. It’s just being used sporadically.’ Then when we come in and  do the IQE reassessment with people and get them to really understand how they innovate, how they contribute, how they work together as a team, and be a high performing team of innovators, then they have buy-in to the process.”

Another problem Tamara sees with solely measuring outcomes in innovation is the common resulting paradox of rewarding successful behavior and dismissing failures. Often, home run ideas are celebrated while failures are shut down without leaving room to learn from mistakes. And that in itself is a mistake. A system is then established where successful ideas are commemorated while any type of failure is belabored, neatly packaged, and left on a “failure shelf” to be forgotten. In this case, the failure may have been identified but certainly not addressed, and the lesson goes unlearned. “That’s the reality of how things are measured with innovation. It’s either cake on Friday or the failure shelf.”

Tamara says we can also be too quick to measure things as either a success or failure. Instead, it’s really about focusing on and observing the outcome. “What’s the lesson learned? That’s a much smarter leadership position to take, and it’ll trickle down into your teams, and they’ll actually take more risks because it’s about the outcome and the lesson, not failure versus success.”

Cultures that have a strong, sustainable culture of innovation focus on rewarding observed behaviors, Tamara said. “They know that the outcomes are going to happen anyway, so instead, they reward the behaviors that get them there. Things like rewarding people for constructive conflict, for debating in meetings when everybody’s going in a different direction. Because we all know that that’s actually really helping and important to get to good innovation. Rewarding people for collaborating with team members when maybe it doesn’t serve them personally, but their perspective is valuable to what the other team is trying to accomplish.”

Therefore, Tamara says it is critical to first identify your desired outcomes in order to encourage the behaviors that lead to them. “I think we’ve got to take a step back, look at the behaviors we want, and then start measuring how much of that are we getting? How much feedback are we getting? How much debate are we getting? How much collaboration are we getting? Whatever it is that you decide is your thing, and then we can move forward to the outcomes. We will get way more of the innovation we’re looking for, if we actually encourage, reward, and measure the behaviors.

To learn more about Tamara’s approach to innovation, including how each of us can access our own brand of innovation and unleash it on the world, check out her book Innovation is Everybody’s Business