Innovation’s Triple Play: Curiosity, Networking & Fun
By Robin Nasatir and Bob Cliff
Innovate or die! How many times have you cringed to hear that ominous business mantra? It seems to position the op- portunity to modernize your operations as a dreaded ultimatum. We feel our clients and colleagues will be more inclined to
leave the status quo behind if they recognize the cornerstones of
innovation: curiosity, networking and fun.
Early in 2009, when optimism for the consulting industry was
hard to come by, Cliff Consulting was given the unique opportunity
to share best practices with two international firms with distinctly innovative business models.
Obifive is a Paris-based consulting, training, assessment,
and coaching firm and WDHB
Consulting Group is a Northern California firm that coordinates Learning Expeditions
and Strategic Expeditions for
Europe’s largest companies.
WDHB reached out to us
while constructing a week-long itinerary intended to provide 15 of Obifive’s senior
members an opportunity to explore innovation in U.S. businesses.
The intention of including Cliff Consulting in the expedition was
for Obifive to learn key ingredients of our successful model as a
small, regional consulting firm that has thrived for over 35 years
with very low turnover in consulting staff. But the result was much
more exciting—as a group of three consulting company managers,
we took the opportunity to reflect on Obifive’s observations of
American businesses, and discuss three key ingredients to running
a successful and innovative business regardless of the industry or
size of the firm—curiosity, networking and fun.
Curiosity: It Opens Dialogue and Creates Trust
As consultants, we often feel that asking questions might look like
we don’t “know our stuff.” In fact, quite the contrary is true. Approaching each business problem with a curious mind creates healthy
dialogue, builds trust, and opens a world of options and ideas.
Weighed down by deadlines, client demands and earnings reports,
executives tend to forget the valuable life skill of curiosity and thus,
their ability to innovate is hampered. In exploring the underlying
ethos of these three uniquely different firms, we found a consistent
theme: a willingness to adopt the Zen-like beginner’s mind, ask fundamental questions, and through that process, enable others to see
outside the box and work together to generate innovative ideas.
The WDHB Learning Expedition model inspires curiosity in participants. The firm hosts structured, one-week programs for European management teams to visit a variety of businesses in the U.S.,
Canada, China, Japan, India or Russia. These expeditions offer European business leaders the opportunity to look at their internal company challenges through the
lenses of foreign colleagues.
Key components of each trip
are daily debriefings and
reflective workshops on the
potential applications of observed business practices.
“Rather than a simple
exercise in benchmarking,
our programs provoke inspiring discussions among our
clients and serve as outstanding team building exercises,”
said Pascal R. Baudry, president of WDHB and author of the book,
French and Americans, The Other Shore.
Obifive made its commitment to curiosity evident by inviting
half of its 30-person firm to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area
and participate in a WDHB Learning Expedition.
“Through these meetings, we seek the American source of
growth and evolution through innovation,” said Celine Lere-nard, Obifive managing partner. “Our clients want to know
what the new model of leadership looks like and how they can
develop the skills to innovate.” As they toured U.S. enterprises,
the Obifive representatives became aware that an inquisitive
approach to business requires a culture shift within many of
their client organizations.
“In France, people at work are always serious, always thinking.
I’ve noticed that Americans have open conversations at work,” said
Caroline Leroy, a senior consultant with Obifive. “We need to invest more time into asking questions of the people around us.”
Leroy’s comment underscored a core competency we take great
pride in at Cliff—the ability to really listen. Our seasoned consultants, each with at least 10 years of project leadership experience, know that everyone—at every level—has an important
perspective and appreciates being heard. We enter into each
assignment with an open mind, collecting people’s ideas and
challenges without judging or solving them. The first two weeks
Robin Nasatir is CEO and president of Cliff Consulting,
a project leadership consultancy based in Oakland, Calif.