72: Why culture starts with YOU and this Creativity Doctor's prescription for out-innovating startups with Yoram Solomon

Why culture starts with YOU and this Creativity Doctor's prescription for out-innovating startups with Yoram Solomon on the TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

Why don’t we typically find the fresh, exciting, and innovative culture of startups in larger corporations? “Creativity Doctor” Yoram Solomon has identified the major innovation- and productivity-killers in America’s corporate culture, and offers solutions that could make large corporations out-innovate even startups. In episode 72 of The TalentGrow Show, I chat with Yoram about culture, what he thinks both employees and management can do to take control of it, and what practices (including his “trust formula”) can help promote creativity in the workplace. Plus, find out why Yoram thinks political correctness is actually killing innovation! Listen, enjoy, and please share!


Dr. Yoram Solomon's Trust formula

Dr. Yoram Solomon's Trust Model

  • Does Yoram promote mutiny in the workplace? Not exactly, but it could sound that way! (5:12)
  • Who controls company culture? Management or the employees? Yoram weighs in, and disagrees with what is commonly assumed on the topic (6:10)
  • Yoram talks about a story from his most recent book, Culture Starts with You, Not Your Boss, which is actually an autobiographical story about his own experience working on USB-3 (6:54)
  • The interesting story of how Yoram gathered the people and resources to work on USB-3 (8:48)
  • Does Yoram think employees should take action to change the culture in the company or corporation they work for? (10:09)
  • What do many leaders do when an employee comes to them and tells them that they tried something without permission and failed? Their most common reply is actually a creativity killer! (10:54)
  • What does Yoram think they should do instead in order to promote creativity? (11:21)
  • Yoram shares a brief overview of his “trust formula” (13:01)
  • Halelly summarizes the three elements of building trust (15:49)
  • Yoram discusses the “five pieces” model from his book (16:56)
  • Yoram talks about how political correctness kills productivity, which will also be the topic of his next book! (19:15)
  • We often hear that “there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” but Yoram actually thinks that this perspective is wrong and even harmful (19:56)
  • The three things Yoram wants to get people to do in order to promote what he calls “constructive conflict” (20:44)
  • A story that illustrates the lack of “constructive conflict” in our politically correct culture (21:36)
  • Is Yoram trying to change America’s culture? Yes! And here’s how (23:46)
  • What’s new and exciting on Yoram’s horizon? (24:41)
  • Yoram’s actionable tip for building trust (25:39)

About Dr. Yoram Solomon:

Passionate creativity, innovation, and teamwork thought leader, and an NSA Professional Speaker. Published 7 books, 22 patents, more than 100 articles, and one of the creators of Wi-Fi. Named one of the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers in 2015 and 2016, and is a columnist at Inc. Magazine and Innovation Excellence. Spent years studying why people are creative in startups more than in large companies, learning the cognitive processes that lead to generating creative ideas, and earned his PhD for that study. Host of the first TEDxPlano in 2014. Elected in 2015 to the Plano ISD Board. Yoram served in the IDF 35th Airborne Paratrooper brigade and as a USAF CAP pilot.



Episode 72 Yoram Solomon

Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Welcome back TalentGrowers, to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and my guest this week is Dr. Yoram Solomon. Now, he doesn’t put himself forward as a comedian, but he has me giggling the whole time. Plus, he packs this conversation full of very useful information and lots of very interesting food for thought about innovation, trust, communication, political correctness. We kind of go on a very wide range of topics. All of them are related to how you can increase the innovation in your team, starting with yourself. I look forward to hearing what you thought about it, but without further ado, here is episode 72.

Welcome back TalentGrowers. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and my guest this week is Dr. Yoram Solomon, the corporate creativity doctor. He’s a passionate innovation and creativity thought leader, the founder of Corporate Innovation Academy and Large Scale Creativity. Published six books, nine patents and is one of the creators of the wifi and USB technologies. Also a pilot, among other things. Yoram, welcome to the show.

Yoram: Thank you Halelly. It’s great to be here.

Halelly: It’s great to have you. You are an interesting and multi-talented person. Today we’re going to dive into your latest book, but before we do, give us a brief overview of your professional journey. Where did you start? How did you get to where you are today?

Yoram: I was born on a dark day. Maybe not that far back? Okay. Right after my military service, I started working for a company and very quickly I realized that I wanted to start my own startup company. I did that and while I did that, I decided that if you really want to be in the startup environment, maybe the 408 area code is the right area code for you. I got on my plane with my wife who was six months pregnant and landed in San Francisco, started our lives in the U.S. Meanwhile, I got my law degree, my MBA and my PhD. And I started working for another tiny company which I sold later. I started growing in the other company, and when I was doing my PhD it was time to work on my dissertation, my research. As I was struggling with what topic will I use for my research, I had many topics, and my mentor at the university was trying to get something that I’m very passionate about out of me. At some point I said, “You know what I’m really passionate about?” I probably used different words, but I said, “I’m trying to understand. I don’t understand, why are people so much more creative when they work in startups than when they work in large companies?” At the time I was working for Texas Instruments, 35,000 employees. And I could feel the difference but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. He said, “I think we just found what you’re passionate about.” And I started working on my dissertation. I did my research for about two years, really answering that question – why are people so much more creative when they work for startups than when they work in large or mature companies?

Well, right after I defended it, and you hear the last words that really are the end of your journey, “Congratulations, Dr. Solomon,” the first acronym that comes to my head is SWWC. So What, Who Cares? So I know why are people more creative when they work in startups, but who cares? And what I realized is that I found something else, in the process. I found what large companies, mature companies, companies with 35,000 employees or more, can do to out-innovate startups. As a result, that was the time I published book number four, Un-Kill Creativity, and the subtitle was just that, how corporate America can out-innovate startups. At that point I think I found a new mission in life, and my mission became to help corporate America bring innovation back.

Halelly: Well, I’m sure that’s part of why you’re so successful, because I know that’s a major hotspot for a lot of organizations. They feel the startups nipping at their heels and they want to figure out something to do about it. Congratulations on your most recent book, which is titled Culture Starts With YOU, Not Your Boss. Kind of an edgy title there. I looked at your book, very nice. It has nine short stories. You kind of teach through the stories, but then you also pull out lessons. You have an interview with each of the characters from the story, as a way of teaching, and also a couple of different chapters that are written more like in the business fashion where they just sort of go straight toward the theories and the ideas and the practices. So, in this book, you say that you’ve evolved your thinking over your career about innovation. You’re now in the third stage of thinking, that there’s this vicious cycle of trust and innovation, and you think that you’re able to help people overcome that vicious cycle or sidestep it in some way, if we think that employees actually can proclaim autonomy and take the liberty to do what’s right for their company without permission. So this to me sounds like mutiny. I know you want to talk about that some more.

Yoram: So yes, I promote mutinies in all companies, and that would be the end of your podcast. No, more seriously, initially, after I realized why are people more creative in startups, people wanted to know, and you can’t boil down two years of research into two or three words. But actually, I found that I can use one word and explain it, and that is culture. It really comes down to culture. So who controls culture? You have to ask yourself, and people ask me, and the common thought is that culture is controlled by management, by the top executives, by the CEO. They are the ones who control culture. So if you don’t have the right culture for you to be innovative, to be creative, that’s not your fault. That is your boss’s fault.

As I started thinking through stories from my own life, and one interesting fact about the book, by the way, other than one story – the story of Adam, story number four – I was part of each one of the other eight stories. You just don’t know which part I took. But the first one, I’ll tell you. Drew, the story of Drew, I was Drew. That was the story of USB3. That’s how USB3 happened and it happened when I walked to my senior VP to give him a business plan of what would be a $533 million business, and he asked did any of our customers ask for it? I said no, because they don’t know that it’s coming, and he said, “Well, then call me when one of our customers is interested.” I went home that night. I was ready to resign. I was ready to write my resignation letter and say, “This is not for me. I can’t do this.” I woke up in the morning and I realized that it was up to me. That idea would have fallen through the cracks because I took no for an answer. At that point I decided, “I’m not taking no for an answer.” I went to, I identified the three engineers that could put a demonstration together that we’re going to take to Intel up in Oregon, and for about two or three weeks they worked. I told him up front, “Look, I need you to work on this. This is going to be big.” Which it is, because there are four billion USB3 ports shipped every year now. I told them, “It was going to be big. We need to work on this prototype. You’re the only people that can do that, but our boss said no, and so you can’t tell anybody. It can’t be at the expense of your day job. And if you tell anybody, you’ll get in trouble and I can’t help you.” Little did I know that this is actually value proposition for an engineer. They want to get in trouble. They want to work on black projects, skunk works. So they just did it, and three weeks later, we flew over to Oregon, we showed the demonstration to Intel and as they say, the rest is history.

Halelly: Wow. So these people, they were just your peers? Did they report to you? Did you have authority to tell them to do this or you proposed this and they chose of their free will to do it?

Yoram: That’s a funny story by itself. When I was sitting there at Intel in Oregon, and they said, “We don’t have the resources,” I said, “Don’t worry about it. I have the resources.” Except at that point, I had no person reporting to me. I was a general manager running a group of 89 people, but at that point, I was the strategist. I had nobody reporting to me. So I’m flying back home from Oregon thinking, “What did I just do? I just told them I had the resources.” I had nothing. But I went there and that’s what I told them. You’re not working for me, you’re in our general group, but I need your help. You’re the only ones that can do it. An unsanctioned activity, and they did it.

Halelly: So their motivation was the excitement of being part of something new or the covertness of it, you think?

Yoram: It is a combination. They believed in it, they felt my enthusiasm, my confidence that this is going to be successful. They knew how to do it. They knew how things were in the company and it was an exciting thing. It was, “We’re going to be working on something that nobody approved.” So there is an element of excitement in it.

Halelly: I have to ask you. Who is your audience for this book? Are you trying to get employees to take action without permission, or are you trying to somehow get companies to instill this kind of culture?

Yoram: Well, there are two sides to it. On one hand, it’s the employee taking action without, I’ll say without authorization. But on the other hand, this book also talks to – when you read this – it talks to the executives, the managers, who would say, “You know? Maybe I shouldn’t just tell them not to. Maybe I should not stop them.” It kind of goes on the coattails of the fourth book, Un-Kill Creativity, where I actually told management and did many, many workshops where I describe the framework, I ask managers and executives and CEOs or Fortune 500 companies. I asked them, “What do you do when one of your employees comes to you, telling you they tried something without your permission and failed? What do you do? Their first answer is, “Don’t do it again.” The second answer is, “Next time, ask first.” Both of those are creativity killers. The one creativity factor that would promote creativity, I should say, is okay, what have you learned from it? You know, maybe I know somebody in another group that tried something like what you tried here. I’ll make the contact between the two of you. Go ask him or her, “What did they do that was successful?” Maybe that’s going to help you. But you need the employee to leave the office going, “Well, that wasn’t the end of the world.”

Halelly: That’s awesome. That is the startup culture, I would say, if we can generalize, is that they kind of say, “Fail quick, fail often?” Something like this?

Yoram: It is. This is the framework of LEAN startup as well, which is try quickly, try new things, see if they work. You need to, upfront, need to know what you want to learn from it. Learn it and then change direction. Change course.

Halelly: Pivot. So, interesting. I can totally see how if managers and leaders take your advice, then they’ll change how they respond to innovation attempts. They’ll change how they respond to people making mistakes in pursuit of innovation or of learning. And that will change the course of how those people will then react and it’ll kind of open up that virtuous cycle of people trying things versus being afraid and covering their tail. Which, unfortunately, I think is more the case in many corporate cultures. Everybody is just trying to cover their backside. And, I think trust is probably a very big part of that, and I know that in your book, you describe a formula for trust, which we don’t have time. Everybody, get Yoram’s book, and it’s available. I’ll link to it in the show notes. But could you describe the formula, briefly, just to give us an overview of the key components?

Yoram: Yes. In general, that formula – and thank you for asking. I really wanted to talk about that. The formula is really, what it says, is trust is the sum of all interactions between two people. That’s how you build trust. The interactions are measured by the time you spend together – if you spend one minute a month, that’s not going to build trust very quickly. The intensity of the interaction, and if you’re familiar with the 7/38/55 rule, that’s where seven percent of your content intention, your likeability factor, is conveyed through words, 38 percent through the tone of voice, and 55 percent through your body language or facial expression.

Halelly: Yes, this is the Mehrabian research.

Yoram: That’s right. Really what he was talking about was the likeability factor. Not necessarily communication. But likeability really works for trust. So, in order for me to like you to start building the trust, writing emails is not going to be enough. Just talking over the phone is not going to be enough. Face-to-face communications is going to be much better and there are actually things beyond face-to-face that I’m not going to dive into right now. The third part is the positivity of those interactions. Are those positive interactions, say plus 100 percent, or are those negative interactions, minus 100 percent? If you look at the formula, you’ll see there’s something weird that I’m doing with that positivity, and that is because I’m using the Broaden-and-Build framework or theory by Barbara Frederickson. You know when I try to explain what does it mean, because what she is saying is that we react three times stronger to negative things than to positive things, and when I need to demonstrate this, I have the best demonstration.

I was born on January 8. I share a birthday with Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Stephen Hawking and Kim Jong-un. So, when you hear the Kim Jong-un, it kind of wipes out the first three, right? And that’s exactly what broaden and build says. You react to a negative event three times stronger than to the three positive ones that you just had before. So, all of those together – the time we spend together, the intensity of that interaction and the positivity of that interaction – the sum of those interactions builds trust.

Halelly: Got it. Okay. So let me make sure I summarize it. It’s how much time you spend with someone, or how many interactions you have with them, and also the nature of your interactions, the more than you can actually see, hear, kind of get the full spectrum of communication the better. And also, the ratio of positive to negative being high. Those are the three really important parts?

Yoram: Exactly.

Halelly: Cool. I like it. So if you’re saying that we need to build trust, and I know in another conversation we can talk more about trust – that’s a topic that I’m very, very interested in – you say that there is also a component of it that’s related to conflict, right? You kind of have five pieces to the puzzle. Give us an overview of the five pieces, but really, really quick, and then maybe we can dive into constructive conflict. There’s a particular quote I really like in your book. You say, “Stop focusing on not hurting other people’s feelings unintentionally, and start focusing on not letting your own feelings get hurt by people who had no such intention.” So, overview the five pieces and let’s talk about that.

Yoram: Yes. The five pieces, that model really has two sides to it. On one side the corporate side, so that is employer/employee and manager/subordinate, and the other side, on the team side, you have people on the same level of hierarchy. Then on the topside of that framework, you have the positive factors, and on the bottom side you have the negative ones. So if you look at the corporate, at the hierarchical trust or relationship, you have on the positive side autonomy, on the negative bureaucracy. So increase the autonomy you give people, which is what I talked about before, and reduce the bureaucracy, the things that hold them back. On the team side, the positive is the constructive conflict; the negative are office politics or competition, internal competition. In the middle, there is this part that I quote trust, and trust erodes in the presence of bureaucracy or office politics. Trust helps build autonomy and constructive conflict. That’s kind of in a nutshell the model.

Halelly: Okay, cool. And of course, maybe we can include a picture or something on the show notes in case people are curious to see what it looks like? Of course in the book, you can see, there is a picture! So what’s this business about the people’s feelings and not hurting others, not worrying about hurting others? I’m really intrigued by that.

Yoram: Actually, I’ll just say that as of probably today or tomorrow, there’s going to be a couple of pages on my website under books, if you go to that book – Culture Starts with YOU – because it’s available on an audiobook, the charts, all those diagrams, in full color, are going to be available for free over there, so people can just download it.

Halelly: Nice. So later you’ll tell me exactly the URL and we’re going to put it on the show notes.

Yoram: Perfect. As far as letting your feelings get hurt, or not letting your feelings get hurt, we’re actually touching. In that boo, I had two pages on political correctness. That actually is evolving into a major book. This is going to be my eighth book. I’m more than halfway through. It’s called The Cause of Death: Political Correctness, and it really talks about, or part of it talks about how political correctness kills creativity, productivity and profitability. Well, we are so focused today on how to not hurt your feelings, somebody else’s feelings, that when we enter a dialogue, an argument, a debate, we enter it from such a politically correct position that we can really not put everything on the table. We can’t really reach a conclusion, a positive, a creative and effective conclusion. So, what I’m trying to do is have people, when you build the trust, and you have them accept the vulnerability of asking stupid questions – when you go into a company and you say, “I’m going to ask a stupid question.” The immediate, instinctive answer is, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” My response to that is, “Oh, yes, there is. 80 percent of my questions and my ideas are stupid. But that’s life. You just tell me that it’s stupid and let’s see if it is. Let’s see if there’s something better. But if I’m going to be afraid to ask a question, because it might be stupid, then we’re not getting to the most creative solution.

Furthermore, if you tell me that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and then you find that unfortunately, my question actually fell into the 80 percent and it is stupid, now you’re stuck and you can’t tell me it’s stupid, because you just promised me that there’s no such thing! I’m trying, when I say constructive conflict, I’m trying to get people to do three things. The three things are one, be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask stupid questions, suggest stupid ideas. Two, feel comfortable enough providing feedback to that person who has suggested the stupid idea. Be able to tell them, “That was a stupid idea. Let me tell you why.” The third one is, be confident enough in yourself to accept this criticism. You do those three things in meetings – and by the way, the basis for this is having trust among the team members – but you do those three things in a meeting, and you will have constructive conflict.

I remember, Halelly, you and I share something in common – we both came from Israel. I remember this, one day I was sitting in an Einstein Brothers restaurant and there were two Israelis sitting near the window. They were talking and starting to talk louder and louder and they were yelling, and you know, people started moving away from them. They created some kind of a demilitarized zone around them. Nobody wanted to sit next to them, and they were speaking Hebrew. I understood every word that they said. This was not personal. That discussion was not personal. They were arguing about something they were doing in work. I can tell you that these are two friends that trust each other, and can conduct constructive conflict that leads to creative results. Unfortunately, here, we are so afraid to be that open, to be that blunt, to be that vulnerable with one another, that what we end up having is the meeting before the meeting, the meeting after the meeting, just not the meeting during the meeting.

Halelly: It’s true. And of course you’re touching on an issue that may be a big part of this equation, which is culture. Of course the organizational culture is one, and the relationship culture, what’s your past with this person and what’s been your experience? That’s certainly going to inform how comfortable you are entering into an open conversation with them in the future. And then of course you have national culture, and we all know that there is a very different orientation toward conflict and directness in different cultures – Israel being a very direct culture and a very egalitarian one. Then there’s cultures in the world like many of the Far East cultures where you should never even disagree with someone to their face, like there’s saving face and saying no is rude and you should not say no. So, talk about the difficulty of saying what you think when you try to conform to the rules of the culture! So I could see how as an Israeli in the U.S., you see the difference very clearly because you recognize that it can look different. You’ve experienced it. But I think to many Americans, native to this culture, that’s just the way we do things. So, are you trying to change national culture here?

Yoram: Oh yes! Of course. Actually, you know how you change the national culture? One team at a time. Just one team at a time. I’ll give you a perfect example. I worked with one team, this was about six months ago. I think two or three days ago, I saw an email from the person who contracted me to do that one workshop, to their training manager I think, saying, “You have to bring this guy in. He was with us one day. That was the pivotal moment to our group.” So guess what happens now? Next year, I’m starting to work on team-by-team for that company, one team at a time, one company at a time.

Halelly: Awesome. That’s true. Grassroots, change, start to make a change locally in small bites and eventually it starts to spread. So we’re about to run out of time, and before you share a very actionable tip with listeners, Yoram, what’s new and exciting for you on your horizon other than writing 10 million books a day?

Yoram: Well, actually, it’s writing 10 million books a day. It’s my eighth book, I can tell you one thing, it is a different book. It’s a book about political correctness, the how, why and what of political correctness. But that book, especially the second part – why do we have so much political correctness – required a lot of research and it drew me into writing it, more than any other book that I wrote before. So, that’s going to be a very exciting one. Of course, as you mentioned at the beginning, yesterday Culture Starts With YOU just came out as an audiobook, and now it’s available on Audible and iTunes and everything. Those are some of the things that are exciting for me today.

Halelly: Very cool. And you’re a busy guy. You put out a lot of content into the world, so thank you for that. What’s one specific action that listeners can take today, tomorrow, this week, to make them even more innovative, more effective leaders?

Yoram: I think the big thing is go through everything, all the little factors, is building trust. That formula that I described, that has more details in the book or in the audiobook, can help them. But if you start looking at those factors, those single factors, how much time you spend together, how intense is it that you’ve spent together, don’t do it over email, and how positive that time is, you will just accelerate building trust. When you have trust, you will have the ability to do constructive conflict and that’s the foundation for creativity and productivity.

Halelly: Fabulous. I know listeners are going to go and check out your book. It is titled Culture Starts With YOU, not your boss, as well as your five other books. All that is on Amazon and I know that we’re going to link to the books, we’re going to link to your website. Where else should people follow you or connect with you to learn from and about you?

Yoram: Well, they can go to YoramSolomon.com, or even better LargeScaleCreativity.com. Of course, one other name that I use is CorporateInnovationAcademy.com. Think about the acronym for a second. Yes, it is CIA. You can follow me on Twitter. I have the Twitter handle Yoram, and that’s a long story, because I was one of the first Twitter users. And of course on Facebook, Large Scale Creativity, it’s all there. Just search Large Scale Creativity and you’re going to find me.

Halelly: Fabulous. We’re going to link to all of that, so Yoram, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your wisdom with the TalentGrowers. I appreciate you.

Yoram: I enjoyed it. Thank you for having me, Halelly.

Halelly: What did I tell you, TalentGrowers, funny guy, right? And, really interesting. I hope that you will go and check out the show notes page and get a copy of Yoram’s books. It’s at TalentGrow.com/podcast/episode72. Plus, I hope that you listened to my first Ask Halelly episode, which was the previous show, 71, and I made a request there that I want to repeat here, which is I’m trying out some new formats. Most of the shows are interviews and conversations with experts like Yoram, but I also want to sometimes do little intermittent, shorter episodes, like Ask Halelly where I answer questions that I get from listeners, from the media, from workshop participants, from audience members, and I would love to feature you in one of those. So you can leave me a voice mail on my website, and if you give me your permission, I can just use your question and your voice and you can be on the TalentGrow Show. How cool would that be? Plus of course you can submit any kind of other feedback on the voice mail or emailing me or commenting on social media or sending me a direct message. I really want to hear from you. If there is a suggestion that you have, if there is an idea you have for a type of episode that I could do, or an idea that you have for guests or topics, this is what I want to know. So please, please, please, give me that information, because I create this show for you, TalentGrowers, and I need to hear from you. What do you want? What do you need? How can I help?

Well, this is it for another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I am Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. And until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

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