Heidi Cohen interviews Carla Johnson.
New Book: RE:Think Innovation
Heidi: To start, what inspired you to write this book? Was it a specific event or did it grow out of your past consulting?
Carla: I was inspired to write RE:Think Innovation® because over the years, I’ve had so many people say to me, “I could never come up with great ideas.” As a person who has more ideas than I could ever do anything with in a lifetime, I just didn’t understand it! That sent me down the rabbit hole of finding out where people get inspiration for their ideas.
Here’s a video that explains it –
Heidi: What is the key concept behind your book? How did you come up with it
Carla: I believe that innovation is everybody’s business. In fact, 90% of innovation happens outside of traditional product and service line development, yet those are the groups that get all the glory. Most people don’t believe they can be innovators because they think it’s too complicated, they don’t have the right degree or they just don’t know how. The core of RE:Think Innovation is my 5-step framework called the Perpetual Innovation ProcessTM.
I developed the Perpetual Innovation Process after researching and interviewing highly prolific innovators and looking at my own experience. It turns out, they all follow the same process whether they realize it or not. They observe the world around them, distill the observations into patterns, relate them into the work they do, use that as inspiration to generate ideas, and follow this format to pitch their ideas.
Heidi: In the book, you use a lot of stories to make your points. It ties your points together the way Tamsen Webster discusses in her Red Thread approach. Since this is core to content marketers, bloggers and writers more broadly, I’m curious how you found the different stories. Did you source them from your colleagues and connections or did you get help from an outside resource? If so, how did you find them?
Carla: Since I was a little girl, I’ve been mesmerized by stories. My Danish grandfather was a master storytelling, and my mother taught me a love of history through stories. I started my business 20 years ago because I needed to hire people who were fantastic storytellers, but couldn’t find them. I assumed other marketers had the same problem, so I set out to fill the gap by becoming a master storyteller, as well as teaching others how to do the same. It just happens that innovation never sticks without a great story.
Over the years, I’ve kept a physical and electronic swipe file of great stories. Some were ready to use in my book, others I went hunting for, and some came from my own work. With each story, I went back to where people found inspiration for their ideas and how they connected the dots back to the work that they do.
Heidi: Also since case studies are a B2B must-have, how did you persuade PR departments and management to let you write about their success stories? Did you need to show them the final version for approval?
Carla: I received written legal approval for all of the case studies I used in my book and provided the final version of their specific story. It was easy to get approval because I spotlighted their work in such a positive light.
Heidi: What do you want readers to take away from your book or how do you want them to be different as a result of reading it?
Carla: I want readers to feel empowered to take what inspires them and use that in the work that they do. Great ideas have an incredible humanness to them, they aren’t built from data. We so often slog through our workdays wishing we could do something with the big ideas we have in our head. I want people to listen to the little voice inside them that says they have a great idea, tell it “YES!”, and then know specifically what to do about it.
Heidi: Since there are a lot of books about creativity, why did you decide to focus on this topic? Further, what makes your book stand out from the existing options?
Carla: I consciously chose to focus my book on innovation, rather than creativity. While there are many books available on innovation, they typically make it complicated, elitist, and intimidating. My goal is to teach 1 million people how to become innovative thinkers by 2025. To do that, I wanted to focus on the 90% of an organization where innovation has unrealized potential.
- Author Interview – Allan Gannett’s The Creative Curve
Heidi: What are 3 of the existing books on creativity that you would recommend that our readers check out and why do you like each of these books?
Carla: I’ll make my recommendations for the point of view of innovation, since that is the topic of my book:
- A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. This book has been foundational to the way I look at the world. For the last 100 years, left-brain thinking has been rewarded in education and business. So much so that we’ve lost the appreciation of right-brain thinking. This books makes it clear why right-brained, innovative thinkers are what we need now more than ever.
- Originals by Adam Grant. Innovation is a longhaul commitment, not a short-term tactic. This books shows why being a nonconformist thinker is so hard, how to identify them in a company, and then how to support them.
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek. Most innovation ventures fail because they don’t have a clear focus or purpose. I’ve seen incredible things happen quickly when people simply articulate the difference they want to make in the world.
Heidi: RE:Think Innovation focuses on creating an internal process beyond brainstorming to reach a state of continual innovation. My take-away was that changing an organization’s approach to adapting and growing required senior management buy-in and time to execute properly.
Then, how do you explain the extreme amount of change and adoption that took place during the first and second quarters of 2020. According to Microsoft’s CEO, 2 years of change took place in 2 months. I’ve heard others talked about as much as 5 years of change in a matter of months.
In my opinion, we were in the midst of a Seismic Shift in Marketing. As a result, the underpinnings of this change were already in play. Further employees had to be more creative due to the restraints on their physical resources and time to respond.
Carla: While changing an organization’s approach from the top-down is one way to make change happen, it’s not the only way. That’s why I talk about innovation at the individual, team, and corporate level in my book. The companies that have been able to shift so quickly in such a short amount of time understand that innovative thinking must be ingrained in every employee — they know that innovation is everybody’s business. When people make the Perpetual Innovation Process a habit, they can immediately respond with a great idea in a moment’s notice. It’s just like an athlete, the more they practice the habits that make them successful, the better they perform without thinking.
In order to create a culture of original thinkers, companies must understand that they have to then reverse-engineer it back to the individual employee level. Because it’s employees who make up teams, and it’s the performance of innovative teams that determine the outcome for a business in any environment, but especially in one that’s had to shift so quickly so fast like we’ve seen in the last 18 months.
Heidi: What are 1-3 books that inspired your work/career? How did they influence you?
- It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For by Roy Spence. Nothing matters with what you do unless you understand why you do it.
- On Writing by Stephen King. It’s not enough to write. A writer must constantly hone their craft.
- High Performance Habits by Brendon Buchard. I am perpetually looking at how to become more productive. This book is the one I continually go back to so I can do exactly that.
Heidi: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your life or career?
Carla: Focus and prioritizing what I do in a day. I love to feel like I’m getting things done, but that can easily make me busy rather than productive.
Heidi: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?
Carla: This relates to the previous question…people think I’m naturally a very organized person. I’m not. My mind is everywhere, I have too many interests and it’s hard for me to finish things. I’ve learned to adapt with systems and processes that take the thinking out of the equation. The more I can manage my energy and keep it pointed in the right direction, the more productive I am. It’s easy for me to work in chaos and find context because it’s how I’ve trained my mind to think.
Heidi: Thanks, Carla.
Name: Carla Johnson
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