Come to work each day willing to be fired. – Gifford Pinchot’s first commandment for intrapreneuership – innovation that works!

Gifford Pinchot – sustainable business school founder, entrepreneur, father, author-speaker-consultant on intrapreneuring, sustainable innovation and organizational intelligence.

He is the grandson of Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, and Governor of Pennsylvania under President Theodore Roosevelt.

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Can you give us some examples of sustainability initiatives in the IT sector?

 I’ll tell you a story about one of Bainbridge Graduate Institutes graduates, Dawn Danby. 

When she left the school she went to work at Autodesk, as a mid-level sustainability person. Usually you would expect that a person with a job like that would focus on purchasing more energy efficient computers or maybe, changing out the light bulbs or something like that. 

But Dawn went in a completely different direction. She partnered with an organization named Granta that has a database on the environmental properties of various materials. She managed to talk the product, managers and the software developers into creating a sidebar on their traditional Autodesk design software. This software is for designing mechanical objects and it traditionally performed, 3D modeling, finite element analysis and cost analysis.

Dawn convinced the software engineers and product manager to add a sidebar that shows the environmental impact and cost impact of each change that a design engineer makes. The engineer can select a new material from the Granta list of materials and the impact of that choice on CO2 emissions, water use, electrical use and cost is immediately displayed in the new sidebar that Dawn championed.

This has two impacts. First, it makes Autodesk software more attractive to end users who care about the environment. Second, it means that the 80% of engineers worldwide that use Autodesk design software now make more environmentally responsible design decisions.

Engineers around the world are now looking not only at the structural and cost aspects of their design but also at its environmental attributes. And so, instead of making Autodesk slightly more sustainable, she’s made every design in the world more sustainable.

This story illustrates the cross organizational work that goes into almost every intrapreneurial innovation. Dawn had to cross boundaries to get it done. It wasn’t easy. It also illustrates the importance of deep commitment to driving innovation. Sustainability is a major source of innovation because so many people today care about taking care of the planet. And usually when they do so they also save money for their employers, because pollution is another form of waste.

This is an example of an interesting kind of innovative project management. Dawn came up with this idea and then began doing exactly what a project manager does. Which is assembling all the pieces and making sure that everything is moving forward so that you get an end result. And, of course, eventually this becomes an official project. I think that’s typical of what highly intrapreneurial project managers do. They find something that really needs to be done, and then they go about coordinating the organization to achieve a mission that they obviously couldn’t achieve themselves. 

 

I like this example so much because it’s software. It’s such a unique way to look at it, yet it has such a wide reach. Everyone who uses Autodesk has this sidebar, and it will help them figure it out.

 And incidentally, another consequence for Dawn, Fast Company has rated her as one of the ten most creative women in business. 

 Oh, wow.

 So, we’re very proud of our graduate.

 I bet that makes you so proud.

 It does. Another one of our graduates is head of software, I’m spacing on his exact title, but basically, he’s the software design person for North American T-Mobile, and he’s got a bunch of very interesting folks working under him who are pushing the whole software design process in the direction of user-centered design, and he’s hiring our graduates because they’re good at that, too. He’s getting phenomenal results in terms of the software which his group is producing. It’s actually used by people as opposed to scoffed at.

 Because, you know that’s always a problem when you’re sitting there in the IT function and you make something and then nobody wants to use it. But, he’s managed to change that with a bunch of project managers who are focused on user-centered design.

  

Let’s transition into the next question, what is your vision of how project teams should function or work in the future. When you talk a lot about future, about vision… what is your vision for project teams of the future?

 One of the things that I think is really important is that if innovative projects are to succeed, there’s an identity shift which takes place. People gradually soften their functional identity and strengthen their project team identity, so that they begin to think in terms of what’s best for the project rather than what’s best for their function.

 Too often in a traditional organization, project teams come to the project as ambassadors from hostile territories. Marketing will fight with research; research will fight with manufacturing, and so forth. And as the teams gradually gel and become a real team and return to their bosses, their bosses then reinforce the turf barriers and say, “Wait a second. Who do you think you are? You’re a marketing person. You gave away all that to the manufacturing people? Don’t you realize blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah?”

 And so, then they have to go back and say, “Well, I agreed to that but actually I can’t support it and the team has to start over again. And that is very destructive to project teams. So, when a project team gets going we need to trust the people on that project team to gel and form an identity which is, “This is the product that we’re producing, or this is the process that we’re designing, or this is the change which we’re making,” and that we trust these people to do their job and to work together as opposed to work as representatives of functions which don’t necessarily get along very well together. And I think that change is very important.

 What we find is that a good project team consists of a core team which has a lot of continuity. People don’t switch in and out of that core team. And then, it has a lot of adjunct team members who come in and leave as they are needed. But by keeping a core team, you preserve the learning and memory of the project.

 If you think about it, supposing a team works on a project for a year, and let’s says that this costs the organization $1 million for the various salaries of the people on the team and their overheads and so forth. And let’s say that this is actually one of those projects which were, in fact, a good investment. At the end of that year, where is the $1 million? It doesn’t show up on the balance sheet, it’s just been expensed, right?

So, the value must be somewhere. Now, it could be that the value is in the documents which they’ve produced that show the plan and maybe, there’s some little pieces of things that they’ve built and so forth. But, I don’t think you could sell that stuff for $1million.

Most of the $1 million is located inside the heads of those people who’ve become smarter at the thing that they’re doing so that when they make decisions in the future, they’ll make better decisions. And it’s located in the passion of the individuals who have been working on that project who are going to find a way to make it work, even if they run into obstacles. If you trade out the members of that team and act like team members are interchangeable parts, you throw away that $1 million, or you throw away 90% of it, right?

So, the successful innovation process has this team continuity issue as well as a network which is with people who contribute when they’re needed and are not part of the team when they aren’t doing anything for the team when they’re not needed. And that combination seems to work the best. And a project manager, obviously, has to work that.

It shouldn’t be that we say, “Well, we need an engineer now, so any engineer will do.” It should be somebody in the core team who preserves the memory of all the things that have been tried and all the discussions that have been had and all the trade shows that have been attended and what we learned about them and what the customers think and so forth. All that tacit knowledge is extremely valuable but not documentable.

 

You talk about this project identity. I mean, it’s hard. It’s hard for people to give up and assume that identity, shall we say. And especially if you don’t have continuity, it’s much harder. If you go in and out, then it becomes too hard to form up with the team.

There are some organizations that have a development process where the advanced idea team works on it, and then they pass it over the transom to the development team, who then passes it over the transom to the manufacturing stage team, who then passes it over the transom to the marketing and production team and so forth.

And in each of those interfaces, you have about a 75 to 90% chance of losing everything of value and the project being killed. So those kinds of development processes turn out to work very badly even though they look good on paper. You know, you can draw a bunch of boxes and say, “This will work.” But, in fact, it doesn’t.

 

I know exactly what you’re saying. It looks so great on paper. You go to gate 1, gate 2, gate 3 and then boom, you have your product. It doesn’t work like that.

Now, the ones that succeed are in the hands of passionate people who are being protected by wise sponsors who can recognize a good thing and have the faith in the people who are doing it to protect them even when they get in trouble.

 

Let’s talk a little bit about Bainbridge Graduate School.

Ten years ago we looked at the world and said, “Business has become the most dominant institution of our time. But business leaders are being trained that it’s immoral to do anything about the environment, to do anything about future generations, to do anything about the community, if it takes a penny away from shareholders.”

If you think about it, training the leaders of society to be irresponsible is not a good prescription. And we saw this in the recent meltdown where clearly what people were trained in business school was a set of behaviors that led to the meltdown of our economy and varying destruction of some of the major industrial firms in our country, not to mention the banks. And look what it cost us as a people to pay for those mistakes.

We decided to start a business school which said that business leaders are, in fact, leaders of society and, therefore, have broader responsibilities and that they have responsibility for the environment. They have responsibility for future generations. They have responsibility for all that because, in addition to being business people, they are human beings and human beings have these responsibilities. And that’s what has differentiated our school from others.

And the interesting thing is that there are two kinds of people in the world in many ways. But in this particular case, there are those people who believe they have enough talent to make a good living and make the world better at the same time. And there are those people who believe that their talent is so limited that they can only make a good living by selling out the values which are what make them truly human.

If you really think about it, you’d rather have that first kind of people working for you than that second kind of people. Because if people believe that they can’t afford to be really responsible, they probably can’t afford to be ethical either. And that probably won’t work out very well for the company in the long run.

 

Having an MBA school in the middle of a forest, that’s such a wonderful idea.

Having an MBA school in the middle of the forest, that is a cute idea. But, the real idea, because we also teach in downtown Seattle, is bringing the environmental issues and social issues into the core of every course. Whether its finance, operations, marketing strategy, whatever it may be.

When you’re making a business decision, you have to consider all the factors and to teach this whole system thinking. Whole system, in the sense that you can think in terms of more than one function at once. And whole system thinking, in the sense that you’re taking responsibility for the impact of the business on the larger society and the impact of the products you produce on the larger society. That, I think, is the real innovation that makes Bainbridge Graduate Institute an important part of our society.

 

That is so true. That is so true. I have one question on the graduate school. You use Kaizen as part of your curriculum. Is there an example you can give to the audience to say, “This improvement came out of the Kaizen sessions?”

Sure. I’ll give you a couple. So, this year we produced a new integrated curriculum in which we have brought a variety of disciplines together as opposed to teaching them as separate subjects. We used to teach sustainable marketing in one class and triple bottom line finance in another class and the strategies piece in another and so forth. And now, we’ve created some very big courses which include multiple functional specialties in one course so that we teach our student to think in terms of those things all at once, which of course, is the way real business decisions, have to be made.

And there were some bumps in the road as we implemented this the first time. So, we had a Kaizen session that lasted, actually, late into the night, in which the students and the teachers sat down and clarified their roles. There were some places in which the students felt that there were multiple captains at the same time and that it was leading to some less than desirable conditions in the classroom. And they all sat down and hammered that out together, saying, “This is how we’re going to run these classes in the future.”

And so, we have a much better thing. And one of the classic moments in this was our creativity teacher, Nina,  who took the business model canvas diagram from the book “Business Model Generation”, a great book by the way, which has things like key partners, key activities, key resources, the value proposition, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, revenue streams, cost structure and so forth. And she took this chart and blew it up many; many times so that people could stand in those various pieces of the business model and then had them carry on conversations from those different places in the business model.

So, we’d have both faculty and students standing in these various viewpoints of a business model talking to each other and talking about how those things were going to be taught in the classroom. And it was a very graphic way of acting out what the course had to be. And it made big changes in the way we taught after that. I think that was a good example.

And then another example. Most of our students are two-year students, but we have some students who are both working and have families that are demanding. And they do the same program, but they do it in three years at a less intense pace. As we went to the new curriculum, they were feeling a little left out. And so, we had a Kaizen meeting in which they sat down and, together with the deans, they selected their teachers they wanted, they switched some of the elective structures that were available in the school, they changed a little bit of the timing of when things were being taught.

It was a pretty good re-design of the experience of this particular group of students for their remaining time in the school, which was done by looking at some of the things which were out of spec, so to speak. We’re taking place and figuring out how to fix them together as a whole system. And that was a very good outcome of the Kaizen process.

 You know, those are really good examples of Kaizen.

Well, thank you.

Now, switching gears a little bit. You are the author of “The Intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments”. How did you write that, and can you maybe, elaborate on the first one? The one that says… “Come to work each day willing to be fired.”

So, you asked me, among other things, where these came from. And although I have had some experience as an intrapreneur, and so some of them I think I understand pretty well, and I could even speak to that a little bit. But these came from interviewing the successful intrapreneurs when I wrote the book, “Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur”, which was a best seller and sold in 15 languages.

And in that book, there were a lot of case histories of courageous intrapreneurs who had done great things. And I asked them the secrets of their success. And so, those commandments came out of those interviews. These are the things that distinguish the intrapreneurs that succeed from those that don’t.

So, with regard to “come to work each day willing to be fired”, that doesn’t mean that you walk around with a chip on your shoulder insulting people or that you lose all the cunning that you have about how to get things done in large organizations or anything of that kind.

What it means is that there is a real virtue to not being afraid. When you’re afraid, everyone knows that you’re afraid. And there’s a universal tendency of human beings, I hate to admit it, to kick people when they’re down. And so, if you’re afraid, you must be doing something wrong, so you need to be stopped. If you’re unafraid, then you must have friends in high places because, obviously, you ought to be afraid because you’re doing courageous things. But, look, you’re not afraid. There must be some reason why I better not mess with you because you’re, obviously, a powerful person with powerful connections.

So, just from the point of view of how to be successful, not being afraid is a very powerful tool for moving your ideas through the organization. And you might ask, “Well, but how could you not be afraid? Because you’re doing new things and you might offend somebody.” And when I asked the successful intrapreneurs about that, what they said is something like this: “What God put me on earth here to do is to innovate and do new things.” And so, there are two possibilities. Either I have a job working for a company that wants me to innovate and do new things. In which case, going ahead and doing new things is not risky because that’s what people want around here. Or I work for a company that won’t allow people to do new things. In which case, I have such a bad job now, that there’s nothing to lose anyway because I can always get a better job.

And so, they acted as if the company that they were in was the kind of company that would allow an innovator to succeed with a little cunning and a little politicking and a little good support from a sponsor and so forth. They acted as if they had a good job and, in many cases, it became a self- fulfilling prophesy. In some cases, it was time to move on because the job they had was not a good one.

 

I know. I understand it better now. It makes sense, you know, how you characterize it and how you put it.

It doesn’t mean that you go around taking unnecessary risks. In fact, if you study successful intrapreneurs, you’ll find that they are moderate risk takers. They choose a challenging objective and then do everything they can to manage the risk and reduce it to as close to zero as possible.

But, it also means that they are not sitting there fretting and worrying about it. They’re getting on with doing it. Which are probably the best way to succeed and the best way not to be fired?

 

The way I found you for my blog, “The Future of Project Management” was, I was looking at things in the future. The Future Institute or the Aspen Ideas Festival, those sorts of things.

And when I looked at what you’ve done and your work, it struck me that, you talk of dreams, you talk about vision, and you talk about the challenges. You’ve taken so many bold steps in those directions. Where does this sort of boldness of ideas come to you? Can you give our audience a glimpse of where this comes from, where this courage maybe, comes from.

Well, I probably see myself as less bold than you do. Because for me, it’s always seemed that there were obvious next steps to be taken. And part of it comes from the fact that I believe that we’re supposed to make a difference in this world, and I would be unhappy if I didn’t.

I have the misfortune to have a grandfather who made enormous changes in our society. He’s often referred to as the father of the conservation movement. He was the first Chief of the Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt and set aside 200 million acres of land which are now the national forests and national parks of the U.S. So, it’s kind of a hard act to follow in terms of feeling that you’re making a difference. He was also Governor of Pennsylvania twice.

So, I guess that means that I don’t have the option of not making a difference. And so, when I see something that needs to be done, that’s good. But, I mean, how much courage does it take to write a book like “Intrapreneuring?” It was really hard work. There were a lot of late nights. But it was not life threatening and it led to very, very interesting things.

And I have a wife who backs me up. I remember one time we were moving to a new house. We were about to have our third child, and I chose that moment to quit my job and start a new company. And when I asked her about it, she said, “Oh well, don’t worry. You’ll land on your feet.”

And I think it’s that belief that whatever happens, you can find a way to do something. I think too often, as human beings, we are somehow programmed to believe that if we offend a person in power or something, that our lives will end. But, in fact, that’s not what happens. And some of the worst things that have happened to me in business have turned out to be the best.

I remember losing a client to whom we had committed 80% of our revenue for the next year. And the CEO died and suddenly we didn’t have any work. And it seemed like a complete disaster. And in order to fill in the space, I took a job as a CEO of a little software firm, and that turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. Five months later, we sold it and that’s how we got the financing to start the school.

So, I think if you believe that one way or another you’re going to survive, that the threats that face you are not threats of life and death for the most part. Those are things like being hit by a bus or something like that. They’re not the courageous business decisions you make. The worst that happens there is that you go broke and have to start over.

I think that may be another thing is to have had failures.   At one point, I ran my net worth down to minus $80,000. The interest rate was 23%, and I was an unemployed blacksmith. If you can recover from that, you can recover from just about anything, financial right?

 

Of all the many things that you do, what are your other interests and hobbies?

Well, I love to run. I love to ski. I have three kids, and I have three grandchildren. I love to play with my grandchildren. I like to read, and I play the saxophone.

 

Great.  Any questions for me before we wrap this up?

I just want to thank you. Obviously, as a result of this, I stumbled across your blog and I found, I’m spacing on the name of the agile design pieces that you’ve done. But they’re just great and I immediately sent them to our dean and said, “Couldn’t we be teaching some of this stuff in our school?” And I got some of my software friends engaged. So, the next thing you know, your blog is going to be featured in our school.

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