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Sean Pillot de Chenecey chats with Kaihan Krippendorffstrategy and innovation expert and founder of Outthinker and the author of four business strategy books including his most recent, “Driving Innovation From Within“.

Included in the chat:

  • The research Kaihan undertook to write his new book
  • Kaihan’s background and how he reached his current position
  • Which part of the world has most potential for innovation
  • How Kaihan introduces different patterns of thought that turn into successful enterprises
  • Exciting events Kaihan has attended
  • Predictions for the future

Episode #110

The patterns of thought that turn into successful enterprises

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:04): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot De Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist, areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business. Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Kaihan Krippendorff, he’s the founder of Outthinker, a former McKinsey consultant and the author of four business strategy books, including Outthink the Competition, and his most recent Driving Innovation from Within. For that book, Kaihan deeply researched and interviewed more than 150 internal innovators and leaders in nearly every conceivable industry. He’s a member of the prestigious thinkers50 class, a global selection of the top 30 management thinkers to follow and hear from over the coming years. So Kaihan welcome.

Kaihan Krippendorff (01:37): Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:39): So Kaihan tell me, I mean, your background is absolutely fascinating and I could read out your entire bio, but it’s so so impressive. I think we’ve spent about half an hour going through it all. Let’s just say for the listeners wherever they are in China or the us, or any part of the middle east or, or Europe that they can obviously obviously look at your site or indeed at the speakers associate site and they can read and be suitably impressed. So perhaps just tell me from the perspective of your, of your most recent book and, and just start off somewhere perhaps just tell us about that and then we’ll look at some of the key things that that are really interesting you, as we look ahead throughout the remainder of 20, 20 and beyond.

Kaihan Krippendorff (02:21): Sure. Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say that my background is so impressive. I think it’s very one sided. I, I, I discovered early on that I was very interested in strategy and so I am very shallow in lots of areas, but strategy and innovation and strategic thinking is sort of what I keep turning to for the last two decades. So all my degrees in work is around that. So, you know, I would say for the last 15 years since I started speaking publicly, my question was really where do great ideas come from, particularly disruptive strategic ideas. And for my new book, my question shifted to where do great ideas go to, particularly when you come up with them inside an established company. And so what I prove, I think is that the narrative that the entrepreneur is the primary innovator. If we think about the great innovators that are on lists, you know what, they’re all almost all. I wouldn’t say all, but, you know, 90% literally are entrepreneurs. And what I found is that actually 70% of society’s most transformative innovations in recent decades came not from entrepreneurs, but came from employees. Wow. And so I think that there is a kind of a massive misconception that employees cannot innovate that kind of employees and establish companies take ideas and scale them. And actually that’s not the truth. So that’s what this book is really about.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:57): Mm that’s. Range and 70%, that’s an extraordinary figure, isn’t it?

Kaihan Krippendorff (04:01): Yes. Yes. It’s no, it’s shocking. If, if it were not for employee innovators, we likely would not have the internet, which most of the innovations that we talk about today or built on, we wouldn’t have email. We wouldn’t have, if you got sick, you couldn’t get an MRI, you couldn’t get a D you couldn’t get a stent. You couldn’t have, you wouldn’t have DNA sequencing. Our solar energy, you know, capabilities would be far inferior. We would live in a radically inferior world for, we’re not for the possibility of employees to innovate.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:32): Wow. And it’s, it’s extraordinary. And I said, this also comes at a time in terms of you say sort of business history recently, the great Clayton Christensen died

Kaihan Krippendorff (04:44): Unfortunately is

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:46): Obviously was a many thought, you know, one of the, the fathers of innovation, if one can put it that way in terms of the, the people you interview, can I say for the latest book driving innovation from within, were there any people or organizations in particular that really stood out to you now that, that you thought, wow, they really, really, you know, have got it. They really lead from from, by evidence in what they do, et cetera.

Kaihan Krippendorff (05:13): Yeah. I looked at well thinkers and then organizations, as far as thinkers, I got to interview and, and I organize a group of chief strategy officers of large corporations. And for through that activity, I get to interact with a lot of really great thinkers. And I’m, I’m part of the thinkers 50 group as well. Yeah. So I, I get to interact with some really amazing thinkers. I think that what I’m really passionate about and where I think the organizations are going is well described by Gary Hamel, who is a professor at London Business School. Yeah. And also Rita McGrath. Who’s a professor at Columbia Business School kind of push them together. You, you, what you see is they’re outlining this future organization, which has evolved from a hierarchical structure to an open platform where employees are free to seek and seize and rally the resources to pursue interesting opportunities.

Kaihan Krippendorff (06:11): So I think those are two thought leaders, I would say. And then on the organizational side, what it was interesting, I looked at. So, so, so my, my idea is that for an innovation to really be called in innovation, we should look at whether it is adopted and valuable. Mm-Hmm Steve jobs says innovation is creativity, that ships. So if we break that down, creativity is it’s new, it’s different. And you look at it and there’s sort of an aha factor, but that’s not enough to call it an innovation. It needs to ship, meaning people need to buy it. Yeah. It needs to, you know, get out and be diffused. And so if that’s true, then for a company to be innovative, it would have to outperform its competition because its innovations are shipping. Yep. And so, you know, what I looked at, I looked at there were about 360 companies that appear on these most innovative company lists over the last five years multiple times.

Kaihan Krippendorff (07:10): And I, I wanted to see how many actually outperform and I found that only 13 of these 360. Yeah. Outperform. Wow. Yeah, it’s shocking. It’s shocking. So, so many, many companies are admired for, in being innovative, but I, I think that we’d have to say that they are creative mm-hmm , but not necessarily in innovative. And so, you know, the companies that are innovative include companies like MasterCard Amazon Tencent but companies that are not, you know, do not outperform that seem to be innovative or include Facebook or salesforce.com. Yeah. And so you know, if we, if we look at the, at the common elements of those companies that do outperform with the, with just a few exceptions that are primarily pharmaceutical exceptions they approach innovation from this people-centric approach where they broadly activate employees to innovate rather than siloing innovation in an incubation team or, you know, innovation lab. And so I think that that is kind of where we’re arriving now at our PA in, in, in our, in our journey of innovation that companies started off carving out innovation. And now what we’re realizing is, okay, we figured that out now we need to bring that capacity to innovate into the entire organization.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:40): Yeah. Yeah. It’s real interesting that you mentioned, you know, if you like in the good box, the likes of Amazon and 10 sent and then Facebook and Salesforce being in the bad box from that sort of people centric versus sort of silo, I think it’s fascinating how, you know, a Facebook having been apparently, you know, the darlings of the stock market, and as you say, the, the, the darlings of future looking business only year for years ago, seem to have had you know, to put it mildly a fairly Tory few years. Whereas the likes of Tencent seemed to be powering ahead. Could I just ask your background? And I know obviously you were a, a McKinsey, the powerhouse that is McKinsey. What about your personal story? You know, where, how did you get to be in McKinsey? give us the inside track,

Kaihan Krippendorff (09:33): You know, well, you know my mother is from Bangladesh. My dad is from Germany and they moved here to United States as graduate students. And I grew up sort of in an academic household, I would say when I was a young teenager, my father had taken a trip to Japan and he came back with some books about Zen, you know, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance and, and, and the like, and that really, I think triggered an interest for me on strategic thinking. And I began to read different versions of Sun Tzu The Art of War Miyamoto Musashi ‘s The Book of Five Rings and became really interested in that genre that is often called the art of the advantage. Yeah. And I think that, you know, I, I started off as an engineer and was going to be an engineer.

Kaihan Krippendorff (10:25): Then I became an investment banker, very kind of quantitatively oriented mm-hmm . But I came to realize that, Hey, I really am interested in the people side of business. Later on, I, I, I, I go through this kind of course and process where I discover what my purpose in life is, and I, and I’ve, and it really landed on that. My purpose in life is people loving what they do. Mm. A world in which everyone just loves. That doesn’t mean that you quit and do what you love, but you might be that you find the love in what you’re doing. Right. Mm. But when we bring those things together, so I kind of came from a quantitative background and then moved more into the, the human side mm-hmm . But I still, I think, approach things from a quantitative analytical let’s say perspective.

Kaihan Krippendorff (11:12): So my prior book out think the competition is kind of a process to think disruptively people who go through the course or go through the talk, they, they, they describe it sometimes as innovation for engineers or creative thinking for engineers. Yeah. So it is about creating new ideas and that kind of human, psychological side. However, I think one thing that I am good at is taking something that people do intuitively and putting into a process that we can all follow. So that’s kind of really what my, my, my, my passion is, is if we bring it all together, if people love what they do, then if we can find processes that we can follow and not have to change who we are. Yeah. But learn to do what we wanna do to, you know, ha have the kind of work that we love. You know, not think outside of the box, but have a different box to think in. Then I think that we can all just sort of just turn it on and think the way we want to think and create what we want to create.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:23): Mm. Could I ask a different point in terms of your background? And I, I know that you’ve lived and worked, you know, around the world in Asia and Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the Pacific, et cetera. You know, I’m currently talking to you from London and let’s not talk about Brexit or I’ll start sobbing, but from your perspective, looking at it this globally, do you see any particular parts of the world that to you stand out as being more dynamic and forward facing than others? Or is it, or, or do you not look at the world that way? I mean,

Kaihan Krippendorff (13:01): Yeah, I think I, you know, I, I, you know, I would say I, I, I I’ve, I’ve worked a lot and, and, and my mother was also in the United nations and she’d lived in different countries and I gotta spend time in them. You know, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m very interested in Africa and Asia. And however, I have to say that I, I I’ve, I particularly impressed with and curious about where it’s gonna go is within Europe. I think that, you know, Europe has such diversity of thought and culture, and I think it is more advanced at least in the United States and where I think that businesses are going, which is shifting from a investor focused kind of maximize profits to an appreciation of the role that you play in broader society. I think that that has been at play longer in Europe.

Kaihan Krippendorff (14:00): And so I think that the real elements in Europe are there for Europe to really take a lead in innovation in the future. My father is German, as I said. Yeah. And I think that different cultures approach business from a different frame. And I think that a frame that German businesses often come from is that a role is to create good employment for people mm-hmm . So when there’s a crisis in Germany, it’s a very common practice for the, for, for everyone to take a partial, not pay, pay, and time cut so that we can spread the work over more people in the us, the, the natural go-to is to cut people and keep everyone else fully employed. Right. Yeah. And so, you know, I, I think that I really believe that that is where companies are moving. If we look at Starbucks, for example, they don’t view their, their, the customer that buys the coffee as their customer. They view the, their employee as the customer. I got a chance to speak to the president who is Howard Schultz’s right hand man Howard Behar. And he said their big breakthrough was when they realized that their employees are their customers, not the people that buy the coffee. So anyway, bring all that together. I think that Europe has a lot of the historical fundamental elements that is make it a great place to lead innovation in the future.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (15:30): Mm. That is really fascinating. And it’s a sort of thing that perhaps with, with your old sort of McKinsey hat on, I think a lot of people, perhaps, you know, wouldn’t, as you say, have associated, you know, the McKinsey of the eighties with that, what you described as the, you know, from, from a profit centered perspective to a people or societal a focused one.

Kaihan Krippendorff (15:50): Yeah. I think that that’s right. I think that’s right. I think that you’ll, you know, the, the, the early McKinsey or when I was there, it’s very much competitor focused. So I think that strategy evolves right there. The narrative around strategy evolves. And we could say at the time of kind of Michael Porter, the, the era was really around and even Clayton Christensen. Yeah. The, the, the focus was really on the competition beating the competition right now, we shift to Amazon brings in this era of being customer centric, and we have IDO customer-centric design. Amazon wants to be Earth’s most customer-centric organization. Mm. And I think that we’re now coming off of the, we’re starting to transition to employees being the being the, the, the, the frame by which organizations organiz the the business round table, which is a collection of 1, 150 cos from the 150 largest companies, they recently came up with a new statement, which is the purpose of the corporation. And basically what they say is we’ve Al we’ve usually we’ve traditionally held shareholders as the top priority, but now we need to hold society employees as the top priority for corporations that represents really how we think of building our companies. Wow. So I think that’s the era we’re moving into.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:14): And is that the sort of thing that again, we’ve just finished the latest world economic forum in Davos. Is that the sort of thing that’s being spoken about there, from your perspective, is that a sort of an element that really sums up the mood of Davos in, in 2020?

Kaihan Krippendorff (17:32): I think maybe if we took the mood of Davos over multiple years then perhaps, so I think that the 2020 is a very weird year with what’s going on with you know you know, elections and politics across lots of different regions. So I think everyone’s sort of right now, and that’s kind of what I’m experiencing with my clients is this is a, an exceptional year and the broader trend. I don’t think you can pick up from today, from this year, you know?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (18:02): And so in terms of, of your clients and the talks you’re giving at the moment and I know you’ve just been through a lot of those issues in real detail. Are there any other points that you are also focusing on that, that frame, these these perspectives?

Kaihan Krippendorff (18:17): Yeah, I think that, you know, we all experience that the pace of change is accelerating. And I would say nine times out of 10, when I’m giving a talk, whether that’s for a corporation or an association, what they’re asking for is we, we’re scared of how quickly the world is changing. And we want a message that tells us that we have a choice. We can either try to resist that change, or we can lean into the change and we can lead the change. We want a positive message about being the leaders of this future. So that’s, you know, I would, again, nine times out of 10, I would say that in, in their own languages, from their own industry, that’s sort of the narrative that they’re seeking to create. Mm.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:10): And then again, in terms of the your personal motivation, I mean, they were McKinsey, no doubt doing incredibly well. And one could have been very comfortably there for, you know, the rest of time within reason. What was, you know, was there a particular sort of catalytic moment or sort of conversion when you decided to, you know, go your own way?

Kaihan Krippendorff (19:32): Yeah. first it wasn’t easy was not an easy road. It was, it was tough. I, you know, we’re working long hours and intellectually it’s a, I was very stimulated, but I was reaching a kind of higher level in the firm where my role was more around managing client relationships and managing projects. And I wasn’t as close to the problem solving. So I started feeling like disconnected with what I really joined the firm for. And then as I alluded to before I realized finally, really what my poor purpose is, and that is people loving what they do. And while intellectually, I could argue that, you know, figuring out a way for a company to save money on toilet paper, by going from, you know, one sheet from two sheets to, to one sheet, you know, that would save money and then create more, you know, jobs. And, you know, I didn’t feel like I was really aligned with what my purpose is and when I’m doing my purpose, I just start getting energy when I’m not the, the energy starts dwindling. And I was feeling my energy dwindle. So that’s, that’s that, that was kind of the impetus that had me leave and go out on my own. Mm.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (20:57): I really love that energy of yeah. Focus on your purpose and that sort of energizes, you know via its own volition. I think it’s, great way looking at it. What about this might be a slightly sort trite question, but you know, of all the things you’ve done, any particular one that you could just, you know, bang on the table and go, that’s what I’m proudest about. That’s where I, you know, nailed it.

Kaihan Krippendorff (21:19): Hmm. Well, you know, what I love is sometimes I’ll get a message three years after I run a speech or a workshop. And someone says, there’s an idea that came outta that, that turned into. So in fact, just just a few weeks ago, I got a, a message from a woman who is in a publisher, that’s actually based in the UK and in Austria mm-hmm . And she said there was an idea that came out of this talk that you gave three years ago, and it became a business within this company. And now I am the CEO of this business. Hmm. So this is what I really live for is when, and, and, you know, and then of course I will, I, I will, I will you know, create a slide and I will take credit for, for hard work that I had very little to do with.

Kaihan Krippendorff (22:08): But I think that’s what I’m really good at is introducing different patterns of thought that have people think differently. And when you do it in the right place, the right time, then they turn into ideas that really generate something exciting. Mm-Hmm well, when I collect those stories and add them up right now, I’m at two and a half billion dollars in new annual revenue whoa. From those ideas. Wow. And I think that it’s more than that. So that’s what I wanna judge my, my, my, my success, whatever success I have by is that, is that number, the value of the ideas that come out of my speaking. Mm.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:47): And can I say just again, in terms of your background, I mean, it sound as you come from a really, really fascinating background, very fascinating family. I mean, do you think, having you say a mother from Bangladeshian and a German father, has that given you a different sort of cultural perspective on things or,

Kaihan Krippendorff (23:04): Yeah, I, I think so, you know, every, every other year I would go to Germany and close relationships with my family there and then seeing Bangladesh in a way they’re, they’re, they’re their opposite cultures. Right. And Germany is super clean and organized, and Bangladesh is kind of the opposite of that. Mm. And then culturally, you know, that, you know, talking about kind of German being kind of like, I, I see my father is extremely organized and meticulous and thoughtful about what’s coming and, you know, on, I don’t wanna generalize, but, you know, in Bangladesh, the people are kind of you less so. Mm. And so I think being able to grow up across those two also I love spicy food. I love to cook spicy food. My mother, when she would eat, when she would cook, she, if, if her eyes started watering as the food approached her mouth, that was a sign that the food was good.

Kaihan Krippendorff (24:01): So that’s kind of what I, you know, what I grew up eating and my kids love to cook and, and, and and cook very interesting, interesting foods. If you, if you go to my Instagram you’ll see, probably every other photo is of some dish that my children or I have have prepared, but I think it just gave me an idea and I want this to translate this to my clients and to my kids is that we’re all human. The world is a small place. If we get to the human level, everyone is, you know, has the same story. Mm. Is the same person. Mm

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:35): Okay. A completely different thing. And again, back to the, if you like the human, the core subject of of conferences and conventions and congresses and all the rest of it, the sort of things that that, that speakers associates sort of organized for you, whatever, I know you’ve spoken at a vast number of places around the world, any particular events or style of events but, you know, are any of those that, that really stand out to you as being events that really, really you know, really did it, and really were run in a super dynamic way.

Kaihan Krippendorff (25:11): Yeah. I think that I love speaking so I, I give maybe between two and three keynotes a week, and I love being in conferences in which there is a central purpose. Right. Mm-hmm, so like, and, and, and, and not necessarily only a theme every, every, every conference every year I’ll have a theme. So, you know, a two that come to mind is there was a, a company that manufactures HVAC equipment. So air conditioning equipment, mm-hmm, it doesn’t sound super sexy. Right. But they had a thousand of their sales people there. And as you look at what their, what, what everyone was there for, it was really around the internet of things. Yep. And using data to improve the efficiency of buildings around, you know contributing to a healthier environment. And so everyone came with that kind of shared vision in mind.

Kaihan Krippendorff (26:18): And when you speak into that, that is really exciting. Or there’s another one, a large chemical company that had a division that makes plastics out of biological matter that can be compostable. And so this conference was really around bioplastics. And so the, the, the people that were, and the the, the companies that were, you know, on the trade floor, they were just doing incredible things about making, you know, plastic spoons and knives mm. Out of bio of, of compostable bioplastics. And so it made everyone kind of standing together facing the same direction. And when you have that psychologically in the room, it is a powerful thing. So I particularly love those conferences.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (27:13): Whoa. That sounds fantastic as well. You say, and first of all, you know, the fact that it’s an air conditioning client, doesn’t instantly sort of fill you with a spark, but then suddenly you see where they’re going and and wow. Yeah. Okay. So, okay. So to begin to, to finish off then Kahan, and it’s been AB absolutely sort of fascinating talking with you just so we can make it even more crystal clear for the speakers, associates, listeners, wherever they may be in whichever part of the world they are. So they’re really, really clear about exactly where you’re coming from. Perhaps you could just, you know, explain perhaps, you know from your perspective, the ideal event that you would like to speak at and precisely the sort of theme it is that you would be absolutely focusing on in 2020 and beyond that, would you think if you like, provide the ultimate version of you

Kaihan Krippendorff (28:04): mm-hmm mm-hmm yeah. I would say that all of my talks are rest on one of two or a combination of these two things. One is how do you come up with a, a really innovative idea? How do you think differently specifically, how do you come up with what I call a fourth option? So that means that there are the option beyond the obvious option. So thinking differently. And then how do you do that within an established company? How do you, as an employee or someone within an established organization, how do you take that idea that you created and bring it out into the world? So you, my speeches are usually around out think out thinking the competition, thinking differently, being an out thinker, or they’re around the employee, innovator, driving innovation from within

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (28:53): Mm, fantastic. Well, guy hand, I think we could very happily have, have gone on for the ages, but that’s absolutely fantastic. A real powerhouse shift through a whole range of different sectors and different themes can ask just as a last sort of a question for today, you know, as we look through the remainder of 2020, and perhaps the short term future beyond that, any other particular themes or issues that you see coming up that really fascinate you?

Kaihan Krippendorff (29:25): Yeah. I think the, of a few different ones with this chief strategy officer group that I organize, we pick topics. Then we find thought leaders to engage with them on the topics. What they’re really interested in is platform business models how this new generation generation Z is gonna change your employees and your customers. And the research that I’m interested in doing as a next book is around planning and the benefits of planning or not planning, cuz as we shift into a yet faster paced, accelerated competitive environment, mm-hmm, the benefits of knowing what is going to happen versus creating optionality in your strategy. It shifts. And so I think that doing less planning and being open to seizing opportunities as they appear is peer is what is gonna define companies that continue to thrive. And so that’s another area that I’m really interested in.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:25): And have you got a title for that book yet or?

Kaihan Krippendorff (30:29): Tempted it, you know, I’m gonna give you this name and it it’ll be three or four years perhaps before it comes out. So, but it would be the wisdom of not planning.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:38): Oh, very good, indeed. well, we look forward to reading that in no data in the sort of a sort of short and medium term of future, shall we say? So Kaihan Krippendorff, it’s been absolutely fascinating talking with you. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Kaihan Krippendorff (30:52): Thank you, Sean.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:55): Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show Podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

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Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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