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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews Alf Rehn.

Alf is a recognised global thought leader on innovation and creativityThinkers50 speaker and bestselling author. He is also a highly influential professor at the University of Southern Denmark, who focuses on exploring and overcoming the challenges that global corporations face when it comes to innovation.

Having worked with a wide variety of businesses, from fresh-faced startups to well-established Fortune 500 corporations, his innovative thinking has been recognised in a number of circles all over the world and even earned him several awards. Alf is seen as a true innovator and an inspirational speaker.

Episode #136

We need to rebuild better…via better innovation and bolder leadership

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business. 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, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. 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.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:11): So today I’m really pleased to be joined by the bestselling author, Alf Rehn, a highly influential professor at the university of Southern Denmark, who is passionate about innovation, creativity, design, and management, a recognized global thought leader on innovation and creativity, thinkers50 speaker and bestselling author has mentioned. Alf Rehn’s also been included in international media publications, including Italian fashion magazines and Brazilian arts journals. Having worked with a variety of Fortune 500 corporations, as well as founding his own highly successful international advertising agency. He understands and has experience of management and business innovation, his professor of management and organization. And one of the most influential inspiring management thinkers in Europe currently shares his time between academia and business. And as a thought leader has mentioned in the arena of creativity and innovation well respected amongst his, a academic peers and the global business community Alf Rehn represents the new wave of business minds and approaches key management topics in a way that provokes challenges and offers effective, actionable methods of innovation and improvement for modern organizations. So Alf Rehn, who I understand is currently based in beautiful Copenhagen. How are you?

Alf Rehn (02:34): I’m very well. Thank you. And thank you for that. Well rather long introduction. I, I, interesting fellow, I hope to meet him someday

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:44): Exactly. Well, as you know, there’s only about a third of your bio, so one of those, so , I’d encourage listeners to look at the speakers associates site or indeed your own to, to check out the rest of it. Cause it makes for absolutely extraordinary reading, but talking which extraordinary reading, I mean, I’ve interviewed before Al it’s brilliant. And I have to say of . I mean, there’s no array of great anecdotes you’ve got in a while get onto your most recent speeches and some of your latest thinking, but just in case anyone listening to this hasn’t heard of the quite phenomenal a, about you, you and North Korea, please come on, give us that one. it’s fantastic.

Alf Rehn (03:25): Ah, this is, is this gonna be one of those greatest hits things I I’m

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:28): Feeling? Why not?

Alf Rehn (03:30): I’m feeling a little bit like a cover band. No, I mean, last time we talked, I mean, I, I think that what, what kind of sets speakers apart is that we, we were, when we start chatting, we of course go to our war stories and speakers have nothing more than to speak of really tricky kind of times when projectors explode and travel is really tricky. Well now obviously all travel is tricky, so we’ll have a lot of those stories to go. But now I guess the story you refer to is, I mean, we, you all love to kind of have what’s the most difficult audience you’ve ever had because audiences are, of course always wonderful. We love our audience as, as speakers, but we also know that a true kind of master speaker is the one who can, when facing a truly hostile audience kind of change that around.

Alf Rehn (04:18): And I mean, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had very few really hostile stars. I mean, had a couple of heckles as I believe we all have. And had a couple of times when the CEO might have thought that I pushed a bit too far with the kind of creativity speeches, but the most scary one I’ve ever had was the fact that it was actually one point invited to keynote innovation in pong young in North Korea. And I mean, that’s one of those moments and they weren’t paying me anything. So it was like an prove pro bono thing. It was part of a science diplomacy mission, but that’s one kind of moment, which gonna you stop a moment and kind of think, okay, am I really gonna do this? But realize that being possibly the first westerner ever to get a keynote on innovation in a country where innovation is technically illegal, which has eight allowed hairstyles and, and well, we all know the challenges.

Alf Rehn (05:14): So I thought, no, this, this is when the going gets tough, the tough fly to pong young, and it wasn’t the biggest event ever. It was actually rather small and, and very tightly controlled. And, and you do prepare for those special, hostile events a little bit more than you usually would. I mean, I had to go through everything I was gonna say thinking about, okay, I often make kind of a few off color jokes. I can, I’ve been known to use a doable Anton once or twice. I mean, not working blue as the comedians would say, but sometimes you kind of want a little free saw of of something, a little cheekier that can be a way to actually open up an audience, get them laughing a bit and so on. Obviously not the best country to try those things in and you have to pick out every kind of comment that might touch upon politically sensitive stuff.

Alf Rehn (06:12): And I thought I’d be really clever. So I, I kind of went through and they just launched them. The communist party, obviously the only part of North Korea just kind of published the, kind of the latest, greatest thinking of the great leaders. I kinda scanned through them and realized there’s a couple of here. I mean, some of them were really weird, such as we should strive to create more scallops for these feeding of the Republic course tricky to work into an innovation speech. But there were a couple kind of that weren’t the most interesting, but stuff like the mental power of our youth is what will take our ideology to success, stuff like that. I thought excellent well horses for courses. So I take, take a couple of comments from the great leader. I can put them in, in a tasteful fashion and so on and come into the lecture hall.

Alf Rehn (07:08): And I’m, I’m kind of setting up and, and a very lovely translator comes up and kind of then starts pointing people out. Oh, here is the president. And and here are the professors and here are some students and, and oh, and, and here are the SP and I, what, I guess they, they are we here to monitor your speech. And at that point I’m kind of going, okay. I thought this was just gonna be sensitive. I did not know there would be secure to personnel here monitoring my speech. Mm-Hmm and well, I think fear is a great motivator. So I actually think the speech turned out great. And well I also realized why being a speaker in North Korea does have its benefits. Every time I put one of those great leader quotes up, you get a standing ovation automatically.

Alf Rehn (07:59): You don’t even have to be good to get standing ovations. You just put in the right quotes and towards the end people come up and they’re very happy with it. I mean, I, I did push the boat a little on innovation and so on, but, but not more than was acceptable in that context. And what was really funny was that the translated and told me that the security personnel had been so relieved to see that I was ideologically. I can’t remember what the term they used ideologically sound. That was it. Yeah. But I was ideologically sound that they would not be following up on the other keynote speeches, which I think is good since one of my friends decided North Korea is a great place in which to recast Gordon gecos greed is good speech. And I always thought, thank God, the security guys weren’t there because trickier

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:56): , it’s just so extraordinary. I mean, so, I mean, moving on from the the ideologically sound Alf Rehn to the contrarian thinker who takes a very, very interesting and, and forward a looking approach to, if you say, sort of that innovation over here rather than over there I mean, you gave a great talk recently at the recovery summit, which was, you know, an absolutely phenomenal event has to be said that it was put together by the sort of speakers associates team. So perhaps just, yeah, take us through there. Cause I mean, commit last time I I met you a in, in real life as opposed to obviously via zoom or via Zencaster was back way beyond in the distant past, we say before the pandemic which seems several hundred years ago. But I say you are thinking now in terms of the art and science of contrarian thinking and unconventional creativity is is fascinating. So please, yeah. Tell us what you were talking about there. Yeah,

Alf Rehn (09:54): Last time we met, we actually met in person and in London,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:58): how strange,

Alf Rehn (09:59): And you had co we had coffee with each other and we had coffee with other people. I mean it,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:03): And shook hands

Alf Rehn (10:05): Absolutely. Seems like another world entirely. No, I mean I was kind of at that point kind of already thinking about the whole contrarian idea and when the lovely people from speakers associates asked, whether I would speak at the summit, which was, as you said, a great, great summit with some absolutely astonishing speakers. I said, well, I have this new idea that I’m, I’m kind of working with. And, and and I, if, if you’re okay with that, I’d, I’d like to kind of test this out in front of an audience, because well, with speakers and writers, as you are as well, I mean, we know that we get a lot of ideas. Now. Some of those ideas are not, shall we say the most thought out ideas, and then we test them out on an audience or some readers and they look at us and go, Hm.

Alf Rehn (10:52): Yeah don’t quit your J job. And which means it it’s important for our speakers to, to take opportunities, to kind of test out new material little bit like standup comics go to, to certain clubs. And because this summit was about recovery and, and trying to find a new path forward, I said, so I have this idea about, but radical creativity. If you’re okay with that, they said, no, no sounds AB absolutely fascinating. And so I’ve worked with creativity for a long time and that the one thing that kind of always been part of that thinking has been that we have a tendency with humans to kind of look upon the creativity we know, and then kind of declare that is real creativity. We see an IPO and we see that it sells well. So we declare, oh, that’s a creative product.

Alf Rehn (11:42): Now of course, right now an IPO is not very creative. It’s been around for ages. It’s still a nice product. I, I did enjoy it until I switched to the iPhone, which had an iPod built in, but but there, there is this kind of movement, but sometimes we don’t kind of open up to this movement. So we, we have this creativity thing and, and we, we think we’re pretty good at it, but at the same time, we can deal a little slow. That is we kind of get stuck in the old creativity, the creativity, we know we, we keep hailing Steve jobs keep hailing, Elon Musk whilst we should be looking what the next thing is. So, and that that’s always been with me, but as of late, I I’ve started to think more about, okay, but maybe there’s not just this simple thing that there’s conservative thinking or traditional thinking versus creative, innovative think, innovative thinking, because what about those moments when people seem to transcend this simple binary to do this, this these kinds of form of thinking that are not just kind of creative, but seem in the moment to go against every notion we have a propriety correctness what works and so on.

Alf Rehn (12:55): And I started looking through a lot of, kind of the material I’ve done and, and there are some stories there that I never knew what to do with. And I came across this astonishing story. That’s been written about before, about gentleman known as Stan love Petro. And I won, know the kind of audience with kind of going through the entire story because it’s, it’s long and complex, but the shortened version of it is that studies Petro happened to be a relatively highly ranked officer in the Soviet military. He was actually head of a unit that was doing kind of signal tracing. So the, they were the, the forward unit that was supposed to kind monitor satellite that monitored us nuclear weapons. Mm-Hmm . Now this is, of course, during the cold war, this is a pretty kind of scary thing to be doing.

Alf Rehn (13:49): And, and then one day in 1983 in September the 26th, if anyone’s really that interested he realizes that during the night shift, the satellite system suddenly starts saying, there’s nuclear missile heading for the Soviet union. It’s come from the us. They’ve started nuclear war is upon us, not just one missile, but 2, 3, 5 in the end. So there is this guy, he gets the data and the data tells him nuclear war has started his job. His only job at this point is to verify and report to high command who will then immediately press a button, which will send every nuclear missile the Soviets have towards and European targets. If he, and he checks the verification, 30 subsystems all tell him, no, this is a go, this is real five nuclear. And he does something extraordinary. He goes, you know what? I don’t trust the system.

Alf Rehn (14:55): I don’t trust the data. I’m not going to do what the rules tell me to do. Now imagine this, you are a Soviet officer. You know, that going against orders will get you to a go log. If you are killed, if you are not, he sees the nuclear war has started. And yet he goes, know what? I’m gonna go with my gut with this one, I’m gonna call high command and say, there is no verification. He lies to high command about what the data says. And when he is interviewed later, he says, now, I, I just didn’t trust the system. And he says, and there was something ignoring at the back of my head. And he thought, because I couldn’t imagine why they would only send five nuclear missiles rather than let’s say 500. Now, if it was me and I have a system which says five nuclear missiles are coming for you, I’m not gonna stop and go.

Alf Rehn (15:53): Why are there so few, I am going to absolutely panic and press every button that does anything to, to kind of counter to this. But this guy, this, this amazing guy goes. Now, I just gonna wait a little. I’m gonna wait for visual verification. Visual verification means I’m gonna stand he here and listen and wait until people who can actually see the ones coming. Because at the point you can see them. You can’t do anything anymore. It’s gone, it’s game over. And yet he does it. And now I started thinking about this guy, this guy isn’t creative in that moment. He, he didn’t bring out a business model cannabis and and start to do some fun stuff with post-it notes. Mm-Hmm, he’s actually behaving in a sense, irrationally. He is saying I don’t trust the data and I’m gonna take the biggest risk any human being has ever taken in history.

Alf Rehn (16:49): And he does that because he is of a contrary and mindset. He, he kind of goes, no, I’m, I’m actually not gonna go with the flow on this one. I’m gonna go against the rules. Turns out it was sun spots. It was something in how the sun hit specific clouds, which made the satellites believe that these were exhaust fumes from nuclear missile, Nissan else. Whoa. So that one person’s contrarian action in that moment saved us from nuclear war. And I thought, my God, this is not creativity. This is something else. This is truly unconventional thinking. And what really should we be looking for in this day and age? Because I mean, a lot of creative people, you know, this as well as I do a lot of innovative people rule breakers and radicals and whatever we call them. They did a lot of stuff before the pandemic, but none of them say, Hey, Hey, Hey, what if a virus comes and truly Muellers the world?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:53): Mm-Hmm

Alf Rehn (17:53): Nobody really did that. And even though it was actually easier to spot than many of the, the other kind of potential trends. So at the recovery summit, I said, we need to kind of get back to this contrarianism. And I talked about how you can actually find contrarianism and among historical figures, I’ve talked about the Cheyenne who had contrarian warriors. I talked about certain things in, in kind of religious thinking, like crazy wisdom. And I said, maybe this crisis is a time to, and I used the term rechat creativity, try to find those kind of truly radical forms of nonconventional thinking those courageous people who, who behaved in what at the moment seemed like mad people, but who, at least in the case of studies of Petra actually saved our lives or in the case of certain kind of religious orders completely re what it means to believe.

Alf Rehn (18:52): And the reason I’m, I’m kind of pushing this. And the reason I, I was talking about this, and I said that quite quite clearly at the summit is that we need better creativity. We need better innovation. We did fabulously creating tons of really lovely iPhone apps, but this crisis has shown that much more. There is to be done how much more we need to do now to recover, to rebuild, and hopefully to rebuild better, to not just kinda get stuck in those old ways of innovating that we used to have, because if we don’t, if we’re gonna stick to the path and particularly now, and a lot of companies are cutting their R and D bud, and a lot of countries are, are kind of cutting down simply to be able to afford a stimulus package. We may look at an, an coming innovation crisis in which the innovation pipeline in 10 or 20 years might look awful, dry and less. We really kind of start thinking seriously about these matters.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:54): Mm, wow. Very nicely put out has to be said not surprisingly. And that, by the way just taking that point forward or perhaps sideways, I mean, your excellent book innovation for fatigued spoke about your views on creativity at that point a lot from the point of view of how innovation, fatigue, afflicts organizations. So I know you may have already sort of alluded to this, but perhaps just unpack the actual you know, a couple of the key points that you, you talk about there.

Alf Rehn (20:27): I think actually the book, I mean, in, in a way I’m happy I wrote before the crisis because now I can sort of follow it up, but I think a lot of the things I try to make the points I try to make in that book are even more important right now. So to, to kind of summarize very clumsily, I was gonna saying that we need to look at the dark side of innovation as well. We need to sort of realize that innovation, as we used to talk about, it has also created fatigue. People get bored by it. If you kind of, if, if you, a company runs seven innovation initiatives at the same time soon, and, and start an eight after that sooner, like people are just gonna go, oh my God, I can’t, I can’t be bothered. I can’t engage. I’m, I’m tired of this.

Alf Rehn (21:11): And, and, and, you know, know as well as I do, there’s been a lot of banging on about innovation, this and the innovator die, and there’s a fair amount of bullshit around it as well. Yeah. So the book I kind of said, well, there is innovation fatigue, and we need to be kind of open to the fact that we’re, we’re tied people with this. And I also said, and there is innovation stress that is people kind of get demanded that they should kind of be more innovative without really being giving the tools being without really giving the time without really being giving the resources. And it’s this kind of nagging for many, this kind of nagging kind of demand in the background. And I started seeing a lot of companies, I worked with that. Yeah, people were stressed by this. They, they were reacting just like you would to any other form of stress by, by, in some cases, even from, by innovation burnout.

Alf Rehn (22:02): And right now. And I actually just, this morning sent out a new slept, what I of made a quick note about this, that what I’m seeing now is that with now the heightened stress of the pandemic with a lot of us, either in situations where we have to work from home, which has its own stresses in which a lot of people either know somebody who’s their job, maybe fearing for their job or just generally taking kind of in this Malayas that our, our organizations, our societies are in. I fear that we’re looking at an explosion of mental health issues in our organizations, and this is an innovation issue as well. Well, now I’m not trying to say this is only an innovation issue, because that would be silly. Of course, mental health is a big problem. We need to address it generally, but I kind of wanted to point out that innovation, isn’t just this shiny, happy country with a fairytale land where everything’s just fun.

Alf Rehn (23:06): And and there’s a posted notes, never run out. It’s also a place where, where kind of mental health issues come into play. And, and if we want to have innovation for the next year, next five years, next 10 years leaders need to start addressing these stress, stress issues, these fatigue issues, and kind of think about how do we build resilient, healthy cultures. And, and I think this is going to be such a challenge because well, you know, many CEOs as, as do I relatively few of them have kind of a deep insight into psychological matters. I mean, they, they are smart people. Some of them might actually even have read some courses psychology in school, but, but this isn’t really their home turf, their home turf tends to be more the Excel sheet and strategic planning document. Yeah. Yeah.

Alf Rehn (24:01): So, so I’m kind of talking to a lot of leaders now are informally and kind of seeing, okay, so what are you doing? Do you, do you have is your HR up to this kind of coming explosion of mental health issues? Now I’m not, of course not saying that people kind of turn psychotic at the drop of a pin mm-hmm or, or that depression will Royal the land, but I think we can all be kind of open with the fact that it has been a stressful couple of months. People like you and I who work more independently and who are not necessarily as bound to, to the grindstone, as many others might not have suffered the worst, but I have good friends who, who I can sense in the way they speak. I can sense stress. I can sense the anxiety and, and I’m working with startups who are of course, stressful to begin with where, where I have to kind of bang on about, okay, are you taking care of each other?

Alf Rehn (24:58): Are you getting enough sleep? I mean, I didn’t know I was gonna be a mother hen at this point in my career, but, but that’s seems for a lot of the people I talk to that seems to be the thing you, they need to hear take care of yourself, talk to people, be open with, if you’re starting to feel depressed, be open with that. If you’re starting feel anxiety, be open with that, make sure you get enough sleep, move, try to get some air, try to get some exercise because us well, the pandemic has been rough on us all

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (25:31): Mm-Hmm and then you mentioned a point there about about internal culture mm-hmm and building healthy cultures. Now I know that also, you know, very much one of your key topics is the whole idea of building creative cultures. Mm-Hmm, , in companies. So, you know so on that, in terms of, you know, how you, how you advise clients delegates at events, et cetera, be the either, you know, sort of face to face, or indeed obviously via zoom as one is doing that. So, so what sort of things do you talk about when talking about how to, you know, how, how creative cultures are created and indeed how they’re destroyed,

Alf Rehn (26:10): And this is this in kind of this interate so much, because I do think these are very kind of tightly interdependent and interwoven themes. Now. I mean the, the kind of the age of zoom has kind of highlighted some of these points because I’ve always started from that. Okay. So we need, we need to start from a healthy creative culture. It’s not just the one that kind of churn out the most ideas, because you might have one person who is great at kind of churning out ideas. And the rest of the organization gets to do nothing because there is just this one person who’s been deemed the creative one, this, this isn’t healthy culture. I mean, it’s just like it, isn’t a, it’s, isn’t a healthy culture. If only one person gets to make all the decisions or only one person gets to be, so there is no difference to, to creativity really.

Alf Rehn (27:07): So I always started with, it needs to start from psychological safety that Amy Edmondson of course introduced and speak. So, so eloquently about it needs to be about respect. I mean, how we respect each other in the workplace and respect each other’s ideas that we, we actually allow, allow even more contrarian voices to be heard. That’s that we kind of have this capacity to reflect on and not just kind of these deeming certain people and certain kinds of ideas, creative, but, but to be able to see the great diversity in people, voices, and ideas, and, and to, to engage the entire culture in this and make the innovation something meaningful for everyone, not just for those who kind of are most beloved by top management. Mm. And I see that we are actually now getting into a time where, well, an, an entirely new kind of problem or an enhanced problem is, is popping up.

Alf Rehn (28:03): And that when you, I mean, this is, is weird. I have to say this, but you remember meetings because vaguely, yes, there, there was a time when we had quite a few of them and, and even meetings, of course, people could get excluded. People get, get marginalized, not everyone got to, to really get that much of voice, but at least we were all present right now where, of course, in a situation where a lot of the people kind of just become icons on a zoom call, they earlier they might be quiet, but they at least were in the room. Now. They become even more alienated from decision making from the ideation and so on. And I ask a lot of leaders. So, so what do you do to make sure that everyone kind of feels that they too can take part and, and that how do you utilize?

Alf Rehn (28:58): Because on a, on a positive note, we of course have gotten more, if not spare time than at least less time commute thing. It’s we, we have been given little more leeway since we can all work from home, or most of us can’t many of us can’t maybe as the correct. So how do you utilize that kind of additional resource that people might now have a little bit little bit more time and little more potential to kinda work on, on novel ideas and then kind of bring novel ideas to fruition. And I’m disappointed in quite a few of the CEOs I’ve talked to kind of go, ah, yeah, I, I guess they are I, I’m not really kind of asked that much about it. And I said, listen, this is, this is actually a time when you should be asking these questions when you should kind of encourage people to, yeah, we, we may, of course this is a problem, but we may even see the, the positive sides that this might be a chance for you to work on that little side project to, to try out that thing.

Alf Rehn (30:04): You always want to talk about more and, and leaders need to engage with this and be the, the people who, who push the people in their organization to really do the most out of a bad situation. And this what creates creative culture. It, it demands leadership that somebody kind of says it is okay to test things. It’s okay to try things out, but also that there is that care in the community for the somewhat odd kind of metaphor is allowed in which you actually try to kind of treat people respect and, and make sure that everyone gets a voice. And I have to say too many of the, the CEOs and the organizations that I talk to, to their kind of to say something nice about them. They are realizing this, they’re starting to see this and going, yeah, yeah. We, we really need to, we can’t just stick to what we know. We need to really be better at kind of respecting people’s ideas and, and trying to get everyone engaged. So so I think there’s some things to, to look positively upon as well.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (31:17): Mm. And on that point about, you know, not sticking to what we know it’d also be really great to again, to sort of unpick your thinking, as they say with, with regards to, I think what you term as taboo futures. I mean, as you mentioned, you know, in your writing a lot of trend spotting and futures thinking, and you can’t walk through CRO or short it or Williamsburg without tripping over about 50 transporters or future thinkers, or should I say, not tripping over, but at arms distance. But but one of the points you, you make there, I know is that you know, a lot of the, the imagined features that people come up with purely tend to be ones that are very often sort of wishful thinking. And actually a lot of them are effectively bland and predictable. So let’s just talk through how you advise leaders or teams or audiences on doing it differently.

Alf Rehn (32:12): Yeah. It’s, this is a really fascinating topic to be talking about at this very moment, because yeah. Yeah. Well, as, as of course, a lot of transporters now are, are desperately trying to hide away the fact that they absolutely did not see this mega trend coming, even though they should have. And, and I am quite kind of amused when I see now some kind of transporters say, oh, yes the pandemic was a using Nain term a, a black Swan. And I’m gonna say that wasn’t a black Swan. We knew for ages that there was a risk of a pandemic Hollywood made movies about this,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (32:54):

Alf Rehn (32:56): It, it was rather as some wa pointed out a gray rhino, it was something that we ignored as long as it stood there. And then when it charged us, we kind of went, oh my God, why didn’t we think that the rhino might come

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (33:10):

Alf Rehn (33:12): And I have to say too I, I am so sorry. I never really wrote the book taboo you, because right now I could have told everyone told you. So cause that the entire logic was, well, we are never prepared. The future always surprises us. And I think that right now we can all agree. The future did surprise us who knew it would look like a toilet paper shortage.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (33:38): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alf Rehn (33:39): So, so the times I’ve now talked to, to kind of CEOs and, and to, to kind of top management teams around this is I kind of reminded them. Okay. So what the most dangerous thing to do right now is of course, and I predicted this early on and actually starting to see it now happening is to think that every crisis from this moment on is, are going to be related to pandemics because now a lot of companies kind of starting various kinds of scenario planning, where there’s always a pandemic Luing, they’re doing lots of kinda work of pan. I’ve met a pandemic response team in a large international corporation installed after the pandemic, which seems a little bit like closing the stable doors when the horses have already ran out

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (34:26): yeah, yeah.

Alf Rehn (34:28): And I’m gonna think, no, you, we need to start now thinking about, okay, what if the next real crisis, the next thing that really Royal us comes from a completely different viewpoint and is, is a completely different kind of beast. So mm-hmm before the pandemic. Of course, when I talk about taboo futures, I mean, I used to the examples such as well, obviously the, the traditional industries did not see that they would be kind of their scary future was one in which plucky ups would, would completely redefine business models.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:04): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alf Rehn (35:06): Or for that matter, I mean, I used what’s, which now is a somewhat tired example. I mean, you and I are both old enough, so we remember the first digital camera awful,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:17): Awful. I’m 31 and you are 32. So how could we

Alf Rehn (35:23): I I appreciate your attempt to, to completely and utterly make up stories and lies about me even though beautiful ones. But I mean, the first digital cameras were awful. I mean, they, they were truly, truly kind of, they, they created this pixelated mess. You couldn’t really use for anything, but we, we thought they were fun anyway. And you showed those to professional photographers and you all scoffed. And I remember so many of them telling me, yeah, yeah, it’s, it might be kind of something that kids play around with. And it might, might be kind of popular for, for certain kinds in the future. Certain kinds of people who don’t really care about good photography, but all real photography will always be analog mm-hmm because of course they knew analog photography, they knew darkroom technologies everything they trained for was a future in which photography will always remain their purview and, and their professional knowhow.

Speaker 3 (36:24): Mm.

Alf Rehn (36:25): So for them, the digital camera was taboo future, even when they saw it, they tried to deny it.

Speaker 3 (36:31): Mm.

Alf Rehn (36:32): Yeah. And, and they kind of stuck too eh, to a lot of kind of things that worked for them and, and they could talk about other futures futures that didn’t threaten them in any way. But they didn’t see this quite obvious future that threatened their very professional identity. So now of course, if you look at CEO right now who has kind of dealt with the pandemic, maybe even dealt well with it, maybe even kind of rechange something to create PPEs or, or manage a, a, a PR drive that’s succeeded particularly well during pandemic times. I mean, you, you might have a CEO who actually has done decently well in difficult times. Now the risk of course, is that this person often unconsciously will think, okay, I got this. Now I just have to wait for the next pandemic and the one after that, and nothing’s gonna surprise me anymore because I took on this beast and I defeated it and I did well. So we easily lured into this kind of thinking we human beings.

Alf Rehn (37:34): And then I’m kind of saying, well, at some point we will find a vaccine for this pandemic. At some point, things will go back somewhat to normal, and guess what, there’s gonna come something as scary as this pandemic, but which might be completely different. It might be the rise of a political movement. It might be a completely surprising new player on the geopolitical stage. It might be kind of a, kind of a an ecological crisis that starts screening towards us at much higher speeds than we thought possible. Something’s gonna surprise us. So we can’t get kind of stuck in what I would call kind of pandemic bias, where we kind imagine now we know everything bad that may happen to us. No, the future is a fickle mistres, and we’ll always through new taboo, problematic things in our faces. And mm-hmm, , we, we can’t kind of just have pandemic strategies. We need strategies for the next disaster and the one after that.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (38:41): Yeah. Yeah. And then what about the issue of inspiration from the point of view of yourself? I mean, you’re obviously I know you are youre Ren as being an incredibly sort of a inspiring speaker writer, but what inspires you Alf? Are you a big reader or a big viewer of things or what, what yeah, what inspires you up mentally? I

Alf Rehn (39:05): Wish I was a better reader. I I’m trying to get back to reading more actually, but I think that, like, I mean, I am an academic, a professor, so, so I spent a lot of my youth eating very thick and often quite boring books. So, and I think that with the kind of rise of the internet, I, I realize I read a lot of short stuff, articles, obviously, essays and so on, but this kind of slightly calmer period with the pandemic. I’m, I’m happy to say I’m getting a little bit back into to reading prop perfect books again, but but I have for a long time been kind of a junkie when it comes to news feeds and following all the Flos and, and jet some of our internet media age I just like many others I’ve taken this opportu to, to watch some TV series that I haven’t been able to, or had time to binge before, but more than anything else right now, I actually try to read proper books again to a, to a greater extent than before, because there’s just so much good stuff out there.

Alf Rehn (40:11): And so many fantastic kind of lessons to learn. And I just, this just the other week did you notice they, they published a new book about general electric and particularly the, the, how general electric kind of went from the most admired company to one sort of struggling with its kind of business called lights out. Absolutely fascinating retail of what happened after Jack Welsh left. And, and why is this previously most valuable country, a com company in the world, almost a country onto itself actually. Mm-Hmm how did it kind of stumble and and I’ve had a great fun kind of reading up on, on corporate failures again and trying to take them really seriously.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (41:01): Mm mm-hmm and in terms of almost the opposite of that in terms of corporate failures, I mean, during the pandemic, there have been plenty of examples of brands that have got things horribly wrong. Mm-Hmm but there are some that have, you know, by example that have mm-hmm, done the right thing in the right way. Any that that you’d like to talk about in terms of brands or organizations, corporations, or need individuals that you think have actually done these things, you know, as they should be done.

Alf Rehn (41:36): Well, I, I think that there’s, there are, there are a couple, many kind of obviously uplifting stories. It’s it’s been quite fascinating to see how the black lives matter movement has managed to become truly a global movement with far more resilience than I think a lot of people expected it to have a leaderless movement, but but still one that truly kind of showed the power of grassroots actions. So, so that, that of course has been fascinating to follow. I am actually quite impressed by a number of countries that that I think dealt very well with the pandemic. So I’m happy to say as somebody who lives in the Nordics that the Nordic countries possibly with the Sweden did, its go its little bits own way, but Denmark, for instance, I think did absolutely bang up job and and I’m quite happy to, to live here.

Alf Rehn (42:37): So, so you can find those, the things that kind of now inspire me more really kind of a lot though, tend to be the ones who kind of went okay. We, we kind of will try to push on with good stuff we started to do even despite this. And, and one of the things that I’m really impressed by is actually an old, old company. But which I think is as shown that you can actually revitalize yourself. And that is Disney. I mean, mm-hmm, , Disney’s of course, one of the most classic companies in the world, but if you kind, what Disney doing with Disney plus with the Mandalorian huge star wars fan over here. So, so of course the Mandalorian was must see TV for me. Uhm, the M’s coming back. I mean, I’m sorry, but, but anyone who realizes in times of great stress, what’s the most joyful thing to bring back the MOS. I mean,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:40): And to just be clear, El, can I just ask, are you referring to the British government at this point or to the

Alf Rehn (43:45): No, I, I, I think that they are called the, the kind of what’s it called when when you have a, a football team that doesn’t quite play the majors in the

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:56): . So I think exactly what you mean. The

Alf Rehn (44:00): Standing MTS in British governments are, are one thing both Boris and Gove do look a lot like MTS. Although

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:10): Indeed,

Alf Rehn (44:11): Although there are a couple there, I don’t think you should be allowed to see on children’s TV, but no, I am speaking of the, the ever loving classic M show coming back now as Muppets now and mm-hmm and I think we need more of this. We need more organizations that lean into joy that lead into positive thinking, not of the Chi your American way, but kind of say, yeah, things are bad, but we can still enjoy what we have and I’m. And I went, so when the kind of situation was still a bit grimmer, my son me up and said, Hey, did you know this Noma? The three Michelin star hyper, actually just two Michelin star, but hyper famous world’s best restaurant in Copenhagen obviously had to close like everyone else did, you know, they’ve started having an outside burger bar two hours cue to get in.

Alf Rehn (45:12): You can’t get reservations, but do you wanna go, do you come, wanna come stand in line for two hours with me? And I said, that’s just so amazing. Of course I will. So there I stood with a lot of other Danes kind of just, we stood neatly line because we thought somebody at NOA had thought, yes, we may have had to close our super elegant, super high-end restaurant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring joy to people. So they started sling burgers. So I’ve eaten a two Michelin star burger sitting shivering a little out in the rain, but thought this is good. This goes to me, this burger tells me life will go on. We will rise from this joy has not died. There are better times ahead. So I try to look for those kind of little things, the, the things that not just inspire me on a, a lofty level, but the things that kind of go, ah, there, there is still small joys to be had.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (46:11): excellent. And in terms of what you mentioned there about, you know, what what’s what’s coming here and what’s next? What about yourself then? In terms of what’s what’s on the horizon for for yourself Alf Rehn the sort of short to medium term future, if you can see over the horizon on that?

Alf Rehn (46:26): Well we are, of course, all of the academics are wondering what will happen in autumn. How will we teach, will we teach, who will join us when we teach? So I’m, I foresee that there’ll be interesting times teaching wise and so on coming up. So, so actually sort of looking forward to, to kind of pushing that and, and seeing how we can actually deliver top level education in difficult times. And, and I have colleagues who I think have done a marvelous job doing this also in the UK, by the way, who who’ve really kind of stepped up. And and I, I, it still feels moving pride to see a lot of kind of British colleagues who previously their tech savvy was the fact that they could use their, a iPhone on their own and now stepping up and actually using online platforms, using YouTube and so on and, and delivering really great education.

Alf Rehn (47:24): Also something I find joyful. I’m also kind of looking forward. I mean, I’m actually now starting to get kind of requests to come speak again, actually in person not necessarily coming weak, but in autumn, I do have a, a number of keynote already booked and, and really looking forward to, I mean, as a speaker, you know, we’ve missed our audiences terribly. There is nothing quite like having a, a live audience having the kind of that, that back and forth, that real human engagement. So really looking forward to that, other than that, I’m, I’m kind of working on working up the kind of ideas around contrarian ISNS to a book. So yeah it’s really tricky to write about the truly unconventional because it’s so easy to kind of get stuck in conventional writing.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (48:19): Ah, yeah, yeah. And

Alf Rehn (48:21): Kind of weird thing. This is my little wood shed project. I, I wrote a little book on creativity that I finished at a couple of days back which, which kind of came from the fact that I thought, well, now that we’re all kind of sitting a little bit kind of hammered in I need to kind of note a couple kind of points about creativity that I’ve not really developed as much earlier. So I, I decided that I’m gonna write a short book about just how hard work creativity is. So I’m looking forward to kinda developing that into something that might actually dare show a publisher as well. As you as an or fellow author know that offers drafts are, are rarely the, the prettiest ones

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (49:07): , they tend to be

Alf Rehn (49:08): Quite, they tend to be a bit clunky and need a bit of tender, loving care before we dare show them to anyone.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (49:15): Mm I know it’s always very strange when you go back and look at the sort of first draft of anything and think what earth was I thinking of and actually the, the finish thing is wonderful, but think what about gay back? You mentioned the thing about sort of, when you talked about leaning into joy and you say not in a sort of stereotypical Schult American way but taking that point about sort of stereo stereotypes you know, again, you mentioned that, you know, ex now that the whole speaking world is really kicking off again, in terms of, you know, big live events or live events coming on the horizon. So when you have, let’s say let’s think of the atypical audience that you’d love to have in front of you. Mm-Hmm from the specific perspective of perhaps a sector mm-hmm, an industry that innovates for instance, very badly mm-hmm therefore who are gonna be sitting on the edge of their seats, listening to what you are saying in a big way. Is there any particular sector industry, whatever that, that stands out to you as being one that really, really needs, you know your type of next stage, innovative thinking being done in a very contrarian way.

Alf Rehn (50:29): I think the, these sector now that of course will, will. I mean, there are many sectors, there are, are I think oil and gas of course do have their challenges. And I think, and I think every every industry will, will have a challenge, but I think the, the one that I’m looking at most right now is retail. I mean, mm,

Alf Rehn (50:50): Yeah. As you know, the high street is collapsing and, and yet there is something special to actually being able to shop in store to, to get that kind of shopping experience that I do believe can spark joy. I mean, I’m, I’m just talking about kind of going by cheap stuff, just for the joy of buying that’s behavior more than anything else, but, but the, the kind of going to a wine store with a really knowledgeable person there kind of, and finding a wine that truly kind of elevates you. I think there is still a lot of that in the world. And, and I, I do hope that the retail industry will find a way to kind of lean into joy if you wanna call it that and kind of utilize that we’ve missed that we’ve missed certain shopping experiences shortly might not be exactly like they were, but but there is still something to, to exploration and, and discovery that I think that the retail sector will need to, to truly recapture if they are to survive. So, and I think there is a and realization now then when it, wasn’t just the, the kind of rise of Amazon but also the, the, well it’s tricky to sell if your store is closed and a lot of retail obviously has had to, to really fight with this.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:21): Mm mm. Okay. And is so last couple of questions and it’s been absolutely fascinating talking with you again. Just so, but yeah, first of all, just so all the listeners are entirely clear about where they can track you down and or where they can follow you. So yeah. Where are you on on all the various platforms, et cetera?

Alf Rehn (52:41): Well, I can, you can always find me by just Googling my name because they’re not a lot of people who called Alf Rehn A-L-F R-E-H-N. And I made sure that with everything including TikTok I actually registered, so I, I would have my name there. So be it Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or, or just my website, it’s always that works, works more, works wonderfully. And then of course, I mean, there are there are the speakers platforms like Speakers Associates, who, who have been very, very good at kind of keeping us speakers kind of engaged during what’s been a very different time. So I’m not, I’m not difficult to find. And I think that’s what what’s gonna be interesting of course now is which companies will kind of realize that right now is actually the time to plan for your next move right now is time to, to really get your organization energized.

Alf Rehn (53:48): And I, I do believe that a lot of the online summits that have been done including the recovery summits managed to kind of give to that. And I know that there are other summits planned, but I, I do believe that companies need to think long and hard about how do we kind of create eight, a strong, energetic kind of push for the, the coming year and the coming years. And it’s gonna be really interesting to see this autumn, which are the organizations who get this and will start kind of investing their way towards recovery and which ones will, will put the defensive game. And well, I’m not a big football person, but I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t win with only defense it’s in the end, you need to have somebody scoring goals, otherwise the best you’ll ever get is a draw.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (54:48): Exactly. good point on that note, I could just say, just to be again, crystal clear in terms of the, sort of the titles stroke themes of your key keynote talks, perhaps just, again, just, just clarify those. And that’d be wonderful. I’m,

Alf Rehn (55:06): I’m, I’m a big fan of, of actually creating these together with event organizers and with companies. I, I try not to kind of push that. I speak only on this specific theme with this specific title, but the things that have worked best have tended to be about pushing innovation further that contrary innovation and conventional innovation, and so on has been about creative cultures. How do we actually create a, the kind of culture where everyone’s ideas and everyone’s capabilities are actually captured and, and made part of a value creating whole, and I’ve actually spoken quite often about leadership in conjunction with this as well, about how, how do we find the kind of leaders who, who actually create innovation and create creativity. And don’t just get kind of, kind of caught up in the buzz words and the, the fancy models. So, so how do you kind of create real leadership in these fields?

Alf Rehn (56:10): And then, then, I mean, I’m, I’m not sure I’m going to, to be able to, to rerun innovation in North Korea, but I can, some, some kind of I’ve I have done innovation talks in, in a rather wide range of different cultures and companies and contexts. And what I always come back to is it’s about opening up for the ideas that are already there. There are already contrarian in all organizations, there are already kind of people with strange ideas and, and those kind of disruptive notions in every organization. So I don’t believe that there are organizations that lack ideas. There are only organizations that lack leadership and lack the capacity to find their contrarians there, creative culture, their disruptive innovations.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (57:07): Excellent quote, an excellent way to finish the talk so Alf that’s been absolutely wonderful. And thank you so much Alf Rehn, the recognized global thought leader on innovation and creativity, thinkers50 speaker and bestselling author. Thank you very much, indeed.

Alf Rehn (57:26): Thank you.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (57:36): Thank you for listening to The Speakers 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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Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

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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