I had the opportunity recently to interview fellow author Scott D. Anthony of consulting firm Innosight to talk with him about his new book Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization, which is his eighth book with his co-authors Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker. Congratulations Scott!

Scott D. AnthonyGiven all the innovation books already written (including yours), what did you see missing to make you write another one?

This book traces back to a conversation with a client about five years ago. We were doing a workshop with the top team of a global logistics company, and talking about all of our usual stuff about the need to create organizational space for disruptive innovation and whatnot. The CEO stopped the discussion and said basically, “I’ve read all of your books and we’ve done what you would tell us to do. I have a small team focused on disruption. They are doing great. But what should I do with the 28,000 other people in my organization?” We didn’t have a great answer to the question! In 2017-2018, we did a project for DBS Bank here in Singapore that forced us to push the thinking on the topic, so decided that we would take what we learned, augment it with additional research and case studies, and create a book.

Why do behaviors command such a central role in innovation?

Innovation doesn’t happen magically. It happens from people doing things. Much of the innovation literature focuses on the end output, on the strategy, on the supporting organizational structures and processes, but of course all of that only works if people follow certain day-to-day behaviors. One simple way we remind people of this is to return to the basic definition we have of innovation: something different that creates value. You can’t do something different that creates value if you don’t do something!

What behaviors are most important to innovation?

There has been good research and writing on this from a range of different scholars and thought leaders. Our synthesis of this work and our own field work suggests that five behaviors are the most critical. It starts with curiosity. You have to question the status quo and ask “What if?” to begin the innovation journey. Next is being customer obsessed. Ultimately, for innovation to take root it must solve a real problem that matters to customers, so great innovators take the time to find problems worth solving, what we call a job to be done. The third behavior is collaboration. One of the most time tested findings in the innovation literature is that magic happens at intersections, when different mindsets and skills collide together. Great innovators recognize that none of us is as smart as all of us. The fourth is being adept in ambiguity. Innovation success comes from trial-and-error experimentation, and requires being willing to fumble, take false steps, and sometimes fail. Finally, innovation requires being empowered. To be a broken record, you can’t do something different that creates value unless you do something!

What are BEANs and why are they important?

A BEAN is a behavior enabler, artifact and nudge. They are important because they get at a hidden barrier to innovation inside organizations: institutional inertia. Let me explain this by describing a puzzle. Over the last 15 years, I’ve watched my four children grow up in parallel to working with large organizations all around thew world. I didn’t have to teach my children to follow behaviors that drive innovation success. Like all humans, they are naturally curious, collaborative, and love to experiment. Yet organizations, filled with people that once followed these behaviors naturally, struggle with innovation. Why? Established organizations focus on doing what they are currently doing better. Innovation is doing something different. Ingrained habits constrain innovation energy. A BEAN draws on the habit change literature to break this inertia and encourage innovation.

What makes a successful BEAN?

There’s a basic answer and a more complex answer. The basic answer is that a BEAN engages the two decision making frames that Daniel Kahneman identified in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow: behavior enablers trigger the rational, logical part of our brain where we carefully consider decisions (System 2) and artifacts and nudges trigger the portion of our brain where we make quick, subconscious decisions (System 1). The more complex answer is that a successful BEAN has six criteria. A good BEAN is simple, making it easy to do regularly, practical, lowering barriers to use, reinforced, making it stronger, organizationally consistent, making it natural to do, unusual, making it easy to remember, and trackable, allowing it to be further refined and improved. Yes, those words form the acronym SPROUT. So, a good BEAN needs to SPROUT.

Why are artifacts important?

Artifacts are visual or digital reminders help people unconsciously follow new behaviors. One of my favorite examples is OXO’s wall of globes. In its headquarters the company, which makes kitchen appliances and tools, has a visible display of lost gloves, as a way to remind employees that its products have to work for people with lots of different sized and shaped hands. These kinds of repeated reminders are great subtle ways to shape behaviors.

Is it difficult for people to come up with behavior modification ideas instead of product/service ideas?

In our experience, it can be, at least at first. The innovation movement has been in the mainstream for several decades now. But behavioral psychology and economics concepts aren’t in the mainstream in many organizations yet. The biggest barrier that we have seen is identifying what we call a “behavioral blocker.” Organizations are pretty good at identifying the behaviors that they want to follow, such as being better at experimenting and taking risk. When asked what they do instead of the desired behavior they often respond with a feeling (“we are scared”) or point to obvious barriers (“we don’t have time”). It’s good to probe to figure out what is really going on. We ask people to describe a behavior to bring the feeling to life. So instead of saying we are scared, perhaps people change the conversation, or suggest going back to do more detailed analysis. The more you can home in on where an intervention will have the greatest impact.

Are all organizations capable of using the BEAN approach?

Absolutely! And, I’d note too, while we developed it in the context of creating a culture of innovation, it is a general purpose tool that you can use to create a culture of customer-centricity, trust, or, really, whatever it is you are seeking.

Where do BEANs plug in to the average innovation process?

Our book Eat, Sleep, Innovate has 101 BEANs in it, and in the back of the book we describe some of our favorite BEANs tied to the four general phases of innovation: discovering opportunities, blueprinting ideas, assessing and testing ideas, and moving ideas forward. So, BEANs can really connect into all stages of average innovation process. It is all about figuring out the specific behavior you want to encourage. Curiosity and customer obsession tend to tie more towards discovering opportunities, collaboration becomes more important as you start to blueprint ideas, being adept in ambiguity obviously matters hugely in the testing phase, and being empowered is critical to move ideas forward.

What must people keep in mind when trying to build a successful BEAN?

I would say two things here. First, while the BEAN is a very useful tool, it certainly is not a silver bullet. In the book, we share the story of DBS Bank’s cultural transformation. BEANs played an important part in the journey, but of course cultural transformation requires identifying a desired future strategy, working on key structural issues, significant leadership role modeling, and much more. Our book’s appendix highlights some of the top tips from a review of the culture change literature. The second thing I would note is like innovation, the best BEANs emerge from trial-and-error experimentation. Sorry to torture the metaphor but plant a few seeds and see which ones grow and which ones don’t!

Thanks for all that Scott! I hope everyone has enjoyed this peek into the mind of one of the people behind the new book Eat, Sleep, Innovate!

About the Author

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.