Inside LaunchStreet Michael Arena innovation podcast business podcast

Structure and Innovation Work Hand in Hand

Structure and innovation — can they work hand in hand? Can a big company teach us more entrepreneurial spirits about innovation? Michael Arena, Chief Talent Officer at General Motors talks about just that. He shared how he thinks differently about his work and what GM does to stay innovative, as well as his mantra “positively disrupt or be disrupted.” We also talk about the importance of scaling and why that matters no matter your size. Whether you feel like you are a cog in a big wheel or the sole innovator, this podcast has some interesting lessons around how structure can foster innovation, not hinder it.


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Key Takeaways:

[1:41] Listeners may be surprised to learn that Michael’s garage is full of motorcycles, not cars and trucks.

[3:09] Michael’s vision for talent at GM is that GM needs to get the best people. He defines talent acquisition, building a robust talent pipeline, and making sure people are fully engaged so that they are leveraging all of their potential. “We are unique in the fact that we do a lot of work around social capital.”

[4:29] How does Michael define the ‘best people’? How do you know that people are in the right role?

[7:11] Social capital is defined as people who you have established trust with. Michael shares that he would rather have someone in the center of the network that can leverage what they know. What makes someone great at leveraging the network? Rob Cross researched organization network. He studied fast movers, people that migrate to the center of the network. He found that fast movers are givers, they help other people, they know that it’s about the team. Fast movers help others be better at what they do. Tamara questions LaunchStreet listeners if they are on the center or on the edge of your own network?

[10:36] Michael believes that today’s organizations need to embrace the mantra, “positively disrupt or be disrupted.” Today, it’s all about speed, swiftness, and agility. Would you rather be disrupted or be the disruptor? Tamara shares that when you aren’t the one disrupting, it takes you by surprise.

[13:00] Listen in to find out why you actually need canaries in the coal mine, people on the fringe of the network.

[14:45] How do you leverage the people on the fringe? Why do you need both external and internal bridges? The first thing an innovator wants to do is to go to the top of the organization and get credit. MIchael believes it’s the dumbest move you can make. You are much better off to find a credible friend that will advocate for you. People will listen and the idea will be energized.

[17:43] Tamara shares that Inside LaunchStreet has created Innovation on Demand. The videos that get watched the most are the ones about how to communicate your ideas. It’s not about the ego driving it, it’s about building the network to help you get your idea accomplished. Michael and Tamara discuss the “they versus them” group.

[21:25] Michael debunks the myth that you have to be startup to scale fast. He shares an example of a small company that was acquired by a very large organization. The smaller company was very unhappy. After relationships were built, they were able to scale the concept over the larger marketplace.

[23:18] Michael believes that you have to disrupt traditional models to scale quickly. You must start to think bimodally, cross-functionally. He talks about discovery connections and development connections.

[27:24] Michael compares launching an invention to an airplane taking off into the wind. Tension helps to build better innovation.

[31:36] Michael shares some nuggets from his new book, Adaptive Space: How GM and Other Companies are Positively Disrupting Themselves and Transforming into Agile Organizations. Companies share both tensions to produce and deliver and adapt and innovate. It’s important to make intentional connections in different intervals in regards to different timing. Discovery, development, and scale each need their own timing. Agility is so critical.

[35:18] Is there one person that owns the whole process of discovery, development, and scale? Tamara talks about the one-way tennis match.

[38:56] Connect with Michael at Adaptive Space and on LinkedIn.

[39:43] Michaels final piece of advice is to make the trade-off between ego and impact. You must be willing to let go of parts of it, the chances of getting it off the ground are much greater.

[40:34] Tamara reminds listeners that structure and innovation can work hand in hand. She challenges us to find the gaps in structure and processes and start to innovate. She shares Southwest Airlines Rap as an example of structured innovation.


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