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Future of Work: Building a Mindset that Embraces Innovation with Brian Solis

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About the Episode

What’s the difference between innovation, iteration, and disruption? We brought digital futurist Brian Solis on to this episode to explain. The author and Salesforce Global Innovation Evangelist provides insights into how these topics are distinctly different yet interconnected. Brian breaks down how any organization—regardless of size, industry, or notoriety—can harness innovation through a simple shift in mindset. In less than 30 minutes, he shares ways to not only unlock genius at the workplace, but within yourself as well.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

Brian Solis is VP, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. He's an eight-time best-selling author, international keynote speaker, and digital anthropologist. Forbes has called him “one of the more creative and brilliant business minds of our time." For more 20 years, he has studied Digital Darwinism to understand the impact of disruption on businesses, markets, and society. In his work, he humanizes technologies and trends to help leaders gain new perspectives and inspiration for the future. He has published more than 60 research papers on the future of technology and business trends, and he actively shares his work in industry-leading publications, including Forbes, ZDNet, CIO, eWeek, Fast Company, and Adweek.

Episode Transcript

Brian Solis: Innovation isn't any one thing, but what it is consistently is new. It's new value, it's original ideas that carry new value.

Lindsay McGuire: I'm Lindsay McGuire, and we wanna change the narrative around the future of work. It's not about adapting. It's not about changing. It's about creating the future of work that works for your organization. So let's create it together. This is future of work, a Ripple ?Effect subseries from Formstack. What is the difference between innovation iteration and disruption? Did you know there was one, I don't think I did. According to this episode's guest, there are some pretty important differences between the three, but they all build upon each other. Brian Solis is a futurist and global innovation evangelist at Salesforce to round out our future of work. Subies he's joining us to talk about how companies can embrace innovation, iteration and disruption. Here's Brian talking about what being a futurist means to him and how it's affected his work.

Brian Solis: I'm a practicing futurist, which basically I'm also a digital anthropologist, which means that I study how technology affects markets, societies, behaviors in a variety of contexts. So oftentimes for example, it's businesses wanting to understand how their customers are evolving how they make decisions, what are their values and norms and aspirations, and then sort of reverse engineer those things so that a company can devise a more meaningful engagement relationship, strategy, experience, strategy, how, how to use technology to bring those experiences to life. And then the Fust part is really more about scenario planning. So understanding those data points and understanding trends, you play out in a series of likely scenarios, what could happen? You know, what if this, or what if that, and you plan for those scenarios so that you can devise business strategies or investments that are going to be wise or prudence should any of those scenarios be likely, but more so the, the skill and the exercise of going through that, that process helps you become more aware, more empathetic, more mindful about all of the things that you don't normally think about. And it helps you to be more prepared as a leader to essentially act outside of your own comfort zones and build the business. That's gonna be more resilient and hopefully more agile and more lasting and relevant.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, it almost sounds like every organization needs a futurist, even someone with the tile futurist. I think that would be super helpful.

Brian Solis: It surprises me. It doesn't, it doesn't hurt. You know, I wrote an article recently that talked about why AI black boxes should also have a, a, a role in the C-suite essentially becoming an AI future, which is, you know, we have access to so much data. And once you become a data company, once you, once you develop an integrated data system and the ability to extract insights across the entire organization in real time, AI can be developed to not only understand, but start to predict and even play out these scenarios, not like a human being would, but it doesn't hurt to constantly be thinking about this and build an infrastructure and have this, you know, quote unquote role for these types of conversations in the C-suite all the time, because, you know, no one saw pandemic coming, but some companies were actually prepared for global disruption and it's not going to be the last disruption that happens.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah. And when you talk about someone having this role at, at the C-suite, obviously what would play into that is talking a lot about innovation. So I really wanna talk about the impact of innovation on society as a whole. So what do you see happening right now on a broader scope with a focus on innovation?

Brian Solis: Well, let's first kind of describe or define what innovation is. Oftentimes we talk about innovation and we'll think about technology, or we'll think about companies like apple or Tesla innovation isn't any one thing, but what it is consistently is new, it's new value, it's original ideas that carry new value it's products or services or technologies that unlock or create new value. Oftentimes when I work with companies or executives, or just EV you know, anyone in general, we'll get confused with just something new, not necessarily creating new value as innovative. And so we might introduce it to our business, our business process, our operations, and if it doesn't create net new value, but it does make something better, faster, more, scalable, more efficient that's iteration. And it's not a bad thing it's just different. And so I, I call that difference out because when I'm working with companies, for example embedding AI or automation, they'll say that it's innovative because it's new to them, but it isn't necessarily creating new value because we're taking for example, legacy or analog processes and digitizing them and automating them.

Brian Solis: But innovation is so important because what it does is it sort of forces this exercise of understanding, you know, what are the trends happening in the world? What are the new technologies coming out? What are the new behaviors that are evolving and where can we create net new business value? Where can we innovate? What can we do? That's new, that's going to change the game because the more you do that, the more you can be disruptive because disruption is defined as doing these new things that make the old things obsolete. And that's what makes innovation so important. And in times of disruption, we also see times of great invention where people are pushed or inspired or driven to finally develop that new thing, that they didn't necessarily have that fire or that passion to do before. But now, you know, under pressure, magical things happen.

Lindsay McGuire: What have some of the most innovative companies done? How do they look at innovation? Talk about innovation differently.

Brian Solis: Everybody talks about innovation with their sort of understanding of what they think innovation is going back to the last conversation. But let's just say that innovation starts with the mindset. I call this sort of a prelude to innovation, which is understanding that within you, you get to decide what is the role you wanna play in any of this? Right? So for example, when we talk about something like innovation, we think it's for somebody else, or we look to bring experts in to help guide us with innovation, or we'll bring experts in to lead us through a workshop where we could practice design thinking, or explore creativity and all of these things, all of these things are good. But first we have to challenge ourselves with realizing that the way that we see problems today is applying our existing mindsets and our existing biases to something which is not bad.

Brian Solis: But what it means is when we apply it to an existing problem or an existing opportunity, we're probably gonna fall into that cycle of iteration, just because of the nature of our work. If you think about companies in general, companies are designed to be horrible at innovation. And I know that sounds weird, but organizations are really designed to execute, to take what they're good at and make it more efficient, more scalable to constantly renew it and find new ways to grow profitability from it. But innovation asks you to essentially break the rules that you were taught to follow, to break the processes that make you inherently good at what you do to innovate is to go against the very nature and structure of what makes the organization work so well. So that mindset, that prelude to innovation, that challenging of your own conventions and that learning of new skill sets and that unlearning of existing mindsets and processes and standards is how we get to move into a new direction and why it's so important for things like creativity and empathy to be in our everyday lives, because it essentially pushes you out of your own comfort zone to see the world in ways you couldn't see it before.

Lindsay McGuire: That is a very powerful statement, but I also think it can probably scare a lot of people and organizations, especially for ones who might be a little bit more quote, unquote traditional, or haven't maybe focused on their own interpretation of innovation. So how might these organizations that fit into this more traditional setup start thinking about innovation and how they even can start approaching that topic.

Brian Solis: Everybody should invest in innovation. It's the only way to constantly survive and thrive. This is a conversation. This preload to innovation that I really believe is a conversation that we have to have with ourselves. And to recognize that it, as hard as it is, innovation probably begins with humility. We tend to have everything working against us when we come to this conversation in that we're successful, oftentimes in what we do, we've earned our position in whatever organization we're in and we've been rewarded for, for how we've gotten to where we are today. And so to move towards innovation, which is to unlock new value when we haven't gone through that personal transformation really is going to create that common series of challenges, which you don't really bring out the best of people because you're keeping that exercise within an existing hierarchy. For example, it's like that old saying, let's think outside the box.

Brian Solis: Well, if we haven't changed the rules, if we haven't changed incentivization and motivation, if we haven't made it a very safe place, if we haven't even said, we're gonna reward ideas, even if they don't work out, then we've just moved you from one box to another box. And that emphasis around personal transformation and recognizing that, you know, we're all biased. Everything we've done up until this point is actually working against this opportunity to see a new solution or to solve a problem in a new way. But that also is its power. That's, its super power is practicing things like creativity and empathy, investing in emotional intelligence, not only make you a better leader, but also a better human being and in life. And I, I think about one of my idols, sir, Ken Robinson may rest in peace. He, he said you know, a creative leader is someone who brings to life, the ideas, the creative ideas of, of other people, where they feel empowered to contribute and that they feel like they play a role in innovation or whatever's new to the organization. And that, that changes the dynamics of, of leadership and the organization itself. It sort of flattens it if you will. And that's a pretty powerful transformation, not just personally, but ultimately within the organization where the culture is empowering people that HR and incentives are empowering people to try and, and do new things. But this is essentially a new type of leadership versus the type of management that we see so often today.

Lindsay McGuire: And it also sounds like innovation truly begins with humans first versus I think how we might traditionally think about it with innovation stemming from tech.

Brian Solis: Yeah. Tech is, it's like a wand you know, you, we, you, you wield it in whatever way you feel is going to create for you what you envision or what you want. And technology's an enabler. It's not the, the solution. It's not the end in of itself. And even though technology in its own way is innovative. It's how we use it. So for example, let's look at the last 20 years of something I've studied quite a bit, which has been the mobile revolution, social media, the sharing economy now in, in an era of web three, you know, every one of those has been both iterative and innovative in terms of those technology revolutions, the technologies that power them have been iterative and innovative, but not all of them have been positive. Right? So for example, look at social media, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, you know, I've done extensive research that shows just how bad they are for human beings, what they do to children, what they do to a woman's definition of beauty what it does to confidence, what it does to your brain and, and how it makes decisions or how it focuses or doesn't focus what that does to your health and wellness over time.

Brian Solis: But originally they were a lotted this innovative and they can be, but it's also in how we apply them and how we take these incredible opportunities to then reimagine their use for a more productive and beneficial world. So that ability to see that though would mean that mind has to be constantly open and optimistic and also not rooted in the ways that you believe that that is a new convention or that is a new standard, or that is the way that it's supposed to be done.

Lindsay McGuire: Another thing you brought up too, was talking about how disruption has an impact on innovation. Can you talk a little bit about how those two pieces relate to each other?

Brian Solis: Absolutely. So let's kind of back up again. So recapping, so iteration is doing new things. Innovation is doing new things that create new value and disruption is doing those new things that make the old things obsolete with innovation to scale then brings about that mass momentum, where everyone doing the same thing all at once creates that disruption where that new thing is the standard for whatever it is. So for example, when Uber launched, it was initially called Uber cab and it was a way of getting black car services, using an app at a better price than what, what it might have cost to book it through a limo booking company, for example, and that was iterative and innovative. But when they opened the gates to everyone could be a driver and launched Uber X on the platform that not only became innovative, but it brought the masses to something new with such great momentum that it became a standard. And for many people, it was very difficult to go back to using public transportation or traditional taxi services, just because of that empowerment changed the dynamics of how they made decisions. And so that's disruption where it became new to the point that something before it was now obsolete,

Lindsay McGuire: How can people focus more on breaking out these habits to be more innovative?

Brian Solis: Innovation is a discipline. And I believe it starts more with this practice of creativity. I think the common notion is that to be creative, you have to be inherently talented or gifted and to be innovative, you it's the same thing. You have to be Elon Musker or Steve jobs. But if you think about innovation with a small eye and creativity with a small sea, just the exercises of trying to be creative, the exercises of applying existing methodologies to be innovative, like ID, for example, has public facing free stuff of which you could practice on both creativity and, and innovation. What they do is they have a way of actually rewiring you. My last book's called life scale, and it focuses on how digital living a digital life like Snapchat, TikTok, you know, et cetera, text messages, how they have a way of over time, rewiring your brain for distractions, and it teaches you to multitask.

Brian Solis: And it teaches you to jump from here to here. And we, we think of that as a superpower, but ultimately that rewiring strips you out of things, of focus or the ability to connect the flow or the ability to, to stoke your own originality. And those things are inherently part of creativity and going through these creative exercises where you're rewiring your brain to be more present, to be more mindful, to solve a problem differently to see an opportunity differently over time, just these, these exercises help you show up differently. It actually changes the, the level and the depth or the caliber of the ideas you might have. It makes you more open to other things too, like optimism and empathy. And these are all positive things to move you in towards the practice of innovation. Now, from there, if you want to be innovative in a field, that's where a particular discipline starts, but that prelude to innovation is really about how do you change your routines to make time for creativity to make time for introspection and expression. How do you make time to sharpen your EQ or your emotional intelligence? And you'll find that not only in your work, but actually in every aspect of your life, you wind up being happier. You, you wind up being more mindful. You actually are in that process, practicing more wellness. And so the benefits aren't just innovation towards your organization, but also towards your livelihood,

Lindsay McGuire: Who knew a conversation around innovation would lead us to talking about having a better EQ and, and being just better, I think, able to approach anything in life. So I love that. What is one common belief you think people have about innovation that is just completely wrong,

Brian Solis: That it's inherently tied to technology like artificial intelligence, for example, so many companies I work with are deploying AI, using existing models to do old things, using new technologies. I think that's the most common misinterpretation of innovation. Another one is that because you have an idea or because you have a startup <laugh> that you might be innovative as well, but remember that when innovation creates new value, the irony of innovation is that to scale that idea and that new value is also powered by growth and that growth and what you build and how you organize around that growth is ultimately what creates a company that gets bat at innovation over time, keeping that dynamic or some, some aspects of the organization like apple does, or like Tesla does. That's dedicated to creating that new value outside of the day to day operations that keeps you sharpened and focused on innovation and not everything's gonna work out. But the last thing is that just because things don't work out doesn't mean it wasn't innovative either. And that practice and that belief that you take those learnings and you apply it to the next thing you do that is innovation. Whereas some see that as failure.

Lindsay McGuire: I love that you bring up kind of the balancing act there because you can't be full fledged on one side of the coin. You need to have that balance to be able to achieve both things successfully. And so I wanna wrap up our conversation with one question. I ask all of my guests this season, and that is when you think about the future of work, what do you think? What comes to mind?

Brian Solis: I just wrote this piece for Forbes. It's called the great digital divide. And it talks about how the great resignation is actually just a precursor to this great digital divide. We had some new research come out at Salesforce that showed that 76% of employees feel like they do not have the skills to thrive in a digital first world. That I think it's about 55% say that they feel like technology's going to outpace their ability to keep up with new technologies. And oftentimes when we think about the future of work, we think about the workforce and we think about training skilling, reskilling. We think about education. We think about tools, technologies, collaborative technologies, devices, but we don't often put leadership in the spotlight or the hot seat. I should say. Essentially, every leader that existed before the pandemic in their roles is technically not qualified to lead an organization in a digital first world, because they don't technically have experience for it unless you are a digital first or a mobile first company to begin with.

Brian Solis: So leadership also has to go through all of those very same things to be part of the future of work. So the future of work is going to actually have to start with leadership as well. And then leadership will need to reimagine all things from human resources to culture, to employee experience and employee engagement and to the overall hierarchy and operations of a company. And that said with that though, come some very exciting things on the technology side for the future of work, where augmented reality, mixed reality, virtual reality, the metaverse all kinds of very cool technologies are going to make work both more fun and also more complicated in that you'll have to learn new things to do new things, but that's also part of the excitement, which is why we need a more empathetic genre of leadership so that people feel like, you know, they're not gonna lose their jobs. They're not gonna get outdated. They're not gonna be replaced by robots and AI. If we have people rooting for them.

Lindsay McGuire: Thank you so much, Brian, for joining us today. If our listeners want to dig into more about what you think about the future of work and your work as a futurist, where can they find you?

Brian Solis: Well, they can find me or at Brian Solis pretty much across the social web. And I look forward to hearing from you.

Lindsay McGuire: I don't know about you, but I had never even known futurists could be a job title. I think it's really great that Brian could join us today to discuss more about this. I would love my son to someday think about being a futurist himself. And I'm glad we're having this conversation to dig more into what that means and how can impact the future work for organizations. One thing Brian brought up that really hit home for me was that the digital transformation divide is real form. Sack release a report on this exact topic just a few years ago. I'm so glad we got a touch on this briefly at the end of our conversation. Brian talks about the digital divide in a way I think every organization should be thinking about it. There's a huge urgency to fix this digital divide because it's causing mayhem and organizations.

We're talking technical delays, lengthy approval processes, bottlenecks, you name it. You can implement new tech, all you want, but the change has to start with the people. If your leaders aren't digitally agile, you'll lose to the digital divide. I think the most important thing Brian made clear in this episode is that iteration, disruption and innovation are all different, but yet they're all important and they all work together, but they are different from each other. I think Brian sums it up so perfectly. So I'm just gonna restate his definitions. Iteration is doing new things. Innovation is doing new things that create new value. Disruption is doing those new things that make old things obsolete. I can't think of a more perfect way to end our future work. Subseries I encourage you to take some time now to think about how your organization can be innovative, iterative and disruptive. I'm so thrilled that we were able to talk to Brian Jeanie and drew over the course of these past few weeks. I hope you feel more prepared than ever to create your own future of work. If you want an inside,

look at how people are reimagining their world of work and making an impact, head over to Thank you so much for joining us for the future of work, a subseries of ripple effect. Don't go too far. We'll be back on the feed soon with more.

Hosted By
Lindsay McGuire
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Co-Hosted By
Ryan Greives
VP, Brand & Communications

Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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