Michael McCathren, best-selling author of ‘6 Ps of Essential Innovation,’ is a strategic innovation expert who has spent more than 30 years leading efforts across operations, supply chain, finance, strategic planning, and marketing.
Currently, he oversees Enterprise Innovation in the Innovation & New Ventures group at Chick-fil-A where he and his team are responsible for helping the organization transform its ideas into business value.
Outside his work with Chick-fil-A, he is an adjunct professor of Innovation Management for the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. Michael holds a Master of Science in Innovation from Northeastern University. He’s deeply devoted to his faith and family, and enjoys seeing the world on his motorcycle or camping with his wife, Dena.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- About Michael’s experience as an entrepreneur
- How his journey in corporate America helped shape his book
- Why he chose to write the book
- How listeners can get the book
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for High Velocity Radio.
Stone Payton: [00:00:15] Welcome to High Velocity Radio, where we celebrate top performers producing better results in less time. Stone Payton here with you this afternoon. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast, author of the best selling book six PS of a central innovation. Mr. Michael McCathren. Good afternoon, sir.
Michael McCathren: [00:00:35] Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Stone Payton: [00:00:37] Oh, man. We’re so happy to have you on the show. Look forward to diving into this book and learning a little bit more about it. But before we go, there, would love to hear a little bit about your journey here. As I understand it, you have a day job with an organization some of our listeners may recognize. We’d love to hear a little bit about that and perhaps how maybe that’s influenced your decision that compelled you to commit some of these ideas to paper and put this book out?
Michael McCathren: [00:01:08] Yeah, man, I think I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m on a team called Enterprise Innovation with Chick fil A, and we are like an in-house consultancy to help project teams move through our five step innovation process as fast and efficiently as possible. And it’s just a dream job. Every day is new and we feel like we’re able to add value to project teams that ultimately customers get to experience. Sometimes it’s all internal processes that need a little bit of innovation, but ultimately it’s to serve our awesome community of operators who are making a difference in our restaurants every single day.
Stone Payton: [00:01:49] Well, it must be incredibly rewarding work, man.
Michael McCathren: [00:01:56] You know, I’ve got this. I think I’ve got this teacher Gene in me and and helping people realize their potential beyond what they thought was possible. It’s the same thing. I think I get jazzed about talking about projects just like, Hey, what if your project could be 110% towards the solution achieving results? You didn’t even think you could get faster than you thought you could get them. I get pumped. I get pumped about it. And luckily I work for an organization. Like you said, it’s a we have a decentralized model of innovation so that even the newest staff member, even entry level accounting analyst, one hopefully feel equipped, almost obligated to think innovatively about their role and about their work. That innovation here is not just something we do. It’s really how we think about what we do. And we’re so dedicated to it that one of our core values is we pursue what’s next. So that kind of gives us validity as we have these discussions with internal teams, how are you pursuing what’s next? And we can help expedite how they do that and hopefully raise the level of output.
Stone Payton: [00:03:09] So I’d love to hear a little bit about your experience in writing the book. Did some parts of it come a little easier than others?
Michael McCathren: [00:03:18] I mean, that’s a great question. Stone You know, in the early stages, it’s just about collecting things I thought were meaningful to me. But as time went on and I began to sort of share them here at Chick-Fil-A, and then as I gathered more information and experience and and feedback on these ideas with the students I teach at the College of Business in their professional MBA program, I started realizing, you know, these challenges that we’re all facing as corporate innovators are pretty much the same no matter what size company you’re from or what type of industry you’re from. And, you know, I got my master’s in innovation from Northeastern during COVID, and it just sort of that that helped me organize my thoughts into these six PS And then yeah, I mean, I’m super proud of it. It was a it was a mess to begin with, let me tell you. It was a mess. It didn’t make any sense at all. It just felt like just rambling on some business paper. But once it once I finally got it down to six PS, I felt like, Hey, I think these are digestible. And it just so happened they fell into place like the first three PS have to do with culture. So we’re talking about perception is one, people is another and philosophy is the third one and then the next three. Ps having to do with process and place and permanence are more like capabilities. So it’s a guidebook, hopefully, that readers will find helpful as a field guide that walks them through. Hey, what do I have to have in order for my innovation capabilities to stick and be permanent? And that was a big learning for me as I realized that the. In any kind of organization, no matter if it’s profit, non profit, the application of innovation capabilities is actually the easier part. It’s the culture is your culture and actually an innovation culture that’s even ready to accept innovation capabilities.
Stone Payton: [00:05:21] I love that you frame it as a as a field guide because that gives me the sense that it’s it’s something much more that I can put into action. And maybe I don’t even have to wait to read the whole thing before I start putting some things into action. Can you say more about that and maybe describe the structure of the book a little bit?
Michael McCathren: [00:05:40] You bet, yeah. Right off the bat, in chapter one, we talk about the first P perspective. There’s a free online innovation perception assessment that you can take at essential innovation, and it’s across four pillars. So this gives you an idea of what you, as well as the most important people within your organization, believe about, hey, when it comes to innovation, what what’s true about my senior leadership? What’s true about me as a staff member? Do I feel equipped? Do I have time? Is there a safe space and so on? Where does how would I rank our organizational culture in terms of how strong or weak it is in terms of innovation, culture, and then is it permanent? Is this sustainable? Do we have training and education and engagements and events that continue to help the organization become stronger and stronger over time in its practice of innovation? That’s right off the bat. That’s just like chapter one. You could do this and it points to the gaps that you have in any particular pillar. So then the rest of the book helps you address any of these gaps that you may have. So you’re right. You can go right into chapter two and talk about people and talk about, hey, what are some of the behaviors that someone who leads with an innovation mindset, what does that even look like? So we talk about humility and trust and how those two key fundamental parts of a good leadership practice actually is a little bit redefined through leading with an innovation mindset. For example, everybody knows what humility is, right? We’ve we’ve read the books or the podcast. We’ve read the papers.
Michael McCathren: [00:07:28] We’ve been taught what humility is and how fundamental it is to good leadership. However, through the lens of leading with an innovation mindset, an enhancement to traditional definitions is that we allow others to influence our thinking. So it’s a it’s a little counterintuitive because none of us are where we are in our professional lives because we completely allowed others to influence our thinking. We had to be the idea guy or the idea girl. We had to come up with the plans ourselves because we wanted our name at the bottom of the page. So we get credit so that we’d get promoted and up the ladder we go, Well, leaders of the future, though, realize that that model is a little bit broken because competition is moving to swiftly. Technology is changing too rapidly, consumer preferences and behaviors are changing too rapidly. Business is becoming too complex for me to think I am qualified to even have the right answer every single time. So they have to open it up and lead to an innovation mindset and say, You know what, I’m going to allow others to influence my thinking. And we talk about, well, if that’s the case, then who the others are becomes a really critical choice. And so we walk them through that same thing with trust. There are four trust behaviors that we talk about in the book, and you can begin those trust behaviors tomorrow. So yeah, I hope I hope it is a field guide that you can begin implementing the things that are discussed in the book in every single chapter you can. You could do it tomorrow.
Stone Payton: [00:09:04] Well, okay. So the full title is six P’s of a Central Innovation Create the culture and capabilities of a resilient innovation organization. I’ve got to say, I’ve heard both of those words a lot in my career and in the interviews that I’ve conducted, resilient and innovation. I don’t know that I’ve seen them paired together. Can you can you speak to that a little bit, that idea of resilient innovation?
Michael McCathren: [00:09:27] Yeah. Okay. So this hit me sideways when I read the Deloitte 2021 Global Resilience Report. They talk to over 2000 C CXOs from 21 different countries. And they were discussing, hey, how well prepared did you feel you were going into 2020? And then after that, the disruption of the pandemic? They went back and said that you’ve got a few months under your belt through this disruption. How well now do you feel like you as a leader and. As an organization, we’re prepared. And there were some themes that jumped out at me that they pointed out as like the attributes of a resilient organization. And one of them was prepared. Another one was adaptable and another one was collaborative and another one was trustworthy. And I started chewing on this a little bit. I’m like, You know what? To me, it’s almost like an equation that a resilient organization is one that is prepared. And prepared then is the equation of adaptable plus collaborative plus trustworthy. And then it dawned on me, Oh my gosh, this is the recipe for innovation. It’s a recipe for creating an innovation organization. So that’s kind of where that comes together.
Stone Payton: [00:10:51] Yeah. I won’t ask you to do an audio book here, but but I would love for you to you mentioned a couple of the PS two or three of the PS. Walk us through the other three or four, if you would, and just, you know, maybe give us a couple of sentences on it so that we. So we’ve got the full picture of this thing.
Michael McCathren: [00:11:08] Yeah, sure. So yeah, we covered perception. People recovered a little bit to but it gets down to the leaders of the organization have to model innovative thinking behaviors. So that’s what that’s about. And by the way, I said the leaders of the organization, I personally don’t think that there’s any such thing as an innovative organization. To me, what I’ve experienced is that it is it’s how strong the culture of innovation is at the department in sub department levels that collectively determine whether an organization is truly an innovation organization. And let me just park it here for just a second and let me point out that you’ve heard me use the word innovation organization and not innovative organization. And here’s why. It’s a it’s an important distinction, I think, because innovative organizations can point to either a product typically or a season where they were they did some innovative things or a leader came on board and he or she was an innovative leader and did some innovative things. But oftentimes in those organizations, when that season is over or when that innovative leader leaves, then so does innovation. So innovative is more like what you do. Innovation can be who you are as an organization, and it could be at the sub department level. So that’s why it’s important that leaders, even at the sub department particularly know the leadership behaviors and can model these innovation leadership behaviors.
Michael McCathren: [00:12:45] The third piece is about philosophy. Where does the actual existence of innovation sit within the organization? So we’re talking about structure. Does it have a seat at the planning table? How involved is it in strategic decisions? We talk about common language. We talk about how are we going to stand a capability up through training and we start identifying how we’re going to frame this up in terms of how do we want the culture of innovation, how do we want it to be discussed, and how deep is it in our core values? For example, like I said about it, is part of our core values under we pursue what’s next. So for any organization, that is the chapter under philosophy where they’ve got to wrestle this stuff down. The next one is process and your Google innovation process and you’re going to get thousands of results. And even with the students in the professional MBA program, they come from many times global companies and all of their companies have very different innovation processes or interestingly enough, no process whatsoever. So process is a dime a dozen. However, what I try to do is emphasize the audience as the as the nucleus and divide it into four parts. And I also layer on thinking types for each of the four parts. And then that mental model of how do we need to approach each one before we go on to the next one? So it’s a little I hope people find it a little bit more robust than just the typical the process.
Michael McCathren: [00:14:21] And then we talk about place. And I got to tell you, nothing says more about an organization’s commitment to innovation than the lack of a space. So there’s been studies done where we are trapped by the cues of just getting our work done, that until we are able to eliminate those cues, the creative problem solving self that resides in all of us can’t speak and can’t thrive. So there’s got to be a place, even if it’s just a part of a meeting room from time to time that eliminates these cues of our daily grind, opens up our thinking, frees our vision. And allows that creative problem solving self to really, really flourish. So that’s a place in the final one is permanent. So that’s where we talk about, hey, how do we continue to equip and inspire our organization from the folks who have been here a long time to the folks who just joined us yesterday. We in a decentralized model of innovation, you want to create that army of everyday innovators that transcends any particular leader. So when they leave, that is still a rich garden that produces fruit in terms of innovation for years to come.
Stone Payton: [00:15:37] All right. Let’s talk about me for a minute. You know, it is my show. No, I almost reached no, I almost reached out to you the other day because I knew we were going to have this this interview. I run an organization, me and my business partner run the business radio network. And we have this kind of federation of people who run these studios. And part of we’re blessed in a lot of ways, one of which is someone in another market like Phenix will trip over something or have an idea and bring it to the and bring it to the collective. And my question is, how do you create the culture, create the environment where when people share ideas and then for whatever reason, you’re just you’re not going to implement the idea. It was a great idea. You’re delighted to have them submit it, but so that they don’t feel like they’re shut down and they won’t come back with another idea next time. Because that really concerns me whenever we choose not to implement an idea from someone because I want them to keep contributing.
Michael McCathren: [00:16:36] Yeah. Oh, my gosh. This is so good. All right. So one of the leadership behaviors are trust behaviors specifically is that when someone on my team or in your case like a partner, when someone on my team presents an idea that they can trust, that I will always respond to their idea with questions in that statements. So I give examples about 20 questions or more in the book that leaders can ask their team members who come up with questions and these with ideas, these ideas whether they’re like so off track, they’re so off strategy, they’re way off base. That will always be, but they will always be met with questions. Now, this does a couple of things. If I’m that team member and I submit an idea or I share an idea with my boss and that boss asks me a bunch of questions about it, the first thing it does is it lowers my vulnerability because he or she has actually shown genuine interest in my idea. They don’t have to say whether they like it or not. That’s not the point. They’re just interested in. Hey, how did you come up with this idea? What problem does it solve? For whom does this problem exist? Have you talked to other people about this problem? And on and on and on.
Michael McCathren: [00:17:50] So I have now created an environment as a leader, a safe space, so that people can begin to think more freely and more broadly about ideas and problem solving than they did before. And the level of execution or the quality of the solutions will be better over time. The second thing that it does is that if my team knows that I’m going to ask all these questions, then their ideas are going to be better fleshed out before they get to me. In fact, some of those ideas may not get to me when they normally would have because they’re going to self evaluate and self analyze their ideas and either decide to refine them and present them or decide, hey, you know what? This kind of became an idea in search of a problem. So I’m not going I don’t think it’s adding any value. So I’m going to move on to the next one.
Stone Payton: [00:18:42] I am so glad that I asked the question. If you’re out there listening and you want to get some free counsel, really good free counsel consistently, get yourself a radio show interview and ask them about all your all your stuff. No, that was very helpful. Very helpful. So, yeah, while we’re on this path, maybe we could get a little insight into your perspective on how to best utilize the book to get the most out of it, both as an individual. And of course, now I’m envisioning it as as a leader, as a as a team, because I suspect there are some marvelous ways to to get the most out of this individually, but also in a in a team environment. So any any advice you have on that front would be great.
Michael McCathren: [00:19:27] Yeah. So I’m actually using this book as my textbook for the professional MBA course I teach. And what’s really been thankfully a good outcome so far anyway is that at the end of each chapter, I have a section called Your Move, and it’s in three parts. One is it’s a reflection, then a reaction, and then action. So for example, at the end of the people chapter, a reflection question is what would my team say? My question to statement ratio is a reaction. Question is what specific behaviors of trust and humility do I need to improve? And then the action is two parts. One is self to become a better leader with an innovation mindset. What will I do differently first, starting when? And then for the organization or the department or team who will own the responsibility for transforming our team or organization into an innovation organization and what makes this person the best choice? The end of every chapter has that space where you can pause and reflect and figure out, Okay, what exactly am I going to do next with what I just got?
Stone Payton: [00:20:41] All right. Where can our listeners get their hands on this book?
Michael McCathren: [00:20:45] Amazon.com, brother. So six P’s, it is the number six P. S, altogether six P’s of Essential Innovation. On Amazon.com, you can have it on Kindle or order it as a paperback.
Stone Payton: [00:21:00] What an absolute delight to have you join us on the show this afternoon. I’m taking it back to my ranch and applying it. I can tell you that.
Michael McCathren: [00:21:08] Come on. It sounds great. Stunning. Yeah, I would love it. Stay in touch for sure.
Stone Payton: [00:21:12] You got it, man. Again, thank you so much for investing. The time and the energy. The work you’re doing is it’s important, man. And we sincerely appreciate you.
Michael McCathren: [00:21:21] Well, likewise. I appreciate the opportunity.
Stone Payton: [00:21:24] All right. Until next time, this is Stone Payton for our guest today, Michael McCarron, author of the best selling book, Six P’s of Essential Innovation. And everyone here at the Business RadioX family saying, we’ll see you in the fast lane.