Create a Future of Prosperity with Innovation Speaker, Michael Perman

By Michael Perman

Innovation keynote speaker, Michael Perman helps teams crack the innovation paradox to generate actionable ideas, breakthrough products, and revolutionary customer experiences. The founder of C’EST WHAT?, a firm dedicated to cultivating “mindful innovation,” Perman has a proven track record of leading senior executives and inspiring thousands of employees to capitalize on their collective creativity. He has been a innovation force behind iconic brands for 30 years. Most recently, he served as Dean of Innovation at Gap Inc.(including Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta) where he pioneered Mindspark Initiatives to expand employee thinking, build harmonic teams, and establish innovative ecosystems.

Our minds have huge potential, which often remains untapped due to reliance on more reductive or analytical innovation tools. Mindful innovation accesses sub-conscious thinking and the collective consciousness of energy where deeper and newer ideas exist but have yet to emerge.

SPEAKING.COM: You specialize in “mindful innovation.” What characteristics set mindful innovation apart from traditional innovation techniques?

PERMAN: Mindful Innovation is a contemporary evolution of traditional Design Thinking, which has been around for a few decades. Traditional Design Thinking is human-centric, generally based on observational or ethnographic research, and leverages empathy to design new products and experiences.

Mindful Innovation draws from the latest thinking on neuroscience and consciousness to better understand the meaning that people are seeking from aspects of their life. Innovation is the ability to perceive alternative realities and the courage to move toward those visions. Being mindful, then, in an organizational setting enables our minds to perceive these alternatives.

Our minds have huge potential, which often remains untapped due to reliance on more reductive or analytical innovation tools. Mindful innovation accesses sub-conscious thinking and the collective consciousness of energy where deeper and newer ideas exist but have yet to emerge. The method values “stillness” and “being” more than just doing. Mindful Innovation also devotes attention to empathy for the creators and designers in our lives, whose minds work in unique ways in order to develop what’s next. Finally, Mindful Innovation devotes attention to the impact that new products and experiences are having on people and our planet.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the “3 C’s of Innovation” and why are these factors important to a successful evolution of products and services?

PERMAN: The “3 C’s of Innovation” are: understanding what people crave, what concerns them and what brings them comfort.

These three questions are connected to natural hormones our body produces under certain situations – dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin, respectively. Understanding how these hormones get delivered is relevant to consumer research teams and teams in organizations doing ideation and concept development work.

For example, research studies by Dr. Paul Zak, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics, Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, have proven that oxytocin (which is released by hugging, dancing, singing or other shared experiences) generates empathy leading to trust. This helps people open up and also provides clues on how to satisfy people’s desires so that they are truly comfortable, happy and at peace.

From a branding perspective, these people CRAVED the opportunity to create what’s happening next in the world, or in other words to ‘shape what’s to come’.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve made numerous contributions to several iconic brands including Levi’s, Starbucks, GAP, and adidas. Could you give us an example of how a project you worked on benefitted from the 3 C’s of Innovation?

PERMAN: At Levi’s, we used the “3 C’s” concept to reinvent the women’s division. Levi’s had traditionally been a men’s-oriented brand and we needed to relate to Millennial women in new ways in order to grow.

To get into the hearts and minds of women who were not buying our brand, we conducted extensive ethnographic research in a dozen countries as well as Zeitgeist conversations with influential thought leaders. From a branding perspective, these people CRAVED the opportunity to create what’s happening next in the world, or in other words to “shape what’s to come”. Insights from this work influenced Levi’s brand strategy, illuminated our Explorer archetype and led to the creation of Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign.

From a practical perspective, women were CONCERNED that buying jeans was frustrating and tedious because the majority of jeans they tried did not fit. How discouraging!

What brought them COMFORT? A new fitting system that was designed for the ways their bodies were shaped, rather than the body of supermodel. To achieve this, we scanned more than 5,000 women’s bodies from around the world and created a line of jeans based primarily on the SHAPE of women’s bodies rather than their size, an initiative that proved to be a huge breakthrough.

SPEAKING.COM: What guidelines do you recommend for vetting multiple ideas and deciding which ones to invest in?

PERMAN: Co-creating is the first and best way to vet ideas. An early stage idea has only a fraction of relevance in its nascent stage. Bringing other thought partners into the mix will improve ideas and also help you learn about their potential. The energy that emanates from that co-creation process also provides clues regarding the potential for the ideas in the marketplace.

I recommend a technique called “itemized response”, an element from Synectics. It’s a way of scrutinizing the value of ideas by indicating what you love about them and what concerns you. Then, devoting some attention to ideation on solving the concerns helps vet the idea further.

The truth is innovation is hard and requires skills, insights, foresights, tenacity, courage, passion and resilience! It is so much more than coming up with ideas, but many leaders falsely assume that everyone has those skills just because they can write on a post-it note in a room full of bean bags.

SPEAKING.COM: Why do you feel that innovation is not everyone’s job, and if it’s not everyone’s job, whose job is it?

PERMAN: Well, everyone’s job is not everyone’s job. If it were, there would be chaos!

Accounting is not everyone’s job and distribution is not everyone’s job. Yet, leaders sometimes assume that innovation is – as if it’s so easy to do.

The truth is innovation is hard and requires skills, insights, foresights, tenacity, courage, passion and resilience! It is so much more than coming up with ideas, but many leaders falsely assume that everyone has those skills just because they can write on a post-it note in a room full of bean bags.

Innovation is the job for people who are willing to go the distance, learn skills, apply them and be ready to meet the natural resistance to new ideas that occurs in large organizations.

At Gap, we had 30 Innovation Acrobats, trained to lead innovation and advocate a culture of creativity. They trained for nearly a year before they were certified to lead. Those 30 catalysts influence more than 2,000 employees who participated in our MINDSPARK innovation program, which really influenced culture while the program was alive.

SPEAKING.COM: You’ve worked with both global household names and smaller organizations. How does the size and legacy of a company affect the strategies you use to foster a culture of innovation?

PERMAN: Size does not matter. Legacy helps provide an anchor from which innovation can emerge. Great companies have deep roots that are alive with growth potential.

SPEAKING.COM: Why is empathy important to the innovative process and what are a few steps companies can take to increase empathy in their corporate culture?

PERMAN: Empathy is about seeing what other people see, feeling what they feel and getting into how they think. You can’t really create anything relevant unless you have a firm grasp on empathy.

The three main skills for empathy are opening up, leading curious conversations and devoting attention to depth and detail. Ethnography and the story telling that emerges from ethnographic sessions is the key activation tool. Senior executives need to get out and experience their customer or constituents first-hand, and then set a leadership tone for others to follow.

Too many companies want to rush the innovation and ideation process with this attitude of “Get those ideas and get them now!” However, fear and urgency does not usually work.

SPEAKING.COM: 50% of those in the U.S. workforce self-identify as introverts. What can organizations do to maximize introverts’ contributions to innovation and problem solving within a team setting?

PERMAN: I love this question because I’m an introvert and people like me are easily misunderstood. I love public speaking and intimate conversations, but I don’t need to be the loudest person in the room during a meeting. Introverts get their energy from quiet spaces and need those spaces to re-fuel. Organizations can provide those safe havens for imagination to occur.

Mindful Innovation is especially helpful for introverts because it provides an atmosphere of comfort that inspires quiet thinkers to emerge. Introverts are reflective. Revealing their brilliance requires patience and acceptance because what comes out of their mouth is a fraction of what’s on their mind.

Too many companies want to rush the innovation and ideation process with this attitude of “Get those ideas and get them now!” However, fear and urgency does not usually work. Introverts can freak out under that pressure, so ultimately, it’s better if organizations allow more time and longer innovation workshops for those ideas to emerge, because you never know when the magic is going to come.

SPEAKING.COM: What is the relationship between some of the elements you incorporate into your speaking and training programs – such as meditation and music – and organizations’ innovative capacities?

PERMAN: My innovation workshops follow an arc based on neuroscience and human emotion. People are often working together for the first time in workshops and they might be anxious about what’s expected of them, so we begin with meditation and a form of group yoga to unify collective energy, provide a sense of stillness and make people ready to create. That also provides a dose of oxytocin, which we know leads to empathy and trust.

Music and lyrics are valuable because they humanize our intellect and personify our emotion. The stories that emerge from music teach us something about ourselves and the people around us.

I use several types of music depending on what we are trying to accomplish. At an event for Gap where we were reinventing the women’s division, we used a Peruvian digital violinist who also played with crystal balls that made sounds by connecting laser beams to an Ipad. She set the tone for people perceiving alternatives to reality, by demonstrating new realities of a musical instrument. At the same event, we hired a team of Irish Dancers who whipped our team into a dopamine high, and fluttered their minds with ideas from the joy and exhilaration they felt.

At a sales meeting for Banana Republic, we needed to create a tone of joy and creativity among 1000 store managers who had been discouraged by poor sales. We worked with Grammy and Emmy nominee Peter Himmelman and Big Muse to teach people how to write songs about joy. Then his rock band performed those songs improv style. The crowd went wild and was jazzed about the rest of the event.

I also like to incorporate music into my speaking events, because music makes the viewing experience more memorable, more surprising and less mundane, and those three qualities are the essence of innovation.

SPEAKING.COM: How can people keep that “creative mojo” flowing when they go back to their regular work environment after attending one of your dynamic workshops and presentations?

PERMAN: They can keep the mojo flowing by applying the skills and new attitudes they learned, undaunted. For example, everyone can be a catalyst to build their own personal creative ecosystem. They can use new words to express ideas or build on ideas shared by co-workers. They can stimulate their thinking from zones outside their normal sphere of influence. They can be brave advocates for creativity and tenacious catalysts for transformation. They can stay curious. Every personal encounter, every meeting and every event leads to the mojo flowing.

To bring innovation keynote speaker Michael Perman to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com