In this episode, Jared talks with Robyn Bolton, Founder and Chief Navigator at MileZero. Robyn discusses how innovation works for intrapreneurs in large companies, the simple definition she uses for her clients, and how innovation differs from invention.
Robyn Bolton, Founder and Chief Navigator at MileZero, explains how innovation differs from invention and how innovation works for intrapreneurs in large companies.
More about our guest:
Founder and CEO of MileZero
1:35 - What is Innovation
2:11 - "Something"
2:55 - "Different"
3:38 - "Creates Value"
4:42 - Types of Value Creation
5:57 - What isn't Innovation
6:56 - Invention vs Innovation
9:55 - Laboratory Creations
12:00 - Value in the Corporate-side
16:16 - Value of Learning and Value of Dollars
19:05 - Aspects of Honesty
22:03 - Corporate Intrapreneur vs Entrepreneur
22:41 - Accidental Entrepreneurship
25:16 - Success Rate of Corporate Intrapreneurs
27:10 - Heart, Head, Guts
30:02 - Advice to Innovators
Robyn Bolton, Founder and CEO of MileZero
Jared Simmons (@outlastllc), Founder and Principal at OUTLAST Consulting LLC
Theme: “This Must Be Heaven” by Buzz Amato
Editing and Production: Buzz Amato
Marketing and Visuals: Naomie Oplado
/This transcript was automatically generated using AI; please forgive any inconsistencies. We are working to provide the correct and more concise copy of the transcript. For urgent needs, please send us an email.
Jared Simmons 00:05
Hello, and welcome to what is innovation. The podcast that explores the reality of a word that is in danger of losing its meaning altogether. This podcast is produced by Outlast consulting, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps companies use innovation principles to solve their toughest business problems. I'm your host, Jared Simmons, and I'm so excited to have Robin Bolton on the show today. Robin Bolton is the founder and chief navigator of miles zero, where she works with executives in mid and large cap companies to use innovation tools to create growth and new revenue. Previously, she was a partner at innosight, the growth strategy firm founded by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, and worked with companies like Nike, p&g, and Medtronic to bring innovation to life. She started her career as an intrapreneur at p&g, where she led the North American launch of Swiffer, global development and launch of Swiffer wet jet. And strategy and marketing for p&g is a $2 billion household needs portfolio at Walmart. Her articles on innovation have appeared in Fast Company, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and Harvard Business Review online. Her perspective has been featured in The New York Times and NPR is marketplace. Robin, we're so excited to have you today. Thanks for joining us. Oh, thank you, Jared, I'm so excited to be here. Let's jump right in. Tell me, you seem very qualified to let us all know what is innovation.
Innovation is something different. That creates value. And I know that definition is is short and sweet. But and I think I think it's important to keep it keep it simple.
Jared Simmons 01:49
Yeah, I love it something different than creates value. Tell me more about that.
So I am when I talk to my clients about this, and I also teach innovation for for executives in various industries. And I break that definition apart really into three chunks. So something first word in the definition is really around, say, you know, most people associate innovation with a new product. And that's true. But innovation doesn't have to be limited to products, it could be a service, it could be a revenue model, you know, switching from selling something to leasing something, it could even be a process, you know, you think of like the Toyota Production System. Right, right. That's a huge innovation. So something could be anything.
Jared Simmons 02:38
Yeah, literally something, nothing more or less than that. Right?
Exactly. Yep. And then the second important word, there is also the second word so different. And again, I think it's because people think that innovation has to be new, like new to the world. And it doesn't, it could be new to the world. It could be new to your industry, it could be new to your company, or it could be an improvement on something that currently exists. So again, you know, you're not limited, just like you aren't limited to a product, you aren't limited to introducing something new to the world, it needs to be different,
Jared Simmons 03:20
right. So different doesn't necessarily mean new, it means just that different.
Precisely. And then the last and most important part of the definition is actually the last couple of words, which is creates value. And the reason I say that's the most important part of the definition is because that value creation is really what I think innovation is all about and what differentiates innovation from an invention. And so innovation has to create value for customers. So for the people who use whatever the something different is, it has to create value for the company that's offering it. And, you know, ideally, it creates value for the larger ecosystem, you know, within which the company is operating, or the innovation is interacting, and so that value creation is really, really critical in the definition.
Jared Simmons 04:22
That that makes perfect sense. And I would love to hear a bit more from you about value. I know you've had clients in all sorts of industries and you know, even things you've seen in, you know, outside of your working domain. When you talk about creating value, what are some of the different types of value creation you've seen from innovation.
There are lots of different kinds of value. So the ones that almost always come immediately to mind for folks is you know, revenue, right? profit, you know, cost reduction. And again, all of those thoughts under that umbrella value, I think the other things that fall under that umbrella are thinking about, you know, are you making, you know, is this easier, easier for people are you know, is this faster? Is this less expensive? Does this help them save time in some of those other dimensions of value that are a little bit harder to quantify. And even from if you think about innovation within a company, things that value creation is increasing employee retention, increasing loyalty. So a value can, again, mean a lot of different things. And some are easy to quantify, some aren't. But it's, again, a pretty broad, broad term.
Jared Simmons 05:45
Right, right. Thank you for expanding on it. Tell me what what isn't innovation
is I was preparing for this, that was one of the questions that gave me pause and where I netted out. And I love questions that make me stop and think I love them. And where I came out on that is that invention is not innovation. So what I mean by that is, one of the things I, I often say to clients is that just because you can doesn't mean you should, so true. And I view and invent invention as something you can do. Something you should do is innovation, and this should is around the creating value. And you know, I don't want to put an invention down invention is super, super important. And invention may be a critical aspect of innovation. But I think if you create something, and no value comes from it, then you missed that really important part of the definition of innovation.
Jared Simmons 06:53
So help me understand when we think about invention versus innovation and can versus should? How, kind of if we think about the the corporate innovator sitting out in the audience, you know, you and I both are those intrapreneurs at one point, you know, how do you how can, how can intrapreneurs be sure that they are they are innovating and not inventing,
the best place to start is to solve a problem. And even better than just solving a problem is making sure that your customers have that problem. So I think a lot of times and you know, a lot of startups are kind of founded this way in terms of you know, the founder has a problem, they create something to solve it. And turns out a lot of other people have that problem, too. Right. Right. You know, what happens in in companies a lot of times is, you know, folks in r&d, and I don't mean to pick on r&d, they like I love r&d, they are absolutely essential. So I'm absolutely not picking on them at all.
Jared Simmons 08:08
That's where I grew up. So
yes, I know. Love you guys. But a lot of times, you know, folks in r&d, you know, have an amazing technology, they have something amazing, they're like, we can do something with this. And then they create something. And it turns out that either nobody has the problem that that thing was designed to solve, or that problem isn't big enough that people are willing to pay for a solution.
Jared Simmons 08:39
I see. Right? It's almost a it's almost a very, you know, modern chicken egg kind of conundrum where sometimes people invent something and then try to manufacture the value creation. Does it make sense then that or does it follow them that that is the right approach might be to identify the source of value and then understand whether invention is necessary?
I think so. And I recognize that's a strong bias on my part of, you know, start with that outside in perspective, you know, customer centricity, and, you know, really understand from the customer's point of view, what, what the problem is that they need solved, not necessarily the solution, right? consumers, as people were terrible coming up with solutions, were great with, you know, understanding problems, so understand the problem, and then figure out all the different ways that could be solved. So that's my bias. But I will say there, there's an argument to be made that, you know, sometimes you can have great innovations coming out of the lab. And so I don't want to say that's not a good way to do it. I don't want to say that that Doesn't work, I think it just, it's a lot harder to, to do. And I see a lot more companies struggle when they are kind of a an inside out sort of innovation just because, you know, people fall in love with what they create. It's the IKEA effect, we overvalue that things that we have a hand in creating. And, you know, so if something comes from within the company, a lot of times the company is in love with it, and the market doesn't feel the same way. And then then it's hard to create value.
Jared Simmons 10:34
Right? If I think back to your definition, the something piece is clear, when it's inside out. The you know, it's I think the the value, it's the tail, it's the it's that third piece, the creating value. And then also, in the context of the differentiation different versus new. I think having grown up in r&d, the challenge with innovation that is originated within r&d is to understand that there's no amount of new that can offset a lack of value creation, if I use your definition. And and I think that's what's hard for scientists, and engineers to swallow is, this is a brilliant invention. You know, there's not five people on the planet who could have created this thing. So it has to be, you know, the difficulty and uniqueness of it has to be somewhere reflected in the value, you know, it reflected as values, it's for someone somewhere, so let's go find them. Yes,
yeah, it's, you said it perfectly. And it I come from a family of engineers, I'm married to an engineer, and I see the struggle all the time, and I have a lot of empathy for, but it really does come down to, you know, if you're, if you're working in, in business, in a corporate setting, you know, the business has, has numbers, and ultimately, you have to contribute to those. And so that's where the value, why the value is important.
Jared Simmons 12:13
Exactly. It's a To me, it's the singer songwriter versus, you know, pop star kind of effect, you know, yeah, singer songwriter, might have more, quote unquote, talent, who may have written assign themselves, but you know, it's, the value receive is a function of the value perceived by the, by the end user, by the consumer, by the customer. And, and so I think it's important for us engineers and scientists out there to, to find value in the process of creation and invention. And to see the, you know, to see our own, you know, to find value for ourselves, in that process, independent of what the external value is, but also understand that, you know, you you've chosen to be an intrapreneur, you're chosen, you've chosen to be part of a for profit entity, and everybody that's part of a for profit entity needs to be contributing to profit. Right? Yep. So I appreciate that little moment of therapy for me, I feel like I was a little rain cloud on. No, it's, it's, it's what it's what I think separates companies like p&g and others from from from their peers, which is they have engineers, they have scientists who understand the importance of value creation, and companies that struggle, are the ones that have to fight that battle at a functional level. Yeah. And, and they've been, you know, PNG is lucky to not have to fight it at a functional level. It's more of a project to project kind of conversation. Yes, very true. So, tell me a bit more about outcomes. I'm fascinated by outcomes in the innovation space. What What, what does an outcome look like from an innovation process?
Great question. And I would say, going back to the thing we've got going, is that out the ideal outcome from an innovation process is value creation. And what I mean by that is, it's it does, it's not necessarily, oh, we've launched something into the market, and here's the revenue that we got from it, although that's certainly one way I say it or, you know, we've changed the process. And look, we've reduced costs again, one way one way to measure value, right. I think there's also a lot to be said and a lot of value in learning. And one of the things that is true of innovation when it's done right and By done, right, I mean kind of done honestly, is that, you know, there's going to be things that that don't work, right? Anytime you're doing something different, you don't have full knowledge. So you're making assumptions. And some of those assumptions are going to be wrong. And sometimes those wrong assumptions mean you need to shut down the project. Sometimes they mean, you need to pivot pretty hard, right. And there's learning and all of that. And so I can see, you know, especially for an organization that's really trying to build, you know, skills and capabilities, and even a culture of innovation, there is incredible value from innovation projects that they might deemed failed, right? Because there's learning and that learning if it gets shared, and if the people who are on that project, you know, continue working at the company, instead of getting fired, which is what everyone assumes happens to an innovation team on the project goes away. Right? And so that's huge value creation, as well.
Jared Simmons 16:11
And I can imagine, amongst your clients, there might there's probably a tension between the value of learning and the value of dollars, and how to how to strike a balance. Have you seen that or witnessed that at all?
Yeah, there's definitely a tension. And there's also definitely a cultural and a, I'd say, personal bias to anything that looks like failure. I mean, a smile is saying that because I know one of the those mantras coming out of Silicon Valley is like, fail fast. Right? Nobody likes to fail, regardless of the speed. It's done that nobody wants to fail fast. No one wants to fail slow. No one wants to fail. Right? And so reframing it as we've learned, we haven't failed. We've learned. And, you know, Thomas Edison had the great quote, which I'm sure you know, I will completely butcher but it's, you know, I didn't pay when inventing the light bulb, he didn't fail 1000 times he just failed. He just found 1000 different ways not to do it. Right.
Jared Simmons 17:24
As long as the company is learning, as it goes, it's creating value internally and actually, through those learnings is going to be able to get something to market faster, that is going to generate the revenue.
Jared Simmons 17:39
Right. Right. Right, that makes perfect sense. I'm circling now in my head back to a comment you made about as long as it's done, honestly. Yeah. And yeah, I'd love to hear more about what that means. I have, I think I know what you mean. But I'd love to hear what you mean.
So yeah, as long as it's done, honestly, I, a lot of times, I see, you know, especially, you know, companies who are relatively new innovation. And oftentimes, these are kind of mid cap companies where they've grown really fast, they've kind of had their first portfolio of stuff out there, they're doing really well. And now it's time for like the second generation of products, or services or whatever that is, and and so what often happens is they kind of Trojan horse things. And what I mean by that is they, they say okay, you know, we've read all the books, we've read all the articles, we know we have to solve a problem. Here's the problem we're solving. And when you look at it, you're like, yeah, this is a problem. This is you rephrasing your solution as a problem. So that's what I mean by the Trojan horse it Yeah,
Jared Simmons 18:57
yeah, I'm flashing. I'm having lots of flashbacks. Right now that you put you encapsulated that perfectly?
Yeah. So. So there's that kind of honesty of like, okay, let's just be honest about what we're presenting here, you're presenting a solution in search of a problem and not a problem in search of a solution. Right. So that's kind of one aspect of honesty. The other is, and, you know, I see this all the time. And I quite certain I was guilty of it when I was at p&g, of kind of gaming the system. And, you know, you say, okay, you know, we have to have a pipeline of ideas. And so you just come up with ideas to meet a metric of we have 50 ideas, right? And it's like, Oh, come on, like, yeah, you have 50 ideas, but are they good ideas? Are they relevant? Are they aligned strategically, like, come on? And so that's where sometimes you know, a little bit of dishonesty, all from good intention, but the dishonesty kind of comes in
Jared Simmons 20:00
Yep. Okay, that that makes sense. And it definitely resonates. I think it also goes back to your could versus should comment as well, you know, I've definitely, given those presentations myself where, you know, here's this new technology here, the 47 things we could do with it. You know, you get the pat on the back. Great job that sounds very promising, you know, and, and it just becomes this reinforcing cycle that that focuses on code instead of instead of should, as you put in,
yep. And you want to start with, you know, what's possible, what could we do? You don't want to stay there.
Jared Simmons 20:39
That's it. That's exactly right.
You got it. Once you're there, you've done move on to shut.
Jared Simmons 20:44
Right. Right. It's a step in the process, you have to move from condition. That's, that's well said. You're a founder and chief navigator of miles zero. And you've been a lot of places done a lot of things with, you know, a lot of big names and big thinkers in the space. What have you, but what did you bring from your previous experience into your founding of miles zero from an innovation standpoint?
Oh, I brought so much. I mean, everything. Everything I've done leading up to founding miles zero has made miles zero possible. And so, you know, from my work at p&g, I bring that experience of actually working within a big company to try to do things differently. So I viscerally understand how hard it is, I have a great deal of empathy. For intrapreneurs. I think being an intrapreneur is one of the hardest jobs out there. Because you're trying to get people to act in a way that's almost opposite of what's in their interest.
Jared Simmons 21:57
Would you define intrapreneur? For folks?
Oh, yeah. So an intrapreneur is essentially a corporate entrepreneur. So it is someone who is working to do innovation within the context of a big company. And, you know, while an entrepreneur, so someone who's creating their own company, you know, obviously have a lot has a lot of challenges, it is by no means easy, they have a degree of freedom that intrapreneurs don't have, because intrapreneurs have to make sure that their work aligns with the priorities and the strategies of the company they're in.
Jared Simmons 22:34
Right. And I wonder if there's, that's, that's why I was curious about your journey, because you kind of walked that, walk that path from intrapreneur to, you know, a straight, you know, strategist and consultant to entrepreneur and I was curious about the, the insights you might have might have gleaned on on on that path.
Yeah, so I am totally an accidental entrepreneur, I've never in my life, thought I would have my own business ever. Right. And I would say that one of the biggest insights that I've had is that it is Oh, much harder than it looks. And, you know, I when I was at p&g, I often bristled under the process, there were times that I saw, you know, decisions being made to comply with process versus, you know, what was best, in my opinion, my junior executive opinion. And, and I hated that, um, I have a lot more understanding now. And then even as a consultant, you know, I read all the books and the articles. And I always thought, like, why, you know, there's so much been written about starting a company, or you know, how to think about strategy, how to build a business, like, why is it so hard? And then I started my own, I was like, Oh, my gosh, all the stuff that books are written about the strategy, the processes, the operations, that's the easy part. The hard part. The hard part is, is the emotions, and the roller coaster, and, you know, kind of managing yourself, day to day. Right. And, you know, what, I was an intrapreneur. You know, yeah, there's also a lot of managing your emotions and managing yourself. But it's a lot easier to, at least for me to kind of rail against the system. When I have my own business, I am the system I'm railing against, right.
Jared Simmons 24:36
Oh, that's a good point. So that's a challenge. Yeah. No, I can imagine. Well, I don't have to imagine I, you know, yeah, I can empathize directly with that. And I wonder if there's a, you know, you describe yourself as an accidental entrepreneur. I'm imagining that you built this company as a solution to a problem that you saw. If this, if I'm reading into the accidental entrepreneur statement appropriate? Yeah,
definitely. You know, there is a, there's a real problem out there. I mean, the success rate of corporate innovation is still, you know, abysmally low. And this is, you know, 2025 years after the first publication of the innovators dilemma, which, you know, I think, like, made innovation, part of, you know, the business vernacular, and you think of all of the books and all of the articles and all of the consulting firms, and all of the billions of dollars spent to improve, and yet the needle has barely moved. So clearly, we're missing something.
Jared Simmons 25:47
Right. And I don't, by any means, pretend that I have the answer. But what I did recognize is that a lot of times, you know, especially coming from consulting, that and, you know, I was a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, I was a consultant in a site is that a lot of times consultants gonna come in, and they come in with, you know, the perfect framework or the perfect theory. And that's great. But as the the noted, innovation philosopher mike tyson once said, Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Jared Simmons 26:28
I love that, quote, ism can come from anywhere, and that was an unlikely source.
totally right. And, and so that's the thing is like, yeah, you come in, you know, you give a perfect framework, you give like a perfect customer segmentation. But if the company can act on it, if it's not practical, if it doesn't work within their systems, it's not going to get used, right. And so there was, I felt like, there was a real need for very, very practical innovation help. The other thing that I noticed, and this is really born out of all of the work that I've done over the years, in terms of, you know, understanding customers, is that people decide with their hearts, and they justify with their heads. But it takes guts to act
Jared Simmons 27:20
like that. Couldn't agree more.
And, you know, the thing is, is that a lot of times in business, we're only talking, you know, when you think about talking to executives, we're only talking to their heads, we're giving data, we're giving frameworks, and it's a very left brain sort of appeal. But executives are humans too. And they have hopes and fears and aspirations, and worries and insecurities. And so just like the rest of us humans, they're actually deciding based on what to do next, based on all of those, you know, motivations, fears, etc. And then they're justifying, they're rationalizing with the data, the frameworks, the left brain stuff, right? Totally. And so when you offer help, you need to speak to the heart, you need, and you need to speak that head versus just speaking to the head. And you also have to help them have the guts to take the action, and especially an innovation, which can take a while to see results and pay off. It's the guts to act and the guts to continue to persevere over the long haul.
Jared Simmons 28:35
Right, exactly. That's brilliant. I think the guts the guts to act piece is so critical. And you know, that, like you said, not just to act, but to persevere. And you know, when the outcomes are not instantaneous, my hat goes off to every intrapreneur entrepreneur, every innovator on the planet, because really one of the few jobs in the corporate knowledge workspace where you're going to have to wait to find out if you got it, right. And in the meantime, you got to be doing something, right. Mm hmm. And so do you keep doing what you were doing? Or do you do something else? Yeah, it's a tough dilemma. And you got to have guts, like you said, to, to really stick with it?
Yeah, I mean, it's a really special person who will, you know, make investments and take risks, knowing that they probably won't be in that role when the benefits come.
Jared Simmons 29:36
That's, that's so true. Yeah. You're with the cycle of, oh, let's get this person into the into the next position to get them prepared for the next position. Yeah, the innovation lifecycle is is often outside of that window. Yep. Agree, point. me any advice perfect segue to any advice for intrapreneurs entrepreneurs, people who are just interested in innovation,
few pieces of advice, and I will, I will preface all of this for saying that I, I give advice that I myself do not take. And I really should. So if people meet me, and they're like you, you said to do this, but you're not be like, Yeah, no, that's,
Jared Simmons 30:21
that's it, you were talking to yourself.
So the first thing I would say is talk to your customers, you will never go wrong talking to your customers, you will never go wrong, really approaching your customers with empathy, and truly listening and listening with an open mind. You know, what I train people on how to do qualitative research, you know, I often tell them, like the person you're talking to, for that period of time, they are the most interesting person in the entire world. And your job is to learn from them. Right? So, first piece, talk to your customers. Second, is, you know, I think it is, it's really important that you don't try to do this on your own, having different points of view, having different expertise, you know, getting other voices in it's, it's so important, you know, from Jessica, like, manage managing yourself, right, your emotions, as we talked about. And so having people who can be the voice of reason. And then also, you know, coming up with ideas, and, you know, testing them and refining them, there is there's always value in multiple perspectives, right. And then the third piece of advice because you know, consultant, everything's in threes, threes, got to do three is have a sense of humor, like, Oh, my gosh, things are gonna go wrong. And if you cannot laugh at them, you are going to spend a lot of time crying. So have a sense of humor, be able to laugh at yourself, be able to laugh when things go wrong. And I just, we're all we're all just doing our best. And so when things go sideways, find the humor in it.
Jared Simmons 32:18
I think that's you close with the most important one of all. I'm gonna I've got plenty of things I need to laugh at this afternoon. Oh, those are great insights. And thank you for sharing them. And thank you, Robin for your time today. It's been a great conversation. I've personally learned a lot and I hope I hope others find the same value in what you shared.
Great. Now, this is a tremendous amount of fun, Jared, thank you.
Jared Simmons 32:50
Yeah, time flew by. We'll have to do it again sometime. Definitely. Alright, take care.
Jared Simmons 33:01
We'd love to hear your thoughts about this week's show. You can drop us a line on Twitter at OUTLAST LLC, or follow us on LinkedIn where we're OUTLAST Consulting. Until next time, keep innovating. Whatever that means.