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  • Writer's pictureSherry

Interview with Soren Kaplan – Game Changer

Our interviews this month are with “game changers” and my discussion with Soren Kaplan, best-selling author, innovator, consultant and professor had me reflecting on what it means to innovate and disrupt the status quo.  I learned that Soren is a role model for rewriting the rules, challenging our assumptions and relentlessly driving change.

Soren knows this space well. He has been leading disruptive innovation, culture, and business model innovation for many years.  Based in Silicon Valley, Soren works with both fascinating Fortune 1000 firms and technology start-ups.   He is the author of two books on Culture and Innovation and an Affiliate at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC’s Marshall School of Business. He writes for Fast Company and Inc. Magazine and he’s also the founder of Innovation Point and upBOARD.

We discussed the illusive formula for innovation.  It takes time and focus to shift a culture and employee behavior to drive change and get greater innovation.   Soren has a refreshing take on this- in his view, for transformation happens in big small and unpredictable ways.  Few leaders focus on the levers that directly influence innovation however, Soren shares insight on how all of us can design our own invisible advantage. Check out Soren’s book, The Invisible Advantage

Sherry:   Tell me about your work at Innovation Point?

Soren:  Early in my career I led the internal strategy and innovation group at Hewlett-Packard (HP) during the roaring 1990’s in Silicon Valley.  I have worked with Fortune 1000 companies and technology start-ups with the goal of guiding leaders in creating cultures that support innovation.  I would say that 80% of companies place innovation as a top priority.

Sherry:  What is the invisible advantage?

Soren: The only defensible competitive advantage resides underneath the products, services, business processes, technologies, and business models we deliver to the world. It’s generally invisible to your competitors, your partners, and even your own employees. It’s your culture.

CEO’s want to clarify what innovation means for them.  Is this a big or little challenge?   Some are thinking a technology platform, structure, process or system change.  All of this impacts culture.  It would be great if we had the formula for gaining competitive advantage through your culture but it is a combination of art and best practice.  I share more about this in my book and it is true that every organization has the power to design their innovation culture.

Sherry: What are you learning since writing the Leapfrogging best seller and The Invisible Advantage?

Soren: I am seeing the red flags which indicate a desire for innovation or growth yet it starts with a new business model and entirely new time horizon for change.  It used to be we could create a plan with a long term time line.  Today we are looking at one to two years at most. Our clients are also balancing the need for growth and big change with the need to invest in new stuff while experimenting in smaller ways in order to solve customer problems now.

Sherry:  What surprises you today in your work on innovation?

Soren:In the past year and half we are seeing every industry undergoing disruption. We have converging technologies, AI, Block chain, robotics and more and we are all impacted by these changes.  It forces an expanded mindset and new skill set in dealing with the breadth and depth of this ecosystem that is created to help navigate new technologies.   Business platforms change the way we work and serve our clients.  LinkedIn has changed recruiting.  Airbnb has disrupted our experiences in the sharing economy.

Sherry:  What will it take to lead in this new ecosystem of internal and external markets?

Soren:Future leaders will live with adapted strategies vs. long term planning.  They will have to consider the personality of the organization.  External viewpoints and collaboration across a network of resources will be required.  Leaders will be comfortable with rapid experimentation and they will see failure as a part of the new learning mindset.  Also, every organization will unlock innovation culture in its own way.

Sherry: What are forward looking companies taking action on as they build innovation into their culture?

Soren:  Companies will embrace “shark tank” like sessions.  Hackathons and learning experiences will happen more frequently on the inside.  Culture will shift because people have these new experiences, then make assumptions about behaviors which get shared across the organization.  We will also work across the world and in virtual models to support innovation which really means creating a culture that links professional development with value creation.

Sherry:  We see you are part of the faculty on the Innovation segment of the Leadership InSITE program that Ian Ziskin leads.  What would you like the attendees' takeaway to be?

Soren:  At the end of the day that I facilitate, which is focused on innovation and strategy, I would like the participant to have an understanding of what innovation means for them and their organization.  They will know how to define this and identify the skill sets needed to support idea generation and new thinking in their companies.


There could not be a better time to let go of the old ways of doing things and embrace something new.  Everything around us is changing, so why not jump in.

The stakes are too high to stay in place.   Soren reminds us that innovation and change can occur incrementally and be as simple as process improvements or enhancing a customer interaction.  Since we really want everyone innovating, the steps forward can start simple and in the line of sight for each of us.   It also means we are learning.  And, learning is truly the new “competitive advantage” as our work world transforms and nudges us forward.

Kelly Palmer and David Blake, in their new book, The Expertise Economy see that companies play a huge role in shaping our future of learning.  If we want to stay in the game or get ahead of it, we will have to harness innovation and learning in entirely new ways.  Our next issue will tackle how CEO’s are driving for learning cultures and seeing the pay – off.

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