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“Corporate Innovation” Highlights

Just one day after Charlotte’s big ice storm, a group of 24 professionals from Charlotte area Businesses actively participated an hour-long hands-on experiment on Innovation. The atmosphere could be described as fun, engaging and thought-provoking. By having such a diverse group of people in one room with the objective to come up with creative solutions to design challenges, we noticed two major themes emerge.

The first big surprise came from a very simple exercise called the “tower game”. Groups of four to six people were simply instructed to use three sheets of paper to create a tower, and the tallest freestanding tower would win. It required people to think outside the box and the learning moment was that we may be unnecessarily constraining our thinking. While some teams were way ahead of the challenge; and solutions such as writing the “tallest tower” on a piece of paper, and even Peter holding his paper above his head while standing on a chair, most people focused on folding the paper so it would stand in columns without falling.


The second big aha moment came from trying to solve a problem that Blockbuster Video faced in the 1980s. Customers were complaining that video cassette tapes were not completely rewound for them at the time of rental. By giving people a problem that actually had occurred, they could relate because you were actually solving a business problem that people had faced in the past. Our “aha” moment came from realizing if you were asking yourself; “what is the real problem we actually need to solve?”


What was interesting and unique about Murali’s presentation style was that it was unlike the typical meet-up. Murali created a highly interactive and engaging visual method of challenging people’s mindsets as it pertains to innovation. Murali accomplished this feat by displaying several awesome videos that were made by companies like Apple.


Bob Petruska (pictured above with Murali Varadarajan) helped by adding fun to the hands-on exercises which really made the learning and collaboration extremely fruitful. It was a great time for all! Everyone agreed there was a lot of learning, sharing, and growing. We are all looking forward to the next one.

Future corporate innovation events will feature how do you solve a new set of problems when you don’t even know what’s going to happen in the future and apply lateral thinking to the problem. We are going to invite guests to facilitate. Please let us know if you are interested in sharing what may work!


“Corporate Innovation” Mission: Collaborative sessions on how to actualize innovative ideas within Medium to Large corporations. Goal will be to provide tactics and new topics for Charlotte companies to drive innovation internally.

Participant feedback for facilitators; Murali Vardarajan and Bob Petruska.

· Good videos.

· I thought you did a good job it’s a little challenging to shift perspective, but powerful to see the potential thank you.

· The session could be more impactful with lateral thinking exercises that can cause a shift by finding the solution.

· I liked exploring innovation.

· Like the different framing of innovation.

· Liked. Input from the participants.

· Improve. Felt rushed and a bit simplistic.

· Problems are better solved and teams.

· Concise delivery of a lot of content.

· Would like more connection of tower building to innovation. Maybe more time?

· Reminded me to think!

Lean Agile Open Reflections


“Lean Agile Open was an amazing fun way of unleashing energies and synchronizing passions. Loved every second was worth days of learning and creating value.” For a brief video, please click on the picture above.   Participants offered one-word to describe their experience of working in open space:







Imagine getting the opportunity to facilitate an Open Space event with 50 people with just one day to prepare!


What would you do?


The only solution is to scrap all of the agenda’s and let the group create their agenda using the power of Self-Organization.  This group facilitation technique is called Open Space Technology, and Harrison Owen is the father of Open Space.  His work is fascinating for two reasons;1) it really works, and 2) no one has any real idea as to why it works!


Written feedback from Participants:

  • Great facilitation by Bob. The group really seemed to enjoy the process and the content they generated for themselves.
  • Bob led what needed leading, monitored health of the day.
  • Very well organized by Bob. Well timed and scheduled event.
  • I like the circle introduction.
  • Great job explaining format and introducing open concepts.
  • Bob’s talk at the beginning and wrap-up help facilitate the start and feel good wrap-up.
  • Good flow and set up of expectation setting in the morning before we got started.
  • Well done. Thanks! Organization (self) of the meeting. Great discussions occurred.
  • Great introduction and excitement to start the event.
  • Bob, food, and people were all good!


I was very skeptical before joining “Lean Agile Open”, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned.  How easy it was to Self-Organize. The feedback I received was helpful. Finally, there were some great topics discussed.

I benefited from meeting and learning from some very talented colleagues about real world situations.

Learning from each other, chance to just talk, iron sharpens iron.


Setting — rooms, lunch, and coffee was available.

Being able to contribute to topics.

Love how the Self-Organizing played out.

I enjoyed the open session concept. Next time I will be more prepared.


I love that we had real scrum instructors involved were able to speak from both experience and textbook best practice.

I like the open space approach.

Diverse agendas created by the group. Encouraging the law of 2 feet.

Very good sessions learned a lot about real-life agile projects. Inspiring to learn more about agile.


Facilities were good; food, rooms, etc.

Good mix of people, skills, and companies.


Great! I really like the opportunity to get my topic discussed and to see what topics other people want discussed and the conversations that came out of them.

Really liked the process of creating the topics.

Was really surprised at how well the open space work to generate sessions.

It was a good session and event.


I love that we had real scrum instructors involved were able to speak from both experience and textbook best practice.

I like the participation by all the team players and topics discussed.

Liked the way you broke down the mission.


Joe, Incorporated purchase of the issues and questions into scenarios built feedback upon previous session interaction.

So What? (you ask)  Well I asked them; “What one thing have your learned or takeaway you could try out on Monday?, and was blow away with the responses:

  1. The ability to be courageous and experiment.
  2. Take baby steps to get going.
  3. Find the positively influencing people who are ready to try agile.  Not coaching the entire group but find people who along with me bring about that change.
  4. Look for commonality between the agile and waterfall.
  5. Celebrate the successes that there are, in finding the business value and share that story.
  6. Express clearly to the business side — you matter!  Express clearly to the development team — you matter!
  7. Help others embrace change.
  8. Help others to embrace scrum and educate them on the value.
  9. Create definition of story team ready-ready, as it relates to planning.
  10. Show the team understands the system purpose and highlight that they make a difference.
  11. In finding the good with the value.
  12. Taking the ratio.
  13. Getting coaches for middle management, having them get a clear direction of their purpose because they’re fearful.
  14. Collaboration between all stakeholders creating more collaboration and quick feedback from the right people.
  15. Conduct my meetings in the circle
  16. Put less pressure on myself because of some of the feedback I received today.  Continue to help educate people
  17. Fill storage space with positive messages
  18. Saying no better and maybe getting to where you don’t need to say no at all to get that outcome.
  19. Inspired to create new value.
  20. Helped teams to embrace change.
  21. Creating a better business roadmap
  22. Coach my team to create more business value.
  23. Working to implement positive change.
  24. Dependency analysis
  25. Stressing to the stakeholders that they are a valuable and helps them to appreciate each other.
  26. Coaching the teams to empower themselves.  Enable decision-making without beating people up even if they make the wrong decision.  Give them positive reinforcement.
  27. To educate others coworkers and stakeholders about agile
  28. Manage expectations.
  29. Work on shorter-term goals versus constantly looking at longer-range goals.
  30. Start to ask you all to help us do this again next time.  We had just helped you do at this time!  Yes, and together you’re going to help us do it even better next time.  In six months or year we should do this again with an even bigger group and make it even more interesting next time as we learn how to do this.
  31. You notice that today was all about Self-Organization and we all Self-Organized, and some of you walked in and said; “What the ___!  Oh my … there is no agenda!  Who skipped the agenda!  We hope you saw that even though there was no immediate agenda you Self-Organized and it turned out that the agenda was actually quite good and quite useful, and quite effective for us all.
  32. It turns out that serious business problems can be solved by your company by using this technique, and people can learn in this way which they have never learned which is to Self-Organize.  It can also be an eye-opener for a lot of managers and workers and it can be used to help change the culture of the entire organization.
  33. The first thing I’m thinking about is to do this type of thing again for maybe two days not just one day.

How to get a “Seat at the Table”

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Recently I attended an ISPI event with an awesome panel in Charlotte including thought leaders: Michael Bland, Greg Flickinger, Phil Everhardt, and John Heun.

Let’s start by asking questions and then offer a few suggestions:

  • Who is your competition?  Yes, even though you are working full time as an employee in an organization, who is out there that could replace you in a minute?  To be recession proof, you must be seen as an investment to be leveraged, not a cost to be avoided. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you serving your organization like it is your biggest and best customer?
  • How well are you following up with your internal customers?
  • Whatever you do, does it build results (ROI)?
  • What is the real business problem or goal?  What do your internal stakeholders want to accomplish, and how can you assist?
  • What is your own value?  Your unique strength (superpower)?
  • Which behavior changes are needed?
  • How do you expect those behavior changes will lead to business results?
  • How will you measure yourself?
  • Did the behavior changes actually affect the business result?


  • Host a formal stakeholder meeting.  Publish formal review notes and follow-up plans.  What are your quarterly deliverables?
  • Seek to understand their pain (in the operation), and talk about getting those fixed.  (Hint, it is nearly always the people side).
  • Use formal charter documents.  Define the problem and business goal.  Redefine the business goal until it resonates with the stakeholders.  What key metrics will be affected?  Which formal (and informal) structures will be affected?  Where is broken glass hidden?
  • Let the business owners define success!  What are the success factors for this effort?
  • Breaking down barriers, be humble, authentic, adaptable, listen to understand (vs. respond).  What does a win look like?
  • How can you break out of your box (on the organization chart) and take on an unmet need?  A great resource to guide you on this journey is

    Project Wow, by FastCompany.

  • Learn to talk in their language (anthropology – study key stakeholders in their natural environment).
  • Seat at the table is a journey starting with showing results!
  • Getting people to think differently and understand the change adoption curve.


Resistors have an alternative moniker “C.A.V.E. dwellers which stands for Citizens Against Virtually Everything”

Ultimately, you have to bring clear value that people can see and help others solve the problem at hand.

Focus under pressure! Carey Lohernz


The first female Naval aviator flying F-14 tomcat was very inspiring in her keynote speech at the AME conference. Some of the key quotes from her speech:

  • “At 8 g’s you weigh 1600  pounds!
  • Everyone on the aircraft carrier has but one goal regardless of what they do;  the safe launching and recovery of aircraft.
  • It’s this extreme focus that allows for 50% turnover every nine months, you have to have great communication and training in place.
  • Intense focus on execution. Not being distracted, because if you lose sight of your competition, you lose the fight.”


“Failure will happen. It’s your choice that matters.Embracing failure leads to collaboration, innovation, and learning.”


“You can fly solo, but we win together.”

Simon Sinek


Simon delivered an absolutely fabulous keynote speech at the AME Conference. From an anthropological point of view we humans have long faced danger.

  • In times of peace, the strongest fastest, brightest, and well fed members of our tribe had the luxury of the best food and perks (like the best mate). 
  • In times of danger, these same members had a duty as leaders to protect the rest of us. This is a basic human social value. 
  • Our leaders have to look out for our best interest. When leaders violate our basic sense of what it means to be humans, trust breaks down. 
  • We all have to cover each other’s backs.
  • This is the exact reason why the bankers were so disliked was because we gave them our trust. 
  • We compensated them profusely for being the ones to manage the complex financial system. 
  • When it was a time of crisis, instead of protecting us, Bankers they threw us under the bus! 
  • Bankers had violated a fundamental human principal. 
  • It’s the duty of the leaders to protect those around them, so ask yourself when the chips are down do you measure head-counts, or do you think of heart-counts?

How fast can you get out of the way?

“BOOM!” From the very first opening comment, Billy Ray Taylor captivated our complete attention. His stories were riveting as they were personal and inspiring.

He gave us two choices to consider when we encounter FEAR:

  1. “Forget Everything And Run”
  2. “Face Everything And Rise”

“Too often companies look and sound like Toyota but we forget what it means to sustain. There is a hidden factory full of talent and potential. Human Potential.  When we give people a voice, we make them visible.”

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“When I first joined the Fayetteville plant, we were asked to make a 38,000 tires a day but we couldn’t seem to get anywhere close. I brought all the managers together in a room and asked them what the ticket was but only two or three could tell me. That’s when I knew if the managers of the company did not know what our goal was, how could we expect the people working here to achieve it?  Do you get what you expect, or expect what you get?”

“The most important thing is to define winning by the importance of your own core values”, and Billy Ray Taylor told us the story of how his mother held to her principles and change him forever.

Billy Ray Taylor coined the 10 second rule. “If you can’t understand a report within 10 seconds, it’s too confusing. Complex financial reports with reams of numbers don’t resonate with most people. So how can you design your reports so that you know the status of it within 10 seconds?”

“We have to be brutally honest with each other, so we opened up a mall and have the people from the floor give feedback to the people from the office and walk through their work areas.  At the same time we had people from the office walking to the plant areas and giving feedback. Because really, this is for all of us and that is what really matters.”

“We have to find the ugly baby — you know the one at the grocery store when you complement a new mother about how beautiful her baby is by the color of the eyes when it’s actually the ugliest baby you’ve ever seen!”  The point is we have to take off your rose colored glasses and her blinders in order to get a clear picture of what the current condition is and we need to be open with our communications and invite people with different perspectives to look at our work.

“When you unleashed talent, the challenge is how fast can you get out of the way? Give people trust and they will give you value. When we make people visible, we give them rewards metals recognition. When we achieve our goals it is important that people feel like we care enough to give them some recognition like a plaque.” In recognition for her great service, Billy Taylor presents Pat Wardwell with a plaque during his keynote speech to drive the point of integrity deeper.

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Billy Ray Taylor bought everyone in the Lafayette plant, a football jersey with the number 38 on it. Everyone knew what the ticket was in the goal was 38,000 tires and they achieved it. “You have to understand the culture that you’re getting into and undersigned at people side of lean.  Impossible is not a fact, it is an opinion.  I am nobody’s boss, I work for them.”


Thanks to AME for taking the two pictures in this post.

Creative Disruption with Erik Wahl

“Creativity is the new corporate capital”, Erik Wahl delivered an awesome Keynote at AME Conference in Jacksonville.  He started by speed painting The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) while playing his hit song “born to run”.  It was exciting and fun.  As Eric danced around the painting as he literally created a work of art in front of our eyes before the song ended!

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“Accessing emotion opens the door for breakthrough innovation. Standardization and conformity creates fear of being wrong.” Erik Wahl

Asked the audience how many of you can draw, and very few hands went up.  He stated that if he asked the same question to a packed grade-school everyone would raise their hand.  Then he made us reflect on why…  “As we age, we become more and more risk averse.”  Erik Wahl

My biggest take away was Eric’s very first lesson was how fear paralyzes all of us.  By creating the conditions that made us truly believe one unlucky audience member would be selected to participate in a “fear factor” type moment on stage in front of nearly 2,000 people, he basically paralyzed us.  Then he offered the first person selected to participate the option to delegate the opportunity to come up on stage.  Once the replacement person was selected Eric brought that person up on stage and instead of making him eat something disgusting, Eric gave his painting of a Bruce Springsteen away for free!

“Sometimes it pays to take a risk” Erik Wahl

Then he offered that person $100 to buy it back.  The person politely declined and Eric then asked the lucky new painting owner to give the hundred dollars a way to “our friend” (the very first person who was offered the chance).  What this did was it showed love! Leaders have to care about the people they are entrusted with.  Deming told us to drive out fear in organizations, but until now I hadn’t realized how important that was.  And here was a fine example about how a senior leader could go about facilitating the conditions for driving that point home with everyone.

“Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real” Erik Wahl


“Un-think! It’s the Art of emotional connections drives future employee creativity leading to competitive edge.”  Erik Wahl

Here you can get a feel of what it was like to be there:


AME Jacksonville 2014 First Impressions

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From the moment you arrived, you could feel this was going to be an awesome event.  Clear signs made it easy to navigate the large conference area.  Check-in was a snap.  There were kiosks and the whole process took less than a minute, including printing of your name badge.  Many volunteers were on staff wearing bright green vests.

People genuinely cared about others and the atmosphere could be described as warm and inviting.  Thanks to Myriam MIMI Sinclair for taking the “Ask Me” Picture above.
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As a newbie I was given a red color badge, which signified to the veterans that we might need a little extra help to assimilate into the tribe.  Additionally, we were invited to the hive (for “new-bees” – get it?).  At the hive were two gracious volunteers who were both funny (Bob Dempsey and Kieth Stout wearing bee costumes), and provided a great deal of information to help us assimilate quickly.  It was a fun and exciting moment filled with anticipation for what would come next. Thanks to Michael Vincent for snapping the “two bees” picture above.

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My first experience was taking a tour at Carlisle, which was one of the many host organizations offering AME Conference attendees to visit.  Boarding a bus with a bunch of new people who we’ve never met might be intimidating, but everyone was friendly, nice and there to learn.  The hosts at Carlisle were very informative and gracious.  Our hosts shared freely what they learned in their lean journey as well asked for feedback on what they could do better.  Asking for feedback is a sign of maturity.  Even though they know their business best, Carlisle employees were willing to take an outsiders views to heart.  I also met a nice young man on the bus (Mike) and found there was much I could learn from him.

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Throughout the conference, I saw Mike and we were able to start building a friendship.  What stood out for me about Carlisle was the visual nature of their communications systems and how all of the metrics they were tracking rolled up to an overall dashboard.

We did notice some things they could improve and shared some insights with our guide.  For example, many of their cells were similar in nature and the problems of the cell levels could be shared across the other cells as well as the countermeasures and solutions.  This systemic sharing of knowledge within the company seem to be any area that might help any organization learn and grow.

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I was fortunate enough to be able to pop in on Mike Osterling and Karen Martin’s value stream mapping workshop.  I’ve known Mike and Karen for number of years and admire their work greatly.

Mr. Osterling has been great mentor to me, and helped me get started as a small business owner, where I learned to help client organizations build high-performing teams that deliver measurable results.

Mike and Karen’s approach was very engaging, and the maps that the participants made were dutifully following the essence of the value stream mapping process that they co-authored in their book “Value Stream Mapping“.

What a great way for any newbie to become comfortable with the awesome potential of a week long conference!

I will share reflections of my favorite keynote presentations and value stream sessions, and of course my reflections of my Pizza Game workshop in the next few blogs.  Please stay tuned!

Thanks.  Bob Petruska

Recruiting Talent in Today’s World; Cheryl Cran AME Keynote

Key points about recruiting:

The reason employee loyalty is history is because it only matters what skills you bring not how long you’ve worked in any one position.  In fact, the more variety of positions you’ve held increases your learning agility, making you exactly the type of ideal candidate that is needed since the world itself is changing so rapidly. Multi sector experience makes employees more valuable.

Gen Y workers typically will stay on the job for only three years, unless you have a promotion for them.  So why bother training them in the first place?  Cheryl suggests paying it forward to the next organization.  Meanwhile, developing a pool of noncompeting organizations that trade talent back and forth is one idea.  Creating new opportunities to engage today’s workforce is difficult within the confines of one organization itself, but pooling resources may work in the US as it does recently in Europe.

Why bother with all of this effort?  Answer; it costs on average $58,000 to recruit a replacement employee.
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Cheryl revised Abraham Maslow’s  pyramid of needs, and this resonated with many of the Gen Y members in the audience.

  • Does your company have a video on its website?
  • Employee referrals is the top-quality channel for recruiting.
  • Does your company offer a blog in fireside chats?
  • Identify your ideal candidate and then find out what your company has in common.
  • “Technology training, flexibility, innovation hubs, and friendly leadership are all keys to retention.” Cheryl Cran

“People follow you because of what you believe in” Dr. Janet Lapp — AME Conference Keynote

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I think that Dr. Janet Lapp is a beautiful human being!

There is no greater calling and to give hope and inspiration to those  who work with you”  Dr. Janet Lapp

Picture thanks to Jenny SnowBoscol

“If the ship misses the harbor, it’s rarely the harbor’s fault” Dr. Janet Lapp

“Fear causes resistance.  Leaky pipes are those folks always resisting change.  They brighten up a room by leaving it!  Suggestion is to develop a common language around everyone else.  For example, “around here we make it happen.  If you see it, then do take care of it”. Dr. Janet Lapp

“Blocked Pipes” are those who seem to go along with the change, but really don’t cooperate.  Their motto is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  We’ve always did it that way.  Suggestions for this type is to spot them first (can be difficult), then call them out, or let them go to another company…

“Cuando el caballo esta muerto, dejalo”  (translated, when the horse is dead, get off him)

“Fake it until you make it”  “Smile and eventually you will feel happy.”  Dr. Janet Lapp

“Miracles take time, everything will be okay in the end, or it is not the end.” Dr. Janet Lapp