Episode #422: Brant Cooper on Being “Disruption Proof” in Pandemic Times & Beyond


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Brant Cooper and Mark Graban

My guest for Episode #422 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Brant Cooper, appearing for the third time and the first time solo. Brant previously appeared, alongside Patrick Vlaskovits, in Episodes 99 and 162.

Brant is the author of the upcoming book, Disruption Proof: Empower People, Create Value, Drive Change, due out in late October, but is available for pre-order now.

Brant is The New York Times bestselling author of the book The Lean Entrepreneur (now in a 2nd Edition) and he's CEO and founder of the firm Moves the Needle.

He is also organizing a virtual summit — the Endless Disruption Summit — on Sept 30.

Topics and questions:

  • “One thing in life is certain: Disruption is the new norm.” — Why is that increasingly so?
  • How can a company become disruption proof?
  • What's a good example of an Industrial Age company that has transformed to thrive in the Digital Age?
  • Lessons from the pandemic?
    • Working from home and now what?
  • Empathy and restaurant signs
  • The 5Es: Empathy, Exploration, Evidence, Equillibrium, and Ethics
  • His experiences in healthcare — cancer
    • The people are amazing
    • Ransomware attack affected his radiation care

I hope you enjoy the conversation.

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network

Watch the Episode:

Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (2s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog Podcast. Visit our website www.leanblog.org. Now here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (13s):
It's Mark Graban. Welcome to the podcast. It's episode 422 for September 8th, 2021. Our guest today is Brant Cooper. He is the author of a new book due out in late October called Disruption Proof: Empower People, Create Value and Drive Change, so you can learn more about Brant and his book and more by going to www.Brantcooper.com. He's also organizing a virtual summit called the endless disruption summit. It's being held on September 30th. I'll be taking part in a panel discussion there you can learn more endlessdisruption.com.

Mark Graban (54s):
For show notes, links, and more. You can go to markgraban.com/422. Thanks for listening. Hi everybody. Welcome to the podcast we're joined today. He's a returning guest Brant Cooper's here today. He was previously a guest going back to episodes 99 back in 2010 and episode 162 back in 2013. So Brant it's good. Good to reconnect with you. Thank you for coming back.

Brant Cooper (1m 23s):
Yeah, thanks for having me Mark. I didn't realize it had been wow. Eight years. That's like a while.

Mark Graban (1m 31s):
Yeah, I have to look it up 11 years ago from that first. So we take advantage of opportunities to talk about books that Brant has written. And so sure enough, he's got a new book coming out. It's going to be available October 26th. That's called Disruption Proof: Empower People, Creeate Value, Drive Change. He's previously New York Times bestselling author of the book, The Lean Entrepreneur. And he's also the CEO and founder of the firm Moves the Needle. And I don't have this right in front of me. What was the other book that you and Patrick Vlaskovits wrote? That was the first episode we did together.

Brant Cooper (2m 9s):
Yeah. So that was the first book that talked about customer development and lean startup and product market fit and all those fun things. It was a self-published book called The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development. I've actually got a second version of that book in the works as well too, though. I'm calling it the startup blue book, but so that one was, was focused primarily on, on startups and entrepreneurs.

Mark Graban (2m 34s):
And then as a bit of a recap and people can go back and check out episode 1 62, but the general premise of the lean entrepreneur was, was built on like what, what's the elevator pitch summary of that book.

Brant Cooper (2m 46s):
Yeah. So that's, that's the deep dive into, how do you develop empathy for customers or other stakeholders and what do we, what do we mean by running disciplined experiments and how to run those and then what data you should be focused on? So these are sort of the learning impacts or what, or impact metrics that I call, you know, progress towards desired outcomes as opposed to really task oriented KPIs or, okay, ours.

Mark Graban (3m 15s):
I looked at the book for a while. I would invite even a, I know there's a lot of people in the audience here who were involved in different entrepreneurial ventures, but even people doing lean work in healthcare, I think would learn as you frame it looking at, at, at, at measures and experiments and connecting dots, having empathy for your customer. That's going to be a topic today because your new book touches on that. But I think we'd find there's probably more that's transferable or commonality across sectors,

Brant Cooper (3m 46s):
Right? I mean, so moves the needle. My company has worked with companies in absolutely every sector, 60 to 70 companies and, and, you know, hardcore healthcare life sciences companies are included. I'm always interested in the healthcare because the ecosystem is so complicated. So I purposely use stakeholders since yes, we have to pay attention to patients, but there's also patients, families, and there's payers and there's insurers and there's government regulations and all of these other players in that ecosystem that makes it very complex. And of course, what that means is a lot of people sort of throw up their hands and go, ah, you can't do lean startup or you can't do lean innovation for healthcare.

Brant Cooper (4m 30s):
And of course you can, the really the books have been focused on how do you, how do you apply it to different sectors? Where's your uncertainty. And, and, and really if you're, if you have a bunch of assumptions to bust or, or biases to cut through, then, then these lean entrepreneur techniques apply pretty darn well.

Mark Graban (4m 53s):
Okay. And we'll talk more about healthcare and some of Brant's experiences later on, but we talk about uncertainty. Healthcare is, is nothing but uncertainty here on August 30th as we're recording this and coming into early September. I'm sure that will still be the case when this episode is being released. And it will certainly still be the case end of October, when brands new book, again, I'm going to give it another plug there. Disruption proof empower people, create value and drive change because you know, the six words of that subtitle before we get into the book deeper, I mean, I, that connects with me. I think those are important ideas for people who might describe what they're doing as lean in

Brant Cooper (5m 30s):
Healthcare. Right. I think that, you know, there's two, I guess there's two industries, two sectors that have been, I don't know that the tip of the spear when it comes to changes, brought on by massive technological innovation, the digital age, the increased complexity of the world, and that would be the military and healthcare. And so, you know, I'm a big fan of McChrystal's “Team of Teams” book that describes, you know, pretty on point the changes that needed to happen in the military facing this new world that we're in.

Brant Cooper (6m 14s):
I think the changes have been a little bit slower in business in an end in healthcare. But this idea of decentralizing decision-making is, is, is really, you know, paramount to this new world. And that's, you know, the empowering part is pushing the decision, you know, down towards the edge where issues are arising. And then the create value of course, is, is a long-held lean tenant that we need to be focused on the efficiency of creating value and not the efficiency for efficiency sake and then driving change. You know, I, I just think that changes inevitable and changes every day and changes can continue to, to happen.

Brant Cooper (6m 59s):
And so we just need to make that part of our daily life is, is the ability to deal with change and, and to make things better. I think that that's the promise of capitalism. It's why I love capitalism is that we can solve big wicked problems. And we just simply need to, rather than using some other command and control hierarchical system, we need to empower the smart people that we hire to go solve these wicked problems and we can do it.

Mark Graban (7m 30s):
And they're still in healthcare, 2021, a lot of top-down command and control management styles. Now people, especially hospital CEOs who have embraced lean are working really hard to change that culture within their organization. First off, just to acknowledge that that is real and that it's not ideal. And, and let's, let's work on shifting that, but I I'm reminded, and I use this as a discussion point, teaching lean in healthcare, going back to the General Eisenhower, President Eisenhower. I think this is a quote from when he was a general, but anyway, you know, he was criticizing the Soviet system and the quote is something to the effect of farming looks very easy when your plow is a pencil and you're sitting 500 miles away from the field, something to that effect that when people are making far off decisions, they make all kinds of, I'm sure bad assumptions of what you should or shouldn't be able to do.

Mark Graban (8m 26s):
And, and he was clearly, you know, I think, you know, saying, well, a capitalist system avoid some of those traps, but then it's funny, like there's a philosophical question I'm gonna throw back at you. How do very, you know, capitalist companies in a capitalist system end up back in that command and control model? Yeah. Well, central, central planning, the central committees. Yeah,

Brant Cooper (8m 47s):
It is. So it's funny because I even sort of say that in the book, because I I'm sort of mapping out my history with economics back in college. And, and I think it's, it's, it's based upon uncertainty and complexity. And so I think that there was a rapid period of growth, you know, post-World war II in the United States where our industrialists industrialized society was innovating, creating new technology, just doing amazing things and creating products that pretty much, if these products came to market, you knew there was a market for them and, you know, microwave ovens and washers and dryers and refrigerators.

Brant Cooper (9m 30s):
And we were raising the standard of living. We were changing how people could live their daily lives and free up time. And, and, and it was really, you know, generally a positive, a positive experience. Well, so there's, you know, in the throws of that, there's very relatively little uncertainty. There's relatively little complexity. We know how to create the widget. We need to create the widget as efficiently as possible. We want to keep the cost of the widget low because we want everybody to buy it. And so that was sort of the, the momentum of the industrial age. And so managing by managing execution and by efficiency, you know, input versus output, it kind of makes sense in that model and, and the hierarchical decision making sort of makes sense because the consumer has fewer choices.

Brant Cooper (10m 25s):
And so if it's, you know, close enough to what, what they need and what they desire, they're going to buy it. And so there's just not a lot of uncertainty or complexity in the model, but of course, if you fast forward today, and if you look at healthcare and the, and the ecosystem that we were just talking about and the technology and the complication of care, right? So doctors now are all specialists and yet curing one individual might require several different specialists in several different avenues of, of care. And so the complexity is immense, both from an economic point of view, but also just from a care point of view.

Brant Cooper (11m 7s):
And so that complexity means that there's all of this uncertainty. Well, all of this uncertainty means that if you're still making decisions in the middle, in the core top down, then you're filled with all of these things that you mentioned Eisenhower talking about. It's easy with a pencil to figure it out, but it's not the reality that the doctors and the nurses and the patients and the families are enduring on the ground on the edge of this system, it was

Mark Graban (11m 33s):
One of those decisions that may might be made with a pencil in a hospital context, instead of a farming context is, well, here's how many staff you have that might make sense to somebody distanced from the frontline of care with a pencil and staff might be screaming, we're understaffed, we're, we're not able to provide safe care. And, and, and that, I think quite often falls on deaf ears. They're told to toughen up deal with it, do your best. And, and,

Brant Cooper (12m 2s):
You know, to be honest, I mean, just to, to, to paint that scenario, it could be that the staff is wrong. They aren't understaffed. It could be that the processes are wrong, or the scheduling is wrong, or the way they're orienting how those individuals work together is wrong. And so, you know, in all like, like all great entrepreneurs, you have to listen to the market, but listening to the market doesn't mean that you're doing what they say. It means that you're understanding what the needs are and, and, and the, the issues and all of those types of things. And so it's, it's the, it's the dialogue that's failing there almost more than anything. And I think that that is actually what the frontline people feel like is it's not, it's not that management isn't doing what they say, it's that management's not really even listening.

Brant Cooper (12m 54s):
And so I think that that's, and again, it kind of gets back to what I said earlier. The idea is to allow smart people to solve problems, and yet organizations tend to look outside of themselves and they're looking at their customers and saying, okay, well, what are their customer problems? But all of those principles can be applied internally. What are our internal needs? And how do we listen better to our internal, our colleagues and employees, and leaders and management and all of these different stakeholders in order to test and design systems that work better.

Mark Graban (13m 27s):
Yeah. And, and I think there's a disconnect, and maybe there are some parallels to think about to entrepreneurship. Somebody wants to develop software, they want to develop a solution, but how have we properly framed the problem first? So that's where, like, to me, lean startup and custard customer development is lean because it starts with this problem solving or the, we call it A3 problem solving, or what have you, don't jump to solutions. Let's define the problem. Well, because when, when nurses or nurse leaders, or then they start unions and they start lobbying, and they, they want solutions like around mandated staffing levels.

Mark Graban (14m 7s):
And like, I try to be empathetic to the pain and the burnout and the frustration that frontline staff are going through. I would get slapped. Maybe if I said, well, you haven't framed the problem correctly. So wait, no, they might, they might say, well, you're not listening mark, but, but, but when someone says, we need more staff that gets shut down, right? Solution is we need more staff and management says, no, you don't, but if you can start getting more granular and saying, well, what, what's the, what's the pain point a patient got dropped on the floor because we didn't have somebody available to help with the transfer. Like now that's very specific. And then we could trace back to different things related to the process.

Mark Graban (14m 47s):
Maybe it's division of labor communication, different to, to go, to go back, to solve important problems with that matter. So, so back back to you from, from the entrepreneurship side, w would you agree that's what all entrepreneurs should be doing is not focusing on developing your solution, but helping frame and solve problems.

Brant Cooper (15m 7s):
Yes. I, I mean, it's, it's sort of what you wish, but it's just still not reality. I think that entrepreneurs will often build product first because they're likely solving a problem that they've experienced themselves. And so, you know, I'm kind of okay with that, but it means that step two is to going back to the source and understanding the problem or the need, right? So it's, it's, it's, there are frameworks, you know, human centered design, design thinking, which I think go back to the problem first, which is great. Entrepreneurs are, I think at least a certain class of entrepreneurs are always going to start with product for is, and I'm all like, okay, I'm not going to break you of that one.

Brant Cooper (15m 49s):
So it means that their next question is always, but how do I find customers? And it's like, well, there's your gap. You actually haven't figured out what the real problem is and who has it. And so that's your step two. And hopefully you didn't waste a whole heck of a lot of money building the product because it's going to change.

Mark Graban (16m 8s):
Then we'll come back and we'll come back to the, the title of the book and talk about disruption. You know, people might be developing a product that was correct, or right. Would have been good in the world as it was at a point, but then things change disruption, uncertainty, world events, technology changes something in their market. So I want to bring it, bring it back, back to the book. And again, the title is disruption proof in, in the notes about the book, it says on your behalf brand one thing in life is uncertain. That disruption is the new norm. Like why, why is that increasingly? So why is life becoming more uncertain and uncertain and more disrupted?

Mark Graban (16m 50s):

Brant Cooper (16m 51s):
I mean, I want people to understand, I'm not really talking about technology, startup disruption. That's part of it, but I want people to think about things like the pandemic. And so arguably 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, the pandemic wouldn't have had the impact it did today. And why is that? Well, it's really the interconnectedness of the world, right? I mean, we're flying all over the place and, and it just the opening of, of trade and borders and all, all of these types of things. It's all, to me, it's really the digital age. It's the digital revolution that makes us interconnected the, the stream of information and misinformation.

Brant Cooper (17m 36s):
Even the decision making that we're able to do with computers in our pockets, the knowledge that we have, all of these things make us closer together than we ever have before. And it makes things move so fast and decisions need to be made so fast to keep up that that's, that's the landscape that we're in. And so, you know, a ship getting stuck in a canal, disrupts global supply chains, energy grid collapse of, you know, affects millions of people and commerce. Ransomware attacks are happening, you know, in gas pipelines and in hospital systems.

Brant Cooper (18m 19s):
And these things, you know, can shut down services in, in, you know, metropolitan areas. I mean, it's really pretty extraordinary, the impact of events that, you know, again, arguably decades ago would have been sort of, you know, page four or page five in the newspaper, you know, not great events, but their impact wouldn't have, we're sort of living in this era where the, you know, the butterfly wings causing chaos on the other side of the world is observable. And so that is just the world that we're living in. And I think that those organizations that see it that way, and then so take preemptive steps towards making their organizations more resilient to that.

Brant Cooper (19m 6s):
Phenomena are the ones that are going to survive and thrive. And that's really what then disruption proof is. So it's kind of, it's kind of literally positioned opposite of in many ways of the popular term of future-proof, which really is about investing all of this energy into long-term innovation, which is great. I'm all forward for it, but that actually doesn't solve the pandemics and the supply chain issues and all of these things that can hit us any day. And, you know, boy, even this pandemic, you've brought up a couple of times here we are August, you know, September, 2021, and we thought we were going to be done with this.

Brant Cooper (19m 51s):
And we really still can't see the end. And so all of those companies that in the spring of 2020 saying, listen, we need to just kind of buckle down and we can ride through this. Now 16, 17, 18 months later are like, okay, you know, some of these things now are, maybe we need some permanent change and how are we going to protect ourselves from the next event?

Mark Graban (20m 14s):
So there are the, are these, you know, they're, they're these grand waves, you know, different industrial revolutions, key technologies that are pointed to, and, and in your book, you talk about the shift from industrial age. So when we were grouping all the industrial revolutions together into a digital age, is there, you know, w w there's been so much turn over time in the fortune 500 lists, like the fact that you were a big, huge successful company in one decade, doesn't guarantee that you'll still be there a couple of decades out, but is there a company what's a good example that comes to mind to you brand of a company that has successfully navigated going from the quote unquote industrial age to the digital age?

Brant Cooper (21m 0s):
Yeah, that's a great question. I think that in terms of, I think that the, in terms of the change, the transformation, the company that I know of, that's sort of moved the furthest is, is ING. The, the global bank that's headquartered out of the Netherlands. And, you know, they, they long-term had had an innovation practice that was, you know, what does banking going to look like in 10 years and that sort of thing, but they didn't stop there. They applied their quote unquote innovation mindset to, to those things that maybe are two or three years out.

Brant Cooper (21m 45s):
And those things that are immediate. So where's the uncertainty in the core business that we can apply the mindset to. So they have a program called pace every day, which is really supposed to be teams that are dealing with everyday uncertainty in a way that is quote unquote agile or agility like, and that tests assumptions, and that runs experiments and, and uses data to inform decisions. So it's a way of thinking. It's a way of working in the every day, instead of here's, my manager gave me these 10 things to do. And so, so I N G did that throughout the company and then reorganize the company such that that behavior was more natural.

Brant Cooper (22m 29s):
And so they adopted techniques that they, they observed at Spotify and Amazon and Google, and some of these other tech companies that are, I'm not sure how, how much more innovative they are, quote unquote, but they're fast moving. And they're definitely agile, and they're always coming up with new things and they're very aggressive. And so that's sort of a mindset that these other companies want to adopt these legacy companies. And so I, and G restructured their company. So no more departments in silos, but restructured in a more, in a way more similar to the tech companies in order to get that behavior, that team agile lean behavior to be the normal outcome of the structure.

Brant Cooper (23m 14s):
So the normal outcome of a traditional structure with the silos and the hierarchies really is going to be slow and not customer focused and, and, and not able to incorporate new information and change plans, it's actually built into the structure of the company. And so that ING went to the point of, of, you know, reorganizing, tens of thousands of employees is pretty extraordinary

Mark Graban (23m 38s):
Thinking of, you know, the disruption of the pandemic coming back to that again, what are your thoughts in terms of particular lessons from the pandemic of companies figuring out working from home, what comes next as it continued work at home? Is it a hybrid model? What, what are you seeing or,

Brant Cooper (23m 55s):
Yeah, so, I mean, I think that, I think that the, the COVID as devastating as it was and continues to be, did offer an opportunity for companies to exercise whatever resiliency they had already built in. And there's some really good examples of that. The easiest is probably just, you know, the number of restaurants that were able to change their business model to delivery or to curbside delivery. And, and that seems obvious now, but it did not in, in March of 2020, and a lot of restaurants went out of business. So maybe they weren't, weren't able to adapt the work from home, I think is another really great example of an opportunity that the pandemic then presents.

Brant Cooper (24m 43s):
And it's really hard to see how companies are going to choose one way or the other. It's absolutely extraordinary to me that a company like Apple would sit there and go like, Nope, everybody's got to come into the office. And, and Tim Cook, the CEO seems completely out of touch to sort of suggest like, well, I really enjoy coming into the office and seeing my colleagues and, you know, and the serendipity of you know, of the collisions. And I'm thinking like, you know, yeah, there's probably not a lot of software engineers who are sitting in their, their cube with their headphones on that is benefiting from that in the same way that Mr.

Brant Cooper (25m 24s):
Cook does. And it just seemed incredibly out of touch to even say that. And of course the engineers are pushing back and going, no, I'll just go work somewhere else. So you have companies that are on both sides of the fence around that. But to me, the glaring thing that is missing is this opportunity to understand your colleagues, right? So there's this, there's this sort of comfortable summary that young people want to work from home and remote and management wants to work from the office, but it turns out that's not really true. A lot of young people really want the office environment. They want the social part of it. They want the mentorship they want to be seen and heard.

Brant Cooper (26m 8s):
Whereas a lot of of leaders actually have a very comfortable home office. They're tired of the commute, they've paid their dues, and they're really sort of directing people and attending meetings, which, you know, zoom is fine for. And so they would actually like to prefer to work at home. And so it, it runs counter to the narrative. And what it really brings home to me is that the organizations, the companies aren't taking the time to actually go and develop empathy for the people that work. And again, it's not, we're going to build policies that do what the employees say, but you should at least understand what the implications of your policies are on your employees.

Brant Cooper (26m 50s):
And maybe there's ways to build flexibility into the model, such that if you're working on a quote unquote agile team, the team itself can choose where they're working from. And maybe sometimes it's home, maybe it's in the office. Sometimes maybe it's at a local co-working facility that they're all closer to, and that would be life changing to be able to drive to the co-worker instead of to the downtown, which is a 60 minute commute. So there's just, again, the opportunity being missed in my opinion, is, is the opportunity to use some of these entrepreneurial mindset T techniques to develop empathy, run experiments, to figure out what works and use, what works to develop the policies.

Brant Cooper (27m 32s):
And yeah, it means that you can't make a decision overnight, but you're teaching all of these people how to deal with complexity and uncertainty. And so it's a great application of, of these principles. So again, I, you know, constraints that are brought by things like the pandemic create opportunities, but we have to be willing to, to tackle those opportunities in new ways. And it just seems like the knee jerk reaction is, but, but if we have one policy, we need it for everybody, or we've never done it that way, or tradition says, you know, and, and that's just not, not going to work in the digital age.

Brant Cooper (28m 14s):
If you ask me

Mark Graban (28m 15s):
Well, and you, you beat me to the punch to bring it back to the word, empathy again. And, you know, with within Brant's book, he's got a framework and maybe explore a little bit here, the five E's and it starts with empathy. And, you know, we can talk about developing an understanding of customers. We can also, we can apply that to other stakeholders, developing an understanding of our employees and, and their perspectives. And, you know, I went back just real quick, one dictionary definition, at least of the word empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. And, and from my memory, I'm thinking of at one point, this definition that was more focused on understanding the feelings of another, who was not like you is maybe a deeper level of empathy.

Mark Graban (29m 1s):
Right? Yep. And we can think of applying that in the workplace. My wife and I are childless, and I, you know, done a ton of zoom meetings. I learned very quickly, like, don't get upset at somebody because their kid interrupts the meeting or their dog interrupts the meeting. They're probably not there, you know, from their reaction, they're not happy about it either. So it happens. That's why we move on. Right. And there are a lot of things in life these days maybe, or I've, I've tried to focus on like, oh, it's not, you know, is this worth getting upset about? And if you can practice, if you can stretch your empathy, a bet, the answer is, well, no, probably not. Let's understand their a little bit better, even if it's not the same as ours.

Brant Cooper (29m 44s):
Right? Yeah. So it's, it's most people that are trying to solve problems, enjoy that because they bring to the table, certain skills and expertise, and they want to exercise their own creativity in solving problems, taking the time to go and develop empathy, to understand the needs of those that you're hoping to create the product for is, is doesn't stop you from exercising your creativity. In other words, you're the one who gets to solve the problem, but you need to understand the problem in order to, to solve it the best way possible.

Brant Cooper (30m 26s):
And I think that that's a skillset that can be developed in everyone. There's going to be people that do it better than others, but it's really, it's not, it's not something that's held only by design thinkers or human centered design people or impacts, or, or certain people it's really just taking the time to, to pause and listen and consider. And then when you go back into your own space, you still get to decide what you're going to do with that information. And, and you know, one of the, one of the things that I've talked about over the last couple of years, talking to a lot of innovation groups, a lot of innovators complain about, you know, the, that their leaders are not bought in and they can't get funding.

Brant Cooper (31m 11s):
And I asked them, have you ever gone and developed empathy for your leadership? So I'm sure you want the leaders to develop empathy for you. Have you ever done it in reverse? And I actually even have a tool that helps people do that. And the idea is, is that you can actually, I, I always kind of like, feel like I need to throw a caveat here. You know, that you could actually use empathy for selfish reasons. And I know that's not what we're trying to get at here, but if you are somebody that needs your leaders to buy into something that you're doing, then the more you understand what your leadership is facing the things that keep them up at night, what are the criteria that they're using to evaluate decisions?

Brant Cooper (31m 53s):
What's their background that led them to that sort of decision-making process. The more you understand all of that, the more you're going to be prepared when you're there pitching your idea for funding. And it's likely not going to be just idea based is that you're going to bring evidence. You're going to have done some groundwork in order to make the case that this is a good thing to do. But so selfish is kind of a strong word there, but it, it allows you to, to address the needs of others, if you understand those other people. And so you can use that, you know, to your own benefit,

Mark Graban (32m 34s):
But to the benefit of you or your startup or your organization of any age. I mean, that that's, that I don't, that, that, that for, for your benefit, that's not, not necessarily a selfish though. That's on all the company's structured and all kinds of other things. But, so I talked about, it's interesting. You're talking about getting a better at empathy. Do you want to start an empathy bootcamp for a weekend? No, I'm kidding. Yeah, I'm jumping, I'm jumping to a solution there, but, but it's an interesting idea. Maybe it's just ask you to elaborate on that. I mean, that, that people can, some people could learn to be more empathetic. Some people may be are, are hopeless. I'm not a psychologist. This is where people sometime, you know, the executives get labeled as psychopath because they are completely unable to empathize with others.

Mark Graban (33m 19s):
So, but most people not being psychopaths can learn and get better at practicing and demonstrating empathy.

Brant Cooper (33m 26s):
Right. You know, I mean, I, back when I was a product manager, I don't think I was actually out developing empathy. I think we just really went out and gathered feature requirements. Right. But so that's like bad empathy development, but it's something it does allow you to actually, you actually are taking information from another person and you're recording it and you're perhaps going to put it into your product. So that would be like, I joke that, you know, empathy is now a corporate buzzword and in some ways it makes me cringe. But I mean, even if people inside that company are doing bad empathy, it's a start. It is actually getting them out of their own mindset for a short period of time and listening to others.

Brant Cooper (34m 8s):
So I'm guessing even those people that are completely narcissistic narcissistic can for small periods of time actually listened to what others have to say. So I think that it's, yeah. I mean, bad empathy. Doesn't take you that far, but you're not going to put the bad empathy individuals on your innovation team or on your product design team. There's other roles for those people. But I think the point is, is that there's a bunch of, I don't know, core business functions, back office functions that we don't consider might be able to benefit from, from this entrepreneurial mindset, from this innovation mindset.

Brant Cooper (34m 51s):
And so if you have an HR group that is trying to implement new policies, maybe that's like, we need to fix our hiring, or maybe it's we need to fix the way we're doing our employee reviews or performance reviews that they can actually go and practice empathy and run experiments and do all of that entrepreneurial spirit thing is obviously going to be beneficial to whatever program it is that they, that they put together. And so, whereas people would not necessarily, and I don't mean to diss HR people, but I mean, they're not going to be considered or it people, the most empathetic people in the world, at least as part of their job functions, but they can be taught how to go and do that sort of thing to the benefit of their groups and their departments and ultimately company.

Brant Cooper (35m 38s):
And so, yeah, a bootcamp on how to do that sort of thing is, I mean, it's one of the things that moves the needle does, but there's a ton of people out there that teach this stuff. And a matter of fact, when we're talking to large organizations and I would even bet healthcare, you already have people inside your organization that know how to do this, are willing to teach it and coach it. And that's really one of the things that I tried to emphasize in the book is you don't have to go in and hire all of these different, you know, big five or big four or however many consulting firms. You don't have to hire all the agencies. They're great. And you could benefit from some of them, but you actually already have people that are doing this.

Brant Cooper (36m 19s):
And so that's what you need to double down on.

Mark Graban (36m 22s):
You're talking about empathy, good empathy, bad empathy. I'm going to throw an example out there. See if you agree there, there's a very common sign. We see it in social media and memes and different ways. And the sign says the whole world is short-staffed be kind to those who showed up in like a restaurant or a retail establishment will post that sign. And I think they're asking us to be empathetic to the people who were there, which I'm all on board with. I think the sign is bad empathy. And that, I think for one, it's making a BA a false generalization that the whole world is short-staffed. And I think it's showing bad empathy or a lack of empathy to those who are unable to come to work for one reason or another.

Mark Graban (37m 6s):
I think the sign is telling the customer don't blame us, the owner, or management for any of this, please be kind. And I think again, asking people to be kind is okay, but there's a version of the sign that I think is even worse sympathy. I was able to find her in a Google search. We are short-staffed now that's different than saying the whole world is short-staffed so point for that. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore. I'm like, again, I think that's even, that's a bigger, bigger lack of empathy there. Yeah.

Brant Cooper (37m 40s):
It's funny that there's a, I agree with you that there's, it's, it's sort of missing, it's sort of missing on, on, on several different layers. If you ask me, I think that any time that you are going to put up a sign, you actually should be understanding the people that for whom you're putting the sign up. In other words, you're actually supposed to be developing empathy for your customers. It's great that you have your employees backs. And so that's great. And you're maybe demonstrating empathy by having your employee's backs. I really wonder if it's more about what you said is owner feeling a particular way?

Brant Cooper (38m 21s):
To me, there's not a lot of, there's not a lot of benefit for people who, who are just showing up. And so both of those signs kind of use that phrase ology, and I'm like, listen, if you're going to show up and be, be crabby and not empathetic back to the customers that maybe don't show up. So that one's a little bit odd. And I think that they're trying to gear towards those customers that are impatient or that won't wear masks or something like that. And so I can understand the frustration, but it's really not great empathy or good practice to lump all your employees into the worst employee bucket. So yeah, I've kind of missing out on a lot of friends if you asked me and I understand the sentiment, but I think with, with some human centered design, somebody could have helped with that sign.

Brant Cooper (39m 12s):
That would have been a winner for all, and maybe inject a little humor into it that would be, would, would ease, ease, right from the get, go, as opposed to kind of this little tone in there. That's a little bit, a little bit aggressive, a little bit off. So play, I mean, you

Mark Graban (39m 28s):
Know, it's fair to ask people, please treat our employees respectfully, but the sign yeah. Part of the tone is sort of like, well, you shouldn't get upset dear customer,

Brant Cooper (39m 38s):
Right? Well, not only that, but why not just lead with, we should be respectful of each other. And then, and then, you know, you know, that just starts us off on the same, on the same place, right? And, and, and maybe not even construct the, the, the two sides, the two sides and from the get-go.

Mark Graban (39m 58s):
So there's one other sign, and maybe this is a, it'll be a segue to talking a little bit about healthcare. There's another sign that has been making its rounds through hospitals. And I've seen a number of social media posts of different versions of the sign. And it's assigned, directed at staff. Let's say, if you're entering a workspace or leaving a break room and one version of the sign, they're all very close. It says again, dear employees. So it's addressed to you. Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space. And then basically it says, take a slow, deep breath and make sure your energy is in check before entering. Like, I'm going to blog about this. I find this to be a deeply insulting sign, easy for me to say, and it's not directed at me, but I think this is deflecting.

Mark Graban (40m 45s):
Like, if, if, if the employees are all miserable and burned out, I think like sending them to resiliency training or telling them what the sign to check your attitude. I don't see that helping.

Brant Cooper (40m 57s):
Yeah. So the contrast I'm going to throw out there is, is that this bank in Turkey is an ING, took over a bank that was dedicated towards the military in Turkey. And they put this young woman in charge. She had managed no more than five people and C was suddenly CEO of this bank. And it was the, the building and the, and the infrastructure of the bank reminded you of the military. It was dark brown walls, very office siloed. And she just, all of that out. And recolored, and the banners that she put up for the employees when they walked in the door, they said, bring your true self.

Brant Cooper (41m 43s):
You are welcome to be your true self here. And, and to me, that was, was just brilliant and start of a long course of change inside that organization. Things like, you know, I'm trusting my people with, you know, huge budgets and now I'm supposed to approve their, you know, $15 expenses. And she says, I'm done with it. I'm not approving expenses anymore. Everybody else just submit your expenses. There's just a bunch of different steps to have respect for the employees and, and, and, and invite them to show up as they are.

Brant Cooper (42m 25s):
And, and that means actually, you know, if you, if you, if you don't have a great day, you don't have a great day. And, and obviously when, when in a healthcare situation, those people are interacting with patients. You know, there's not having a great day is not an excuse for, you know, sort of bad behavior. But on the other hand, I don't know, you have to, you have to find that right balance. And you want, you want, when somebody walks into the room that they, they, they felt heard and felt respected. And I guess the other thing I'll add, it's not woo-hoo right. I mean, this is not like, oh, you know, why can't we all just get along and peace and love and all the it's about driving impact.

Brant Cooper (43m 6s):
It's about having, it's about serving the mission of that business. So it's maintaining the context of the reason why that organization exists. And so people need to be held accountable to metrics and to behaviors and to all of these other types of things. But at the other hand, you actually have to empower these people to do the right thing. And so

Mark Graban (43m 27s):
You have to help them do the right thing and you have to listen. And I, you made a really good point earlier about there. Disconnects, like, to me, this sign is a symptom of a disconnect of like somebody at some point wrote these words and said, well, there's this problem patients are complaining or staffer being mean to each other. I'm going to post a sign like that. Doesn't that sign doesn't invite a conversation. It says basically stifle yourself. Like don't like it at different sign that might ask or invite if you're struggling today, let's, let's talk about it. Whether that's their manager or somebody higher up or EAP program, or like that, to me, the sign says basically, yeah, take a breath and be like, cause a lot of behaviors.

Mark Graban (44m 16s):
And people's reactions to situations I think are very systemic in nature. So I, I think you, you said it better Erie, you said at first there's balance, like, yes, we have a free will over our actions. Stephen Covey used to talk, creating a little gap between stimulus and response. And some of us are better at that than others. I have my moments where I'm not good at it in that, but like, there's, there's just something off. I think, I think the sign is well-intended because the, the middle part that I glossed over said things that I think are true, your words matter, your behaviors matter, our patients and teams matter, but I just disagreed. They've jumped to a solution that taking a slow, deep breath fixes everything.

Brant Cooper (44m 58s):
And I just, again, I think that, I think that you start off with the, you start off with the welcomes, start off with, you know, again, it almost feels like it almost feels like that restaurant example again, where management is purposefully creating separate teams and that those teams are, are opposing each other in, in certain situations. And, and really the, the, it seems to me that what you would want to do is buy is first say we're all on the same team. And so, you know, welcome and, you know, again, sort of show up as your true self.

Brant Cooper (45m 38s):
And then if you have sort of this separate sign that says, Hey, are you, if you're struggling today, let's talk or something like that, then it feels like you're, you're being supported rather than, you know, sort of confronted with, with somebody you don't even, you're not even sure who it's sort of not trusting your ability to regulate yourself.

Mark Graban (46m 3s):
So you saw, and we had a chance to talk, you know, privately in, in, in, in Brant you had shared, and you said it was okay to talk about it here. Some experiences that you've had recently of seeing like a lot of us say, there are great people sometimes in bad systems and they're doing their best with what they're given, you know, to, to, to your comfort level. Do you want to share a little bit about what you've been going through? So,

Brant Cooper (46m 30s):
So back in March, I was diagnosed with esophagus cancer, stage three, I believe so. You know, I think we caught it in time. And, and so I, I spent most of April and May in, in radiation and chemotherapy. And, and, you know, when, when, when confronted by something like this, you know, I, my, my, I guess my way is to become pretty introspective and sort of look at things from philosophical perspective, but also I'm right in the middle of, you know, finishing up the production of the book, which is, you know, talking about efficiencies and creating value and empowering people.

Brant Cooper (47m 19s):
And, and so to me, it was just sort of a, an interesting period where I want to do publicly documents. Some of my thoughts about the care that I going through, and especially from the perspective of being really a privileged white male with great health insurance and, and realizing that really the huge percentage of people that would be undergoing the same thing would actually have less advantages than that I have. And, and so, you know, wanting to be transparent about that. And then of course, what what's crazy is on top of that, that the, the hospital that I was primarily going to was, was struck by a ransomware attack.

Brant Cooper (48m 7s):
And so it was really just kind of a crazy time. And so my care was disrupted, the, the radiation equipment was shut down because of ransomware and, and, you know, the, the hospital system was being pretty cagey about it. And the media to me was not really reporting on it adequately because they were just talking about the inconvenience of appointment scheduling, that type of thing. But my queue chemotherapy continued and due to the heroic efforts of the doctor, my radiation was, you know, after being skipped for a week was, was re-upped. And, and so, so I don't know if I have any, you know, like grand conclusions around it, except that the people were awesome.

Brant Cooper (48m 55s):
The nurses, the doctors, the technicians, the front office, people were really just uniformly, amazing wrestling with the insurance company was problematic both as a business owner, as well as the, as the patient that just still, I think is the biggest hurdle towards long-term improvements of the whole healthcare system. I found some interesting observations in terms of, you know, the technology that the hospitals deploy is extraordinary. We haven't really taken into consideration human centered design in the patient interaction with that equipment, which I think is kind of this interesting avenue.

Brant Cooper (49m 42s):
There are all sorts of things that I could identify as being positively agile, like in disruption proof Scripps hospital had a, a nurse who was in charge of, I can't remember the title they gave her, but she was in charge of helping me navigate the system, the several different doctors, the several different specialists that had to be on the team. And that was absolutely extraordinary. Otherwise it's me that has to hop around and all of the support staff of the doctors don't know what the others are up to. So it's, it's very siloed, like a big business, but the fact that they had appointed this role to manage that was extraordinary and very positive and worked very well.

Brant Cooper (50m 34s):
Then they

Mark Graban (50m 34s):
May have called that role a patient navigator. Yeah,

Brant Cooper (50m 36s):
Exactly. Right. Patient navigator. And,

Mark Graban (50m 39s):
And, and there's this fine line. Yes. It's good in the short-term to help people navigate the system, but then what are we doing to help reduce the need for that? It would be like a parallel. If, you know, you went out for a drive and you had a road navigator and they're driving along and you're like, oh yeah, that, that sign there, that sign is totally wrong. So don't turn left there. You're actually going to get a two streets down who closes the loop to fix that.

Brant Cooper (51m 6s):
No doubt about it. I guess it's a step. And if one can see if that step works, then maybe there's something that somebody does to break, break down those silos. And the doctors do meet on a board to go over the, the cancer treatment. So the fact that they're bringing them together and that the navigator is there is, again, it's sort of another step. It's almost like a team of teams approach there. And so I think that ultimately the structure needs to change so that you don't have to purposely put these mechanisms on top of the existing structure. That's really sort of what the problem is. And so eventually one hopes that you can see that there would be a more rational way of organizing the systems such that you don't have to put these mechanisms on top, but that the fact that they did put those mechanisms is more advanced than, you know, the other hospital systems that I had been looking at or involved with.

Brant Cooper (52m 2s):
And then they also sort of, to me, prematurely stopped the navigator. They might as well go through the whole, the whole process. And even post-treatment, I'm really kind of back to navigating my way through, through all of the different departments. Again, I'm also taking some services from a different system. And so the inter system stuff is, as you can imagine, even worse than the, the interest system. And so, but again, to me, it was like, it was, you know, you're steeped way more deeply than I am. This, this was my first interaction with it. And I could compare one to the other and I was pretty amazed by it.

Brant Cooper (52m 44s):
And then I think that the, even the, the treatment itself, you know, the chemotherapy itself and the, and the radiation, the way they have those systems set up, this was a new building that the chemotherapy was in. And it was very open such that the staff could see all of the different patients while the patients had privacy amongst themselves. And it was a very team culture in terms of how the medicine was administered and how people were observed. And again, I thought all of that was, was sort of very positive and recognizing really the complexity of, of these types of treatments and that you need, you know, everything needs be verified and you need, you know, sort of that people on the same page and feeling like they are part of the same team and that we're going to make each other perform better is really, again, sort of spot on in what I think should be an all company cultures.

Brant Cooper (53m 41s):
And, and, and we're, we're not there yet, obviously.

Mark Graban (53m 44s):
Yeah. So one of the biggest technological changes in recent decades is the electronic medical record, or sometimes called the electronic health record. There have been a lot of advantages to that. There are, like you said, opportunities for human centered design when it comes to the users of the system, meaning, you know, the doctors and the nurses and the other providers. So there are some jobs that got completely disrupted out of existence in what used to be the medical records department. Maybe there was an increase of staffing in information systems, but then there's been this new function. I don't know if you saw this in any of your, what you were observation observation, the scribe of somebody who basically, maybe this is a, I think in a lot of cases, a very good division of labor, a medical student, or somebody who's in training gets the benefit of shadowing the physician.

Mark Graban (54m 36s):
And basically being there they're scribed with the keyboard and the mouse. So you can say, well, better use more efficient use of the physician mental cycles and in their brain and education and everything. But I did not see that, but it seems like a great idea. What's something disruption takes away. Sometimes disruption adds, but then, you know, with the good, you know, you know, I think EHR has, haven't been the cure, all that some would have pitched them as, and then to your point, it creates new risk of disruption, meaning ransomware, that's something that would have not been an issue 25 years ago.

Brant Cooper (55m 10s):
Well, really. Yeah. Right. And the thing is, is that, like in this particular situation, that's not a collapse of it. That's how it getting attacked. And so I, you know, I'm, I'm an old like T guy and, and maybe I'm completely wrong, but it seems to me that you could develop a internal IT system that is not dependent upon public exposure. And it would seem to me that at the very least you have to have some sort of redundancy for the IMR such that people's treatments can continue. So there's all sorts of things that I would bet haven't been done because of the old industrial age managing towards financial efficiency only versus efficiency of accomplishing the mission.

Brant Cooper (56m 7s):
And, and I'm wondering now with all of these disruptions that have happened just in the last year and a half, two years, whether we'll start seeing companies realize, and really more than companies, governments, you know, in industrial policy for computer chips, right. Or chains, I mean, it may require like bigger action by the federal government to mandate some of this stuff. As much as we all, you know, don't want a bunch of regulation. If the companies aren't going to do things that protect the infrastructure and they, and the data and the functioning of these organizations, then, then that really is a role of government. But I'm really wondering whether we'll see a change, if we can get people back to measuring efficiency of the mission achieved, versus just simply financial efficiency, we'll start seeing things like redundancy of supply chains and redundancies of metrics of it systems and these other ways to keep the very mission, the very function of these organizations up, even during disruptions.

Mark Graban (57m 6s):
Yeah. I mean, the final thing I'd add, you know, you mentioned interoperability. I it's one example I had, I went, I had some test results from primary care and I went to a specialist and this specialist was, I thought part of that same integrated health system, they were in a building with that name and, and, and they, they wanted, you know, the test results and might, well, just, just look in, they look in the EHR and they're like, oh, we don't have access to that. You're a part of the same system. Right. And so no, we just leased space in their building. And so then this involved faxes, and they're like, I could, I could pull it up on my phone as the patient and they could not pull it up.

Mark Graban (57m 50s):
And they, I couldn't just text them a screenshot of like, so all the time and cost and effort in both offices sides to have this really clunky handshake and a exchange of information, I think that's still more common. And some of that's got to just go away. Well, I

Brant Cooper (58m 6s):
Mean, it's just, it's one of the things that I raised in the book is that digital transformation to people means, you know, how do I build a mobile app for my refrigerator? And, and really what digital transformation needs to be is that all of the back office functions are brought up to, you know, the standards of today. And so it it's incredible, the faxing and the, and the paper that's still here. And, and at the same time, the lack of backups and redundancies, and, and it's really pretty extraordinary. We, you know, we're so forward pushing this technology out into the new world, but you're really sort of only as resilient or agile as all of these, you know, sort of weaker links that go very deep into the organization.

Brant Cooper (58m 55s):
And you really just sort of get the feeling that there aren't people that are paying attention to that, because it's just not the sexy work that needs to be done. It's really super hardcore, you know, fixing of, of, you know, age old technical debt even.

Mark Graban (59m 11s):
Yeah. And if it's viewed as a cost, instead of something that provides more value than it probably doesn't get done.

Brant Cooper (59m 17s):
Right. Yep.

Mark Graban (59m 19s):
So before we wrap up here, I want to, again, about the book and then an event. So the book again, Brant Cooper has been our guest it's titled Disruption Proof: Empower People, Create Value, Drive Change, it's due out October 26, and you are encouraging people to help support independent bookstores. If you want to say a little bit more about that

Brant Cooper (59m 39s):
Doing a virtual book tour and there's there's event information on, on the website, BrantCooper.com, as well as some book bundles there, people are interested in having me maybe a speaker or do a lunch and learn or a workshop or something in addition to buying the books, but we're doing a virtual book tour. And so I'm reaching out to the bookstores to help host events around the country. And we've got one coming up in, in Los Angeles on September 8th through shaver leaders. And basically we'll just do, we'll talk about the book and, and hopefully if you want to buy a book, you can buy it right then and there through the independent bookstore that we're partnered with.

Brant Cooper (1h 0m 21s):
So yeah, the we've got one coming up here for Los Angeles, but the event page is on Brant cooper.com or moves the needle.com. And you can see where we'll be next and hopefully coming to, to a city near you,

Mark Graban (1h 0m 37s):
Virtually. Yeah, virtually, I hope people will check that out and there's going to be a virtual summit event that Brant is organizing called the Endless Disruption summit on September 30th. If you want to tell us a little bit about that. Yeah. Thanks.

Brant Cooper (1h 0m 54s):
So happy to have Mark participating with us on that, by the way. But the idea there is that I want to help demonstrate that, you know, the, the big change is this change to this interconnected complex digital world. And, and so the changes that mark and I have been talking about in healthcare and in business are going to happen everywhere. I fundamentally believe that the very structure of, and management of all of the institutions that we depend on, they're going to fundamentally change in education, government, healthcare, business, non-profits startups. And so the, the endless disruption summit is bringing together some people that demonstrate their leadership in some of these different areas and the changes that they are making.

Brant Cooper (1h 1m 44s):
I sort of call it disrupting conformity because you have to step outside what everybody else is doing and what was working before in order to figure out new ways to, to manage and structure these organizations. And so a ticket gets you a copy of the book. So that's at a endless disruption.com or endless disruption, summit.com. And you can join us for what I really think are going to be some fascinating discussions on these changes that are already underway in all of these different organizations.

Mark Graban (1h 2m 18s):
Well, I hope people will check that out and yeah. Thank you for having previously asked me to participate in that. I didn't want to put you on the spot in case you or your team had changed your mind. So thank you for mentioning that. And I hope people will go check it out. I'll, I'll put links to all of that in the show notes. So Brant, thank you. I'm I'm, I'm glad after eight years we could do this again. It doesn't have to be related to a book launch. We can do another episode sooner than that.

Brant Cooper (1h 2m 45s):
Well, I know you're a, you're a busy man tackling some big issues, mark. So I, I really appreciate you. You fitting me into the schedule and you know, I, I hope, hope people check out some of that I'm, I'm sort of Brant Cooper on, on all the social media so people can feel free to reach out. I I'll respond to all messages and yeah. Look forward to look forward to the events coming up.

Mark Graban (1h 3m 10s):
Yeah, we'll see you on September 30th and in advance, congratulations on getting the book out there so much, Martin. Appreciate it. Thank you, Brant. Well, thanks again to Brant for being our guests today for links show notes and more for links to pre-order his book, to learn more and to register for the Endless Disruption event, you can find all of that at lean blog.org/422. Thanks

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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