Driving Corporate Innovation with Tendayi Viki

This week’s guest, Tendayi Viki, is an Associate Partner at Strategyzer. A prolific author, he has written three books and is a regular contributor to Forbes magazine. His most recent book, Pirates in the Navy: How Innovators Lead Transformation, is a manifesto on how to drive corporate innovation in large organizations. He and Barry O’Reilly chat about how he helped organizations drive and scale innovation, including key unlearning moments along the way.


Good Enough Is Better Than Perfect

In an interesting twist of fate, Tendayi ended up in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business under the tutelage and mentorship of innovators like Steve Blank. He says that this was the turning point for him to converge his psychology training with entrepreneurship and innovation. He recounts two major unlearning moments, the major one of which was his tendency to over-edit. Barry describes this as a classic trap: we want our product to be perfect before we publish, but the better approach is to make it good enough, put it out there and start the conversation. In the academic world, Tendayi points out, your ideas evolve in private; but the innovation world is the opposite as your ideas evolve in public. This makes you vulnerable and takes courage, but the feedback you receive makes your product better. [Listen from 3:05]


Earn the Right to Criticize

You have to earn the right to criticize, according to Tendayi. People will only follow you when they see you as a partner on their journey when they feel that you understand their struggle and have their best interests at heart. [Listen from 15:25]



Helping Successful Ideas Evolve

There’s no way to tell which of your ideas will succeed, so invest in many ideas and see which ones pan out. Tendayi remarks, “The fundamental theory of innovation is the theory of an entrepreneurship ecosystem… and in that ecosystem, the evolution of successful ideas is actually pretty random. We don’t know what’s going to succeed and what’s not going to succeed. What we do is just throw things at the wall: we invest in a whole bunch of stuff and then we see what succeeds and what fails.” He emphasizes that you cannot choose winning ideas yourself on day one. He tells leaders that they have to provide the context for the best ideas to bubble up. Double down once you see what works. [Listen from 17:05]


Tendayi Viki

Driving Corporate Innovation with Tendayi Viki

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Coaching the Team

Training is not enough: build organizational habits that allow the training to become a repeatable process within your organization. Tendayi explains why he uses this approach when working with large organizations. Coaching the team – both the leaders and employees – involves helping them incorporate this new mindset into their daily routine. Leaders in particular need to be deliberate about what they say and the questions they ask. Their questions should help to bring out the best in the team. [Listen from 26:45]


What Lean Startup Is Not

Lean startup is not a way to make any idea you have work. In fact, the majority of times it will tell you what doesn’t work. “What lean startup does is it allows you to find things that don’t work, quicker and cheaper, so you can stop working on that stuff and double down on the things that work,” Tendayi says. He shares practical tips for incorporating the lean startup culture into a large organization, including creating artificial scarcity, which instills the discipline of focusing on what you need to do to be successful. [Listen from 30:00]


Looking Ahead

Tendayi is working on completing ongoing projects, including the Insight Strategyzer tool and a new book entitled Right Question Right Time. His next step, he says, is to return to his academic roots to research the psychology of uncomplacency. [Listen from 33:50]




Pirates In The Navy: How Innovators Lead Transformation


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