Bridging the Gap - The Many Faces of Innovation Series


Workplace Innovation Network for Canada



Many Faces of Innovation - Part 3, Bridging the Gap with guest Dr. Tom Carey - Conclusion

Welcome to this week's episode or for what it's worth. I'm your host Blake Melnick. And this is the conclusion of our three-part interview with Dr. Tom Carey. Part of our innovation series, the Many Faces of Innovation called "Bridging the Gap". In our last episode, Tom and I discussed the difference between entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs, the future of learning and work as a result of changes brought about by the pandemic, the importance of context in innovation and the motivations for innovation. In this episode, we zero in on the specific skills of the innovation capable graduate. We re-imagined work and learning in higher Ed in the workplace. The importance of bridging the gap between younger employees and older workers in terms of creating mutually beneficial results for both employees and organizations.

And we discuss WINCan the workplace innovation network for Canada... for what it's worth


Blake Melnick: To this point, we've talked a lot about innovation and entrepreneurial mindsets attributes and so forth. Now I want to talk a little bit more about the hard skills. So I think for example, lots of people have great ideas. They're just not sure how to articulate these ideas in such a way the organization or their boss will number one, pay attention to them and number two, consider implementing them within the organization. And I think there are certain skills involved in that. So for example, the ability to develop a case study or a business plan or a proposal to change something within the organization, to improve something, this is a skill.

Tom Carey: Yeah, there's a set of skills there. Yep. 

 Blake Melnick: So what else is there? We know that innovation capable people are generally reflective. So is reflection a skill? Is this something that can be taught as a skill?

Tom Carey: Yes. As a matter of fact there are researchers who studied that and how we could teach people to reflect more effectively.

It's particularly critical in innovation when things don't work out the way you had planned. How do you respond to that? I was talking to somebody of the day. It was describing their post-mortem reflections. After the end of a project, we all sit down and we go through it to see what could we have done differently?And I said to him, have you ever tried a pre-mortem before the project starts, you project yourself into the future? And you say, now let's think that we're three months out and the project has failed in the sense that we didn't achieve our goals. What might have caused that? What possible scenarios can we come up with to say three months from now, we're sitting in the room and what might we not have thought of? And now that we could be thinking about them, and there is a process by which you conduct this pre-mortem to prepare yourself for reflection later. And that learning to reflect so that you can benefit from all of these experiences to continuously improve your capability. We in higher Ed neglect that, and there are folks who are addressing it.

 There are modules. The university of Waterloo has one about it doesn't quite say learning from failure, but learning to do better next time is the way it's being framed. And so who wouldn't want to do that? 

 Blake Melnick: Yeah, great point, Tom. I'm a big fan of the post-mortem. I call them after action reviews, but it's a tried and proven knowledge management strategy. I've used it for years in my practice, as part of all the courses that we teach. It was first introduced by the U S military to capture knowledge from missions and translate this in the form of lessons learned immediately into practice to protect the lives of service people in future missions.

The practice of course, has been adopted and adapted by corporations around the world to support operational effectiveness, improve training, ensure high levels of safety, which results in less downtime of operational assets and helps to reduce redundancy and repetition of past mistakes. Really of critical importance.

It seeks to capture knowledge in the form of insights, new learnings, better and more efficient processes from each project in each project team to support future projects in teams, it's designed to close the gap between intended or predicted outcomes and the actual outcomes that were achieved, but in order to be effective, the post-mortem or after action review needs to be incorporated as the final phase in all major projects, it needs to be part of the project close out report.

So that it becomes part of institutional memory. And it's the first thing a project team looks, to review prior to starting a new project, particularly if the project is similar in nature to prior ones. So they look at the after-action review, post-mortem and what a great idea to incorporate a pre-mortem in that process as well. This would effectively make the activity both reflective and predictive at the same time.

And of course conducting a post-mortem or pre-mortem is a skill-based activity. There is a process involved in that, and maybe we can post some of that information up on our blog page so people can have a look at it, but I've written a complete guide on doing after action reviews, which walks people through the process to do it really effectively to ensure  that. lessons learned from the post-mortem or the after-action review, find their way into a revision in an organizations, policies and standard operating procedures, because the biggest challenge with this whole process, and there are companies that do it extraordinarily well, but where I find a lot of organizations fall short is they're good at recognizing. What went right and what went wrong in a project they're good at documenting deficiencies and problems and issues, but where they tend to fall down is they don't take those lessons learned and immediately update their standard operating procedures. Companies really need to be updating their standard operating procedures and policies after each one of these formal after-action reviews or pre-action reviews. Otherwise there becomes this massive disconnect and the standard operating procedures don't reflect how work is actually getting done in the organization.

There's been a lot written about re-imagining the future of learning and work. And we've talked about this to a fair degree, too, Tom and the pandemic is obviously forcing us all to think about this. And there's been a lot written about quote unquote, the great resignation that everybody's resigning because they're unhappy with work or with the work that they've been doing. Is this a reality or is there something else at play here?

Tom Carey: It's interesting that the data from Canada on the different data from U.S. Are quite different. So yes, it seems to be a bigger phenomenon in the U.S. And in the us data that I've seen. It seems to be twice as likely for women to be expressing those kinds of feelings about.

I'm not going back to work and the stresses of work. And so on twice as many women expressing those as men, which people whose views I value and respect are attributing to the lack of good childcare and the kinds of pressures the kids have been at home learning.  And it's not a choice for me.

If I am going to manage my family, I can't be out and working in anything like the way that I was before. So there's a lot of social factors tie into that. And certainly places like restaurants are finding that if the culture of the restaurant was all about getting high performance, high speed, high pressure, and that wasn't accompanied by profit sharing now.

Scheduling people's shifts two weeks in advance and sticking to him all of those things that might contribute to a family friendly life friendly workplace, if he didn't offer that. And now people have had a chance to sit back and reflect and not just rush off to work every day. Yeah.

And they're now realizing, hey maybe there are better ways to do this, but the restaurants who have always involved their staff in decision-making always treated them as professionals are very valuable skills, not assembly line workers who could easily be replaced have retained their staff.

Blake Melnick: So it would seem that there are a host of different social factors coming into play, and people are reflecting, contemplating the nature of their lives, the nature of work, what they want from their jobs, what will fulfill them in their lives. And I also think there's a certain amount of disenfranchisement too, as a result of advances in technology and people are feeling left behind.

So here's my question in the context of creating better work, whether that be in higher Ed, the workplace within your local community, what are the opportunities at this point in time, based on everything we've talked about, what are the opportunities facing us to create better work? 

Tom Carey: I think as you're saying, one of the main themes of the discussion has been, how do you engage your employees in creating work? That's better for the organization in terms of performance, whatever your mission is and better for the employees at the same time. I saw some numbers yesterday from my colleagues in Europe, have been the leaders on this for a variety of sociological reasons.

And they're now saying 20% of our workplaces are really capitalizing on employee led workplace innovation to achieve those twin goals of improved organizational performance and improve quality of work. Now, they said that Blake, as a negative. Only 20%. I looked at it and said, wow. So it kind of depends where you are, whether that's a good number, but that's enough for me to say yes, this can be done.

Blake Melnick: And I'm assuming we can talk about the same thing in the context of higher education. We've talked a lot about the need to bridge the gap between learning and work, to not treat these as separate domains. And this of course is one of the big ideas behind the founding of WINCan. The need for a new education model that sees the classroom as the workplace, where students in the classroom work alongside their counterparts in business and industry to help advance solutions, to complex innovation challenges, which impact us all things like climate, food, water, socioeconomic disparity, these are big complex innovation type challenges.

Can we apply the same kind of rethink that's going on in workplaces to learning institutions?

Tom Carey: Yes. And how do we as you said, how do we, on the one hand. Introduce more learning into work. And on the other hand, help students to see themselves as workers. And that's a real challenge for higher Ed to say, how do we give the students a voice?

And one of the things we've done when we looked over all these characteristics that would create the right climate or culture for an innovative workplace, how do we do that now in teaching and learning in higher Ed, when the whole scheme now is set up, we have a set of experts who traditionally stand at the front of the classroom and mentor students with the expertise.

But we know that those people aren't always experts in learning. They may be experts in accounting or microbiology or whatever, but they're not always experts in how [00:11:00] this work of learning could be best carried out. So we face huge challenges in higher Ed and responding to students. who aren't like us as instructors.

We're very good at teaching people who think exactly the way we do. 

 Blake Melnick: Yes, that's true. 

You and I have been working on an older workers study in which we're attempting to address a problem or challenge, which is the disenfranchisement of the older worker, but it's also about creating the opportunity to bring together the enthusiasm, digital skills of the young employee or young learner with the wisdom know-how experience of the older worker, again, to create better work and better learning.

Let's talk about that. 

Tom Carey: We've been working with the Newfoundland, Labrador workforce innovation center to try to bring some of the research on workplace innovation, into their project on working better with age like many regional and geographic areas.

The demographics of the workforce in Newfoundland Labrador are concerning to the provincial government and the larger economic and social development. We have an aging workforce and we need to find a way to retain workers longer, which means we need a way to engage them and give them a much more satisfying workplace experiences.

So all of that of course, ties into this notion that the employees in our workforce can create better jobs for themselves at the same time. Creating jobs that are better from employer's point of view in terms of performance. We are shared with our colleagues in Newfoundland, some of the research on older workers, engaging in job crafting some of the age-related differences in the drivers and workplace creativity.

Some of the stigmas and discrimination that older workers experience when an innovation project comes up and it's assumed that, oh, you've got gray hair or like me, no hair. Obviously, you wouldn't be someone we'd put on an innovation project. All of those things are now coming to the surface.

And one of the authors that I was reading in the U S has said, we have a bit of a AST system with various classes. The one cast that we all want to belong to is the old age class. And so we should do a bit more thinking about how we deal with those economic and demographic and social challenges. As a kind of classic paper about this from Europe workplace innovation practices as an effective response to older workers needs, but that could also be the company's needs because they need to retain those older workers.

And in the case of Newfoundland, they're even looking at how do we recruit people who've already left the workforce to come back and contribute. Yeah. So we're really looking forward to that project and the folks in in the Newfoundland / Labrador innovation center are just a wonderful gang to work with.

Blake Melnick: So important because there's so much knowledge in the heads of older workers and we don't want to see that go away, but we also need to be aware that this is an opportunity [00:14:00] for a knowledge transfer and a collaboration between both the older worker and the younger worker that benefits both, benefits the organization and of course, benefits society as a whole. So we're approaching the end of our time here, Tom, but I did want to discuss WINCan workplace innovation network for Canada. This is a non-for-profit that you and I worked together to form just at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Let's talk about the vision and mission and mandate for WINCan. So the people can get involved and potentially come and join us in our various projects. 

Tom Carey: So certainly the vision is of more. Innovative workforce within Canada.

So we deliberately said workplace innovation network for Canada, as opposed to a workplace innovation network in Canada. We are really driving that, but of course, we're working closely with our colleagues in Europe and Australia in the U S and one of the distinctive things about WINCan is that we are approaching it with those higher education partners and workplace partners.

The twin mission that you stated earlier that we work with higher Ed partners to ensure every graduate is innovation capable, that we work with workplace partners to ensure every employee can engage with innovation in the workplace, at some appropriate level of comfort for them and for their job responsibilities.

We're currently working with four workplace organizations have networks of workplaces that they're directly working with. One is one of Canada's sector councils that works on human resource planning within a particular sector. In this case, the electricity sector we're with one educational institution that is trying to figure out how can we work with our employers and people who employ our graduates on these emerging capabilities.

Things As we've just been discussing are really well pinned down or specified. that's a particular challenge for higher education, because we might have a co-op program where the largest co-op employers help us to shape. Here's what we need for today's jobs. I might have a program advisory committee of experts from the workplace.

who say, here's what's people we are asking people to do, but when we're doing the capability like workplace innovation, where our workplace partners are learning to be surprised at this, as they go in the same way we are, we need different kinds of structures to build those partnerships. And we need different kinds of people.

We found this when we were working Blake on the Ontario skills, catalyst fund grant that we invited to the table, a group of leading-edge innovation project leaders who were absolutely wonderful. We didn't have at the table, the HR folks who were concerned with policy and how do we encourage support and recognize, and reward innovative behaviors.

You and I wrote a blog post about that for our WINCan site, right? So we're working with a set of workplace partners, but we're also working with higher Ed partners to say, we need to figure this out together. We in higher Ed have opportunities to develop those capabilities in our students. And in some cases for them to serve as catalysts in the workplace, as a way to move some [00:17:00] of these bleeding edge ideas out of the research side into the practice side, 

Blake Melnick: and so the role of the network is that of a catalyst to bring together a workplace partners that may have a complex challenge that they require some help solving. And we certainly have a team of dedicated researchers in various parts of the world, not just in Canada that can help with that.

But also, we're trying to develop new models for work and for learning and providing access to research as we go. I think it's important That WINCan is a not-for-profit and again, design partly as Tom suggests to address Canada's lagging capabilities within innovation.

 We spend a lot of money and invest a lot through government agencies and grants and so on and so forth into increasing Canada's capacity for innovation, but the results have been lackluster and that's certainly been supported by data from the conference board of Canada. We're trying to address that problem.

I think Tom and I and others recognize that. It's one [00:18:00] thing. And I think this is why the conversation with the difference between invention and innovation becomes important because we tend to fund invention and we tend to be very technology focused. But if we want assist systemically increase the country's capability for innovation that actually has, an economic impact in terms of our GDP that helps promote Canadian IP.

If you wish that we have to do something that is far deeper and we have to connect academia and the workplaces we have to build in those capabilities for innovation, within our graduates and within our employees. So that every time they go out and join their respective organizations, they're actually helping that larger vision or mandate to improve Canada's overall capacity and capability for intervention.

 I think we want to encourage people to come join WINCan. Do you want to provide some information how they, people can follow up and find out more and engage? 

Tom Carey: Yeah, so certainly they can look on our website, which is just and you can see some of the projects and other, the things that are happening there, and there's a way to contact us on that site.

Blake Melnick: Terrific. And is there anything else you want to say about some up and coming projects that people might be interested in becoming part of it? We have a need for either workplaces or for researchers? 

Tom Carey: Yeah. So certainly on a project on how we meet the needs of older workers, that's one that's coming to the fore.

 I think the work that we've been doing on the gentle on ramp. If your company or public sector agency is concerned about how do we engage every employee? How do we provide opportunities there so that every employee feels they're part of this? And it's not like the innovation being done by that group over there.

And couldn't possibly be a part of it. If you really want that culture or the employee engaging with innovation. And we'd love to talk to you because that's where we're headed. Similarly, if you are involved in higher Ed and you want to see how we could use our own workplace for learning to help our students prepare for more innovative workplaces and be agents of change in those workplaces.

And there's some work we're doing that you would know don't be interested in.

Blake Melnick: As a final word, as listeners of the show know we are starting a new innovation series called the many faces of innovation. And this is really the kickoff to that. We have a bunch of really interesting innovators coming on the show to discuss their innovations, their ideas, their motivations, and their success stories. 

Our guests come from multiple fields of endeavor and this series supports the work of WINCan, WINCan is a sponsor for The Many Faces of Innovation and we'll hope you'll tune in for this series there's going to be some really interesting stories, some firsthand case study, examples of people who have developed those skills, mindsets, experiences, and knowledge that have allowed them to become innovators, 

Tom, again, it's always a pleasure to have you on the show. I find our conversations deeply engaging, and I always leave with lots more. I want to ask thanks again for all the work you do around improving our country's innovation capability. And I look forward to having you back on the show again in the very near future.

Tom Carey: All right. Thanks Blake. I look forward to.

Blake Melnick: This concludes our three-part interview with Tom Carey, which marks the launch of our new innovation series, The Many Faces of Innovation. For the next episode, we're turning our attention to the space in between and our Pass the Jam series with an episode called Song Food, a musical interlude, featuring the work of Canadian music icon, singer songwriter, Blair Packham

and following this episode, Blair will be joining me as a co-host for the passing of the jam to our next artist in residence, the musical virtuoso Heather Gemmell. So make sure you stay tuned for that, for what it's worth.

 Links to Additional Resources 

About Tom Carey


Employee Engagement with Innovation Blog Post 

Podcast Episodes

The Many Faces of Innovation Part 1

The Many Faces of Innovation Part 2 - Bridging the Gap

The Many Faces of Innovation Part 3 - Bridging the Gap Conclusion 




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