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Leading Innovation

Lesson 7 of 15

Change the Environment

Shawn Hunter

Leading Innovation

Shawn Hunter

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Lesson Info

7. Change the Environment

Lesson Info

Change the Environment

In the first section of this little workshop that we're doing, we focused on purpose; building our sense of purpose, impact, meaning, continuous growth in our work. I want to shift gears. I want to shift gears to talking about the ecosystem, the environment, the setting, the context, that we create for those around us to accelerate collaboration, innovation, and drive results. I have an amusing story which is, if you ever go to Disney, Disney down in Florida, they have a ride, it's called, Kilimanjaro, and if you take the ride at Kilimanjaro, it's an 18 minute ride, and you'll see all kinds of beautiful animals, wildebeests, and black rhino, and cheetah, and elephant, and flamingo, and as you, as you round the corner, in your propane-fired jeep on the dedicated, it's a very specific road that you're on, you'll come around this corner, and there upon the hill, majestically sitting is lion there upon the, and it looks perfect. It looks almost too perfect, it looks staged, because well, i...

t is sort of staged, and so you wonder to yourself, how do you get a lion to want to be out there on a rock, and it may be January. I mean Florida's warm but it could be 40 degrees, and it could be a little chilly, or it could be super hot in July, and how do you get a lion to want to hangout in the midday hot July sun in Florida, just for the beauty and the recognition of the tourists, and the answer is, they climate control the rock. So the rock is in the winter, it's nicely warmed, and the lions go up there and they warm themselves on the rock, and it's so ah, it's delicious, and it feels so good, and in the summer, when it's incredibly hot, that rock is cooled, it's like chilled, it's like lying on an ice cube, so they go up there and just relax on that nice, cool rock, all for the pleasure of the tourists who come and see this. So it's a little bit of a trick, of course, but what they've done, is they've tweaked the environment, they've changed the ecosystem, they've changed the environment where, I mean you can't even ask a lion to go do anything, but if you change the circumstance, well, maybe you can get this kind of thing to happen. The same, sort of activity, I was personally involved with, I got involved in a pretty in-depth, change the environment, sort of experiment, and what I like to say, in this little segment is, we have to act our way in to a new way of thinking, you'll hear me repeat this, you can't think your way into a new way of acting. You have to get deep into experiential learning. So, I have teenage kids, I've mentioned that once before, and then comes an age, right, it's somewhere around maybe 14, 15, 16, where they have that independence, but you want them to learn those kinds of traits of perseverance, of grit, of gratitude, elation, joy, problem solving, you know, creative thinking, but you can't tell somebody to persevere, you have to live through a preserving kind of experience. You can't tell someone to have gratitude, until they feel a deep sense of gratitude, or a connection to someone else. So, what we did, as in this grand experiential learning experience, myself and two other dads, we took our four teenage kids, they were between the ages of 15 and 17. They were 15, 16, 17, and 17, and we flew, right here, to Seattle, Washington, and we unpacked numerous boxes, and laid them across the lawn of my friend Jason's house here in Seattle, and we assembled our bicycles, and we rode our bicycles 3,700 miles to Portland, Maine. And now, in that experience, we started first, you know, high up over the Cascade Mountains, and through the deep snow pack in mid-June, having fun and stretching ourselves the entire way, launching ourselves across the east side of Washington and to the growing valleys of Yakima, down in to Yellowstone, where we took time to take photographs, and even do a little fishing on the side. The roads were endless, we met all kinds of friends along the way. There was a chipmunk on the Beartooth Highway, and a horse we met somewhere in Wyoming, and sometimes we were just too exhausted in the middle of nowhere, and we'd lie down in the middle of the road and just, on the warm pavement, to relax, and other times we were high up into the snow pack and the Beartooth Highway in July. This is you know, oh I don't know, it's gotta be 10, 11,000 feet up there. On east to Devils Tower, where we camped with a whole bunch of climbing people there, a whole different community, but it was not always easy. Of course, as you can imagine, it was like a microcosm of life. At times, it's exhilarating, at times, it's curious and interesting, at times, it's completely exhausting (laughs). Here we are climbing up the east side of the Bighorn Plateau, climbing a route called 14A, and it was 12 to 13% grade up this securitas, notched road in the side of the Bighorn Mountain. It was originally a wagon and horse trail that the state of Wyoming decided to pave in the 1960s, and it was incredibly difficult, and sometimes we'd have to leave at 4:30 in the morning to escape the heat. This is us on the east side of South Dakota, and with the wind in our back, you know, camping in strange places along the way, and leaping off hay bales in Minnesota, until finally, we all arrived, two months later, in Portland, Maine, here's the group of us, having transected the United States, in 47, 4800 miles, taking a little detour over Lake Ontario through Toronto. Now, the reason I tell this story, is because this, life, is very much like our work, and we need to, I believe, push ourselves, and constantly take risks, and get in to experiential learning. I once had a conversation with a fabulous marketing guru named Seth Godin, you may or may not know him, and I asked him, I said, you've done all kinds of really audacious things in your life, you've started numerous businesses, you've gone on stage in front of, you know, 10,000 people, you've been out of your comfort zone so many times, what do you do, what do you do when your hair starts to stand up, and you start to sweat, you know, a little bit, and you're like, uh, I don't know if I can do this, whew, what do you do? And he says, when that happens to me, I remind myself that I'm in exactly the right place, right, and so, on this journey, we had all kinds of points of inflection, of difficulty, and gratitude, and new opportunities to learn. I'll give you one example. When we left Devils Tower, it's on the east side of Wyoming, and we moved in to South Dakota, the flat plains, the endless undulation of the road, where you can see six, seven miles, into the horizon, and it's scorchingly hot, and we're low on water, all of us our carrying four or five liters of water with us everywhere we go, you don't know when the next rest stop will be, and we're moving slowly east, and as we move east across South Dakota, increasingly people we encounter, like at grocery stores and convenience stores, at restaurants, at the hotels, they say to us, oh, you're not going across the reservation are you? I'm like, well, what? Well, you know, your route, of course, is headed directly across the Cheyenne River Reservation, are you intending to go? Well, yeah, why not? I mean why wouldn't we ride across the Reservation? And consistently, people said as we get closer, and it started about a week out, as we get closer and closer, people would say to us, oh, well, you know, don't spend the night there, cross during the day, keep an eye on your bikes, you know, keep an eye on your gear, like why? Why would we be concerned? Well, you know, it's full of addicts, and thieves, and it's full of like, you know, destitution or illiteracy. This was the expectation that people in these small towns had ingrained in our head, at one point I said, I said to the proprietor of a hotel, I said, well when was the last time you were there? And she said, "oh no, I haven't been in 10 years, there's no reason to go", and I said, right, exactly, and so we went, we camped on the west side of the Cheyenne Reservation, in a little town called Faith, and we woke up the next morning, excited for a day, it's 105 miles to get the entirety across the Reservation, I mean it's far, it's a big day, and we woke up early and we started at first light, and as we headed east, we started to encounter these stores, and these beautiful people who are honking, and waving, and cheering, and nothing but supportive across the entire day. It was the most beautiful, like encouraging, kind of moment that we had had in the past month of leading up to us. We pulled in to this one town and some old farmers rolled in and they started telling us stories about the other bikers that have gone through there. We saw the Keystone Pipeline. At one point there was a Lakota Indian on the side of the road, up high up on a horse, and he waved to us, and he said, "do you have water", and we said, well of course, of course we have water, would you like some water? Yeah, yeah, we got water, and then he tried to give it back to us, and we said, no, no, we have plenty, keep it, and just constant, constant encouragement, and humanity across the entire experience, until finally, we got to the east side of the reservation. The east side of the Cheyenne Reservation is the Missouri River, okay, so at that point there's a bridge and it goes across the Missouri River, and it's super wide, I mean it almost looks like a lake, it's so far across, and it's twilight, it's late in the day, we're exhausted, and I'm leading the group on the bikes. At this point, there's like seven of us in a line, and I'm in front, and we're approaching the bridge, and we're riding along, we're tired, there's not a lot of talking going on, and in front of me, in the road, like maybe, 40, 50 yards off, there's an enormous Lakota Indian. He's tall, he's towering, long, jet black hair, and he's walking, like purposefully, stridently, right towards us, and I was like, this is, okay, and I veer the group out, there's no cars anywhere, and I veer the group out to the middle of the road to pass and go around him, and he changes his direction and he walks very, very intentionally right at me, and he's holding something in his hand, and I'm trying to figure out what it is, so finally, I slow to a stop right in front of him, and he's holding a sprig of sagebrush, and we all stop, and we gather around, and he says, he says to us, this is for you brothers and sister, he looks at Anne, there's a girl in the group with us, this is for safe passage from our land, go in peace. It was a beautiful gesture, and with that, he turned, and he walked right back to his car, and he got in his car, and with that, with this token of joy, and elation, and generosity, we crossed the Missouri River, and up the hill, and we camped out, but it's so memorable. Here's the point. Here's the point, if we had followed the advice of all those people who said don't go, don't go, you shouldn't go, we never would have had that particular experience, of course, and that's what happens when we put ourselves in very difficult, kind of arduous, unexpected, strange circumstances with an open mind, and an open sense of empathy, you can meet these kinds of people along the way.

Class Description

For business leaders and managers, finding the key to creating a high-performing, innovative team can feel impossible. Most of the time, you’re too stressed, exhausted and depleted to do anything more than just get by. Or you might even secretly question your ability to ever be a great leader.

This course on leadership innovation provides you with a clear roadmap for creating an environment that inspires trust, cohesiveness, agility and innovation. You’ll learn the simple actions you can do every day to bring out the best in yourself and those around you.

Shawn Hunter, author of “Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact,” will show you how listening intently, acting with kindness, showing gratitude, embracing challenges and other actions can help you grow into a successful, impactful leader.

In this course, you’ll learn how to:

  • Build your self-confidence.
  • Create learning goals instead of performance goals.
  • Use social diversity and social risk to drive innovative thinking.
  • Get rid of fear among your team members.
  • Escape the trap of “arrested decay.”
  • Turn great ideas into concrete actions.
  • Develop your own leadership narrative.


Christian Röpke

Very inspiring class with great guest speakers. Shawn is a great storyteller and I really loved his story about the cycling trip! Overall the course is less "hands on" than I expected (if at all) but there was so much depth and fresh ideas that it was totally worth it!

Steven Seiller

These topics are profoundly impactful and are truly the magic of intentional change! I do wish this class is at least a half-day longer, because who doesn't need more magic to fuel your passions?!?

Manisha Dayal