The Culture of Innovation with Kathy Doiron
Now that was fun. And that's a little back story of an adventure. But to put this in practice, alright, so we wanna translate that sort of adventurous story into okay what does this mean in a workplace. How do we replicate that sort of dynamic in a workplace? Joining us today, ladies and gentlemen and those of you out there, we have a very special guest, it is my honor, privilege, opportunity to introduce a woman named Cathy Dorian, she works at Starbucks, she walks in something called the Catalyst Labs. She's responsible for driving social innovation, attracting the right kind of talent, bringing them together and coalescing them into real results for Starbucks. Starbucks is an enormous organization and how do you make that kind of dynamic change happen inside of a workplace. Everyone please, if you would welcome (clapping) Cathy Dorian, thank you for being here. (audience clapping)
Thank you Shawn.
I'm so grateful you're here.
Oh thank you.
I'm excited to be here...
, hi everybody.
This is Cathy, right.
So, so wait, you didn't take the day off this is work.
This is my work. This is work.
This is work, we're sharing valuable ideas.
We're learning teaching.
Now you didn't know that little story I was gonna tell
Right? But I was trying to build that as a supporting piece about what happens when you create an environment of continuous learning, constant growth, provoke people. So, so what do you do at Starbucks to begin with.
Okay, so let me start there. So, Starbucks is, as you mentioned, a huge organization a global business and I work in technology in Starbucks. So the office of the CTO is where my team resides. The organization itself is around 1500 people, give or take, and what my team does is we get to look across the entire organization the strategy of Starbucks technology in our business and design, cultivate, deliver the programs that help move us all forward. I heard agility earlier today so we do agile coaching, learning, continuous improvement events, attracting new talent, we test and experiment with new collaboration models. So my team does that and propagates that across the whole.
But when you got to Starbucks, not in a direct line of sight, I mean you haven't necessarily been there a long time, well a little bit.
12 year, okay long enough. But it was a circuitous path which you had a lot of experience in the background that you brought to this, talk about that background.
Yeah, I have definitely a non linear path to get to to the work I do today. And looking back it makes sense to me because there are themes and categories or threads that I see. So those would be working with teams and creating and launching high impact teams. That's one thing that no matter where I was, that's what I was doing. Another element would be intellectual challenge and complexity and really creating those teams to dive together into, into that space. And then I think the third is, what is the team work within and it's creating containers or spaces for ideas to collide and I love the notion of the collision of ideas, innovation comes from that. So through my career to get to Starbucks, I worked in environmental causes, as a door to door canvasser, really thinking about the big picture of the changing the world 'cause I wanted to change the world. And I thought, wow, this is overwhelming changing the world door to door is very hard. So instead, I'm going to change the world through a very personal and intimate relationships and then I went to social services and I worked with people with Cerebral Palsy and helped them
and designed into kind of programs there. That was too, too in the intimate for me. Okay, so now I've got these two kind of extremes. And then I began to become more involved in community organizing in a different way, more kind of experiential. And that's where the experiential learning, I think, kicked in, I had started my college studies on the east coast, moved out here to start my work and these various paths. I went back to school at the Evergreen State College where I really focused on media, community, culture and the power of really film at that point, to bring people together to learn.
Lots of different media.
Lots of that.
Lots of different circumstances, the door to door, the pro-social
Kind of efforts
all for change Right, all interested in change. I had spent a couple of years living in Mexico and Brazil. And I saw, like you, that story of misperception and misconception, right. And I thought, well, what's the best way, if you can't take a bike ride from Seattle to Brazil, (laughing) and bring a bunch of people with you what can you do? So that's where film festivals came for me and events and I mentioned containers and creating containers within which things can happen and ideas can shift.
So that's where I started that work.
You very clearly draw a line, are borrowing brilliance from each of these pieces of your historical background to apply in your work today.
Okay. So talk about the borrowing of this brilliance in the application of it.
So yeah, so then, I go, you know, at Starbucks that's all for away from Starbucks. And then when I land all of this in Starbucks there was a bit of a transition where I went from the social community sort of work to startup work, to big company tech work, right. So I made that bridge. And then pulling that work together is, you know, I started as a IT project manager for technology at Starbucks. Got the opportunity put in front of me to design a training program for Starbucks tech and I said to the VP at the time, look I will not build you a training program but I will build you a learning organization and she was like okay, fine. So that's kinda, then I began to pull all of that together into the work.
How did you, or would you say, change the environment from historically from what it was to maybe maybe you haven't fully realized it, it's a work in progress.
It is always a work in progress, yeah
Yes but you've put in place different kinds of things very intentionally, tweak and change the circumstance in the environment and the culture. Talk at a little bit about that.
Sure, so over, since say over the last six, five or six years, what we started with was just a small piece because it's a huge organization and the organization while I've been changing and in, you kinda implementing things into the culture, it itself has been changing. So it's a constant
You know, circle. But we started with the speaker series. I didn't have any budget to work with or anything like that. And so it was small wins, right. What can I do with what I have? Very entrepreneurial.
Good, start local
which I love. Start local.
in your locus of control.
That's correct and I think my experience in the community where you don't have a lot of budget, teaches you to experiment and fail fast, learn quickly and adjust. So we started there. We did one experiment and that got great feedback and results and so we then bolted another experiment. And then we looked for, what are those connections across. And the story kind of unfolds in that way.
Let me ask you this. Have you seen someone on your team, some of your colleagues take that kind of risk and initiative that you're talking about and borrow some piece of brilliance from some tangential place and then get the support in the organization and apply it to a successful outcome.
To something else they've done?
Yeah. Do you have an example of this?
Sure so, it's almost like kind of a contagious thing happening.
Sure, so we have people who come through the services or the programs that we design. I think do grow in their own confidence to take the risks and maybe do this on their own elsewhere. So you have, someone who comes to mind in particular is an engineer who traversed our learning journeys, our speaker series, our innovation expo did her own kind of innovation itself and built the confidence up to the, right up to our CTO and say, I have this amazing idea for a mobile app. (laughing) and it was an amazing idea but was much more amazing was that she had, she was really amplifying the experiences that she'd been through but also the people that she'd worked with through those experiences to culminate in this moment. She's gone on to, to be, you know, to grow her career at Starbucks and continuous to pull from that.
Did she, when she pitched this idea, so she went to the CTO, and she said, I've got this fantastic idea for this widget, I'm gonna make an app and it's gonna do this this and this. At what level of beta or prototype or modeling like from just conceptual, I've got an idea to this is a really baked idea that I think will work.
So, you know, it was a hack. It was a working prototype which, you know, when you work in large technology organizations and you think of a hack, and then you think of scaled, there's a pathway to get to scaled. But she was at fully, she was at the place of having built you know, a demonstrate-able idea.
Alright that was my guess and the reason I asked the question is, because I like to say, add value before you make a pitch. So if you come and have a chat with somebody, your boss over the water cooler and you say, I've got this fantastic idea, they might perceive it as risk, in their mind, their seeing the cost, the infrastructure, the requirements, the people needs, the resources, the budgets et cetera. But if you say, you say, oh look what I made. Look what I've already done.
Right, It's not conceptual anymore.
It's actually concrete somebody can touch it and that's one of the things we in all of our programs, we bring the bear is action is build something, you know. Create something, even if it's a paper prototype, a CTO, CTO will respond to a paper prototype almost as well, and sometimes better, than to a working thing because
it shows that
you didn't invest a lot of that resource on just an idea. Because anybody who works in innovation knows there are for every hundreds of ideas there are only a few that are going to continue forward.
And you don't wanna spend the resource of the organization the money or the time, and you certainly don't want to consume talent on one exploration when maybe a different one is better.
Do you have mechanisms for filtering best ideas up. Do you have little ways in which you could
There are ways, yeah, that occurs.
You can disseminate that.
Alright talk about the important of how do you emphasize this continuous growth and learning. You know, earlier we were talking about a growth mindset in Carl Wex's work and I was giving an example of the fifth graders and telling them how perseverance matters and not rewarding how smart they are. But in practice, in your work, how do you reinforce that growth mindset.
Well I think that the first thing is our, our leadership really embraces a growth mindset, and so intellectual curiosity is written into the mission statement of our organization, right. So right then and there that opens the door. But from there, I think that in order for, you know people are very very busy at work, right. I'm sure all of you, you're plates are full. And so to add learning, to think about adding learning, or growth as an extra on is not gonna, most people won't be able to do that. So instead, it needs to be integrated into the culture. It's experiential, you kinda almost bump into by happenstance everyday. And so if that's just there and it's a part of the work and it's a part of your regular experience and a part of the culture, it isn't separate. And I think that's really important. Training programs that are separate tend to be a lot less effective. We do have models where we take people on learning journeys. But it is also still very experiential and very much woven into their work.
Needs to be deeply embedded
Into the fabric and core values, and you model that at the very top.
Models from the top and then we celebrate it. I mean we celebrate, we game-ify, we give awards, we have lots of cake (laughing) and certificates. Paper crafts certificates.
What did you learn today or what did you learn at the conference or in the meeting. And that maybe even ask them to give a little short little presentation.
Absolutely we do.
About what you learned
At the end of a learning journey, that is how we do that, yeah.
Excellent, because of course as you know, the highest form of learning is to be able to teach it.
is to teach, that's right.
So when you specifically ask people on the team to share what they learned in application driven ways, that makes all the difference and it sets the fabric for the organization
it does and then it also establishes role models within where those people that we call at Starbucks as partners, right. So our partners become these beacons of light, thousands of points of light in the organization where they are celebrated or they are recognized but I think much more important than that is they themselves are excited and they show it. They talk about the work they're doing there with the learning, I get stopped frequently in the halls by people who's like, Cathy did you know, how many python classes are available in the, you know, this resource that we make available to people. Of course, I don't know that, I curate the container, the experience, the pathways I mentioned to you earlier, the garden, right. We create this garden. But then these experts, the technologist dive in. And they kind of bring it back up to life.
This is, I like the garden metaphor. Constantly cultivating growth, you weeding out the, you know, the extraneous stuff and the toxins.
You enter it where you want to and you leave where you want to
who into where you want. Take the foot path you choose through the garden. Let me ask you about this which is very deeply related, if it's modeled from the top, I wanna talk about mentorship and apprenticeship in this context, which is, I was recently working with this big, you know, global Fortune 500 organization who has individuals dispersed across the world and we're convening together for a workshop and the people from Brazil and Spain and the Philippines and Mexico and all this different places around the world, Germany, they were saying how they have build into the fabric and the expectation of their work, a very strong apprenticeship program. If you're gonna learn how to code or how to write marketing copy or how to be a designer or something they pair you up with a mentor and the Americans were honestly bemoaning the fact that it's a little, it's weaker here. They felt like, in their organizations, in the American context, it was a little like, okay, looks like your qualified on paper, you know, go good luck, we'll support you, but we won't give you necessarily a mentor to guide you along the way. Talk about your work in an apprenticeship program and why it matters. (laughing)
Oh it matters in so many ways. It matters, and it matters to the mentor and the mentee. And I think that that's the first kind of important point is when you give, you mentioned this earlier, there's no greater form of mastery than to teach back, and when you teach, you learn. And so, what we've been doing with the apprenticeship model is, you know, it is an interesting term because apprenticeship doesn't always play well in a corporate environment in terms of languaging. And so, at first we used the term coach and coaching, and so we, with the learning journeys, that I mentioned, these are, we will use a learning journey, which is kind of a formal learning, informal learning and applied learning model, it'll be anywhere from two to six months, depending on the depth of the curve, in other words, how hard is this new thing to learn.
Timeout, can I just grab this word applied Because I think what you're saying, clarify, is we expect you not only to learn, enhance your skills but we wanna see evidence
That you're using it
Well we don't only
did I say that right?
wanna see it, the learner wants to do it, right? I mean who doesn't wanna do, we all wanna do something when we're learning, right so, everybody's, you know, much more engaged when they get to apply. So, these journeys that people go through are coached, and the coach really is an apprentice. And that coach works with the group of cohort of maybe 20 to 25 folks. And they bring them through and they help them understand, not just the technical content, but how it lands in our organization. Because cloud computing lands differently in every organization. Design thinking shows up differently in every organization. Agile delivery
And so the coaches, are acting as apprentices but to become a coach, they have to themselves have first graduated from the journey. So, it becomes a, you know, kind of a flywheel, if you will, to use the name, alright. Where the coaches are then elevated into that coach role. They're recognized and they are, yeah, mentors, or their leading the apprentice, right. The other piece is, we just launched what we call a Scrum Master Apprentice Program, which is so dear to me. My team and I, so we work at large scale, our big events can have up to a thousand people, and then at the apprentice level which is a one on one relationship. And for me, like if you were to ask me, which one is more impactful, I'd say, they all are and their very different ways. But in this apprentice program, it's a six month model where we create an opportunity for a person who shows innate kind of leanings, talents,
interests in that particular role, right.
You're focusing on their strength. You're pushing 'em
In the direction of reinforcing their interests and strengths.
Pat and marry them up with their coach who then takes them through a kind of a crawl-walk-run model of apprenticeship (chuckling) and pushes them out into the wilderness and the ideas we're taking folks who maybe are in need of transitioning out of one career and into a new role. It's and we love it, its ...
So if, and I hear in the language, in the apprenticeship and the mentoring, and the pushing, and the what do you call it, crawl-walk-run, yeah in that dynamic you're asking them to constantly stretch themselves, take risks, how do you set the environment so that they understand, this is safe. It's okay, if I screw up, it's all above the waterline. Meaning you're not
gonna put a hole in the boat
you learn to hide oh no no, right
and the boat's gonna sink.
That yeah, safety is very important, I think when you are asking people, especially in a work environment where stakes can be very high, it's not your volunteer work. Which stakes are very high there too, but a different way. And so, it's small, again, back to the notion of agile mindset or thinking in lean ways really small bites, right, you don't
My children just learned about feeding elephants one bite at a time (laughing) and so, it's small, safe bites, where you just keep kind of building that foundation and then retrospecting and I think that, while learning can be external in as important as the, kind of the intrinsic reflection the internal out with your coach. And so, modeling that safety by continually kind of having formal structures around that retrospection process or the, kind the what did we do right and where did we kind of misstep 'cause we all do. And when that becomes your norm, on a team, then the apprentice, you know, understands that it's okay.
So, I don't know if you knew that I wanted to ask you this but we talked a lot before, you know,
we did, yeah
this moment and one of the key characteristics that you were talking about that needs to be pervasive in an organization that you personally believe in is, is what?
Is love (laughing) we need love. And what does that mean in, by your definition, to have a sense of love pervasive in the organization in your relationships, what does that mean?
So, it's multi-dimensional but, not too complicated. First of all, it's love what you do, love your work, right. When people love their work, their in a physiologically good state. It's love who you work with, and I mean that in the sense, again of safety and of inclusion and of respect, so you know sometimes you love and you may not like as much, but, creating a loving environment. It's not that one to one love as much as the loving environment. So again, safety, the physiology of safety opens your nervous system, opens your brain, you can learn better, you create better, you trust and share better. And then, I think the last component of, of that is so that's kind of the business side, it creates more innovation, a higher output, better outcomes, but on the other hand, we spend so much time at work. And from a much bigger perspective, in terms of amplifying the world, changing the world, having an impact, when people feel love in their teams and love in their work, and they have their work family, I believe they carry that into their community family, their home family, Their spiritual family, yes
Amen. Be kind to one another.
That's right, love 'em up.
Cathy thank you.
Thank you Shawn.
Thank you so much for coming. For sharing your insight. Your ideas.
You're welcome. Thank you for everything you do.
Very great, oh thanks, that's thoughtful of you (chuckling) Thank you, a round of applause for Cathy. (clapping)