Val McCarty Hosts Shannon Phillips and Tristan Ham
Listen to the episode here
[00:00:00] Val McCarty: Hello listeners out there. You're listening to a podcast that will be put onto the Alberta Rainforest channel. And today we're going to be talking to a couple of guys from a group called Unbounded Thinking. And, the name of the podcast, of course, is: "It's in our nature to innovate, so why aren't we nurturing it?"
And, I'm excited here, to introduce Shannon and Tristan. I'll just say a little bit about them and then let them, carry it from there. Shannon Phillips is an organizational behavioral specialist with a bachelor of biomedical science. Shannon is an expert in understanding human behavior and decision making.
And Tristan Tristan. Ham is a business development hype. Tristan has a background in human services, mainly in child protection. And he did this both in Australia and Canada. So would you guys like to say anything more to that?
[00:00:58] Tristan Ham: Well, like, I guess, now I just kind of want to have something along the lines of, I'm an expert in not understanding human behavior, just to like balance out Shannon
[00:01:07] Shannon Phillips: I like that Tristan had to mention that he's done his work in Australia as well, just to let the line up with my accent, right?
[00:01:14] Tristan Ham: Yeah. But, it's a, it's absolute pleasure to talk to you here, Val. we're, we're super excited about this topic about innovation and just, you know, what we can do to really kickstart it, kind of kick in the pants a little bit and, and look at it from different perspectives and really chat about, you know, the people behind it. Maybe not focus so much on the, the wondrous tech that often comes out of it.
[00:01:37] Shannon Phillips: And I, I think just to add to that, I think we need to crush that idea of innovation being the buzzword that it is right. We got to bring it back to what it actually is excited to talk about it.
[00:01:49] Val McCarty: Super, super. So in terms of bringing it back, let's just go back a little bit to when you were kids, what traits did you come to this world with? And, you know, tell us a little bit about the, what, why and where of your beginnings? I started out as a child,as many of us have. And, yeah, I guess, I actually, I had aspirations to get into a theater and into acting, kind of at an early stage and, and did a lot to do that actually went to college for it.
[00:02:16] Tristan Ham: But, you know, I guess kind of like a, a bit of a curiosity, a bit of a hunger for seeing how things work and, and, and if there's other ways that we can sort of look at it and approach it. And that kind of bled into, my work, getting into social work and working with child protection and vulnerable populations and things like that is, I was lucky enough to have the freedom from someone, a great mentor of mine.
To really try things to, to experiment, you know, to, to figure out different ways. What we call purposeful interventions, with the children we were working with in, in helping them kind of, contextualize their situation, maybe any diagnosis they had and things like that. So we had the freedom, I guess, to, to innovate even in that industry, which was pretty amazing.
Yeah, and then, found my way in kind of the tech world a little bit, and now I, I do, I work at startup Edmonton. I, I teach, entrepreneur, understanding and things like that, which is kind of where I met up with Shannon.
[00:03:12] Val McCarty: Awesome. And how about you, Shannon? What's your, what, why and where, if your beginnings?
[00:03:17] Shannon Phillips: Kind of like a reverse Simon Sinek book there with start with what and end with why, you can tell by the accent.
I, grew up in the, in the beautiful country that is Australia. I'm actually jumping on a plane tonight, to, to head back it's being nearly four years since I've been back. So I'm excited, but growing up out there, it was everything outdoors, everything, you know, trying, every, every sport trying everything you could, we're a very.
You know, entrepreneurial kind of country, you could label a country with that, right. Because we're always trying different things for traveling. So that, that came with the personality growing up, you know, I, Wanted to try every different kind of thing in, in school, which everyone did. Right. But I, I definitely fell into science.
I loved how the body worked, how the mind worked. I was just so excited to learn about that stuff that led from me for me to move into, like you said, in the introduction there, around biomedical science. So I spend my days very much thinking like a scientist now-a-days. I think that's important where we have a bunch of preachers and politicians and every different way, you know, when we look at different subjects, but I think it's super critical to think like a scientist, right?
Like always ask questions, always try and test things out. And that comes with, you know, as Tristan's talking about entrepreneurs and stuff like that. Yeah, that's pretty much me in a nutshell.
[00:04:39] Val McCarty: Awesome. So, what was it in the past that brought you guys together?
[00:04:44] Tristan Ham: Yeah, it's well actually, Shannon and our, we have a third co-founder there, Allie Wilson.
they both joined one of our programs at startup Edmonton to flesh out the idea of Unbounded Thinking and really explore how to make this, you know, from idea into, into business. And, they went through our. Courses. And we worked really closely together through a lot of coaching and things like that, throughout the, a number of programs.
[00:05:08] Tristan Ham: And, I just, I love what their intention is. I love what Unbounded was all about. And,about a year and a bit later, we started talking about maybe, getting myself involved a little more with unbounded thinking. And so, I've since joined the ranks and, helping really develop an and, and with some program delivery and with some outreach around getting the name of Unbounded out there and helping the people that Unbounded would really help the most.
[00:05:38] Shannon Phillips: It's a good moment to bring up our other co-founder Allie Wilson, right? Allie Allie's background is an engineer. So very much brings that structural perspective to what we do. And like I've already mentioned mine's more around the more of the human side of it. Right. I've focused mainly most of my time now.
Thinking about how we think. Right? So from that psychology perspective and that structural perspective that Allie brings, we realized that we needed a, an actual human being as part of our company. So that's what Tristen came in and, and fits very nicely.
[00:06:11] Val McCarty: Started off as a child. That's good. That's good. That's good. Well, I love it. So let's get down to business. Let's talk a little bit, about innovation. so here's a great question to start off our conversation. we all want to innovate. So what does that really mean?
[00:06:28] Tristan Ham: Yeah. That's and that's sort of the million dollar question Val. That's really good because innovation, I guess if we think about it, it's kind of a buzzword that's being, you know, zipping around the ecosystem for a while now, but what's interesting if you kind of unpack that if you talk to someone who's like, yes, innovation, my company is innovative.
Oh, I'm so innovative centric to get them to define it. All of a sudden, it, it comes to a bit of a halt because everybody has sort of their own thoughts on what that definition is. People know that it's necessary. People understand that it is a component for getting into the future for, finding ways to survive in this economy, in this ecosystem.
But to define it, to really figure out what it means is really interesting. I know what my definition is, and, and to me, in a lot of ways is looking at something in the world, somewhat like a person looking at something in the world and going that's not good enough, or that could be better, or nobody's doing this right now.
So, why not think of something to do in this space and it can be anything. I mean, typically I think we think about innovation in a very tech world. It's it's to do with like wondrous flying cars and hoverboards and all that kind of thing. But innovation is littered in every industry in every way. And so I love that idea.
I love that idea that someone, you know, in, in, especially in, in the world that I come from with, social work and things like that in child protection can think of a really innovative way to work with families. And that is true innovation because you're, you're trying something out, you see a system that could be better, you're gonna do something about it.
So that, that to me is where that, that fits.
[00:08:13] Shannon Phillips: Yeah. where, where to add, I mean, great, great insight there, Tristan. I think what always comes to mind when I, when I think about innovation, right outside of that buzzword, outside of that, I'm sick of talking about it kind of, you know, conversation. There's some good studies out there around it and not to, not to throw stats out there, but pretty much everyone you ask nowadays, do you innovate?
Everyone's going to say yes, of course we do. Right. But when you actually look underneath and ask the questions of how do you actually feel about, or how do you think your performance is when it comes to innovation? So, so small, like less than, you know, 5%, something like that. Right. So that's super important as to how we move forward.
When we look at innovation, it's, it's less about what, we're, what we're trying to innovate. It needs to be more about how we're innovating. We need to improve how we innovate. That's what we're all about, but you know, the, the definition side of things is for me, you know, I go back to that biological thought of it, right?
In terms of the, the, the neuroscience behind how we think and how we make decisions and that. And we are born to innovate. We are just born to try and improve what we do. And when you look back in history, it's so cool to look at that, that progress. Right. And I think when you look at innovation with that kind of lens, in terms of it, we're just, we're just driven as humans to do it.
Companies need to take advantage of that. I mean, you know, it's in the title today. We need to learn how to nurture that. And I think that comes from really first understanding what your definition is like, the question you asked Val and then being able to nurture it, whatever that looks like. But yeah, we can talk more about that as we go on.
[00:09:52] Val McCarty: For sure. For sure. So in terms of, of moving ahead and looking through a lens, there's a, a buzzword everyone's talking about that, we're about to enter the fifth industrial revolution. are we ready for it? Do you want to talk a little bit on that concept?
[00:10:08] Tristan Ham: Yeah, absolutely. And jump in here anytime you want there, Shannon. You know, we we've got these, we've actually had about four industrial revolutions so far. and typically they've been about a hundred years apart and they're marked by technological milestones, you know, digitization or mechanization automation, stuff like that. So you're right. We're on the cusp of this fifth revolution, which is personalization, which is something that focuses on the individual more.
Which is really fascinating because that's, that's gonna be something that's gonna be probably a little harder to recognize in the same way you could, the steam engine or the diesel engine or something like that. But what's cool about that is that it's now it's sort of focusing on that fostering, that innovative person, that creative person, and, and I guess it leans itself to, kind of our title of this podcast, how do we nurture it? Right. And, and so this, this fifth revolution is going to be looking at, how, how people can, can be supported, how people can bring, new ways of thinking new ways of doing things and how we can celebrate those individuals and really use them as that when the six revolution comes along, which I'm sure is like months after the fifth revolution. What do you think Shannon?
[00:11:30] Shannon Phillips: It's the rate of change that is so exciting on one hand, but damn scary on the other hand, right? Because how are we going to keep up with this rate of change? That's going on? You know, I love what you said Tristan and I wanted to dig in, you know, the, the current revolution that we're in, right. We're kind of scratching on the surface of the fifth, but the fourth was all about getting connected, right? With wifi internet, smart phones, social media, all of those in that bubble have just allowed us to share information, so are much better than we've ever been able to do before.
I mean, th the study we talk about is, you know, medical knowledge, right back in the fifties, it was predicted they take what 50 years I'll get the numbers wrong, but predicted to take 50 years for that knowledge to double nowadays, it's with, it's less than a, I think around a hundred days. So medical students are going to school, you know, one year, and then before they finish.
They're having to relearn what they, what they once learned. Right. And you know, that the funny part of that is we have web MD in our hands now, and we kind of look to our phones to help diagnose what's going on rather than trust that one profession that, you know, we've had so much faith in for hundreds of years.
And now all of a sudden we're going, well, wait a minute. I don't think I have that. So it's, it's so cool to dig into this rate of change going on that the fourth revolution has allowed us to, to now get to, and yeah, th this dance with humans and machines that are about to come up with this next revolution.
It's a really good question for, for all organizations to ask you, how are we preparing for it? Right. Do we have the right skills for it? Are we going to have the right structure for it, but innovation, you know, just needs to be looked at now as more of a survival tactic and less of a buzzword. So yeah, I'll move innovation from under the buzzword column to now survival tactic, because that's how you've got to look at it going forward.
[00:13:27] Val McCarty: Awesome. Awesome. So, you know, with, which leads us to our next question. So creative celebration at the rate of change, which is what we've mentioned. So technology has got us here, but it's our innate ability to want to innovate that drives us. So how can we harness that innate drive?
[00:13:50] Tristan Ham: Yeah. And that's a really good question and not to get into sort of Unbounded sort of methodology too much, but that's, that's our focus.
That's actually, what we really focus on is that individual, whether that be a leader, someone who is working maybe frontline, boots on the ground or whomever. We want to explore. We want to create structure around innovation in a way that you can now. Oh, wow. How can we support, encourage, and really maybe incentivize, how can we get the best out of the people that work for say an individual business so that they are thinking about the future and what could happen.
And to callback what Shannon was saying about survival skill. It really is, you know, for businesses to survive nowadays, there is a crap ton of stuff happening in the world. I won't go into, obviously I think everybody knows about it anyway, but there's so much happening right now that affects everything. And, you know, we see businesses here in Edmonton and Calgary, you know, that are struggling, clawing at the precipice to survive and they need, they need to change. They have to do things. They have to do things differently because doing the things the same way that you did previously, ain't gonna cut it no more. Because it's just not going to get them to that fifth revolution or to compete with other companies that are like, we're going to throw our whole traditional thinking out the window.
We're going to embrace the ways that we have to do business now and see if there's opportunities there. And then what we're going to do, the best companies, what they do is they go to help us get there, we're going to look internally and see if we can create ways to get our staff, our employees, the person pushing the broom around the floor to weigh in, to give us what they think would be important and beyond that. How do we support that person to actually see, to actually test, to actually make it a reality?
So that's really what it's all about is figuring out how can we help, I guess, companies discover ways that they can get their employees to buy in and get excited about making change for their own company in some amazing way.
[00:16:04] Val McCarty: Being heard by an employee is huge. There's probably employees out there and who's ever listening in they're companies that are just dying to be heard.
Do you want to add a little bit more of what Tristan was saying? Shannon?
[00:16:17] Shannon Phillips: Yeah, for sure. I mean Tristan and I talk about this stuff so much and we riff off each other, you know, he'll say one thing and then there'll be another discussion and it'll go that way. Yeah. You said change, Tristan, and I think that is super important for everyone, you know, thinking and talking about innovation.
That's what innovation is. It's being able to manage and nurture change. Because, yeah, if you want to do something new, you got to work out what that looks like within your company, right? And then you need to be able to manage that, create those new behaviors and so forth and so forth. So organizational change, organizational change management is a, is a huge part of what innovation needs to be.
I, I heard you talk about, you know, the current state, Tristan, in, in terms of how businesses struggle. That, that dirty C-word, which I'm going to say COVID so your mind doesn't wander, but not to talk about it, but it did bring an interesting, I would say perspective on businesses that struggle. So now we're looking at businesses that have to close that door doors because they're living week to week.
[00:17:21] Shannon Phillips: And, you know, it's a very, that's a very complex problem, but it did shine a little bit, of light on, you know, the need to be able to manage that change or, you know, prepare for, for things that you don't usually expect. Yeah, we can't just put a, put a lens of saying, well, here's an easy fix for that, but it did allow us to look into that a little bit further.
And I think it did bring more urgency to what we're talking about at, at at least anyway. and, and just one thing to, one other thing to add, you know, to really dig into that idea of a, supporting ideas from employees. You know, a story from my past career, which I call the milk story is, you know, we, we started a COVID campaign around, trying to collect ideas to help us adapt to COVID.
We've got the innovation software, we get the teams together. We're set, right. We're innovative. But I remember this employee come to the committee and said, Hey, I've got an idea to, improve the, or decrease the wastage of milk in the fridge, in the kitchens. That's not a COVID idea. No, no, thanks. But thanks for coming, but no. Just the thought of that moment, you know, of, of dismissing that idea and you know, nothing negative. Right. But we were just so focused on the COVID part of it. It had to stand back and realize that we just killed that person's kind of want, or, you know, motivation to want to share ideas. Right? So that's, that's where we, how we started this conversation that it's all about just nurturing innovation, no matter what you do, right?
Whether you're cleaning toilets or whether it's being engineering stuff, whatever it is. Innovation is about nurturing every person's ideas because that's what a, from the inside out. That's how you have to nurture it. And then build that structure around that, to, to support it.
[00:19:07] Val McCarty: And that leads to our next question. It was all about structure. So, yeah, most trained businesses don't or traditional businesses, sorry. Don't know how to innovate. they approach it with little to no structure or the right skills, preventing them from leveraging their greatest asset, which is the staff. And, and even, even this idea of the milk story with, with ideas, one idea leads to another idea which leads to another idea, which leads to another idea and on and on you go. So let's talk a little bit about structure.
[00:19:36] Tristan Ham: Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's tough. I think that people will struggle to think, how am I going to build a pathway, a real blueprint for people to then follow and be able to,contribute in productive ways towards innovation. It's a very difficult thing I think, to conceptualize.
Right. And so I think people scramble, they, they look for the latest, greatest maybe tool or, or method or consultant and think, okay, this person's going to put us on a great path and I'm not saying that their methods or their structures aren't great. There probably are. But I think what's missing in that equation is then figuring out, okay, are we actually paying attention to everybody who was affected by this? Are we always first paying attention to what their capabilities are? What their barriers are, what their strengths are, what they're not so great at. Because to thrust people into a situation where maybe they don't know how to contribute or what they best can contribute, why knowing what they are best at.
I think you're, sort of, setting herself up for failure. And so forcing people into a cookie cutter shape of a structure, I think could be just as detrimental as having a freeform, no plan whatsoever. So there needs to be guideposts. There needs to be a north star for people to be able to, to know what is expected of them, what they're able to contribute and know that there'll be safe and supported within that.
And then also, how are we going to take those great ideas, prioritize them and then find out how to go forward with them, what supports are necessary and with the buy-in of not just the employee, but leadership in that as well. So structure is needed to a degree, you know, there is, there's great, you know, bongo playin free form any idea is great. You know, that's awesome. I love that. That's my bread and butter, but. At some point, you need to find a way to progress that further and to know how to do that. I think gives people, confidence, gives them the assurance. And so that's again, that's one of the things we do is, is find out what kind of actual structure can work for that company.
But people need it. I, I think they need to know where the guard rails are otherwise. Yeah. You're likely going to drive off that cliff. Possibly, maybe not as dramatic.
[00:22:04] Shannon Phillips: Yeah. I would put those goalposts in a terminology of innovation management. This is really what we dig into is, you know, a human centered approach to innovation management.
And, and usually when you talk about innovation and management, yet you put those two words together. It, yeah. People get scared off you. Can't systemize innovation. You can't, you know, systemized creativity. Yes. You can. You need to, I mean, it's exactly like any other operating system that you have, whether it's quality or safety, risk, anything like that, when you can build something into a system, then you start to improve its efficiency.
Right. And, and I get this some irony there and innovation being somewhat separate to how we do operations. Yes, 100%, but when you think about building innovation as a system, then you start getting the results that you're looking for. You start. Reduce that risk that everyone's scared of. When they think about innovation, it brings more confidence because now you're your C suite are kind of getting consistent results with it, right.
Rather than think, oh, you know, how much is that going to cost it? Now that I know what to expect. So very much you can bring that system to innovation and we need to, and I think that's, what's going to allow organizations to deal with this rate of change that we're talking about is that they've got a mini innovation engine and they're just chugging along chugging along.
And then they start to build that consistent way of thinking into the company where they're always trying to improve. And so that on one hand, I think is super important. And then just to add to that is, you know, we're talking about skills, as well. To me, innovation is all about bringing that innovation management, story, is all about bringing that structure and the skills.
And I think it's important to mention that there's new skills that are going to be needed with, you know, the rate of change that's coming. The world economic forum talks about the, you know, the skills report of 2025 and the top 10 of them are all around, you know, critical thinking innovation, problem solving, working together.
In influence all that kind of really good stuff that we haven't really focused too much on. I think that's super important for organizations to think of as well, because you can't just come in, bring in innovation software and say, you know, we're an innovative company. No, no. And you can't even bring in a management system and say, it's going to work.
You need to bring. Both the structure and the skills for you for a, I would say a system that's going to be efficient and effective, System management that basically takes innovation. Like the very first question from the buzzword to a value add. Do you know what I mean to something that's actually going to appear on, on your, your bottom line?
[00:24:47] Val McCarty: That's fantastic. So we're, we're up to about a half hour now. Is, is there anything that you guys would like to add before we, let these good listeners know where they can reach you?
[00:24:58] Tristan Ham: Awesome. Yeah, that was something that popped in my head while Shannon was talking. which was interesting is, is there's a mindset as well.
And we can, we'll talk about this in another,another podcast Val, cause cause this one could fill another half hour easy is just, acceptance of failure and sort of demystifying de criminalizing failure. Right because innovation you're experimenting. You're trying it out. You're seeing, but with that comes a lot of failed experiments, failed tests, and that's a bit of a mindset.
That's hard for people to get their heads around too, is that people have great ideas, but you got to sort of like. Yeah, things got to go wrong before you figure out how it goes. Right? So giving space for that to happen, giving permission for that to happen is a heck of a thing. Like that's a, that's a whole nother mindset that we want people to start to think about as well.
Is that success doesn't come off the one, it comes off the back of the experiments that didn't work so great. And you take that learning, you know, bogged down with the emotional impact of, oh, I failed it's oh, what can I learn from this? What can I get from this? How can I drive this forward? But that, yeah. Anyway, that just kind of popped into my head as, as Shannon was talking.
[00:26:07] Shannon Phillips: Yeah, I guess I was, not that anyone cares, but I was getting a hair cut yesterday, trying to look pretty for my, for my vacation coming up today. And, and we were talking about. You know, the barber industry, whatever that is, you know, hair styling and that, and talking about how stagnant it is, you know, you rent a chair in a shop and then your early on the progression is to, to open up your own shop.
And the margins are very small and if you rent a chair, you're giving 50% away. Don't quote me on the numbers. But as we started to talk, it was like, well, but what else could you do? What other revenue streams could you look at? You know, what's next for, for the barber world, right? How could you think differently about him and, oh, his brain went went, everywhere, and it was one of the best chats I've ever had.
And I kind of bring that up as a bit of a segway of something we're trying, which I think is super cool. Is it's something we're calling what's next, you know, it kind of innovation, forecasting to counter our terrible ability to be able to predict the future, you know, let let's talk about 1, 2, 3, 400 si-fi predictions, but yeah, trying to just spend some time where we're not really that comfortable, right.
We love, you know, w. We know how to talk about problems. We love coming up with ideas, but trying to think about what those ideas would look like or what would build from those ideas. We spend very little time. So that's something we're doing at Unbound, and it's really focusing on what's next for different industries, for different companies, something we're super excited to kind of bubble all this up to what we're talking about and have something to draw out that discussion anyway.
[00:27:44] Val McCarty: Fantastic. So now we have two future podcasts. We can do that whole, I'm going to use an old Stephen Covey term here, that paradigm shift about failure switching the old thought around and then innovation forecasting. So super that's what's coming up next.
So for our listeners that have been listening, thank you for sticking with us. And, if you want to get a hold of these two chaps here, go to unboundedthinking.com and you will find them an Ali and definitely click that contact button and you will get them.
So anything before we sign off guys, this has been a fantastic talk. Thank you so much.
[00:28:22] Tristan Ham: Yeah, always great to talk to you, Val. And, it's something we could talk forever about. So anytime, anytime.
[00:28:28] Shannon Phillips: Thank you so much.
[00:28:29] Val McCarty: Alrighty. So I will, sign off here guys. Thank you so much again, and thanks for our podcast listeners. And we'll catch you on the next one.