Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

Learn how to “Radically Collaborate” and build Team Capability

Especially in Asia at this time of year, many companies find themselves initiating fresh projects and assembling new teams. During these transitions, it becomes imperative to establish a platform for building team capabilities and having honest and open discussions regarding company and project directions. BentoBox modules serve as a vital support system for such crucial moments.

Imagining Bold New Futures

A Case Study

“We were able to articulate, at a profound level, the sources of our strengths and the significance of preserving and fortifying them.”

We recently facilitated a discussion forum at one of Japan’s largest professional service agencies. The BentoBox was used to delve into the trajectory of a new business division—a cornerstone of their medium-term management plan.


  • Organizational restructuring has given rise to a blend of diverse cultures within the organization.
  • Collective discussion with the whole new business management team needed to be conducted.

The goals of the BentoBox sessions were:

  • To convene the core members of the new business and explore their collective aspirations and the services they intend to provide.
  • To foster an egalitarian discussion, leveraging the BentoBox methodology to guide the discourse.
  • To integrate members from varied cultural backgrounds into a strong and cohesive team.

The new business management team convened for a day-long BentoBox module known as Imagining Bold New Futures (IBNF). This module helped the team to set their direction, and a shared vision among members was deepened.

Participant Feedback:

  • “The exploration of four dimensions of organizational competence proved immensely valuable in comprehending the perspectives of team members regarding the organizational landscape, paving the way for subsequent discussions.”
  • “We were able to articulate, at a profound level, the sources of our strengths and the significance of preserving and fortifying them.”
  • “I appreciated the approach of amalgamating the company’s values with my personal values, alongside analyzing internal and external needs and advantages.”
  • “We realized that while we dedicate ample time to team-building exercises with our clients, we often overlook investing similar efforts in strengthening our internal teams, thus reaffirming the value of such endeavors.”
  • “I was amazed at how the BentoBox is so carefully designed. Participants can derive a fulfilling experience even when self-navigating the module like a game, without need for a facilitator.”


Our team brings decades of expertise in organizational transformation and leadership development to the table:

The BentoBox module fosters team cohesion and shared vision by leading participants through discussions with output objectives that adapt to the unique needs of the team.

Imagining Bold New Futures is very effective for charting new company and project directions. It strengthens interpersonal relationships between participants, as it helps them to set a shared vision for the future they will build.

Learn how Imagining Bold New Futures and other BentoBox modules can help your team and organization transform the way you work.

Please contact us at with any questions and for more information.

Unlocking Tomorrow: Imagining Bold New Futures for Organizational Growth

Imagining Bold New Futures is a transformative journey for organizations, designed to harness collective strengths, innovate, and strategically plan for the future.

It starts with defining the organization’s capabilities, progresses through articulating shared values, explores market forces and market needs. At the intersection of these factors, the team defines the future they want to create.

This framework encourages collaboration, creativity, and actionable strategies, culminating in a shared vision for organizational growth and innovation.

The journey of transformation for an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC) in India stands as a testament to the power of Imagining Bold New Futures (IBNF).  The ARC embarked on a path to redefine its future, focusing on the recovery of non-performing assets and underperforming loans—a critical challenge in the banking sector.

Innovating for the Future

At the heart of this transformation was a comprehensive five-step process, aimed at harnessing the collective strengths of the organization and aligning them towards a common goal. The journey began with Understanding Capabilities, where the ARC took stock of its internal strengths, resources, and capabilities, laying a solid foundation for the path ahead.

Next, the process moved to Aligning with Shared Values, ensuring that the company’s mission resonated with the core values of its team. This step was crucial for fostering a unified organizational culture, dedicated to innovation and success.

The third step, Exploring Market Forces, involved a deep dive into the external environment. The ARC analyzed trends, challenges, and opportunities in the asset reconstruction and banking sectors, gaining insights that would inform its strategy.

Ideating Solutions was the fourth step, where creativity and strategic thinking came together. The team brainstormed innovative approaches to asset recovery and loan restructuring, identifying actionable strategies that could be implemented to achieve their goals.

Finally, the process culminated in Embracing a Future Mindset, where the ARC outlined its vision for the future. This involved setting clear, achievable goals and timelines, ensuring that the entire organization was aligned and moving forward together.

Impact and Transformation

The Imagining Bold New Futures innovation module facilitated a profound transformation within the ARC. By engaging in this structured process, the company was able to clearly define its future, setting ambitious yet attainable objectives. The approach not only provided a roadmap for recovery and growth but also instilled a culture of innovation and strategic thinking across the organization.

The success of this initiative demonstrates the effectiveness of IBNF in addressing complex challenges. For the ARC, it was not just about recovering assets or improving loan performance; it was about envisioning a new future and taking decisive steps towards it. The journey has set a precedent for how the ARC and similar organizations can leverage innovation and strategic planning to navigate the complexities of the financial sector and emerge stronger.

In conclusion, the ARC’s experience underscores the value of a clear, strategic approach to organizational transformation. Through a commitment to innovation, alignment with shared values, and a forward-looking mindset, the company has positioned itself for success in the years to come.

Bringing Ideas to Life through Prototyping

Bringing Ideas to Life through Prototyping - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

Jarin and Tom discuss their favorite BentoBox module, Prototyping. Jarin explains that the precursor to Prototyping was an introduction activity that SYPartners would give at conferences. The core idea behind Prototyping is that it is not limited to digital or engineering projects―any form that brings an idea out of one’s head is a really a prototype. This realization in the Prototyping module helps to unlock people’s creativity, and their ability to bring their best ideas forward. Tom shares that BentoBox Innovation had the same idea and has been using the experience of Prototyping to introduce the power of these modules.

Key Takeaways

  • Prototyping is not only for technical or engineering work.
  • The core concept of prototyping is that anything that manifests an idea physically can be considered a prototype.
  • Participants in the Prototyping BentoBox module experience unlocked creativity, leading to the generation of innovative ideas and collaboration.

The Conversation

Question: There are 12 BentoBoxes in all. Do you have a favorite, or do you have one that you can think of where perhaps you’re particularly fond of the origin of the module? And what was the spark of the idea or the need for it?

Jarin: I think there are some subtle modules that are really powerful, that really reflect the depth and breadth of SYPartners’ experience on how innovation really gets done, and then integrated, and activated, and scaled, and have real impact.

But one of my favorites is Prototyping. That’s a word that’s thrown around a lot. And I want to emphasize that there was a bit of a precursor to that module. We had created a little intro to SYPartners―a presentation that we could give at conferences and invite large groups in. Because SYPartners is always very interactive and trying to create things that engage people rather than just have them sit there and listen to us talk through slides, we tried to invent a few different creative exercises that people could do in large groups at these sorts of conferences. So one of the modules in there was around prototyping. It wasn’t as rich as the BentoBox module because it was just a little sort of teaser, but the core idea carried across into the Prototyping BentoBox.

Prototyping, at the time, usually implied things like coding a digital product or constructing some kind of model or some three dimensional model, or something kind of complex that was beyond the ability of most people and required some sort of technical prowess or training.

But the core unlock in that precursor to the Prototyping BentoBox was the idea that anything that gets an idea out of your head and into physical form is a prototype. Sometimes we’d have 25 to 30 people doing this exercise, and you could see their eyes light up and a smile appear on their faces as they realize, “Oh, a prototype could just be a list, or that little sketch of my bedroom and where I want to put the furniture in different places. Or a diagram of the different departments in our organization in a different configuration, or with arrows pointing in directions that they don’t go now” or any sort of little thing like that. And so we just have to set the stage and people would just go, and then we’d have them share the prototype with each other.

I really loved that idea and I love seeing the way people got very activated and unlocked by that, and the ideas that poured out of them into these different formats. I love that idea of “Get it out of your head onto something.” Others can participate and they can see what you’re thinking and they can build on it. And that’s how great things begin.

Tom: I didn’t know this at all, Jarin. We wanted to do a trial BentoBox, and we drew on the BentoBox of Prototyping to do the same thing.

The physicality of actually working with something, and the understanding that there’s creativity in all of us. That you can get it out of your head and make something, and then you put it together. It’s like you said, people add on to it in a very spontaneous way. I didn’t know the back story on this, but actually this is what we’ve been doing. We’ve been giving people a Prototyping experience where people could actually do something hands on. Where they can see what we mean by prototyping and get it out of your head, do quick math, sketch it out, and the different things that come with creativity and bringing ideas to life.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Jarin Tabata, Global Consultant, Transformation and Innovation.

Creating the Environment for People to do their Best Work

Creating the Environment for People to do their Best Work -Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

It is important to recognize business as a human endeavor and create a safe and inclusive environment for people to collaborate. This approach enables individuals to feel heard, seen, and designed for, fostering their best ideas and clear thinking. BentoBoxes are designed to create conditions that facilitate breakthrough experiences that strengthen team bonds and enhance organizational alignment.

By focusing on the conditions for an authentic exchange of ideas, we set the stage for meaningful collaboration in the activities that follow. It encourages openness to others’ ideas where true collaboration and partnerships emerge, making BentoBoxes a tool for “radical collaboration.” Each BentoBox starts with a “collaboration kickstarter,” allowing individuals to reveal their best thinking and intentions, supporting subsequent activities within the BentoBox.

Key Takeaways

  • Business is ultimately a human endeavor, so it is important to recognize the human aspect in work.
  • Creating an open and inclusive space is crucial for enabling individuals to feel heard, seen, and designed for.
  • The BentoBox process serves to facilitate breakthrough experiences, strengthen team bonds, and enhance organizational alignment.
  • Lowering barriers and fostering openness to others’ ideas promotes true collaboration and partnerships.

The Conversation

Question: One of the first things that you’ll notice as you look at all of the different BentoBoxes is that pretty much every BentoBox starts off with creating a safe space for the participants. Can you tell us why that is so important for the work that then happens in a BentoBox?

Jarin: As I mentioned when talking about the self-guided nature, with this size of team and this kind of work, it brings out a lot for people. Zooming out, that’s why SYPartners and its philosophy, or the core insight that Keith and SYPartners had early on in the evolution of their consultancy, was that business is ultimately a human endeavor.

I know that all seems very obvious to us now, but I think in the nineties that wasn’t really something that was thought about too much in that humans have feelings, and humans have context. To work really well we have to look at the work through a lens of humanity. And so we need to help the humans who are engaging in any kind of business endeavor to feel heard, seen, designed for, and ultimately safe so they can really bring out their best ideas, bring out their clearest thinking or honest feelings.

And SYPartners’ work has been about creating the conditions or the container or the structure or the safety for people to do that, and to do it in a way that is actually quite cathartic for the collective, for the organization, and helps ideas get stronger, helps the bonds between within teams, and between teams, and in an organization gets stronger. Alignment gets truer and the sense of direction gets clearer.

And so I think that it’s all humans and human systems. So this ritual of creating a safe space, it may seem like a small thing and maybe can feel repetitive if you’re doing a BentoBox over and over, or many BentoBoxes. But I think it’s really important as a stage setting container, creating a moment or gesture.

Tom: And it’s so critical for people to be open to others’ ideas in a BentoBox process in these kind of icebreakers, but they’re really more context setting and going back to these very fundamental questions of “How might we?” types of questions.

So one of the things that we see that’s common amongst all the teams and all the BentoBoxes is that once these barriers to others are lowered, real collaboration starts to take hold. And one of the things we say is, “it’s a tool for radical collaboration” because if we can lower the barriers between people as they go through these activities, we can see true collaboration and true partnerships starting to evolve in the process.

So I think these tone setting, and context setting elements in the first instances of each BentoBox is more about “Who am I authentically?” or “Why am I here?”. Asking “If I were to do this, how would you receive me?” and “How would we approach this together?” It’s almost like a collaboration kickstarter a bit because people can reveal their true selves and their real intentions of why they showed up, and why they’re there. And it works very well to support all of the activities that follow in each BentoBox.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Jarin Tabata, Global Consultant, Transformation and Innovation.

The Right Team Size and Scaling Up

The Right Team Size and Scaling Up - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

Based on research studies and decades of real world experience, a team size of 4 to 8 people was found to be optimal for BentoBox modules. This size creates a safe and intimate space where barriers are easily broken down and ego is minimized. It provides a good balance between decision making speed, and diversity of viewpoints.

To scale up and implement BentoBoxes in larger projects for organizational transformation and cultural change, large groups are split into smaller teams. This process allows diverse ideas to emerge in the smaller groups, before being shared again with the larger team during debriefings.

Ultimately, team size in the BentoBox process is chosen strategically to balance efficiency, collaboration, and creativity while promoting a supportive and inclusive environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Small teams are efficient at decision-making, and foster connection and collaboration.
  • The optimal team size of 4 to 8 people in a BentoBox module helps to create a safe and intimate space, promoting the breakdown of barriers and minimizing ego in the process of collaboration and creation.
  • Larger groups can be split into smaller teams, allowing for diverse ideas to emerge, which are later shared and debriefed with the entire team.
  • This approach facilitates scaling and implementation of BentoBoxes in longer-term projects, supporting organizational transformation and cultural change.

The Conversation

Question: Why are BentoBoxes designed for 4 to 8 people? And can you share some of the thought processes and design principles that led the development in that way?

Jarin: I think it was probably the coordination of a few points. One was that in a lot of our work at SYPartners, we worked with different team sizes for different purposes. Sometimes it’s a duo for certain types of work. Sometimes it’s a trio because sometimes a duo can get stuck and a trio can force momentum. Small teams move really fast with decision making, and there’s a lot of research around this, too. There’s the “two pizza rule” and all the extensive research out there around team sizes.

Usually these studies land on a team size of around 5 to 9 people, or maybe a little smaller for decision making. Although we do have a decision making module, most of the rest of the BentoBoxes have the intention for people to -not- move really quickly and break things. Rather, it’s to connect with each other. And so, a slightly bigger team, can be good. That was one factor: What team size works well for this sort of creativity and innovation work, at the pace that we were imagining teams working at to get there.

On the other side, it was just quite pragmatic. I mentioned the analog nature of what we were designing and so we had some limitations around printing. There’s only so large a size you can double-sided digitally print on paper. And so we were trying to push that as far as we could because we knew that we wanted to have some sort of anchor element that was large so that a group of people could all huddle around and engage with this large anchor physical object. As we tested, we realized 4 to 8 people was really the limit that could work well with that size. And this was just the pragmatic decision on the other end. And thankfully the two points coordinate for what really works well for this type of team work.

Tom: I would say that having worked with the BentoBoxes and having seen several teams undergo the process, there’s a certain intimacy that evolves from the BentoBox process. It’s a pretty safe space in which people are operating, and we see that play out where barriers come down fairly easily in a smaller place. There’s less ego involved in the process in smaller groups.

The other thing that happens is that when we have groups larger than 8 people, we will split them into multiple teams and then just do a debrief after it. Sometimes the separate teams’ ideas come out alike, and many times they’re surprisingly diverse. So we give the ability to work in smaller teams, and have the smaller teams connect and share their ideas first. Then we bring it back to the larger team, and that is how these things can actually take root and scale in an organization where multiple BentoBoxes are used on a longer term project of transformation or cultural change.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Jarin Tabata, Global Consultant, Transformation and Innovation.

The Power of Being “Self-Guided”

The Power of Being "Self-Guided" - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

BentoBoxes distill decades of innovation and change management learnings into a powerful framework that allows teams to thrive without the hindrance of traditional facilitators. Drawing inspiration from the world of games, the process mimics the immersive and self-guided nature of board games. Just like Monopoly captivates players with its strategic allure, the BentoBox process empowers teams to uncover their full potential. Each BentoBox weaves a compelling storyline, where the participants themselves become the characters driving change and collaboration. It’s a groundbreaking approach that taps into the emotional elements of decision-making, fostering engagement and lowering barriers to collaboration.

In this interview we talk with Jarin Tabata who led the development of the BentoBox modules while working at SYPartners, a world-class consulting and design firm that helps organizations drive transformative change by combining strategy, creativity, and leadership development.

Key Takeaways

  • Self-led processes empower teams by fostering open communication and freedom.
  • By removing the presence of a facilitator, teams can be more authentic in their interactions.
  • Drawing inspiration from board games, participants figure out the rules together, thus inspiring collaboration and engagement.
  • The storytelling approach taps into the emotive elements of decision-making, interaction, and collaboration, lowering barriers and enhancing engagement.

The Conversation

Question: Why is it important that these are self-guided rather than relying on a facilitator?

Jarin: We thought that perhaps teams might be discussing confidential information or be working through quite private tensions or issues of the team. The journey of a team is not always pleasant, and so having a facilitator who is highly present and super engaged might actually hinder the candor and the freedom for a team to work through things together and to really be themselves.

And it was an interesting design challenge: How far can you design a physical, in-person experience that is self-guided as much as possible? And personally, I was very inspired by games. I think that those are a great example of self-guided experiences. People can open up a board game, read the rules, and they can figure it out together. If you look at some of the best board games ever invented, such as Monopoly, they have a certain way of instructing you and clarifying how game play works: what constitutes a turn, how many people should participate, and what are the roles they play. This person’s the banker, and this person handles the real estate, etc.

We were inspired by those formats and inspired by the way that game makers helped players understand both the rules of the game and the larger strategy, your whole point of playing the game, and how those games to drive or inspire certain behaviors or outcomes. So I think that was also another a big inspiration how we designed them.

Tom: I first encountered SYPartners about 15 years ago when I was working as the chief learning officer in a Japanese bank.

I was meeting regularly with SYPartners because they were working on a large change project in Japan. And when I got to learn about them, what I felt was very unique about their process and working with clients is that they often had a journalist that was part of a project team. The journalist’s role in that project team was to tell the story. And so the storytelling element is present in all of the BentoBoxes.

Beyond the gamification of these processes, there is a very coherent storyline that runs throughout each BentoBox. There’s a starting point of the story, and there’s the whole arc of the story. And the characters in the story are actually the people working on the challenge in the room.

That was one of the things that really struck me about why SYPartners consulting processes is quite different, and that it really drew upon more emotive elements of how people make decisions, of how people interact, about lowering barriers to collaboration and change so that people could really get engaged with a process. And I really feel that that’s very much a part of the BentoBox design.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Jarin Tabata, Global Consultant, Transformation and Innovation.

Building a culture of innovation – Part 4

Extending a Culture of Innovation

Extending a Culture of Innovation - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

How can you create a culture of innovation beyond individual leaders? Tom Pedersen and Steve Monaghan explore how leaders can extend their vision and values throughout the organization. Tom emphasizes the importance of getting out of the way and providing a platform for experimentation and diverse perspectives. Humility plays a crucial role in being open to challenging ideas and different ways of thinking. Steve shares a powerful example of a CEO who demonstrated humility, backed down, and embraced change, leading to a successful outcome. The conversation highlights the significance of shared learning, experiences, and continuous engagement in shaping organizational culture. Breaking free from constraints and being open to new possibilities fosters a culture of growth and innovation.

Key Takeaways

  • Creating a culture of innovation requires leaders to extend their vision and values throughout the organization.
  • Leaders should not be afraid to “get out of the way” and provide a platform for experimentation and diverse perspectives.
  • Humility is a crucial trait for leaders, allowing them to be open to challenging ideas and different ways of thinking.
  • Embracing change and being willing to reconsider decisions is essential for fostering a culture of growth and innovation.
  • Shared learning, experiences, and continuous engagement contribute to shaping a strong organizational culture.

The Conversation

Question: We’ve been talking about Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and leader competencies. But what we’re talking about more broadly today is, “How do you create a culture of innovation?” And of course, a culture is more than one person. A culture has to extend beyond the leader. From your experience, what can leaders do to extend their vision and values more broadly?

Tom: Get out of the way. Provide a platform for people to experiment. Not holding on to your position of leadership is the most important thing. If you’re only anchoring on your current context of, “I worked so hard to get to this place. I’m the person that makes the calls.” That’s a zero sum game.

We talk about these iconic CEOs, and I think one of the things that they’ve done is they hire really great people that work for them. They hired great people that have contradictory and complementary skills. They’re not afraid to be challenged a bit. And I think in leading change in an organization, the best thing a leader can have is—and this relates to what Steve’s talking about—is humility. Get out of the way.

Get out of the way doesn’t mean that you are not responsible or accountable for making a call. That’s what leaders in an organization get paid to do. They get paid to look at the variables and make a decision, and hopefully it goes in the right direction. But I think getting out of the way most times is a really important thing.

And what I mean is, get out of the way of ideas that are going to bubble up in the organization that are not your own. Get out of the way of different people that look at problems in a very different way. Get out of the way of people that are different than you and that work differently, that look differently, that think differently.

As an HR person, we’re going to say to build an inclusive culture where the best ideas can come to the fore. It’s true. If a leader thinks that she or he has all the answers, that’s really a recipe for failure. Even with the brightest executives and the best people in the organization. If they can’t learn, and learn quickly from people around them that have much different perspectives, then there’s not going to be a very bright future.

Steve: For me, culture is always driven by shared learning, shared experiences, and just a constant engagement and rigor around leadership. But instead of giving you that perspective, let me just give you an example.

I remember going into a meeting with the CEO of a large institution and presenting something to which he grew quite furious, slammed his hand on the table and said, “This is going to cost me $20 million!” So I waited until the end, and then I just looked at him and I said, “If it costs $20 million and then makes $100 million, who gives a beep?” using a correct word, of course.

Now many years later, I hear it’s that CEO’s number one priority. And what I admired with the CEO was that he had the humility to actually back down, reevaluate, commit, and move forward. Whereas many CEOs would A) have fired me, or B) completely just dug in and fought it.

So going back to that humility and learning, everyone that is faced with decisions at any level of the organization needs to be able to have perspective and be able to say no, but equally be open enough to change their mind. Too often we become invested in the constraints of how we think, and get stuck in the past. And that actually inhibits a culture from growing within the organization because then you’re just imposing an old culture down, and that does not work.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Steve Monaghan, General Partner, KK FinMirai.

Building a culture of innovation – Part 3

Resilience and handling pushback

Resilience and Handling Pushback - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

Tom Pedersen and Steve Monaghan explore the challenge of engaging with skeptical stakeholders in an organizational context. Steve shares his personal experience of facing initial resistance and how he turned it into motivation. Tom highlights the importance of resilience and leading by getting out of the way. They discuss the qualities of humility, grit, and integrity as essential for success, and emphasize the significance of these values in achieving positive outcomes, even in challenging circumstances. This conversation offers valuable insights into handling resistance and inspiring progress within an organization.

Key Takeaways

  1. It is important to use feedback as motivation rather than being deterred.
  2. Resilience is important for overcoming obstacles and maintaining forward momentum.
  3. Optimistic and visionary leadership are important to inspire and motivate others during difficult times.
  4. Humility, grit, and integrity are essential for success and achieving positive outcomes.
  5. Additionally, these qualities are important in navigating skepticism, driving progress, and upholding ethical standards within an organization.

The Conversation

Question: When you walked into an organization and started engaging with the different stakeholders, what do you do when you feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? You’re not getting the buy in. They’re looking at you and saying, “Why should I trust you? What are you going to do if we fail?” How do you handle that?

Steve: That’s a great question. And that was exactly how I started the DBS. My very first presentation resulted in quite a lot of very loud engagement, and I thought that it was my shortest job ever.

But what it did to me was it just made me angry—angry in a positive way. So what I did is I actually went and brought in a demo, a prototype that I’d worked with someone offline to go and make, and I just put it in the CEO’s hands.

I remember exactly what he said. He said, “Now I see. I get it.” Because you have to be pushed and respond the right way. If you respond and walk away; well quitters never win. You have to take the feedback. You have to reflect on it and you have to find a way. And for me it was a motivation, not something that sent me in the other direction. And I think that you see that in anyone, a sportsman that’s down and having a bad time. It’s the fight back. You’ve got to have that Rocky 3, Rocky 4 approach. You’ve just got to fight back, and whenever I get down today, I literally play that music in my head. How am I going to fight through this?

Tom: So that talks to this key competence of resilience. How do you fall down and get back up?

How do you learn from that in a way that propels and motivates you, optimistically, forward. And that’s hard to do in a lot of organizational contexts, especially when it’s the boss that sometimes doesn’t realize that some of the behaviors are disabling, preventing people from going forward.

I’ve also been challenged in a lot of organizational contexts that cause people to question, “Why am I here? Why do I keep going?”

When I feel down and discouraged, how do I take others along with me when I know others want to follow somebody who’s more optimistic, who’s more visionary who’s going to help chart a path forward?

I think one of the key leadership competencies in innovative organizations is developing your muscle of resilience. How do you do it in a way that really keeps you going in a positive, forward-focused direction?

Steve: If I could just add one thing to that. I invest in a bunch of companies and the three values I look for are

  • Humility. If you’re not humble, you can’t learn.
  • Grit. Because those downtimes are always going to be there. How are you persistent and resilient, and how do you how do you fight back?
  • Integrity. Because without that, you don’t have a foundation.

And you know those three things, and it works, I haven’t had one technically go out with no return—out of 16. so the stats, even in this terrible market are a testament that when you have a focus on people with that capability, I think you can achieve a lot.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Steve Monaghan, General Partner, KK FinMirai.

Building a culture of innovation – Part 2

Learning to be more agile

Learning to be more agile - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

In this episode, Tom Pedersen and Steve Monaghan discuss the critical factors necessary for corporations to progress, innovate, and adapt to external forces of change. Steve shares his perspective based on his corporate experience, and emphasizes the need for a different approach. He highlights the importance of starting small, learning from failures, and quickly exiting unsuccessful ventures—a mindset he believes is lacking in many organizations. Steve suggests reevaluating approval processes, adopting agile practices, and rethinking financial strategies to mitigate risk and encourage experimentation. Drawing examples from successful companies like Tesla and Apple, which emerged from failures and embraced innovation, they emphasize the significance of capitalizing on failures and swiftly incorporating the lessons learned into the organization’s growth and development.

Key Takeaways

  1. Corporations should focus on starting small, learning from failures, and exiting fast to move forward, innovate, and embrace external changes.
  2. Approval processes and financial strategies need to be reevaluated to encourage risk-taking and agility in decision-making.
  3. Incorporating agile practices beyond operations and software development can drive innovation and adaptation.
  4. Learning from failures and capitalizing on the lessons gained is essential for growth and development within organizations.
  5. Companies that refuse to take small risks and embrace change may fall behind and miss out on opportunities for innovation.

The Conversation

Tom: What would be critical for larger Japanese corporations if they want to move forward, move quicker, and be more innovative and embrace these forces of change from outside? From your perspective, having now lived in Japan for a while and worked for a Japanese corporation on several projects, what do you think is a great way forward?

Steve: Start small, learn, and exit fast. Those are three characteristics that you don’t see here, unfortunately. I worked for another corporation somewhere else in the world where the management was so paranoid, they didn’t want to start anything that had any risk associated. They wanted a riskless project; which doesn’t exist, and they spent more money waiting for that to happen than to actually execute just the first steps of it and exit, which would have cost far less.

In other words, it became acceptable to have a bigger loss through inaction than it was to take a small loss to move forward. And I think that there’s an urgency not just in Japan, but everywhere to rethink how you take approval. We’ve heard of things like Agile, and you hear the mantra, “We have to be agile.” Well, we’re agile in operations and in software development and all these sorts of things, and that’s increasing around the world. But what we haven’t changed is our finance and our recognition of risk.

Instead of having a budget that you commit to at the beginning of the year and have to spend by the end, how do you make sure that: I’ve stage-gated this much investment, this is what’s at risk. If we lose now, it’s finite. And as per real options theory, if it fails, you kill it and if it works, you can look at how you reuse it and how you go to the next step. Unless you’re taking that step forward, you’ll never have that learning or discovery, and there’s a certain value in just having that experience and giving it a go.

So many startups are known for pivoting, so many corporations. If you look at some of the greatest innovations around the world, many have started out of failure. Tesla was a failure, and now it’s the most valuable car company in the world. And it was literally a failed startup.

Tom: Tesla was built on on the bones of NUMMI. It was built on the foundations of a failed joint venture between Toyota and GM. That’s the bones of it, right?

Steve: Absolutely. So what’s interesting to me is I remember we had Elon Musk come to speak at a Start Me Up Hong Kong event. I was running a kids accelerator there. He had come and was presenting before the kids, and when he was being interviewed he said, “You know what’s it like being an entrepreneur?” And I’ll never forget the quote. It’s just embedded in my brain. I live it every day. He said, “It’s like eating glass and staring at the abyss.”

So if you remember, Tesla almost crumbled. Tesla almost died with production hell, if you recall that. Then Space X blew up twice and if it blew up the third time it was dead, right? Now–I’m not sure if you saw the latest launch–what happened when it blew up? Everyone was clapping and cheering because they realized they had learned a lot and made progress, and they were prepared for that outcome.

Too many organizations aren’t prepared for the failure outcome and to look at what they can take away from it. Elon Musk has his successes and failures and whether you love him or hate him, you’ve got to admire the way that he approaches failure and risk. And the ability to keep driving forward even in the grimmest of times. And companies need to do that. We see it happened with many past companies, including ones I’ve worked for like Compaq, that aren’t with us today, because they refused to take those very small first steps to really changing the status quo.

Tom: I had a similar thought. Many years ago when Steve Jobs left Apple and went to Next computer.

Steve: Another almost massive failure: Next. And Apple was right against the wall right when he came back having driven it there himself.

Tom: I remember there was a magazine at the time in Japan called Computing Japan, and somebody asked me for a quote. I said, “Apple’s rotten to the core.” And now I look back on that, what I should have been doing is investing in Apple at the time, because I didn’t realize that, in the case of Steve Jobs, again somebody with positives and negatives, he was driven in the same way that Elon Musk is driven to do something that’s quite different about innovation.

Having many starts and many failures within an organization, capitalizing on those failures and learning their way forward. Those are large, iconic, disruptive types of companies. But I also see that they were against the ropes, too. And they were built on a foundation of failures, actually. And innovation in any organization is probably built upon that foundation of risk taking and accepting failures and learning very quickly what they can from those failures and taking it forward.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Steve Monaghan, General Partner, KK FinMirai.

Building a culture of innovation – Part 1

Building a culture of innovation - Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation

Innovation and digital transformation are buzzwords that are often used in organizations, but developing a culture of innovation takes time and effort. Steve Monaghan, the first Chief Innovation Officer at DBS Bank, shares his experience on how they started their innovation culture. He emphasizes the importance of a shared language and communication, as well as starting with learning and venturing before investing in capital. He also highlights the misconception that the number of people in a team drives change, when it is actually the number of people engaged. By flipping the traditional model of capital, venturing, and learning, they were able to transform customer experience and positively impact the organization.

Key Takeaways

  1. Developing an innovation culture takes time and cannot be rushed.
  2. Shared language and effective communication are essential for fostering innovation.
  3. Engagement, not team size, drives change and innovation.
  4. Flipping the traditional model: Start with learning and venturing before investing capital. Experiential learning is powerful in driving innovation.
  5. Focus on continuous improvement, learning from initial steps, and purposeful application of technology.

The Conversation

Tom: Steve, thanks for joining me today. I wanted to have a conversation about cultures of innovation—what works, and how to get them started in organizations. So I think we hear the word, “digital transformation”—we hear the word “innovation” batted around a lot. Can we talk about the origins of innovation because you were the first Chief Innovation Officer at DBS Bank, and how did that get started? Can you give us a little background of that?

Steve: Yeah, sure. The answer to how it got started is, “slowly.” If I was to sum it up into one word, that would be it. And the reason for that is that, you cannot start a culture of innovation immediately. By definition, a culture takes time to develop and evolve.

And there’s often this misconception that people talking about “you’ve got to create an agile culture” or “you’ve got to create an innovation culture,” but what you’re really dealing with is the actual culture of an institution. And then you’ve got to break apart what a culture is.

So, one of the early lessons that I discovered at DBS was that if you didn’t know, K-N-O-W, then the only answer was going to be “no.” And the reason for that is unless you had a common language, unless you actually understood the basics about the things that we’re about to embark on, your only responsible answer as an executive was, “no.”

So, I’ll use the Chinese saying; it’s called “jī tóng yā jiǎng,” and forgive the mispronunciation, but what it means is “Chicken talk with duck.” Both lots of squawking, but no understanding. And I think that that was really my first experience at DBS. Here I am speaking my language of innovation and there was absolutely no comprehension on the other side of the fence as to what that meant. So, all cultures start with some degree of shared language and ability to communicate.

And I think that’s really the first foundation that needs to be laid.

Tom: You started out with a really small team. As I remember, you only had three or four people in the mix when you first started, right?

Steve: I think yes. And I hired one soon thereafter. And so we were, including myself, we were a massive team of six.

So, change is not driven by the number of people that you have in a team. It’s driven by the number of people you engage. And so the first thing was, how to get a multiplier around that. And I think you’ve actually covered off the most important thing because there’s an expectation that you’re going to get immediate results by creating magic, you know, “technology magic.”

And that’s driven by the fact that the way technology was dealt with inside large organizations and still is in many countries around the world, particularly in this country in Japan, is they tend to get enamored with the technology. And they buy technology, and then they try to work out how to use it. And then they find it’s not really fit for purpose.

And we’ve seen that at a national level here in Japan recently with the failure of a number of large projects which have spanned, in some cases almost multiple decades that were all about embracing new technology and delivering to market. But they never really understood what lay behind. So that model of: capital, then venturing, and then learning had to be displaced.

And one of the great things that I had as an advantage for me was the ability to work with you in HR in talent and learning, because learning is the place to start, not the place to finish.

So usually it would be that you would spend capital, you would try to test something and make it work. And the learning was, well, it didn’t work. Let’s not do it again.

And so i was armed. As you might also recall, with this massive budget, a couple of hundred thousand dollars. And so the first thing we did was get people engaged around understanding the tech, understanding prototypes and getting their hands on it, including the CEO, who once they managed to see how things actually transformed and customer experience transformed, actually started to become very positive about the potential of what lay ahead.

So we flipped that model to: learning, venturing, and then capital. And I think that that’s a big difference versus many corporations even today, that start with capital and create these huge budgets and then don’t get the result they want.

We did the opposite. We started with something small and then learned, pulled together the learning through venturing—and experiential learning is the most powerful form of learning—and then using capital to scale, not vice versa.

And one of the things that I see in Japan is they tend to create these massive budgets, but they never actually make any progress against them because they’re trying to get 100% solved when the most important thing is getting the first 1%.

How do you take that first step? How do you learn from it? How do you continue to build upon it, reuse it, all those sorts of things. And that’s how technology works.

About the podcast

“Perspectives on Leadership and Innovation” is a podcast hosted by Tom Pedersen, Founder and CEO of BentoBox Innovation.

With special guest Steve Monaghan, General Partner, KK FinMirai.