Take The Lead Radio Interview

Working Effectively Into The 

Future With Michelle Hayward.


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I am here with Michelle Hayward who is the CEO of the award-winning innovative brand and growth consultancy Bluedog Design, which is in Chicago. Michelle is a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management’s Chief Marketing Officer Program. She’s also one of Conscious Company Magazine’s 22 Conscious Leaders of 2019. She’s got a long list of accomplishments that we’ll dive right in. It’s nice to have you here, Michelle.

Thank you, Diane. It’s lovely to be here. Thanks for inviting me on the show…

I was looking forward to it. You and I were talking about what you think is the value of curiosity and it’s important because you talk a lot about creating award-winning cultures and creating companies where they’re sought after places to work and how we look at curiosity and redefine it. I want to talk about that. First, before we do, can you give a little background on you so that people who aren’t familiar with your work can know how you got to reach this level of success?

I can go back and link my success with an early experience that I had. I was fortunate when I was sixteen to be awarded a congressional scholarship to the Congress-Bundestag Exchange Program. I spent a year in Germany and it was during the Cold War. It was geared to breaking down barriers, boundaries, cultural differences, misunderstandings and myths. Though I didn’t fully comprehend that at the time, it certainly forced me to experiment. I had to go back to being like a three-year-old again and learn a language, learn how to create empathy and understanding with a family, and learn how to build trust with people who didn’t know what I was all about. I didn’t know what they were all about. I failed 100 million times in that year, as you can imagine. That set me up for success. I had two choices, I could shut down and stop learning or I could become even more curious about what I didn’t understand and continue to dive into the culture and the people, their stories, and try to be successful where I could.

It’s a great example of what it takes to build empathy. People don’t recognize how hard it is to go to a different culture like that. My daughter studied in Spain, Italy and she was in Brazil and all these places. When you go to these different cultures, you have to look at things from different perspectives and your perception changes quite drastically. My next book is going to be about perception, which ties in curiosity. Curiosity is important to be able to develop questions to find out more about other people, which leads to empathy, which leads to many things. You’re a consultant, right? 

We help businesses grow.

With that growth, where does curiosity play in that? Have you helped them develop curiosity? Have they been relying on status-quo thinking? Where does it fall in terms of the levels you’ve seen?

It’s interesting because as you look around and you think about the way businesses operate or pre-COVID-19, let’s say, there isn’t a lot of structural change. I see that companies are organized in specific ways. They’re often siloed. The energy within a company or a particular firm is in the way it’s organized. If you’re organized around new products, R&D probably has the highest headcount. As you look at the patterns across a lot of different corporations, you don’t see a lot of variants in the way that they’re structured. When they were structured in the last century, the twentieth-century companies, a lot of them were structured to scale and do one 1 or 2 things well at scale. They are based on efficiency models, essentially. When we look at 21st-century models, we start to see that there’s a lot more experimentation and silos aren’t as important, organizations get flatter.

I do think you start to see a sense of curiosity evolve slowly, even in the changing patterns in twentieth-century companies. We start to see people get more interested in experimentation, which is at the heart. You have to be curious first and then you can have empathy and then you build a prototype to see if you got the empathy right. You test it and then you have to be curious again about how you make it better. You go back to learning and then you apply it, etc. We’re starting to see some real bright spots in taking that approach inside organizations, not just outside of organizations with firms like ours.

You work with some large organizations. You have largely Fortune 500 companies. I was looking at your list, Mars, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Miller, Coors, these are some big companies. Do you find that it makes any difference at the size of the company, whether they’re able to be more curious or develop that easier? Is it harder if they’re bigger?

It’s harder when these companies are larger. It’s a bigger ship to turn. I will say though that one of the things that have been fascinating in this time of COVID-19 is that almost immediately we were able to recognize two types of companies. They’re all large companies that we’re talking with. The two types of companies, we base them on their reaction to this pandemic. On one side, the type-one, they were companies that were like, “We’re in crisis. This is terrible. We need to focus on 1 or 2 things. We’re not going to engage in consumer learning any longer until this crisis passes.” The messaging was a fixed mindset in my opinion.

The second type of client partner was quite different. They said, “What can we learn about this moment in time? We believe that this will be the lens through which we have to look to understand the future. Six months or twelve months from now, when we’re presented with an opportunity to learn with consumers or customers and we need to be insightful, we have to look through the portal of what is informing that insight, which is what we’re all living through.” Their curiosity grew. While they had the same crisis issues with what type-one company has, type-two leadership communicated a different message and that was like, “Get moving and progress. Let’s stay on top of this. It’s business as usual, plus we have to do all these other things.” That’s been fascinating to watch because we’ve done all kinds of interesting work with type-two firms.

What kinds of things? Is there anything you can share?

Broadly they’re asking for help in consumer-centric and customer-centric ways. They’re looking at, if we were going to look six layers deep into this pandemic moment, how are people living? What excites them? What fears do they have about the present and the future? They’re looking to understand and reach detail as vividly as possible, what is happening to humans now? How do we concretize that and keep it as a living document to inform us in the future? As time goes on, our memories certainly erode. We’re fixated on new things and new challenges, but we need to keep that front and center to understand what we could make or service could be a benefit to people in the future based at this moment.

You’re talking about a lot of things that I used to teach in a lot of courses. I taught one specifically called Foresight and Technology. We all want to be proactive, have the foresight, and have plans just in case. Do you think we have enough catastrophe or crisis management training? Do you think that there was any way for leaders to prepare for this time? What can we learn from all this?

I’m super normal in that. I’ve been fairly obsessed with reading and learning about how much we already knew as a society, public and private, about pandemics, and how they were going to emerge and how little we were prepared for that emergence into society. It seems quite obvious now in hindsight that our resiliency in the future can be enhanced by leveraging what we already know now and not turning a blind eye to that. Our wargames, and by wargames I mean in the corporate cultural sense, as we look around and say, “What are the threats?” We need to extend that thinking beyond competitive threats to things that are much more feature centric. Not only oil prices and threats to reputation but also threats to global disruption.

We’re thinking about things in all the new ways that we never thought we’d be thinking. A lot of us got stuck in the status quo of doing things thinking that nothing would ever be this big of a change. Everybody’s having to reconsider things. You and I were talking before. We never got to the point that I wanted to get because you said something about how you thought I looked at curiosity in a different way. I’d like to know what you were starting to say because I thought that might be an interesting conversation. What was the point you were going to make before I cut you off? I thought, “Stop, I want to hear that later.”

I was complimenting you because your book Cracking the Curiosity Code was a breath of fresh air for me and for my organization. We think a lot about curiosity and we think about it being tied to resourcefulness, resiliency and creativity. It’s a fairly important value in our corporate culture and mindset. Your book was one of the few resources we could find that did not link lack of curiosity to the inherent character flaw but rather pointed it out as something that could be taught, learned, advanced, nurtured, grown, etc. I found that to be extremely helpful and I would love to hear more from you on that point.

We could always talk about all that. I appreciate you giving me such a nice compliment. It’s important to look at some of the things like curiosity and emotional intelligence as things that we can improve. What was interesting to me when I started researching curiosity was that all the assessments pretty much told you if you had higher or low levels. No one told you what to do about it if it was low. It’s good to know that if it is low, there are ways to find out what stops people so they can move forward. It takes the leader of a company to want to have that desire to change the culture within the company to be more curious. Can a company build curiosity and its employees if the leader doesn’t buy into the need to change the culture?

No. Leadership has to be focused on ways to always upskill, improve, advance the level and value of its talent. If they don’t see curiosity, IQ, or EQ as potentials for improvement, I don’t know. That’s craziness. We want to invest in people’s ability to learn. At Bluedog, when new doggers come in, we do expose them and offer them an EQ assessment. It’s a self-assessment. It’s self-reported and the results are available to them. The idea is it’s a reality test, “I thought that I was this way, but it looks like I also could improve here. I overemphasize and over articulate in these ways. How can I get curious about myself to be able to ignite a new future going forward?” It’s a roadmap for them but you’re right, there isn’t a lot of support out there in terms of, “I’m low here or high here. What do I do about it?”.

It’s interesting when I was trying to decide what to write my doctoral dissertation on. I knew I wanted to look at performance, specifically sales performance. I happen to have this one whack job of a professor. I had him for a week before I dropped them. One of the things he asked me was what I was going to write my doctoral dissertation on and I said that I wanted to write about what impacts sales performance. For some reason, he heard, “Emotional intelligence and sales performance would be interesting.” I’m like, “What?” I don’t even know what that is at the time. I said okay and hung up the phone. I dropped him because he was nuts. .

I looked up emotional intelligence and I ended up writing about that for my dissertation and later on, studying it. Emotional intelligence is such a huge thing that we will continue to see. I was fortunate to have Daniel Goleman on the show, and I’ve had a lot of experts talking about it. It’s a big part of perception as well. When I started to research perception, I found that it was a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ for curiosity, and CQ for cultural quotient. If you combine all those things together, you find out more about how to work with people in all these different countries, locations and demographics. It’s going to be interesting to see how we look at the world after this current crisis to see if we’ll see that we’re more alike than we are different. Do you think it will be easier to work globally? How is this going to impact all that?

There will be positive engagement globally if we begin solving for what we’re faced with together. There is going to be shared empathy in terms of our and your economy shut down. I was on the path toward retirement and now I’m not. There’s going to be some similar experiences that will help to tie people together. A fixed mindset approach means that everybody works and lives differently based on wherever they are on the map. A growth mindset approach is, we may live and work a little bit differently, but we’re faced with the same global big problems that limit us all if we don’t work together. I’m hoping that the high level of empathy, engagement, and shared knowledge is going to continue.

It will be interesting to see because this is unprecedented for the modern work world to see how people will handle this. Many people are going to have to learn to embrace failures now that they’ve never failed maybe in the past. Some of the most interesting people I’ve had on my show have all had super huge failures in their lives at some point. What doesn’t kill us sometimes makes us stronger and we learn from failure. I see a lot of younger generations embracing failure in their leadership style more than I used to see in the ‘70s or whatever in the workplace. Do you see that we’re learning more from our failures and not looking at them like such a “bad thing?”

I don’t know. That’s a difficult question to answer. When I sit in my seat every day, I feel my failures. I don’t know that other people perceive them as often as I perceive them. I try to share them when they’re particularly salient to my organization and especially when I need to ask for help. It’s almost impossible not to float 100 new ideas a day now and have the majority of them not live on into the coming weeks. There’s so much thought experimentation happening. I do think that might be another great positive coming out of it. I hear it from other leaders as well.

I was talking to an individual and she was clear. She’s in a new role. It’s a global role, a large role in a multinational company. She’s like, “I’ve got these four strategies that I’ve inherited. I don’t have people teams or a globally connected network now that’s going to enable me to get these moving.” In many parts of the world like I’m in Chicago and they are on lockdown. It’s not business as usual and people are not moving forward and it’s incredibly difficult. Right then and there, the first day on the job, in some ways fail. Those conditions are set outside the boundaries of what this person is capable of, which is much more.

It’s going to be an interesting year to see what change and what this opens up your mind to. Sometimes you think you’re too big to fail or whatever that mindset is and now that you see that everything isn’t exactly controllable the way you think it’s going to be, it will give a lot more contingency planning. That should be interesting and I know you deal with a lot of different situations in what you do because you do all these interesting things. You’re sitting on different boards and it’s hard to find women on a lot of boards, even in this market, even in California where they have a law saying that you have a certain number of women on boards. Are you finding it challenging to find boards to be part of? How did you get to be on two of them?

I have a lot of thoughts about what you said in those many different questions. I’m writing a book. My book started off being squarely in that space. I consider myself to have so much experience in such a great front-row seat to so much disruption in so many different companies across the globe. I’ve certainly learned and know a lot at that point in my career where I want to share a lot. I’ve been met with mostly resistance in terms of getting on a board seat. I stopped at some point in that process and said, “What is it that is holding me back?” I rewound my tapes and what I found was, there were so many decisions that I did or did not make in my 20s and early 30s that haven’t formed where I ended up now in that quest. It has nothing to do with my success in business, believe it or not.

The book is going to be about informing women with a new roadmap. It’s failure of imagination when you think about giving contingency planning. It’s going to look different because of COVID-19 than it looks before. There is a failure of imagination of what we can’t imagine or we don’t know when we’re young. We largely can’t even answer the question of where we want to be eventually. The hope is that through the wisdom of many women in my peer group. We can bring them new thinking and how to plan for their unknown futures in a way that sets them up for success and keeping most doors open possible for future choices.

I do find that in my circles, many talented women are wondering the same thing that you’re wondering. They’re in their mid to late 40s, which some statistic out there says that 48 is the perfect age to land on a board. They’ve worked at public companies their whole lives as chief growth, strategy, marketing, or whatever officer and they’re sitting there saying, “Why am I struggling to find the board that would like to take me on?” They head out to Stanford and say, “It must be my pedigree. I need to take a class and become board-certified in some way.” They do that and they expand their network yet more and they still find themselves in a similar place. A lot of it is because they don’t have that network and that track record to have access to that world and that club. It’s different.

It’s an interesting topic. I’ve had a lot of experts on the show talk about things to do with women in boards. It’s a tough thing, especially if you don’t have the financial experience or CEO level of financial experience. A lot of men had those jobs that give them that expertise, which is challenging. I thought that your background was interesting and a lot of people will find what you do fascinating. I’m sure they’re going to want to contact you. If they did, is there some website or some way you’d like to be reached?

I would love to be reached through MichelleHayward.com That would be fabulous. Thank you.

I hope that people take some time to check out your work and I look forward to the book. When is it coming out?

I’m going to publish it in July of 2020.

Congratulations. What’s the name of the book? This will be coming out around that a little bit before that. 

It has a working title now of 2085, which is the year that it’s been projected women will make pay parity with men in the workplace.

That’s a long time. 

It’s scary so that was a provocative idea that was put forth to me and the research I did. I thought that we can do better. If we have a roadmap, get started earlier, and we know what the pitfalls are, we can do better as women.

Is that the subtitle? That would be a good one. Thank you, Michelle. It was so nice to have you on the show. I enjoyed our chat.

Thank you, Diane. It’s a real privilege. I appreciate it.

You’re welcome. 


Originally published on dr.dianehamilton.com


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