Ep452: Jenny Wilde – Embrace Complexity in Innovation

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Quick take

BIO: Jenny Wilde has over 15 years of hands-on experience as a senior manager in humanitarian response and an innovation expert.

STORY: Jenny saw the need to set up an Innovation Fund to support innovative ideas to make their emergency response easier and more effective. Unfortunately, company politics took over, and the fund was scrapped off.

LEARNING: Embrace complexity when dealing with innovation.


“Different problems in different innovations require different tools and methodologies.”

Jenny Wilde


Guest profile

Jenny Wilde has over 15 years of hands-on experience as a senior manager in humanitarian response and an innovation expert. She has supported innovative organizations and initiatives in countries as diverse as the USA, South Sudan, and Nepal. She has pioneered initiatives that break from conventional innovation models and enable global scale.

Worst investment ever

Jenny was the operational director of emergency response in the Philippines, responding to a large typhoon, Typhoon Haiyan, that had ripped through the country’s center. Everyone was trying to make decisions and get stuff out of the door without a lot of deeper thinking. Jenny thought that her organization needed an innovation fund that would help bring to light any innovative ideas that would make their work easier. So they got the money and a team together and set up the fund.

Within no time, the fund got political, with everyone wanting to take credit for the idea while, in reality, doing nothing. It was stressful for Jenny because she was heavily invested in the idea. Essentially the Innovation Fund got scrapped because of politics.

Lessons learned

  • You’ve got to simplify the problem. Make it as simple as possible, and then work with it.
  • When you’re innovating around complex problems, you need to step back and take in all that complexity to do transformational shifts.

Andrew’s takeaways

  • Embrace complexity because there will be problems that you need to solve that are very complex.
  • Think about the balance between the long term versus the short term. Which one works best for your current environment?
  • Your idea should fit the company’s culture; otherwise, people will only shoot it down.

Actionable advice

If you want to go big and create something that’s really transformational, you should be using systems innovation and the tools associated with that. Don’t harm yourself with small ideas and small innovation traps.

No. 1 goal for the next 12 months

Jenny’s number one goal for the next 12 months is to help people create big shifts in their industries.

Parting words


“Thanks, and good luck on the next investment.”

Jenny Wilde


Read full transcript

Andrew Stotz 00:02
Hello fellow risk takers and welcome to my worst investment ever stories of loss to keep you winning in our community we know that to win in investing you must take risk but to win big you've got to reduce it to join our community go to my worst investment ever.com and receive the risk reduction checklist I've created from the lessons I've learned from all my guests and get my weekly email to help you increase your investment return. Also in the community you get a super special podcast listener discount on my six week valuation masterclass boot camp. The boot camp is for those who want to learn exactly how to value companies like a pro and advance their career in finance. Go to my worst investment ever.com to join the community for free fellow risk takers, this is your worst podcast hosts Andrew Stotz, from a Stotz Academy, and I'm here with featured guest, Jenny wild Jenny, are you ready to rock?

Jenny Wilde 01:01

Andrew Stotz 01:02
Yes. And for the listeners out there, you can't see it. But it's just stunning view. You know, a lot of times when we talk on zoom, people have these amazing backgrounds. And it looks like they're in a beautiful, beautiful location. But in fact, Jenny's is a real background. So let me introduce you to the audience. And Jenny Wilde has over 15 years of experience hands on experience as a senior manager in humanitarian response, and she's an innovation expert. She has supported innovative organizations and initiatives in countries as diverse as the USA, South Sudan, and Nepal. She has pioneered initiatives that break from conventional innovation models, and enable global scale, Jenny, take him in in filling for the tidbits about your life.

Jenny Wilde 01:53
Wow. And thank you, I'm in Queenstown. so short, short break, you should all come to Queenstown because very beautiful. So I guess I've spent the majority of my life in humanitarian action. So typhoons civil conflicts, earthquakes, train us people with opportunities to grow back their lives. And during that time, as many people talk about, I got really interested in how do we do this better? How do we create more value? How do we create kind of big transformational shifts? And of course, I fell into innovation. And so now I do that full time for companies for not for profits, as diverse as kind of building innovation engines and agile transformations to, to focusing on, you know, skills and capability development.

Andrew Stotz 02:50
So when people speak about innovation, you know, sometimes I know exactly what they mean. But sometimes I don't know anything of what they mean. Maybe you could describe to the audience like What does innovation mean to you? And kind of why should we think about innovation? Aren't we innovative already?

Jenny Wilde 03:12
Well, as the globally recognized authority on innovation, I can tell you exactly what it means. Look, I think there's many definitions and types of innovation all the way from kind of incremental innovation, where you're saying, we have this kind of process, and we're going to improve this process, all the way up to incredibly transformative innovation, like the iPhone, which has changed the way we live and work or the internet, or, you know, the future of AI, blockchain, energy tech, etc. So, so I would class that all as innovation, there are many different definitions. It's just kind of different levels of innovation, if you will.

Andrew Stotz 04:01
And you know, in some ways you look at people I mean, I've worked in big companies myself over the years. Sometimes these people are not that innovative. And, you know, bosses are at the top of companies when we need to be more innovative people like Yeah, I just want to do my job. And you know, thanks a lot, and this is just more work or whatever. How does that company ring that innovative thinking without like, I don't know, how did they bring their staff along with that I can see like the top people chanting innovation, innovation, and maybe they believe it. Maybe they don't, I don't know. But I just think that it's such a challenge because people are kind of, you know, focused on just doing their thing.

Jenny Wilde 04:43
I mean, there's many things like innovation that a CEO will say, I know we need to do. I know we need to be innovative in all the business literature, the kind of shifts in my industry, what I see of the changing pace of the world today. But I've got all this other stuff to do. And so I'm going to talk about innovation and hope someone picks up that ball. And they don't, or you're going to kind of bring in a consultancy and, and hope that they can do the work for me. And I think, I mean, there's many places that organizations stumble. But I think some of the core elements is you have to have leadership buy in. And you need to understand what that means to you. So not just what is innovation. But what does that mean, strategically, your strategy or organizational strategy should be set up around, what does that mean, as a core part of your work, perhaps as an additional program, as both and and then it needs to be about building that kind of culture and capability and the structures within the organization. So I could talk about all of that. That's the kind of stuff we do with a lot of firms across Europe and the US. But it's, you know, sometimes it's seen as kind of this add on, and you see organizations going through phases of kind of talking about it, but not much happens, talking about it, and then adding a kind of bolt on, like, we're gonna do an innovation lab that will be separate to the organization or won't really change it, which then doesn't really work. And then kind of take a realization that is, wow, this is actually about our whole organization. And then when we, and it's not just a word. So there are organizations that will survive in the future, those who can, who can be innovative, who can be adaptive, and agile.

Andrew Stotz 06:41
It's interesting, think about one of my teachers, Dr. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, when I was a young guy I studied with him in I, it was kind of, it's hard to understand, because at first, he talked about how quality needs to be set from the top. Okay, I, I got that if Tom's not committed. But then, then I thought, okay, set up a quality department and got it out or not. And what he said is no, no, you've got to build quality into every job, you've got to build quality thinking into everybody, otherwise, you never transform the business. And so a lot of that sounds similar to the type of thing you were saying about innovation is you've got to bring kind of the innovative mindset, or else, you know, throughout the organization, if you try to set it up as something separate, you know, it's never gonna be, it's always going to be seen as that separate entity, there's a kind of crazy men and women over there that are doing that crazy stuff. But that doesn't come into my world. So that's, I think that's a great, just a great tidbit right there. For the listeners. So interesting. I want to be more innovative, and I hope that I can be so I'm glad that I can meet you and learn a little bit about that. And now. So we're no longer going to talk about innovation. Now it's time to share your worst investment ever. And since no one goes into their worst investment thinking it will be tell us a bit about the circumstances leading up to and then tell us your story.

Jenny Wilde 08:09
Well, luckily, my worst investment ever is actually around innovation, because that's all I do. So, I was the operational director of an emergency response in the Philippines. And it was a emergency response to a large typhoon, Typhoon Haiyan, that had ripped through the center of the Philippines. And as part of that we're doing a range of programs, there's health, education, shelter, you know, gender based violence, protection, all of the kinds of things you can think of that after a big emergency, you would need to start thinking about again, and of course, I was like, how do we do this better? How do we continue to improve? And what happens often in emergencies is it's so full on that you're constantly just making decisions. And you're, you know, decision after decision after decision meeting after meeting, getting your teams out into the field and just making stuff happen because you know, people don't have clean water people often don't have places to live. And there's when I talk about emergency response, this kind of goes on for six weeks and three months and, you know, one year about how do you how do you get people back into a place where they can survive and thrive hopefully in the future. So we're kind of doing this, you know, trying to make decisions, trying to get stuff out the door without a lot of deeper thinking. And I just thought, you know what, we need an innovation fund because there are so many great ideas about all could we think about, you know, looking at how we do shelter differently or could we think about different ways of Supporting kids not to get diseases etc, in in kind of this flood mess that had that had become of many places. And great, you know we can have we can provide money, we can provide mentorship, we can provide innovation tools like lean startup, etc, to two groups, anywhere in the Philippines, internationals, nationals companies, NGOs, whatever, to just spend time on how do we make that better? How do we create this? How do we bring this new type of innovation in from wherever it might be, or create it locally, it doesn't matter, but really kind of dig down into some of those issues. And I was really excited as anyone who has invested in innovations, as anyone who has been an entrepreneur and built their own thing, of course, I'm like, this is gonna be awesome. And I done a little bit of this kind of past. And, and, and so we got the money together, and the people and the kind of design and set up. And what happened, essentially, to start the failing to start the worst investment was we basically it went to, to kind of open and just got stuck in this political Maya, it ended up being a kind of political football of like, what is this? You know, we need to be helping people now. Why are we having kind of mentorship as part of a emergency response? What, you know, isn't this stuff that should be happening elsewhere, but not here. And, you know, and on the other side, some people say, Well, this is my idea, and it looks like this and somebody else saying, This is my idea, and it looks like this, and and, of course, it's doing a really stressful time where everyone's working, you know, 18 hours a day, you just don't have a lot of time for for to get into this kind of political ring, you know, things just need to keep moving. And, and it was just, it was really stressful, because I was heavily invested in the idea. And at a, at the kind of deepest level, I knew it was the right way forward, I knew we had to do more as a sector, as a organization as an individual to help these people. You know, and it's not their fault that the typhoon had gone through, and it's not, you know, they're in some of the most difficult times of their lives, they've lost family, they've lost houses, they've lost their livelihoods, their dreams of being ripped up. And, and so how do we help them better? So yeah, very personally invested? Um, and yeah, it really came to these kind of conversations about how to move that forward, where, you know, I'd kind of be out, I'd have to leave the office and just be out in the car park and take some deep breaths and, and walk around. And things I'm still going to, you know, this can still move forward, it has to move forward, how does it move forward. So we essentially the Innovation Fund got scrapped because of politics. And, and what ended up happening is, I just basically built up a, because we already had the funding, we said, okay, this will be like an internal Innovation Fund, essentially. And as good ideas come in the door, we can grant them out, we can still do the mentoring, we can still provide the tools, but it's not going to be so big, it will be more for like great ideas we have as an organization. And I think that that was not as exciting. But still important, I think. And there's, there's just there's a bunch of things that I could talk about. So we ended up having some innovations come through. There were some which failed more fully. And there were some actually which were really good and have been used in countries since. But when I'm kind of reflecting on, on on, on why that was so difficult. It wasn't just because of the politics. But afterwards after we started investing in these innovations. Well, let me sit back I think the politics was difficult because we didn't have this kind of grand narrative. We didn't have this, here is this Innovation Fund, here's why it's unique, here's why it's important. And here's the direction. So there was a challenge in getting everyone to really understand what the thing was and get behind it. But once we'd actually started the Innovation Fund, while we had one CEU, I can put I could point to one project that's now was used to kind of scale different ways of thinking about shelter, globally, that many of the projects, I think failed. And it was basically we were just, we were using the wrong approach. So what we had was we had these really big complex problems, things like people needed to be housed, they'd lost their homes, they'd lost everything in their homes, and they couldn't go back to the same place because it was an issue for storm surge, tsunamis, and otherwise. So. So we knew they needed to be moved to different places, often in different communities, with new types of housing and water and the rest. And so thinking about the kind of bigger outcomes of how do you provide safe, durable housing? It's not just like a simple, how do you build a house? How do you build a house quickly, it's about what long term effects for some of these people who will be in these houses for the rest of their lives, you know, some of them. And, and, you know, we used tools, like lean startup. And I think, you know, some of these tools out of Silicon Valley are really useful for more similar types of innovation. So if you were redesigning a dog collar, if you were coming up with a new kind of app, an Angry Birds or something, those kinds of, you know, links, that would be excellent and amazing, and the right kind of thing to use. But trying to force that on a really complex problem. It doesn't work and really waste the time of people who are trying to do good work. And then you have the kind of mentorship. So we had these kind of innovation mentors, and they be like, Great, so what's the business model for this, you know, we're going to look at the business model canvas. And it's like, well, that doesn't work. You know, this is not a product that you're selling in the US, let alone this is actually a really, it's a, it's, it's not only a product, but to shift in thinking it's a different way of acting. And so while there has to be money and resources to do this sustainably, some of those tools, some of that some some other kind of mentoring practices, again, we realize that we just wasn't right for this kind of innovation. And thirdly, I think, you know, with the resources, and some people, I'm sure will agree, is scaling innovation, especially when you're looking at globally, it's not really about the money. You know, it's about when you're doing something really new and different. It's about how do you get around the barriers? How do you make these big, deep strategic pivots? How do you find the right people to change the legislation or to get the approvals or whatever it is. And so while this kind of basic toolset of mentoring, money and, and an approach new approaches sounded great methodologies, it just, it wasn't right. And so I think, the other big fail the other reason why I could say this is my worst investment ever, is because we just used the wrong innovation methods for the kind of challenges and solutions we had. And so I, you know, in some ways, some of the failures of what we funded were because of what we did.

Andrew Stotz 19:16
So, maybe you can tell us about the lessons that you learned from this.

Jenny Wilde 19:21
Yeah, great. So and interestingly, after the Philippines, I went on to create a basically an innovation ecosystem lab in Nepal during the Nepal earthquake response, multiple labs globally. And now obviously, using the kind of methodologies and thinking in business and and social impact climate change and elsewhere. So I've had a lot of time to think about what the lessons and I think one is, we didn't realize that different problems in Different innovations require different tools and methodologies. And the way I think about it now is, you know, if you're creating a skyscraper in Dubai, that's really new and innovative, and it goes back to your question about what is innovation, you're using highly engineered project management tools, because you can't just be like, cool, we're just gonna put a brick down and learn and put another brick down, and then the building falls over. And we'll learn about that. You know, there are, there's a five year process to like, engineering and physics practices and, and before even, you know, taking the next two to five years to build it. And that's one type of innovation problem. And then you've got that kind of quiet exploratory but, but simple problem that a lot of innovation techniques have been written about. And that's kind of, I would say, is very fashionable and useful. Now, which is that Lean Startup methodology, you know, like, 10, learn change, at 20 approaches of what's the most important thing, user centered design of like, I have three users, and I'm going to really find out what they need. And then you have the kind of complex innovation that you find many places, but you know, anything climate change related, or most things, climate change, related, often socially, social issues, a lot of governmental challenges. And we find that a lot in business, often leaders, but not just leaders, who are trying to make big transformational shifts in their industries. And when you start to look at these big changes, you start to look at often systems, system innovation toolkits, where you say, okay, you know, to create Uber, you needed to have not just the technology, but you needed to actually build a whole system around this new type of transportation. And you needed to change legislation, and you need to have new types of insurance for cars. And you need to create, or build off slightly adjust a new type of workout like, what what's an Uber driver, what's the kind of contractual promises they make, you need to create the two sided marketplace, you need to have people comfortable with getting into somebody's car that they don't know, which is very common now, but not at the beginning of Uber. And so when you see these kind of big, you know, asteroid, Game Changing innovations, they are complex, there are multiple different types of organizations and people involved. There's often tech. So there's just, it's not simple. And it does take a real approach to look at the bigger picture. And taking that complexity and is,

Andrew Stotz 23:09
is that where, you know, if I think about this router that's working in maybe a corporate environment or something, they want to do something innovative, but sometimes they may not think about all of the pieces of that, the complexity of that is that part of the lesson that you learn is that you really got to understand that it's more than just being excited about an idea. But there's a lot of pieces to this puzzle. And maybe some of those people that were speaking up, you know, they may have some valid points, other ones just resisting. But maybe in the beginning, as a wanting to innovate, it's like, wow, no, that's just resistance, you know, but actually, there's some validity to the fact that there's a lot of complexity to innovating.

Jenny Wilde 23:53
And you and you often find, well, you find some business literature, which talks about, you've got to simplify the problem, you've got to make it as simple as possible, and then you work with it. And actually, when you're working with complex problems, when you're innovating around them, you need to actually step back and you need to take in all of that complexity to be able to do transformational shifts. Example I often use is Lego, right? So like, use zoom right? In New say, right, I need all the red pieces that are small, and that look like this. And then we can build this specific type of thing, which will be slightly better and it will be better. You know, like, hopefully I'm not saying there's definitely validity to that. But if you say you know, we're going to tackle the pharmaceutical market in the US pharmacy market in the US, which is rapidly changing. And you would say actually, do you know what I want that whole Lego set. I want all the pieces of all the different sizes and I want to do what I can With that, and that's that saying, I'm not going to pretend this is simple, I'm going to pretend this is as difficult and complex. And you know, there's all these parts here. But because I can see and work with all the parts, I can actually build something that will change the game, I can build something that will be transformational for that center. Yep. And I think, you know, there's the obvious, obvious kind of funding and, and mentoring isn't enough. But I think in programs that look at these kind of big innovations also move past that to say, how do you support the innovator and the innovation where it is. So, you know, for example, in Nepal, we funded a project which looked at remote management of construction, so health clinics, schools, individuals, houses, etc, after the emergency. And that was funded and really interesting project. But actually, one of the biggest challenges with that project was not money, and it wasn't expertise. But it was getting the right government approvals to bring in drones to Nepal, finding the right person who could get that approval. And that's now that project management process and software now works on billions of dollars of construction globally. And one of the guys who was part of that right at the start said, this wouldn't have moved without the lab because of that approval, like that. The project would have been canned, you know, we can't do one thing. Yeah. And so and so how do you say, Well, of course, the funding, and the mentoring is important. But actually, it's, it's being able to guide and support innovators around what they need to do to get to where they are not kind of hemming them into a business model canvas or, or, you know, whatever it might be?

Andrew Stotz 27:11
Well, maybe I'll summarize some of the things that I took away from this, you know, I just, I wrote down a lot of notes, and I'm just gonna go through them kind of, rather than telling a particular story, but I just gonna go through, you know, the first thing he talked about his decision fatigue. And there is a great book called willpower that talks about decision fatigue. And the other thing he talks about is the excitement of kind of that startup or the new idea, and the excitement that you felt. Then the other thing I wrote down his, you know, valid versus invalid idea, you know, and thinking about that. The other thing I wrote down was allocating resources, you know, what resources do you have, and then, you know, you talked about thinking about the balance between long term versus short term, you, you have emergency on your hand, and you know, how much long term thinking can be done in that environment. And then I also wrote that it didn't fit the culture to like, so if the whole culture of the organization is to solve an immediate short term problem, then if your idea is to bring a long term solution, it just may be something that's hard for people to really deal with. I wrote down another word, which is pride, you know, thinking about, you know, how we get excited about our own ideas. And then I thought about, you know, right place, right time, right thing, right, people, you know, like, you've got to get things. And then And then finally, my last thing I wrote down was embrace complexity. Like, you know, there are problems that you need to solve that are very complex. I have a friend of mine had an idea that she wanted somebody to write software to run her hospital here in Thailand, because all the off the shelf software just didn't do it. And see hired a guy that ended up setting up a company. And basically, over 16 years, he developed the software to run that hospital. And he basically made it so that was the only Hospital in the world run on one piece of software. If a x ray machine wanted to come in and sell to this hospital, they had to show that they could connect into that software system. And as a result, it was one of the most efficient hospitals in the world. But I also could see that, you know, I used to see the guy that was the founder of that business, the software development guy, the business development guy, and basically, I would see him get so frustrated and angry and people. And I couldn't understand sometimes he would yell at me about something I wouldn't really understand why, but I realized it later. He was what I call a unifier. He saw all of the pieces to this puzzle. And he knew how complex it was. And he knew that he couldn't let anything come into this complex system. Unless it could Either, you know, at first it had to add significant value, like a new cat scan or whatever. But it had also fit into the system because he was unifying the whole system. So he embraced complexity. And in the end, we sold that software, and I was the financial advisor for them to sell it. And we sold it to Microsoft. And Microsoft bought it as hospital operating systems that they wanted to sell. They later shut it down, unfortunately, but the point was, was that it sometimes you have to embrace complexity. So let me ask you, I've got a lot of different things I took away from it. But I want to also think about that young man or woman out there listening, who's in maybe a corporate environment or, you know, humanitarian environment or NGO environment. And they've got their new idea, and they want to bring it into the organization. And they got a lot of excitement about it. So let me ask you, based upon what you learn from this story, and what you continue to learn what one action, I'm going to hold you to one would you recommend that they take to avoid suffering the same fate?

Jenny Wilde 31:08
I would say, if you want to go big, if you want to create something that's really transformational, then you should be using systems innovation and the tools associated with that. Don't harm yourself into small ideas and small innovation traps.

Andrew Stotz 31:26
Okay, last question. What's your number one goal for the next 12 months?

Jenny Wilde 31:32
Yeah, and we so I'm running innovation ecosystem, which is a specialist consultancy. And so over the next 12 months, I just want to help people create big shifts in the industries that's what excites me that's kind of what gets me up in the morning. What gets me thinking

Andrew Stotz 31:54
that is exciting. Well, listeners there you have it another story of loss to keep you winning. My number one goal for the next 12 months is to help you my listener, reduce risk and increase return in your life. To achieve this I've created our community at my worst investment ever.com so join and get also the special discount on a six week valuation masterclass boot camp. As we conclude, Jenny, I want to thank you again for coming on the show. And on behalf of a Stotz Academy, I hereby award you alumni status for turning your worst investment ever into your best teaching moment. Do you have any parting words for the audience?

Jenny Wilde 32:34
Thanks and good luck on the next investment.

Andrew Stotz 32:37
Boom. Well, that's a wrap on another great story to help us create, grow and protect our well fellow risk takers. This is your worst podcast hose Andrew Stotz saying. I'll see you on the upside.


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Welcome to My Worst Investment Ever podcast hosted by Your Worst Podcast Host, Andrew Stotz, where you will hear stories of loss to keep you winning. In our community, we know that to win in investing you must take the risk, but to win big, you’ve got to reduce it.

Your Worst Podcast Host, Andrew Stotz, Ph.D., CFA, is also the CEO of A. Stotz Investment Research and A. Stotz Academy, which helps people create, grow, measure, and protect their wealth.

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