Ilana Rosen

Innovation & Co-Creation Catalyst / Innovation Strategy

Co-Create your Strategy

20 minutes

During her keynote at the Strategy Fest, Ilana Rosen shared her technique to co-create strategy with different teams. She talks about the importance of involving different stakeholders at the time of strategic planning so that they all feel committed to the execution. The technique is based on 6 steps: 

Step 1: Starting with discovery
Step 2: YES, AND
Step 3: Time-bounding activities 
Step 4: Having a sense of play
Step 5: Importance of diversity of thought
Step 6: Practicing Gratitude

More about
Ilana Rosen

Ilana Rosen is an Innovation and Co-Creation Catalyst and founding member of IKEA’s first US-based Innovation team. She spends her days co-creating strategy with internal stakeholders, utilizing digital collaboration tools and using design thinking to solve wicked problems. Prior to IKEA, Ilana specialized in operationalizing global innovation at Marriott International. Ilana began her career as an entrepreneur in Hong Kong where she built a firm that specialized in working with Data Science talent. Ilana holds an MBA from Harvard Business School with focus on General Management and Innovation.

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Video Transcript

Hey all, thank you so much for being here and having me. Thank you very much, Lucas. Yes, it is wonderful to join the strategy fest. I'm excited to share some of my feelings and opinions about strategy with you. Hi. All so great to be here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Lucas. It is an absolute treat to be with you today. And thank you for giving me your time. I know that's the most valuable resource we all have right now, so I really just appreciate it. As Lucas mentioned, my name is Ilana Rosen and I am an innovation and co-creation catalyst at IKEA.

What does that mean? This means I think about the future and I co-create a strategy with internal partners in the business. You can think of me as an innovation and strategy director who uses a lot of collaborative methodology which helps facilitate the implementation of strategy and creation of strategy. So both things. 

And with that, I'd love to sort of kick it off with the Question of the Day, which really is what is strategy? I don't know if you're familiar, but there is sort of this father of modern-day strategy and disruption and innovation named Clay Christiansen. And he's really one of my favorite theorists, and this is how he defines strategy. So I'm going to steal with pride here a little bit. And he says Strategy is two parts, two things. One is a clearly defined destination. So you know where you're going, both qualitatively and quantitatively. And second, are the directions for how to get to that place. 

So if we think about a map, perhaps as the competitive landscape or maybe it's your company, you're going to sort of chart this location as where you want to hit, whether that's a billion dollars in revenue or acquiring one hundred new customers, sort of regardless of your size, you'll say this is my goal, the goal of my strategy and then the steps that you take or the directions you take to get there, those are sort of how we make the magic happen. So our Google Maps, so we have a map, our Google Maps for the directions and then we have our destination. But what's missing in this sort of analogy are the people that have to take the steps in order to reach that destination. We can't get there with the directions and the location alone. We can only get there if the people who can make it a reality want to take those steps and want to take those directions in order to reach that agreed-upon place. 

So what else is strategy? Strategy, I believe, and I'm biased here because I am a co-creation catalyst, is an opportunity to co-create your vision with your internal stakeholders. So when you bring all of the thoughts, all of the perspectives, all of the diversity of opinion together, and you really listen to those who are inside your organization before you act, you get Buy-In, right? So when you involve people, when you ask them their opinions, they feel a lot more inclined to actually execute the thing later on. And when you co-create strategy, the strategy itself can become a change management tool. So traditionally with strategy, we've sort of seen executives in the boardroom and they come out with something and they disseminate it into the organization. And we see a lot of times it just doesn't work because it's too disconnected from the day to day reality of our employees, of our colleagues, of our peers. 

An example that comes to mind is with a previous employer of mine, Marriott International, so brilliant, brilliant company, incredible products. Global pandemic has been quite difficult on them, I'm sure. But at one point they had this strategy that was CORE. It was an acronym. So it sort of was at a level where people couldn't quite ingest or understand where it was going. And so it was very well thought out by strategists, by consultants, by the executives. But people couldn't get on board with this acronym. They didn't really understand what it meant or where they were supposed to go with this thing and without that sort of clear understanding, you have an organization that runs in a bunch of different directions and it's really difficult to end up reaching that destination that you set with your strategy. 

So I'm going to propose a different way to think about strategy, where you actually co-create your strategy with your organization. And there are a few sort of components or steps to this. 

First is Discovery, This is really listening and understanding what your organization internally is feeling, thinking and acting on now. 

YES AND, which is akin to building psychological safety,

Time-bound activities. So making sure that you're sort of following this principle that it's done and it's not perfect so actually finishing. 

Sense of play, this is so important it's a lot easier to build strategy when you have a good time. It doesn't need to feel so much like work. It can actually be enjoyable, which a lot of people don't do, don't feel because strategy's been very serious all this time and I'm going to advocate for a different way. 

Diversity of thought. This is essential to better outcomes and we'll dig into that. 

And then finally leaving room for gratitude. So gratitude is great in our personal lives. I believe it has a really strong place in our professional lives. And with strategy sessions as well. And with that, I'm going to get right into it. 

So what is discovery and why do you need to do it first? Discovery is basically listening and understanding. A lot of times what we do before strategy sessions is we'll do a SWOT analysis, we'll do a competitive analysis, we'll do market research, we'll sort of go out there and understand what our sort of adversaries in the marketplace are doing. But we never stop and look inside. So we pay for all of this research and we spend all this time doing all this external research without ever really going to the experts in our own organization to get a sense of what they think. And I believe that's really a missed opportunity, that's also very easy to correct, so that's the great thing about that. So discovery, it's what you should be doing before every strategy session. And it's essentially going on a listening tour if you will, and actively engaging with the talent that fuels your organization. And I don't just mean the executives, I really mean the people who are doing the workday today. They tend to have a pulse on the challenges and the pain points of our customers in a way that people sort of sitting removed cannot. You know, if you're a startup, it's about really doing that user research and getting clear pain points and gain points from your users and then tertiary users looking at different segments and what they might need. It's really about listening to the humans that will either be driving your company forward or that you will be targeting as the company. And this does something around buy-in and change management. So when you go to your own coworkers, you go to your own peers, you go to your own colleagues, you go to your own executives and you ask them before you step into a strategy session, hey, what do you think about X, Y, Z? What that begins to do, that begins to engage them really early on in and make them feel like they're a part of the thing that's getting created. And when you feel some ownership, when you feel you were part of creating something, you're so much more inclined to execute it later on. So not only are you getting more informed and learning about what's going on doing a temperature check, you are also building buy-in and that buy-in point is so essential to successfully executing strategy. So always discovery first. 

While you're doing discovery, and once you start your strategy sessions, these two words are essential. YES, AND
So what does YES AND mean? It is about not just these two words, but the idea of building on the knowledge of others instead of cutting it down, so a lot of times we'll be in meetings and we'll say we want to let's say with Marriott acquire new tourist business. You're going to hear a lot of people in the organization say, no, that's not what our business does. No, we're a hotel company. No, we acquired this asset twenty years ago and then it tanked. And so we learned that we need to stick with our sort of core value proposition. That NO word comes up so often and. What it does is it really sort of deflates people, it makes them disengaged and disengaged strategists are not good for your outcomes that you're trying to achieve. And so another way of refining ideas as we go is this idea of YES, AND so it's the idea of taking something someone said and building upon it as opposed to cutting it down. So let's say we're talking about this tours business YES, AND perhaps we can connect it to our core or our core value proposition. Where do those two intersect? And answering it with another idea and a question to keep that energy up. YES, AND is also really about deferring judgment and setting psychological safety. And this should be set upfront in every interaction and every meeting, even in those discovery sessions in your working sessions, in your co-creator sessions, starting with the point that this is a judgment-free zone and we use. YES AND really tends to put people at ease. I really recommend it. 

Time-bound activities are super important, especially when you sort of get into that working sort of session, that strategy working session when you have a bunch of different perspectives at the table. And I hope that you do have those diverse perspectives at the table. Sometimes it's really hard to align and it's really hard to land on something. And there's a need to sort of perfect everything. Get the perfect words and strategies about the right vocabulary. I would really argue it's not. I think the right words sometimes get in the way of the right principles or the right direction, and we want done, not perfect, at least coming out of Strategy Session. So I'm going to say that again, Done, Not perfect. That's really hard for people who are achievers, who love perfection, who want to do it right the first time. It's super hard to let go of doing things as perfect as you can. But when you sort of align on that: done, not perfect, you can move a lot faster. You can get a lot more done. And when you sort of time-bound things, you finish. And a lot of times it's really hard to do that, especially any of you who work in large companies. You really will feel what I'm talking about. Sometimes it's so slow going and this is a way to combat that. So if you go into working sessions and you sort of have, let's say, three core activities or three core focus areas that you want to take with a strategy session, if you start upfront by saying we're going to use timers and I really advocate for this so that the whole group knows and it's not personal to anyone, but we're going to use timers so that we can get done, not perfect, you really move this session along. Humans tend to fill up the time that they are given. So if you give somebody 15 minutes, they will try to fill up 15 minutes. They probably will be successful. If you give them two minutes, they likely will give you something very similar, but just the bullet version, and that's really a lot more effective for moving along. So we really recommend time bounding your cocreate sessions.

Sense of play, I cannot stress this one enough. We don't need to take ourselves so seriously. We can do strategy and have a good time. You can leave the room feeling more energized and happier than when you entered it. Strategy is sort of seen as this marathon thing and you're locked in a war room and it's exhausting. I would love to flip the script on that. Let's call it a playroom instead of a war room. Especially in the digital space, the use of gifs and emojis levity. It unlocks creativity. It unlocks different ways of thinking, and it unlocks that psychological safety that we're trying to get to where people feel more comfortable saying what they actually think because we've sort of built that bond up front. So if you're working on a Strategy Session or her co-create session, especially when you're in the digital world, start with an ice breaker. Start with something, some question that's really humanizing, right? We want the CEO or the manager to be just as comfortable as the coworker. And the coworker to be just as comfortable as the CEO. And that means all of us just showing our humanity and having a good time together, a sense of play. 

Diversity of thought. So this is the most important, I believe, of all of the cocreate principles you'll find. Innovation teams are set up a lot of times like Swiss Army Knives, and I believe this is the most effective configuration and I think this works very well for strategy as well. So explain a little bit. A Swiss Army knife. You have a bunch of different tools and you can use them as you need your team or the people in sort of this co-create session or the Strategy Session should be exactly the same. You want a hardcore finance person, you want a hardcore customer experience person, you want an ops guy, you want someone who understands the back end of the technology and what's feasible, depending on what your company does and what your product is, you want a completely diverse group of people that can sort of push on one another to get to better outcomes, and challenge one another. What we do not want is we don't want an echo chamber. We hear about this all the time with social media, with the content people are consuming. When we hear the same thing, we sort of get more and more extreme, and we were in this,, vicious cycle. We believe what we believe more and more and more when we have different opinions. Sometimes it's a little trickier to manage. It might be a more difficult session to host, but you get to better outcomes, you get to better outcomes. So what do you need to get to those better outcomes? You need people who have different experiences, different cultures, different functions, etc. You need radical candor. So people need to be willing to speak up and say what they believe, so humanizing everyone beforehand is really important, accounting for the fact that some people are more senior. You want to sort of set the stage early on that this is a democratic process and every voice has the same weight and you need that psychological safety to get to that radical candor. So you need all of those ingredients to get to better outcomes. If you just have different backgrounds, but you don't create the safe space to actually share, you're still going to get that echo chamber effect. So that's a really intentional set of behaviors. Really, really important point there. 

And then finally, this is just so close to my heart, is leaving room for gratitude. There's so much research about positive psychology and the role of gratitude in helping us realize how good our lives really are. And that's really hard. And it's been really hard, right. The last 16 months let's say it's been challenging. And so taking the time to say this is what I'm grateful for, it's just really nice for your brain and that's in your personal life. It's also in your professional life. It still holds true. So one of my favorite things that I do is I end working sessions asking the question, what resonated with you most today? What resonated with you most today? And what that does is it's asking people, hey, what did you like the most? And I get information from doing that. That's useful to me. Right? As a strategist, I hear what people anchored on and those ideas that people anchor on are the best for change management. A lot of times I hear the words that people are using, using your colleagues and your peers' words as part of the strategy also helps with change management so I'm getting something out of it as a strategist. What my colleagues and peers and seniors are getting out of it is they're walking away from a meeting, thinking about the things that they liked the most. And we actually have a cognitive bias as humans where we tend to remember the last thing we heard the best... a lot of times. And so you've run a strategy session and you've gone around the room and you've asked everyone, what do you like the most about all of this? And the last thing they're going to share or remember are really positive components of the meeting. So you're also leaving people with a really nice seed, a positive psychology seed coming out of a strategy session, which is really different from how most strategy sessions run. 

And finally, you know, I just love to encourage you to go forth and define your strategy and cocreate how to get there. You know you don't have to give this to the executives and lock them in a room and hope for the best that it works in the organization. You can really build this in partner with your organization and you will reach much better outcomes if you do. 

So, Thank you so much for your time, and I'd love to leave you with this last question. What resonated with you most today?

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