The Fitness Industry Is ‘Innovative at Its Core’

IHRSA 2018 keynote speaker Lisa Bodell, the founder of futurethink, insists that you need to sacrifice the status quo in order to create space for true innovation.

Today, though many companies focus intensely on innovation, few of their efforts actually succeed, says Lisa Bodell, the founder of futurethink, and a keynote speaker at IHRSA 2018.

Bodell’s prescription: “Create a space for change.” She’ll detail the process in “Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution,” her March 21 Myzone-sponsored presentation.

Club Business International asked Bodel more about her approach to innovation and how it applies to the health and fitness industry.

Leadership Bodel Column

CBI: The title of your IHRSA 2018 presentation, and of your best-selling book, is Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution. What, exactly, do you mean?

LISA BODELL: In many companies, we often stress the need to “think outside the box” and “embrace change.” Despite this great preaching, few efforts actually manage to transform an organization into an innovative success. In the end, we revert to the status quo.

Despite our best intentions, most efforts at innovation fall flat simply because the business itself was designed to prevent it. While we encourage creativity, we exist within a system that’s built to discourage it. This is the paradox I bring to light.

The majority of companies, particularly those struggling with innovation, tend to exhibit negative or simply complacent cultures. These are places where bureaucracy, politics, and red tape are prominent, and where skepticism has become second nature. These are all red flags of a status-quo environment that can kill a business.

CBI: So what solution do you propose?

LB: Kill the Company helps organizations step outside of themselves and be free enough to think creatively about what their needs are. The exercise is designed to get participants to think about their company differently. Instead of asking, “How can we beat the competition?” we ask, “How can the competition beat us?” This kind of outside-in approach lets us get rid of what’s weak and not working, to create space for change and transformation to take root.

CBI: The two words that seem key to your message are “innovation” and “simplification.” Why do you feel that, particularly right now, these two concepts are so important?

LB: What my book recommends is simple—to simplify by getting rid of things first, rather than continually building on what doesn’t work. It’s a form of corporate spring cleaning. The idea is to question assumptions, and challenge rules that have outlived their usefulness. Killing these status-quo attitudes makes room for new things and more value-added work, such as thinking.

Too many change initiatives simply add another layer of processes to the to-do lists of already overwhelmed and tired employees. Not this one! Innovation is supposed to make things better, not worse, and easier, not more complicated. Kill the Company is a guide to simplifying and streamlining, and then building and maintaining a place where everyone’s innovative spirit and energy fuel the firm’s common, long-term goals.

A company that empowers its people to think critically, question relentlessly, and act boldly—to move from Zombies, Inc., to Think, Inc.—will own the future.

CBI: Playing devil’s advocate for a moment: many individuals feel that innovation invariably imposes greater complexity—not simplicity.

LB: I don’t think that innovation presupposes complexity. I think that complexity, in fact, often interferes with our ability to move forward. Complexity is actually killing companies’ ability to adapt and innovate, and simplicity is fast becoming the competitive advantage of our time.

By learning how to eliminate redundancies, communicate with clarity, and make simplification a habit, individuals and organizations can begin to recognize which activities are time-sucks, and which create lasting value. By eliminating the low-value work, individuals feel less overwhelmed and more empowered, and are able to spend each day doing things that matter—such as innovating.

“A company that empowers its people to think critically, question relentlessly, and act boldly—to move from Zombies, Inc., to Think, Inc.—will own the future.”

CBI: You’ve said that you founded futurethink, your consultancy, “to provide a simple approach to the otherwise complicated topic of innovation.” How does that play out in your dealings with a client?

LB: We provide a simple, four-part framework: Strategy, Ideas, Process, and Climate. All winning innovators possess these core competencies. We develop the skills that make these components an active part of the client’s culture by providing uncomplicated tools that anyone can use. We teach techniques such as “Killing Stupid Rules” to create a culture of simplification; we teach “Assumption Reversal” to question norms and make disruption possible and easier; and we teach teams how to cultivate a mindset that facilitates real breakthroughs.

The idea is: it must be fast and accessible, or you won’t try it; and it must be easy to learn and easy to use, or it won’t be adopted.

CBI: Why is simplicity becoming such an advantage? Can you quantify its benefits?

LB: Well, for example ... According
to Siegel+Gale’s simplicity index, simplified companies have been able to financially out-perform non-indexed companies by 214%, and to charge a 6% price premium vs. their competition. Moreover, employees in these work environments are 30% more likely to stay at their jobs, because they’re doing work that they’re passionate about. This leads to less employee turnover, which means, of course, less time and money spent on recruiting.

CBI: It seems that, in general, you strive to change the ideas that a company, its executives, and its staff have about innovation. What aspect of their attitude needs changing?

LB: Change is hard because it’s often rooted in fear—essentially, fear of the unknown. When someone asks, or forces, us to change, we resist because it downshifts our mind into our brainstem—the part of the brain at the base of our skull that’s wired for fight or flight.

In business, most leaders, when confronted with a big new idea, push back and ask for more explanations, more financials, etc. They’re worried about taking a risk. This activates the part of the brain stem that signals, “Run away from that idea!” However, an evolved leader acclimates, gets comfortable with the unknown, and learns about their tolerance for risk, essentially upshifting their mindsets into the neocortex or frontal lobes of the brain, which activates creative problem-solving and inventive thinking.

CBI: What sort of a new attitude do you attempt to inculcate?

LB: Our goal is to get people to be open to new ideas and change—it doesn’t have to be big or disruptive. Incremental change represents a good first step. We help people take the steps to stop being “professional skeptics” and to start being change agents.

CBI: What about your consultancy, futurethink? Please provide a little overview—its purpose, approach, and activities.

LB: futurethink is a global innovation-training firm. We have a simple approach for unlocking this potential: our dynamic trainers and award-winning resources inspire and enable an entire organization to think differently, drive change, and achieve innovation success. We empower companies even in highly regulated industries—such as Pfizer, JPMorgan, and Lockheed Martin—to solve big problems in uncommon, long-term, and transformative ways. Our facilitated and on-demand learning approach transforms the status quo into an invigorated mindset—with measurable results.

“The thing I like about this industry is that it’s about transformation—transforming our health, our bodies, our minds, and our outlook. It’s innovative at its core. People who get involved with clubs are, typically, ready to change.”

CBI: Have you ever worked with a health club company? If so, could you tell us about that experience?

LB: I haven’t worked with one—but I’ve worked out at several. Does that count?

CBI: So you’re probably aware that the fitness industry is virtually synonymous with fresh ideas and new trends. What about its approach seems right? What about it might be wrong?

LB: The thing I like about this industry is that it’s about transformation—transforming our health, our bodies, our minds, and our outlook. It’s innovative at its core. People who get involved with clubs are, typically, ready to change.

However, I think the industry can be prone to pursue short-term trends vs. long-term innovation. There are a lot of trends and fads, and nutrition/diet “what’s hot” lists. However, true innovation is longer lasting. I’d say that the real change agents in your field are the ones who are coming up with ideas that solve big problems vs. fads that will outlive their appeal.

CBI: You also help companies to “anticipate and activate growth opportunities.” What sort of advice would you offer operators?

LB: As I said, I’d like to see solutions that solve big problems around improving lives—mobility, health, etc. For example, a long-term trend might involve addressing the health and fitness needs of the U.S.’s growing aging population. Perhaps that would suggest that health clubs should have gerontologists on staff, devise solutions for an older body profile, or promote healthy lifestyles vs. weight loss, etc.

CBI: Innovation does seem to be the dominant corporate mantra today. But doesn’t constant change pose risks? How do you protect your core values and innovate successfully?

LB: The purpose of innovation isn’t to create constant change. The idea is to be forward-looking, and to be open to change so you can get rid of what’s not working, and think about how to capitalize on emerging trends. A company can strive to enhance its current offerings, while having a pipeline of new ideas that generate additional revenue. The worst thing it can do is rest on its laurels and hope its current business model will work forever.

IBM and Google identify key trends or “hunting grounds” to focus on for the future, and they innovate around those topics. Why? You have limited time and resources, and you want to place your bets on the areas of greatest opportunity.

This also brings up the topic of risk management when it comes to innovation. All good leaders manage a portfolio of ideas along a spectrum of risk. Google makes incremental improvements to their base business—search and ads—and it also has 10x [massive, world-changing] projects, which involve big, audacious, disruptive ideas.

You need to have both.

CBI: How does the accelerating onslaught of digital technologies inform or impact your theories?

LB: Technology helps us to communicate faster and increases our access to data. We can use apps and other tools to collaborate more easily, and to do more work in less time. But our human behaviors—based on emotions that have to do with risk, fear, power, and control—add a layer of complexity that affects our ability to innovate. We overuse data, generate too many reports, become wed to email, and schedule unnecessary meetings.

I always say, “Just because you can doesn’t, necessarily, mean that you should!” With each new investment in technology, companies should consider whether or not the technology will truly help people do more work, or if it’s merely a way to compensate for complex behaviors.

CBI: We won’t ask what “takeaways” you’d like to leave with the attendees of your IHRSA address. Instead, we’ll ask: What do you want them to do differently when they get back to their clubs?

LB: I want them to make simplification a habit. I want them to start by killing one thing a week—one meeting, one report, one rule, one obligation, one process—to create the space required for change to happen. When it comes to innovation, we actually have more power to make a difference than we think.

Patricia Amend

Patricia Amend is the Executive Editor for Club Business International.