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A Conversation on Grace and Innovation

Grace isn’t a word you often hear in a corporate setting. That’s unfortunate, because it’s a requirement for success of any kind—especially when it comes to innovating. 

Fearless Innovation, Blanchard’s new groundbreaking program on the topic, explores the role of grace when ideating and experimenting. It’s an essential virtue if a brainstorming session is to produce valuable potential solutions. Without grace, people could be too afraid or self-conscious to share their inspirations. 

Grace is the courage to accept imperfection. It means showing ourselves and others love and acceptance in our imperfect moments and being optimistic in the face of failure. It also includes looking at setbacks as opportunities to learn, to measure progress toward a goal, to celebrate wins, and to show patience.  

To bring the concept of grace to life, we interviewed Britney Cole, chief innovation officer at Blanchard, and Liza Etienne, cofounder of LECA Collaborative, a management consulting firm that specializes in product management, marketing, and organizational change.  

Why the interest in innovation? 

 

Britney Cole: I’ve always had a desire to make an impact in every role I’ve had; to solve problems in new ways. Ambiguous goals especially spark my interest. They force you to figure out the best way to get work done. 

Liza Etienne: I live in the innovation space. I’ve spent 20 years of my career working on big transformations such as setting up incubators, launching new products, and creating innovation centers. These are my sweet spots.  

What does grace mean to you? 

 

Liza Etienne: Grace is like peeling an onion. It means taking the time to understand the complexity of a situation and the larger picture without judgment. 

Britney Cole: Grace feels like a warm hug, whether you give it or receive it. It takes courage to acknowledge that, no matter what the outcome may be, you’ll live through it and continue your journey. Grace is about letting go of the outcome. This is extremely hard, and it takes courage to accept the imperfect. But it’s the truth. 

How do you foster grace?

 

Britney Cole: Fostering grace is analogous to the instructions you hear for putting on an oxygen mask when you’re on an airplane. You have to first be willing to give yourself grace and be okay with the imperfect. That means letting go of societal expectations and those even your manager may have of you. Then you role model that grace out to the world. 

Another point is that grace is not just an external dialogue you have with others, it’s also the internal dialogue you have with yourself. A good general reminder is to ask yourself if you would say something to a close friend that you just said to yourself. If the answer is no, then you should stop because you’re not being a good friend to yourself. And you must give yourself grace—because if you don’t, people may perceive your intentions as disingenuous. 

Liza Etienne: Rituals and ceremonies are effective ways to foster grace. They are guardrails that give your team the confidence to constructively add value when they walk into a brainstorming session.  

Psychological safety is also essential. If you have it, you won’t feel like you’re drowning. You’ll make rational decisions. You’ll understand your value and the unique contribution you can bring to the organization. You won’t fall into panic mode. 

What does grace mean to you at work? 

 

Liza Etienne: I work on a lot of agile teams, and grace is fundamental. A shared assumption is that perfection is not a constructive goal, especially when you’re launching products. The overriding thought here is identifying what is most valuable to customers. Then it’s moving to gracefully find the intersection of bringing the greatest value to customers and the organization. 

Human nature is to want to “boil the ocean,” which means to add as many features as possible. If you do this, you’re adding unnecessary complexity to your product. The goal is good enough. It doesn’t mean you’re doing sloppy work. It means you’re focusing on what’s most valuable to your customers. 

This approach requires a lot of grace. Imperfections are accepted, but you must also weigh the risks of the imperfections. Perfection is unattainable. You’re not failing when you don’t deliver a grand vision—you actually may be delivering greater value by keeping your customer experience simple and intuitive. Grace is the quality that lets us all work harmoniously together. 

Britney Cole: Grace means accepting that goals could change. It’s like being offsides during a soccer match. The penalty doesn’t happen in one place. You can be offsides anywhere on the field. Innovation is like that. We must acknowledge that the nature of business is to reprioritize and adjust to changes.  

At the Blanchard Innovation Lab, we are expanding into new markets and channels. If Blanchard changes priorities, so do we. Innovation is an investment that should produce future value.  

Also, I work with a lot of high performers—people who would probably self-identify as  perfectionists. Giving grace at work means telling them to take some time off or letting them know they don’t have to get everything done all at once. I tell them, “We get to impose the deadline, so let’s not impose one that is unrealistic.” 

This approach requires pragmatism and considerable accountability. Grace is striving toward excellence but also recognizing that mistakes, failures, and redirection are going to happen all the time. Being graceful means taking setbacks and failures in stride. 

What role does grace play in the innovation process? 

 

Britney Cole: Grace is infused into the innovation process. It’s about helping your people find their own internal innovator and tap into their creative side. It’s telling them it’s all right to try something new—even if something isn’t broken. Maybe someone sees a better way to do it. It’s being open to prioritizing and pruning.  

We also must have the courage to accept that something didn’t work out and we’re going to stop doing it. This dilemma plagues the L&D field. We persist in continuing to do things far after they are of value to employees, leaders, or learners. 

Liza Etienne: In an ideation session there should be a natural rhythm, gracefulness, and mutual respect among participants. You can’t have somebody dominating the conversation. You must be curious and respectful enough to allow other people to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. 

It’s also important to remember that ideation is all about throwing ideas out there without judging them. Later, you can apply all sorts of filters to determine what solution you’ll apply. 

How does grace work in an organization?

 

Liza Etienne: Organizations evolve. When you’re in startup mode, grace is being able to wear ten different hats at the same time. You’re testing, learning, and evolving. You’ll make mistakes along the way. Give yourself grace. As you grow, you’ll realize you can’t be everything to everyone. Grace is required as you make the transition from one business model, focus, or role to another.

Britney Cole: I love what Liza said, especially how you can’t be everything to everyone, whether you’re referring to yourself, leaders, or an organization.

Grace in an organization can mean acknowledging that we went too far outside our value proposition. It can be making sure employees are engaged. It can be recognizing that the needs of the employee, the customer, and the business aren’t always the same.  

Grace at the organizational level is holding people accountable to their jobs, not just accepting their mistakes. It’s saying, “What can we do from here to learn and move forward, in a way that will benefit everyone?” 

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About Britney Cole

As chief innovation officer at Blanchard, Britney Cole is a visionary leader with nearly 20 years of experience in corporate training and leadership development.

A highly sought-after consultant, speaker, and thought leader, Britney’s mission is to help employees learn new skills, enable managers to lead their teams effectively, and assist executives in running their businesses.

An engineer-turned-designer-turned-innovator, she has developed and facilitated award-winning solutions that drive business impact and improve lives by helping people have better days at work and at home.  In her role as the head of the Blanchard Innovation Lab, Britney leads a team of talented professionals who reimagine how the best leaders are created and become a force for positive change.

About Liza Etienne

Liza Etienne is a founder and principal of LECA Collaborative, a management consulting firm specializing in mitigating risks in high-stakes transformations.

Liza is considered a first responder for global digital transformations and innovations. She is best known for building and integrating data-driven brand and product strategies, creating alignment, accountability, and innovation across customer, employee, and marketing technology value streams.

By navigating ambiguity and delivering focus to organizations seeking to transform a brand, company, or industry, Liza helps clients harness the transformative power of artificial intelligence, data, and marketing technology to revolutionize products and marketing practices.

 

 

About the Author

Doug Glener is the senior copywriter at Blanchard®. He earned a BA in English from Vassar College, is the author of two books, and has written for Harvard Business School, Training Magazine, Chief Learning Officer, The Financial Times, The United Way, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, The Holocaust Museum, The Norwegian Tourist Board, Michael Jackson, and many other renowned individuals and organizations.

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