Courageous Innovation with Cindy Solomon | Podcast

Solomon-CindyWe all want to be more innovative at work, but that’s easier said than done.

In this 30-minute talk, leadership expert Cindy Solomon takes us through the mechanics of courage and innovation, providing concrete examples and proven strategies to break through the barriers that stop us from taking meaningful risks.

Solomon’s team has interviewed over 5,000 people of all ages worldwide for their research into courage and innovation, and their findings can help you be a more effective leader at work today.

Key Takeaways:

– The biggest thing holding most people back from courageously innovating is a primal fear of risk. Risk of looking stupid, not having the right answer, losing your job. This kind of fear doesn’t respond to reason, but it can be controlled.

– Only one in three of us thinks we’re courageous. Only one in five of us consider ourselves innovative.

– There are four types of courage: blind courage (popular among successful entrepreneurs), crisis courage, role courage (most critical for innovation), and core courage (relating to your sense of purpose).

– Courageous innovation always starts within yourself. You can use the SNAP process to guide you. The second part is selling your idea and enlisting others in your quest for innovation.

– Learn the 6 steps to sharing your innovation ambitions—including the critical skill of storytelling using the language of leadership

– Our courage and innovation doesn’t have to be huge to be significant. Praise yourself for every small act of courage, every tiny innovation, to build those skills within yourself.

Listen to the complete session or read/ download the transcript below.

Cindy Solomon is an internationally recognized speaker, consultant and author who has traveled the world sharing her provocative, and often hilarious insights on business, customer service and courage with literally thousands.  Cindy’s client list includes a who’s who of corporate and entrepreneurial America with clients as varied as The Mayo Clinic, Raytheon, Alaska Airlines, KeyBank, Oracle and Google asking Cindy to help their organizations create long lasting, profitable relationships with their employees, their leaders and their customers. Cindy’s two best selling books, The Rules of Woo: An Entrepreneurs Guide to Capturing the Hearts and Minds of Today’s Customers and Creating a Culture of Courage are available at Connect with Cindy and keep up the conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter.

View Transcript

Conferences for Women

The Courage To Innovate: The Corporate & Entrepreneurial Imperative

Guest: Cindy Solomon

Interviewer: Karen Breslau


Karen: Welcome to the Conference For Women teleclass. Today’s topic is The Courage To Innovate: The Corporate & Entrepreneurial Imperative. Our guest today is Cindy Solomon, an internationally recognized speaker, consultant and author. Cindy helps leading organizations create long-lasting, profitable relationships with their employees, their leaders and their customers. Cindy and her team have brought her unique approach to creating exceptional leadership teams to organizations including Google, Oracle, The Mayo Clinic, Raytheon, Alaska Airlines and T-Bank.

Cindy is the author of two best-selling books, The Rules of Woo: An Entrepreneur’s Guide To Capturing The Hearts & Minds of Today’s Consumers, and Creating a Culture of Courage. We’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along, and join the conversation @PennWomen, @TexasWomen and @MassWomen. Connect with Cindy, and keep up with the conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter @CindySolomon. Cindy Solomon, welcome to the Conference For Women teleclass.

Cindy: Thank you so much, Karen. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here.

Karen: Great. You mentioned that Courageous Innovation has become your most requested keynote over the past few months, what’s creating that demand?

Cindy: Well, that’s such a great question. I think anybody who is working right now whether it’s in their own company or inside of a large organization, realizes that we’re living in a world where disruption is the norm. I mean think about this: it was just a mere 20 years ago when many of us sitting on this call may have sat around and thought, “Who is this crazy that they think we’re going to buy books online?” Now, we’re living in a world where, as an example, Google erased 85 percent of the market cap of GPS companies in only an 18-month window with Google Maps.

Now we’re watching in real-time as Uber is turning a 125-year old industry, the taxicab industry, literally upside down in four years. I don’t know if you read the news just this week that their new market cap is $17 billion. That’s a company that didn’t even exist four years ago. I think what we’re realizing and what we’re seeing is that courageous innovation is something that we all have to be focused on because no industry is safe; no company is safe. And the other issue is that customers are more demanding. I think all of us look at our own behavior as consumers and customers’ behavior is simply changing. We’re more demanding, we’re more educated. We have more choices than ever before.

I heard recently a customer in line when I was shopping for the holidays just a couple of days ago in New York City. She said, “‘New’ is the new ‘old.’” It took me a minute to think about it but it made me laugh eventually. The third reason I think that Courageous Innovation has become such a hot topic is for any of us who lead teams or we even lead teams that are not formally reporting to us and task forces and project teams, we realize that engaging our teams is a completely different ballgame than it’s been in the past. We do a lot of work in organizations in banking and financial services and in healthcare where they have upwards of four generations in the workplace that they’re trying to engage and motivate and help find new ways of getting the work done.

I think the fourth issue really is in that last piece of the puzzle, which is how we’re getting the work done is changing, and how we’re trying to lead and get things completed during our everyday work life is changing just as dramatically as those other things. I think all of us are being asked to rethink everything whether it’s our products, our processes, our customer service, our marketing, our messaging. It’s all leading most of us to think about “how can I do the work differently?” How can I think about the world differently?” That’s what’s led us to this idea around courageous innovation.

We’re very lucky inside my organization because we get to work with companies around the world. We initially started focusing this work on how individuals and teams could innovate for customers, and how we serve them, and how we build products and services for them, and very specifically why certain companies beat others to market. They beat others to the punch with the great ideas like the relatively simple idea of Uber. How is it that all of us have thought the idea, but only a very few handful of companies are able to bring it to market and get it done? That’s how we really started on this research project around Courageous Innovations.

Where it all started, I think, for us is in first looking at what holds people and companies back from innovating. We’ve all had – I jokingly say, “We’ve all had that cocktail party moment where we’ve talked to somebody about a new product idea that’s just been launched and we say, ‘I had that idea five years ago.’” We’ve all done it. Most of us have had the ideas but very few of us have successfully executed them, successfully taken those bold moves to actually take the idea and allow it to come to fruition.

In starting this research, we started to first look at what gets in our way, both as individuals and then, certainly, as teams and companies and organizations. What we found was kind of surprising, in my mind. The first thing that we realized that held us back was – we anticipated the issues holding us back would be much more complicated than they really are. What we discovered in this research and now we’ve interviewed not just companies and organizations and leaders but we’ve expanded the research to include everyone from children who are six and seven years of age all the way up to individuals who are in their 90s. We’ve interviewed people all over the world, almost 5,000 interviews now at this point.

When you really question people about what holds them back from innovating or being “more courageous?” What it all boils down to is, first and foremost, this idea of risk. That, on the surface, seems to make perfect sense but when you dig a little deeper, you realize how primal the fear of risking something is. When you really chat with people about why they didn’t raise their hand or why they didn’t bring up this topic or why they didn’t take the leap and execute against an idea, it’s the basic form of risk that gets in their way. It’s not the over-complicated, “It would lose money,” and this, that and the other and market share and market caps and all those things. It’s risking looking stupid or risking not being correct or risking not having the right answer.

The first thing that holds us back and I think many of those listening will probably have this feel true when you think about it, when you don’t take that moment and do something different or take a leap of some sort no matter how small, it’s usually that elemental feeling of risking something basic that gets in our way first. The second thing we discovered which was equally shocking is that courage itself is an entirely personal concept. That’s why you can’t talk someone in or out of their courage, or in or out of their fear. If any of you have kids, you know exactly how true this is. No level of absolute reason will allow you to talk somebody out of their fear or into their courage. That was another interesting learning for us.

How I thought about it very specifically was I am a public speaker by living. That’s what I do. I love getting on stage. As I’m coming up to the California Conference For Women, Lead On, that’s happening here in February, that’s the most exciting thing in the world for me. I can’t wait to get on stage in front of five to six to 7,000 people. For most others, it’s a little concerning and a little difficult. For me, it’s simple. For others, it’s difficult but I can’t talk you in or out of your fear around that. That’s the second thing we discovered.

The third thing is that most of us don’t think we’re courageous. As a matter of fact, only one in three of us thinks we’re courageous. Only one in five of us think we’re innovative. Therein lies the rub. That was probably our most important learning. The most important thing that came out of this research for us is that courageous innovation can be learned. Both of those things individually can be learned and both of those things together can be learned and executed. You can build your skill in those areas.

In the process of this research, we discovered four types of courage. I’m going to go through them very quickly because I want to make sure we have time, then, to talk about the steps each of us can take to become courageous innovators and become both more courageous and more innovative at the same time.

We discovered four types of courage. The first was blind courage, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s ‘close your eyes and jump’ courage. It’s that moment in time where you don’t think about the consequence and you make the leap anyway. Interestingly enough, of very successful entrepreneurs we interviewed, over 86 percent of them operate primarily from this quadrant of courage.

The second type of courage we identified was crisis courage. That’s, again, exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you get in that moment, you have the adrenaline rush, you take action almost on an instinctual level. For any of us who ran businesses pretty much of any type in 2008-2009, some of us into 2010, you know exactly what working out of the crisis courage quadrant looks like.

The third type of courage we identified was role courage. Role courage is exactly why everybody is sitting on this call right now. Role courage is all about the training. If you believe it, you are it and because you’re so confident in your abilities, you are unafraid of taking risks and unafraid of failing. That’s one of the most important quadrants of courage as it relates to innovation. 

Then the fourth type of courage we identified was core courage. That one’s a little tougher. It actually plays into what we’re going to cover, next, quite a bit. Core courage is tough because it takes time to think about where you’re going, and what you want to accomplish. It’s a difficult place to get into because of taking that quiet time to think in a crystal-clear way about where it is you want to go.

I’m going over these types of courage in a very quick fashion. If you end up getting my Courage Challenge Workbook, you’ll be able to get a more robust discussion of each of these types of courage. Probably, you felt one or the other held through for you, what you normally act from. Once we know what type of courage is needed in any given situation, it allows us to build it both for ourselves personally, and within our teams and even within our companies.

What we discovered is those who are able to courageously innovate go through a process whether it’s conscious or unconscious. Frankly, many of the folks that we worked with, it was an unconscious process to set themselves up for success and to build their skill of courageous innovation. I want to talk about two different processes. One is an internal process that we go through quietly, ourselves, in our own mind almost to prepare ourselves for taking courageous action.

Then the second piece of the puzzle is the external process that if you want to sell an idea to your company, get people behind you to execute against a new idea or a new thought. It’s a process that you can practice and repeat over time and get better and better at that will help you not just take action yourself and courageously innovate yourself, but bring an entire team along with you.

Let’s start with the internal process. It’s a very simple, 4-step process. We even have a little acronym for it because we’re consultants, we love that, called SNAP. Plus, it’s my favorite share quote, “Snap out of it,” from Moonstruck. Showing my age there as a baby boomer. The internal process is SNAP. The first step is stop, take a breath and understand specifically what you’re personally trying to accomplish out of the process. Get clear about the direction, get clear about the goal and get clear about what it is that you hope to gain by courageously innovating against a specific topic.

I think many times, we have a half-formed idea in our brain and we jump and it doesn’t work out. Then we’re like, “I’m never going to try that courageous innovation stuff again. That’s terrible. I got beat up by my boss about it.” Step 1 is to stop, understand specifically and clearly where you’re going.

The second step is ‘N’, which is notice. What are you personally afraid of? Why is it that this takes courage for you? Is your fear based in reality? “I don’t want to raise my hand, and talk about this idea in the meeting. I could get fired.” In corporate America today, it takes 18 years of documentation to fire anybody. Clearly, that’s not a real fear but what is the fear? Is it you’re afraid of looking stupid? Is your fear that you’re risking not having the right answer before you mention the idea? What is the real fear and is it based on reality?

The third piece is to take action, to break the larger goal up into bite-size pieces so that you can tactically execute against the smaller pieces of the puzzle first, and give yourself credit for those activities. Then, it’s about prioritization. Again, with our acronym of SNAP, ‘P’ is the last step. It’s prioritization of those actions that you’ve broken into bite-size pieces. Which can you win quickest on? Which are the easiest to execute that will give you the biggest bang for your buck against the larger goal?

Again, that internal process is to stop, make sure you’re clear about the goal. Notice, what are you personally afraid of? Actions, which is break it down into bite-size actions that you can execute against. And then fourth, prioritization. Take the bigger wins first so that you can build the momentum of the courageous activity. That’s the internal process that we found people who we consider courageous innovators, that was the internal process they were taking themselves through, whether formally or informally, some conscious, some unconscious. But that’s where they went to first in order to take courageous innovative actions.

The second piece is an external process. I think this is where a lot of us really struggle. It’s figuring out how to enlist others in your quest for true innovation whether it’s people report formally to you or not, whether it’s informally gathering innovators throughout the organization to your team, whether it’s working on a project team and trying to tactically execute. This is a 6-step process.

Step #1 is very similar to the internal process, which is be crystal-clear about your goal. Make sure not only do you know what you’re trying to do, but what you’re trying to achieve with that activity. That leads us to the second step, which is to paint a picture. I think of all the steps and all the things that we’ve talked about, this is the most important. This is the future of leadership, in my mind.

When we do these large-scale, leadership programs around the world, this is the piece of the puzzle that is most important for future success as well as one of the most difficult for people to wrap their minds around. You have to become expert as a storyteller where you’re painting a picture of the result of this courageous innovation. You use the language of leadership and its future focus that talks about solving a problem. It paints an outcome that people get excited about and, frankly, downright inspired about. That’s Step #2.

Step #3 is we have to be open to options. A lot of times when we’ve put this much thought into an activity and taking action and an end result, we get very fixated not just on the outcome but about the process. In order to truly enlist the team into courageous innovation activities, you have to be open to their ideas and the options that they’re presenting to you.

Fourth, you need to praise all activity, not just outcomes. Even if somebody launched into an action that didn’t get the outcome that they wanted, you must praise the process of executing in order to ensure people understand that innovating is good. Even when the outcome isn’t quite what you want, the activity of taking a risk and taking a chance is positive and that’s what youre looking for.

Fifth step is to assess the process. Make your understanding of outcome and process the same. What worked? What didn’t work? What would we do differently next time? It’s this step that really helps you separate the personal from the work and it makes it about the process.

Last but not least, Step #6, is you start again. You reiterate, and have additional iterations of what you’ve just gone through with the learnings that have come out of the initial cycle of courageous innovation.

What we’ve seen again in all the different industries we’ve worked with, all the different – from giant initiatives to very small initiatives, for those individuals and teams and particularly leaders who utilized the internal process first, and then work hard to get great at that external process, it really does enable them to take courageous innovation to a different level within their organization. It creates such significant, positive momentum that it encourages others to do the same.

I went through those things really quickly and I’m sure people have questions.

Karen: That’s great, Cindy. Thank you so much. We do have a number of questions. One that has come up a couple of times, you mentioned the statistic that only one in five people think they are innovative. I guess the question I was wondering, with all the tools we have at our disposal, why there’s so few of us think that we’re innovative? Doesn’t everybody have ideas?

Cindy: That’s such a great question. Yes, everybody does have ideas. Yes, everybody is, in fact, both courageous and innovative. Culturally, I think we’ve been taught that it has to be big in order to qualify. “I have to run into a burning building to be considered courageous,” or “I have to create Uber or Amazon to be considered innovative.” I think our definition, culturally, has become very skewed and it is part of what holds us back. If we don’t believe we are these things, it makes it very difficult to give ourselves praise and credit and continue to build those skills.

I liken it to if I’m going to learn how to run a marathon, which I can assure you would never happen and I respect those who do it, but if I yelled at myself because I was only able to complete a mile the first time out, I probably wouldn’t go out and try and complete a second mile. It’s learning how to understand that we are all courageously innovative, and give ourselves praise for that that will help us see that we can become stronger and stronger and build that muscle.

Karen: Okay. Now you mentioned your Courage Challenge Workbook, how do our listeners get a hold of that? 

Cindy: Very simple. It’s the Courage Challenge Workbook. It’s available on Amazon. I call it a “one plane ride” book. It’s very tiny, very simple. You can throw it in your briefcase or your purse, and work on it when you’re out and about. It also is a great tool for teams. If you’ve got something specifically that you’re trying to innovate against, we really did build it to help you go through questions both on your own and with a group of people to problem-solve, and create courageous innovation against a specific business topic.

Karen: Would you have an example of courageous innovation, something that somebody has done maybe not on the grand scale of jumping out of a plane or starting a $40 billion company but the kind of courageous innovation that is effective in the workplace?

Cindy: Absolutely. I think courageous innovation is everything from taking something that we work around everyday inside of our companies to help customers. We all have technology that we work around everyday in order to better serve customers inside of our companies. Courageous innovation is deciding to own fixing that, and utilizing the process that we talked about in order to help the organization itself make a change to courageously innovate against those changes.

I think for many of us, we think the problems are too big and we become frustrated immediately and we think it’s been this way forever; it’s going to be this way forever, this problem will out-last me. Courageous innovation, in my mind, and the stuff that really makes a difference right now, is taking those long-lasting issues and starting to tackle them, maybe a piece at a time. It’s raising your hand in a meeting and saying that you disagree with a strategic path that you’re taking with a customer or a client or a product. It’s being able to provide, I hate to use this phrase because I think it’s overused now but, “truth to power,” in a way, but do it in a way that allows for problem-solving and innovation and solution at the other side.

Karen: When you raise your hand to point out a problem, is it necessary, in the next breath, to deliver the solution or is it efficient to raise a challenge and say, “I think we have a problem here. Let’s brainstorm how to solve it.” What do people expect?

Cindy: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think if you think back to that internal process that we talked about, it’s being able to have that formula in your mind to stop, get clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. That alone will change your language around it. While you might be pointing out something you disagree with, you will also be talking about the alternative whether you have a real solution or not, but the alternative is about where you’d like to go.

For example, I saw this happen just recently in an organization where we do a lot of work where a low-level leader raised her hand and said, “I certainly understand why we’re taking this tack with this large, national client. I would suggest that there might be alternatives to how we create success with this client while at the same, not hurting other folks that we’re working with.” By going through that SNAP process in her mind at the beginning, it changed what she said.

She shared with me later what she originally wanted to say was, “This is wrong that we’re doing this,” but going through that SNAP process in her mind allowed her to use a slightly different language to talk about the outcome that she was sure everybody at the table was interested in. While she didn’t have an immediate solution, she was able to change the perspective on the problem, and start a different conversation.

Karen: Got it. Several variations of this question—but how does the process or does the process of courageous innovation differ between how men approach, and how women approach it?

Cindy: That is such an interesting question. We’re still trying to figure out how it looks. What the research is initially showing is that all of the things – I’m going to be talking in broad brush stroke here – what the research is showing us is that the traits that are normally considered inherent in women—whether it’s multi-tasking, supportive language, ensuring many have a voice, looking for a win-win, all of those things that are seen as kind of inherently ‘female’ traits, if you will—are incredibly conducive to courageous innovation.

As a matter of fact, the more linear, neurological thought-processes that we know are hard-wired for men versus the things that tend to be hard-wired for women, men in theory should be – what the research is showing is, neurologically, men in theory should be less able to courageously innovate than women.

The flip side of that is what we’re seeing in addition, is that women are courageously innovating at lower rates because they’re stopping themselves at the very outset. The internal dialogues that we have with ourselves, the, “I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough. I don’t want to attempt this until I’m sure I can be 100% great at it. I’m not going to ask for the promotion because I’m not quite ready yet and John’s been here longer,” those things are stopping us before we attempt it. If we attempt it, we will be more successful than men, nine times out of ten. The research is fascinating.

Karen: It is. How do we get women to not stop themselves at the outset, to raise their hands, to make the comment, to be the disrupter, to do all those things that men seem, again, speaking generally, but that more men seem comfortable with than women?

Cindy: I think it’s as simple as creating a framework in our minds that helps us stop that. That kind of thinking is a habit for many of us. Trust me, I’m the courage consultant and I have those voices in my head as well. When you create a framework just like when you decide you’re going to lift five more pounds of weight each week, you work toward that goal. 

If you can use the SNAP framework for yourself, personally, in those moments and then give yourself credit for – you might not raise your hand every time you think about raising your hand but if you raise it once, praise yourself for that. It makes raising it the second time a little easier. Raising it the third time, a little easier than that. It’s creating a new habit of understanding your voice is equal to everyone else’s at the table.


Karen: Got it. Cindy, you’ve given a lot of good advice today. I think people would like to know how does someone practice the process of courageous innovation? What advice do you have there?


Cindy: Absolutely. A couple of things is – the most important is the first part of that question is you have to practice it. It’s a skill that takes concentration, mental discipline and the activity of practicing it. What I’ve done for this particular webinar is I’ve gone ahead and created a slide deck that will take you though the steps that I covered oh-so-quickly during this short presentation. 

You can go to my website,, look under “Resources” and it will give you an opportunity to download the presentation from the site. The promotion code to get to that presentation is leadonca, L-E-A-D-O-N-C-A, which is the conference I’ll be speaking at in February in California.

Again,, ‘Resources’, promotion code leadonca. If you have any problems downloading that, feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected].


Karen: Wonderful, Cindy. Thank you so much. That’s all we have time for today. As Cindy mentioned, you can hear more from her when she appears at the Watermark Lead On Silicon Valley Conference for Women on February 24, 2015. For more information or to register for the conference, go to You can connect with Cindy on LinkedIn, Facebook and especially Twitter @CindySolomon. Thank you for listening to today’s teleclass.