"Innovate Like an Entrepreneur": How UPS is delivering on its innovation strategy
By Sarah Thurber
“The trouble is, most organizations don’t give teams the two things they need: Skills in creative problem solving and time to apply them.”
Like so many corporate leaders, Anne Price wanted more innovation, but she wasn’t sure how to get it. As Director of Global Marketing Capabilities at UPS, she wanted a way to help UPS marketers live up to their new corporate strategy: “Innovation-driven.” Her solution came in the form of a training course, inspired by Shark Tank, called “Innovate Like an Entrepreneur.”
Robyn Wetzel, president of In Focus Connects, hatched the idea for the course when she saw a growing trend: corporations were actively looking outside the boundaries of R&D for innovation. “Today, teams across the organization are being asked to innovate,” she said. “The trouble is, most organizations don’t give teams the two things they need: Skills in creative problem solving and time to apply them.”
When Wetzel first piloted “Innovate Like an Entrepreneur”, she gave participants time to work on a corporate challenge, but no training on creative problem solving skills. “I thought case studies of entrepreneurs would be enough,” she said. Corporate participants were definitely dazzled by the entrepreneurs, but without tools and process to apply to the challenge, they really struggled to come up with creative solutions. “Creative thinking is the hallmark of entrepreneurs,” said Wetzel. “Without creativity, there’s no innovation.”
Her solution? Build FourSight into her course. Designed by two PhDs in Creative Problem Solving, FourSight combines a simple assessment, with tools and training to give people a practical, research-based framework to solve their challenges with creative thinking and collaboration. Wetzel said, “I realized, if we want people to produce new thinking, we need to give them new tools to do it.”
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At UPS, Price commissioned the new-and-improved version of Wetzel’s “Innovate Like an Entrepreneur” course, the one with FourSight baked into it. They ran the first course in January, and participants gave it rave reviews.
“People loved it,” said Price. “It scored higher than any other training in my eight years at UPS.” After January’s pilot success, Price added several more courses to the 2020 calendar. Then COVID hit. In-person training was cancelled.
It was FourSight facilitator and course trainer, Russ Schoen, who proposed navigating a path to a virtual format. Price had her reservations. “I didn’t see how this kind of creative thinking and collaboration could actually work in a virtual training environment,” she said. “But if ever we needed creative thinking, we needed it now.” Schoen and Wetzel redesigned the course, hosting it on Zoom and facilitating the brainstorming with an online facilitation platform called Stormz.
In July, they ran the course again. This time it was all virtual. One participant admitted, “I was looking forward to the class, but dreading a 6 hour Zoom meeting. I was very surprised how well it worked and how quickly the time flew by. The seamless transitions between the Zoom general session, Zoom breakout rooms and Stormz was terrific. The virtual class may have held my attention better than in person.”
The course earned a 100% promoter score, meaning every participant would recommend it.
Aside from being popular and giving UPS employees a chance to reconnect and collaborate virtually with coworkers, the course was developing a new cognitive muscle at UPS. “Our company has always leaned toward incremental improvements over radical ones,” said Price. “This course is helping people get out of their comfort zone and think bigger.”
Course participant Joe Rayburn said, “I am that guy that wants to walk into a room, see the problem, crush it, and move on. That creativity piece is not a strength of mine.” As Senior Manager in Customer Technology Marketing, Rayburn said, “My biggest takeaway from this course was a framework for creativity. Walking away with a set of tools to help me drive toward a creative solution more effectively is really great.”
For another participant, Jake Hearron, Senior Director of Finance at UPS, the big takeaway was a tool called “POINt.” It taught him to respond to new ideas by first looking for their merits. He immediately recognized the value of the tool for senior leaders, who are quick to point out flaws and weaknesses of new ideas. “In hindsight I realize that there were so many ideas with potential that we may have shut down because of our approach,” he said. “I wish I could go back in time and handle things differently. Moving forward I will definitely employ the tools I learned in this workshop.”
FourSight facilitator Schoen finds it gratifying to see changes like this take place in people during the training. “It’s funny,” he said. “We teach people reading, writing and every other skill, but not creative thinking. Somehow we expect them to figure that out on their own. It’s a shame, when we have proven tools to help people think more creatively in the face of big challenges.”
Wetzel said, “It’s exciting to watch what happens when people are given a framework and tools to do creative problem solving. One group told us they got more ideas in six hours than they got in the past six months.”
“This is a great way to challenge teams to think differently,” said Price. “Innovation and creativity can come from anywhere and any team. At UPS, this program is helping us embrace that.”
To learn more about the "Innovate Like an Entrepreneur" course, contact Robyn Wetzel or Russ Schoen. Sarah Thurber is author of "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker" and "Creativity Unbound" and Managing Partner at FourSight.