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In this episode we catch up with innovation expert, Alfia Ilicheva. She is Co-Founder of WIN: Women in Innovation, a hugely successful nonprofit with an international mandate and a mission to close the gender gap in innovation.
Alfia is Co-Founder of WIN: Women in Innovation, a nonprofit organization with an international mandate and a mission to close the gender gap in innovation. Under her leadership, WIN transformed from a local New York-based initiative into an industry-leading and globally-recognized organization. Ilicheva was the architect behind the original governance structure, operating model and the strategic roadmap and global growth plan. She now serves on the Board of Directors.
Alfia is an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow, a Presidential Leadership Scholar and a Founding Member of Columbia Business School’s Women’s Circle. Additionally, Ilicheva serves as a member of Columbia Business School’s Hermes Society Leadership Council. She is a frequent speaker and moderator at innovation industry conferences and academic institutions.
Ilicheva graduated from Georgetown University with honors in international business diplomacy and received an MBA from Columbia Business School. She was the first undergraduate editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, a university-wide publication.
[00:00:00] – Alfia Ilicheva
Something that I’ve always experienced was my parents’ hope, and they always said, hey, when you have problems whether cultural, religious, political, that is amazing because the problem gives somebody a reason to make something better.
[00:00:20] – Doug Foulkes
Welcome to The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at, believe it or not, the future of work. It’s brought to you by WNDYR for their blog Chaos and RocketFuel. WNDYR are productivity and human behaviour specialists whose goal is to help us humans remain relevant in an ever more technology based workplace. Check them out at WNDYR dot com. That’s WNDYR dot com. I’m Doug Foulkes. And along with WNDYR CEO Claire Haidar, we regularly meet up with industry experts and mavericks to get their take on work in the future.
In this episode, we catch up with innovation expert Alfia Ilicheva. She is co-founder of WIN, Women in Innovation, a hugely successful non-profit with an international mandate and a mission to close the gender gap in innovation. Alfia is a Russian immigrant who has completely rebuilt her life and believes that you can do the same, in the next 45 minutes we will see that with hope and resilience how Alfia has rebuilt her life, what innovation means in the context of a post-pandemic workplace, how WIN is actively closing the gender gap in boardrooms, and how this process can be accelerated, and how us humans can make our lives better through embracing innovation.
[00:01:40] – Doug Foulkes
But first, a definition. High Alfia, so nice to have you on the podcast today.
[00:01:46] – Alfia Ilicheva
Thank you so much for the invitation.
[00:01:48]- Doug Foulkes
It’s a pleasure. I’m going to jump straight in and I know a majority of this conversation is going to be around innovation. I understand the dictionary meaning of the word to turn an idea into a practical reality. But I’d really like to get your take on innovation and maybe specifically how you can see it playing a role in work in the next two to three years.
[00:02:09] – Alfia Ilicheva
Sure. So, you know, for me, the concept of innovation is obviously very dear to my heart because I spend most of my career working with big companies as well as piggyback businesses on innovation. So over the years, the way that I have defined it is by saying that it’s a creation of something new, relevant, but also something that can advance our society, right. So it’s whether launching a new product, a new service, or crafting a new experience for end users that can create new business growth and value, but at the same time also delight and really advance our humanity in one way or another.
[00:02:51] – Claire Haidar
I specifically like that second piece, delighting humanity, we’ll get back to that. Alfia so good to have you on the show with us this morning. If we turn specifically to the future of work. So you know, Doug has just asked you very specifically about the next two to three years, but if we take it even further, look into the future. What do you believe innovation is going to contribute? And I’d like you to get really specific here, based on that definition that you’ve just given to us.
What do you think innovation is going to bring to work?
[00:03:22] – Alfia Ilicheva
We’re living in a, I would say in a very interesting time, because the actual concept of work itself, I think just changed dramatically in the past 12, 24 months where I think our personal/professional lives have truly blended into one holistic whole. So when I think about the future, work for me it is really the future of life. How are we going to be living as humans, both professionally and personally. And the way that innovation plays into this, you know, this advancement, this evolution is that you know we’re innovating, I would say, as we go quite literally, not only what we do at work, but also how we work. With my non-profit Women in Innovation.
We provide a lot of innovation training, resources, and a lot of our classes in the past have been truly hard core innovation skills. So whether running user research, creating a new product, it’s interesting because this past year a lot of our training has really shifted to be less on how to innovate and what to innovate, but more around what are those contexts and environments in which you can be innovative. So, for example, we’ve partnered with a pretty big and accomplished design and architecture firm called Gensler, on a workshop that can help companies and women to think through environments at work in which they can be more innovative.
Right. So how do you create that future office where anybody can kind of bring innovation to their daily life? So, you know, to answer your question, I would say that innovation is just going to be a pretty big and critical component of the future of work, how we work, where we work, because we’ll be redefining all those environments and contexts.
[00:05:13]- Doug Foulkes
Alfia, I’m going to jump in here. I just want to keep it practical with the CEOs and board members of companies today.
Can you give us a good practical tip that they should be thinking about when they’re talking about innovating around the work practises.
[00:05:28] – Alfia Ilicheva
Sure. You know, it’s interesting because in the past, back when I was an innovation consultant, a lot of Fortune 500 CEOs and managers would hire me and my team to help them think through innovation. But that was always, you know, nice to have an extra, fun adventure or initiative that the company employed because they had extra capital, extra resources, extra cash. But when I think about the future and the tip that I would give to CEOs and managers is that innovation is not a nice to have.
It’s an imperative, right. It’s a must have. So the first step would be when you think about your business model and how you want to grow, where you want to grow, what you know, what end results you want to create for humanity. Innovation has to be a critical component of that journey. And specifically, when I think about the innovation work that companies are doing right, in the past it was mostly around launching new products and services.
And when I think about the future work and how companies are changing, I would say, you know, not only is it a must have to think through what your end users would buy, but consider to promote, also think through the future of work, and what are your employees doing? How are they working? So to me, the tip would be innovation has to be top, top agenda. And it’s not just innovating externally for end users, but also innovating for your employees and your staff.
[00:06:54] – Claire Haidar
Alfia before employee experience was very much bucketed into, you know, that’s HR’s responsibility. And as you have rightly pointed out, innovation has never really been seen as an HR function. And yet the environment that we find ourselves in, those two are going to have to merge. So how do you think companies are going to overcome that challenge at a very practical level? Because, you know, if you look at HR and the way it is taught in most colleges today, innovation is not a very big part of the curriculum.
You know, your typical HR leader is not innovation first mindset orientated. And, you know, on the flip side of it, the innovation budgets that are typically allocated at inside corporate ventures are seen to come from surplus budgets, as you’ve pointed out. So how do companies practically reconcile those two. What are the changes that they are really going to have to invest in?
[00:07:57] – Alfia Ilicheva
That’s a great question. You know, to me, capital and resources usually go to things that the company perceives to be critical to its future. So in my experience, the reason why a lot of my projects were prioritised is because companies, you know, had extra surplus, but also when they thought about the longer term growth and vision, somebody in the boardroom thought that, hey, investing in innovation would be helpful. And I think, you know what you’re pointing out to is that traditionally human resources, and talent management, talent advancement, and innovation were not things that were seen as one hole.
The way I would approach it is actually redefine and reimagine what human resources, or the work environment actually meets the company. Because if we zoom out and think about companies today in the post pandemic world, virtually a lot, you know, a lot of the various geographic, contextual, societal, cultural times just completely been erased.
So in that environment, that is really, you know, where the world is flat and where people, resources can move so fluidly, it’s so critical to a business to think through how they’re going to be attracting, developing, retaining, growing their talent. And if you believe in that, then innovating human resources becomes critical, because if people can move so fluidly, you have to have to have processes, procedures and innovative strategies to keep them in your company and have them be invested in your cause.
So the advice I would give to that manager or the CEO would be you have to reimagine what human resources means to you, because what it was before and what it is now is just so different. And I see it in the past with my work at big companies, privately owned companies or even start-ups. Because I think we’re all now competing for the same talent and we’re all trying to create those amazing work environments that produce the best results in this world that’s really flat today.
[00:09:55] – Claire Haidar
Alfia, I’m going to move away from the very work focussed conversation for a bit. And I’m actually going to go to your personal backstory, your history, your life. You’re a Russian immigrant. You’ve moved here under very stressful circumstances with your mom and you’ve literally rebuilt your life. How have those experiences helped you grow?
[00:10:20] – Alfia Ilicheva
I would say every immigrant probably kind of shares the same zeitgeist, which is all about rebirth, rebuilding, hope. You move from one place to another because you’re hopeful that the future will be better. And I think, you know, the beauty of my experience is that coming here, I was quite young. It was really stressful. We’ve lost a lot in our motherland. But that hope, that idea that we can build something new and different here that would be amazing was, I think, what drew a lot of my personal growth and then later success.
So, you know, in that experience, I would think, I imagine is something that every immigrant coming to this country feels. But the other bit was probably resilience. So I think when you completely lose everything and when you have to rebuild from ground zero, I think the experience kind of teaches you the idea of resilience and one foot in front of the other. And I think it’s something that’s been really instrumental in my later life because a lot of my work actually was really humbling, because in the beginning, you know, when you try to create something new for a company probably oftentimes fails.
But kind of my early childhood experience of, you know, experiencing a lot of failures, problems, barriers and challenges. I learnt that you just keep going forward one foot in front of the other, maybe sometimes slowly, maybe sometimes faster. But as long as you’re moving and doing something over the long term, you know, good things can come.
And they do come.
[00:11:53] – Claire Haidar
Alfia I can distinctly remember, you know, when I met you in the George Bush library for the very first time when my husband Mark introduced us and I remember you telling me snippets of your life story. And the thing that stood out for me in that conversation with you there was I can totally get why innovation is such a passion to you and why it’s the golden thread that runs through everything that you’ve done in your entire career story, because I think at the heart of innovation is hope.
And as you’ve just pointed out, it’s hope that is pretty much driven every action of your life. And so I think that’s the beauty of innovation, is that anybody who dares to play with it and dares to engage with it, is being driven by hope, the hope of something new, something better. And so for me, those were two really powerful dots that connected in that conversation, I don’t think I ever said it to you when we were talking, but I was like, this makes total sense.
[00:13:01] – Alfia Ilicheva
Thank you for this amazing observation, because I didn’t ever connect these dots myself. This is insanely helpful and also probably very indulgent. You’re being overly kind and generous with that amazing observation. When I look back at my childhood and I grew up, you know, in a post communist, and then I would say, you know, post communist world that is trying to be capitalist. So growing up in Russia was really unique and different. But something that I’ve always experienced was my parents’ hope.
And they always said, hey, when you have problems whether, cultural, religious, political, that is amazing because the problem gives somebody a reason to make something better. And, you know, my parents have this mindset they launched nonprofits they were so engaged and so involved culturally. I just had this kind of belief that problems are really good, because it’s an opportunity to make something better. And I think that was my childhood then I came to the U.S. and again, there was many problems, but I sort of kind of grew up with this mentality that, hey, it’s always an opportunity.
And then working with large corporations on their most hard pressing challenges was just fun because you get to reimagine a brand, relaunch their product lines, rethink just how they actually engage with their end users. One of my most fun projects was thinking, how do you create for Uber drivers a better journey and experience with Uber? I mean, that is an insane challenge because the drivers are not even employees of Uber, they’re called partners. So how do you create for a person that is representing a brand that is basically enabling their entire vision and mission of mobility, that is not an employee, but you have to somehow create for them really good experiences so that they stay with you versus their competitor.
I mean, those are amazing problems for which you then create really cool, innovative solutions.
[00:14:53] – Doug Foulkes
Earlier on, you mentioned briefly WIN, your non-profit, and now is the chance I’d really like to find out a lot more about it, what it is, what its mission is, and obviously the main mission around closing the gender gap in innovation. Just tell us more about WIN.
[00:15:08] – Alfia Ilicheva
Sure. So back when I was an innovation consultant, a lot of my work was partnering with management teams and, you know, accomplished companies like Discover, City, Nestlé, Prudential, you name it, and that work was amazing because it was, again, big problems to solve for which new innovative solutions. And I kind of had two observations. One is innovation is big, right? So whether it’s a big company, small company, government schools, I mean, every company is trying to be innovative and rethink what they do, how they do it for who and why.
And that to me was exciting. But a big problem that I saw quite literally my daily work was that I was in so many different boardrooms and big kind of management meetings, rethinking, reimagining so many companies futures. And I saw a very consistent thing where every business trying to be innovative, but so few women are actually at the table, with quite literally at the table. You know, that observation made me a bit concerned about the future. So for now, in this pivotal moment in our history and our kind of evolution of humankind, where we’re evolving so quickly and so much, it’s alarming that so few women are actually at the table as business or thought leaders.
So when I had dug into more research on how many innovative books are written by women, it was only, I think 20 percent of Amazon’s innovation bestsellers are written by female authors. And then when I looked at chief innovation officers in this country, it was alarming because only a few of them in the biggest companies in this nation are actually women. So that to me was bad. And I said, hey, it’s a big problem.
Why not just try to solve it? And, you know, maybe I was really naive, but that was the beginning of when. I invited my colleague who shared the same sentiments to say, hey, why don’t we make a list of all our biggest competitors, are innovation firms, invite their women to a dinner and discuss the fate of the innovation world. And that was quite literally the beginning of when we got permission from our CEO to basically invite our biggest competitors for a sit down dinner in which we discussed all the problems in our industry.
We had whiteboards, we had breakout sessions, we had problems and then solutions. And then that was the beginning of WIN, because in that dinner we basically said we’re all competing with each other for business. But that does not mean we cannot work together outside of work to help each other rise. So the women at the table kind of jumped in and made a promise. We’re all going to help to lift each other up by sharing trainings and resources and opportunities.
And from that dinner, basically every month, a different innovation from, Prague, Idyll, Farenheit hosted the other women in their office and gave them a training session on a specific innovation skill. Fast forward now. We’re now five years old actually this month. We’re now 5000 members. We have chapters in San Francisco, New York, and London. You know, I would say we have every top innovation firm globally involved, a lot of universities, major companies, and what’s pretty awesome and exciting.
In the past year, a lot of our initial founding team members have actually become female founders. So our Start-Up Ecosystem community has been growing and thriving a lot. So that’s the history when it was kind of a, I guess, a big problem that I saw. And then so many amazing women jumped in to find solutions. And now we’re an international non-profit with members in 30, I think the last time we checked, it was in 31 countries, which is quite extraordinary.
[00:18:38] – Doug Foulkes
You said you had great early success and lots of traction. You speak about innovation as a mindset rather than a job. How can that mindset help focus CEOs of companies in today’s environment?
[00:18:50] – Alfia Ilicheva
Innovation at its kind of basic level is trying something new until it works and then scaling it. So I think that mindset can help tremendously CEOs today. So if you’re looking for entrepreneurship inside your company, I think the first step is actually creating that culture of belonging and acceptance of mistakes. So, you know, again, not thinking of innovation as some separate discipline, some separate team or some innovation lab. But, you know, quite literally instilling that mindset in every team that works for you, whether it’s HR, product, sales, even compliance.
You know, every team can innovate what it does and how it does its work. So if you create that mindset where it’s OK to try something new, to fail, to run pilots, I think CEOs can win in big ways. Something that I’ve seen in my work is that a lot of leadership teams. They hold all the power to be innovative, to fail, and to run large scale projects. But something that I see in work much better is actually giving that power away.
So give that power from the C-suite to your teams to actually be entrepreneurial, to be adventurous, and to try new things. Because when you do that, you’re creating a culture that will self-perpetuate a lot of innovations over time. So that mindset, when you bring it down to the teams, is such a powerful way to actually hold power because then every team is accountable and it’s producing at I would say goals that are not only given top down, but are nurtured and are incubated from the bottom up.
And that’s, I think, a really powerful way to think about innovation. So giving it to the teams to actually try and explore and then achieve.
[00:20:43] – Doug Foulkes
I love that.
[00:20:44] – Claire Haidar
Hearing you talk gets me so excited because one of the things that we as a company specialise in. So, you know, just a little bit of background for people listening in for the first time to our show, we’re very much the organisation that other companies come to when they need to completely re-engineer, redefine and innovate their work and how they actually work.
What gets me really excited is at the heart of everything that we do with our clients is change management. Ultimately, if you’re going to innovate and if you’re going to bring, you know, whether it’s a new process or a new way of doing something, whether it’s in a pilot form or a scalable form, you’re also going to have to manage whoever it is that’s going to engage with it through that change process. For me, that’s where it’s so beautiful because I almost see change management and innovation as two flip sides of the same coin where the one actually cannot happen without the other one in a sustainable way.
Sure, you can innovate, but if you’re not managing the change through that, the innovation is only going to go so far. Whereas if you’re coupling the two together, it’s going to become really powerful. And I think you know, it’s almost like the conversation is coming back full circle, where when CEOs and organisations are grappling with it. So whether it’s the future of work issue that’s very front of mind right now, you know, when we reach a stasis again and we start just looking at problems holistically inside organisations again, I think one of the biggest things that CEOs and leaders can do is marry those two things together. Think about change management coupled with innovation and how those two actually play off of each other.
[00:22:40] – Alfia Ilicheva
Completely I mean, I’m in violent agreement. As one of my former clients would say. To me, running a company is like Christopher Columbus or any, you know, explorer embarking on a journey. So it’s not just about where you’re sailing to, but quite literally, who is in your sailboat and how are they organised. Are the vested. Is the team in place to actually achieve your goals. And change management is, as you’ve so eloquently said, I mean, it’s a huge part of actually creating a culture of innovation.
The team will never produce amazing things unless the team feels a sense of belonging, confidence in the future and an appreciation for what you’re doing and why. When you think about introducing new ideas, new products to any company, any business, it’s all about adoption and internal stakeholders that have the buy in, to believe in the things that you build. And then those teams have to take and execute and evolve those things that you have introduced, it’s about the people and how they feel.
Interesting, because with WIN for the past five years we’ve done so many amazing workshops, training sessions, classes, lectures on, as I was saying earlier, hard innovation skills. But it’s funny because the past few months a lot of the training sessions were more focussed about people. And how do you create a culture of innovation? How do you, everything from how do you reorganise your office where people feel more confident and, you know, more open to innovation, to how do you think about the future of work and how do you reorganise your company at a much higher strategic level?
So it’s interesting because I think we’re in a kind of a watershed moment where all these things are coming together.
[00:24:27] – Claire Haidar
So Alfia now moving kind of back into your personal life. This is a curiosity question more than anything else from both Doug and I, because we’re avid lovers of photography and videography and everything like that. You’re not only involved in WIN, you’re also the president of Five Boroughs Foundation of Photography. Talk to us about that.
[00:24:50] – Alfia Ilicheva
You’ve done a lot of research it’s amazing. I think non-profit work has always been a huge part of my life. Again, probably because of my parents, because they’re really involved in public service ever since I’ve known them and Five Boroughs. So it’s the story of my relationship with my husband because when I first met him at a birthday party of our mutual friends, you know. This random gentleman comes to me and starts talking to me about Five Boroughs Foundation of photography.
How he loves photography and is launching this non-profit, and I totally thought that, that then random person, now husband and dad to our four kids. I thought he was making this up because he wanted to impress me. But, you know, turned out that he, like me, was a huge photography fan. I grew up doing a lot of black and white photography so did he, we both loved Russian photography in particular. And Oleg, my now husband, he had this idea of combining mentorship with photography for the underserved communities in New York City.
So the idea was that, as you would appreciate with photography, it’s all about creating narratives, framing stories and having, I would say, a deep appreciation for your world around you. And he had this idea, why don’t we connect top photographers in fashion and film and media and have them run amazing workshops for different schools in the city. And the idea would be these students would learn how to do photography, but more importantly, they would be exposed to something new and different.
So having these photographers explore, you know, tell them their professional stories and when they’re older, they can pursue a career in the arts. So I, you know, after that random conversation at a birthday party, I started actually volunteering for Five Boroughs, the non-profit that my husband started. And eventually I actually left my job in finance and ran Five Boroughs full time before going to grad school. Yeah, it’s a pretty amazing non-profit in that it works with different charter schools in the city in which after the financial crisis, you know, a lot of those schools actually cut their arts funding.
So Five Boroughs came in and kind of gave that programming for free to all these different schools, so it was quite special and obviously really dear to our heart because we’ve done amazing work with so many schools.
[00:27:31] – Claire Haidar
I’m not surprised at all, you know, that Doug, when he did the research and that included that with you, because, I mean, he has an absolute passion for more videography than photography. Doug is a very, very talented videographer. And also like you, like my dad had a darkroom when I was little and some of my most vivid memories from childhood is actually the smell of the toner and the fixer.
[00:28:00] – Alfia Ilicheva
So cool, I love that smell. It’s like so many memories.
[00:28:02] – Claire Haidar
One of the things on my bucket list is actually to build a darkroom again. I really, really do want to do that at some point.
[00:28:09] – Alfia Ilicheva
The beauty of photography to me is that it kind of gives you extra eyes, right? Because when you see a photograph captured by someone else, I think it just inspires incredible deep empathy because you quite literally are seeing part of the world through their eyes because it’s how to capture a moment in time. So, you know, with Five Boroughs for a lot of our students, it’s kind of interesting looking back on all our classes with them when they were taking photographs of the city, I think I for the first time kind of saw New York through a completely different eye because I was seeing it through the eyes of a child that comes from an underserved community in the Bronx or other part of the city.
And you know what is interesting to a 14 year old who’s just so different, than to an adult. So it’s very special, I think for all of us.
[00:29:01] – Claire Haidar
There is one of my favourite hotels in London that I always try to book into when I go to London. One of the reasons why I love this hotel so much is they regularly hand out disposable cameras to the homeless people in the immediate surrounding area of the hotel, and they actually then have them take photos of their environments in their daily lives and everything like that.
And they then print these out and they display them throughout the hotel and people can actually buy it. Yeah, and that’s how they give back to the community. And it’s actually become so popular that often sometimes when I’ve gone to London, like the walls are empty because these photos have been bought, you know, and they’ve kind of like at that point where they have to do another run of it. It’s just it’s so true what you say. It’s a really powerful mechanism.
[00:30:02] – Alfia Ilicheva
One of the coolest things that we’ve done with Five Boroughs, a lot of our work is focussed on the schools in York City, but on a one off basis, we’ve done a really cool collaborations. One was with the jeans brand Levi’s, where we did a whole photography workshop funded by them to bring different schools to an actual photo shoot, which is really fun and cool. The other one was with Seeds of Peace, which is a non-profit whose mission is to bring peace and understanding to the different conflict zones around the world.
One of the zones is in Israel. So they quite literally find and recruit, I think they are high school age students from Israel and Palestine and bring them to a camp in Maine in the States. And we did a really cool photography workshop where the Palestinian and Israeli students, before they came to Maine, we asked them to take photographs of their environments. So imagine Jerusalem, right. And imagine a Jewish family, a Palestinian family. And we asked them to take photographs of their life, their family, their dinner table, their bedrooms, their streets.
And it’s amazing because it’s the same city, but a different life. And then when they came to Maine, we did a really awesome workshop where it was more focussed on storytelling, actual hard skills in photography, but also helping the students from the other part of the city see their own motherland through the eyes of someone else, which is, you know, just so powerful because it’s giving people other eyes to see and appreciate the world and all its nuances and dynamics.
[00:31:50] – Doug Foulkes
Incredible. Before my last question, it is interesting, being a videographer, I’m often asked, can you take some stills as well? And I try to stay away from it because as a videographer, I’m looking for something completely different to you as a stills photographer, you’re literally looking for that split second in time. And I’m almost looking more for a movement or an action or something that can tell a similar story in a different way. It’s quite interesting.
[00:32:20] – Alfia Ilicheva
Yeah, I mean, it’s my dream would be to one day become a videographer. But, you know, it’s a whole, I think, other skill and experience. And I think it’s much more complex because you’re capturing, as you’ve mentioned, action and progress. And that requires a whole other, I think, appreciation for just how to capture those moments because it’s so hard. And again, so powerful.
[00:32:43] – Claire Haidar
Metaphorically, I think, to bring the whole conversation around.
I think if you just look at the similarities and the differences between photography and videography, it comes back to that piece that we said about the relationship between change management and innovation. Innovation is like that still photo where, you know, it’s that moment in time where you see this problem and you can work on it and change it and iterate it forward. Whereas like change management is more like an ongoing process. It’s you know, it’s like the video where it’s more about the continual journey that goes on post the innovation, the problems that it solved.
[00:33:22] – Alfia Ilicheva
What you’ve said is, is spot on. And, you know, it’s people, what goes on, interactions, how they kind of work with each other or not. How do they collaborate? Like, what’s that progress and momentum. Something that I’ve always found fascinating is that if you look at the history of humankind and the moments in history where humans produce the most amazing arts and culture and change and reforms, you know, whether it’s Renaissance or other periods in time, I was always interested in quite literally, like what was that environment?
Right. Like, why is it that, you know, in the 15 or 16th century we had all these amazing painters, and artists, musicians, and to me it has to do again, it’s change management. And how did people actually, how were they organised? And I think what’s interesting, if you look consistently, whether it’s ancient Greece, Rome, you know, if you look at the height of the Russian empire, all these things is, humans produce the most amazing achievements in a time where they had a sense of belonging when there was stability and peace.
And you think about a company, I think it’s the same thing, is that for people to be creative and to create new things, they have to have hope for the future and have an environment in which they can be innovative and creative and where that creativity is also embraced and scaled and accepted. So if you look at early Renaissance and if you look at all the Masters, not only were they creating amazing things, but there was actually an appreciation for it.
And they had specific investors, funders like the Medici’s that actually helped them grow. And if you think about a company that is producing new ideas, we used to joke and say that idea is the easy part. I mean, you can have all these ideas on so many post-its, but who’s actually going to be executing and scaling, growing, evolving, looping, all those things? I mean, that’s people. And they have to have confidence and a sense of belonging that those things actually are worth doing over the long term.
[00:35:19]- Doug Foulkes
So, first of all, Claire, thanks for bringing up your last comment, which allowed us to justify a question about photography. Alfia we’re getting towards the end of our time together and we’ve let the conversation move around a bit towards the end, which is fantastic. I’d like to bring it right back to the future of work as a focus, and innovation obviously. What is one of the main things that you think that us humans can be doing in our work lives better?
[00:35:46] – Alfia Ilicheva
Probably something that I said earlier in this conversation is making experimentation a must have in our daily lives. I would say being open to failing and making failing OK, but not being OK with not learning from it. So I think creating that on a daily basis, if it’s a must have to drink water, to eat, to sleep. I think adding a dose of experimentation, trying something new, if you know, if all of us added that to our daily life and made it a priority, but also made it a priority to learn from that experimentation.
I mean, imagine just how creative and how amazing the world would be, right? If we’re all just trying new things and, you know, on that journey, it’s just always going to be sometimes successful and sometimes not. And I think in both cases, I think it’s totally OK. But when you fail, make a mistake or things don’t go right. I think diving into learning from that experience, making that a priority, I mean, I would be, I mean, it would be just such an amazing world.
So imagine a teacher, imagine a nurse, imagine a business person or an accountant. And all of us, you know, for at least ten minutes zoomed out and thought about our life, our world, our work in a different way. I mean, that would be extraordinary.
[00:37:04] – Claire Haidar
Yeah, Alfia you’ve given me pause for thought. I think I need to bring a few changes into my daily life, and I’m pretty excited about this. I think I’m going to start doing this. I may be messaging you with the outcomes of my tests that I’ve run.
[00:37:19] – Alfia Ilicheva
Oh, my God, I’d love that. I mean, like, look, we go to work every day, right? And I think work is such a huge part of our life. So why not just add a dose of fun, unpredictability, something new. I mean, quite literally fought each other to just do it even for ten minutes. I mean, just imagine if that was part of the work week in the same way that, you know, for a start up, we have stand up meetings in every industry there are so many amazing rituals that I would say over time have created a lot of predictability, Six Sigma. But if all of us just embrace that ritual of just something new at least once a week, I mean, I can’t even imagine, like, it would just be such a different world.
[00:38:01] – Claire Haidar
Agreed. Alfia, thank you so much for coming on and spending this hour with us. This is, I knew it was going to be an amazing conversation, but I just I love how every one of these conversations just go down such interesting rabbit holes that you can never predict and become beautiful conversations.
[00:38:19] – Alfia Ilicheva
Thank you. What an honour to spend time with you. And, you know, you asked me such challenging questions. Now, you know, I myself have all these new things to think about which is great. Thank you so much. And you know, you’re exploring such an amazing timely topic, the future of work. I mean, what an amazing time in history we’re living through where all this change is happening. And it’s kind of amazing that you’re capturing all these moments because I can’t wait to even listen to all your recordings one year, ten years out just to see what actually happens.
It’ll be so exciting.
[00:38:52] – Claire Haidar
I fully agree with you. I think more so than ever in my entire career. I feel highly relevant as a human. And I mean, this is this has been a passion. I mean, I’ve lived and breathed future of work and change management and all of this stuff for my entire career. And it’s always been meaningful. But to actually be literally in the heart of what the entire world is going through right now is it’s such a privilege.
[00:39:24] – Alfia Ilicheva
So amazing. You know, it’s a privilege. And also, you know, you’re so needed. What’s really cool is that every company is going through this change. And I think they need people like you to actually help them navigate, because if they don’t work with you or think about things in a different way, I mean, it’s really a matter of survival.
[00:39:41] – Doug Foulkes
Alfia I would also just like to say a huge thank you from my side. It’s been a really interesting hour and I’ve learnt a lot. Thank you.
[00:39:48] – Alfia Ilicheva
Thank you for this opportunity. I really enjoyed it.
[00:39:51] – Doug Foulkes
Alfia Ilicheva, proof that resilience, hope, and a vision can go a long way to changing the world for yourself and for those around you. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this podcast. If you have, we look forward to inviting you back sometime soon. Just a quick reminder for more information about WNDYR and the integration services that they supply, you can visit their website. That’s WNDYR dot com. And so from the Doug Foulkes and Chaos and RocketFuel, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.
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