This is the final week where we catch up with Hannah Reichardt and Dan McClure from Innovation Ecosystem, they are experts on a role called the...
Hannah Reichardt & Dan McClure | The Choreographer
Firstly, I feel I need to say this is NOT a podcast about dancing… It’s very much a business podcast about a new role called the Choreographer. We are joined by Hannah Reichardt and Dan McClure from Innovation Ecosystem who are experts in this unique role.
Hannah is an innovation strategist, with two decades of experience working in overseas aid and commercial sectors, getting stuck into big challenges and having a great time along the way.
Her innovation experience includes developing solutions across multiple collaborating entities, designing and implementing digital solutions for new markets, and devising and delivering approaches for rapid learning and iteration in complex contexts. She's a specialist in multi-stakeholder collaborative working, monitoring, and learning, as well as creative ideation.
Outside of work, Hannah is learning to skateboard and trying hard to channel her 'learn through action' belief (with helmet and pads).
Dan is a lifelong choreographer who has spent a four-decade career running into burning buildings. He has led ecosystem innovation efforts across industries undergoing deregulation and disruptive change, governments working to respond more nimbly to big opportunities, and international organizations taking on challenges in aid, climate, and the environment.
He has been a thought leader, shaping ecosystem innovation practices that intentionally embrace complex problems. Today, collaborating with the other choreographers in Innovation Ecosystem, he gets to dive into exciting messy challenges from across the globe, pursuing big ideas from Mongolia to Jamaica.
[00:00:00] - Dan McClure
How do you best solve a problem? Throughout much of the 20th century, we solved hard problems by making them into simple problems. Really, what a choreographer says is we can't take a hard, complex problem, make it simple, and then expect to get results. We have to embrace that complexity.
[00:00:30] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 89 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This, as you might expect, is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm Doug Foulkes, and my co-host is the CEO at WNDYR and Pattyrn, Claire Haidar. Claire, haven't chatted you for quite a while. How are you doing?
[00:00:51] - Claire Haidar
Really good, Doug. How are you? I know that you've started your e-bike mission recently. Have you gotten out on the trails with those bikes yet?
[00:00:59] - Doug Foulkes
Absolutely loving it. I decided that at my senior age, I needed some motorized assistance rather just pedaling the damn bike around. I'm all about e-bikes these days. But we're not here to talk about me. We've got a very-
[00:01:14] - Claire Haidar
No, we're not here to talk about you, but you live a very interesting life, Doug.
[00:01:21] - Doug Foulkes
That may be. We are here to talk to Hannah Reichardt and Dan McClure, who are a business couple who have put together a book about choreography or choreographers. I'm pretty sure it's nothing to do with dancing, so I'm going to ask you, what is it all about?
[00:01:40] - Claire Haidar
Doug, before we dive into what this conversation was about, I have to admit—and I mean, I actually opened the conversation with this—that this topic really piqued my interest because I genuinely think—and it confirmed itself in the conversation—but as we started this and as we started having the planning conversation with them, I secretly genuinely thought I was a choreographer.
[00:02:01] - Claire Haidar
Turns out I am one, and I think you're one too. You never admitted it, but I think you are one. As you say, it's not about dancing, it's not about the typical arts that we associate the word choreographer with. It is very much a business conversation. It's about this role that very specific people in the world of business—and not just business, more broadly, you find them in the scientific community, you find them in the much broader community outside of business—have been fulfilling, but it's never actually been labeled as such.
[00:02:36] - Claire Haidar
It's a very diverse role; it's a very important role. They're naming it, they're putting a label on it. They're writing about it, and they're talking about the practical applications and the power of a company actually recognizing this role and what it can mean for them. Starting right off, in segment one, we actually go back to the basics with them and actually look at the definition.
[00:02:59] - Claire Haidar
What is a choreographer? Why has it not been formalized to date? Is it very similar to other roles that we do recognize and that have been labeled? What is the evolutionary trajectory of this role? Those are the four main questions that we explore in this section.
[00:03:15] - Doug Foulkes
Well, my interest is definitely piqued.
[00:03:18] - Claire Haidar
Dan, Hannah, hello and welcome to the show with us today. It's just so good to have you guys on with us. I can honestly say that out of all of the preparation calls that I've had with potential podcast guests, the call with you guys was my favorite. It stands at my number one. It just piqued so many more questions in my mind. I think it consumed about two or three dinner conversations post our prep calls. To say I'm excited about this podcast would be an understatement. It's good to have you both here.
[00:03:54] - Hannah Reichardt
Lovely to be with you, Claire.
[00:03:55] - Dan McClure
Well, it's great to be here. It's a subject that we're excited about, too, so we can all be excited together.
[00:04:02] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. I want us to get into this very first section, which I've just called definitions, because I really want us to get to the heart of what we're going to be talking about today. You guys are two subject matter experts on choreographers in the workplace. Tell us what those are.
[00:04:21] - Dan McClure
Let me begin with just a description of the space that choreographers occupy. The world is changing around us. We have all sorts of new challenges. There's big things like climate change and equity in the world, etc. There are disruptions going on with businesses that have to reinvent themselves. And there's a whole bunch of innovators with pilots that just haven't gone anywhere yet.
[00:04:52] - Dan McClure
There are all these big innovation challenges that it doesn't seem like we've been coping with very well. What a choreographer does is, they look at the innovation from a big perspective. They look across all the different pieces, and they're the ones that knit all these pieces together to be able to solve the big problem, disrupt the industry, complete the innovation. You can think of choreographers as the big-picture thinker; and actors in innovation.
[00:05:28] - Claire Haidar
I like that. Hannah, do you have something you want to add to that?
[00:05:31] - Hannah Reichardt
Yeah, I think Dan's hit the nail on the head. What I would say is choreographers; where other innovators maybe see complexity and try to make it super simple in order to manage it, choreographers lean into the complexity and actually get really excited about it and see, within it, huge amounts of opportunities for what's possible and what can change.
[00:05:51] - Hannah Reichardt
It's something about the appetite for really getting stuck into things that feel difficult and complex. And to others maybe seem like you have to break them apart really simply to move forward, choreographers find a different way.
[00:06:05] - Claire Haidar
Instead of breaking apart to actually bring it all together.
[00:06:09] - Dan McClure
Yeah. I think this is a key thing is this idea that, how do you best solve a problem? Throughout much of the 20th century, we solved hard problems by making them into simple problems. Really, what a choreographer says is, we can't take a hard, complex problem, make it simple, and then expect to get results. We have to embrace that complexity.
[00:06:37] - Claire Haidar
Yes. On so many levels, yes. Doug, over to you.
[00:06:41] - Doug Foulkes
I'm going to start off by saying, give my welcomes and hellos. Nice to meet you two.
[00:06:46] - Hannah Reichardt
Lovely to meet you, Doug.
[00:06:47] - Dan McClure
It's good to see you.
[00:06:49] - Doug Foulkes
You've called it a choreographer. Why has this role not been formalized to date? What would you say is prompting it to emerge now?
[00:06:57] - Dan McClure
Hannah, do you want to jump in on that?
[00:06:59] - Hannah Reichardt
Yeah, I think something that's really interesting is in the arts, we witness that there is this kind of role frequently playing a really critical part in creating success, in bringing lots of different pieces of creative action together. That's why we use the language of choreographer, but it could be like a conductor in an orchestra, or maybe even like a curator in a museum.
[00:07:24] - Hannah Reichardt
Someone who isn't leading from the front and asking everyone to fall behind them in line really neatly and in order. Someone who can manage all lots of different action happening in different places. It's been a really strong reflection that Dan and I have shared is that in business and in social impact world, we haven't had the language or conceptualization, but we're seeing the need for this role all the time. Using the language of choreographer, it helps us to state that there's a different role that we need to act creatively in the spaces in which we operate.
[00:08:00] - Dan McClure
I think this is real key because we see that there's a type of problem emerging that needs this new role. While the arts have always recognized this need to knit things together, it's really the problems that are emerging right now that are driving the urgency for the choreographer role now. We're essentially getting into the problem spaces that need this kind of skill, and more and more organizations are finding that they have those challenges. As a result, they need a choreographer.
[00:08:37] - Claire Haidar
That leads on, actually perfectly, to the question that I wanted to ask is, have we seen variations or almost immature versions of this role to date in the workplace? Or is this brand new? What is you guys' perspective on that?
[00:08:57] - Dan McClure
I think it would be a mistake to see this role as, for example, the next generation of user center designer or the next generation of project manager. It's not a case where the choreographer is descended from these earlier specialized innovation roles that serve other types of innovation practices. Rather, the choreographer really approaches innovation differently. In many ways, they're a new and unique role. On the other hand, it's not like choreographers haven't existed.
[00:09:37] - Hannah Reichardt
I think that choreographers hide in plain sight. They live amongst us. We are them, some of us. They are in people's organizations today, often hidden away and a little bit undervalued for the kind of skill set that they actually might bring. Dan and I reflected that often your choreographers might be stuck in a project management role where they may be doing a not very fantastic job because they're not really operating in the complex space in which they will thrive.
[00:10:06] - Hannah Reichardt
But they might be the people within your organization who are asking bigger purpose questions, who are perhaps operating between teams, knitting people together, weaving in amongst lots of different initiatives that are happening, or perhaps the people who are leaning externally outwards and seeing opportunities beyond the boundaries of your organization and pushing the boundaries of which you're operating within.
[00:10:31] - Hannah Reichardt
We think choreographers are very much there and all around us, but often haven't been valued for that specialist skill set that they're actually bringing.
[00:10:41] - Claire Haidar
I want us to pause here before we go on because something that has come across in every single one of the responses that you guys have given so far is this innovation component, almost as if you can't divorce the choreographer from innovation. You said something important, Dan. You said they approach innovation differently, which is why you can't liken them to a PM or a UX designer.
[00:11:07] - Claire Haidar
Can you walk us through what that different approach is? Can you also walk us through typically how we see innovation in a company but how this is different so that we have a clear picture of that contrast?
[00:11:19] - Dan McClure
It might be useful to do a little short history of innovation through the ages.
[00:11:25] - Claire Haidar
Would love it.
[00:11:26] - Dan McClure
If you think about innovation in the late 20th century, 1980s, 1990s, it was really all about reductionist, breaking big blocks of things into small pieces, having very formal processes for analyzing everything, stage gates for checking for when things were done, and then essentially delivering to plan. That was the place where the project manager thrived.
[00:11:58] - Dan McClure
Later, we got into a world where we basically said, "Now we want to optimize those things that were built out." We got Deming working with the auto industry, and eventually coming up with ISO 9000 lean practices that allowed us to optimize and make fine adjustments to established systems.
[00:12:20] - Dan McClure
Then in the 20th century, with the emergence of the web and with mobile devices, we came up with yet a third version of innovation, which was this digital innovation around Eric Ries' Lean Startup: fail fast, get out there and user-centered design yourself with users in the field and focus on very narrow, specific products.
[00:12:46] - Dan McClure
That history of basically project manager, lean startup, coach, going to user-centered designer and product manager, each one of those was very focused on a simpler form of innovation. What we see today is problems where all the pieces are connected together. This type of innovation you can think of is like building an ecosystem.
[00:13:17] - Dan McClure
Now, instead of doing something where we're focusing on a specific digital product or a specific feature that we want to improve, we're really looking for how do we connect multiple actors, multiple resources, multiple pieces of technology together into a web that can do big new things. This is how we're going to solve a problem like climate change. It's not going to be a mobile app that's going to end climate change; it's going to be connecting all these different pieces together.
[00:13:50] - Dan McClure
That's the big shift here is this move from simpler innovations for the prior three generations to this more complex tying pieces together.
[00:14:02] - Doug Foulkes
Perfect. Made a lot of sense to me. Before we move on to the second segment, my thought was around the last thing you were saying, Hannah, is you started alluding to the different skill sets that the choreographer has. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that and maybe just give us the top two or three things that make them different to say, a normal innovator, if you like?
[00:14:26] - Hannah Reichardt
Sure. I'll start, Doug, and then Dan, you jump in. I'd say the thing about being a choreographer is they are excellent at being generalists. Often they come with this bizarre portfolio of careers and skills they've picked up in different places. They're often curious and lent into different ideas that they've stumbled across along the way. Their CVs don't look that standard. They look a bit bizarre.
[00:14:56] - Hannah Reichardt
You'd say that they're people who can draw on these experiences and these different ideas and mindsets from multiple disciplines and put them to good use. They are really good at looking at a vision and helping to craft what that might be. Whether that's with words or with pictures, they're able to look at what the system could be if it was changed and operated differently.
[00:15:17] - Hannah Reichardt
They're often quite visionary in nature. They can hold it all together, all of that complexity, and also help tell it to other people and really bring people with them on that journey. That's a really important part of that is that storytelling ability as well as the visioning ability.
[00:15:32] - Hannah Reichardt
I'd say they're also rebels. Choreographers like to push the boundaries of the rules and what's considered the way we do things here or the way we're going to win in the marketplace. They don't mind questioning the things that we take for granted and disrupting in lots of the places in which they're operating.
[00:15:49] - Dan McClure
I think one of the things that you can almost detect a choreographer from is, you look at their resume and it looks like a fruit salad. Just a little bit of everything. I think Hannah has a wonderful fruit salad resume. Hannah, tell us about your fruit salad for a moment.
[00:16:06] - Hannah Reichardt
It's a bit mad, Dan. My first degree was in geography, and I specialized in urban geography, actually, then went to work in the financial services sector, worked at Lehman Brothers, worked at a massive insurance company, a big law firm before heading into the humanitarian world where I worked for a really long time, and whilst I was there, picking up lots of different jobs along the way, never managed to stay on one specific career path.
[00:16:30] - Hannah Reichardt
I kept getting interested in wholly different ideas. Then took a psychology degree. I could never really explain to people neatly what that meant or what I was good at. It was really starting to think about the conceptualization of the choreographer that made sense to me that when I was at my best in a complex innovation space, I was using and drawing on all of these experiences and all of these different ways of seeing the world.
[00:16:56] - Hannah Reichardt
Because comparing an academic background in geography compared to psychology, they're not in contradiction, but they're different layers which you can draw on, which gives you a completely different perspective on a problem.
[00:17:07] - Claire Haidar
Hannah, and I think something that I want to add to that is that because I have a very, very ugly fruit salad CV. One of the things that I've found in terms of actually being able to communicate that to people is you're the one that can draw the golden thread through all of the different experiences and apply it to whatever is applicable right now.
[00:17:34] - Claire Haidar
For example, I'm currently running this technology company. I can take it and I can say, "Okay, from that company, I learned this, and I can apply it here. I can apply it here. I can apply it all to technology." But somebody just looking at the CV would be like, "What the hell? Why were you working there? How is this related to this?" You know what I mean?
[00:17:53] - Claire Haidar
For example, our board chair at our company, very similar to you, her undergraduate and postgraduate degree's in Russian. You know what I mean? Then she worked for a travel agent, and then she became the first-ever female partner in McKinsey. You know what I mean? It's like you look at that and you're like, "McKinsey and Russian? How do those two come together?"
[00:18:17] - Claire Haidar
Yet if you actually speak to her... Because this is one conversation that she and I had. Literally, the dinner ran about four hours long because she was telling me this connection where she was explaining to me how that degree in Russian served her being able to actually become the first female partner at McKinsey. You know what I mean? That's the fascinating piece about it. That leads to your point about the storytelling piece is it's the ability to see that golden thread and apply it to the current situation that you're in.
[00:18:48] - Dan McClure
I think one of the things that's exciting about this is it's not only your personal CV that ends up being a fruit salad, but the solutions and the problems you address end up being fruit salads. One of the things that's been so exciting over the last few years as we've been working together on these types of projects is just the range of things that a choreographer can stick their nose into.
[00:19:17] - Dan McClure
We've worked on pandemic response and how do we manage data more effectively for pandemics. We've looked at how do you build communication systems in Mongolia. We've talked about climate change in India and China. We've looked at how do you reinvent financial service companies in the US.
[00:19:36] - Dan McClure
It's just like how do all these knit together? Well, they knit together because they all need this big generalist view of how you're going to reimagine them. It's just so exciting to be in this role because you get to play in so many different pools and puddles.
[00:19:56] - Doug Foulkes
That brings us to the end of our first conversation with choreographers, Hannah Reichardt and Dan McClure. To follow this conversation further, make sure to catch the next two parts on Spotify, Google, or Apple podcasts, or on WNDYR's website. That's wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.