Updated: Sep 15, 2022
with Robyn Bolton, Founder & Chief Navigator MileZero
Does invention equal innovation? No. Robyn Bolton from MileZero explains what innovation is, how you’re probably already doing it, the barriers and challenges involved, and how you can use innovation to be even more efficient as a company.
Notes from the Show
Creating, developing, launching…Robyn Bolton has spent her entire career in innovation. From her early career with a big corporation to her very own business, MileZero. A firm dedicated to helping medium and large companies make innovation the way they do business. Innovation in a way that is repeatable, sustainable, predictable, and most importantly grows revenue.
Innovation is a buzzword thrown around often by companies and business owners, but what does it really mean? Robyn defines innovation as something new that creates value. And value can be looked at in many ways, money, time, customer satisfaction, employee productivity, the list goes on. In fact, most people, most companies are innovating and they don’t even realize it. We are innovating every time we are solving problems and making adjustments. A natural strive to be better and more efficient.
For companies, there is usually no shortage of ideas, there are often way more ideas than people. However, leadership is focused on short term goals, checklists, budgets, and projections. And innovation is not a short term process, it’s a long term focus. Good leaders and companies with innovation centered cultures nurture both the short and long term, by asking questions, considering options, and listening to the voice of the customer and the voice of the business.
Robyn is a natural innovator, she helps companies be their best at it and she is constantly subconsciously innovating in her own business. Whether it be in her use of LinkedIn posting, or streamlining other processes, she is always thinking of ways to be better. If you’d like to contact Robyn, you can find her on LinkedIn, via email, or visit the MileZero website.
What is innovation?
Challenges and barriers for innovation.
Role of innovation in smaller companies.
What drives innovation in Robyn’s business?
How Robyn uses LinkedIn for business development.
Why it’s hard to let go of things that are not working.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38
Hi everyone. Welcome back. Today I'm talking with Robyn Bolton who is the founder and chief navigator at MileZero. Welcome, Robyn.
Robyn Bolton 0:47
Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. Susan.
Susan Tatum 0:50
It's really good to have you here. This is gonna be a great conversation. Before we dive in. Tell us who you are and what you do.
Robyn Bolton 0:57
Sure. So you already saw my name. I won't repeat that. And I have spent my whole career in innovation. So coming right out of school right out of Miami University, which is in Ohio, I went to work for Procter and Gamble and brand management, and was just pure luck put on a team that a year to the day after my graduation, we were launching Swiffer. And so I was part of that story of creating and developing and testing Swiffer. Spend some a couple more years in Cincinnati during the same thing creating developing launching Swiffer Wet Jet. Then
Susan Tatum 1:37
I have one of those
Robyn Bolton 1:38
Yey! that makes me so happy, then spend some time actually in Arkansas at Walmart, working on marketing and strategy and innovation between p&g and Walmart. I was so with p&g at the time, then moved up to Boston, got my MBA at Harvard, went to work at the Boston Consulting Group, both in Boston and in Copenhagen, Denmark, and then moved over to Innosight, which was clay Christian, or is clay Christensen's innovation strategy consulting firm. And I spent about nine years there, about half of that as a partner, before striking out on my own, very inadvertently, but striking my own, and forming MileZero, which is a firm that is dedicated to helping medium and large sized companies really make innovation, the way they do business make innovation, a capability that is repeatable, sustainable, and predictable. And most importantly, for us the revenue.
Susan Tatum 2:40
So I guess we probably no matter how hard we looked, couldn't find anybody that knows innovation better than you do.
Robyn Bolton 2:47
Susan Tatum 2:49
That's a that's a very impressive background. And I'm i I'm thrilled that you're here today to talk about that. And I, I want us to come back to talking about the move that you made from working with those well known, highly resourced, gigantic firms to to going in business on your own, because I know that there's gonna be a great story there. But let's talk about innovation before we do that, and I think innovation is one of those words that that we all talk about. And so let, what is innovation to you?
Robyn Bolton 3:29
It's a great question. And innovation, totally is one of those buzzwords that everybody uses. Everybody knows is important. But everybody has their own definition. So the way I define innovation is something new. That creates value. That's short. That's simple. There's a lot packed, packed into those few words, but it's something new that creates value.
Susan Tatum 3:56
And I guess in the for profit world, it would be creating value towards increasing revenue or something like that, right?
Robyn Bolton 4:09
Yeah. So the value can be defined a lot of ways. Certainly in the for profit world, you're talking revenue, you're talking profit. But really, for profit, nonprofit, I mean, nonprofit, you can be talking about increasing donations, you know, increasing grant size or number of grants, you can also be talking about things that aren't necessarily measured. And, and money can be talking about value because something's easier to use, or it's faster, or improves, you know, employee satisfaction or customer satisfaction. So, value can be defined in a lot of ways. And for good reason, we immediately go to the dollars and cents, but, you know, it's that and other
Susan Tatum 4:56
Yeah, I mean, culture, all kinds of things would and if you're not, somebody said, if you're not innovating, you're going backwards, it was more elegant than that, but it was like, and I can't remember what it was. But I I guess that comes back to saying that we're we all are or certainly should be innovating all the time, basically.
Robyn Bolton 5:19
Yeah. Yeah. And honestly, I think most most everybody is innovating. They just don't know it because we have this grand idea that innovation is something that is new to the world that has never existed before. and like, yes. And it can be something that is new to your industry, it can be new to your company, or your organization if your nonprofit, it can be new to your function or new to your team. So it really like it. It doesn't have to be an invention of something that is never before created. It's, it's new to be new to you.
Susan Tatum 6:00
That's what I was going to ask you about. So because does it have to be like new? Or is it just I'm doing something differently? As a business,
Robyn Bolton 6:10
it's new, but on a very, very different scales. So you can think about, you know, there's different types of innovation that I often talk about. And one of them is core sustainable innovation, where you think about, I'll go back to my roots to p&g, you have tide. And then you launch mountain spring tide. It's a new scent. So that is innovation, you've added a new scent to tide. It's just not you know, what most people think of when they think of innovation. But it is innovation.
Susan Tatum 6:30
So your work is with companies that are trying to become better at innovating?
Robyn Bolton 6:58
Yes, yes. And oftentimes, they've, they've struggled with innovation for lots of different reasons, you know, they do have that kind of big lofty vision of innovation has to be something new to the world, or they've tried stuff that's kind of popped up in popular culture of like, oh, we need a corporate venture capital team, or, oh, we need to have an innovation team. And, you know, nothing is quite stuck. So that's where I come in.
Susan Tatum 7:26
So what why does that happen? What what are the challenges that get in the way of innovation?
Robyn Bolton 7:32
There are so so many challenges? I think of it. When I talk to folks, I think about it in terms of the ABCs like something super simple, you need to have an architecture around innovation. And so these are, you know, processes, structures, way to capture ideas, way to test ideas, and all of that stuff that feels very comfortable to us as business people like this is the doing that. But that's just that's just A that's just architecture you need to be in C and B is around behavior, and specifically leadership behavior, and how leaders engage with innovation, how the questions they asked, how often they engage. And that, quite honestly, is often the biggest challenge that companies face. You know, I often, very gently and nicely explain to my clients that innovation is not an ideal problem. A lot of people think, Oh, we just need more ideas, and we'll be more innovative. Innovation is not an idea problem. It's a leadership problem.
Susan Tatum 8:40
Meaning that we are not at a loss for ideas. They're just buried.
Robyn Bolton 8:47
there are more ideas than people in organizations. What what's happening is sometimes those ideas, don't know where to go. Sometimes those ideas are getting stifled. Often, what happens though, is somewhere in the mix, no matter you know, if the ideas have somewhere to go, and someone to work on them. The leaders, the senior executives of an organization do exactly what they've been trained to do and hired to do and what you would want them to do, which is they make decisions based on, you know, what are the company goals? What are their goals? What are they incentivized to do? What results do they need to produce? And those are often really short term, you know, what do I have to produce this quarter what I have to produce this year, and innovation is not a short term endeavor, innovation takes you know, 2 3 4 5 years to come to fruition. So when you're a leader, and you have finite resources, you know, like I can spend $1, on, you know, something that gets me a result in three months, or $1 on something that will get me a result, maybe in three years. I mean, the leaders do what any of us would do, like, I'm gonna spend the dollar on something that gets me a result right now.
Susan Tatum 10:07
Because nobody's saying part of your job is to set us up for what we need to have three years from now.
Robyn Bolton 10:12
Yeah, yeah. So say, okay, you've you've got a vision, and you probably have commitments to investors on how big you'll be how much you'll grow. And there's probably a gap between what you can see your way to and what you promised. And so you need innovation to close that gap. So let's, let's make innovation. Let's put metrics around that. Let's tie it into strategy. Let's make it as important to the business and to the individual leader as delivering today's business.
Susan Tatum 10:44
Yeah, which is the long term versus the short term that, in particular, investors would be looking for where that focus is, you know, when we talked before, Robyn, you mentioned something that I thought was really interesting, too, in these, I think, especially in larger companies there, because I think I was whining about how much I did not like working at large companies, because nothing ever got done. And you pointed out that there, there's rules that, that are there for a reason. And, and the focus on making they make a company more efficient. And that efficiency is one of the advantages that large companies have. But following the rules, gets in the way of innovation, it's sort of indirect opposition, right?
Robyn Bolton 11:34
Oh, it's in complete opposition. It's you have this giant company, you know, this aircraft carrier that is designed to do things better, faster, cheaper, and then you kind of have this like, little, little rowboat coming up and be like, No, we have to change. No, people are gonna die. And, and that's why honestly, this is so hard for leaders because you have to be able to like pay to keep that aircraft carrier running, you know, operating efficiently delivering the results, and engage with, you know, this kind of tiny little group of rebels and pirates, and you know, the rowboat, you'd be like, okay, yeah, you have a point too, you know, let me help you grow. And because one day, we're going to need you. But you have to engage in two things that are completely opposite, and nurture both. And that's really, really hard.
Susan Tatum 12:33
Yeah, yeah. And the more people that are involved, the harder it can be, because, yeah, humans just do that.
Robyn Bolton 12:41
Well, naturally, you know, I talk about organizational antibodies that, you know, you see the organization see something new and different and innovative. And just like antibodies, people will swarm, and rarely with the intent to kill, that they kind of love the innovation to death of like, oh, let me help you. So, you know, so and so, you know, he's not going to respond well to this. So maybe position it in this way, or that's going to be really hard to get through legal. Maybe you just change it this way. And so under the guise of helping the new thing, starts to look exactly like the old thing.
Susan Tatum 13:24
It's watered down. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's, that can be very frustrating. I think you said something a minute ago, and that was that we are all doing innovation. We're all innovating. So I want to bring this down. Most of our listeners are not running Walmart, or inventing Swiffers. Though I praise the person that did in a smaller company, and in our own companies, how does innovation factor in there?
Robyn Bolton 13:55
It factors in, in a lot of ways. You know, more than I than I ever dreamed of. Because it really is about, you know, starting with, with questions and problems, you know, you recognize a problem, whether it's, you know, kind of in your own business, something isn't running efficiently, or, you know, customers come to you with a problem. And then you solve it. And, you know, in its essence, like, innovation is about how you solve the problem. And so problem presents itself to you. And as soon as you start asking questions, and considering new things, and considering options, you're in that process of innovation, and then we're like, you know, I'm gonna give this a try. So for example, you know, everybody is on you, like, Oh, you have to, like, advertise on social media.
Susan Tatum 14:48
The shiny object, yeah,
Robyn Bolton 14:51
the shiny object, and you can say, like, you know, fine, I'll give it a shot. I'm just going to start posting not buying ads, but I'll just start posting on Instagram. See what happens. That right there's is an experiment. You're gonna learn something, it's gonna work, it's not gonna work. If it works great, you're gonna do more of that. And, you know, it's continued innovation. If it doesn't work, you'll stop and you'll focus your time and your energy on something else.
Susan Tatum 15:20
So and you know, I can see where, cuz you mentioned that innovation is a result of needing to solve a problem. So even if you're if you're in your business and so the operational people I mean, in that could be your, your bookkeeping, whatever, you know, you're you're, if you're trying to, especially if you see an economy beginning to slow down or tighten up, everybody starts looking at places where there's waste or where things could be better. So it may be something as simple as changing software that you're using, or, or just looking at what you're doing and making sure you still need to do all of this stuff. And I had somebody point out to me the other day, like, why are we entering all of this stuff into the database? I haven't seen it used in a year, and it had just had become habit. Do you think it's fair to say that you need to innovate in order to stay competitive and to stay relevant to your clients? Because the markets are changing?
Robyn Bolton 16:29
Yes, I think that is where innovation is absolutely essential. And kind of going back to that definition that we started with of innovation being something new, that's something, you know, can be a product. Again, that's what most people default to, but it can be a process, it can be a tool, it can be software. So it can be a lot of different things. And, you know, so the form it takes doesn't matter, it's really kind of looking at that and saying, you know, what is the problem that we need to solve. And so, for example, in my business very early on, I was like, somebody told me, you know, you should be more active on social media, and like, a business consulting service, like, nobody's, there's no Instagram, for like that would ever be engaging for consulting. I hope I'm wrong, I hope someone proves me wrong, because I would love to see it. So you know, I started posting daily on LinkedIn. And then I'm like, I don't like getting up every morning to post on LinkedIn. Let me find something else. So then I found a free service where I could queue up 10 social media posts at a time. And then, okay, you know, now my business is getting bigger, I can start investing more in it. And then I invested in a service where it's like, now I can have unlimited, you know, queuing up social media things. So that's really a process of kind of iterative innovation of, I had a problem solved it? thing, you know, context changed. There's a better solution, and then just kind of iterating from there.
Susan Tatum 18:01
So I was going to ask you, what drives innovation in your business? Because if if anybody is innovating and realizing they're innovating, it's you. So how do you make sure that you are doing enough innovating?
Robyn Bolton 18:19
It's, it's a really, really good question. And honestly, most of the time, I don't even realize I'm innovating. I'm just kind of doing what needs to get done and trying to do it in the best way possible. And then I realized in hindsight, like, oh, that fits the definition of innovation - go me. But the way that that I know, like, okay, there are problems, there are things that that can be done better, there are things that require just looking at again, is really, you know, one listening to my clients. And sometimes it's simply them asking a question that I don't have an answer to, and then I'll go digging and researching and form an opinion. And suddenly that kind of takes on a life of its own. And within my business, it's it's a lot of thinking about efficiencies, like, how can I get more efficient at doing things? Is there? You know, is there a service out there? Is there you know, of hiring people? Is there someone who can help me with this, and kind of always having in my head, you know, kind of, we can do better? How can I do this better? How can I make this quite honestly easier? For me? How can I make this a better experience for my clients? So it's really listening to the voice of the customer, and the voice of the business?
Susan Tatum 19:43
I know for me, too, I think that when you're talking about the voice of the customer, sometimes I see that I'll work with a client. And let's say in my case, I've got them they've really identified who their target audiences and they've got a system that's that's finding these people, engaging them getting conversations with them. And then one day, I realized it wasn't going beyond the conversations, they were having conversations, but it wasn't ending up with new business for them. You know, so then just you just start asking questions, what was it the wrong people they were talking to? Is it something in their process? If they're not there, they're not carrying it through the sale. And so in doing that, you recognize other opportunities to help your clients more. And that's the fun part for me. But the other part, the other part, which you mentioned is where you're doing something. And you're like, I hate this. I don't want to spend any more time with this. How can I make it easier?
Robyn Bolton 20:47
Susan Tatum 20:48
And it's either giving it to somebody else or streamlining the process or whatever. That's funny. So you mentioned? Well, you mentioned about LinkedIn that you've been posting on LinkedIn. And I think you I think you said previously that you're always focused on business development. That's been something that's been a Yeah, an initiative for you. And then you also told me that you've posted on LinkedIn every day, I assume every business day? I'll give you that.
Robyn Bolton 21:20
Yes. Business day
Susan Tatum 21:21
Since since 2017. That is that. Kudos. I mean, that.
Robyn Bolton 21:28
Thank you. I can't believe it, but thank you.
Susan Tatum 21:31
So in that, so we're talking this is this is July 2022. Now it's almost July, at the end of the week. 2022. And so that means five years you've been doing this?
Robyn Bolton 21:43
Susan Tatum 21:43
And would you say that you're seeing a good stream of new business opportunities that are coming from that posting?
Robyn Bolton 21:52
No, but I still do it.
Susan Tatum 21:58
That's not the answer I was expecting?
Robyn Bolton 21:58
Well, it's tough because I kind of look at their business development of there's kind of the, the activities that like, I can very directly say, like this conversation led to this project. There's the longer term kind of awareness nurturing. That is how I look at LinkedIn. So things like LinkedIn, like the weekly blog, that I write, like my monthly newsletter, those are things that I do to stay present in people's minds.
Susan Tatum 22:35
Robyn Bolton 22:35
you know, just kind of this constant reminder of like, Hey, I'm here, this is what I'm thinking about. This is what I find that's interesting, because out of sight, out of mind, so so it keeps me kind of in their, you know, in their consideration set in their peripheral view so that when a need comes up, they think of me.
Susan Tatum 22:57
Robyn Bolton 22:57
Then that results in, you know, conversations and proposals and things like that. So, so when I say no, LinkedIn hasn't, you know, result in business, it's like, nobody has ever written to me and like, I read your post on LinkedIn, and you are genius. And now I'd like to give you money to help me. But I don't expect that. And I'd probably be a little weirded out if that did happen. But I do think LinkedIn contributes to the fact that I stay on people's minds. And when they need help, they come to me.
Susan Tatum 23:29
I think also in the way that you're using, it contributes to when some say you meet somebody, and they don't know who you are. And one, first thing they'll do is go check you out on LinkedIn. And they get that consistency that you've had shows them that you're committed.
Robyn Bolton 23:46
Susan Tatum 23:47
And that has something to do with trust, which is really important in in what we do. And then they also get a flavor of what it is that you're talking about.
Robyn Bolton 23:55
Exactly. And they get a sense of my personality too, because I always, you know, when I repost an article, I put a couple sentences with it. And so, you know, you get a sense of my voice and kind of who I am.
Susan Tatum 24:07
Yeah. And it keeps you on your toes.
Robyn Bolton 24:11
Susan Tatum 24:11
Because you got it, you got to stay aware. And you've got to be, I'm sure you don't want to be posting something that there's a 100 if you Google that you get 100 other articles that said the same thing. So it's you're always taught, you know, we, as experts, we have to stay one or two steps ahead.
Robyn Bolton 24:30
Susan Tatum 24:30
What everybody else is doing. Yeah, I'm going back, to where the, I think we were talking about challenges in your business. And this had to do with innovation. And you talked about sometimes struggling with letting go of what's not working.
Robyn Bolton 24:48
Susan Tatum 24:30
Even though you even though you're always counseling your clients.
Robyn Bolton 24:50
Yes. Yeah, it can be, it can be really, really hard to let go of what's not working because I, I tend to have the mentality of like, I can fix it. Like if I work hard enough, I can fix it. I can make it work. And sometimes things just don't work, or they worked in the past. But now, you know, my business. I'm different. And I need something different. So I usually kind of have to bang my head against the wall a couple of times. And then eventually it was like, You know what, again, this phrase, we can do this better. Let me find the better that's out there and then I can let go of it.
Susan Tatum 25:33
What do you think causes that? You need or desire to hang on to something or that just reluctance to let go of it? Is it like a security blanket?
Robyn Bolton 25:42
Yeah, it's its safety, its security. It's what I know. And it's has served me in the past. So, you know, like one of the things that that I really had to let go of and this is comes from entirely too many years spent in consulting, is thinking that the number of slides I produce equals the value that I have created, the more slides the more value. And especially when you work at a big firm, like, those teams go in with hundreds and hundreds of slides. And so you're just like, you have to generate massive amounts of slides. And it was only after several, kind of several client interactions, several client engagements in my own business, that I realized, like, the greatest value is often maybe a single slide or like, not a slide at all, it's just a conversation. And So you know, kind of letting go of I have to create a lot of slides. I mean, like, really voice of customer, what will serve my client? What will create the most value for them?
Susan Tatum 26:48
You know, where I see that occurring as well, proposals? Like, how much stuff can I cram, and the more I cram in this proposal, the more the client is going to see the value of it. When in reality, I think it's the more you get them to find something wrong with it.
Robyn Bolton 27:07
Yeah, don't bore them to death and don't overwhelm them Be like, very clear and concise. And here's what we're gonna do.
Susan Tatum 27:20
Yeah. All right. Well, um, is there anything that I should have asked you about that I didn't ask you about?
Robyn Bolton 27:27
Oh, Think? Honestly, I can't think of anything. We covered a lot of ground. It was we
Susan Tatum 27:38
We did and I've got, yeah, I've got pages of notes that I took here. And I'll get more when I listen to this again. It's been really good. And I thank you so much for sharing all of your experience and knowledge with us.
Robyn Bolton 27:52
oh my pleasure.
Susan Tatum 27:52
Let's, when people want to follow up with you and learn more about what you're doing, what's the best way to do that?
Robyn Bolton 27:57
Yeah, two ways to do that. They both start at my website, MileZero. So zero spelled out z-e-r-o.io So head to the website, you can sign up there to get a weekly email with my blog posts. Or you can reach out to me directly. You can also email me directly at Robyn Robyn@milezero.io.
Susan Tatum 28:24
And I heard you could also be found on LinkedIn
Robyn Bolton 28:26
and I can definitely be found out on Linkedin
Susan Tatum 28:28
all right, well, thank you so much, Robyn and have have a great rest of the day.
Robyn Bolton 28:34
Thank you, you too Susan