Join us in this engaging discussion as we sit down with Tim Moore, Chief Technology Officer, EVP of SharkNinja, to explore the fascinating realm of innovation scalability. Discover how a multibillion-dollar powerhouse can harness the agility of a startup, delving into the lifecycle of new ideas and the pivotal factors that drive their scalability. Tim Moore provides invaluable insights into maintaining innovation within large corporations, navigating potential bureaucratic hurdles, and the crucial role of seamless inter-team communication.
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Tim Moore (00:00):
So really to scale, you’ve got to recognize that no matter where your business will sit on somewhere of one of these things, if you’re bureaucrat an aristocrat, you need to quickly get back into the collaborative working models of builder, explor and administrator. And if you’re startup and you’re still growing, then eventually you are going to get there. And the key thing there is for those guys, don’t resist process. Process is good.
Lauren Stiebing (00:22):
From LS International, this is the career Success podcast. I’m Lawrence Diving, and on today’s show how Tim Moore has been able to launch successful innovations within multi-billion dollar companies and not get bogged down by too much process. For the past 20 plus years, Tim has been working in design and innovation for companies like tia, G H G, and is currently the chief technology officer and E V P at Shark Ninja. Welcome Tim.
Tim Moore (00:52):
Hi, welcome. And thank you very much for having me today.
Lauren Stiebing (00:55):
So I’ve always found the innovation process so interesting, especially for multi-billion dollar companies. So when you or someone in your team has an idea, a new idea, what happens next?
Tim Moore (01:09):
The first thing I think, just to back up a little bit on way innovation works, the first thing is where does that idea come from? Because actually once the idea is being created, what happens next is relatively straightforward, but actually it’s where does the idea come from? And usually the idea comes from the observation of a problem or an observation of a change in consumer patterns of behavior, et cetera. So once that’s been observed and a problem’s been observed, then engineers, designers, et cetera, can get to grips. Then we’re solving that problem because what basically engineering is all about solving problems and then usually very, very quickly then a prototype will be developed and on the basis of that prototype will then give a demonstration and that will then need to know whether the project gets sponsorship or not or whatever. However, it’s kind of like the way I’m talking now.
I’m talking very much focused on technology and the way that you might pull something through, but really what actually drives from observing the problem of a consumer need, what then actually drives that through into being a very, very successful product. And that’s really been the key thing for me throughout the last 20 odd years. And the conclusion I come to is it all actually depends very much on the mindset. So you can have somebody comes up with a fantastic technology breakthrough, but if the mindset of the surrounding company isn’t there yet, then actually that innovation will really, really struggle to get it out the door and make it a success. And so what is it that really helps like an idea and helps with the mindset? What kind of mindset do you need? My observation is the first thing that you really need is focus, focus, focus.
Usually what happens with a lot of innovation is if somebody has a great idea, observes a problem, creates a fantastic technology or concept or whatever demonstrates it, everybody gets excited, everybody starts dreaming big things, and then the focus whittles off onto the usual day-to-day runtime issues that you’ve got within an organization. And gradually that idea gets pushed to the back of the queue and then it can fades away. And if you look at all the great innovators around the world, all the great successes. So let’s take something which is completely not related to small domestic appliances, but if you look at McDonald’s and Ray Crock and what he did there, he was all about focus. So he didn’t actually create the technology innovation that was some other people who created the production line effectively of doing fast food. He didn’t create that, he observed it and thought, ah, that’s really, really good.
And then he married that with a way of doing business, either the franchising model that suddenly gave him join those two dots together that suddenly gave him the ability to scale the business. That was the innovation leap that he made was joining those two dots together. But then what he did to really drive it to success was the focus and his focus was quick, clean and courteous. And that basically then meant that everybody could trust it. You could get your meal quickly and everybody was nice and polite to you, so you would keep going back in time and time again. You also limited the menu choices so that the menus were then could be delivered very fast and you knew what you’re going to get, you could rely on it. And that pure focus was really to help drive the business. I mean even to the point that when he sort of turned up as chairman of the company, he would turn McDonald’s, the first thing he would do in going through the door wasn’t checking the hand of the manager would go straight to the toilets to find out how clean they were.
And if they weren’t clean then the manager would get into trouble and he was that focused on it. So it’s like a new idea and how do you deliver it and stuff like that. It has to always be, once you’ve got that idea, got to focus on it to deliver it, how can you create that kind of focus within a big organization? And I think this is where the mindset piece comes back again and this time it’s actually about matching mindsets. You can think of people’s mindsets in two sort of ways. You can think of them being a creative state. So do they accept the idea and they like it? They can also have the more energy state. So if you’ve got a cynical mindset, then you’re going to be very difficult to excel an innovation to you. But obviously if you’ve got a very open mindset, then it’s going to be much, much easier.
And you’ve got to then recognize that different groups of people within a large organization have naturally different mindsets. So people for example in marketing have a very, very different mindset to those in deep technical engineering across all different levels, not only just on skill sets, but also between neurodivergent and neurotypical for example. So you get these groups of people and those changes can really rub up against each other. So in a typical business you might have a marketing department and you might have an engineering department and those guys can really rub against each other. Why? Because for example, and these are just sort of random examples, but the marketing department might sort of see changes in the way that business is going. They will want to pivot, they will want to change things quickly, make things happen fast. In engineering, they’ve got the idea and now they’ve got a problem, they want to dig down into that problem and solve it, solve it.
Well tend to be a little bit more linear in their thinking, more focused. What they can’t stand is somebody changing their mind all the time and moving the goalpost. So it’s wafting around. And likewise, marketing can’t stand the fact that a lot of people in engineering can be sitting there sort of just going like, well, no, no, we’re going to carry on going see this through to completion even though it might not be relevant anymore because the bottom of the market’s fallen out and we just don’t need that technology and you might be excited about your technology, but nobody else is now because we can’t make any money on it. So you get those kinds of things and throughout my whole 20 odd years of doing this, I’ve seen that happen so many times and I think a really, really interesting thing to do is to add in a middle layer.
I wouldn’t call it a middle layer, but an interface layer is probably a better phrase for it, where you’ve got a group of people who sit between marketing and sit between engineering who can provide that translation. So when you’re matching mindsets, you really need a translator. So you’ve got two separate mindsets. You’ve got to match the mindsets to get the focus and the way that you match the mindsets is through effectively using a group of translators. In the case of the example I was giving between marketing and engineering, there aren’t too many people who can think like a marketeer and also think like an engineer. A lot of industrial designers can be along that route and there are others who born that way, but it’s a really important thing to do because what that group of people can do is they can recognize the marketeers wanting to pivot and change, but they can filter out some of those and so they don’t filter all of them through to engineering so that those pivots that they do that only last 24 hours, engineering never see.
So it never irritates them, but those that are a bit more permanent and they might recognize when they are more permanent than they have to filter through vice versa. Engineering turning around and saying, no, we can’t do that. We’re going to continue doing this. No, no, that’s impossible. No, that can’t be done. This group of people know to plant the seed, give them some time to work it through and think it through and then get it so they can handle that kind of matching. And once you’ve got that kind of matching, you can maintain the focus, you can actually increase the speed at which you actually develop products with as well, and you could get that really exciting match of taking a new idea and pulling it through to market very, very quickly while at the same time making sure that the innovation remains as well as the market relevance.
Lauren Stiebing (08:25):
Great. And yeah, what key aspects do you think contribute to the scalability of an innovation?
Tim Moore (08:32):
The scalability of an innovation, again depends upon the team around you and then the complexity of the technology. So I think quite a few companies make this difficult thing of making a big, big leap in technology and then they try and pull that through into mass manufacture. That’s usually where it all goes wrong. If you’ve got a core technology that’s fairly new to market, it’s just about the principles of physics and you try and pull that through into mass manufacture, that’s a really, really tough thing to do. It can be done, but it’s very risky. There’ll be lots and lots of problems on the way, you’ll get lots and lots of delays, et cetera. So the thing that I try to sort of stick to is small steps because it’s a bit like alpine climbing. When you’re climbing up a mountain, you don’t take massive leaps up the mountain, you’ll tire very, very quickly.
The best climbers also take small steps and keep your heart rate constant and you’ll get to the top. And it’s exactly the same in innovation. Don’t try to make big, big leaps. They will almost certainly lead to something which is not scalable at that time, even though it might be in the future and also not good commercial success. And if you look at Apple for example, when you think back to when they first launched the iPhone again there you had the classic focus of great emailing device, fantastic mobile phone and the ability to surf the web and full web experience and those are the three things they focused on. Now at the time there were much more technically advanced mobile phones that were really pain in the neck to use, but they had three G, they had g p s, they had et cetera. The first iPhone didn’t have G P Ss in it, it was three G, but it focused on those three things of great email, great internet connectivity, great phone, and left the other stuff to the subsequent launches of the phone, which then added in more and more and more technological features.
So you saw that they took this small step case, so what was the big innovation? Well, it was always about the screen. In that case, they gave this interface that was just absolutely massively intuitive to use, so they really understood the problem of the consumer. They then focused on that and that meant certain things like G p s chip sets were left out, whereas their competitors were still with the stylus and the resistive touchscreen that was a pain in the neck to use and they were just chucking in the technology features. They thought they sold a phone on out of memory and feature sets rather than actual use, but there you get a classic win off the focus. They took small steps to do it, didn’t check all the technology in at once and look at the success that they have today and look where that led them. They were actually at one point selling less foot. Well, they still do, I think sell less for more so from a technological basis, but from a use of case basis. Well, you could argue they sell much more than some of these technically superior products, but from a use case perspective, inferior.
Lauren Stiebing (11:21):
Sure. And I know you mentioned a bit around timeline and speed, how can large companies innovate and scale without becoming too bureaucratic?
Tim Moore (11:33):
There’s this great thing that I kind of like somebody once taught me many years ago, and there’s a great paper by a guy called Lawrence Miller called barbarians to bureaucrats, corporate Lifecycle Strategies, and I’ve worked across from startups up to big corporate, so I kind of sat through this sort of corporate lifecycles over time. What Miller says is that when a startup starts, the leadership is what they call profit base. So you’ve got someone who espouses a great vision and say, look, this is how the world is going to be and this is how it’s all going to work. Then it moves up into this barbarian phase where still you have a very, very strong leader. It’s all about the leader leading rarely about the rest of the team. It’s kind of like a wild situation to be in with lots of usually competing groups of people but still very agile, very much fast growing, very, very quickly.
Then we move into what we call the collaborative phase, which is coming to Miller and I think this is right, the phase of actually the best growth and runtime in a cycle. So if you’re scaling a business from say startup up to here, you want to wind up in this collaborative phase, which is as he calls it, the builder and the explorer. So the builder is all about making things efficient and start putting in systems and process and the explorer is still there going out, pushing on, making things happen, and then you move a little bit further over into what he calls the administrative cycle and the administrator is really about making the builder and explorer more formal. Now the thing that the administrator has got to really get their heads around is one, yes, as the business grows and becomes massive becomes much, much bigger, you’ve got to add more process and more control in.
At the same time you’ve got to keep growth going. Dichotomy growth is that growth equals chaos. You can’t stop that growth if you’re in a high growth business. It is chaotic by its very nature because you’re just all the time running and if it’s chaotic you’ve got to live with that. It’s the old adage of if you want a neat house, don’t have kids because growth leads to a general level of chaos and mess and that’s what the administrator really is going and keeping that balanced is that ability to add the process. As the business grows, you don’t fall over and have a massive problem, but at the same time recognizing you’ve got to allow a certain amount of chaos and growth and usually strategies are that you’ve effectively sandbox various innovation teams. You put them slightly outside of the business so they can run in their more chaotic way.
And then once it gets to a certain level of that innovations looking real, you then drop it down into what you might call a commercial development stream. So you parallel track things and then once you put it into the commercial development stream, it will then deliver in a safe and orderly manner to time to budget, et cetera. Whereas if you let the innovators carry on going with it, you might absolutely suck out the entire budget of a small business and more and not get the thing on time. Then of course if you go too far down that line of control, you then go back into the command zone just as we had profit in Barbarian where it’s all about the leader in the command eventually get to bureaucrat and aristocrat in Miller’s model, which again, it all flicks back to being in command control. It’s a different form of command control because there’ll be committee, there will be people who will be very conservative. You start seeing the split between neurodivergent and neurotypical, they’ll start really wanting the neurotypical behavior more than the neurodivergent behavior and it will become very, very slow moving and innovations and stuff like that will be seen to be not good news and they will typically want to quash them because they just cannot handle the idea of chaos. It’s got to be absolutely buttoned up and under control and no way move at all from that. And of course eventually the markets move on and those companies eventually become aristocratic and eventually die.
Lauren Stiebing (15:15):
Hi, and thank you for listening to our podcast where we speak with leaders who are transforming the consumer industry. My name’s Lauren Tying, founder of Ellis International, a global executive search and talent development firm for the biggest companies in the consumer and retail industry. If you’re looking to hire talent for your team, do not hesitate to reach out to us and myself or someone in my team will be happy to assist you. Now back to the podcast,
Tim Moore (15:43):
Kodak is always the classic example that everybody gives of this when they actually had in the palm of their hand digital technology but failed to actually really use it and take advantage of it because of course they had their interests in film. So really to scale you’ve got to recognize that no matter where your business will sit on somewhere of one of these things, if you bureaucrat an aristocrat, you need to quickly get back into the collaborative working models of builder explore and administrator. And if you’re startup and you’re still growing, then eventually you are going to get there. And the key thing there is for those guys, don’t resist process. Process is good, don’t resist it, but at the same time, don’t lose your chaos either. For those over in bureaucrat and aristocratic, it’s like you’ve got to start feeding in more chaos and you’ve got to back off a bit on that process, but get to that point that will allow you then to start really being able to scale innovation through being able to have the innovative product development stream that pumps your ideas and creates your ideas and stuff like that.
And then when they’re ready, get all the relevant stakeholders together into a meeting, make sure their mindsets are aligned and then it drops down into the commercial development stream and boom and off it goes. And if you’ve got that focus right from the get go, from the way it drops down from innovation to commercial and you’ll get through very, very quickly, you’ll get through with success and you’ll be able to then keep on scaling this and keep on running it because it’s not tiring. Tiring is when you have all of these arguments internally and politics and blah blah, blah, blah, blah, you want to put your energy actually into the innovation
Lauren Stiebing (17:11):
And I’ve heard you mention multiple times focus. Would you say that that’s your kind of one key takeaway? If you had to give one key learning, let’s say over these past 20 years of how to make successful innovation, is that what you would attribute it to?
Tim Moore (17:26):
Yeah, focus the moment you’ve got the innovation there, you come into the cloud, so there’s this period of where you’re in the cloud where you’re still creating the innovation and that’s the point where you try out your demonstrators, you go to people and you think through, but the moment you get to the right, we’ve got this right? You’ve got to then focus. Otherwise it never goes anywhere. It’s focus, focus, focus for the delivery, but you’ve got to front end it with this sort of kind of fuzzy thinking and you still got to be focused in that. What I mean by that is I sound contradictory. What I mean by that is you’ve got to time bound the length of time that you’re going to think about something because I think lots of people say they do the fuzzy end thinking and they just let it drift and drift and drift and that isn’t focus.
If you’re letting it drift, what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to say, right, we’re going to let this roll for a month or two months and this is roughly where we’re going to go spec to. And then if at the end of that two months you’ve got nowhere and you still don’t really understand whether this is a viable product, whether the technology will really deliver what the market really wants, then drop it, move on, get another focus. It is focus on everything. I guess my kind of thinking to it is when you’re innovating, you’ve got to have this sort of zone of cloudy, fuzzy thinking and then you drop into real hardcore focus, but even within the fuzzy thinking, you’ve got to time bound it. If you don’t time bound it and you don’t have a goal that you’re going for, even though it might be vague innovation, you won’t get nowhere. You’ll just sit in a perpetual loop of swirl of just going round because nobody can agree on anything.
Lauren Stiebing (19:05):
Alright, Tim, well thank you so much. This is all very, very interesting and yeah, thanks so much for joining me today.
Tim Moore (19:13):
No problem at all. Really enjoyed it. Thank you. Thank you for listening and thank you for having me.