The Secret to Standing Out From Competitors

Featured Image for Designing Growth Episode 33 featuring guest Mitch Marcello and host Sam Chlebowski.


Founder of Imago Innovation Mitch Marcello explains why consistent innovation is the quickest path to standing out from competitors and provides advice on how business owners can make time for innovation and involve their teams in the process.

Episode 33 Transcript:

[00:00:00] Mitch Marcello: I surveyed 54 different small and medium sized businesses and organizations and one of the questions was this question – “yes or no, does your organization set aside time to come up with new ideas?”

Sam, out of the 54, how many do you think said yes?

[00:00:16] Sam Chlebowski: I’ll preface this by saying I think it’s probably very low. If I had to guess, out of those 54, I would say maybe a dozen.

[00:00:25] Mitch Marcello: Two.

[00:00:26] Sam Chlebowski: Holy cow.

[00:00:26] Mitch Marcello: Two out of 54 said that they intentionally set aside time to come up with new ideas, which, relating to this podcast and this conversation of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs are problem solvers, right? They see a problem. They wanna build a business or an enterprise to go and start addressing it, right?

But what ends up happening? We go and we set off to do that. And before we know it, the day-to-day, the tyranny of the urgent starta to set in. And we’re doing the same thing over and over. And these people that are incredibly passionate, incredibly talented, incredibly imaginative – all of a sudden are asking themselves: “Wow do we get here? We started in a completely different space and we don’t know how to get unstuck.”

[Intro Music Plays]

[00:01:13] Sam Chlebowski: Happy Thursday everybody, and welcome back to Designing Growth. My name is Samuel Chlebowski, host of this podcast and one of three co-founders at Motion.io. On our episode last week, I talked a little bit about my marketing tech stack – the things that I’m using, the pieces of software that I really love. This week, we are now returning with our first guest in kind of this relaunch. I am very excited to have on the podcast Mitchell Marcello from Imago Innovation.

[00:01:54] Mitch has assisted communities, colleges, architecture firms, law firms, many others to build workplaces where innovation occurs consistently Driven by the belief that a complex world needs innovative solutions.

[00:02:06] Mitch is passionate about assisting leaders, teams, and organizations to understand and realize their creative potential.

[00:02:13] Mitch and I are gonna dig into some of that today. But first, and before we get into talking about larger ideas, philosophy and risk and what it can mean you and your business, first I wanted to ask you, Mitch, how are you doing

[00:02:27] Mitch Marcello: I’m doing great. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:29] Sam Chlebowski: First off, Mitch, I wanna talk a little bit about your business. How did you decide to start a mago? And I know you have one other business partner that you work with, what is some of the work that you’re doing there currently?

[00:02:41] Mitch Marcello: to answer your first question, I did my master’s degree in creativity and innovation at Drexel. Admittedly, when I signed up to be part of that program, I didn’t fully know what it would entail. but as I went through it, learning about the neuroscience, the educational, the different pedagogical approaches, and just how important this is not just in the arts, musicians or poets or what we typically think when we think of creativity, but how this applies to all other domains and is just part of how we’re wired as human beings. And if we were to dig deep enough, and really talk about problem solving, that creativity and problem-solving hold hands, they’re not necessarily synonymous. and that there’s this movement from imagination to creativity, to innovation that needs to be understood in all of these domains to, in order to help us become more effective leaders, to build organizations that people are enjoying working at, and also creating environments where the needs of today’s world are truly.

[00:03:41] Solved and met and approached a certain way. So, it was this deep conversation and learning experience that set me on this journey of, seeing a how important this is, and b how much in need that this is inside of these different organizations.

[00:03:58] Sam Chlebowski: And it’s particularly interesting to me to hear because I immediately draw a lot of parallels to the startup space a lot of it deals with creative thinking and creative approaches to existing problems that can be solved in a different way just because there is one way of doing something, there’s one piece of technology that can help you do something. There’s always gonna be problems with it. There’s always gonna be things that can be done faster, that can be better automated.

[00:04:23] what types of problems are you helping people overcome that creativity can be used to solve?

[00:04:29] Mitch Marcello: So, there’s three things that we do. The first is that we teach, and we work people through a creative process. We work with something called Design Thinking, which is a popular process of innovation. IDEO is the largest and well-known organization that uses design thinking and they really helped popularize it.

[00:04:48] Basically what design thinking hangs its hat on is this thing called empathy. Whenever we come across a problem, our first instinct isn’t or shouldn’t be to come up with one idea and see if we can go and, put that into, implementation.

[00:05:03] What design think. Really suggests and, has us apply, is to slow ourselves down and fully understand the problem that we’re trying to solve. so whether it’s a process, problem or a new product, who are we designing the product for? Are we designing the right thing?

[00:05:17] And then after that, are we designing the thing, right? So after we empathize, we come up with a lot of different ideas, and then we figure out how to do low fidelity, high fidelity prototyping, and then test and gain feedback.

[00:05:29] The second thing we do is help leaders understand and takes risks. Risk is going to be part of every single creative act. And for some individuals or some businesses, they can be so risk adverse. Once they’ve designed whatever process that they’re working through or whatever product that they’ve already created, and they’re not willing to disrupt, they’re not willing to set aside the time and the energy, the resources to truly innovate. One of my favorite definitions of innovation, or at least my current favorite definition is that innovation is “creative solutions that we’re willing to pay for.” But, so few places are willing to actually pay for it with our time, our money, or even the social judgment that can come along with that.

[00:06:13] The third thing that we do is we help build environments that allow for consistent innovation. And there’s some wonderful research that we use as our base, our foundation in that pursuit. but we’ve worked with an architecture firm creating a new drywall product.

[00:06:26] We work with systems nonprofits to reevaluate what their systems are internally that can better support the people that they are serving. We work with marketing companies to, redesign who they are marketing towards, go into different markets and the list.

[00:06:41] Sam Chlebowski: Something that you said really resonated with me, and I hadn’t heard it said that way before, asking this question of, first are we designing the right thing and then second are we designing the thing. Right. I think that there’s a lot of times where companies have really struggled in the past because they don’t design the right.

[00:06:59] thing from the get-go.

[00:07:00] They’re not doing these types of steps with like user validation and going out to speak to the people that are having the problem. It’s more of like a hunch and then blasting it out into the world and seeing what.

[00:07:11] Mitch Marcello: I just wanna affirm that this first part, whether we call it empathy or observation, whatever language we wanna put towards it, that is skipped. so often, because normally what we come across are leaders that say, it’s my job to know what the problem is.

[00:07:26] And when I figure out that that problem is, then we’re gonna go out and set to address it. and we think there’s a better way to do this., you look at these, giant organizations, Google, NASA Pixar, the list goes on, that use design thinking, and they’ve incorporated it into their systems, the way that they operate.

[00:07:45] Because what they realize is that they need to out-innovate their competition. if they want to succeed in today’s world, today’s market, this isn’t just a soft. This is something we should be training, and we should be valuing not just with lip service, but with our resources and with our time to reimagine what our systems and our structures look like in order to tap into the potential. That’s right in front of us.

[00:08:11] Sam Chlebowski: To kind of wrap my head around how you can use these ideas around innovation to both, improve the happiness, the day-to-day work life of your teams, but also build better products, build a better client experience, kind of thinking about all of that collectively is really, really fascinating to me.

[00:08:28] One of the things I wanted to talk about was risk taking, I know that this is. of something that you build into your programs and the businesses that you’re working with. What does risk taking mean to you?

[00:08:40] Mitch Marcello: That’s a great question. During my graduate work, We talked a lot about this thing called the RDCA which is the reason and diagnostic creativity assessment it’s important in the world of creativity research because it was the first time that creativity was quantified.

[00:08:54] And if you’re in research, you understand when you can quantify something, suddenly, it’s validated in a different way in the research realm. And we can start doing different research around it and start validating it in new ways. What Freda Reisman did was separated, creativity into different elements – 12 different elements – things like originality, fluency, flexibility, elaboration, convergent thinking, divergent thinking, resisting premature closure.

[00:09:24] open to new experiences, intrinsic, extrinsic motivation and risk taking. And all of this is to say is that the better you are at these things, the more creative you as an individual. can and will be. And then that said, well, we can actually train in these areas. We can get better at taking risks. We can get better at being elaborative or original or fluent in different domains, different topics.

[00:09:50] So this is groundbreaking in a lot of different ways, but bringing it to risk, we started to understand, well, there’s different types of risk and how do we understand what that really is? There’s three, areas of risk that I, think, that can be helpful to wrap our minds around and really ask ourselves questions of time, of financial risk and of social judgment.

[00:10:08] When I talk to leaders about this, we talk a lot about well, how much time? No one has enough time. I did a small research project, for my thesis I surveyed 54 different small and medium sized businesses and organizations.

[00:10:21] And one of the questions was this question, yes or no, does your organization set aside time to come up with new ideas? Sam, out of the 54, how many do you think said yes?

[00:10:33] Sam Chlebowski: I’ll preface this by saying I think it’s probably very low.

[00:10:37] if I had to guess, out of those 54, I would say maybe a dozen.

[00:10:42] Mitch Marcello: Two.

[00:10:42] Sam Chlebowski: Holy

[00:10:43] Mitch Marcello: Two out of 54 said that they intentionally set aside time to come up with new ideas, which, relating to this podcast and this conversation of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs are problem solvers, right? They see a problem. They wanna build a business or an enterprise to go and start addressing it, right?

[00:11:01] and to provide a solution to it. But what ends up happen? We go and we set off to do that. And before we know it, the day-to-day, the tyranny of the urgent, start to set in. And we’re doing the same thing over and over. And these people that are, incredibly passionate, incredibly talented, incredibly imaginative, all of a sudden are.

[00:11:24] and they’re asking themselves, how do we get here? We started in a completely different space and we don’t know how to get unstuck. And so one of the things that I talk a lot about with, again, this risk, we have to risk some of your time, right? And then eventually we talk about the financial ramifications.

[00:11:39] because there are financial ramifications, by start with social, what feels scary, what feels like you’re just paralyzed thinking, you can put it out into the. What are you afraid that people will say about you? Then the second is, how scared are you to set aside time of you or maybe one or two of your employees to actually start learning or coming up with different ideas to solve problems inside of your organization?

[00:12:03] Sam Chlebowski: When it comes to risk, I think that there’s a natural temptation sometimes as a business owner, once you have your website set or once you have your product released to say like, it’s.

[00:12:12] People are coming in, they’re paying for my service, they’re using this product. We need to go ahead and focus on other things.

[00:12:19] That tendency to say like, we have these services, like what could possibly change in there?

[00:12:25] What I hear from you and what I’m asking myself is, well, it seems like there’s a lot that could change there. And by not setting aside that time, you may be missing out on opportunities to grow your business, expand in new service lines, make your product better, what are some of the risks that you.

[00:12:43] when businesses, business owners, organizations aren’t making time to come up with new ideas and to talk about these problems that they might be able to

[00:12:51] Mitch Marcello: the primary one, is that there will be competitors you don’t think have. Any threat because perhaps you are well established in your area. What you’ve been doing is working. And so what I think is one of the biggest risks is that you’ll wake up one day and that non-com competitor is now one of your biggest competitors.

[00:13:09] What really drives us at Imago is helping people. Products and systems and services that truly meet the needs of today’s world. and it doesn’t feel good to assume that what we’re doing today is, necessarily going to meet the needs of tomorrow.

[00:13:25] So by setting aside that time, how are we continually understanding? The reality of today’s world of society of culture. So we’re able to develop the products and the services that are necessary to meet it. People ask, well, how’s that gonna impact the bottom line?

[00:13:40] I truly believe that when we do this and do this well, our bottom line will improve for a lot of different reasons. Talking about risk I do think that there’s an internal risk when we don’t do this there’s research I was just reading yesterday about these generational gaps inside of organizations. The difference between the boomer generation and millennials and younger What they value, inside of teams and organizations and millennials and younger are leaving jobs they don’t feel that their voices are heard and they’re getting paid less money to join teams that they feel is meeting a real need in the world. And they’re not just pushing paper or just getting a paycheck.

[00:14:20] I was listening to the Harvard Business Review, podcast and they were having this conversation around the ethics of entrepreneurship and what risk is involved in that. And when there’s unethical, business pursuits or entrepreneurial pursuits, in leading teams inside of that – what that can feel like and asking this question: “well, what is ethical leadership inside of these organizations? What does that look like?” And I know everyone will not subscribe necessarily to the same values but caring about, the happiness of your employees is something I would hope, that leaders and entrepreneurs would be thinking about.

[00:14:55] Sam Chlebowski: Another thing I wanted to circle back on that you had mentioned. As kind of one of the foundational pillars of risks and what it means to take risks was that social judgment piece. One of the first things that I think of and something that’s hard, not only for, I think software businesses, but is hard for creative entrepreneurs.

[00:15:15] When they go to work with only one subset of a customer where you see an opportunity. Let’s say you are a web designer, you’ve been building websites for everybody, and you decided one day that, Hey, I want to build websites only for lawyers. These are some of my, like best clients. I know the industry.

[00:15:33] I know how to build these sites, I had never thought about it until you mentioned it, but the hardest part about that I don’t think is necessarily.

[00:15:42] The financial risk, but it’s more about the social judgment of like, hey, I’ve worked with all of these other types of customers before. I still have some of these types of customers. are they gonna say when they come back to my website and see that, oh, I now only work with this one type of business, this one type of individual.

[00:15:59] And I think that that’s a tough case. How would you approach that? How would you coach them through that?

[00:16:05] Mitch Marcello: Yeah, I think I would start by asking a lot of questions around their prototyping. Process, like what does it look like for them to prototype? and what is their commitment level? Is there a way to put something out for a designated amount of time and then gain appropriate amount of feedback, and even some internal conversations or personal reflection?

[00:16:25] And is this hitting any of those benchmarks or those metrics that we’re really looking to hit in that timeframe? And so if there’s a way for us to do something, whether it’s low fidelity, high fidelity, before we go to full implementation, and you know, just full send that thing, uh, that can help us at least minimize that risk and be able to put something out into the world for a certain amount of time and then take that back and then iterate or improve on that.

[00:16:53] Sam Chlebowski: Yeah, I like the intentionality of that approach a lot too, because part of what I’m hearing out of that is like, don’t. Throw something out into the world and hope it works, but rather be intentional about it and say, “here’s what we want our metrics to look like” and “here’s the kind of reception we are hoping for.” And setting kind of like a timeframe almost for yourself and your business to understand, did we meet those goals? Going back to what we said a little bit earlier, it’s really easy to get sucked down into that day to day where you never take that second to pause and say: “Hey, is this working?Are there different ways we could approach this?”

[00:17:26] Mitch Marcello: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Ken Robinson is a huge influence in my life and, you know, as you would say, the difference between children and adults. You know, kids would say if they don’t know, they have a go, right? They go and they, put things out there, they play with it.

[00:17:40] And adults, at some point that’s not correct. and it’s not to say that when we take risk, we just need to take blind risk it’s not to have that conversation. It’s really trying to simultaneously give permission to step into new territory, do something that is going to be life giving to them and their teams.

[00:17:58] while at the same time doing that in a specific way, like you were just talking about, that is measured, and allows us to learn and grow as an organization, and really experience what creativity is all about.

[00:18:12] Sam Chlebowski: You mentioned that within your work, a piece of that,

[00:18:15] also includes looking at systems and processes organizations are using. What are some of the problems that you are helping, businesses and organizations to overcome specifically when looking at like their systems and processes?

[00:18:29] Mitch Marcello: Yeah, that’s a great question. My first response is that idea time and idea support. That would be one of the ways that we work with organizations is looking at their processes. And, most often we discover that the idea time, if there is any, is normally held with a certain group, the highest, hierarchy, right?

[00:18:49] And so we try to tap into the rest of the organization what does it look like for the organization to systematically build in the support that’s necessary?

[00:18:59] Chat. G p t is obviously right now this huge rage. I’ve heard of some organizations at least bouncing around the idea cuz nobody knows how to use it right now, right?

[00:19:08] no one’s really written the manual at this point. And so, people are saying, well what if we create a giant reward in our organization of whoever can come up with the best ideas of how this can assist ours. to use something that no one else knows how to use.

[00:19:24] I haven’t talked a lot about convergent and divergent thinking, but just talking about assessing the systems from convergent like cycles or seasons to divergent cycles and seasons and helping organizations understand where they are in the.

[00:19:39] Whether they are at towards the end or the beginning of a convergence season because they just generated all these ideas and they’re busy implementing and implementing, and then navigating how do we create a season? How long will that be? What is that gonna look like? Let’s actually create specific.

[00:19:54] markers for that, and then let’s expand into the next divergent thinking season in order for us to then again, converge.

[00:20:02] Sam Chlebowski: The Convergent and Divergent, I think you called them seasons. Was that it?

[00:20:06] Mitch Marcello: That’s my language. I like to think of that way.

[00:20:09] Sam Chlebowski: I like that a lot. And it was something probably at least a half of the dozen business owners that I’ve spoken with on this team were doing. it just hadn’t been put into words for me like that before one business owner that I spoke with she had said, okay, great the entire month of December.

[00:20:23] We’re not doing any new projects. We are only doing internal. And she said to her team, pick something that you want to improve in your department. Pick something you think could change like our day-to-day work, it could make us more efficient, it could make our customers happier.

[00:20:38] And let’s talk about that for the month of December. Let’s do a little bit of work on implementation, and then in January, let’s get these systems kind of rocking and rolling. So is that kind of an example of these convergent and divergent seasons?

[00:20:52] Mitch Marcello: That is an absolutely wonderful example. That’s great leadership.

[00:20:55] Sam Chlebowski: I think that that type of work is so important. All of the businesses that I’ve spoken with that were doing this type of work, whether it was for a month, whether it was just a couple days out of a month, and they do it maybe a little bit more frequently, are really thriving, And I can tell you like firsthand, I’ve seen as a fly on the wall, the impact of that kind of,

[00:21:14] Mitch Marcello: One example, there’s a manufacturing plant that does a morning meeting, what they’ve done is that they’ve invited every single morning meeting that they have someone that’s representative from each department into this meeting, to talk about different realities and different ideas that are going on inside of that department just for that communication.

[00:21:32] Really trying to stoke that flame in saying how do they continue to leverage the potential inside of each department? these bigger picture items, start to really, come down to these day-to-day actions and behaviors.

[00:21:47] That’s where we start to see these organizations take off. They are doing something different because they’re taking these conversations seriously.

[00:21:53] Sam Chlebowski: Thank you so much, Mitch, for all the great insights that you’ve had. It really Has kind of shifted the way that I look at entrepreneurship and you know, even to have sort of a lens which to view the work that we’re doing here, but also the work that the businesses we’re ultimately building a product for and supporting are doing as.

[00:22:12] Mitch Marcello: thanks for having me. I really appreciate it and, even the stories that you shared are really helpful to start thinking about implementation and recommendation in, in my own work. So thank you for that.

[00:22:22] Sam Chlebowski: Amazing. So, two final questions before we sign off here. First one, just a business question. If people want to know more about you and the work that you’re doing at Imago, where should they go to find you?

[00:22:32] Mitch Marcello: Yeah, you can check out our website at innovateimago.com

or you can email me at [email protected]

[00:22:41] Sam Chlebowski: Awesome, and we will put links to both of those things in the show notes here. And then for my final question: What are your top three favorite musical acts of all time?

[00:22:50] Mitch Marcello: Top three musical acts of all time. Oh, man. That’s a really hard question. I do love some Billy Joel.

[00:22:57] I’ve been listening to the band Camino a lot recently, really enjoy them. So I used to play the French horn.

[00:23:03] Sam Chlebowski: No way, that’s awesome.

[00:23:04] Mitch Marcello: I’m gonna go ahead and say Bram, I really love listening. I love to play Bram.

[00:23:09] Sam Chlebowski: Very cool. you really Have a big spectrum of music that you’re like interested in just based off those three musical acts alone. That’s awesome. I love to hit people with that question, even if they’re totally unprepared and taken back by it, because I think you can learn a lot from the way that somebody responds on the spot.

[00:23:27] Mitch Marcello: absolutely.

[00:23:27] Sam Chlebowski: Well, thank you so much, Mitch again for your time and this great conversation. This has been another phenomenal episode of Designing Growth. If you were a fan of this episode, you like the content that we’re putting out, it would mean the world to us if you go and leave us a five star review on Apple or Spotify. And, if you don’t like the content that we’re putting out in these episodes, go ahead and send us an email. Fill out a contact form on our website. Let us know how we can be better or what topics you want us to cover. Until then, everybody, my name is Sam Chlebowski, host of the Designing Growth Podcast. Have fun, good luck, and go crush it. 

Submit your response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *