David Schonthal, How to Overcome People’s Resistance to Innovation and Change – InnovaBuzz 470

David Schonthal

David Schonthal, The Human Element

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, David Schonthal, an award-winning Clinical Professor and Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Kellogg School of Management where he teaches courses on new venture creation, design thinking, healthcare innovation, and creativity. David is also co-author with fellow Kellogg professor Loran Nordgren, of The Human Element (Wiley, 2021), a book about overcoming people’s resistance to innovation and change.

Outside of Kellogg, David has been a practitioner of entrepreneurship, design, and innovation for over 20 years. He has spent a decade working at the world-renowned design firm, IDEO, and currently serves as an Operating Partner at 7Wire Ventures, a healthcare technology-focused venture capital firm. David is a Global Advisor at Design for Ventures (D4V), a Tokyo-based early-stage venture capital fund that invests in design-led Japanese startups, and is the Co-Founder of MATTER, a 25,000 square-foot innovation center in downtown Chicago focused on catalyzing and supporting healthcare entrepreneurship.

In our discussion, David talked to me about:

  • Human behaviour that underpins the resistance to change
  • Being problem-focused rather than product-focused
  • Co-designing solutions by framing changes as an experiment

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

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Problem-oriented innovators and entrepreneurs are less concerned about the thing that solves the problem. They are relentless in their focus to solve the problem in any way, shape, or form. @DavidSchonthal on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

Show Notes from this episode with David Schonthal, Co-Author of The Human Element

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • People who are problem-focused in their innovation agenda tend to be more resilient than people who are product-focused.
  • People who are product-focused usually give up when they encounter some headwinds in the market and their product doesn’t work, because they don’t necessarily have another idea of a product that can solve the problem.
  • Problem-oriented innovators and entrepreneurs are less concerned about the thing that solves the problem. They are relentless in their focus to solve the problem in any way, shape, or form.
  • Product-market fit is only one side of the innovation continuum. The other side is making sure that the people in that market are comfortable in adapting it and integrating it into their lives.
  • It’s important to spend time thinking about all the forces of friction or resistance that our idea will face the moment that somebody has to make a choice about whether or not to adapt our idea and integrate it. 
  • We need to understand sales from the demand side versus the supply side.
  • Salespeople need to think about themselves as being in the business of helping others make progress rather than just selling a good or a service.
  • Sales is helping people make progress. It is helping people achieve their goals in life. 
  • The 4 Frictions to Innovation and Change:
    1. Inertia – Human beings have a very surprising allegiance to the status quo no matter how good a new idea is or how compelling a change is.
    2. Effort – the amount of physical, mental, and economic exertion required to implement the change. It can also be the ambiguity of how to get it done. Ambiguous processes require a lot more mental and cognitive effort than straightforward processes.
    3. Emotion – We can negatively affect those we wish to help by causing them anxiety, fear, or intimidation because of the new solution. 
    4. Reactance – is people’s aversion to being changed by others, especially when they feel it is being imposed on them. It doesn’t matter how good an idea is. If it’s coming from somebody else, people will naturally push back with almost equal or greater force than the change regardless of what the nature of change actually is. 
  • Each type of friction to change requires different remedies.
  • Having the ability to forecast frictions that will likely impact your change or strategic shift, enables you to design mitigation strategies and approaches to help the transition happen more seamlessly.
  • Strong data sometimes make the reactance worse. Engage people in a conversation rather than telling them what to do and presenting them with a realm of data. Seek their advice on what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation. It completely changes the dynamic, because it then becomes more personal for them. It engages them in a dialogue and in co-designing a potential strategy,
  • Don’t ask questions that people are inclined to say “no” to. Ask them a question that they are inclined to say “yes” to because it engages them in a conversation. And whether you agree or don’t agree with each other, you are having a dialogue instead of making it a one-way sales pitch or volume of data.
  • One of the remedies for inertia is to make an unfamiliar idea more familiar. Just because something is innovative and can do a lot of things, doesn’t mean that you should amplify all of its newness and innovativeness, because it can overwhelm people. It can make them feel uncomfortable, anxious, nervous, and trigger that sense of inertia. No matter how innovative an idea is, the key is to make it feel more familiar to people to warm them up.
  • The key to managing friction is to first identify which frictions are present because each of them have different remedies.
  • Co-design solutions alongside your people. No matter how good or strategic a change is, there will always be some trepidation and resistance simply because people feel they weren’t involved. 
  • Co-design with your customers. Just having a seat at the table and feeling that their fingerprints are on whatever the change will be could make a big difference, because there is now a sense of inventorship and the feeling that they were heard and listened to in the process. 
  • Frame new things as experiments. It might be the first step to a more permanent solution, but labelling it as an experiment or a prototype very early on diminishes the bite of a change.
Sales is helping people make progress. It is helping people achieve their goals in life. @DavidSchonthal on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are David’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative – Travel. Have a traveler’s mind. Having the ability to look at and reframe things differently is essential. 
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Expose yourself to a number of different domains and functional areas. Surround yourself with people that amplify those multiple disciplines.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation –  Reading the newspaper. 
  4. Keep project/client on track –  Communication. Keep people up to speed in what you are doing, over-communicating, and getting input. Externalise your work. Get those ideas out on the table so that they can be discussed and embraced more by people.
  5. Differentiate – Reframe problems in ways that other people haven’t reframed them and start asking questions. Listen with no judgement. Listen with an open mind.

To Be a Leader

Don’t get so wrapped up in the “what” and start thinking about the “why”. Great innovators look at the casual and correlative relationship between things. Ask WHY more. 

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank David through his email.

Suggested Guest

David suggested we have a conversation with his co-author, Loran Nordgren, and one of the principal architects of the Jobs to be Done theory, Bob Moesta. So Loran and Bob, keep an eye on your inboxes for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of David Schonthal.



Cool Things About David

  • As much as David would like to think he’s one-of-a-kind…he’s actually a triplet.
  • He lives just outside of Chicago with his wife Erin, and kids Annie and Teddy.
  • He earned his MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and his BA in International Relations from Boston University.
Externalise your work. Get those ideas out on the table so that they can be discussed and embraced more by people. @DavidSchonthal on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

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