Stand and Deliver: Mastering the Innovation Mindset with Jennifer Kenny
by Lisa Gable · 10 Jul 2023 · 10 min read
My Stand and Deliver series highlights women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article is about helping leaders and their teams ignite and embed transformative innovation practices.
I chose to interview Jennifer Kenny because her areas of expertise align with my own work. Her insights on “Women Catalyzing Innovation” and “Innovate Better Together,” piqued my interest, as she presents practical strategies to enhance innovation capacity.
Jennifer and I met via Chief, a private network for women executives aimed at fostering connections and providing support. She went the extra mile by organizing a conversation for members who are also authors, demonstrating her commitment to breaking down barriers and helping other women succeed. As an award-winning author of The Innovation Mindset, Jennifer has a wealth of knowledge to share.
Today, she is focused on building innovation capacity in leading organizations with a specific focus on innovation as a human practice.
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your career and what excites you about your current stage of life.
My background is in systems thinking, in geology—the mother of all systems—and from there I went into technology. I’ve been CIO at Stanford Research Institute and have had a number of other positions at Cisco, Wells Fargo, and other Fortune 500 companies. I have also founded two startups, sold one, and won a number of entrepreneurial awards.
I have been involved in innovation and transformation work for most of my career, either through technology or digital transformation work and process design. Today, my focus is on building innovation capacity in leading organizations, with a specific focus on innovation as a human practice. I am the CEO of 100% Capacity, which is SAAS platform for building and amplifying innovation practices within organizations.
Tell us about a major transition period in your life (major move, career move, family, unique opportunity) and what prompted the change.
A major transformation period was when I moved from geology into technology. Geology, as I mentioned above, is the mother of all systems thinking and is my passion and my love. Anderson Consulting, now Accenture, was recruiting systems thinkers from top schools in the UK, and I was offered a position. I got the equivalent of an applied masters of computer science from them. Thank you, Accenture! That was the beginning of my career in technology.
What are the three top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?
The most important thing in this area, for me, has been recognizing the difference between how women lead and how men lead.
Women tend to pay deep attention, in an extremely powerful way, to the interconnectedness of people, projects, and processes. They also have a strong capacity for perception—the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. These capacities are foundational for robust strategic thinking and an awareness of the implications of the decisions that are being made.
The more we can recognize this and become aware of the value of these traits and qualities, the better we can understand the value of the quality of leadership we bring to the table.
We can also recognize that men tend to operate from a perspective of focus and on what immediate actions they want to take. So their focus is much more on the numbers, the data, and the shorter team results, but they tend to be in a narrower context and highly focused. Hence our obsession with quarterly results and our lack of attention to the long-term implications for both our society and the planet.
If we can understand that balance, then we’re much more able to translate our thinking in a way that men can hear us and be more effectively heard. Whenever you’re presenting, make sure there are short-term focus items, make sure there’s data, and make sure there are action items. Then link those back to the broader, more context-specific work you want to accomplish or pitch.
In summary, the top three tips would be:
Understand your audience, particularly your male audience, in terms of how they lead differently.
Understand how you’re leading differently and then make sure you’re speaking their language.
Recognize the power of your own leadership and that of other women and leverage it to be seen, heard, and valued.
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
One of the most effective things human beings can do in organizations is learn how to make offers. We all work in an environment where we are told what to do, where we wait for orders and instructions, and this is instilled in us through our education system, from kindergarten. Because we have been doing this for so long, we are very unconscious of it.
Once we become conscious of it, there’s an opportunity for us to be able to step out of it and to become autonomous masters of our own destiny, so to speak. From that autonomy, we can exercise deep listening for those around us and particularly for our peers and our own leaders. We can begin to understand the broader context of their work, the broader purpose of their work, and we can design offers we want to make to them that will contribute significantly to what they’re trying to accomplish. We can make offers to people as if they are internal customers. This is not the same as pitching ideas to teams or committees. Making offers is a very powerful personal process that impacts other individuals in a very interconnected way. Over time, we build a reputation for ourselves as people who are innovative, thoughtful, and generous, and others will see us aligned with their work and powerfully able to lead, support, and help them.
Tell our readers about a passion project of yours, why it’s unique or special, and what attracted you to it.
Passion project—What a great question. Of course, I have a passion project. I have many of them, but one particular one I am working on now—and I’ve just submitted the manuscript for—is an exploration of the differences between how men and women lead. About twenty years ago, I recognized a difference between how women lead and how men lead. I’m very interested in exploring the difference and bringing it to life. My book, 100% Capacity: Leverage the Full Spectrum of Leadership Traits for Performance and Profitability, will be out in February 2024.
The book focuses on the different traits between men and women leaders and how we can use those to amplify each other’s capacity and ideally put an end to the gender imbalance in leadership.
Lisa, people like you and I have spent our careers trying to move the needle. I am tired of trying to move the needle. Now is the time for women and men to change the game, so hopefully what I am offering in the 100% Capacity book, associated programs, and SAAS platform will be an opportunity to change the game. It is designed to offer a pragmatic framework for men to understand how to see, hear, and value how women lead, and for women to understand and value the way men lead.
In the future, we would measure 100% of our human capacity, but right now, we only measure leadership based on 50% of our capacity, and that capacity is very heavily skewed toward how many lead.
Who or what inspires you today and why?
Technology has always inspired me because I think technology is a great lever and catalyst for leadership and improving not just our quality of life but also our consciousness.
I think with the advances in artificial intelligence, there’s an enormous pivot happening at the moment, where human beings have an opportunity to be able to move ourselves to a much higher level of consciousness. Ideally, that consciousness won’t be just more consumption. Ideally, that consciousness will be more empathy, more awareness, more understanding, deeper and broader appreciation of our interconnectedness, and a much more powerful ability to be able to listen to one another.
I think this technology gives us opportunities to do less of what I refer to as drone work that really should be done by machines. By progressively giving more of that work to machines, there is an opportunity for us to be able to develop deeper connections with one another, and ideally deeper connections with nature and with our planet, the source of all of our wealth, which is in dire need of our attention and support.
What is a future aspiration?
A future aspiration is most definitely to enable humans and our organizations to be more innovative. Gender balance is a huge driver of innovation, so the combination of innovation and gender balance are areas where my work can have a transformative impact on organizations. By weaving those practices into people’s day-to-day lives, this will allow us to be able to build an amplified innovation capacity and also tap into the other 50% of our human leadership capacity. We can use this to not just deliver on some of the goals that we currently have but to be able to deal with some of the massive problems that we’re facing. By doing this, I am convinced that we can reach higher levels of corporate performance without destroying the source of our wealth—which is, of course, our planet.
Jennifer’s work addresses crucial aspects of corporate culture in today’s complex landscape, including innovation capacity, diverse decision-making styles, and achieving gender balance. Her unique perspective challenges the status quo and calls for transformative change beyond incremental progress. Jennifer aims to bring about a paradigm shift by encouraging both women and men to join forces.
My favorite quote from Jennifer:
“Now is the time for women and men to change the game.”
This statement captures her desire for a fundamental shift in how we approach problem-solving and invites everyone to contribute.
In her blog post “Mastery & Levels of Learning,” Jennifer explores how exceptional conductors foster an environment that enables each orchestra member to excel and achieve innovative solutions. She emphasizes the role of masters who constantly reinvent discipline and approach learning with curiosity. This perspective urges us to embrace collaboration and inclusivity and to challenge the existing order. We can transcend boundaries and shape an innovation-driven future by leveraging our strengths and technology.
Jennifer’s work advocates a holistic approach beyond divisive debates. She encourages leveraging our strengths, embracing complexity, and unlocking our full potential. By prioritizing collaboration and inclusivity, we can harness technology for the greater good. This transformative mindset enables us to make a lasting impact and shape a future marked by collective efforts.
Her message is clear: it’s time to move beyond incremental progress and unite to change the rules by which we have played. Let us leave behind outdated norms and make a lasting difference through our collaborative effort.
What lessons did you learn from Jennifer’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at www.lisagable.com.