CHICAGO — Agnostic innovation with intention to disrupt: an apt description of the Unleash WD Summit and its 17 storytellers from unrelated industries. Brought together by Dirk Beveridge, president and CEO of 4th Generation Systems, and founder of Unleash WD, each speaker shared ideas that to some HVAC wholesale distributors may border on absurd. For those looking to remain competitive, however, these absurdities could be the gateway to their company’s next evolution of genius.
The speakers at Unleash WD were described and called storytellers. Here are some quotes taken directly from the sessions they led. What can you lift and shift from the list?
• If you want individual expression you need to take down the boundaries to that.
• If you aren’t in a place to make a company-wide change, make these changes in your department or sphere of influence. It is OK to start small.
• Don’t coach your employees only when something is wrong. Create a culture of accountability and respect simultaneously.
• The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
• It’s not the numbers in your network; it is the breadth and depth of diversity in your network. It’s useless if you don’t use it.
• Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
• Know the boundaries and create your
• Start leadership earlier for every
• You can’t bore people into liking you.
• It’s not all about you. Don’t be so self indulgent or self promotional.
• Position your genius against what the world needs.
• Don’t always change your product, change your story.
Jay Steinfeld, founder and CEO of Blinds.com, Houston, shared these suggestions with attendees at Unleash WD.
Five Values of Blinds.com
• Improve continuously.
• Experiment without fear.
• Help people achieve what they never thought they could.
• Encourage individual expression.
• Enjoy the ride.
Five Steps to Unleash Change
• Understand who you are.
• Design your environment.
• Hire only people aligned with change.
• Eliminate all people unaligned with change.
• Communicate and reinforce change.
“Unleash WD is an industry conference with no industry speakers,” said Beveridge. “The summit seeks to bring outside influences into the industry to move attendees and the wholesale distribution industry from best practices to transformational next practices.”
To do this, special guests hosted lift and shift sessions after different sets of speakers. The concept and terminology is based on an the idea that attendees can listen to other business ideas and practices, break the concepts down to basic principles, and extrapolate different meanings and applications for their business.
“Lift and shift is the Unleash WD concept of taking the best idea from other industries and applying them to wholesale distribution,” Beveridge explained. “By listening only to wholesale distribution experts, companies may seek to improve their practices rather than to experiment with entirely new business models.”
Jay Steinfeld, founder and CEO of Blinds.com, Houston, started the conference with an intimate look at his company’s atmosphere and way of doing business. With only a 5 percent turnover rate, Steinfeld explained that he has found success with his employees by creating a space where they can feel safe, recognized, and able to experiment without fear. The office is bright, colorful, and has open areas to collaborate. It is a rule at the company that everyone is allowed to sit in on any department meeting, and the practice is encouraged.
Although Steinfeld spent a considerable amount of effort in creating an open and collaborative atmosphere for his employees, he stressed that this atmosphere wouldn’t mean much without the drive to constantly improve. In fact, it is one of the questions asked during the interview process at the company, “What are you doing to improve your personal life?” The phrase continues to remain relevant once hired, as it is written on a white board where employees can write their personal goals and projects each month.
“Improving is a way of life,” he explained. “Being in the continuum of improving, that is the definition of success. I set goals and I reach goals, but my goals do not define my success. If you are only successful when you reach your goals, then you define yourself as unsuccessful every other moment.”
Steinfeld illustrated his point by discussing the larger-than-life glass test tube found at Blinds.com. In it are some big colored marbles as well as quite a few smaller clear marbles. Each marble signifies a business experiment taken on by the company and its staff. The large colored marbles signify the success of an idea and the clear marbles celebrate the failure of an idea, according to Steinfeld. His point with the test tube was to provide a visual picture to his employees that recognized the overall efforts of the staff to be innovative as opposed to only herald the successes.
“Don’t make your goals your definition of success,” he warned the audience. “Make your definition of success continuous improvement.”
Set Creative Boundaries
In looking directly at innovation, Curt Hill, vice president of Customer Assurance for Cisco, San Jose, Calif., discussed the need for creating a culture of innovation. What he didn’t discuss was installing a large slide, a free snack bar, or nap pods like those found in Google headquarters. Instead he honed in on the need to set an end state before setting the staff loose to innovate. The key, he explained, is to know the boundaries that innovation must occur in. Hill illustrated his concept by referring to a bowling alley. The pins are the end state and the gutters are the boundaries. In essence, the staff can bowl or create all they want, but their goal remains the same, and they must stay in their own lane and within the boundaries.
“Make your end state as simple as possible,” said Hill. “Once you’ve set the end state, set the boundaries. Then let the creative juices flow.”
For more information on the conference and its storytellers, visit www.unleashwd.com. While there, take advantage of the resources, webinars, and other items that Unleash WD provides for wholesale distributors.
Character Traits of a Courageous Organization
Brad Lomenick is the president of Catalyst, a leadership conference company based in Atlanta. His story explained that leaders loved to get better at what they do and that they love to make their organization better.
“To do this, it takes courage; the ability to do something that frightens you,” he said. “Here are eight character traits of a courageous organization.”
• Pass on responsibility and authority — Hand off situations before you need to.
• Allow for failure — Encourage and reward innovation and forward leading. Be fearless and never discourage.
• Set scary standards — Your level of excellence should be almost
• Focus on action — It’s about making it happen, not theory. Courageous organizations need decisive decision makers that are all about application.
• Lead yourself first — Leaders need to be self aware, they set the tone. Ask yourself, “How am I as a leader?”
• Embrace uncertainty — Leaders bring calm and direction to chaos.
• Pursue the right opportunities — Be disciplined. Learn to say no more often and yes to what is in your strike zone.
• Cast a compelling vision — A single act of courage is often the tipping point of innovation.