Global Head of Innovation at Microsoft Talks About Fruit Bats and Innovation
“I will always take passion over skill because innovation is about failing many times until you find that great idea and that takes passion.”
JC Oliver is the Global Head of Innovation at Microsoft and is a BBC Award Winning Multimedia Programmes Producer amongst many other awards and roles. So when it comes to innovation, he is one of the best globally.
As usual I was being cheeky and asked him “If you had a choice between someone skilled yet low on passion vs. someone who is passionate but low on skills which one would you choose” he immediately said “always go with passion! You cannot teach passion and that translates into your entire team”
Innovation is about failure many times until you find the idea that works and the only way you can make it through such a process is when you are full of passion”
He talks about how putting people on tasks they already know will get them board easily, you need to challenge them with things to innovate, maybe a research about fruit bats!
I’m sure you will find this episode amazingly innovative and funny!
Until next episode
Welcome back to Passion Sundays. Our topic today is an interesting twist on passion. Innovation- very big word, everybody is using it. Governments, corporations, entrepreneurs, the whole world wants to talk innovation. But my interest is, how does passion affect innovation? Our guest today, the Global Head of Innovation from Microsoft, J.C. he has been very kind to offer us an interview today.
Moustafa: J.C, thank you very much for having us here today.
J.C: Not a problem! Glad that we could do this on a Saturday night because it shows we are passionate
Moustafa: It doesn’t get more passionate than this. The obvious first question- how important is passion for people’s lives?
J.C.: It’s absolutely the fundamental ingredient. Right? Whether it’s professional or personal, anything you do in life, you need to be inspired. And passion drives you on. And I always say, when I look to employ people or work with people, there are 3 key areas. The first one I look at is knowledge. You’ve got to have knowledge in what you do. Second one is skillset. And these 2 you can teach people, right? These are things that you can learn over time. And the third one is passion and attitude. You can’t teach that, you might be able to tweak some things in people’s understanding and their value set but unless they have that passion, it is very difficult to try and teach something like that. And it’s something that can translate into the entire team, onto the culture of business and into your life. If you’ve got great passion then it gives people a positivity. It’s positive energy that you give out. No one wants to work with anyone with negative energy, you know, constantly saying “no” when you’re dealing with innovation. It’s never going to get you anywhere. So, you have to have passion as the most fundamental ingredient, just in life, in whatever you do. Because, work and life today blend very easily and someone can’t be passionate at work and not be passionate in life. Every day is different. We’ve got to think about how we progress and that is why it’s so important.
Moustafa: Amazing! However, let me throw you a curveball. See, it is very easy to compare apples to apples. You have got 2 people with the right skillsets, you take the passionate one. However, what if you had to choose between somebody who is very passionate but not very good at what they do versus somebody who is very skilled but not really passionate.
J.C.: We’ve always gone with passion because again like I say, you can teach the skills over time. So, as long as people have, what Jack Welch used to call “Runway”, whenever you give someone a new job or whenever someone takes a new job you always have to make sure that people have runway that they have got space to move into. If you employ someone who is highly skilled in a job that they know, they can get bored after a while especially if they are not passionate. Then, it’s not going to be good for the team, it’s not going to be good for the culture, so absolutely! Every time, ten out of ten, you always go for the most passionate person. Obviously, if they’re slightly not all there in the head or we can’t teach them anything, then you might have to look for a third person. But, as long as someone is relatively of sound mind and understanding, you always go for the passion every single time.
Moustafa: And does that differ from industry to industry? Because the assumption is if you are in a Microsoft setting or something that requires that high level of innovation, then maybe you’re willing to go for passion because there are other people that are doing the technical work. Do you think that changes the experience or the requirement for passion?
J.C.: Not really! I mean passion is fungible right? So, fungible is a mutually transferrable asset. So, whether you are on the technical side, whether you are on the creative side, whether you are the office EA that does people’s diaries and makes sure people are…If you don’t have passion for that, in whatever you do, then it doesn’t make any difference. It is a fungible asset that you have to have because not everyone will be working for Microsoft or Google or Facebook all their lives and you’re not always going to have the same roles. So, you know, people change, the people that you deal with change and so you need passion as a very fundamental.
Moustafa: How important is it for you and for the company to invest in helping people find their passion in life? As you know, a lot of people have evolved into new roles (04:13) specifically in innovation. It is a new thing and people find themselves from different departments operating in innovations now.
J.C.: I think you need to at least look at who they are and what their value set is, you can’t just fire people on the spot, you know, that would be counter-productive they’ve learnt something. I always think that people are fit for purpose for a role and if you find people within a role over time, where they are not passionate they haven’t got the energy. They’re not driving themselves forward in the right way. Then you have to have a conversation with them for sure. You have to sit down and say, “Look what is it that’s not driving you forward”. And it could be the company culture, could be the role and they could be something personally you know it can be in their private life which is affecting the way they are doing their work. I think you got to look at all the circumstances before you reach the point of saying, look this relationship is not working. The thing with life is that you can be passionate at a fundamental level all of the time. But when you really wanna drive energy, when you really wanna make change, it is very difficult to keep that level at all times. Most of our life is fairly boring tasks like driving to the office, making a cup of coffee. You know you cannot be passionate at all those times. You’ve gotta prepare and build for those moments of true change, of true impact and influence and so you cannot be 100% all the time. But if someone has an underlying issue with how we are working on a project or how we wanna take the business forward with a north star of where we wanna go. Then you have to question, are they are the right person that’s gonna be in the team. Or can we put them somewhere else, I mean there’s a number of cases, an old boss of mine, he used to say there was a guy in his team who is about to be fired from Microsoft. And he looked to him and had a chat, there is famous book called “The One Minute Manager” which you give an assessment on a regular basis. And this guy by putting in a different team & he became Interstellar. I mean he was fantastic. I recently had lunch with him recently in New York, he’s doing great, and so it’s just depends on sometimes the context is wrong it is not necessary the person, it’s just the way that they fit within that team and if they’re not fit for purpose, then try to find something else before you think about potentially letting the leave the company.
Moustafa: Now, to the most important question we are talking how does passion bring more innovation into the workplace. I know there’s been a lot of research. Harvard talks about how Passion & happiness increases innovation. But it is always good to hear the non-academic part, the on the ground part & there’s nobody better to talk about it.
J.C: Well, I mean, that Harvard business review article was absolutely fundamental. So, Passion is key alright. If people look for that over education, they look for it over anything. You can theorise it a lot but it comes down to a very simple fact – do you have positive energy? Right? Do you wanna interact & collaborate with people? Because a fundamental part of innovation is collaboration. And if you don’t work well with people, if you don’t communicate your ideas in the right way then you are going to struggle when you are trying to really innovate because most of the time innovation is about failure. You produce a lot and a lot of it is rubbish right? We talk a lot, everyones got great ideas but those ideas are not always well executed, so you have to kill the ideas before they kill you. There is only a couple that really make it through. And if you’re not positive, if you don’t have the passion to drive forward when everyone saying No, No, No this isn’t gonna work, or when it fails to then get back up and say right, let’s try something different, let’s try and think about how we change the way we do this or are we just going down the wrong road. You’ve gotta have passion because otherwise the people who are on that team trying to drive it forward, then you’ve just never gonna survive & especially within innovation. Again you might be right for another part of the company but when it comes down to thinking about how you innovate, how you try new things. If you’re not someone who is adventurous, who wants to explore, who wants to collaborate, who has imagination, they’re the three areas that I talk about, I talked about this week is imagination, collaboration, exploration they are very fundamental to the human psyche and the human make up. And there’re the type of people who truly innovate. If you can’t imagine, if all you only think about is getting from A to B, then you are probably not right for innovation because with imagination you get from A to anywhere. And you gotta be able think and perceive things in a different way. So, yeah, it’s absolutely fundamental to innovation & we talk a lot about data & intellect today. Have we got the right data, have we got the right technical insight? Every one’s got great data. All companies have big data now & there’s a lot of it around. I described it as we have to look at the data in order to decide how we move forward. So for instance, would you go for an exam, if you had access to a library, all the information in the world & you are going for an exam on Fruit bats? And someone says- Moustafa you can go to the library and research fruit bats. You said, No actually I don’t want to do that. I am just going to take a flyer on that test. You’d never do it, right? You’d go to the library and you’d research fruit bats because that’s what you’d wanna do. You don’t want to put yourself into a position where you are taking a risk. That’s why we use data. But all the data in this world is great but it is knowledge it is not wisdom. That’s why I say to people that knowledge is not equal to wisdom. Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience and passion. And when you put three of those together you become wise or wiser. It’s an innovation within itself because you iterate, and you learn and you learn as you go. If all we do is rely on intellect and data, which alot of companies are doing today. Ahh… we’ve got the right data and we must be right with innovation. Then, a lot of those people will fail, it still comes down to that fundamental point of having it in your heart as well as having it in your head.
Moustafa: I love how you linked all those things together. We could not have found a better ending for this episode.
Moustafa: I think we have just actually now merged two things together. We have got passion and innovation and that is Passionavate!
J.C.: And who would have thought we would have got fruit bats in.
Moustafa: So Passinnovate!
J.C.: Sounds like a new company (Jokes)
Moustafa: Thank you very much, awesome
J.C.: Thank you man.
Moustafa: I am sure you loved and enjoyed this as much as I did and Passinnovate!
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Until the next episode