AlchemistX: Innovator Inside

E.05 - Christi Zuber: Innovation by Design

Published on

April 9, 2021

Christi is the founder and managing director of Aspen labs and holds a Doctorate in Design and Innovation from Coventry University. She's also on the faculty of Northwestern and has served as Fellowship faculty for Arizona State. This all is the culmination of a distinguished career in Corporate Innovation that now leaves us fortunate enough to have her on our show!

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Show Notes & References

Links:
Christi Zuber on LinkedIn 
Christi Zuber on Twitter
Youtube Channel for Aspen Labs
Linkedin Page for Aspen Labs
Website for Aspen Labs
Medium for Aspen Labs
Free Willy - A movie reference by Christi about a boy and a whale
Nightline Special - IDEO had been interviewed with Ted Koppel 
The Harvard Business Review - has an article on Intuit for their Innovation Catalyst program and Kaiser’s Innovations on the Front Lines.
Aspen Groves - The inspiration for the name of Christi’s organization
Crip Camp - a documentary film referenced by Rachel about the origins of the ADA and the disability advocacy movement
How Full is Your Bucket? - A children's book referenced by Chrisit about the give and take of human relationships
Henry Kaiser and Sydney Garfield - the founder of Kaiser Permanente  and their The Innovation Consultancy for Kaiser Permanente. Founded by Christi 
Yale Wellbeing Course - A course in wellbeing that Christi took with her colleagues
CareBoard - A tool Christi helped develop that serves as a way for better communication in hospitals
Nurse knowledge exchange -  How nurses communicate
Intro and Outro music composed by: www.PatrickSimpsonmusic.com



Rachel Chalmers:

Today, it's my great pleasure and privilege to welcome Christi Zuber to the show. Christi is the founder and managing director of Aspen labs and holds a Doctorate in Design and Innovation from Coventry University. She's also on the faculty of Northwestern, and has served as Fellowship faculty for Arizona State. This all is the culmination of a distinguished career in Corporate Innovation that included founding and directing The Innovation Consultancy for Kaiser Permanente. Christie, thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Christi Zuber:

It's a pleasure Rachel, thank you for inviting me!

Rachel Chalmers:

Always great to talk to you. Can you walk us through the work that you did at Kaiser?

Christi Zuber:

I would love to walk you through my time at Kaiser. I was there for about 16 years. It was a pretty interesting and elaborate path. I actually came in through Kaiser in their finance area, which is a bit unusual. I don't necessarily have a finance background. It was a Big 5 Consulting company and they wanted someone with Healthcare experience. They were trying to set up some sort of internal thing there at Kaiser. I said, I'd be happy to come in because it's an amazing organization. But my request was within about two years that I would be able to get closer to not providing direct patient care but affecting patient care. That's really where my passion is. At about that one and a half to two-year mark, I started saying, okay, we're getting close, I'm ready to start getting into that space and it was right about the time when IDEO had been interviewed for the Nightline Special that Ted Koppel did. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Yes. It's an amazing video. 

Christi Zuber:

I always wonder how many people were affected by that in some way shape or form. Either where they became interested or sold business off of it or something.

Rachel Chalmers:

A lot, I think. We'll link to that in the show notes. But yeah, it's still worth watching 16-18 years later. 

Christi Zuber:

Yeah, and you'll notice it when you watch how much the technology examples and things have changed. It definitely dates itself in that, but the lessons behind it are pretty classic - tried and true. So, that was one of those times and they were talking about how we can innovate all sorts of things. They gave the example of how we can innovate from an electronic well from the Free Willy movie, into a pair of tennis shoes or defibrillator. These things don't presumably have anything to do with each other, but it's the way in which we do it. At the time I was doing work for our COO and she had said, “This sounds like some of the things that you talked about in your past” - I was a hospital administrator at a children's hospital before. I'd handed out disposable cameras and asked the kids - because at the time that was what there was available - this was the 90s. I had the kids do little pictures and take journal entries of their experience while they're in the hospital.
Particularly kids that had cancer and were there for long periods of time. We can use that to try to change around our hospital. This Nightline thing came out with an IDEO and shopping cart and she said, “This sounds like the things you used to talk about in your past.” I watched it and I thought - “Oh my gosh, I found my tribe.” That is what I want to do. What I was doing didn't really have some sort of codified terms for it at the time. It was just patient and family-centered care. When I found out there's a methodology, this human centered design, you can build up your practice - I was hooked and excited. 
She said, “Okay, we'll see if you can talk to them and if you can try to bring this into Kaiser and if we can internalize it ourselves.” At the time, IDEO had never done anything like that. They were helping to create a product of some sort. There we are, a Healthcare organization. So, they said well, “I don't know, it's not really what we do.” We talked about it back and forth and we decided to try it. We actually ended up partnering together for about two years and in that two-year time period, my team and I began to learn and build up ourselves as practitioners. They began to understand how to teach others to do this. It became a whole practice branch for them and it became our internal practice and we just grew it over time. 
Our first entity was The Innovation Consultancy, then we built up and opened up several different Innovation centers in Oakland, California and Washington, DC. All across the organization we have about 210,000 employees - it's a pretty sizable organization. That was how we ended up founding the Human Center Design for Innovation practice across the company.

Rachel Chalmers:

It's so cool. I feel like that moment, the reason that Nightline show was so impactful, was that it was a corrective to what had become a very, almost authoritarian, a very structured technical way of approaching problems. Reintroducing “the human at the center” was welcomed by so many people who wanted to make systems and infrastructure, a lot more humane. I think it was landing on that really fertile soil particularly within an organization like Kaiser, which is so mission-driven. 

Christi Zuber:

Rachel, it's funny you bring that up because what is interesting is that Kaiser was founded during World War II and it started out with a really scrappy beginning. It was all men that worked in the shipyards at the time and it was men that were too old or too sick to be drafted into the war. Henry Kaiser paired up with the physician called Sydney Garfield and their whole positioning was, “If we can keep these people healthy, then they can actually work on these big warships to help in the war, and that was really how it started. 
The preventative approach to, let's make sure they don't get tetanus. Let's treat them before they get the flu and let’s do all these different things so that they were healthy and productive. That was really the start of it. It was a very nimble, agile, and innovative organization. Just like many organizations you grow and you grow and you grow and put in structures. Things that are all very necessary but sometimes you sort of get to a point where, as an organization you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “What happened to our nimbleness? We don't hold that place anymore. We've built up so much of our energy into the structures and maintaining the structures that we've lost that sense of nimbleness.” That's really what was bringing them back into the idea of finding an actual approach and methodology. To be able to do that and find some of the nimbleness and that innovative spirit again.

Rachel Chalmers:

These themes come up again and again in these conversations that we have around Corporate Innovation  . This idea that a Corporation is a bunch of people coming together to manage their shared risk in the first place. Then that risk aversion becomes baked into the structure and it becomes very difficult to take the kinds of risks you need to take in order to manage the risk of disruption. It's always walking that dynamic tension between protecting people, and gambling on future outcomes.

Christi Zuber:

Which makes sense. I mean if you think about most organizations in a way that somebody sort of makes their way up in the corporate ladder. It’s less about taking a risk as it is making sure that you don't end up doing something wrong. I think people in their careers - the way that they work gets more and more protective and safe and you lose the muscle to be able to take it. You lose the infrastructure that supports it. Basically if you want to be a more Innovative company that actually takes risks, then you have to be set up to do that. You have to reward it. You have to set up the systems and the structures to do that and we're not usually set up that way. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Yeah. I call those survival strategies that have outlived their usefulness.  You get really good at navigating corporations as it is, but it changes anyway. It's also true on the flipside those of us who come from early stage and start up backgrounds get into these big corporations. To the people who grow up in that, we must seem insanely risk-taking and naturally we tend to have quite short tenures in these organizations. It looks suicidal from the other side.

Christi Zuber:

What are these people doing in their company or are they just causing total chaos? It very much feels like that. I think it's like anything, if you're in a large organization and you want to behave differently, then you have to build up the muscle and the structures to do that. It sounds so logical, let's bring in people from the outside who have this in their DNA. You have to realize it's like a health care clinician by background and it's like antibodies. You get this thing injected and all your body wants to do is reject it. I think that's where the ability to lead differently - where are the people that are making the place for this within the organization? 
Because it doesn't happen overnight it doesn't happen easily. Strong leaders can understand that there's going to be a rejection of this. How do you hold that at bay for a while? Some of the work that I did - the term that I use is “microclimates for Innovation”. How do you create these microclimates for Innovation within an organization? Because you're not going to change the organizational culture overnight - that takes typically somewhere between five and ten years for a large organization. Those people are going to be long gone by that point. So how do you create these microclimates that can hold it, that can keep it and can begin to show other people in the organization when to model how it's done differently. I think that’s the best way to start to change. Microclimate by microclimate by microclimate, and then eventually you've remodeled it. You've shown it in these spaces and the organization can begin to see how it might be able to do something differently.

Rachel Chalmers:

Right? Or to go back to your antibody metaphor, the intrapreneurs become the vaccine. They persuade the antibodies that the incoming disruption is not a threat and that the system can handle a certain amount of change.

Christi Zuber:

I think so too. I think just even the way you said it is a certain amount of change. I think that's also an important part for people coming into an organization to understand is - an organization is not going to flip itself inside out. There’s parts that will need to be kept stable. Maybe it's 80% of the company. Maybe it's 20% of the company. But it's highly unlikely that the entire thing will shift. So the question becomes, when is it where the organization maintains itself and maintains some kind of course to help to feed these new opportunities for these new growth places to happen? Also being smart about where is if you're coming in from the outside. What part of the organization are you a part of? Because sometimes we lump it in as one big thing. In most big organizations, there's all kinds of different dynamics that are happening in different places. Whether you're coming into work in that organization or you're an entrepreneur on the outside trying to work with them, find those pockets because they always exist somewhere. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Would it be fair to say that with Aspen Labs you are taking the work that you did at Kaiser to a much wider audience? 

Christi Zuber:

Yes, and I'm actually working with many of the same people that used to be a part of my team when I was with Kaiser. When you find great people that you love to work with, you tend to sort of stick together if at all possible. I've brought many of them along with me on this journey. When we did the work at Kaiser, we started doing it back in 2002 and 2003. It wasn't really happening in other places outside of creating different products. Using human centered design as an approach to Innovation to create new service offerings and different kinds of ecosystems. We were far out on the fringe away from the mainstream. Particularly when you layered it into this kind of Healthcare industry space. 
Because of that we had this opportunity to really meet amazing people in industries that we probably wouldn't have met otherwise. Like any other industry, Healthcare tends to stick with Healthcare, Airlines tend to stick with Airlines. You tend to find your flock and you group with those people. For us, the only people that we could be challenged by and learn from were people that were in completely different Industries and organizations than us. We had the opportunity, whether it's through speaking at conferences or being featured in publications where people would reach out to one another. 
I remember the day that Intuit had been featured in The Harvard Business Review for their Innovation Catalyst program. We were featured in the very next one around our Innovations on the Front Lines. We were both frantically trying to connect with one another. We had seen each other featured and said, “Oh my gosh, we're 25 minutes from each other. Why are we not connecting and sharing?” We did and it was a fantastic relationship. I still keep in touch with some of them. Those kinds of things really opened up what I realized was possible. I continued that in founding Aspen Labs. 
I love Healthcare and I will always love Healthcare. That is in a part of me and a part of my purpose. I also love, value, and appreciate all these other industries from a different lens. It’s also about what I can bring back because it's really rich fertile soil. We've had a great time introducing people in different spaces that may not have necessarily met each other, but have a common way that they want to work. Focusing it on people whether it's the customer that you're creating something for, or it might be users inside of your own company. It's been a lovely exciting time for the last several years in creating this whole new network of people together.

Rachel Chalmers:

It's the perfect name for that, the aspen - this huge forest that's all connected at the root. 

Christi Zuber:

Space-wise, it's the largest living organism on the planet - the Aspen Groves. It was an intentional name. We thought about it for a long time. That was what we loved, the idea of people connected together, growing, and being stronger because they are supporting each other. That’s the idea of this Aspen Grove. The “lab” is because we're always learning and always experimenting. That's really what a lab is all about. It is a place for learning and experimentation so we paired those things together. 

Rachel Chalmers:

So, your secret agenda is to take over the planet. Okay? 

Christi Zuber:

Yeah, because we are just a living organism, that's right. Is that weird? I don't know. Should I have said that out loud?

Rachel Chalmers:

We've talked a lot about the successes and the benefits of Innovation but it's never that easy when the rubber hits the road. The devil is always in the details. What are your enterprise clients struggling with the most these days?

Christi Zuber:

It's interesting. I would say several different things. One of the things is that enterprise clients are struggling with who we are now. Is it the same? Is it different? Because for many people fundamentally what they do is shifting. For some it's for the good. If you look at spaces, whether it's telemedicine, for example, new things have blown open. Regulations have changed, reimbursement has changed, all sorts of things. The field is opening up but for many others. 
They're now being forced to say to themselves, “What is it that we're really here to do? What is it that we're really trying to solve? Is where we’re going different than where we are right now? How in the world do we actually change? Do we have that in us? 
That has caused a lot of people to not feel as confident about their path as they did before. Layering into that, the sense that they're working apart. For some people that feels great. For others, they feel very disconnected from one another. When you're trying to have difficult conversations, set new strategies, communicate ideas that are probably better set to be fluid and always changing. But now they're boxed into a 30-minute call with their team on Zoom. That's a different way of interacting and working. I'm seeing a lot of people losing that kind of hallway-watercooler dynamic that keeps the ball moving forward. That piece has broken off. Both the mindset and the vision. Who are they and that underpinning of how that vision gets created and brought into a strategy and executed because of the fluidity of the conversation. It’s all changed.

Rachel Chalmers:

Those two things deeply interconnected your sense of identity and how you build that in relationship and interaction with other people's sense of identity. It's interesting, because that's clearly happening both at the corporate level as corporations search for their new unique selling proposition. But also at the personal level. The number of friends I have who got laid off and are now pursuing the tailored garment business or training to be a death doula. It's something that we're all coming face-to-face with - our mortality in such a graphic way has lost a reassessment.

Christi Zuber:

Seeing the places that have to lean into that. Maybe not knowing how to do it very well and know if they are okay with it being a little clunky to start with. Trying to do it differently because it can't be done the same way that it was done before. Enterprise client wise, I would say we had pretty sizable chunks of them that at the beginning kept saying, “There's a lot that we need to be doing right now, but this is something we want to be able to get together, so we're just going to wait.” Then things are punted and you're seeing those come back up and the narrative changes. They say, “We can't wait anymore. There's not going to be anything that substantially different between now and next March. We have to figure out how to do this differently.” You're seeing that come back which is an opportunity for those enterprise clients. I would also say an opportunity for the startups and how they work with them and how they can support them in that.

Rachel Chalmers:

When you look back on your work in Corporate Innovation. What are you proudest of?

Christi Zuber:

A couple things. The teams that I brought together and developed. It’s important to know how to set the conditions and develop really empowered and excited teams of people that are better together in a real multiplying effect. There're a lot of people with a lot of good ideas, but if you can create really good teams, it fizzles. 
This might sound really corny but I don't care. My superpower is people in teams. I love forming good teams and developing people that can eventually just surpass what I could ever know. I think that's the best thing to be able to do so I would say that's one of the things that I'm the most proud of. That became the vehicle for everything else. That through those teams and obviously there are a lot of teams that I was directly responsible for - but I would also say when you work in big organizations you form teams all over the place that might not directly report to you. But you're doing work through them as well. Through this sort of amplified network across the organization we created some really great things that address really complicated topics. They were actually implemented and are still there to this day.
 Millions of people have been affected by it. Some of them, life-changing things that have literally saved lives. That's really exciting to me. Also a number of those things were released out into the organization. Sometimes I'll see postings for things looking for a project manager to implement an ABC solution and it's something that we had created at Kaiser Permanente that was released to the world. Now other organizations are looking for hiring people to implement it within their organization. Seeing that go out, that's just beyond delightful. That's really exciting. 
I would say those are some of the things that I'm the most proud of and it's continued. I think if you create something and it goes away once you leave then there's something kind of wrong. Those things are still going on. I still keep in touch with everyone. We still collaborate on things and it's a fantastic group of people. That momentum is just growing and continuing to move on. So it's great.

Rachel Chalmers:

Just to make things really concrete for our listeners - do you have some examples of how you've saved lives?

Christi Zuber:

Yeah, several different kinds of things I would say. One of them sounds very simple - I love simple examples that you don't have to get technical. This is a solution. It's called nurse knowledge exchange. It is fundamentally about how nurses communicate. We were given, at one point in time, nursing communication scores. It’s one of the things that hospitals are measured by and those measurements also translate into reimbursement and other various different kinds of things. 
That's very important. We were asked, “Can you go in and look at nurse communications?” That seems very ambiguous. The long and short is that we did lots of field observations and  narrowed things down. One of the most important times was shift change and what happens at shift change is you have basically twice the amount of nursing staff there. It overlaps in 30 minutes. During that 30 minutes you have to communicate what has happened on your shift over to the next shift. That was being done in a completely disconnected way. At the time the nurses weren't actually even talking directly about their recorded information for each other. They would write notes and do things very separately. We overhauled that whole process, and built in a new electronic medical record. 
They come into the bedside together and talk with family and their loved ones. This is where there are gaps in communication, where medication errors happen, where patients get confused. They could get up and look for help and  fall which leads to all sorts of other areas, such as safety things that aren't checked. Through that nurse communication and the way that it's changed now, they've caught errors where the oxygen wasn't hooked up or set in the right place. They've caught medication issues. They've got people before they fell so that they didn't hurt themselves. They've caught their conditions and alert levels. There they are progressing in the way that they should be because they're actually talking together . 
Not just the nurses talking together but talking with the patient and their family members. What happens now is the family members know this very specific way of communicating and there's two tools of technology. All sorts of things that are supporting it. The family member now knows the family members are coming into the room and they're planning their schedules so that they're there at the bedside with the patient during this time. It's this very patient-family centered approach as opposed to what really was more of a technical handoff of information between clinical staff.

Rachel Chalmers:

That's so brilliant. It leans into the fact that nobody wants to do a bad job. Nobody wants to make mistakes. But when you have the very high bandwidth of face-to-face interaction plus the real stakes of the patient and their family members being there. These are the humans who are at risk. Everything comes together. 

Christi Zuber:

It does. You find out what the real need is. Technology changes in the electronic medical records to support how that communication flow would happen. We created a new tool called a CareBoard. It's in thousands and thousands of rooms. There's a whole company that only makes that. These create all sorts of opportunities to support this on a bigger level. I think unless you're on the inside of these organizations, you don't realize how one shift in something like that can create all these amazing opportunities. It’s this whole ecosystem for something to shift around. It's now a part of orientation for all the new nurses that show up. 
That's one of the examples that's being implemented. I've seen it in the UK, Canada, and Switzerland. It's being implemented all over the place and it definitely had a direct tie into saving lives, reducing injuries, and quite frankly, I think providing care in the way that people want it to be provided. So, that it's not a paternalistic exchange of things. It's really this “nothing about you without you” sort of approach.

Rachel Chalmers:

Which in turn comes from the disability advocacy movement. And if any of our listeners haven't seen the completely amazing documentary - I think it's on Netflix called Crip Camp. It’s about the origins of the ADA and the amazing activists who pulled together to make that happen. It's an extraordinary documentary.

Christi Zuber:

Yes. Nice. Nice plug. That's a good one. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Okay. Now we're going to give you one magical do-over. You can look back over your entire career and you get a mulligan. There's one thing that you can change. What are you going to change?

Christi Zuber:

You know one thing that I think I would change is what I was doing. The work that my teams and I were doing. I was so focused on the work itself that I missed the vantage point. The way that we did things and even some of the solutions that we came up with. We could have packaged and shared far more than what we did. We were just in the middle of it. It's like a fish in water and now being out of it, I realize how absolutely unique and special that was and how hard it is to replicate that in other organizations. Not that it's not possible, but it's hard and I think we learned so many lessons. We tried and failed at so many things and if I could do it over, I would magically go back. 
I don't know how exactly I would do it, but I would magically go back and maybe work with a PhD student or a little team of interns or something. Or to reference documentaries,  just capture the stuff and be able to better tell the story and share the learnings. I mean we've done that but boy it ,just really scratches the surface on what that could have been and how much that could have benefited other people. I think if I could have a do-over that's probably what I would. Have a lens into it that I have now. I didn't really have at the time.

Rachel Chalmers:

That's a really good one because the work that you and your teams did at Kieser is so singular. From my perspective, it does come from the sense of mission from the high stakes of literally our patients' lives depending on you doing a good job. It's much harder with corporations working in more abstract areas of value to persuade them. Even of the importance of going out and doing customer discovery. It's really hard sometimes to get out of the building.

Christi Zuber:

It is really hard. To layer on to where we are right now, it's even harder. I mean, through some of the great programs that you guys have done at Alchemist Accelerator, we worked with a group of people that were inside of an organization and had some ideas for what would happen on the factory floor. They had actually never been on the factory floor and their organization had all kinds of factories. We kept saying, “Go out there, just connect.” They would insist that they  couldn’t do that. They absolutely could do that. Man, it took them months to try to articulate and get clear about what it is that they were doing and they went out there and within a week they're focus came into place. They could articulate what they were doing. They tossed out things that they had been just mulling around for so long. They later said, “Oh, we got out there and saw things that made no sense whatsoever.” 
Once they were actually out there and saw what that can do - it was just so amazingly powerful. I think it's tricky right now. You have to be even more creative about how those opportunities come up and they still can. But you just have to be a little bit more creative about finding them. It's even more important now. Just because it's harder for us to all physically be together doesn't mean that the customer or user or stakeholder voice is any less important than it was before. You just have to use a bit more activity in how you access it. 

Rachel Chalmers:

I think there's a real opportunity now as well because we're all stuck at home and we're all reassessing what value we deliver. I've been having a lot of success just getting people on the phone to have contemplative discussions about where the industry is going. I think perversely, even though we're also separated, there is an opportunity here to connect at a different level.

Christi Zuber:

I agree. Being able to do that and have those conversations with people and bring humanity to it. That's what I think is so exciting because even if you're not working with some of the examples I've been giving with patient care - still at the end of something, there's a person. 
Whether it's a person that's using the software or a person that's interacting with that piece of equipment. That person is maintaining that infrastructure. There's a person somewhere that's doing something that's making some decision that's nervous about something not working. There's always a person. 
I think what I've found working this way is that connecting back with that is the most important. Because at the end of the day, we're all human beings and we’re wired for connections and purpose. You don't have to save the life of someone in a hospital to find purpose. There is purpose in all sorts of things that we do. If you can make someone's job easier, if you can help someone sleep better at night, or whatever it is. Reach out and have those conversations. Understand the context of the people that interact with those products and services. It will help you find that purpose and think much more creatively and holistically about what those amazing opportunities can be. 
To your point, taking advantage of this all and having those conversations is a great opportunity to connect with those who might not have given you the time before. It might be more difficult. Most people who are home now take advantage of that and really get to more of that human root of what it is that they're trying to do. The things they are worried about is what's aspirational for them and to see what you can do to help make that come to life.

Rachel Chalmers:

It's so easy listening to see how you've been pulled into education and reflecting on all of your experiences. As you look back on your time at Kaiser, how do you distill all of that into discrete lessons that you can share with our listeners?

Christi Zuber:

There are probably several different lessons. I would say one is to not take yourself too seriously.
For whatever that's worth, I think there are many times that I would feel like “My god!” What I realized was happening was I don't know everything and I can make mistakes. I will make mistakes and that's all right. Give yourself a little leeway and don't take yourself so seriously. I think if you have that mindset then you can experiment and you can try and be much more of this open person that people want to work with. Because boy you can sniff it out when someone takes himself seriously. They act like everything is buttoned up and you should be just as perfect as they are. It doesn't actually exist. Those people that do that - like I got it, we're learning here. That's one of the big lessons I would say. 
A second lesson - I'm a big proponent of finding partners in an organization. Let's say if you're in a big enterprise, I think it's really easy to work so hard that you start feeling like it's kind of you against the world. Because you're trying to move a big ship, and I think the same thing can probably happen in start-up companies. Although I would guess it happens more in larger companies. But it is important to reach out and find those who can be your partner in crime. 
Who is your posse of people, that is your go-to? Those people that when you're really excited about something, when you really feel like you just screwed it up, or you’ve got an idea that sounds ridiculous but you need to talk it out. Who is that for you? I think that can also help with your sustainability of your personal health. It’s important to never underestimate the power of people that have those partners in crime. It doesn't have to be someone that's on your team. Maybe they're not on your team or your department. It doesn't matter. It's that you have them and they've got your back, you've got their back. You're better because of it. I think that's a really really important thing.

Rachel Chalmers:

A pro tip for any intrapreneurs who have ever thought of doing their own startup. That work-spouse, the person who laughs at your jokes, the person you're back-channeling within slack, that's the profile of your co-founder. 

Christi Zuber:

I totally agree. You can be a better person with better ideas and better outcomes because you're not isolated and alone in your own little echo chamber. It really means a lot. 
A third thing from a maturity standpoint is; give people credit, don't hoard credit. I think the same thing can be said around power as well. All those sorts of things. It's a sign of a mature leader when you can give other people credit for things. When you can build up and empower other people and you don't hold it and think it's this finite thing. Credit and power aren't finite. The more you grow them, the more you give them the way, the more they blossom and the more it feeds on itself. I think that's something that for some people, it takes them a while and for others, they never get to that point. If you want to really affect change, make impact, and grow things, give credit and give power to people and let them be their best selves. Let them be celebrated and don't hold it.

Rachel Chalmers:

God that's so true. That's a really deep one. How do you think the pandemic might affect corporations long-term?

Christi Zuber:

I think I'm going to start to see the organization's who are able and willing to grow and expand, try to be something different and let go of things. They’ll be able to just shake off some things. Then there will be those that aren't able to do that. I think the pandemic is going to force that in some organizations. When you're already starting to see it and that's where honestly, I hope that even from an economic standpoint, that some places that probably should fail are allowed to fail. Because I do also think there's a lot of people that are waiting on the wings to jump in. I would say you either need to be that organization that's willing to step in and willing to try to do something different and give it a shot. Or I hope the market allows you your time. If you're one of those organizations that's just been waiting saying, “Put me in coach!” Keep on the lookout, be bold, and step in. I think those are the kinds of places that have got some exciting things ahead.
I think every industry has their own version of who that is and what that looks like. That’s why there are many different openings showing up for people. I think it's that attitude of, “I'm going to give it a shot. I’m going to understand what people need.” This is more about what we're doing for other people than it is about ourselves. Do something useful. Make a difference and be willing to try. 

Rachel Chalmers:

Christi you always show up with this pure bright enthusiasm and energy. How do you avoid burning out?

Christi Zuber:

I surround myself with amazing people. People that I pale in comparison to. I think that's it. I I know that I can't be solely responsible. There's a children's book called How Full is Your Bucket? The whole thing is there's this bucket that we all have above our heads and when it's full it means we feel happy and whole and we have something to give to people. But when that bucket gets depleted, we don't have it to give. Because we don't have it in our bucket. We can't give it to others but when it's full we can kind of dump some of that out and give it away. More often than not, then they give it back to us. 
Be really mindful of who you surround yourself with because you're the keeper of your bucket. But other people can either take things out of your bucket or they can help to replenish your bucket. Watch who you're around, what you're doing and being mindful of that dynamic. It makes all the difference in the world. I used to have a friend who had a similar idea. She called it your “creativity quotient”. So it's a little bit like that. She would say, “The main five people that you surround yourself with on average is your creativity quotient.” 
It’s the importance of whole health and  you're able to bring and give. It comes with who you surround yourself with. I think it's really important because if you're only going to be around people that are just looking at you as a transaction, they're never going to call out and recognize that you need a little time. They won't do things like offer to cover something for you.
If you're around those people that do care about you and what you're doing, then you can take care of eachother. You’ll be better together than you would have been a part.

Rachel Chalmers:

And this is why so many of the strong women I know have this secret group chat and every job application and every piece of writing that they do gets sub-edited by five of their secret friends.

Christi Zuber:

It's really important. There's a little group that I started connecting with several months back and we were like, “Let's watch the Yale Wellbeing Course together and talk about it. We will just take on different things so that we can keep patching ourselves and fill ourselves up and be able to be our best selves.

Rachel Chalmers:

What is the best way for our listeners to connect with or follow your work?

Christi Zuber:

I'm really trying to be better about things. Definitely connect with me on LinkedIn.  Aspen Labs is creating more content on YouTube about different lessons and things like that. We're literally a matter of just a few weeks into that. We've got maybe five or six videos out there. It’s a nice way just to kind of see the different things that we're thinking of and what we're putting out there. We also have a LinkedIn channel. You can also find me on Twitter. That's another way to kind of keep up with what I'm doing.

Rachel Chalmers:

What does the future look like for you personally? 

Christi Zuber:

There's something that I'm actually working on right now that I'm really excited about. The pandemic has brought a lot of this to life. I'm sure you and a lot of your listeners have heard a lot of things about the increasing divide. The idea of the “haves” and the “have nots” in this pandemic. It’s now divided even wider than it was before. It becomes a matter of asking what kind of education do you have access to, what kind of food do you have access to, what are you able to do for work, can you work from home, can you not? Because hourly jobs are more labor based jobs for people of lower income. It's getting harder and harder and their incident rates are much higher and so it's just a multiplying effect. 
One of the things that I've been really excited about that we're working on is we're trying to create more of an infrastructure to be able to co-design with these populations of people that are more at risk. When people are creating new services and new products, they don't really have access to those kinds of people. We're talking with several different foundations who are really excited about developing this. One of the first steps is a virtual ethnography if you will. A platform that exists but hasn't been used for these purposes. It’s how we identify these people. We're working with several different National organizations that have more access and are doing different sorts. From income levels and so forth. But we’re beginning to bring people together in a cohort so that it's beneficial to them and it's done in a very respectful way. It's beneficial for people who are creating new products and services and things like that for more of these at-risk people.

Rachel Chalmers:

And that's a great cool back to nothing about us without us.

Christi Zuber:

Yes, exactly. Because you can't have a voice if no one knows how to find you and reach out to you. We're trying to take that friction out of it. Just to say, “Here's a way of doing that. Now let's take it from here and build out some really great things that really help these people that are in the greatest need.”

Rachel Chalmers:

That sounds fantastic. Much-needed. As you look at the future of our industry, what is the rosiest most optimistic outcome that you can imagine?

Christi Zuber:

When you look at the things that our country and our world has gone through I think being a future that is more inclusive of all kinds. Well, I think a place where people have built up more capacity to have difficult conversations with one another and to be able to get to the root of things so that we're actually solving meaningful problems. 
Not just stuff because it's easy to do, but because it's necessary and important. I think a place where people have - and I see this happen over and over again - have found their rekindled purpose. That they might have felt that they lost that purpose. Sometimes I think when things are easy you kind of go on autopilot. When things get a little hard and get a little bumpy, I think you buckle up and you pay a little bit more attention. I think some people are more alert and awake and alive right now. It’s important that we’re bringing that out in people. The power of the human spirit is one of the most amazing forces in our universe and unleashing that for things that are important and good and life-giving. I think that would be an absolutely amazing outcome.

Rachel Chalmers:

Wow. I want to live there now. 

Christi Zuber:

We'll go. We'll go, Rachel. Let's take the trip. 

Rachel Chalmers:

All right. All right, let's go Cristi. What else should I have asked you? Is there anything that I've overlooked?

Christi Zuber:

I don't know. You have such great questions. I think I'm just excited about the opportunity to share some of the things that I'm noodling around in my head of what new things can be created out there. There is one thing that I really appreciated with how you ask questions. Often I get the stereotypical, “I can't believe a clinician is doing something so different.” I appreciate how you are very curious about the phases people go through and how they’ve evolved and how they change. 
It's not anything that you missed. I think it's more thanking you for calling that out in people and the interview not being about where “you” are at one moment in time. But, “What are all these different phases of who you are that brings you to where you are today?” Because I think there's a lot of people that get excited about doing something different, but that's not really how they see themselves yet. If you would have asked the Christi in my early 20s who was doing home health nursing, of the kinds of things that I’m doing now, I would have had a really hard time wrapping my head around how  to get there. That's not a natural path. I appreciate how you ask questions about different phases and times in people's lives. Because I think it helps others to know there's all kinds of things that they can do and that there's not one path to get there.

Rachel Chalmers:

Thank you. I really appreciate that and I've really been leaning into my curiosity as a way of managing everything that's going on. I've found a lot of joy in just learning other people's stories and spending time looking at things from their point of view, which is a real pleasure. 

Christi Zuber:

Thank you 

Rachel Chalmers:

Christi, I'm sure my listeners have an appreciation now for how much I enjoy working with you and what a delight it is. Thanks so much for coming on the show and for sharing all of these incredible insights from a really remarkable career.

Christi Zuber:

It's absolutely my pleasure and I thank you for being here. I hope that your listeners get something interesting and intriguing out of this. Definitely feel free to reach out to me and here's to whatever lies ahead for all of us.

Rachel Chalmers:

Sounds good to me. 

Christi Zuber:

Thanks, Rachel.

Get to know the Team

E.08 - Alan Boehme: Next Stop, Space!

April 15, 2021

"You want to keep them motivated, you want to keep them moving forward, but at the same time you want to make sure that they understand that there are lessons to be learned and they should listen. People get too close to what they're passionate about and sometimes ignore all the facts." - Alan Boehme

Play Episode

E.07 - Cindy Alvarez: Discovering Customers

April 15, 2021

"When you have intellectual work, you're not always going to have good intellectual days. Sitting there and trying to make it happen is just burning out something that we don't have an endless capacity for. If you're not doing great work today, forget it, go for a walk." - Cindy Alvarez

Play Episode

E.06 - Sam Ramji: Seeds of Change

April 15, 2021

"We will slowly uncover what is actually special about being people. I think that's our ability to love, it's our ability to create, our ability to connect with each other." - Sam Ramji

Play Episode

E.05 - Christi Zuber: Innovation by Design

April 9, 2021

"There is purpose in all sorts of things that we do. If you can make someone's job easier, if you can help someone sleep better at night, or whatever it is. Reach out and have those conversations. Understand the context of the people that interact with those products and services." - Christi Zuber

Play Episode

E.04 - Corbett Gilliam: Advancing Technology

April 9, 2021

"I think a big piece of working with enterprises is, everybody knows they need some type of Innovation. And a lot of them think that they are innovating when they're really not." - Corbett Gilliam

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E.03 - Louis Stewart: Mr. Innovation City

April 9, 2021

"Everybody has different needs in order to be successful. So trust your gut. If a door opens, give it a shot. Go ahead and take a look inside the door and see if there's something in there that you can learn from." - Louis Stewart

Play Episode

E.02 - Jeanne Morain: Transformation Pioneer

April 9, 2021

"It's important that you find those change agents. Because they exist. In every pocket, in every group. There's always those that aspire for a little bit more." - Jeanne Morain

Play Episode

E.01 - Mike Dolbec: Venture Industrialist

April 9, 2021

"You can't believe everything you read, see, or hear at first glance. Just because we're pattern-matching animals doesn't mean that your conclusion is accurate. It just means you matched some pattern. That pattern may or may not be useful at all." - Mike Dolbec

Play Episode