The following is a conversation between Pascal Finette, the founder of The Advisory Firm, be radical, and author of Disrupt Disruption: How to Decode the Future, Disrupt Your Industry, and Transform Your Business, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Denver: The common stories told about disruption often fail to identify the true, underlying forces that lead to the demise of former market leaders. When we get these stories wrong, we risk learning the wrong lessons. We also miss critical opportunities to enable real transformation and unlock sustainable relevance in our own organization.

Enter Pascal Finette, founder of the advisory firm, be radical, and author of a wonderful book that supports a new understanding of disruption titled, Disrupt Disruption: How to Decode the Future, Disrupt Your Industry, and Transform Your Business. 

Welcome to The Business of Giving, Pascal.

Pascal Finette Founder of be radical

Pascal: Denver, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to dig into this topic with you.

Denver: Well, let’s start with the title. What do you mean exactly, Pascal, when you say, “disrupt disruption”? 

Pascal: Very simply. First of all, I want to start with an acknowledgement that I think this word “disruption” is so overused, like you literally cannot open a business magazine, a title on a website which doesn’t say, “disrupt this” or “disrupt that.”

Denver: Great point. 

Pascal: Yeah, I got really curious about this and, honestly, also a little annoyed about the term and the use of the term or abuse of the term. Years ago, we started this research project, and we basically said, it’s probably high time— after Clayton Christensen gave us the term… he really coined the term– disruptive innovation— to revisit this topic and give people a better, hopefully more accurate understanding of what disruption actually looks like and how to harvest and leverage it in their businesses, their lives, their societies, even.

“He said, “A lot of people ask me what’s new and what’s coming in the next 10 years,” and admits that’s a great question. But really the question we should ask is: ‘What’s not going to change?’ Because that’s what you built your businesses on.”

Denver: Well, let’s pick it up there because the popular narratives about disruption are generally flawed.  What are some of the misconceptions we have about it, Pascal? 

Pascal: We seem to have understandable focus on looking at disruptors. So, the classic stories you always hear are Kodak and Blockbuster and Nokia, and there’s a very well trodden path that story goes typically, right? 

Classically, Kodak invents the digital camera and then just can’t get out of their own way and gets utterly disrupted by this creature they have created. Now, I think there’s nothing wrong with that story. 

But there’s a really important thing, I think, which is so important to understand, is that there’s a second side to that coin, and that side to that coin, going back to our dear friend Clayton Christensen who once coined the term, “the jobs to be done.” What he means by that is if you buy a product or a service or use a product or a service, you have an underlying need to use this. 

And our classic example you hear always is: nobody buys a power drill because you want to own a power drill. You buy the power drill because you have a  job to do– you want to hang a picture, you want to build something, whatever. 

The interesting thing, and this occurred to us when we looked into this disruption topic, was that when you peel the layers, you realize that the consumer need throughout all of those disruption stories actually stays incredibly consistent. It doesn’t change. 

So, the classic disruption story, of course– horses and buggies to automobiles, like Henry Ford, and no doubt, that was a very disruptive environment and very disruptive moment in history, but the consumer need is to get from A to B in the shortest amount of time, least amount of resources, whatever it is.

So, we build our understanding on this very fundamental insight that the consumer needs don’t change.

And Jeff Bezos went so far and said at a conference about 10 years ago, he said, “A lot of people ask me what’s new and what’s coming in the next 10 years,” and admits that’s a great question, but really the question we should ask is: “What’s not going to change?” Because that’s what you built your businesses on. I think that’s the starting point for us. 

Denver: Absolutely. That’s like looking at the negative, going back to Kodak, and we never do. We just look at the picture, but the negative is where the clue is, and build on the things that are going to remain the same.

Well, in your book, you talk about some of the key principles of navigating disruption, and one of those would be, First Principle Thinking. Why don’t you tell us what that is and why it’s so important? 

Pascal: It is actually really funny. So, this is old, very old. We are talking, old Greek, old. 

Denver: Older than me. 

Pascal: Definitely older than I am, for sure. 

This goes back to Aristotle, who said that when you think about a problem, you want to start from the first basis of which a thing is known. So, really understanding and saying: What do we know fundamentally to be true? and then arguing up from there.

And the interesting insight is that humans, for good reasons, we tend to reason by analog. So, we see something in the world, and it reminds us of something else we have seen before, and thus we apply the rules and insights from that thing we learned before to the new situation. Again, makes perfect sense. 

The challenge with that is, if you are in a disruptive environment, if you really want to create something new, that doesn’t work anymore; it doesn’t serve us. 

So, part of the book we wrote was that we interviewed by now more than 300 truly world-class practitioners, who are people who have moved their companies from one way of doing things to another very successfully, and every single one of them told us, in different words often, but said: For me, the starting point really is to ask myself: What do we know fundamentally to be true about our business, our customer, our product, the solution we want to create? And then reason, argue up from there. 

It’s much harder; it requires much more thinking and thus energy, but it also unlocks a lot of insights, which we might not have otherwise. 

Denver: Yeah, because we never take the time to do it. We start around 70%; we take all these assumptions that have just been out there, we don’t know where they came from. It’s a little bit like drinking eight glasses of water a day, and when you begin to dig back on that, you say: nobody knows where that came from, so you begin to question… 

When you’re doing this First-Principle Thinking, there are three lenses to it. Maybe walk through those for our listeners.

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely. Again, you start out with: What do you know fundamentally to be true? And if you think about that, there’s essentially like three different ways you can think about this. 

One is: What do you fundamentally know to be true about your customer? Your product? Your internal insights? That is one lens.

And there’s a beautiful way to actually unlock this lens, which goes back to Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, the accounting software company, who when he founded that company way back in the late ’70s, created something called the Follow Me Home. 

And it’s a really powerful exercise where you essentially follow your customer in their natural environment, and you observe them. And you don’t ask them all that many questions because questions often are leading, right? Like you try to very often just validate your hypothesis, but instead you basically just see what they’re doing. 

So, in Scott’s case, what he did back in the ’70s, ’80s, he waited for customers to come out of a computer store with their new computer under their arm, and said, “Hey, I’ve made this software, which is an accounting software. I give it to you for free if you let me just observe you, how you use this,” and what you very often find is: people might have an issue of like installing the software or using a particular function, and it’s very hard to find this and see it if you are not going back to this First Principle’s perspective and really spend the time with the customer. So, that’s number one.

Number two is: The Inverse. So, you say: What do I know to be true about the world, particularly the world we are moving into? 

And a good example for this is, you want to know what your customer, in 10 years, looks from now. Unless you are in the baby toddler space, the customer exists. They’re there already. They’re just 10 years younger, right? So you can actually already deduct certain insights or demographic insights, for example, or aging population is a classic example. It’s like we know what the age pyramid in the United States, for example, looks like. 

And then the last way to look at the world is: you look at what one of the people we interviewed, Alvero, mentioned as a view of the world– as parallel worlds. So, what do you fundamentally know to be true in a different industry which you can apply to yours? 

So, classic example here would be: if you think about customer support or customer satisfaction, you can look at industries which do this really, really, really well. So, hospitality, for example, if you’ve ever been in, like a really nice restaurant or a five-star hotel or something, you know how they treat you.

And  let’s say you run a financial services institution, you want to know how you want to treat your customers better, you just need to look at: How do other people do this in other industries? And so you can apply those first principles back to your business. 

Denver: I think the most underutilized tactic or strategy is plagiarism. We all think we have to create it ourselves. Look at what other people have done. 

Pascal: Well, this goes back to Steve Jobs, who said: Great artists steal. 

Denver: Yeah, absolutely. But those are three really good ways of looking at it. I mean, the first one, I see the importance of looking at somebody’s behavior in their natural setting, and we ask. This is why I think our pollsters do so badly; they ask people what their opinion is, and either they’re going to be lying to the person, or they’re lying to themselves. But when you see what site they’re spending most of their time on, that’s probably gonna tell you more about how they’re going to vote. 

And you’re absolutely right about the toddlers. I had somebody on the show recently, and he says: When we went to look to the future in our organization, just internally, we look to our youngest employees and see what they’re doing on the phone, because that’s probably going to tell us more about the future than any senior staff meeting that we could ever conduct.

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely. Also, just building on what you just said in terms of a person’s inability to actually express what they want. 

There’s a very famous saying, which you heard a million times, which is, you know, Henry Ford: “If I would’ve asked them what they want, they would’ve said faster horses,”  which is actually really interesting. So, first of all, he never said that, or at least there’s no evidence that he actually ever said this. But more importantly, it indicates a much more interesting point for me, which is, that is a leading question. What do you actually want, versus if you ask them… the Toyota production system has the famous five whys, where you ask: Why do you want this? Why do you want this? 

And if you were to do that, even if they would’ve said, “I want faster horses,” they would’ve come ultimately to the job to be done. They would’ve said, “Listen, I want to get from my hometown to this other town in the shortest amount of time,” and then you actually know what the underlying consumer need is, and you can then think about: How can I fulfill this today, and how can I fulfill it in a different way tomorrow, which might be… hopefully is better?

“Your boss comes to you, and you say, “Hey, I need some resources. We want to build this up; here’s the future,” and your boss says, “That’s great. When will it make me a million dollars?” And if you’re truthful, you sit there and you’re like, “I don’t know.” It’s like, “Nobody has done this before, it’s new.” Then very often you get your resources just denied”

Denver: Absolutely. Well, whether Henry Ford said it or not, I’m just glad it hasn’t been attributed to Mark Twain because everything is, you know,  Mark Twain. He spent his whole life doing sayings, if that were the case.

So, what are the big challenges that companies, organizations have in responding to disruption? When their industry does get disrupted, what do they need to do? What do they tend to do? 

Pascal: Yeah, so it’s interesting. In our work, and we work with a lot of medium to large-scale businesses all around the world. We always tell people, “Listen, you are already doing this innovation stuff.” I’ve never, ever, ever come across a company which doesn’t do innovation in one way or the other. It’s like, that’s crazy. That’s even a crazy thought. 

Now, what we found over and over again is that companies tend to stumble a little bit over their own two feet quite often. And in our work and also the interviews we’ve done, we identified a set of core tenets of stumbling over your own two feet, which we have come to call the Four Horsemen… just to evoke a very provocative, memorable image… and those are four things we hear over and over and over again companies struggle with.

They seem to be pretty universally true, and our approach and our way to work with our clients is to say, “Listen, you first need to fix those.” It’s kind of like you’re going to a doctor, and you say, “Oh, I want to do all this amazing stuff for me.” If you don’t fix the base underlying ailments you have, you can’t actually build on top of that.

So, that’s where we get started, and I’m super happy to dig into those as well, but very high-level first challenge, and this is a very common one, you hear it a lot, is this problem that you know that the new thing might cannibalize your current, existing thing. It’s a classic example.

Denver: Sure. 

Pascal: Now, funny enough, everybody knows that, and everybody just rolls their eyes when I tell them, and then they start thinking about it, and they’re like, “Oh my God, yes, we do this in our company as well.” 

Denver: Oh yeah, the old success trap. 

Pascal: Yeah, exactly. Absolutely. And it’s also the new thing is, it’s not quite as big. The margin might be different, et cetera, and so you avoid it, and then of course, you know someone else will do it, and you’re stuck. So, number one. 

Number two is an extension to that, and it’s a little bit more subtle, which is we call this: leverage what you have fallacy. 

So, this idea that you have existing CapEx and OpEx, you’ve got machinery, you’ve got people, you’ve got processes, and there’s a tendency that when something new comes along, to leverage this stuff you have because typically, it gives you an advantage. 

Problem is if you’re in a disruptive environment, it can hinder you, it can become a burden. So, good example is, we saw this about 10-ish years ago, when companies moved to the Cloud infrastructure, you saw a lot of companies basically saying, “But we have data centers, and we’ve got all these people working for us, and so we need to use those.” And now I put myself at a disadvantage to a new entrant who can leverage all this new stuff because they don’t have that history. 

Denver: Sort of like you’re plagued by your legacy. It’s that legacy thinking that we have this, and why would I want to leapfrog it? I spent all this money, I built it up, I’m using it. 

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely. And again, if you are in an environment where you do incremental innovation, so you just make something better, it’s perfect, because you’ve got this stuff… your machine is written off. You’ve got the processes nailed down; of course it gives you an advantage. But the moment you get into a disruptive environment, that’s just not true anymore.

And then the third one is, we like to call this an autoimmune response. 

So, every company builds up immune systems, and the immune systems are there to protect the company from the outside world. So, you’ve got your product, your service; you want to defend yourself. Makes perfect sense.

Denver: Yeah. 

Pascal: Challenge is that, it’s a human tendency that these immune systems over time can turn into an autoimmune response. So, you’re sitting in a meeting… someone says, “I have an idea,” and someone says, “That’s not how we do things here.” It’s a classic example of: We are protecting the status quo, but not just to the outside world, but we are also protecting it internally. 

Denver: Interesting. 

Pascal: It is a subtle psychological thing, and I guarantee every company has it. The good companies have found ways to break through it and manage it to kind of suppress the autoimmune response basically.

And then the last one is, and we learned this from a general called Geoffrey Moore, who is a big thinker in the disruption space… but really this idea that when you think about companies, companies have essentially three lines of business.

You do something in the here and now, McKinsey once called this the Horizon One, and then on the far end, you, not every company does, but might do research and development, so kind of like the stuff in the lab 10 years out. And then there’s this interesting no man’s land, which is the: it’s coming around the corner; it’s like two to five years out, and that brings with it a lot of challenges.

The main challenge is that very often, the leaders and their organizations in this particular part of the business, so again, this is like two years out, three years… like you try something new, they will be measured by the same measurements, the key performance indicators you tend to apply to your business right now, and that just doesn’t work. 

The classic example is, and this happened to me when I was operating in this space…your boss comes to you, and you say, “Hey, I need some resources. We want to build this up; here’s the future,” and your boss says, “That’s great. When will it make me a million dollars?” And if you’re truthful, you sit there and you’re like, “I don’t know.” It’s like, “Nobody has done this before, it’s new.” Then very often you get your resources just denied by sheer fact that you don’t fit into the mold. 

Denver: Yeah, yeah, and then we see the same thing in the nonprofit sector in terms of measuring impact. 

So, if you and I, and I know you have started a nonprofit so you’re really well-versed in this, but if we want to cure hunger and solve that problem, you can’t hold me to: how many more people I fed in June than I did in May. But donors are going to say, “Well, you didn’t feed any more people.” And you’re saying this is the kind of problem that you have to redefine the way you measure our success, and it’s hard to do, both in the nonprofit sector… and as you so well described, internally, inside organizations. They got this one measurement stick, and they apply it to everything, and some succeed with it and some don’t, but almost all of it seems to have a short-time horizon. 

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely, and to stay in your example, you have this interesting subtle challenge where you say, Well, I can “cure hunger” by just handing out food, or I can cure hunger… which takes way longer… by teaching people how to better grow crops and give them better access to tools and all that kind of stuff, but that takes a couple of cycles. And now, you get measured by how many people are not starving today.

Denver: Yeah, how many meals did you send out? Yeah, it’s ridiculous. 

Well, let’s talk about a couple things you said there because when it comes to the this disruption in organizations that know how to navigate it… and management…. and get ahead of it, tell me a little bit about the role that leadership plays and the role that organizational culture plays in making the ones that are successful, successful. 

Pascal: Well, it comes all down to leadership, it’s always the end story. 

I grew up in Germany, and the Germans have a very direct way of expressing things, of course. There’s a German saying, “Der Fisch Stinkt Vom Kopf,” which translates into, it’s kind of weird to translate it, but it translates into: “The fish rots from the head,” which apparently is a thing, I don’t know, I’m not a marine biologist, but of course it means that it really starts with the leadership if the leadership hasn’t bought in.

And one thing we find in our work… and one of the people we interviewed, Maurice Conti, gave us this beautiful language around this. There’s this really interesting challenge where leadership sometimes, and you see this in publicly traded companies quite often actually, they commit to the process because the process sounds amazing. 

And the classic story we have is this idea of owning a pet tiger. It sounds like an amazing idea, and sounds like you’re going to be like the coolest dad on the block and all kinds of stuff… like the local paper writes about you. So, people fall in love with this idea of owning the pet tiger, but then once you have the tiger, you realize, there’s a pain in the neck to maintain it, and it’s really hard. And every once in a while, it will eat your children, and all terrible things happen, right?

So, the willingness and ability of a leader to actually commit to the messiness of the outcome of this initiative, and it sounds silly and it sounds like: Of course, they should! But in reality, it’s not the case. And we see this a lot with innovation initiative. 

So, there is a really interesting piece around the commitment of people to really dig into these things, which I think is a starting point for leadership for us.

Denver: Yeah, yeah. So I think a lot of it maybe, if I hear this right, we like certainty, and we gravitate towards it. And what you’re saying there is, well, sometimes when you want to impart on this journey, it ain’t going to be clean and it ain’t going to be certain. It’s going to be messy and sometimes even a little bit out of control, but you just have to have the stomach for it, or don’t take the journey.

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely, totally. And then you layer on top of that, I mean there’s very many leadership aspects, which are clearly like empathetic leadership, et cetera. What we found interesting is, all the leaders we talk to who really manage to make transformation happen, acknowledge the fact that nobody likes change.

Particularly you don’t like change if it happens to you, so it’s not even like change you initiated. To overcome this, I think the one thing you need to do is you need to become a really good storyteller. You know, Denver, clearly, like your podcast here is about storytelling. But it’s really about this idea that you need to tell people a compelling story in which they can also see themselves as an active participant, and they can see their own contribution.

And politics aside, clearly this guy was not without its controversy, but you look at someone like John F. Kennedy and his famous moon speech, and it’s really all about, first of all, he didn’t go and basically say, “Here’s the facts, and here’s a PowerPoint slide.” One of my friends once said there is no transformation in the numbers.

Denver: Yeah, absolutely.

Pascal: Right? So, instead, you tell people this story about why you actually want to go to the moon. And then you give them an opportunity to actually be part of that journey. You talked about “we” not “The United States” or “I” or “NASA” or whatever.

Denver: Yeah. 

Pascal: So, really strong element around storytelling, on the leadership side, which I think we somewhat ignore often. 

Denver: I think you’re absolutely right, and one of the things about that speech that I thought was really striking was that he had such a clear vision, but he didn’t know how it was going to get done.

Pascal: Yes.

Denver: And often, when the leader gets up and says, “I have this clear vision, and I got it all figured out, and this is what we have to do,” you sit pretty passively and say, “Wow, that’s really impressive.” 

But when a leader says, “This is where I want to go. Hey, I need your help. We got to figure this out together.” All of a sudden you’re leaning forward, and you’re trying to say, “Hey, this is what I can do to make a contribution.” It really changes everything. It’s amazing. 

Hey, you know, we think about disruption, and we think we’re all looking at our industry. What’s happening with disruption from other sectors? Is that becoming more commonplace?

Pascal: So, a couple points here. First of all, really when you look at the history of disruption, what happens very often is that you actually have cross-sectorial disruption. So, something happens in a different space, and there’s an adjacency to your space, and then it spills over, and then it becomes deeply disruptive in your space.

We saw this a lot with technological, and that’s kind of my background– technological innovations, but you see it also in social innovations. You mentioned a guest on your podcast, who said, “Hey, we talked to the youngest members of our staff to really understand what they want.” That’s a good example of looking at, for example: How does a young person use and expect to use their smartphone and thus services, et cetera? And what does this mean for my business? So, there’s this interesting spillover effect. 

The other thing, just so we are clear, actual deep disruption is actually exceedingly rare. So despite the fact that we talk a lot about it, true disruption is actually not happening all that much for many reasons, which doesn’t mean that you can’t drive disruptive change and innovation throughout organization sectors, et cetera. And we should aim for that, we should, because we should make things better.

“The first page on Google search, everything I see, which is inside of my visible view is ads. It’s a terrible experience. And then everything below that is basically these listicles, where it goes off to affiliate sites. So… it’s very unreliable information.”

Denver: Yeah. I mean, I think Christensen made that clear in his book. We all thought disruption was one thing, and it turned out, no, it was a completely different thing in terms of what it really, really means, and that gets back to your first comment. This word is really being horribly misused, and it’s being just used for everything. 

Well, let’s talk about something which might be really disruptive, and that’s artificial intelligence. What are you advising your clients right now, with the advent of ChatGTP, which is probably like the first inning of what we’re going to be seeing, as to how to embrace and get their arms around that future.

Pascal: It is wild. Let me just start there. 

So, let me just date myself– I got started on this thing, the internet, when there wasn’t really a web browser. In terms of technology, I’ve seen a bunch and the last, I don’t know, 12 months really in terms of just the sheer amount of stuff which is happening, feel truly like the fastest 12 months in my life.

Denver: Yeah. 

Pascal: It’s stunning. You said it’s the first inning, and I think that’s exactly right. I think there’s another piece in there, which is probably, we don’t even fully understand what game we are still playing, right? So, is this cricket or is it actually baseball? 

A couple things we tell our clients when we talk about ChatGPT and systems, first is: understand what this thing is actually doing. Someone recently described this in a blog post as a calculator for words, which I think is a really interesting way to think about it.

Denver: It is.

Pascal: Because really ChatGPT, and this is important to understand, it has no understanding of the world. Despite the fact that because it’s so incredibly good with the language, and because it’s very confident, it feels like it actually knows what it’s talking about. 

Denver: Oh, really confident. And in fact, it never wants to tell you it doesn’t know something; it will make it up instead. 

Pascal: Yeah, exactly. 

Denver: It’s really becoming human. 

Pascal: Yes. By the way, you might have heard there’s a lot of conversation around it just invents stuff. And someone recently pointed out that the actual human term for that is confabulation. 

Denver: Yeah.

Pascal: Right. And humans do this, right? We very often just make up stuff, and ChatGPT is very similar. So, understanding what the limitations of the system are; then understanding it’s really good with text, ultimately, it’s really, really good with language and text. The disruptive potential for this is just incredible. Then, taking into account the spillover effects. 

So, you mentioned disruption coming from other industries and sectors, I literally like this morning, wrote a little piece around, and this is a beginning exploration for us, where if you have used ChatGPT and it’s now available on your iPhone, for example, you started using it, you realize something very quickly that in answering questions, it is significantly better than the status quo, which is Google search. 

So, if I go on Google search, and I search for something like, “What are the best shoes to run a marathon in?” The first page on Google search, everything I see, which is inside of my visible view is ads. It’s a terrible experience. And then everything below that is basically these listicles, where it goes off to affiliate sites. So, it’s all like, it’s very unreliable information. 

Do the same thing with ChatGPT, and it will say, “Hey, here’s five marathon shoes, which are commonly rated really high, and here’s the reason why they’re commonly rated really high.” So it gives you five specific shoes.

Denver: Yeah, that’s a very good distinction. As you’re talking there, I’m just thinking with Google, it’s almost like going out in your car and looking for something, and having to drive around the neighborhood, and ChatGTP is more like Amazon– it’s delivered to your front door. It’s exactly what I was looking for because I can’t tell you the number of times I click on things on Google, which have a good headline, but no that’s not it, no, that’s not it. This is sort of like, “Oh, they know what I’m looking for.” 

Pascal: Correct. It comes to you, and here’s an interesting thing. I see this in my own behavior; I see it with a lot of people we are monitoring and looking at: I predict that you will do a lot of your searches on ChatGPT or any of its brethren, right?

Those systems will present you significantly less ads. Nobody actually knows how to place ads in these things, that it’s not obtrusive, et cetera. When you look at small and medium sized businesses in the United States, on average, they get 50% of their traffic through search advertisement. That might just go away. 

Denver: Yeah. 

Pascal: Now, you are a business owner and was like, “How do I advertise for my stuff anymore…when there is this semi all-knowing-like thing, which starts recommending stuff to Denver or Pascal?” 

And it’s a wild world we are moving into, and I think we are literally just scratching the surface of what is possible.

Denver: Pascal, let’s talk about this wild world. You know, we do have a linear bias, and we’ve had a lot of these exponential technologies over the last 10 or 20 years, but now it seems like they’re all converging. And we’re going into a whole new level of exponential. I know you draw the parallel to Jane Austen– who’s around 1700– coming back today.

Pascal: Oh yeah.

“I think the most important thing for me is: when we talk about the future, is to allow yourself to become really curious about the future. I think the thing we need to get rid of is this idea that it’s set and done”

Denver: How do we grapple with that? This pace of change? We have not evolved to deal with this level of speed of change. What do we do? 

Pascal: I would make the argument we can actually grapple with it. I’m not betting against humans here. I’m not shorting the human soul.

I think we actually are very capable of doing this. We just need to want to engage in it. So the level of change we’re going through is just staggering, and I think, even five years ago, I needed to explain to people like, oh, this is the amount of change. Or think about Jane Austen… how much change did she see in her lifetime? How much change do you see in your lifetime? How much change do your kids see in their lifetimes? And I think we do understand that now. 

I think the most important thing for me: is when we talk about the future, is to allow yourself to become really curious about the future. I think the thing we need to get rid of is this idea that it’s set and done, right? Like you went to school; you got your diploma… you’re done. That probably was never really true. It’s the reason why we’ve got continuous education, and if you’re a doctor, we send you to these seminars. It truly isn’t true anymore today.

And yes, that’s a burden, make no mistake. You can’t lean back and just basically say, I’m a passive player and it’s fine. We need to lean in, but becoming curious… and the thing which unlocks curiosity for me is it is very easy to see something which is kind of weird and edge case, particular consumer behavior, your kids doing something weird on their phone, or you see an article go by or you see a piece of technology, filter it out, and that’s our natural response, right? It’s like just signal-noise ratio thing… but becoming curious about those things and asking yourself, isn’t that interesting… is  a really powerful way to unlock that exploration. And I do think we need to be a little bit more open and probably also do it a little bit more as a practice… to stay on top of things.

Denver: A little more intrepid, it sounds like. 

Pascal: Yeah. 

Denver: I think it’s the way you frame it. I mean, going to law school and having a nice career for 40 years is a pretty nice way in which to live, but can be pretty boring too.

And here what you’re sort of saying is: we’re going to have a whole lot of different careers, so we are going to be doing something which gets us five years, and then doing something else, which gets us back to probably organizations and companies you’re working with which are trying to future proof their workforce and try to upskill them. 

What are some of the things you’ve been seeing that they’ve been doing to try to relieve the angst of their people saying, What’s tomorrow going to bring? But really having them prepared for this future that we’re all awaiting? 

Pascal: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. So, the benchmark organizations we looked at, the organizations which are really, really good at staying on top of these trends; they’re very committed to their workforce, and I think every company is because, like we’ve got the war for talent. It’s so expensive to get people into companies and find the right people, et cetera. So once you have them, you definitely want to keep them. 

Denver: Yeah. 

Pascal: What they’re doing differently though is, every company, most companies at least, are thinking about how do I continuously re and upskill my people?

What these companies do differently is that they’re very deliberate about identifying what are the necessary skills we actually want to create in the future. So, instead of just going out and saying, “Hey, we give everybody a LinkedIn learning subscription,” which is great, make no mistake, but somewhat undirected, they go out and say… and this is very often coming from the top of the organization, not the HR people, the top of the organization saying, “Hey, we believe that in the future we need more, whatever, AI, and big data skills.” And then they go to HR and say, “Okay, we need to teach those skills very specifically… highly relevant to our people.” And then the other thing they do is they create the space and the modalities for people to actually learn.

So, very often what I find unfortunately in organizations is even if they offer learning, it is on top of your day job. So, it’s kind of like this idea that you go to Joe, who works in a factory and you say, “Hey, you know, we want you to have more computer skills. Here’s a great online course for you,” for example, “but please do this over the weekend.” And Joe was like, “Well, hey guys, you don’t pay me for that. The weather is great in New York, so why would I do that?” 

So, the companies we found actually, they’re very deliberate in creating environments and the space for their people to re- and upskill. 

When you look at the data, it leads to significantly higher retention. There’s an interesting side effect to it, other than just that you have a skillful workforce. 

Denver: Yeah, and I think to your point too, the retention isn’t that obvious to people. It sometimes gets communicated that my company cares more about me than they care about what I’m going to produce today. 

Pascal: Yes. 

Denver: And once they feel that they care and invest in me as a person who can take these skills anywhere, I want to stay with these people, you know what I mean? Because that’s not all about their bottomline, it’s about me as being a human and wanting to grow and develop. 

Let me close with this having to do with problems. I know you have started a nonprofit, Mentor for Good, but you also have this concept of making problems disappear. Elaborate a little bit on that, and how that might just change our notion about how we can put a dent into the universe.

Pascal: Yeah, so this goes back to the mindset question and what I found through my work, with my own nonprofits, nonprofits I’ve been involved with, and also a lot of nonprofits I mentor, is that, every once in a while I run into nonprofits… and they’re doing good work, make no mistake– homeless crisis in your local city, et cetera, but very often it feels like patchwork. It feels like we’re kind of like putting a bandaid on a problem, and make no mistake, I think this is good. 

But there’s a really interesting question you can ask yourself as a leader in a nonprofit organization, in any organization, really: identifying goes back to like what’s your customer need, the job to be done, and as a nonprofit, you have a job to be done for your customers, the receiving end of what you’re doing, and ask yourself, if I understand what that problem really is. Force yourself to think about what would it take to make that problem go away. 

I’m not saying that it’s even possible, right? If you and I were sitting down and say like: world hunger, that is such an overwhelming problem that I doubt that we can actually fully solve for it. But by forcing yourself into thinking bigger and thinking this much more expensive question, what it does… and I see this over and over and over again… is it unlocks different ways of serving your constituent better, to do more with the same amount of resources, or even less resources you have. 

So, I like to challenge people in a friendly way. This is not confrontational, in a friendly way to say: Think about your problem, and really think about what are the ways we could actually solve for this problem, and it often widens your aperture quite a bit. 

Denver: Yeah, I think a woman, who leads Community Solutions, put it great, and she says, “What we started to stop doing,” …They’re a homeless organization… “is we stopped counting up the number of people we were serving, and started counting down how many homeless people are out there.”

Pascal: Wow. 

Denver: And essentially, despite what we do, if the problem’s getting bigger, we’re failing, and we have to think about it differently. And that’s when you begin to start to think about real collaboration. That’s when you start to think about maybe open sourcing your methodologies.

Pascal: It’s amazing. 

Denver: Because you know, you can’t do it as an organization, but it changes your thinking. With a guy from Springboard Collaborative with a great line… he’s in a literacy organization…he said the horrible picture he has is, at their 25th anniversary gala, swirling his wine around and looking at all the great work they did over the last 25 years, and saying to himself, “The problem is just as big as the day we started.” And that’s exactly what you seem to be getting at in terms of what we don’t want to have. 

Tell listeners about your website and your newsletter, one of them called “be radical” I subscribed to, but give us a little bit more about what you do and what people will find on your website.

Pascal: Yeah, absolutely. So if anyone is interested in the work we’re doing, we are very much in the spirit of sharing. So, we share a lot of our insights, a lot of our research very publicly. I have the benefit of being very easily googleable, as long as that is a thing. 

Denver: Oh yes, the Google.

Pascal: Maybe tomorrow, ChatGPT will not know who I am, or point you in the right direction, but the Google search engine today, actually, if you punch in my name, Pascal Finette, you’ll find a bunch of resources from us. 

You can go to our website, it’s On the website, you find a bunch of our resources; there’s links to videos of our content. You mentioned we are writing a weekly newsletter, where we share on one hand our research and our observations, as well as we provide links to things we are seeing, which made us go: Isn’t that interesting?

So, if you want to shortcut some of that work, and basically have us do the digging for you, that’s a really easy way, and, of course, completely free. So, by all means, Google is for now your friend to find me; also is a good starting point.

Denver: And shortcuts are always great.

I can’t think of a more timely book than yours, Disrupt Disruption: How to Decode the Future, Disrupt Your Industry, and Transform Your Business

Thanks so much for being here today, Pascal. It was a real delight to have you on the program. 

Pascal:  Denver, thank you so much. It was awesome.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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