Podcast: When PowerPoints Weren't Working, This Lowe's Exec Passed Out Comic Books Instead

Learn why Lowe's employs a behavioral scientist to run its innovation lab.

learn more about Linda Lacina

By Linda Lacina


How Success Happens is a podcast featuring polar explorers, authors, ultra marathoners, artists and more to better understand what connects dreaming and doing. Linda Lacina, Entrepreneur.com's managing editor, guides these chats so anyone can understand the traits that underpin achievement and what fuels the decisions to push us forward. Listen below.

When you think of who might be putting a 3-D printer in space, you're likely not thinking Lowe's. But the home-improvement retailer has done this and more, integrating other new technologies into its stores such as exosuits (to help staff stocking shelves maintain energy) and holorooms (to help homeowners visualize new home improvement projects).

Helping make all this possible is Kyle Nel, the chief innovation officer at Lowe's Innovation Labs. Nel isn't your typical tech guy but a behavioral scientist who puts his understanding of how people act to help make change. In his observations he's learned that most problems companies face aren't technical but rooted in how different types of people and groups work together and make decisions. "These issues are all behavior issues," he says.

Related: Conversation is the Most Underused Innovation Tool

To leverage what he understands about behavior, Nel creates systems, ones that can be applied at any organization, to help push forth unexpected innovations. At their heart, these processes address how decision-making happens (or doesn't), align needs and construct a narrative that connects everyone to the big picture.

"If you see the primary issue to getting anything accomplished is people, then you put the vast majority of your effort into getting people moving," says Nel.

One method Nel uses is "science-fiction prototyping." He hires science-fiction writers and illustrators, arms them with market research and trend data, and creates comic books for executives about potential ways tech and people will come together in the years to come. These books help company leaders fully understand the impact of a new business shift in a way that typical PowerPoint presentations can't. With the buy-in these stories bring, the initiatives are more likely to move forward.

"We debate and talk about the story and not the capabilities we'd need to make those stories a reality."

Focusing on the story shifts the conversation from how the tech will be built to the opportunity at hand. For Lowe's, the initial comics led to discussions about incorporating augmented and mixed reality long before the Oculus Rift gave those technologies wider visibility. The story strategy also ensures that planning is based on principles and doesn't get lost in risk management, culture problems or technical jargon. "By the time we get to the execs, we're talking about the ideas, not some awkward phraseology," says Nel.

Related: Kathryn Minshew of The Muse: Decide Who You Are, or Have it Decided for You (Podcast)

Ultimately, his methods help demystify futuristic change, identify gaps and produce the movement organizations want but can't always achieve.

"If Lowe's can build autonomous robots or put a 3-D printer on the International Space Station, it opens up the gates for every organization to do big bold things" says Nel.

This effort becomes even more vital as the role of private companies shift. "From a personal level, that's where I see all the big awesome changes we need on this planet," says Nel. "Traditional companies and organizations are going to have to take the lead on that."

To learn more about Nel's methods and the importance of behavior in any organization, listen to this week's podcast.

Listen to the podcast below or subscribe on SoundCloud, Stitcher or iTunes.

Linda Lacina

Entrepreneur Staff

Linda Lacina is the former managing editor at Entrepreneur.com. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Smart Money, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Family Circle. Email her at llacina@entrepreneur.com. Follow her at @lindalacina on Twitter. 

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