Leading innovation by learning to say yes

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Fast growing strategy, research and innovation company Rebel & Co. works with clients like Morgan Stanley and Tecovas to help them find out who their clients are, where to find them, what they need, and how best to get it can deliver.

I spoke to Leah Hacker, founder and CEO, about the company, its methodology and leadership.

This article has been edited and shortened for the sake of clarity.

Rebel & Co. – Are you the rebel

I guess it’s me, but the name came from my years of experience in the industry. I started out in behavioral research studying how to help people behave in relationships. Then, as I’ve worked with companies over the years, I’ve seen the same patterns emerge.

Customers would come to the table with this massive idea. It was disturbing. Sometimes it looked sexy in a headline. Maybe it was newsworthy, but it lacked value and failed because of the product-market fit. A lot of things came into play, but while I was watching these dynamic there was usually a “loudest voice” in the room.

Often times, that voice drove the indictment with many deeply anchored assumptions about the brand’s current performance or there were blind spots. After that, I looked at the product from an agency site and it wasn’t going anywhere.

As a behavioral scientist, I was curious about how people react to systems and circumstances, what decisions we make and why we make them. I started applying this basic knowledge to my work in innovation. And here’s what I found: There is a scalable and pragmatic way to move towards creation. And when you do it this way, the bottom line, the ROI on the investment, is much higher. Companies can unlock new opportunities that they may not have seen before.

Is there a secret sauce you can share about how you do that?

When I started Rebel & Co, I decided that this would only work if the old rules didn’t apply. We don’t follow the “Move Fast and Break Things” mentality, but work closely with our teams, our customers and our stakeholders. We’ll pull them back to the table and review the research. We talk about what the data says and how we can apply this in the future. As long as Rebel sticks to our motto “If it can be implemented, it is scalable”, we will drive it forward with the customer. Our approach was a strong antithesis to the way the entire industry works with innovation.

We use a mixed methodology. We combine business analytics with qualitative and market research. The secret sauce is, if you will, that there is a difference between interesting and useful. As researchers, we find everything interesting. That’s what makes us good at our jobs, but the ability to differentiate what moves the needle for business goals is part of that secret sauce. We look at the data from different angles and perspectives and ask one type of question in a million different ways to make sure we cover our basics and uncover blind spots. Still, it has to be feasible at the end of the day.

You said you’ve been more analog since Covid, which is so counter-intuitive. In what way and why?

I make sure to be present and involved. I’m a mother of two so my life is a little crazy but I make time for people, authenticity and connection. Instead of texting a friend, I pick up the phone and call. When I started doing this, I saw a mirror in the market. People are exhausted from the incoming content. Brands need to pay attention to this notion that we are tired of our human ability to absorb information and eventually hide things that are not necessary. It’s a call to brands – the promise of authenticity and value. I don’t think there was ever a higher calling.

How did you help your customers with this?

I tell them, “We have to go fast to slow down.” Panic decisions are rarely good and rarely strategic. My dad used to tell me, “Leah, panic kills,” and it’s the same in business. Panic never throttles you towards the goal, and in all cases there will be losses.

Rebel describes itself as next generation research. What does that mean?

Historically, research confirms an idea: “Am I right or not?” But if the goal is to agree with someone, you don’t have to go long for confirmation in a connected world.

I’ve come through academics where the goal isn’t to be right – the goal is to break the idea. We use research, some of which is traditional. It’s not magic. The way we unpack it is unique. What was done Who failed? Why? How is marketing developing? Because that will affect us. We need more research than just a “yes, no, stop, go” answer.

We want to know where the blind spots are and where we will encounter difficulties later in order to alleviate them. And we want to understand how customers make their decisions.

How did you develop into the leadership type you are today?

At the beginning of my career, I got a job to build a research clinic from scratch. My first answer was, “Absolutely yes. I have a suggestion for you in two days. ”I spent the weekend with diaries all over the place, sorting things out. I remember feeling like I had no option that I was going to find out. It was an excellent opportunity.

Even before I got my bachelor’s degree, I led a research team, had contact with doctors, and tried to find publications and conferences. Each of these experiences gave me a lesson in leadership: how to persevere, do what I say, and how to communicate a narrative clearly.

I also learned when to speak and when not to speak. Sometimes it’s best to take a step back and let things rest for a minute. I really believe that a leader’s assessment determines the success of their team. I take the role very seriously.

How do you lead teams – both at Rebel and with clients? How do you deal with the inevitable conflict?

My goal is your goal. I communicate clearly and stand up for the business goals as a whole and help the team feel comfortable with saying yes while not knowing all answers.

It inevitably leads to unpleasant conversations. Change is difficult. We act as the voice of reason and make sure we offer a real value proposition. We always lead the conversation back to the data, to what we know to be true in the market. And because of the way we work with our customers, those conversations get easier over time.

You build trust. It sounds like you’re building powerful partnerships. And once again you say “yes” to the stranger.

The first step is always the hardest. One hundred percent of the time on this trip I said “yes” and thought, “I’ll find out later. And the journey went on. “

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