• Wendy Castleman

Are you a multiplier?

Every person who takes action is important in creating a change.  Every action they take adds to the impact that they make. For example, a person who donates food to the local foodbank is contributing, and it is an important step in feeding the community.  If you donate 10 pounds of food one time, your overall impact is ten pounds of food. If you donate a pound every week, over the course of a year, you’ve donated 52 pounds of food. That impact, of course, is much larger. The effect of repeating the action results in the larger impact.  The same thing is true for almost any action you take: if you take it more frequently and consistently, the impact towards change is greater. This is true even when the repeating action is smaller than a one time action. (Of course, the magnitude of the repeating action will dictate the scope of the overall impact).  This is an ADDITIVE effect, and each person who does this will add together towards the outcome.

However, there is an action that can have a bigger impact.  That is the action of getting others to take the action. If you instigate a food drive, instead of just donate food, and you get everyone at your church to donate a pound of food, you might be able to donate 500 pounds of food, through coordinating the actions of others.  In this case, your action is not additive, it is a multiplier! People who are multipliers, when activated, can create larger changes than they can when they take actions alone.

My Story of Being a Multiplier

I spent 14 years working at a company called Intuit. At the time, Intuit had the mission at the time of improving people's financial lives so profoundly they wouldn't go back to the old way. My focus was on empowering people who worked at the company so that they could create things to improve the financial lives of our customers. My focus was on helping people learn skills mindsets and ways of being that would help them be more successful more customer-centered and innovative.  My goal was to be a multiplier.

A multiplier is something that doesn't just add value but it amplifies it. In my case, if I were to work on something for customers I would be able to hopefully have some incredible impact on the lives of the customers. But by focusing on the employees of my company, I was able to help many of them to elevate their skills so that they could make a greater impact in the work they did towards helping customers lives improve. I could help 1000 people and they, in turn could help millions.

At Intuit, we decided to roll out design thinking to the company in 2007. We recognized that design thinking was the mechanism we needed to use to become the premier innovative growth company that we aspired to be. Although we did try to teach everyone about design thinking, we had a problem of scale. There were over 5000 employees at the time, and how could we teach 5000 people to become design thinkers in their work? We gave talks and created tools for people to use. We did workshops, like everybody does. There were few big wins. There were a lot of little ones. But the real shift in scale happened when we started focusing on building skills of people who would build other employee's skills. We called these people the Innovation Catalysts. They didn't have a specific job for being an innovation catalyst. Instead they were encouraged to teach others design thinking skills by facilitating and coaching other people on their team and on other teams. To help each other. To help the company. Ultimately, to help our customers.

The innovation catalyst program took off starting in 2009, when we trained our first class of Innovation Catalysts. They immediately jumped into spreading the mindsets and tools that they were taught. Our leaders at the company, particularly the company founder Scott Cook and the CEO Brad Smith were extremely supportive and encouraged the innovation catalysts and all employees to use design thinking to get to better outcomes for the business and for customers. The innovation catalysts became multipliers themselves. They created their own communities and taught others to teach others. It wasn't just the central group, it wasn't just me. By the time I left Intuit design thinking was used throughout the company, at all levels, in all functions, and often with some amazing outcomes. The company as a whole became much more innovative and of course was seen as much more innovative by the rest of the world. The program continues today, and Intuit Innovation Catalysts continue to multiply the innovation mindsets and skills across the company and around the world. I am very proud of my part in this, although it certainly was not entirely due to me. I was a multiplier. I learned about design thinking and I taught others. I taught thousands of others. Those people teach it to others. The impact was (and is) enormous.

Are you a multiplier?

I left Intuit a couple of years ago to take a sabbatical and ultimately start off on my own. But remember, I am a multiplier. Am I a multiplier of one? If so have no impact. I meet multipliers every day. Too often, they are not allowed to teach and encourage others. They feel stifled. They don't feel like they are making the impact that they know that they are capable of.

Multipliers want to help create change. They want to scale behaviors and actions that make a difference, and to connect with other multipliers to amplify their impact.

Anyone can be a multiplier, but few of us step into that role.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the key reasons is because they don’t feel that they have permission to do so.  If you are trying to lead change, you can give them this permission.

I am doing research about the mechanisms and accelerators for creating meaningful and enduring change. If you are interested in participating in this research or learning more about what I have learned, please sign up for my Change Leaders mailing list! If you join, I'll send you a summary every few weeks with a list of resources and articles that I encounter that might help you in your efforts. I may also reach out to you to see if you're up for participating in my research or in activities with other change leaders.

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