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How to Develop Your People by Embracing Risk

Elliott Parker | CEO, High Alpha Innovation

Elliott Parker isn’t perfect, and he’s happy to admit it.

As some become more advanced in their career, they feel they’re not in a position to make a lot of mistakes. As a result of that mindset, Elliott believes people “actually render [themselves] fragile. We benefit from learning and from making mistakes.” And, a certain degree of risk and variability are central to this mindset.

After earning his MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles, Elliott wanted a career where he could both learn and help others. That’s exactly what he does now as CEO of High Alpha Innovation, where he partners with some of the world’s leading organizations to innovate through startup creation.

On this episode of Human Resolve, Elliott discusses the importance of leading with love, learning from mistakes, and combining the traits of a team and a family. He also reflects on High Alpha Innovation’s values, how his team has gotten through COVID-19, and how the jobs-to-be-done framework can be applied to Human Resources.

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Meet Elliott Parker

Elliott is co-founder and CEO of High Alpha Innovation, which partners with leading organizations to innovate through systematic startup creation. High Alpha Innovation applies the venture studio model developed at High Alpha to rapidly build and scale digital startups through the application of business strategy, worldclass design, and product development.

Prior to joining High Alpha, Elliott was a Principal at Innosight, the strategy and innovation consultancy founded by Clayton Christensen, where he helped companies around the world apply the theory of disruptive innovation to create strategies for growth and launch transformative new businesses.

Early in his career, Elliott became interested in the application of disruptive innovation while working with large corporations to develop alternative uses for their intellectual property. Later, as manager of new ventures at a global medical device firm, he helped pilot several innovative corporate startups. As a strategy consultant, Elliott has advised dozens of leading organizations around the world. As a founder, investor, or advisor, Elliott has launched dozens of startup companies.

Originally from California, and now residing in Indiana, Elliott earned a B.S. in Finance from Brigham Young University and an M.B.A. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he was a Venture Fellow.

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Show Notes

Elliott Parker isn’t perfect, and he’s happy to admit it.

As some become more advanced in their career, they feel they’re not in a position to make a lot of mistakes. As a result of that mindset, Elliott believes people “actually render [themselves] fragile. We benefit from learning and from making mistakes.” And, a certain degree of risk and variability are central to this mindset.

After studying finance at Brigham Young University and then earning his MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles, Elliott wanted a career that would allow him to learn, grow and help others. He started as a consultant, then a manager, and after six years, he became an entrepreneur.

Then in 2020, Elliott became the CEO of High Alpha Innovation, where he partners with some of the world’s leading organizations to innovate through startup creation.

Now, 20 years into his career, Elliot’s focus is fostering a positive environment with growth opportunities for his employees.

“I want a place where people feel secure,” he says. “Everybody’s been hired onto this team for a reason because of things they do exceptionally well. They’re going to help us all be better in different ways. That’s why they’re here. I don’t want people to feel like they need to be perfect at everything.”

On this episode of Human Resolve, Elliott discusses the importance of leading with love, learning from mistakes, and combining the traits of a team and a family. He also reflects on High Alpha Innovation’s values, how his team has gotten through COVID-19, and how the jobs-to-be-done framework can be applied to Human Resources.

Notable Quotes

Leading with love

“My parents did a good job of leading through love of our family. I didn’t want to disappoint them when I was growing up. I certainly wasn’t afraid of them. I knew they loved me and I loved them, and I wanted to do my best for them. And that was a first kind of lesson in leadership that I’ve carried. And I think that that applies in business, too — that good leaders earn the respect and love of those that they work with. And I’ve worked for bosses that similarly I did not want to disappoint because I so admired them and wanted to do whatever I could to either help them or to impress them.”

Great managers change lives

“That last day of class, Professor Bryson got up and gave a lecture on how management is one of the most noble things you can choose to do. Because number one … your objective is to figure out how to make more with less and how to adopt an abundant mindset and figure out how to create more in the world to make the world a better place. Number two: one of the byproducts of building companies and forming organizations, coming together with others to collaborate, is that we enable people to reach their potential to learn. And isn’t that kind of the whole point of us being alive? I came out of that thinking, ‘Boy, maybe I don’t need to go be a doctor or something to do something noble.’”

Culture of family and team

“I want a culture that is somewhere between a family and a team. … I want people to feel secure, but also to know they were chosen in a family. You don’t choose your family, you’re with those people forever, for better or for worse. That’s not true in a company. People will come and go. So it’s not a family, but I also don’t think of it as a team where we’re trading players out year in, year out, to optimize for getting first place. There are other objectives in running a business beyond just being in first place.”

Unexpected learning opportunities

“Fortunately, I’m in a position to make a lot of mistakes. I’m running a company that’s growing fast, and I have a lot of people depending on me. I’ve got a family whom I love and they are dependent on me. And so I’m doing things that I’ve never done before and I’m making mistakes and I’m trying to be vulnerable and to learn through those mistakes and get better, but I am inspired and motivated by this opportunity that kind of is just this abundance of opportunities that I have to help others around me, whether it’s my kids, my spouse, who, it’s mutual, we help each other.”

Helping others will help you get your job done

“When I walk into a meeting with people, I’m walking into a room sometimes for a difficult conversation, I am actively thinking about people around the table. What are their jobs to be done in this meeting? And I know that if I can help them satisfy their jobs to be done, there’s a better chance that I’m going to be able to satisfy my jobs to be done over the next 30 to 60 minutes in this meeting. And it’s an amazing trick to think about the situations you find yourself in that way. You find that you’re able to get a lot more of the things done that you want to get done when you are looking at the objectives of the people around you and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Reflect often on your organization's values

“One of the things that gets me so excited about this business, one of our values at High Alpha Innovation … we’re builders first. We believe in taking action to create data. We’re bold. We believe in telling the truth and dreaming big. We think what we’re doing can change the world and the third value is that we’re trying to create as much opportunity for as many people as we can. We believe that startups are a great way to do that. And that’s what gets me excited. It’s creating parking lots filled with cars. I’m really motivated by that — the opportunity that it represents for people in those businesses.”

Getting creative with hybrid culture

“One thing that’s been hard for us this year, and I think this has been universally true, is how to cultivate a connection in this environment. And that’s not just true in business over the last year, everybody’s been kind of trapped in their homes to a great degree. And we all miss that connection. We’ve run experiments at our company and none of it really replaces that face-to-face interaction you get and the bonds that you build that way. Zoom just doesn’t quite cut it all the time for that. But we have had to think about how we deliberately create those interactions that will foster some types of connection. We’re still small enough, 18 people, that we can do a 30-minute kind of open Zoom every day where people can jump in or out and just shoot the breeze, have conversations, have those random collisions that lead to good ideas. So we do that. That’s something that we’ve been practicing in our company, but it’s not perfect.”

Eradicating variability reduces ingenuity

“Jack Welch … his goal in GE was to eradicate variability from the system, to make it as predictable as possible. … To do that, you put in place hierarchies and rigid systems designed to eradicate variability. And what that does is it squashes human ingenuity. People are not designed to operate and function well in those environments. You’re not getting the best out of people. One of the jobs of a leader, especially as organizations grow, is to understand how you balance those two different objectives. Number one: we have to make sure this thing endures and continues to grow and do well, which means we have to run it efficiently. We have to get rid of a great deal of the variability. We can’t take on all the risks we did when we were a 20-person startup, but at the same time, you have to let in a certain degree of risk and variability, you have to let in a certain degree of human ingenuity. And that builds resilience over time.”

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