Over the last five months I have had the good fortune of facilitating important and dynamic conversation between 17 industry leaders. These individuals all volunteered to serve on one of three issue strategic action teams (ISATs) that each met three separate times to solve three major issues ASA members are facing (that’s a lot of threes!).

I define innovation as leading customers to a better future for which they are willing and capable of rewarding you. In this case, these 17 leaders defined their customers as the membership of ASA and took on the important responsibility to tackle three mission-critical issues and develop viable solutions that will lead ASA-member companies to a better future.

  1. How do we recruit 60,000 to 100,000 employees with the needed competencies into the industry?

  2. How can ASA catalyze growth-oriented members to strategically and successfully transform their companies using technology?

  3. What can ASA do to help members not only survive but thrive by raising the members’ awareness of how they are positioned for the future, helping them think strategically about the change that is needed within their business, and provide tools and resources that lead them to a viable and relevant future?

While you read about the solutions and plans coming out of the just-completed ASA Winter Meeting in Dana Point, California, in the coming weeks and months, I think an important lesson is how the 17 individuals came together to tackle these three mission-critical issues.


Are you hungry?

Thinking of the work over the last five months, I am reminded the best leaders and innovators are both hungry and humble.

Innovators are hungry. These hungry leaders and innovators have a mindset that anything is possible. They are hungry for growth, improvement and solving real problems. They know there is a better way. They look at business, any function, any process, any way of doing business and know — there is a better way of doing it. And they are hungry to find that better way. They will think. Collaborate. Test. Experiment. Fail. Learn. Pivot.

When you are hungry you have a strong point of view. You have a belief system that can envision something better. And down to your core you know that something better is possible. Like these 17 ASA volunteer leaders. They attacked the three-mission critical issues, confident that a solution was there to be discovered.

While hungry, innovators also are humble. They know there is a better way, but they also are smart enough to realize they don’t have all the answers. They are humble enough to listen to others. To explore tangential and even conflicting ideas. They are ready to question their own assumptions when presented with new ideas, facts and data. They are interested in the best solution, not their solution.

Innovation in most cases does not present itself from a single “eureka” moment. Innovation is the culmination of connecting dots. It occurs when different ideas are combined and built upon. When one belief is presented. Noodled on. Challenged. Expanded. Combined. Innovators leave themselves open to alternatives despite their conviction.

In one thought exercise, each ASA ISAT member was asked to define a solution to a particular question in front of the group. They were then challenged in eight minutes to develop eight separate iterations of that solution. From there they were once again asked to develop their best solution to the problem. In all cases they presented, the solution was different than the first they had defined.

They weren’t done, however. They were then asked to draw their solution on paper, post it on the wall and let the solution speak for itself. No egos. No titles. No politics. No reverence for the individual. Simply, each idea was explored and discussed on the merit of the idea itself. And not just on how the idea stood on its own, but what would happen if the ideas were combined in different ways. The combination of thinking and ideas was electric.

All 17 individuals throughout the process had strong ideas of what needed to be done. I think it’s safe to say if they didn’t, they would not have raised their hands to be a part of this process. Yet, they came with a sense of humbleness, not only ready, but desirous of learning from others and discovering the best solution.

It has been an honor to serve with Paul Kennedy of Dakota Supply Group, Kip Miller of Eastern Industrial Supplies, Jim Lewis of Kohler, Chris Reynolds of Plumbers & Factory Supplies, Mark McNitt of Ferguson, Terry Shafer of SWA and NCWA, Don McNeeley of Chicago Tube and Iron, Roland Gordon of Winsupply, Christy Maloney of Coburn Supply, Todd Ford of Central States Group, Paul Martino of Hajoca, Bruce Carnevale of Bradford White, Bill Condron of The Granite Group, Katie Poehling of First Supply/Gerhard’s, Jeff Camuso of Charles D. Sheehy, Mark Wassink of Galloup, Steve Edwards of Winsupply, and Mike Adelizzi and the ASA staff.

Here are two questions you can bring to your team learning from these 17 hungry and humble individuals:

Look at the problems you are solving. Are you hungry enough to tackle the hard and critical issues as opposed to just the day-to-day problems that surface?

Look at your meetings. Who is the first and the last to speak? Is it the individual with the title? The tenure? Are you humble enough to let the best idea win?