Simple Advice for Leading Innovation | Part 2

Updated: May 27

We've learned some of the greatest advice about innovative leadership through our time at Kahana. Building something you love takes time, patience, and care. Gratitude for supportive mentors and friends is so unbelievably important.


Our Top Resources for Learning about Leadership

In our last post, we focus on the lessons we’ve learned about leadership through our time at Kahana and guidelines that we have followed. And while working to build a company has been an incredible opportunity to learn about leadership, we would not be where we are today without generous mentors and key resources that we have read and listened to. So without further ado, here are some great resources we recommend checking out as you establish your own principles for becoming a leader.

Billion Dollar Lessons by Carroll & Mui

It’s one thing to build a company, and it is entirely another thing to not kill a company. We like a technique introduced in Billion Dollar Lessons, that we call “looking into the abyss,” which forces us to outright ruminate on the worst possible outcomes for Kahana when making a decision, both from an internal and external perspective.

Embrace Devil's Advocacy: We make sure to have tough conversations early, focusing on how we can address problems before they escalate. “Devil’s Advocacy” is a principle that this book preaches, and it is at the very core of our founding principles. In any strategic meeting or discussion around a key decision, we use pre-determined “Devil’s Advocacy” mechanisms that encourage us to explore all options and promote intelligent decision-making diligence. As much as possible, we work to mitigate mistakes that can kill the business and avoid taking non-calculated risks at all times.

Two women sit on a couch and face each other while having a conversation in a room rilled with green potted houseplants.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Leading by Example: If you haven’t read Good to Great, it’s fun to explain what we love about the book anyways!

First, Good to Great breaks down the qualities that characterize the most successful leaders, namely, disciplined work-ethic, willingness to support others, sharing positive feedback to the team, and obsession (sometimes the freakish kind!) with generating valuable insights and results. Strive to emulate and build on these qualities each day.

Distilling a resonant vision that can be communicated to others by others: Distill an accessible vision that helps everyone understand the “why” of what they are doing.

There will inevitably come a time when someone yawns and daydreams about the 20+ other things they could be doing that aren’t named “Kahana.” This is a red flag that more fulfilling and interesting work needs to be provided or communicated differently. On this note, when deliberating during work sessions before proceeding with a strategy, genuinely ask people, “Does the proposed prioritization and approach make sense to everyone?”

Many people struggle to work in and make sense of an environment in which they, personally, don’t contribute to, have a say in, or have an understanding of the high-level vision and initiatives that cascade from it. Proper communication of vision and getting people on board is so critical to Kahana, and we are exploring ways to actively intertwine individuals’ personal goals into what they do so they know their time is being leveraged in a thoughtful and productive manner.

Maximizing Individuals’ Strengths: Also from Good to Great, the Hedgehog Concept is an additional nugget that is great to understand when working with Kahana.

If you are unfamiliar with the the Hedgehog Concept, think about it this way: in a battle of survival, out in the wilderness, a hedgehog often “defeats” a fox, despite a fox’s cunning and physical tools, because a hedgehog does one thing - curl up into a defensive spiky position - extremely well.

A hedgehog turns the left side of its face towards a camera, while it sits calmly on the ground.

This concept is about doubling down on that “thing” you’re really amazing at. Therefore, we have “Hedgehog-focused” conversations with people up-front, deliberate to understand each persons’ strengths and passion areas, and then try to propose projects and activities that align with the Hedgehog area until the person finds her or his sweet spot.

Definition: The Hedgehog Concept aims to crystallize the economic value of prioritizing that individuals focus on work that:

  • They are passionate about

  • Contributes to the creation of measurable economic value

  • They can potentially be the best at “in the world”

Example: Jonathan feels most energized and inspired when he is talking to customers, clients, and potential partners and hearing their stories, and also enjoys strategizing. Measures are taken to ensure that he does this a lot.

Example: Eugene likes working on the product, coding, and planning out future innovation. He is very good at this. Thus, Eugene spends time focusing on this.

Example: Adam likes strategizing, writing, and exploring ideas, so he allocates time for this and asks people to hold him accountable to create new content.

The collective “Hedgehog” of the Kahana co-founders is getting into the nitty gritty of product design and vision in order to determine the most optimal ways of implementing new features and planning out the evolution of the business. As a result, this is where we would optimally like to spend our time and take time to meet collaboratively.

This concept is about doubling down on that “thing” you’re really amazing at.

On culture: Cultivate a sustainable environment of openness that is built on mutual trust and acknowledgement that change is constant and to be embraced. We are serious about embracing a culture of “change.”

Seriously think about the lesson from Good to Great, that systems, not people, are meant to be managed. Said differently, make the effort to get the right people into the right “seats” on the bus and spend time assessing “getting the wrong people off the bus.”

Ultimately, we absolutely adore being a part of a group of people that believes it can do anything collectively, is determined to grow and develop, and fosters habitual improvement.

High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

This book is a great, efficient read for people who want an overview of what needs to happen from an operations perspective as a business begins to scale. We are kleptomaniacs when it comes to taking inspiration from proven stuff, and High Growth Handbook is filled with proven advice that has worked in practice, so we read it and make people who work with us aware of it.

A signficant focal point of the book is emphasizing the importance of having a healthy HR department and strategy. Point-blank, do not mess around with HR, recruitment, or talent retention. Period. We spend diligent time getting to know people and prefer to do so in a working capacity. Often, the people we gravitate towards working with (and who gravitate towards working with us) demonstrate an insatiable passion and fire for problem-solving.

On Building the iPod, Iphone, Nest, and a Life of Curiosity

This is a delightful podcast conversation between Tim Ferriss and Tony Fadell that we refer to often. Why does it stand out? It teaches many life lessons about finding your own path. The personal and business topics discussed in this roughly two hour conversation completely reflect what we are about at Kahana. We strive to improve and be curious at all times, similar to the anecdotes mentioned in this conversation.

We remind ourselves to be serial learners and approach problems like complete newbies who do not know anything whatsoever because 99% of the time, this is absolutely the case.

This conversation also has a great quote about resolving interpersonal problems in the workplace:

“I’m not going to take a side because someone will inevitably be upset. Get in a room (or virtual equivalent), try to talk like adults, and figure it out. If you are not seeing progress, then come get me.” - Tony Fadell on how he resolves interpersonal management problems (e.g., people wanting him to take sides in an argument).

Tony Fadell poses for a photo on an ornate staircase while leaning against a golden railway fitted with glass panels.

Creating space to debate in this way is the primary way we resolve interpersonal conflicts, as well. We have also invented our own mechanism to moderate conversations that get heated (which inevitably happens as passionate founders), by opting to use a folded hands gesture (similar to basic public speaking) to signal a 10-second break in conversation, which allows for breathing and gathering of thoughts before conversation resumes. This reduces talking in circles and the generation of unnecessary stress.

“I’m not going to take a side because someone will inevitably be upset. Get in a room (or virtual equivalent), try to talk like adults, and figure it out. If you are not seeing progress, then come get me.” - Tony Fadell

The Intrapraneur’s Journey by Hugh Molotsi

We don’t believe in magical innovation. We believe in human willpower, hard-work, and consistency over time - that’s it. Before any solutions were ever remotely entertained, Kahana began with setting aside 2 hours every morning between 6 am - 8 am, before day jobs, to do research and debate potential pain points.

Hugh Molotsi speaks about why failure is not an option at the Lean Startup conference.

Since the beginning, we have subscribed to Lean Startup methodologies. We continue to emphasize rapid experimentation and testing of minimum viable products, websites, marketing copy - everything. We are all about failing smart and failing fast. We focus heavily on business strategy, product innovation, gathering feedback, and filtering features.

We also take the tactical advice from The Intrapreneur’s Journey to heart, implementing “White Space Time'' to provide folks with enough space to think divergently. The best ideas always come from White Space Time brainstorming and grassroots efforts. It’s a top priority that people have plenty of time to noodle freely and happily at Kahana.

The Bottom Line

Growing your leadership skills and forging your own path is an exciting, challenging, and gratifying, journey. We hope that these lessons and resources have been useful and help guide you along in your own process and appreciate the opportunity to provide our insights.

At Kahana, we live and breathe content creation. We love learning new concepts, exploring emergent trends, and writing about topics that foster creativity and wellness. If you're interested in writing with us or would like to collaborate for your dream business blog, we'd love to hear from you!


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