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Innovation Series: #4

[March 29, 2021] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas

Starting small but getting started

Series Introduction

Our world has changed. Things are different now. We all need to be innovators to some degree, challenging the past based on our new reality, and finding ways to improve our personal and professional lives as we move forward.

This blog series to date has talked about getting your head in the right place to get involved with challenging the status quo – learning that a new logic and an innovator’s mindset is necessary in our ever-changing world. We’ve explored how to build courage and establish credibility in the workplace so that you will not be underestimated. And then we focused on beginning the innovation process by identifying the right-sized problem in the workplace to simplify and improve. This week we will explore the creativity process. Are you feeling like an innovator yet? Stay with us – you will!!

The Creativity Process

Innovation is fostered by information gathered from new connections;

from insights gained by journeys into other disciplines or places;

from active collegial networks and fluid, open boundaries.

--Margaret Wheatley

The creativity process is where we get to imagine all types of amazing solutions to the problem we’ve so clearly identified and described. For many of us, this is where the fun begins! This can start out as an individual activity, but to be truly creative, we need the efforts and input of multiple people with multiple views. So, start thinking about those people who have expertise in any one aspect of the problem, as well as those with diverse perspectives, and those who are impacted by the problem, such as users, consumers and downstream recipients of the collateral damage. Start gathering your team of 5-6 people. And then, let the creative process begin using the following as a guideline.

Prepare the team. Pull your diverse team together in an enjoyable space where you can work uninterrupted for a few hours. After you thank them for contributing their time and talents to the day, passionately review the work that has been done to date. Describe the problem. Dialogue about the problem. Encourage questions. Don’t let people start in on solutions, but make sure everyone is clear on the problem they will collectively begin working on. #Channeltheenergy!

Brainstorming. The creative process continues with brainstorming -- a process where you and others consider solutions to any aspect of the problem, throwing out those creative ideas that could lead to a new reality. Brainstorming is about quantity first, not quality. These ideas are cheap to produce (as are yellow post-it notes), so keep the creative stream going until you have dozens of ideas to consider. Resist the urge to criticize any of these ideas as you go through the process. Sometimes the most “out-there” thoughts are the ones that have the most potential. When people feel safe, they will creatively participate. When they don’t, the conversation shuts down.

As you brainstorm, ask the group questions to jog their thinking – questions about solutions within the following context:

  • Desirability. What do people need? What do people actually want? What would exceed their expectations? What would make more sense to the users, the customers? What would reduce the demands on the user? What would expand the productivity of the user?

  • Feasibility. Moving barriers and risks aside, what is technically feasible? What is physically feasible?

Have the group write their ideas on note cards or sticky-notes and put them up for all to see. Keep going until the conversation wanes and you have a collection of ideas that is at least two times the number of participants.

The Narrowing Phase

The narrowing phase is up next and generally is a greater investment of emotional capital as the entire group provides input into the best ideas. Take the time to listen closely to the spontaneous conversations during this phase – some amazing insights will come out of this process.

Ask the group to multi-vote on their top 2 - 3 favorites. An easy prioritization technique is to give each person 3 sticky dots to use for their votes. Ask them to put a dot on the note-cards they consider to have the best ideas. If they feel strongly, they can place all three votes on any one idea. The ideas with the most dots are identified as the winners and move on to the next step of the creative process.

The Harvesting Phase

This phase focuses on the top 2-3 ideas as you run them through a harvesting process to identify the most critical ideas and concepts. This requires unscrambling the group’s thinking as they zero in on viable solutions. A great way to do this is by using a role-playing technique called Six-Thinking Hats created by Dr. Edward de Bono. Assign each team member a hat of a different color and have them respond to the focus area and questions linked to their colored hat. Each person takes their turn and presents to the group. Following their presentation, the group is encouraged to contribute their thoughts as well. This can be quite fun, especially when people focus on an area that is somewhat foreign to their natural thinking style! It also provides opportunities for everyone to actively engage in the innovation journey. #OhThePlacesWeCanGo

The Six-Thinking Hats below each represent a distinct focus area, or perspective, followed by a series of questions or considerations. Make sure the group sticks to the process – addressing one focus area at a time.

  • Blue hat – PROCESS. Think about the thinking. How solid is our thinking? Is there a focus? Organize the thinking into something coherent.

  • White hat – FACTS. Identify the information and data that is available. What data and information are also needed? How can this information be accessed or obtained?

  • Red hat – FEELINGS. What does your intuition or gut tell you? What hunches do you have related to this idea? What could influence your feelings into a different direction?

  • Green hat – CREATIVITY. Are there some new ideas, alternatives, possibilities or provocations that come to mind? To what degree is this a unique, innovative idea? What are some solutions to the black hat problems?

  • Yellow hat – BENEFITS. What are the benefits and positive aspects of this idea? Why is this idea useful? To what degree will implementing this idea differentiate you in the marketplace? What value does this add?

  • Black hat – CAUTIONS. What are the risks, difficulties and weaknesses to this idea? What dangers do you see ahead?

Now it’s time to select the ideas that rose to the top of the list -- ideas worthy of additional evaluation and development. Clearly document these concepts using words, graphics, other visuals, bringing order to the thoughts. Ask the group to review, give feedback and validate. This will support the next phase of work.

At this point you and your team have accomplished an especially important step in the overall innovation process. You’ve developed some solid ideas and concepts that can be further enhanced into robust solutions to your problem!! And, also of great value is the excitement and energy of the group as they engaged and moved out of the mundane and into the creative! Celebrate! -- food’s good, maybe even some adult drinks (is it 5:00 yet?) or do a happy dance wearing your new hat (and if you do this – share it with us so we can celebrate your joy). As you thank people for their contributions and the progress made, also solicit their interest and support for the next phase of the work.

What’s up next? The exciting phase of enhancing your ideas – developing your prototype. Stay tuned as this will be the topic of our next blog in the innovation series.

Titter Time:

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” ~ Linus Pauling References:

De Bono, E. (2000). Six thinking hats. London: Penguin Books.

Lewrick, M., Link, P. & Leifer, L. (2018). The designing thinking playbook: Mindful digital transformation of teams, services, businesses and ecosystems. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Scott, K. & Steinbinder, A. (2009, July). Innovation cycle for small- and large-scale change. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 33(4), 335-341.

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