One of the things that emerged at the recent A(S)TD conference was that a particular gap might exist. While there are resources about learning design, performance support design, social networking, and more, there’s less guidance about facilitating innovation. Which led me to think a wee bit about what might be involved. Here’s a first take.
So, first, what are the elements of innovation? Well, whether you listen to Stephen Berlin Johnson on the story of innovation, or Keith Sawyer on ways to foster innovation, you’ll see that innovation isn’t individual. In previous work, I looked at models of innovation, and found that either you mutated an existing design, or meld two designs together. Regardless, it comes from working and playing well together.
The research suggests that you need to make sure you are addressing the right problem, diverge on possible solutions via diverse teams under good process, create interim representations, test, refine, repeat. The point being that the right folks need to work together over time.
The barriers are several. For one, you need to get the cultural elements right: welcoming diversity, openness to new ideas, safe to contribute, and time for reflection. Without being able to get the complementary inputs, and getting everyone to contribute, the likelihood of the best outcome is diminished.
You also shouldn’t take for granted that everyone knows how to work and play well together. Someone may not be able to ask for help in effective ways, or perhaps more likely, others may offer input in ways that minimize the likelihood that they’ll be considered. People may not use the right tools for the job, either not being aware of the full range (I see this all the time), or just have different ways of working. And folks may not know how to conduct brainstorming and problem-solving processes effectively (I see this as well).
So, the facilitation role has many opportunities to increase the quality of the outcome. Helping establish culture, first of all, is really important. A second role would be to understand and promote the match of tools to need. This requires, by the way, staying on top of the available tools. Being concrete about learning and problem-solving processes, and educating them and looking for situations that need facilitation, is another role Both starting up front and educating folks before these skills are needed are good, and then monitoring for opportunities to tune those skills are valuable. Finally, developing process facilitation skills, serving in that role or developing the skills, or both, are critical.
Innovation isn’t an event, it’s a process, and it’s something that I want P&D (Learning & Development 2.0 :) to be supporting. The organization needs it, and who better?
Facilitating for innovation is one of the hardest skills/talents for me. How do I generate ideas and nurture lines of creativity while at the same time trying to keep people focused? And what is focused in this sense? Sometimes the best ideas happen when you wander far off the path. I guess my question is this: What tools/resources are available to help me develop my brainstorming and problem-solving processes?
Dave Whittington says
I have to disagree with “innovation isnâ€™t individual”. I think innovation can be thought of as existing at three levels within an organization. Innovation operates at the individual, group, AND organization wide levels.
At an individual level, we’re looking for specific attitudes (eg risk tolerance) and skills (eg systems thinking) that promote innovation. We’re also looking for individuals to support other individuals. This is where good coaching and peer support come into play.
At a group level we need specific tools and processes that provide the scaffolding for innovation to take place. Things like Gamestorming, HCD and Future Search come to mind. Note that these processes will fail to deliver if the individuals involved don’t have the right attitudes and skills.
Finally at the organizational level, we need to recognize that simply sprinkling the term “innovation” liberally through a strategic plan (I’ve seen this) is not sufficient. I think there are 5 things organizations need to do to embed innovation into their culture. In no particular order, the organization needs to celebrate it, reward it, train for it, make space for it, and demonstrate it, from the top down.
I’ve lots more to say, but I’ll leave it there for now.
Dave, we do want to assist individuals in being ready to innovate, but what I mean when I say it’s not individual is that notion that one person will go away and come back with the new innovation shouldn’t be the expectation. As you point out, though, helping people develop the mindset and skills so they can interact effectively is part of it, certainly. And yes, there are specific techniques for group interaction that we can map more or less to the specific types of goals we desire. As I said, we need to understand what works (and what doesn’t!). And it’s not just embed innovation in the culture (saying it in a Miranda org just isn’t going to make a difference), it’s change the culture to be an innovation-friendly org. Which includes the elements you mention, model it, develop it, support it, reward it.
Dave Whittington says
Thanks Clark, I think we’re on the same page. It might be the somewhat complicated mix of individual mindset, the right tools, and the right culture, that make promoting innovation in organizations such a challenge. We have to simultaneously pay attention to all of these.