Tips and insights on how to be more innovative are interesting and anecdotal. They are also difficult to put into action that leads to behavior change. Therefore the priority is to understand what the impediments to being creative are and how to implement cultures to disrupt. Linking awareness to change can be a powerful approach to awaken an individual to their reality.
The typical response from a client when asked how innovative their culture is, they err on the side of positivity. Stating that they are more innovative than most and attempt to make a direct link to how their culture is the cause. Using quantitative surveys, qualitative focus groups, and observations, an independent assessor can accurately triangulate a picture of the culture. This helps determine how well the leader’s assessment aligns with the team’s. This also creates an understanding of where a team can be innovative and where a team must be process-driven and standardized.
Assessment is a valuable component to key stage of changing behaviors. My mother’s philosophy that “people don’t change after kindergarten,” runs counter to this approach. However, it captures accurately that behavioral change is one of the hardest tasks an organization can undertake. Many clients will look at the number of weaknesses pointed out and will either disregard everything and do nothing. The other clients will build a massive corrective action plan in the attempts to solve everything. These gyrations both end in the same result of no progress accomplished.
A healthier approach would be to follow the guidance of Richard Thaler’s Nudge Theory. The theory focuses on small, incremental and almost unnoticeable changes. These nudge people in the direction of making a better decision. For example, to encourage healthier eating, Nudge Theory would suggest placing fruit or vegetables at eye level, near the checkout counter of the grocery store instead of displaying candy bars. Using this same approach, as a team, choose one behavior or cultural aspect to change. Then design how each other can be nudged into the behavior that would help enable innovative thinking. Make this one behavior the focus of the team for the next few weeks. Practice feedback on performance with each other to get it to stick and after six-weeks, if the behavior has changed, then move to the next weak area.
This approach came to life when consulting with a manufacturing organization whose executive staff kept focusing on tactics and operations. This led to a stagnate business model. With phones, messages, and interruptions constantly occurring, the team was never able to achieve a level of deep and focused effort, nor were they able to define a long-term growth strategy. Using this process, they were able to build a two-hour block of time at the end of each day. There they established expectations enabling them to shut off their phones, close their e-mails, and decline meetings so that they could dedicate their efforts to build a long-term strategy. While this was intended to be a short-term resolution to build a strategy, it soon became ingrained into the culture of the organization with the time blocks moving into the management and engineer levels.
Lastly, try to build a comprehensive working prototype as a team that would take your team through a simple project. Where you will be able to define your creative process and begin to prepare yourself to handle greater levels of ambiguity. Choosing a safe project to practice on, design and build a flow of operations for the project with a specific focus on how the project can be run with the greatest inspiration of creativity. This will provide the opportunity to understand the team preferences for how they will be able to unlock their reserved insights as well as establishing behavioral guidelines to operate with. This experience will help the team explore the pros and cons of the model with the intent to design a future operating model that will unlock innovation during the projects that matter most.
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