Mix it up for innovation


How many times have you been in an innovation session, which starts of well, but then ends up being anything but innovative? You sit down and someone says, “Let’s get creative, brainstorm, and see what we come up with”.  Occasionally you get a great idea, but then nothing actually materializes.  So all in all it was a wasted few hours of your life.

Innovation and creativity is essential for businesses to stay ahead, but quite frankly, many just don’t have the skills to be innovative and do innovation.  You see, it is just as important to be and do when it comes to creativity. shutterstock_78634858 (1)

Advertising executive Alex Osborn argued, back in the 1940’s, that you can increase creativity by simply putting a group of people together and giving them a set of simple instructions, such as think of as many ways we can (insert your topic here).  Another instruction might be that they can be as wild, out there, and ridiculous as you like, or that there will be no analysing, criticising or judgement.

Osborn suggested that we can create twice as many ideas working with someone else, than alone. This is the model that many businesses and organisations use today.  However, research suggests that this type of innovation and creativity may not be as effective as we all thought.  In fact, much research now suggests that working alone can be far more effective, than working with a set group.  Why might this be the case?

Fear of judgement and criticism

When we work with our colleagues and peers, we tend to not want to look ridiculous or out there, so our thoughts and creativity are diminished.  We all want to fit in, and be liked, and want to look good in the eyes of our peers.  So we conform to be accepted.  Our need to be accepted is our number one desire.  So unless the culture of the organisation is to think creatively, out there and ridiculous, then the underlying fears of judgement and criticism will be driving our thoughts and creativity.  That’s why creativity on your own is far more productive.  Creating an environment where people can then openly share their ideas is crucial, otherwise they still remain ideas inside someones head.

Social Loafing

When we have groups, we tend to be less productive than if we work alone.  You see, where there is a group, individuals will not receive personal praise if the group does well.  Our innate desire for individual recognition, reward and praise is dulled in groups.  Equally, in groups, you can always blame someone else or the group collectively, if you don’t succeed.  Therefore everyone generally performs at a more average level.

Research now suggests that in group brainstorming, we are actually stifling creativity and innovation, as we aren’t as motivated to come up with ideas and spend more time thinking inside the box.

Yes But

In groups that work together over time, on a particular project or work situation, we see that we quickly move to analysis mode.  Rather than staying in the Yes And mindset, we move to Yes But mind, looking for all of the barriers and complexities, thus talking everyone down, and pushing further within the box.  Therefore, research shows that it is actually better to remove “specialists” from the room, and brainstorm with a beginners mind, or a child’s mind.  In fact, why not ask children to brainstorm your problem.  You maybe pleasantly surprised by what they come up with.

Inactive Bodies

A great deal of these innovation sessions are around a table, at a desk, in a meeting room or static.  The body and mind are linked, so if your body is in the same environment, sat in the same position, surrounded by the same people, then it will be no surprise to you that you will get the same kinds of thinking.

Get up, move around, lie down, jump around.  Why not stand on the top of a hill, walk in the woods, sit around a camp fire and get into nature.  When we are walled in our perspective and minds are also walled in, we think smaller.  So get moving and get outside and change your environment.

Perspective Blockers

If you are brainstorming from your own perspective, then you are only looking at it through one lens.  Perhaps one of the rules/or instructions you can introduce to your sessions it to pick and object, or person, or character and brainstorm through their perspective.  Perhaps think like an ant, a clown, the sunshine, a lion, or a child.  Or if you want to create a new business strategy, think how would a president, market trader, or fairground ride attract customers or creates a plan.  If we keep thinking with our own perspectives we will keep getting the same answers.

Mix it up

It is proven that if you have the same group of people at your table, you will stifle creativity, no matter how many rules or permissions you give them to “be” creative.  We bring stereotypes, prejudice, fear of rejection and politics into the group, which block innovation.  So a really easy way to ignite a session is to mix it up.   Why not break the group up, change tables every half hour, bring in other people who have nothing to do with your team or objective.

Just by mixing the group dynamics up a bit, we spark energy, perspectives, and innovation.  just the physical act of getting up and moving creates a change in us.  Just keep mixing.

Leave it Hanging

Ok so you have managed to get a couple of great ideas, but what next?  So many sessions stop then.  The ideas are left hanging on the post it notes or white boards.  Innovation and creativity doesn’t happen at the dreaming stage, it happens at the action stage.  Only when an idea is actually actioned, can you call your team or business innovative.

So at the end of each session, create a plan of:

  • What you are going to work on some more
  • Who is going to work on it
  • When will they feedback to you as a group
  • Who is the decision maker and leader

This is the stage where you can start doing.  This is where you can start analysing, costing, strategising to make the innovation happen.  This needs everyone to be committed, accountable and results orientated.  This is time for action.