The still popular “Wheel of Fortune” game show has a fun category called Before/After. The letters on the board, which Vanna White turns one purchased consonant or vowel at a time, ultimately reveal a word combo in which the middle word works with both its antecedents and successors, e.g., Wheel of Fortune Cookies; Call Me Maybe Some Other Time; Vanna White Album). As a writer, I love word games like these. Over the years, I’ve played similar ones with my kids and husband. Like all creative endeavors, in order to create a before/after combo it takes some creativity, whimsy, surprise, time, not to mention some context or experience. One would think that she/he with the largest vocabulary has a better shot at creating a before/after combo, but that’s not always the case.
Sometimes age and experience aren’t the only determining factors in the game. Sometimes, it’s a combination of other things: trial, error, risk, failure, and the ability to merge ideas. Sometimes one of us needs a little encouragement, other times we work together and one idea fuels another. Often we change words, leave old ones behind, and decide to focus on new ones. And sometimes we just say “NO” (either because the word choices are not appropriate or are just nonsensical). But, over time we’ve gotten good. As in, we, as members of the human race, have been made better by the process of creating. We’ve become more collaborative, funny, honest, creative, and happy. We enjoy each other’s company. We work well together. We have learned to take constructive criticism. We look to others for support and encouragement. We rejoice in each other’s success (most of the time). Meanwhile, our vocabularies have improved. Our working knowledge of the world we live in and who we live with has expanded. Each of us brings something new to the game—a vast array of experiences, insights, and behaviors.
And as we’ve improved, we’ve expanded our game play, too. We also play an oxymoron game. An irony game. The state game. (It’s not complicated. You know how the Red Hot Chili Peppers made the word Californication? Try doing that with every state? Combine a state with another word to create a new one. It’s harder than it looks. It might make you Missourable or it may be a bit Illinnoying, but I guarantee it will be so fun and stretch your creative muscles!) And then there’s the quiet game. (OK, we didn’t invent this one, but it comes in handy on long car trips!)
What’s the best part about playing games like these? They engage the parts of your brain that are responsible for your creative and problem solving areas. They enhance your creativity. They force you to collaborate and think about a broad range of ideas and things. Eventually, each idea builds on the next. More importantly, while playing you laugh. You bond. You learn. You create. In a sense you create a comfortable space for new ideas (not just before/after words) to flourish. You have, in essence, built an Innovation Space Station. What’s that?
In order for innovation, new ideas, concepts, and processes to flourish they need a certain environment—a space with all the right components. And like the International Space Station, which was born out of collaboration, team work, ingenuity, perseverance, intelligence, and a dare to dream big, fail big (and consequently make even better), an innovative idea that is launched into the universe needs to continuously move, evolve, be cared for, studied, and improved upon. Not surprisingly, the same components for innovation and creativity to flourish are not unlike the environment that has evolved while playing my before/after game. Turns out that science and research agrees with what I found out on my own. There are some optimum conditions for innovation—specifically the ability to problem solve, merge ideas, and create—to take place. And I have some well-known innovators to back me up on this, especially the late guru of innovation, Steve Jobs. Culling through his notes and sayings, as well as some experts both here at Xavier Leadership Center and beyond, as well as various books and articles on innovation, I’ve whittled down a list of optimum conditions, or the right spaces, required for innovative ideas to flourish.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people” —Steve Jobs
Even if you’re a self-proclaimed or Myers-Briggs-determined introvert, you still need people. You need to be able to work with others and rely on the collective brain power of many.
“It’s fine to celebrate success but it’s more important to heed lessons of failure.” —Bill Gates
Companies like Apple, 3M and Pixar are world renowned for their innovation cultures. And one thing all these companies seem to be OK with is failure. Yes, you heard me correctly: Failure. Their mantra seems to be: If you haven’t failed yet, that means you haven’t taken enough risks and you’re not learning. The majority of our education institutions and organizations don’t like this word. Most of us operate in worlds where there isn’t much room for failure. We expect perfection from others (even if we know it’s impossibility within ourselves). We demand too much. And we think others demand the same of us. So we watch our backs. We have become adversarial. We point fingers and cast blame. We scapegoat. Instead of accepting mistakes and learning from them, we feel forced to either be perfect or go home. The result? We don’t try things outside our comfort zone. If we do, we may, God forbid, FAIL. So we don’t invent. We don’t create. We stagnate. Which as it turns out, can be an EPIC FAIL, instead of a small one we could have learned from and moved on. (Read more about Why Failure is a Foundation of Innovation)
“Success is 99% failure.” —Sochiro Honda
What if you knew there was space to fail, space to make mistakes? That it was 99 percent of the process? What would you do if failing was OK? If you wouldn’t be embarrassed? Ostracized? Fired? Blamed? Would you speak up? Would you ask for something you hadn’t before? Would you build something? Try something new? What failure was built into your process and system? That trying things multiple times was a requirement?
“Come on. Chop, chop! Times-a-wasting! Isn’t there work for you to be doing? Isn’t there a job that has to be done right this second? Produce! Productivity is the name of the game.” —Constant Voice Inside in Your Head that Won’t Shut Up
OK. So we’ve all been there. Working endlessly, hour after hour, with little time to refresh and renew. We skip lunches. We barricade ourselves in our offices. “Do not disturb. Deadline here.” But, what if you carved out time in your day to do, dare I say it, nothing? Absolutely nothing. Stop whatever you’re doing and just Be. Present. Alone. With your thoughts. You’ll be amazed what you find there. You might be slightly disturbed, scared, and anxious, too, but I assure you, you’ll also eventually discover the seeds of innovation. You can’t possibly be creative or invite new ideas when your brain is awash with anxiety and to-do lists. Organizations that permit downtime, encourage breaks, have communal meeting areas, and areas for recreation are often some of the most innovative companies.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”—Mark Twain
Remember those halcyon days as a kid when your mom said dinner would be in an hour and you thought, “What? That’s like a century from now and nothing is on TV!” She kicked you out in the backyard and you had to play all by yourself or with your siblings. You might have imagined you were a superhero or a ballerina or the next Mary Lou Retton/Michael Jordon. That time to be bored led to activating the space in your brain used to entertain itself: Or what we like to call our imagination. Without boredom, downtime, or space to just do, you will not have space or time to imagine. When you exercise your imagination you will see not only new ideas, but the world differently.
“The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” —Albert Einstein
Sure we need to be around people. We need to participate in groups. But, we also need moments of regeneration. Even in the workplace. In the constant-phone-ringing, cube-buzzing, watercooler-talking, YouTube-video-watching, iPod-listening world we live in, we need to unplug, unwind, and be still. Breathe. Observe the world around you without the distractions. Find quiet areas to regenerate and step away from life’s commotion.
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them the tools, they’ll do wonderful things.” —Steve Jobs
Some companies make play mandatory. Their culture is all about play. It’s especially useful if they’re in the “play” business. Gamers, web developers, and tech companies seem to have this aspect down. The reality, though, is that most of us work in environments that play would be frowned upon by our clients or our customers. I don’t especially want to walk into my financial advisor’s office and see him losing at Monopoly®. Nor do I want to check into 1-day surgery and see my doctor practicing with his new putter after he washes up to operate. But, there are times that it is appropriate for teams to come together, to let down their guard, and to inject humor into their daily lives. There should be some space for fun, humor, friendship, and time to take a sincere interest in each other’s lives. Getting to know the people you work with and learning to trust them is vital to the innovative process.
“You have a lot of people in our industry who haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” —Steve Jobs
Get out and do something—anything—different from your day job. Learn another language, read, take up a hobby, hang out with friends outside of your industry, travel, or just listen to what others are doing or have to say. Broaden your horizons and the people in your life. The more you do this, the more varied experiences you have to draw on to create and innovate.
“This is how we have always done it!” —Being said somewhere, right now in an office near you
Who hasn’t heard this before? Sometimes a working process is fine. More often than not, however, the world outside is changing and the old way of doing things just won’t do any longer. It’s OK to change processes, people, teams, and even ideas if they are no longer working. If you keep doing things you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. If you want something better, smarter, or more innovative: It’s time to change.
“You’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll accomplish when you focus on a project without allowing anything else to get in the way.” —Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy. D.
Ever feel overwhelmed by a stack of papers, boxes, and general mess in your office? How about all those unread emails in your inbox? You’re not alone. Sure, everyone has their own unique style and comfort level with disorganization. Some people are inspired by their “organized messes,” while others need to have an absolutely spotless work area. However, research tells us, that messes and cluttered work areas tend to raise our cortisol levels (the hormones that create stress). Some of us can become so used to it that we don’t realize the reason we feel sad, depressed, stressed, or anxious is because we’re surrounded by too much stuff. Simplify your life and your work space and get rid of excess stuff and you’d be amazed at how refreshed you actually feel—and ready to create and innovate. Read More about How Clutter Causes Stress and Reduces Productivity
“Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” —Steve Jobs
You can’t love every idea. You can’t say yes to every project. Having the courage to exercise your right to say no is a bold and innovative act in and of itself. You may not be liked for a while. You may make some enemies along the way. But, if you trust your judgment, your facts, and you’re people, you’ll get good at it.
“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”—William Pollard
In revolutionary The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge argues that developing a learning environment is the most essential part of the innovation and creativity process—not to mention the success of an organization. He says, “Learning organizations [are] organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”
Earn your Innovation Certificate and learn proven methods that inspire creative problem solving and innovation, as well as maximize your team’s effectiveness and create an innovation culture in your organization. The following programs are offered as individual programs or can be taken together as a certificate program at Xavier Leadership Center this coming fall. Register today to save your “space.”
Innovation: Proven Methods is a 2-day immersion in the Creative Problem Solving process that has been used successfully in hundreds of innovation workshops at Procter & Gamble. To earn the Innovation Certificate this program must be taken with Innovation: Creating the Culture and Innovation: Maximizing Team Effectiveness
This program is intended for innovation team leaders who would like build on their own innovation skills to become facilitators of others through the creative problem solving process. To earn the Innovation Certificate this course must be taken with Innovation: Proven Methods and Innovation: Creating the Culture.
Innovation: Creating the Culture focuses on the leader’s role in energizing and enabling the innovation process within an organization. To earn the Innovation Certificate this program must be taken with Innovation: Proven Methods and Innovation: Maximizing Team Effectiveness
Here are other programs that will help you innovate, lead, inspire, and influence:
Learn to create and develop teams that support collaboration, leverage individual talents and maximize efficiency.
This program provides participants with the framework and tools for effective decision making under a variety of circumstances.
Learn how to engage others, manage interactions and shape outcomes so you can become a more effective manager and leader.
Learn how you can become the kind of leader who can inspire, engage and empower others to achieve results and unleash individual and organizational potential.
Learn collaborative approaches to achieve your short term goals and create long term productive working relationships.
Learn how to develop and leverage your own natural talents and the talents of others to create a more positive, productive workforce.