Over the years, it has become common practice for the mentors at our workshops to ask of one activity or another, “Why are we doing this?” It’s clear that a simple, “Because it works,” is not the level of detail that our catalyzing team deserves. So we asked ourselves, “Why are we doing these activities?”
In our workshops, we’ve interacted with participants of all sorts of behaviors. Though we encounter our fair share of personality traits and quirks, it is important to recognize that many of the behaviors we come across are simply human nature – and yet not at all conducive to deliberate innovative thinking. We like to test the assumptions about the “best practices” that human beings have learned to employ and demonstrate how they can actually be bettered by workshop facilitators, mentors, and organizers.
Let’s look at some of the commonly accepted “best practices” (and how they might be bettered).
Establishing a routine.
Human beings are creatures of habit, and proud of it. Think of the blogs you’ve seen: “Ten routines of highly creative people” or “Want to be more creative? Follow these six steps every day!” The list goes on. Our workshops are slightly different. We believe that, in order to achieve innovative and novel ideas in such a short timeframe, participants must ready to step out of their routines.
To begin with, seating arrangements at KI events are scrambled as often as possible. This is in direct opposition to the human nature of sitting in the same chair, at the same table, every day. It also helps to break the habit of speaking solely with colleagues or participants with shared interests. While these may seem like reasonable habits to have, we’ve noticed that keeping people moving, changing their environments, and constantly introducing them to new collaborators with different disciplines and levels of professional experience can lead to participant tolerance for new or even strange ideas. It encourages a level of open-mindedness that many are not used to experiencing – or enjoying.
Creating a perfected product/proposal before sharing.
Typically, we’re taught never to present an idea that hasn’t been worked all the way through. We’ve all dealt with our fair share of rejection for ideas we thought were golden. Because of that, many people are tempted to work in seclusion until their proposal, prototype, or product is simply perfect. Only then will they show their finished work to anyone else.
While this may seem like a reasonable way to go about things, at KI we are strong proponents of continuous feedback, encouraging participants to present their ideas early and throughout the development process. Our process forces groups to share their progress so far, and allows other participants to give feedback that may not have been considered using an evaluation tool called the PPCo: Pluses, Potentials, Concerns, and overcomes. By creating a safe environment where ideas are accepted, and using a feedback tool that encourages growth and development, projects are more likely to flourish.
Looking for the perfect idea.
It’s often difficult for participants to see anything wrong with trying to apply prevailing ideas, technologies, or practices to solve a new challenge. But that’s not what our workshops are about. Instead, we encourage participants to develop new solutions instead of looking for existing work that might “perfectly” solve the problem. Being novel, the ideas may require additional development, but they’re more likely to be breakthrough.
Looking for the right answer.
Similarly, it can be confusing when we tell participants that they shouldn’t be looking for the right answer to a challenge. The purpose of KI workshops is to find innovative solutions to difficult or strange challenges. We’re constantly reminding participants that they are looking for all the possible interesting and novel options – not necessarily the “right” ones. We’ll worry about polishing them once we’ve got a handful of intriguing ones to develop. We must remind our participants – and the entire organizing team, for that matter – that quantity does have an impact! The more ideas, questions, and opportunities that participants produce, the more likely it is that some of them will be novel and innovative.
Once we clear up the differences between applying existing ideas and developing new ones, and between looking for the right answer and a novel option, we tend to run into the challenge of linear thinking. It’s easy for anyone who is not used to working in such an open environment to cling to the first great solution that appears. However, thinking in depth about one solution will rarely produce the level of novelty and innovation that directors are typically after. We encourage participants to think laterally, and we bring tools and techniques to the table to help them do so.
Capturing the final thought.
It is not uncommon for people – in meetings, in classrooms, in laboratories – to discuss a project in depth and then write down the final, end result, a summary of their discussion. After all, that’s the part that matters, right? At this point, you shouldn’t be surprised that we do not agree. We believe strongly in the importance of capturing thoughts along the way. During our workshops, participants are encouraged to write down ideas, questions, and challenges as they come up in their working and feedback sessions. These notes can be used to supplement the final product and even encourage new paths to take once the end result is reached.
Human nature – curiosity, ambition, passion – is a beautiful thing. Curiosity drives us to discover and invent, ambition opens us up to worlds of possibilities, and passion keeps us going even when things seem impossible. But our human behaviors can also get in the way of our true potentials. To know innovation, we must first know human nature. By meeting potentially inhibiting behaviors head-on, we are opening ourselves up to something even greater: the novelty that comes with letting go of subconscious, self-imposed restrictions.