After facilitating many a Sandpit (aka Ideas Lab) for academic researchers, we wondered if our methodology might work for a development problem? Inclusive Innovation was born to find out. Here’s what we learned.
Every type of science has a robust language of its own, rife with acronyms and jargon that make for efficient communication amongst peers within the field but can be confusing, misleading or off-putting to people from other disciplines. This raises our attention to the fact of how much we rely on language to convey meaning, and that if we don’t have a shared understanding, it’s harder to work together and collaborate creatively.
Walking, it seems, is now a tested method for coming up with creative ideas. It probably doesn’t surprise you that standing up and stretching your legs and getting some aerobic activity to move your blood around might help your brain to conjure up more options. But now there’s research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education to back up what was up until now intuitive or anecdotal: Taking a walk can yield more ideas than sitting in your chair thinking.
We often refer to Post-it notes as portable recording devices, just to put in perspective why we stick to using them. It’s one of the easiest, fastest ways to get a group of people to put their thoughts together and then sort them out, collectively. Quickly, a group can organize a wall of hundreds of Post-it notes, revealing major themes but keeping the granularity intact within the resulting categories.
People from other disciplines, other departments, other universities. They are interested in a domain that is not exactly your science. It may be a neighboring branch of science with obvious parallels or overlaps but still with an approach that is different from yours, or it might be from a very different universe, a science that is 180 degrees away, with subject matter and methodology foreign to you. These are the people we want you to be talking with.
It‘s usually in a moment of feeling blocked or stalled that there’s a fierce temptation to seize the nearest reasonable solution. This is when we need a tolerance for ambiguity. It means staying in uncertainty, or staying with the question, despite the discomfort of not knowing the answer, or not knowing where we’re headed. It requires relinquishing control – even though a solution isn’t always guaranteed – to make room for new and emerging connections to crystalize into a clear direction.
The KI method depends on a unique skill that scientists may be unaccustomed to: deferring judgment. It is the capacity to set aside your opinions temporarily and accept a new or odd idea and take the time to develop it before dismissing it. If you can overlook the flaws of a suggestion and play with it for a while, it might lead to a novel and useful idea. This is the cornerstone of divergent thinking. And it happens to be the first rule of improv: Say Yes.
Scarcity can be a major driver for innovation. A bleak economy can thrust companies, organizations, universities – and entire countries – into an austerity mode. In the context of a changing economy when it seems everything has to be faster, better and cheaper, there’s a type of innovator who’s thriving: the jugaad innovator. Jugaad is a Hindi word that translates not only to a noun – it’s a fix, a work-around, an innovative solution – but it also encompasses an entire spirit of resourcefulness and resilience.
Where you meet sets the mood for your meeting, which is why the space matters. Put people in the same old meeting room and the chances of getting the same old output are pretty good. If it’s a big open room with an inviting seating plan around round tables, with long walls of white paper ready to receive hundreds of ideas, it sets an entirely different tone. If you want to make room for innovation, you have to make the room the kind of place that will invite it.
Group work can be clunky and cumbersome. You have to spend longer clarifying the objectives, aligning resources and getting people on board. Sometimes, it can seem nearly impossible to achieve the consensus necessary to advance within a task. Groups are a powerful mechanism to produce innovative solutions, but getting to that product can be arduous, particularly if it’s not well facilitated.