Making ourselves more innovative in the workplace
Since my last blog post was a bit of a rant, I thought I’d share something a bit more optimistic that deals with some of the challenges we face.
A colleague and I recently co-ran a session about creativity and innovation for our office. Let’s face it – we are a secretariat office and so perhaps one of the last places you expect to see innovation, not because of the people we have, but because of the constraints we face in our role. But at the same time we do all want to be motivated, change things for the better and make a difference. Here are some reflections on our discussion.
The discussion focused mainly on personal creativity and innovation and how to foster and maintain it in our day-to-day work rather than on setting up and managing an innovation programme or agenda for the office.
I’ve embedded the Prezi we used below – although it might be hard to follow exactly what we were discussing without some context. One great thing about doing a visual presentation using Prezi in a corporate environment is that most people have not seen this approach before, so it is already easier to capture people’s attention than when using a traditional PowerPoint – and it is better at putting people in the right frame of mind to talk about innovation.
In our introductory presentation we basically gave a brief Introduction to the concept of innovation – what it is, why it can be difficult in our environment, what are a few examples of where it has happened within the UN etc.
This was followed by 3 personal tips/suggestions each from my colleague and me on how to be creative and innovative in our work.
My colleague’s tips focused on how to get ideas and inspiration. Here are the specific resources he suggested:
1. Listening to TED talks http://www.ted.com/ There are actually a lot of development and change management related talks which we hope to start sharing regularly in the office to get people’s creative thinking going (possibly a topic for a future blog post).
2. Reading “The artists way – by Julia Cameron” which gives a learning/personal development programme for people to follow to improve their creativity http://amzn.com/1585421472
3. Business innovation for Dummies – a very practical and readable book on how to innovate in the workplace from the “For Dummies” series http://amzn.com/0470601744
My tips focused a bit more on the implementation side of turning ideas into practice and included
1. The golden parrot award – basically “stealing with pride” ideas from other colleagues, offices or even disciplines and adapting them to your own work environment. More on the idea here in this great video from Chris Collison: http://chriscollison.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/how-steal-with-pride-did-battle-with-not-invented-here/ and I’d just also add for those uncomfortable with “stealing”, that we mean of course with attribution/credit to those who came up with the idea in the fist place.
2. After Action Reviews – https://kmonadollaraday.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/after-action-reviews-a-simple-low-tech-learning-tool-anyone-can-use/ basically my point was that these are an underutilized tool for looking at past experiences and quickly taking stock in order to learn from them and incrementally improve them – since coming up with ideas is not enough if we don’t also reflect on how they work in practice.
3. The third idea was ”phone a friend” for which unfortunately I don’t have a link to share . The basic idea is that anyone trying out innovation needs a network of trusted advisors who can give feedback, or make suggestions. Ideally this network includes people who are not in your immediate work environment (and so can give you an outside perspective), or perhaps not in your field of work at all, but who you can trust to give you honest, critical but constructive inputs. Another type of phone a friend is to always ask the new person in your office for feedback because they are still ready to question how things are currently done, and are still hopeful that things can be changed and are less susceptible to “group think” which can occur within an office.
After the presentation we asked colleagues to share their own tips on what they do to stay creative and motivated. After a slow start this led to a very interesting discussion on people’s personal working habits and what works best for them, and also some frank discussion on the challenges of trying to do something new within the system where people shared some of their past frustrations and current state of mind.
A whole range of personal approaches were shared on how people keep their motivation high, how they get over writer’s block or solve difficult problems, as well as generate ideas or new approaches to work. Interestingly many of these were focused around ways of keeping physically and mentally fit in general (exercise, meditation), maintaining a good work-life balance (spending time with children or with friends) and also stepping away from a problem when you are stuck, and focusing on something completely different, or taking a break in order to regain the mental faculty to solve a problem (or to allow your subconscious to work on the problem in the background). Another interesting element was the relationship between creativity in work, and engaging in creative activities such as music or drawing outside of work.
The other issue that emerged was the imperative for us to be creative precisely because of the challenging environment in which we work, in order to overcome the obstacles we face in order to achieve our mandate. At the same time this requires a supportive environment from management, and peer support for one another. and I had the feeling that we all agreed to do our bit to provide this.
In the end each of us agreed to write down one or more ideas we would try for the next four months from among those we had heard in order to increase our ability to innovate, and to meet back after the four months are up to report back on how we had done – did we manage to follow-up with the idea, and what was the result. And like with any innovation, this might or might not be fully successful, but we will all hopefully learn something useful from the experience.