Innovation Requires Improvisation

When I was Qantas airline hostess, in the pre ‘flight attendant’ days, I was required to attend and pass, very strict Emergency Procedures (EP) training. This involved a week long, comprehensive experiential training session, teaching us how to evacuate a 747 aircraft by applying “the 90 second rule.” Our role was to act ‘as if’ we were the actual aircrew team on a fully loaded long transpacific flight. Our job was to empty the cabin of passengers, in a smooth and orderly way, in a simulated crash landing in either deep turbulent waters, where we launched life rafts and in dangerous land emergencies, where we launched inflatable rubber slides for people to escape hazardous fires from the damaged aircraft.

All within the required “90 seconds”!

Interestingly, our fun filled annual EP training sessions, were always conducted without any actual technical crew, or pilots, passengers, or anyone simulating these functions, being present. In fact we just had to imagine ‘as if’ the actual pilots and passengers were there, and to then shout loudly “come this way” to the mere 10-15 fellow aircrew attending the training!  Of course, in real life, it’s been proven that when an actual airline emergency happens, passengers’ ‘prime ‘survival’ directive kicks in, and the real result is bedlam, people drop everything, run like crazy, jam the exits and generally make “the 90 second rule” a fictional fantasy.

This is a great example of “how polite fictions riddle proposed innovations”

Fortunately I never actually had to use my EP training in a real life airplane emergency. However, I always wondered how valuable and meaningful our EP training experience would have been, and the real level of our competency to evacuate a fully loaded 747, been seriously tested by having to deal with a serious life threatening real life emergency?

Being willing to play

“Innovation attitudes, not just aptitudes, matter. The ethos is as much about culture as competence.”

As culture is typically defined as ‘the way we do things around here’ and with innovation culture being a CEO priority, we do need to focus on attitudes or mindsets as well as the ‘way we do things.’ And the best way to do this, for the cross generational range of global learners, is to deeply engage them in learning processes that involve ‘learning by doing and by playing.’
“You can be a serious innovator unless you are willing and able to play” says Michael Schrage, in his paradigm shifting book “Serious Play; how the world’s best companies simulate to innovate”. He explores how simple simulations invalidate a lot of the organizational assumptions and the ‘polite fictions’ that preserve them. He maintains that rapid prototyping is the ‘corner stone’ and ‘cultural fountainhead’ of an innovative enterprise. With the increasing demand for speed and agility it makes sense to see innovation as a social process and ‘a byproduct of how I play with others’.

Innovation for everyone everyday

This is because “For many firms, the innovation agenda is now as much about human capital investment as delivering new products and services” – making innovation part of everyone’s’ job, everyday!

Behavior drives innovation

Whilst most of us really enjoy the pleasure experienced when attending a truly artistic and professional performance, especially a theatrical or musical one, we often forget that it’s the rehearsals that enable performers to expertly and superbly ultimately enact them.
A masterful performance is created within the ‘shared space’ performers safely enact their mental models, by exploring, improvising and experimenting with the behaviors, actions and techniques that work, and that don’t work!

When players have permission to play with different versions, within a range of unlimited possibilities, to improvise and experiment with new ideas, they can ‘get to’ a place they may have never previously imagined, experienced or enacted. This is one of the reasons I love designing and facilitating experiential training sessions, this is because, inevitably a team of managers and leaders will have a chance to enact out, witness and shift their mental models in order to be more effective.

Prototyping is a collaborative and creative process

“Prototypes engage the organizations thinking in the explicit. They externalize thought and spark conversations”.

When I was prototyping The Start-Up Game™ in collaboration with my Israeli co-designers, we facilitated a series of pilot or prototype workshops. It was amazing to see how people’s mental models externalized and were represented through enacting their behaviors, within the safe shared learning space we created.

Some players became crazily competitive, others complacent or cozily collaborative, this gave players lots of explicit substance for having candid team conversations and generative design debates. It created the safe shared learning space for players to safely witness, introspect and enhance their self awareness; to take personal responsibility for proactively managing the impact of their behaviors on self and their teams, to be innovative, to achieve their desired start-up team outcomes. Start-up teams became deeply engaged and involved in developing their shared start-up prototype by igniting and forging collaborative creativity and firing innovation.

The Start-Up Game™ business simulation provided explicit evidence for players to;
– See and operate from a whole systems perspective, to self manage and regulate their own behaviors to ensure that they impacted positively, differently and creatively on their individual start-up teams.

  • Improvise and experiment with the key learning principles and techniques, especially with being creative, collaborative and courageous when solving problems by applying lean and agile methodologies.
  • Candidly and creatively prototype empathic design led, high quality customer centric solutions to serious business problems, as commercially viable start-up organizations, in ways that people value and cherish.

Tips for innovation and improvisation

Show and ask and then show and tell

Encourage people to be different, to be curious and inquisitive, to expose and challenge the fictional fantasies and operating mental models behind them. Involve them in the interplay between individuals and the expression of their creative ideas and innovative solutions.
– By building something, a model or prototype together by knowing how to think differently.
– By re-perceiving and playing with current reality by do-ing things differently together.

Focus first on rehearsing and then on performing

Most organizations are inherently risk adverse, so flow with this;
– By making it safe to rehearse new ideas by encouraging people to play.
– By creating shared spaces for improvisation and experimentation for people to play with possibilities and experiment (and fail) with new ideas until they master their ultimate masterful innovative performance.

– By recognizing and rewarding people’s efforts rather than punishing people for their imperfections and mistakes.

Use prototyping to force introspection, self awareness and cultural transformation

(1) Engage people in rapid prototyping and simulations, encourage and make it safe to;
– Introspect to develop self awareness and awareness of others.
– Take intelligent risks.
– Generate candid and courageous conversations, creative debates and constructive two way feedback.

(2) Building the corner stone and cultural fountainhead
By engaging people in playfully improvising and experimenting with new ways of radically transforming the cost and quality of the raw materials through rapid prototyping, organizations will build the ‘corner stone’ and ‘cultural fountainhead’ of an innovative enterprise.

At ImagineNation™, we believe that the days of indulgent personal development focused leadership and management training programs that don’t foster a culture of innovation and deliver improved business performance and growth are over!

(3) Making engaging people in rapid prototyping initiatives and expertly facilitated focused business simulations, the key vehicles for developing the competency required to effect urgent and necessary innovative business transformations.

Please sign up to attend my next inspiring and comprehensive free monthly webinars. Register now at http://www.imaginenation.com.au/free-monthly-webinars/ or the next ImagineNation Coach for Innovators Certified Program. Visit http://www.imaginenation.com.au/coach-for-innovators/ for more information.

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How the Lean Start-up Accelerates Innovation Janet Sernack gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from 30 years experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s and Israel’s’ top 100 companies. She resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation™ that teaches innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game™.

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