Don't Let Innovation Spoil the Fun of Creativity
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Creativity is fun − or it should be. Creative ideas flow when your mind is relaxed and making unexpected connections. Creativity is associated with play. Even at work, creativity sessions often take place off site and are led by a facilitator who enables you to escape temporarily the stresses and bureaucracy of work. When you have a wild, crazy and just possibly brilliant idea in such an environment, it feels marvellous. You begin to think how great it would be to implement the idea and see it realised.
Then you get back to your desk, hundreds of emails, dozens of voicemails and an endless stream of meetings. The thought of implementing your idea becomes intimidating. Finding time to do anything with it feels impossible. The steps you'll need to take to implement your idea seem anything but fun.
Innovation Needs to Be Fun
This is a major reason why big, bold and beautiful ideas are seldom implemented in large corporate and government environments: creativity is fun; implementation is a chore. In other words, innovation takes all the fun out of creativity. Perhaps this is why bureaucratic committee members are often so eager to reject your creative ideas: they are jealous of the fun you had creating them.
This is also one reason why small startups are better at implementing creative ideas: the entire implementation process is one of on-going creativity. How will you pull your idea off? Where will you find the resources? Can you get to market on-time? Things have gone wrong, how can you fix them fast? You've just heard another start-up is working on something similar. How do you keep ahead of them? It's almost like a game; and games, while challenging, are also fun. Moreover, small start-ups are often fun places to work. Founding teams tend to be creative and creativity involves playing.
Making Implementation Fun
Of course not everyone works in a start-up. So, if you want innovation to work in your more bureaucratic business, you need to make implementing creative ideas fun. Here are a couple of suggestions.
Divide your team into two groups and invite both to compete to achieve a defined goal in the implementation process, such as formal authorisation and budget to proceed. The winning group takes charge of the project and absorbs the other group. The winners also get a nifty trophy or other symbolic gift and get to make primary decisions about the project.
Although pitting two groups against each other for the same project seems inefficient, the competitive element should drive both groups and make it more likely that one of them succeeds. Moreover, as the groups press forward to implement the idea, they will likely diverge in their approach. Bringing them together should bring new thinking to the implementation.
As the implementation continues, launch mini-competitions to find ways to overcome obstacles, solve problems or simply improve upon the project. Such continued competition should help keep the implementation fun.
Celebrate Each Success
The implementation of an idea inevitably involves a number of hurdles. You can probably anticipate many of them. So, design a way to celebrate each success. Celebration can be anything from taking the team out for a meal, in the case of a big success, to having a cake made to mark the occasion. Make sure that the celebrations are light hearted and fun.
Make Fun of the Hurdles and Failures
A great way to deal with bothersome hurdles −such as complex approval processes, overly risk averse committees and lack of budget − is to make fun of them. Make jokes about how risk averse the committee is, laugh about the stinginess of your finance department. When you can laugh at something, it becomes less intimidating and that makes it easier to deal with. Don't go too far, of course. Poking fun at a process or a team can easily turn into becoming abusive or cruel and that's neither fun nor okay. Also, try to focus the jokes on groups, teams, processes and problems rather than individuals.
Likewise, when things go wrong, have a laugh about it. Find the funny side of the failure. Unless it is a complete disaster, there is a funny side to everything that goes wrong. That minimises the hard feelings of things going wrong and helps bring the team together.
Find Opportunities to Play
As you implement your idea, look for opportunities to play. If there is a prototype involved, play with it. Try it in various scenarios including scenarios for which it is not intended. Play with competing products in similar ways and see what you can learn. Create role plays to test concepts. Build models of processes and play with the way the processes flow.
Make It into a Game
If you have a sufficiently clear vision of the process from idea to implementation, turn that process into a board game in which you have squares marking each step and pieces for each member of the team. As each step is accomplished, the responsible person's piece moves to the next square for which she is responsible. At significant steps −such as milestones, complex actions or hurdles that could make or break the project − have reward cards that team members draw. The individual − or individuals − who accomplish the relevant task win the reward.
Such an approach can be tied to project management and makes a fun way to monitor progress of the implementation of a creative idea. It also makes the innovation process more fun.
Do Random Crazy Stuff
Aside the structured fun actions we've already covered, occasionally do something random, crazy and fun that involves the implementation team and is relevant to the project. Give the project a crazy and possibly irrelevant name, like The "Artificial Kangaroo Project" or "The Intergalactic Communications Project". Get some kazoos or other instruments and compose a song about the project together. Create your own weird jargon around the project. Randomly change who is responsible for tasks for a morning. Actions like these create surprise and fun for the team provided they are not too frequent. You don't want stress or anarchy, of course.
Go Out for Progress Meetings
Instead of sitting around a conference table for progress meetings, hold walking meetings. Meet at a picnic table. Hire a room in an unusual place. Have a meeting in a trendy cafe or pub. Environments like these are more relaxed and more fun than your office's meeting rooms.
Go Back to Your Creative Space
Finally, go back to whatever creative space you initially used from time to time in order to review the project and ensure that it is creative. If you hired a special room for the creative thinking event that sparked the idea. Hire that room again to review the project. If you worked with a creativity facilitator, hire her again. If the idea did not come out of such a designated creative space − and many do not − then find a special creative place and hire a creativity facilitator to oversee review meetings.
Not only are such places more fun than the usual office environment, but they also facilitate creative thinking. This is important. As creative ideas are being implemented, their originality is often diluted in order to reduce risk or please people. A boost of creativity and fun during review meetings is a good way to bring creativity back into the project.
These are my generic suggestions for making the implementation of creative ideas more fun. But what about you? What do you do or what could you do to make the implementation part of innovation more fun in your working environment? Please share your thoughts. I value them!
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