Our management team in Harvard Business Publishing’s Higher Education unit has been leading some staff training, and I chose Innovation & Creativity. As a basis I used our Harvard ManageMentor (HMM) module on the subject of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which provides a great overview. But then for each of the short training sessions, I had the participants organized into groups prior to the event, each of which read one of three pre-readings that we could then use as the basis for exploring the concepts more deeply and relating them to our work.
The three pre-readings were:
- How to Kill Creativity
(Teresa M. Amabile, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 1998)
- How Google Works
(Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg with Alan Earle, SlideShare, 2014)
- “Kickboxing” at Adobe Systems
(Jeremy B. Dann, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship, Business case study, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, 2015)
The session then included an overview of the concepts of creativity and innovation, and then group discussion/explorations based on the readings that could delve into why it is hard to innovate, what strategies can be used to foster creativity and spur innovation, and how we could best apply some practices to our work in creating business content learning experiences.
The HMM module has an incredible amount of information, but I chose to focus on the basics – their definition of creativity as a goal-oriented process for generating novel, valuable ideas, and innovation as the end result of that process – applied creativity in the form of original, relevant, and valued new products, processes or services. They module includes an overview of the creative process, including best practices for each stage.
The Amabile article is a great, timeless piece that defines creativity as a function of three components: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation. And she extols the benefits of aligning work activities with the intrinsic motivation of employees, providing adequate resources to teams, and giving teams creative freedom (Tell them which mountain to climb, but not how to climb it”).
The Google slideshare is a short summary of some key ideas from the book “How Google Works: The Rules for Success in the Internet Century”. It recaps the authors’ feeling that the employees who can have the most potential in today’s dynamic companies are ‘smart creatives’: “product folks who combine technical knowledge, business expertise, and creativity”. These are the employees who – if you get out of their way and create a supportive culture – will help you keep up with the dizzying pace of change required to compete. They then review the cultural requirements for enabling, rather than suppressing, your smart creative.
The Adobe ‘Kickboxing’ case study examines an innovative ‘intrapreneurship’ program designed to employ lean startup techniques to “stoke innovation at the grassroots level”. Employees received red boxes that contained process documentation and artifacts designed to support an experimentation / discovery / validation program for new business ideas. The case examines the motivation behind the program and an assessment of the successes and challenges associated with it.
Together, the readings provided the groups with a nice array of different perspectives from which to discuss common themes associated with the exploration questions. Themes around ‘Why is it hard to innovate?’ included a tendency to default to ‘business as usual’, a culture command-and-control structure, over-emphasizing talk vs. action, and in general not making innovation a priority in the culture. Themes around “Strategies for fostering innovation” included tapping into the intrinsic motivation of employees, relinquishing control and providing teams the autonomy and freedom to succeed, enabling serendipity via team design, and experimentation and a willingness to fail. The latter point on experimentation also provided a nice opportunity to play one of the free E-corner videos from Stanford University, in this case the video “Unlock Creativity with Motivation and Experimentation” by Tina Seelig from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.
This training turns out to be part of a series of strategic offsites and training we’re undertaking, and I’m looking forward to continuing our re-tooling of our strategies and culture regarding innovation and product development.