By Sue Brady
Lately, every other article I read is about this ‘new’ concept of innovation. And of course it’s an important topic. Companies that don’t innovate grow stale and ultimately go out of business. Innovation is not a new concept. Great innovators are a part of the history of the world: Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, Hedy Lamarr, Charles Goodyear, Madam Curie, Steve Jobs. There’s no reason that the next big idea can’t come from you or from someone at your company.
How can companies get better at it? It takes the right environment. I’ve written about improv in the work place before (here). In improv, the actors are making up funny skits on the fly. The key to good, funny, successful improv is teamwork. It’s where the expression ‘yes and’ comes from. It means you always support your fellow actors. You build on their thoughts and ideas with a ‘yes and’ attitude. For instance, if a fellow actor points to the ground and says my feet are getting wet, his teammates don’t say ‘that’s impossible’ or ‘no they’re not.’ They say something like ‘yeah, it’s sinking faster than I thought it would.’
How does this relate to corporate life? Fairly easily. If you want to promote creativity, you need an environment where that kind of thinking is encouraged. And you do that by educating employees on what it means to act as a team, support the ideas of others, and expand on the ideas of others (yes, and…). No judgements allowed.
It sounds easy but in order to make it work, employees need to feel safe and free from ridicule. You need everyone to speak up. The next big idea might start as a seed from something someone says or suggests.
Here’s an example from AOL. Remember those annoying pop-ups? Why did AOL keep those? Bottom line is, they were profitable. Sometimes, as a user, you saw something you were really interested in buying. Not all of the time, but sometimes. And AOL figured out not just that an online store was a good idea, but that it could be better if it was ‘pushed’ out to users, rather than waiting for them to come to find it themselves. What an innovation! Did some people hate it? Yes, and that created an environment where innovators came up with ad free services, pop-up blockers, better targeting to ensure you did see ads you were interested in, and remarketing based on where you’d been searching online. See how that works?
Try it at work. Set up a brainstorming meeting to innovate the next thing to offer your customers. Keep the room free of judgment. Try some exercises where you teach the room how to be a ‘yes and’ participant. This link will open as a word doc and this article has some improv exercises as well. Embrace free thinking and don’t judge. You can evaluate the ideas later.
Learning how to use improv in a work setting will have long-term benefits that will show up as creative business innovations. Give it a try!