After working with more than 100 organizations – from leading nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies – this hard-earned mantra about innovation has emerged: Concepts and culture are two critical factors necessary for successful innovation.
Culture is the hard part. Like the muscle memory of 2,000-plus people, culture can keep doing what it always does, never implement concepts, or reject them stillborn. Training a culture to embrace innovation takes commitment, courage and a willingness to change.
Nothing sets the stage for cultural change like a company-wide innovation boot camp. Think of it as a three-day immersion into the heart of potential mixed with a deeply collaborative, fast-paced reorientation of working together.
The only goal is to inspire new, organic growth for an organization. Changing the culture to receive new growth is the prime mover, as culture is made of people primarily.
As the philosopher Alan Watts was keen on saying, “You have to go out of your mind to come to your senses.” To establish this mindset, the first exercise is a renaming ceremony.
Therefore, no one at the organization goes through the crucible of the boot camp assuming their self-limited idea of themselves, in their day-to-day role.
This exercise also helps mitigate anyone pulling rank during the process. Later, at a specified time, we have everyone rename themselves their given names, titles, but with an empowering addition; they say “and innovator” after giving their title.
More than good theater, this method works as an effective way to encourage real creativity and collaboration and the beneficial ramifications take permanent hold as the groups handle ongoing project work.
Unrelated Innovation Exercise
Now, it is time to engender creative confidence to a group of people from a variety of departments, including finance, engineering, marketing and sales.
We give them this assurance by having them partner in twos and then complete a 90-minute design thinking exercise.
This microcosm of a complete process gives them the grounding to complete the more challenging project cycle over the two following days. We use an exercise that has nothing to do with business, so they can stay focused on the process itself and not slip into work identities.
Blowing Up the Business Model
With a sly wink, we return to the organization’s business model, but with an exploration of how else it can make money.
This Revenue Model exercise is always a revelation to participants. The boon here is that boot campers understand that their business model is not sacrosanct, nor is it reality itself. Rather, it is just a snapshot of their business today, one mental model of a much greater reality rife with possibility.
To end the first day, we like to hold up a mirror about organizational orthodoxies. As this subject has been covered fully here (see January 22 column), I will merely state why it is important. Giving permission to explore the self-imposed limitations an organization has put on itself unknowingly allows for healthy adaptation, the rebirth of a culture of possibility.
Day one focuses on culture, while days two and three focus on concepts while rewarding the renewed mindset of new growth.
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth