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. We were required to innovate and learn by doing, in a safe environment, how 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, rubber slides. We had permission to be playful and make a lot of mistakes, and, as in any simulated environment, no real life casualties were incurred, and learning this way, ensured that we would not make the same mistakes in real life situations – the same principles apply to collaborative innovation.

Being willing to learn through play

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

Culture is typically defined as ‘the way we do things around here’ and with innovation culture being a CEO priority, it is important to focus on attitudes or mindsets as the core foundations for the way things get done. And the best way to do this, for the current cross generational range of global learners, is to deeply engage them in learning processes that involve ‘learning by playing and doing.’

“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 in the future.

Prototyping is a collaborative and creative process

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, later, a series of creative 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, 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 and 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 learning how to innovate by doing 

1. 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 exploring how to think differently.
– By  playing with current reality by do-ing things  together in different ways.

2. 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.

3. Use prototyping to force introspection, self awareness and cultural transformation

Engage people in rapid prototyping and simulations, encourage and make it safe for people to;

Introspect to develop self awareness and awareness of others.
– Take intelligent risks and actions.
– Generate candid and courageous conversations, creative debates and constructive two way feedback.

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!

Making engaging people in rapid prototyping initiatives and expertly facilitated focused business simulations, the key vehicles for learning and developing the competencies required to effect urgent and necessary 21st century collaborative innovation and breakthrough  business transformations.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviours and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.