Innovate to learn by doing

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 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 lots 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. At ImagineNation, we have discovered that the same principles, plus giving people permission to be playful, apply to develop creative and 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 ‘cornerstone’ 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 the human capital investment as delivering new products and services” – making innovation part of everyone’s’ job, every day!

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!

Permission to be playful

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 gives people permission to be playful

The Start-Up Game™ business simulation provided explicit evidence for players to understand what it means to be both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial;

  • 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, give them permission to be playful.

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 inherently risk-averse, 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, give people permission to be playful, encourage and make it safe for them 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 cornerstone 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 ‘cornerstone’ 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!

Giving people permission to be playful and engaging them in rapid prototyping initiatives and expertly facilitated focused business simulations, are the key learning and developing vehicles for developing the competencies required to effect urgent 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 to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.