Monday 7 October 2013

How to trigger innovation? Give people a problem that's outside their box.

Think Outside the Box If you want people to think outside the box, give them a problem that's outside the box.

There is a game I often play with a class, when we are on an innovation retreat such as a Business Driven Action Learning exercise.

We put people in a large circle, and give them a Koosh ball. The rules of the game are simple -

  • All hold out your hands
  • The person with the ball throws it to someone holding out their hands
  • They remember who that someone is
  • Once you have thrown the ball, put your hands down
  • Continue until everyone has their hands down.
You, as facilitator, time how long this takes. Imagine it took 80 seconds.You say "Now do it again, passing the ball in the same order, but do it in 40 seconds".

You keep the exercise going, in several rounds, but you time each round, then cut this time in half to form the target for the next round. What happens, is instructional.

  • Firstly, people take the same approach as before, but try to work faster.
  • Then, they tighten up the circle, reducing waste time
  • Then they reorganise - reforming the circle so they are standing in the correct order
  • Then when challenged even further, they start to think outside the box. They start to come up with radically creative solutions. Maybe we don't need to be in a circle? Maybe we lay our hands on the ground, and roll the ball over them? Maybe we form a tube with our hands (in the correct order), and drop the ball down the tube?

While the target can be achieved by working in the known way (working inside the box), creativity is limited to incremental innovations such as reorganisation.

When the target is outside the box - outside the realm of the known solution - people need to be radically creative. When they roughly know what to do, they use known solutions. When they don't know what to do to meet the target, they become radically innovative.

Impossible targets drive innovation. "Put a man on the moon and return him safely, before the end of the decade".  "Fly 500 people nonstop across the USA and be able to land at La Guardia". "A h-fi system you can put in your pocket". These were the impossible targets that resulted in the space program, the modern airliner, and the Sony Walkman.

If you want people to be innovative, set outrageous goals. If you want them to think outside the box, set them out-of-the-box targets.

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