Curiosity and an appetite for change require a balance of ideation and focus. Creating space for people to brainstorm, work, and learn allows innovation to emerge consistently.
In pursuing innovation, we, as leaders, are responsible for shaping our organization’s approach to change.
There’s more to progress than just speed. Maintaining focus should be an innovation priority. As we work and move quickly, we can often lose sight of the organization’s desired track while attempting to manage at a faster pace.
Moving fast and breaking things creates a culture of chaos. While innovation often blossoms out of the ‘go, go, go’ culture currently driving the modern world, things don’t have to move at breakneck speeds to cultivate innovation. In fact, reckless speed is likely to create more confusion, removing clarity from the situation.
Curiosity and an appetite for change are extremely valuable. However, change is often viewed as disruptive, and it absolutely can be if the consequences of that change are not checked. So how do we constrain innovation for effective change?
Innovation loves constraints. Constraints are your friends. With no boundaries, where does our innovation even start? Staring at a blank canvas has the potential to build uncertainty, create blocks, and slow down the innovative process. Clarity and context come from providing constraints. Through focus and communication, constraints shed negative connotations and provide teams with the necessary tools to focus on productive, effective, and sustainable change.
If we look at change like a bomb with a potentially large blast radius, it becomes clear how the fear of change can take root. That blast radius can encompass everything from potential mistakes to uncomfortable shifts in how teams function to changes in an organization’s core values. We don’t want to eliminate the blast radius; mistakes are absolutely necessary for effective change and innovation. We do have the power to limit destruction by creating boundaries. Like everything in this world, we must find balance in these essential opposites.
Constantly reining ideas and innovation in because they are risky or outside of the blast radius can stifle innovation just as quickly as the blank canvas. Silos are a perfect example of a constraint that can be taken too far. Silos can be utilized as an excellent boundary to define lanes and responsibilities. However, when silos restrict the flow of information, the potential rifts they can cause within an organization will grind any innovative process to a halt. So how do we find the balance needed to sustain and nurture innovation? There has to be dialogue. Within a business, we can’t set people free to test anything with no limits. Focus and communication are key. If we create focus and communicate, those boundaries can be better understood.
Encouraging mistakes and ideas without allowing the blast radius to get too big may seem daunting. How do we put limits in place that enable exploration while mitigating the consequences? We want to ensure that the sandbox size is large enough for experimentation but not so expansive that the organization over-extends itself.
Below, we explore how to develop an appetite for change through healthy balance.
Change naturally affects everyone in an organization. Being human-centered is essential and achievable through co-creation. When everyone on the team is included in creating the change, psychological safety and transparency naturally develop. Having a stake in the change process and successful implementation involves design thinking and change management.
To co-create change means to include everyone in the process. From biology and the “requisite variety” principle, we learn that sufficient diversity in a system is required for change to be stable and effective. Similarly, with organizational change design, when you include everyone, the result is a rich pool of diverse ideas, needs, and solutions that can be synthesized into sustainable outcomes.
Design thinking takes a people-centered approach to change. When people understand that their involvement has an impact, they feel valued. This is critical to not only preventing resistance to change, it also unveils emergent phenomena by inviting every part in the organizational ecosystem to weigh in on the change and their part in it.
Meanwhile, change management focuses on adopting an idea, often following decision-making by leadership. We need to create space to pursue innovation, and understanding the “why” behind change is important for all involved. By combining design thinking and change management, we can draw on an appetite for change by tapping into this “why” and giving people a shared sense of ownership regarding change.
While engaging and including everyone is important, it’s also a good idea to create a “change task force” composed of influential leaders, change agents, and critical thinkers who will bring constructive curiosity. This task force will help you spread the message of the desired change and ensure that it cascades throughout the entire company.
Reshaping Brainstorming and Ideation
Brainstorming and ideation are essential to generating transformative change when they’re done well. That being said, there’s a pattern to what people get wrong with brainstorming and ideation activities. They rely on brainstorming or ideation sessions too often or fail to give them enough direction, diminishing their effectiveness.
If we begin brainstorming with “Where do we start?” we’re almost guaranteed to get blank stares. Alternatively, if you give people constraints, you offer clarity. Clarity helps people to understand where to funnel their ideas, making them less likely to get shut down.
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Moments of ‘shutdown’ within teams can lead to very difficult conversations or even completely cut lines of communication. Any conversation where you may get shut down takes courage to approach, especially if it is with a leadership team member; in this instance, feedback is especially important. Leaders must identify when to say no and when to encourage. If we don’t provide opportunities for people to feel like they have a win, they won’t feel valued. But are we going to run the business into the ground by constantly focusing on generating ideas? No. There’s a difference between disruptive innovation and sustained innovation.
Defining Time and Place
Time and place should be kept top-of-mind with initial communication and guidelines.
We should clarify that if it’s a time for execution, then ideation should be kept at a minimum. Dialogue and communication are important because we cannot triangulate on causes without them. Part of it is time and place. If it’s a time of execution, ideation should be kept at a minimum. Dysfunction occurs when one side of the team moves towards execution, and the other throws new ideas into the mix. This wrench in the process will slow down and inevitably halt progress. Communicating the mode is important, and communicating the boundary is important. The mode and the container need to be taken into account here, and in doing so, we liberate our teams to go out and try new things at the appropriate time because they know what mode we are operating in and what container we are working with.
Communicating the mode and boundaries is important. If someone is operating outside of the mode, we should ask ourselves for which reason is it? Again, it could’ve been poorly communicated, not communicated at all, poorly received, or ignored.
We know what mode we’re operating within and the limits of our sandbox.
Lay out ground rules for what’s the cost of funding a change, including getting it wrong and what’s involved in testing it. That includes capital costs and resource costs such as equipment, software, and meeting rooms. Impacts can be on other people as well. Thinking about those kinds of roadblocks and how they can affect the organization fiscally or the team’s focus will present opportunities for leadership to appropriately plan for moments of experimentation while minimizing the blast radius. While we’re not always going to have opportunities to allow people to experiment with things or try things, experimentation is essential, and when the team clearly knows what lane they are in, experimentation or execution, lasting change can take place.
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There are moments when change can be more effective within an organization. All organizations are cyclical to some extent. The company has busy and slow times. There are times when the company can take change into account and program accordingly, and others when resources are stretched too thin to take on change. When there are opportunities, we need to allow people to exercise experimentation.
The Power of Prototyping and Driving an Appetite
It all comes down to finding what serves us at different times and making space for each idea. Brainstorming doesn’t have to be a single, scheduled activity for everyone. It can happen autonomously. If someone wants to try something out, then bring learnings or solutions back to the group, we should consider allowing them to do so. This is a unique opportunity for asynchronous work and can present multiple fleshed-out and unique ideas to the group.
How do you make a prototype and test it? The best way to make mistakes is to make prototypes. That’s a fantastic way to make constraints when reaching constraints organically feels difficult.
If you see something, how can you create a simple simulation of it, then test it? The trick is to take ownership of the situation. Don’t pull people in unless necessary, but make it easy for people to get involved. For example, let someone go create three landing pages and have leaders review them. Even if it didn’t work, we’d be able to learn something from it.
An appetite for change thrives from clear communication and focus, different modes and contexts, and creating space for individuals to have an appetite for it. Working with prototypes, experimenting, and creating constraints are the tools you need to support healthy appetites for change.
If you need help approaching change within your organization, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The resources and tools we provide enable innovation through sustained impact. Change is unique and should be treated as such. We’re happy to meet with you, assess your organizational needs, and tailor programs or resources to help you grow.