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The turtle that blogged about innovation

I’m Anastasia and I’m a turtle.

This may sound strange, but knowing that I’m a turtle is actually relevant for my job supporting local Minds with their organisational development needs.

As a member of Mind’s Innovation Champions Network, I took a short quiz (“what’s your innovation animal?”) to better understand my “innovation style”. Being a turtle means I’m a methodical innovator, and I work best with – wait for it – bison.

This is the kind of quirky, creative tool the Mind Innovation Champions Network uses all the time. The Innovation Network is a group of people who have stepped forward to regularly create a pocket of time and space in which we support one another to be creative, innovative, imaginative, and have fun. We have training in innovation and creativity skills every month and we are a network to help drive a culture of innovation across the organisation. We support each other to test new ideas that have the potential to deliver better results.

The Innovation Network started off as a way for the Fundraising team to create new products and innovative solutions to deliver better experiences for their supporters and raise more money to fund the growing demand for Minds services. Nowadays it’s grown to span the whole organisation – we all need solutions and imaginative approaches, for all of the work we do. Often, we get stuck in delivering the same work day in, day out, and our imagination gets stifled by a risk-averse environment. The Innovation Network allows us to be as creative as we want, testing ideas and supporting each other through the process of thinking outside the box. It’s a space where reflection, laughter, and strange ideas are received enthusiastically, rather than as a source of risk, and one I’ve found really useful.

I got involved with the Innovation Network because a colleague invited me to join. She knew at that point I was struggling with a lack of peer support and general negativity in my immediate environment. She thought I could bring a positive attitude to the group, and in return access a very supportive space. Thankfully, she was more right than you can imagine! As an Innovation Champion, it doesn’t matter how hectic the month of work is: I know I will get 2-3 hours of being with like-minded people, not stressing about deadlines, playing games and discovering more about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses.

The Innovation Network helps me infuse my work with creativity. A big part of my job can become quite repetitive; when it does call for creativity, sometimes I find I’ve fallen into the trap of the everyday routine and can’t come up with new ideas. The people and environment at the Innovation meetings allow me to think differently. Now that I’ve been to quite a few meetings, my brain is whirring before we even start discussing anything! At a recent meeting, I came up with five very creative ideas about a work event before we’d even finished the morning’s coffee and biscuits. I had failed to come up with anything at an hour-long meeting on the subject beforehand. It’s almost as though the moment I get to the Innovation meetings, someone presses the “imagination button” in my brain! Now I’m working hard to develop and progress those ideas.

Being the only turtle in the group, I have been super popular with the bison around – though I am faithful to my innovation partner, Alice. We paired up for an exercise last summer and since then have continued to go for regular innovation ‘walk and talks’ around the block. We talk about life, the universe, crafternoons (Mind’s mass participation fundraising event), the Network Income Review, difficult and demanding people, and what makes us happy. We never have an agenda; we ask each other questions and are ready to listen. It is so nice to have a friend in the Fundraising team, as our paths would otherwise never cross. It is even more exciting to spend half an hour every month with someone who has no direct investment in what you do, but still genuinely cares and can ask really good questions! And the unique bonus: every time we go out the sun is shining.

My advice to anyone looking to develop their creativity at work would be to find those spaces, activities and people who allow you to be innovative. I find that creativity and innovation are not purposeful exercises – you don’t sit down and decide to be creative. But once I am present in the room with the other members who inspire me…then the innovation happens! Allow yourself that time and space, and you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.

I’m Anastasia, a proud and methodical turtle. My job is to support local Minds with their organisational development needs. I feel happiest when I have my crochet hook and some colourful yarn in my hands.

If you’d like to find out your innovation animal, take the quiz at https://www.lucidity.org.uk/animal and if you would like some help to set up an innovation network in your organisation then drop me a line lucy@lucidity.org.uk. 

Sharing failure – simple concept and much easier said than done

One of the best books I’ve read on building a culture where creativity and innovation can thrive is Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull.

Perhaps it’s no big surprise given that Pixar is tasked with producing a volume of original entertaining animations every year.

Their blockbuster portfolio includes Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.

Ed Catmull is refreshingly candid in sharing his experiences and I learned many insightful lessons from him. However, the thing that stood out for me most were his views and experiences about risk, failure and vulnerability.

If you work in innovation or product development or have any role in driving change, thinking creatively or doing things in a different way then the clichés around failure will be familiar to you. You know like…

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston S. Churchil

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” Truman Capote

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  Robert F. Kennedy

It’s not that I don’t agree with these quotes or the sentiment that we learn by our mistakes, it’s just a LOT easier to say it than it is to do it.

I learned this first hand a few years ago when I wrote a report on innovation. Part of my research was to interview people who worked in innovation. On the topic of failure, everyone agreed that it was a very important part of innovation. Everyone agreed that it was vital to share failure so both yourself and others could learn from it.

However, when I asked if people would like to share their failures in the report people either simply said ‘no’, or were happy to share their failures with me in conversation but would prefer I didn’t mention them in the report.

According to Ed, the managers at Pixar work hard to create an environment that supports both risk taking and failure. Ed states that it’s not the managers job to prevent risks. It’s the managers job to make it safe for others to make them. And this involves leading by example.

Ed tells a story about how he asked for feedback from the Pixar teams about blocks to getting the job done and it turned out a lot of the blocks were down to him. He read out the full feedback list in front of everyone at an all staff conference. He thanked people for their feedback and committed to making changes. That must have felt less than excellent. I think showing vulnerability like that takes some bravery.

I believe that in order to create an environment where creativity and innovation can flourish we must lead by example. How can we expect others to ‘fail fast and fail better’ if we are not able to ourselves?

I work with teams to help them create an environment where creativity and innovation can flourish, and as you might imagine, the failure topic comes up a lot.

What I’ve learned is that failure is emotional. The words people use to describe failure and how it makes them feel are powerful and emotive; devastated, ashamed, scared, horrified, stupid, humiliated, upset, distraught.

How we describe our learnings from failure are rational, facts, ‘I learned to always back up my laptop’ Not we were elated, excited, empowered…

We dwell on the feelings of failure over the good stuff that failure teaches us.

I’ve seen that when a team has felt vulnerable together by sharing their feelings about failure it creates a shared understanding ‘we all experience similar feelings of pain and remorse at failure’.

And once there is a shared experience and a realisation that you are not alone, trust builds, and over time it becomes easier to reveal your vulnerability and your failures and learn from them, because you know others will have empathy and will be open about their failures too.

If you are a manager, it’s your job to create that supportive environment where failure is talked about and learned from.

It is a simple concept and much easier said than done.

If you’d like some help then do get in touch lucy@Lucidity.org.uk.

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