Ways to keep your smart team innovative
Is this you?
I've seen teams start out by making big long lists of tasks and deliverables at the beginning of a project. This assumes that they know exactly what the product is going to end up being. I think that this kind of way of thinking goes entirely against a culture of creativity and innovation, and of the Agile philosophy. By deciding on all of the tasks up-front and by setting up an infrastructure for the team to work in (process, tools, tracking, tickets...), we actually restrict the potential for innovation.
What it takes to innovate:
Innovation requires serendipity and creativity. If we impose a tonne of rules and processes, we throttle both. Before deciding on what the product is and how to get there, you should start with a creative brief and well thought out elevator pitch, that allow the team to think for themselves, and have focus without being dictated to. If you have a team of very smart people, they will most likely feel disengaged if you give them requirements and impose goals and a path to follow. Each of them come with a wealth of expertise and experience that should be allowed to flow through the product, fully. To do this effectively and to set yourself up for the highest likelihood of immense success, you need to get comfortable with the gaping voids that inevitably exist in projects, and in fact allow them to be much positively palpable. When you set up processes and tools, you are filling up the void, masking it with man-made certainty that doesn't really exist. If you are after a cog for your machine, then this will work fine, but if you are after a whole new dream machine, then this won't do. Drop the rituals and face the discomfort of the unknown square in the face. If you are feeling uncomfortable and so is your team, then you are in a good place. If chaos ensues...then this is extremely good news.
The voids on a project are like unchartered territory, which can lead to great discoveries. There were those that thought that the earth was flat and there were those that wanted to check. The latter were forced to innovate simply to make the trip possible. They had a starting point and went from there. This is often how the most inspiring projects are started. Even the most mundane projects can be fertile ground for innovation if you allow for the circumstances to be exist.
A quick checklist:
- Make sure your team has mastery around the work you are planning to do (everyone)
- Only set up enough structure around the team to allow them to gain focus and begin to be productive
- Don't use Agile tools and methods to minimise uncertainty and discomfort
- Trust your smart team to be in charge and self-organise
- Give a creative brief to provide focus
- Impose frequent playtime on the team and make sure they stay fit, rested and healthy
- Be clear about constraints (budget, time, resources...) - constraints are conductive to innovation
- Be prepared to be surprised and to bend your mind into different shapes
- Don't get attached to your idea of the product - the team is going to shape that
- Remember, there is no such thing as an end-product - there is never an end.
- Be brave
"When all think alike, then no one is thinking." — Walter Lippman
"It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date." — Roger von Oech
"The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas." — Dr. Linus Pauling
"We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." — T. S. Eliot
"The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail." — Edwin H. Land
"The achievement of excellence can only occur if the organization promotes a culture of creative dissatisfaction." — Lawrence Miller
"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." — Picasso
"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." — Howard Aiken
"Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things." — Theodore Levitt