Tag Archives: process

Innovation: Learn from failing to succeed???

This past week we had a chance to hear Jason Della Rocca talk about the idea of failing to succeed. This was organized by ISPI Montreal and held @ KnowledgeOne offices downtown Montreal.

Jason reminded us that for every success we see, chances are many failures preceded it… In Jason’s gaming world, it’s that big blockbuster nobody could anticipate. They refer to it as a black swan. Of course no one wants to have failures on purpose. One hopes that the next try will succeed. Maybe not record-breaking success, but success nonetheless.

So what does that mean for us as learning and performance professionals?  How can we think of failing as we are being paid to succeed? As we are pressured to come up with the right, creative and even innovative solution …on the first try!

The point is apply what we think sooner than later. Prototype it, with simple and modest means (pencil and paper cutouts…), test, observe, and… likely fail, at least the first times. Each time learning from it, moving forward in refining our concepts, our designs.

One really important point was made during the evening about our profession: we are trained to analyze and plan thoroughly, BEFORE we do anything concrete. Of course we need to analyze and plan but the point here is that we should always be wary of going too quickly to the tried-and-true solutions. We should always question, at least minimally, why this or that solution really applies to this particular case. Is the context really the same as the other one we did before?

In learning, we are more and more pressured to come up with creative, innovative, ENGAGING solutions. ENGAGING is the key word here. We don’t want the page-turner they say! We want interactivity they say! So how do we know what will REALLY work… By trying and failing and trying again, until we get to the right place.

In gaming, the audience need is essentially to be engaged and entertained, not necessarily, at least not on purpose, to learn or change a behaviour or an attitude. That’s how a game like Angry Birds can appeal to such a massively broad audience. Knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours are very context-specific and with smaller specific audiences. Which makes gaining attention, motivating and engaging them even more important – maybe that’s where we can best apply lessons from gaming, and we should remember to keep digging and digging til we hit the engagement goldmine.

Activity time!

Back to the point of trying sooner than later, less analyzing and planning, more testing and refining ideas… Jason got the participants to do a simple yet fun activity to dive the point home: in teams of 4 to 7 people, build the highest possible tower that would hold one marshmallow at the top, in 18 minutes, using 9 strands of spaghetti, one 1 meter-long string, and one 1 meter-long piece of masking tape.

That was fun, and stressful for some.  🙂

The result: only one of 9 teams succeeded, meaning that the marshmallow did NOT end up on the table. Almost did mind you.

The point: most teams only did ONE design and stuck with it all the way to the end. Some teams maybe changed their minds once, and changed their design.

Jason showed us some stats (which I regretfully cannot remember) about different groups of people success in building the tallest towers. One group always stands out: KIDS!  They have no barriers, they just DO. Try it… oops it failed. Let’s do it again! Failed again? Let’s keep going! Other groups have succeeded like architects and engineers of course.

But I think that the main point to make for us, learning and performance professionals, at least the crowd we had last wednesday, is that we need to loosen up, don’t expect ourselves to come up with the right idea right off the bat.  Let’s give ourselves some leeway (and ask for it), to test our ideas a bit before going too far down the road.

Makes sense?

Creativity and Innovation: Getting a boost from a “naive” perspective

a naive perspective

I read an interesting passage in a very interesting book this morning (MAVERICK by Ricardo Semler), highlighting the value of having “naive” eyes in a discussion about looking for improvements. Here’s the gist of the mini-story:

First, a bit of background: this book is about a leader wanting to make his large organization more efficient, reduce overhead, be more engaging for its employees. It this specific part (chapter 29 to be precise), employees came up with the idea to “take a small group raised in Semco’s  culture and familiar with its people and its products […] and set them free.” This meant no more responsibilities other than think about stuff, “invent new products, refine old ones, devise market strategies, unearth cat reductions and production efficiencies, even dream up new lines of business.” What a great idea!!!!   🙂

Now the mini-story is about one of this “thinking” group’s new product successes, and the fact that the successful idea came from the group’s non-technical person (she actually was a coordinator for training and organizational development). She and her two engineering colleagues were studying a paint mixer, and after she found out that those mixers were manually cleaned between paint batches, she suggested that “someone should invent a giant toothbrush to clean the tanks.”

The result: a new “brushlike appendage that, hooked on our mixer, swept the sides and bottom of the tank automatically, eliminating manual labor.”

Having a “naive” perspective put into the mix may not automatically yield such a successful result, but I strongly believe that it gives a “boost”, even if very small, to the creative process. It helps connecting the dots, it triggers other thoughts, it even helps you clarify and support what you’re already thinking…

The key of course is to keep it under control, not let it take you all over the place, which ends up wasting time. It’s part of that creative process that goes up and down, from high altitude to the ground floor and up again… Usually need someone to keep things into perspective, usually the lead or PM.

Of course, there is the “fresh” eyes perspective too. But they are not the same. The “fresh” comes from someone with a very similar background and experiences as most of those involved in the discussion. The “naive” eyes perspective is from someone with a different background and experiences. Actually, I would go so far to say that there are possibly two types of “naive” perspective:

  • From someone with experience, that can infer from it;
  • From someone without experience, that can infer from non-applied knowledge, like the newbie fresh out of school.

The point is: never dismiss the value of someone else’s input. Unless this someone is known to provide input without a valid interest in adding value…  😉

Make sense?