I’m fortunate to work with an extraordinary team that has created some impressive learning solutions. The list includes a successful POC (proof of concept) for a learning virtual assistant, immersive VR (virtual reality) courses, a unique digital solution to measure L&D’s value, and programs embedded in the employees' native tool ecosystem, among others.
I attribute these successes to some attitudes and practices the team adopted in a very deliberate manner, which allowed a culture of innovation to flourish.
This article aims to share some insights, best practices, and my team's experience, in the hope that it will be a useful reference for you, if your interest is to increase your team's ability to be creative and innovate.
Any individual or team has the potential of being creative, but it rarely happens spontaneously. Leaders and individual contributors need to propitiate an environment that would allow innovation to emerge. This is what worked for us and it may work for you too.
Start by declaring your intention
Have an honest conversation with your team about your interest in creating a culture of innovation. It’s a good idea to ask them how they believe that this new environment would benefit L&D in general and their careers in particular. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about their dreams and motivations; that's the fuel that will propel your efforts. This first chat is an important step to create excitement and a great source of ideas on how to kick-start this transformation.
Set up a growth mentality framework
A "growth mindset" or growth mentality is an indispensable precondition for innovation to take place. Dr. Carol Dweck, one of the world's leading experts on growth mindset, defines it this way: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).” I recommend that you watch any of her talks on the subject available online. You may also want to read her book: Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.
Growth mentality starts as an individual attitude, but you want it to become your team's culture. To make this happen your team will need to:
- Become comfortable with actively looking for challenges instead of avoiding them
- Enjoy the obstacles and extra-effort of solving though problems
- Look for feedback and criticism, and use it to improve
- Pay a lot of attention to anyone who is successful, and learn from them
Apply that framework in project development
We experienced this cycle through the development of all the innovative projects we’ve launched:
- First, we actively look for a challenge by offering the lines of business opportunities to develop training using a technology or methodology we’ve been testing.
- Then, we go through some challenging times as we learn what we didn't know we didn't know. Feedback and criticism are never in short supply while you go trough this process, which is great. Embrace that feedback, take it, and process it all.
- Finally, we connect with experts who we can learn from. Those experts can be part of other departments in the organization, members of our network, or vendors interested in partnering with us in new and interesting deployments.
Do your research
Something we found beneficial was doing some serious research on creativity and innovation. There are a lot of examples of organizations that have tried successfully, and unsuccessfully, to implement innovation ecosystems. There is also abundant scientific literature on the topic. These sources will give you the understanding to maximize your chances of success once you embark in this transformational process.
We based our approach on research from two experts. One provided us with the general framework for creativity and innovation in our team. The second gave us a practical three-step formula to stay in a creative mindset:
- First, Beau Lotto’s book, Deviate, provided the framework we used. An extremely simplified version of it is: Think of the information coming to your senses as meaningless; you are the one giving meaning to the world, based on your past experiences and how you overlay them over what’s in front of you. Seeing the world differently starts with rewiring, reframing, and questioning those patterns you created when you first learned something. It sounds a bit abstract but we managed to connect it with our reality in two three-hour sessions where we walked the team through practical examples of how this would work for an L&D environment.
- The second expert, David Eagleman, inspired our practical steps to become more creative. From his Netflix documentary “The Creative Brain,” we adopted his three behaviors to propitiate creative thinking: Try something new, push boundaries, and fail more. This became our mantra for any explorative work we do.
Organize innovation sessions to work through problems
One of the most beneficial activities we developed was having what we call “Deeply Creative Sessions.” These could be monthly or quarterly activities using the format of a brainstorm or an ideation session. The key objective is solving a problem in an original way. It could be a new approach to developing a course, the application of a new technology in the L&D space, or finding methods to measure the results of an intervention, among many potential topics you could address.
This activity and the work it triggers are the backbone of our creative flow. It's beneficial to bring to these sessions a wide variety of expertise, life experience, and points of view. The more diverse your crowd, the more likely you are to come out of it with original ideas and unexpected connections.
Keep track of your successes and celebrate them
Keeping a record of what you have tried and achieved is important. It will allow you to remind yourself, your team, and your organization of the ideas and solutions that have come from this approach. It will also help keep all parties motivated by seeing results in retrospective. When you are very involved in an activity, it's easy to lose perspective and believe that there hasn't been progress, which may make you give up. Keeping a record of what has been achieved is an antidote against this delusion.
Give it a try; it’s worth it
You can start small and test the approach with the support of some like-minded people. You will learn a lot and possibly transform your job by adding an exciting creative dimension to it. It has the potential of energizing you and your team, as well as bringing additional value to your organization.
Join our community
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