Playing in The Innovation Sandbox

Innovation is a challenge facing every organization today. Markets are changing and applying pressure to deliver more. Technology has accelerated the pace of change, and the various social media platforms are making everything more visible and accessible. All of these changes put a premium on innovation and reward those organizations that consistently and effectively deliver new approaches to difficult issues.

The only way to consistently deliver innovation is through employee engagement and constant experimentation. Innovation requires multiple ideas from multiple sources. It also requires a safe zone to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. It’s difficult to provide the coordination and encouragement that these efforts require without stifling creativity.

New approaches require new models. I believe the best way to structure these approaches is using our childhood memories of sandboxes.

You remember playing in sandboxes as a kid, don’t you? Your mom told you to go play there and you knew where to go, what to do, and what to expect. Sandboxes provide four clear concepts:

  • Boundaries. You knew where you were supposed to be when you were told to go to your sandbox. There was never any doubt.
  • Rules. There were rules in the sandbox as well. You knew bad things would happen if you threw sand, fought with your friends, or didn’t share your toys. The rules were very clear.
  • Experimentation. The sandbox was a great place to test theories and try new ways of doing things. If you built a bridge and it collapsed, you built a new one and figured out how to make it better. The constant experimentation made learning and improvement organic events – always occurring without any outside intervention.
  • Participation. The best projects always had the most helpers. If you were just goofing around in a corner with your road grader, not even your best friend would hang around. It was always the people trying to build a five story castle or the working model of the Hoover Dam who had all the helpers they needed.

These four concepts form a terrific framework for innovation systems.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the elements in a bit more detail. Along with the descriptions, there will be some practical ideas for implementation in your organization. Finally, we can use the blog as a place to discuss even more effective approaches.

Let’s go play in the sandbox!


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