Playing in the Innovation Sandbox: Participation

“I had a quicksand box as a kid. I was an only child… eventually.”

— Steven Wright

Even the best Innovation Sandbox is nothing without participation. The best sandboxes are inclusive places, filled with great projects.

In my childhood sandboxes, the best projects never had trouble attracting talent or attention. The kids building the 10-story castles and the replicas of the Hoover Dam always had plenty of willing hands to help with their exploits. If you were the one playing with your road grader in the corner of the sandbox, even your best friends left you alone in your trifles. The best projects always attracted the most help.

The same holds true with the Innovation Sandbox. The best projects attract the most talent. People want to participate where they can make a difference and can have fun while doing it. Great Innovations Sandboxes encourage participation.

Systems should be built to take advantage of this natural tendency of talent to flow to the best projects. Everyone in the organization should be encouraged to participate in the innovation efforts. Projects and success should be made visible. Celebrate success and recognize progress in order to reinforce and encourage participation and action.

Building that participation and action is a terrific way to allow projects to organically grow or fade. I’m amazed that one of the first questions people ask when discussing innovation is when to kill a project. It’s the wrong question to ask and totally unnecessary. Set up the system where the people involved make that decision. They flow to the best projects and away from the worst ones. Have resources follow the people and watch that system feed and starve projects without the bureaucracy and overhead that formal evaluation systems create.

Set up your Innovation Sandbox with a system that creates energy and participation. Do it right and watch it grow and flourish without management intervention.


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May 2010
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