by John Winsor, a leading strategic marketing and product innovation thinker especially known for his work in collaboration, co-creation and crowdsourcing. He is also a respected author of Flipped: How Bottom-Up Co-creation is Replacing Top-Down Innovation, Baked In: The Power of Aligning Marketing and Product Innovation, Spark: Be more Innovative through Co-Creation and Beyond the Brand: Why Engaging the Right Customers is Essential to Winning in Business. John is the co-founder & CEO of Victors & Spoils.
When I’m rock climbing and having a difficult time finding my center of gravity, many times I try to change my focus and think creatively about the situation. Often in climbing it’s easy to get overly focused on the goal of completing the climb, instead of thinking creatively about the more immediate situation that you’re in. In some cases, the only way to the top is to go sideways or sometimes down to find a new, creative solution to the problem. Sometimes it means trying to use your body in a new way, like hooking your heel on a hold above your head, and using your hamstring as a bicep, pulling the rest of your body up, finding a new center of gravity.
Likewise in business, creativity must be employed to get a sense of the center of gravity. By creativity I mean getting away from the preciousness of having to get everything right. It means getting everyone on the team to start thinking about finding the center of gravity more as a process than a goal. Corporate annual reports routinely proclaim a commitment to creativity and innovation, yet these traits rarely show up anywhere else in the company. In some companies, creativity and innovation are philosophical concepts, rather than practical direction. Too often, creativity and innovation are sought out but never understood, and never incorporated into a working, evolving strategy. Conversely, innovation can also be so incremental and predictable that it isn’t really innovation at all. I’m talking about going beyond just encouraging creativity, and about developing a process that makes creativity an active part of the bottom-up strategy you follow to find your center of gravity. Here are some ideas to spur creativity in the pursuit of the center of gravity:
Introduce Conflicting Viewpoints – The first step in implementing this kind of creativity is to expose the people you work with to a variety of conflicting perspectives. It’s important and valuable for people to realize there are many ways to look at a problem.
Encourage Raw Ideas – Get in the habit of bringing radical new ideas to the table. Every time your internal team gets together, take five minutes and ask for the most creative idea, no matter how crazy. Support it with a rotating award.
Reduce Resources – Try giving your team fewer resources and see what happens. Be sure to give them more time to do things themselves. Instead of hiring someone else to lead a meaning-making session in the quest of finding your center of gravity, experiment with doing it yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes and get frustrated with the process. That’s all part of the game. The key is that you and your team are learning.
Facilitate An Institutional Memory – In your quest to find the center of gravity, make sure that the process is documented and shareable. It’s not only important to share the findings and inspiration, but also the process. In order for a company to be positioned on the center of gravity it must have the capacity to learn as an organization. Remember to facilitate the ability of your team to share their experiences through stories. We’ll talk more about this in Chapter Eight.
Allow Experimentation – Another key to making meaning is to allow the process time to explore mistakes and dead ends. Too many companies are looking for the right answer instead of being open to seeing the environment as it is. As we discussed earlier, it’s the difference between looking and seeing.
Use Short-Term Mentoring – Seek out the people in the company who have a wealth of experience in meaning-making in the context of the environment you are exploring. Let your team use them as short-term mentors. Short-term could be a one-hour dialogue or a couple of days of learning.
Don’t Be A Slave To Research – How many times have you heard, “Well, that’s what the research says” when you know that it just doesn’t feel right? When you feel this way, take the time to dig deeper. If your gut tells you something is lacking, or just plain wrong, trust your instinct. Don’t take anything at face value. Go slower and farther in locating the real center of gravity. Then you can go faster in your innovation process.
Participate In Dialogue – Earlier we talked about the difference between dialogue and discussion. While discussion usually leads people to hold separate points of view, dialogue can lead to shared meaning, the first step on the road to finding the center of gravity.
Change Environments – All too often, teams get in the habit of holding a weekly meeting in the same room, using the same agenda, at the same time every week. While that’s an efficient way to have a meeting, it’s probably not the best way to inspire meaning making. Try to keep the creativity flowing by changing things up. Alternate the team member who runs the meeting weekly. Let them develop the agenda. Infuse creativity.
Offer Your Time And Energy – In any company, whether it has ten or ten thousand people, it’s critical that the leaders of the company and of individual teams are accessible and willing to give of their time and energy. Developing a culture of such generosity will yield enormous benefits in laying a foundation of trust, where creativity can flourish on the road to finding the center of gravity.