Actually, I got it turned around. The title of this article is a rearranged quote, originally attributed to one of the greatest thinkers in modern history, Albert Einstein. He actually said, “creativity is intelligence having fun.” Einstein understood the value of seeking for and applying novel thinking to existing ideas, norms, and structures. So, what harm is there in reordering a statement to see if it illuminates a new insight? None at all, and I think Einstein would enthusiastically agree. This concept of reordering, or changing things up, is at the heart of the creative process. In fact, strategic thinking practices encourage the combining of two or more disparate ideas or observations for the purpose of creating new insights.
Strategy is often afforded a lofty place in our understanding. When introducing the word into a team discussion, it can elicit a number of responses, most of which are not favorable. If a conversation is happening in the office around processes, people, or plans, all is on an even playing field until someone throws the word “strategy” into the mix. The word “innovation” can have a similar effect. It raises the bar to a conceptual ideal wonderland that can unfortunately shift momentum away from the real, into the surreal. These have become buzzwords that are unfortunately laden with what I think of as “leader-elitism.”
What if we brought these buzzwords down to earth a bit? To do this, let’s bring together two seemingly disparate concepts, innovation and team capacity development. When we think of team development, or team capacity development, what runs through our minds? Productivity improvement; team effectiveness; skills development; maybe even new talent? We get visions of teams performing better but mostly within the confines of their existing understandings. Thus regarded, it seems team capacity development is mostly about increasing the capacity of a team to do more, more effectively, with less. Innovation, on the other hand, conjures up visions of mad scientists in their labs, or Google employees playing at work, and a whole range of images anywhere in between. It is often viewed as something best kept for those who work in product development, or marketing, or someplace that people get to play with Legos or design things out of paper.
The funny thing is, at the very heart of innovation is the practice of collaborative experimentation, for the purpose of learning. At the heart of capacity development is the practice of learning as well. The only difference that typically exists here is that with innovation, the “innovators” are trusted, even expected, to run their own experiments and to learn from them to develop innovative solutions. What if we did this in the area of team capacity development? What if, through the combining of these two concepts, innovation and capacity development, we landed at the insight that those who are closest to the work (i.e., the team) ought to be the ones running the experiments to learn from and find innovative solutions, and to improve the work? “What about the time it takes to experiment?” you ask. “Doesn’t that create waste?” What if the gains made through effective experimentation learning developed the capacity of team to become efficient and effective at experimenting? What if this ability, this capacity, leveraged a competitive advantage? Yes, innovation can be risky. Becoming skilled at successful innovation processes, at the level where the work is done, is the needed capacity that will differentiate today’s innovators from the rest of the pack.
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