Innovation, Leadership and a 5-Year Old Boy
By User12601034-Oracle on Jul 31, 2013
There is a lot of talk in the learning industry right now around creativity, innovation and leadership. I even attended a conference last month where the focus was on leadership and innovation - that is, what can leaders do to foster innovation and build a culture of innovation?
A couple of weeks ago, my family drove to the mountains to pick up my daughter from church camp. On the way there, we got an earful from my five year old son:
"What if we made a gun that would bring our pets back to life?" he asked.
"Do you think we could build a parachute that would take you up so you could see everything and then go down to the exact spot you wanted?"
"Maybe we could try..."
"Mommy, did you know that if you do..."
"Perhaps we could..." (yes, he's five and uses the word "perhaps")
"Why can't we..."
"They should make a spy dog that never dies."
You get the picture. And if you listen to a group of five-year-olds, you'll hear them build on each other:
"Yea, and then we can..."
"And if you move this, we can do..."
"Ohh...check out what happens when..."
simply followed by huge eyes one one reverently whispered "AWESOME!!"
During my son's chatter, it struck me - innovation is a lot like 5-year-olds, and leadership is a lot like parenting. Let me explain.
If we want to have creativity and innovation in the workspace, we need to foster creativity in our teams like we do in our five-year-olds. We want people on our teams who are going to start their conversations with "What if," "Why can't," and "Let's try." You also want those people who add on "oh yea, but what if we also did..." These are the people who are willing to take a risk, fail, learn, and then take another risk. In five-year-old talk, they "play good."
As a leader, you need to support this creativity differently than you do other work. Let me give you an parent example. My kids have math homework, and if they get something wrong, we tell them it's wrong, have them review the work to figure out where they made a mistake and then fix it. In the work world, this is our standard approach to managing performance - assign work, make sure it's done correctly and correct as needed.
However, when my kids are playing "what if," I typically come back with "oh yea, well what about ____?" We actually have a lot of fun doing this, and then I start thinking about how we could monetize any of these ideas and retire to a beach where a young man brings me umbrella drinks...but I digress.
Think about the people on your team who start their conversations with "what if' and "why not" - is the typical response (from either you or other team members) "that never works...we already tried that before..." or is the response. "Hmmm. Well what about...?" As the leader of your team, your conversations with these people need to be different thatn typical "business" conversation. You might come back with:
"Tell me more."
"How can we expand on that?"
"What could make it different/better?"
"What could create a "wow" factor?"
Sometimes, innovation and creativity simply comes from having the right group of people having the right conversation...and, just maybe, looking at things with the curiosity of a five-year-old. As a leader, maybe your role is just coming up with the questions you could ask that end with your team whispering "AWESOME!!"