You can’t have it all: in a world where risk is avoided and process codifies common sense into rules, we run the risk of ironing out creativity and innovation. Which wouldn’t be such a problem if the world would stand still, but in the Social Age, it refuses: constantly changing and requiring both organisational and individual agility just to stay afloat. Lethargy and inaction as business models are eroded beneath your feet is not an option.
But how do we unlock the ability to innovate in an environment that encourages consensus and compliance? How do we do that without diluting the brand or taking on undue risks?
I guess a starting point is to uncover the dichotomies and reflect on their power.
Frameworks give consistency, but can be the enemy of agility: they can lock us into thought patterns and mindsets that are outdated or simply unable to operate in a rapidly changing world. Frameworks alone can’t deliver creative thinking and unlock innovation, but neither will anarchy. We can’t abandon the mechanisms of control, but need to seek instead a middle path: creating spaces with the right permission and controls to allow creativity to flourish whilst recognising and handling risk. Not avoiding it: progress takes a certain engagement with risk. We just need to avoid recklessness.
Trust is needed to fully engage in creative spaces: trust that we are equal, that we can fail, that we can learn, but trust will not be forged on rules and policies. Trust is forged through actions: we have to earn it. And we may have to invest trust in others before we feel the reciprocity. For organisations, it’s about abandoning paternalistic attitudes and having conversations with great authenticity and pragmatism. It’s about listening and rewarding. In Social Leadership, i talk about how we have to recognise socially moderated authority because, in the Social Age, not everything takes place in our organisational spaces and systems. Similarly here we have to listen to conversations in a range of spaces and realise that rules won’t do the job: we have to build and earn trust and reward integrity.
Just creating spaces won’t guarantee creativity: the permissions have to be there too. This relates to both previous points, but also to the authority of the individual to challenge and question, their agility. Creating space is good, but clarity around permissions is better. Under the Healthcare Radicals programme of change in the NHS, they have created permissions to challenge, within a structure. It’s a wonderful model of socially grounded change, empowered by communities and amplification.
We need to experiment, but not necessarily within a process: process is what we get after the experiment. You need to know which walls you can knock down, where you can question and what is open to change. The dichotomy between experimentation and process is often what stifles creativity and kills innovation: great ideas won’t flourish if they don’t have space to grow.
All of which asks if the organisation is geared up to learn: does it view this last dichotomy as true or not?
If you see learning as the opposite to failure, then you’re set up to fail. You have to both fail and learn and have the right permissions and trust to do so. If you’re not failing somewhere, you’re probably not learning enough.