Lessons in Innovation and Problem Solving

This video inspires me.  For 7 minutes 43 seconds, I am transfixed:

  • How is this possible?
  • How did he come to be able to do this?
  • Where does this level of focus and determination come from? 
  • How many times did he fail yet get back up and keep going (despite the fact that failure must have been so painful)? 
  • What process does he go through to prepare? 
  • How does he look at the obstacles in front of him and see possibilities not obstacles?

Did you know that STRESSED is just DESSERTS spelled backwards?

I took some time on the weekend to de-clutter and organize my office.  Such a luxury – the messy build up was starting to add to my general feeling of stress and frenzy.  It was ironic that I stumbled across an envelope with leftover handouts about stress management from a team meeting I lead about 4 years ago.

Leafing through the material brought back a lot of memories.  The team was facing yet another year of increased work and the specter of significantly reduced funding, again.  They had come together for two days to consider how to shift their work to be ready to meet the challenge.  It was a stressful meeting at the end of a stressful year focused on figuring out how to manage another one ahead.

In the afternoon of the second day, we let it all go and spent time laughing through a video presentation by Loretta Laroche a renown humorist, motivational speaker and stress expert.  We ate popcorn and reflected on how to lighten the load and personally deal with the challenges to come.

While a lot of the advice is so simple, it is so easy to forget in the swirl of everyday. It made me smile all over again so I thought I would share some of it with you:

Loretta’s Eight Steps to EnLIGHTenment:

  1. Lighten Up.  Find humor in everyday situations (especially in yourself)
  2. Light the Way.  Smile at Yourself and Other.  Be fully present.
  3. Step Lightly.  Twirl, Stand on One Leg, Walk Backwards!
  4. Discover your Inner Light.  Mediate, Pray, Count Your Blessings!  Find the Bless in the Mess.
  5. Delight Yourself.  Pleasure Yourself with Food, Art, Nature and Music.
  6. Lighten Your Load.  Give up doing everything.  Call in WELL!
  7. Speak Lightly.  Go beyond Okay, Fine, Not Bad, Yell – Whoopee! Weeh! TaDah!
  8. Become a Beacon of Light.  Be a compassionate witness to your behaviour and to other Humans.  Become your own Hero.  Lead your Life with Grace, Glory, Merriment and Mirth.

I checked in with the meeting sponsor a week or so after the meeting – she reported that she had caught sight of someone doing a little twirl as they walked down the hall.

The Secret to Innovation… Find Your Marshmallow

I have started working with a group that is exploring ways to innovate within a complex, multi-party, multi-pronged social service delivery system.

As I pondered how to continue to add value to the work of the group, I began musing about innovation itself. What is it exactly and how do you help groups produce it?  At its most basic, innovation is something new.   But, a new idea remains just an idea until it is offered to a broader group – no matter how limited that group might be.  The ideas of one person become so much more when they are expanded on by a larger group through collaboration.

Enter the Marshmallow Challenge – a deceptively simple game that has groups of 4 build the tallest structure they can in 18 minutes using 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of tape, one yard of string and a marshmallow – the marshmallow has to end up on top of the structure.

This challenge has been extended to many, many groups and has revealed some key lessons about how groups collaborate to produce innovative ideas. The most successful teams are those that:

  • are egalitarian – e.g. no one seeks to be in charge of the outcome;
  • do not seek one “right” plan to execute; but rather,
  • follow an iterative process that provides instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

The inspiring lesson here is that the underlying assumptions in any innovation exercise must be identified early and need frequent testing through prototyping.  Doing this creates effective innovation – innovation that could actually result in something new, different, better.

Spending a bit of time on a fun exercise like the Marshmallow Challenge seems like a great way to reinforce that innovation is “a contact sport” and could help groups realize that it is okay to slow down, do a little prototyping and testing so that it achieves more “TA DA!” moments than “Oh-Oh” results.