Is the traditional conference room really a good place to hold an innovation session? Are creativity, energy, and involvement from participants predicated on where the event takes place? In this post I will show you how it really is all about “Location, Location, Location” – a phrase realtors often use in explaining how the value of a home can increase or decrease drastically depending upon where it is.
Many times when planning an innovation session, a lot of attention is given to the structure of the events, schedule for the day, and participants. There are lots of ideas all over the internet and available from consultants on what events to include and their proper implementation. However, when it comes time to find a location, typically a conference room within either the company or some hotel is booked and no more thought is given – the task is done.
Although many hotel conference rooms are convenient due to their catering, climate control, and familiar corporate setting (think large well lit room with table and chairs around it) they still fall short of being an ideal venue for holding an innovation event for the following reasons. First, they keep participants within a familiar surrounding enabling it easy to remain in the corporate mindset. Because of this, participants tend to check emails, talk to colleagues about projects, and in general not be as completely immersed as they should be in the creative process. Secondly, people equate conference rooms with long tiring meetings, and so innovation sessions can unfortunately fall victim rather easily to this psychological association. Overcoming this requires numerous breaks throughout the day to keep peoples attention span at peak performance and hopefully prevent them from fatigue. This takes valuable time away from actual ideation and can become a factor which limits the number of activities that can be done in the allotted time span. Lastly, nothing beyond ideation effectively happens outside the planned events. If you want little extra bonuses like team building or people getting to know each other better, they would have to be built into the events in some way – and even then it is not completely effective. This also takes time away from the main goal of generating new ideas and tends to make it seem as though the team bonding aspect is in some way forced.
So then if the traditional conference room is ineffective, what are some good alternatives? Here is where creativity on the part of the session planner is required. Take some time to choose completely different and non traditional locations. Try to think of places that would either be challenging to the senses or elicit an emotionally uncomfortable environmental response. Off the top of my head, some suggestions may be using an abandoned building, going deep in an underground cave, or ideate while on different rides at an amusement park. Going even further, why not consider renting out an empty space and transforming it into the surface of the moon or some distant planet. Why not be innovative in the construction and planning the innovation event? Recently, Osmotic Innovation was made aware of a large global company within the NJ/NY area that took participants out into the middle of the forest to innovate. No comfy climate controlled conference rooms here – but just imagine the ideas and team building that came from camping overnight while trying to avoid bears and other wildlife! As I am sure most Social Psychologists would agree, a highly effective way to brings teams together while simultaneously engaging different parts of the brain would certainly be that of everyone experiencing and overcoming some sort of emotional experience together. Can you visualize how different the environment would be sitting with colleagues in an old abandoned building? What do you think the ominous sounds, musty scents, and graffiti sprayed on the peeling wallpaper would contribute towards forcing participants to forget about work and be in the moment? Imagine the unique and effective events one could plan while in such an environment (taking safety precautions, of course). I don’t know about you, but I know for sure if I were there, checking work emails and worrying about project deadlines would be last on the list!
Therefore, as Osmotic Innovators, lets push ourselves to think of ways to overturn the traditional (cookie cutter type) innovation session and find ways to challenge participants beyond the events by immersing them in new and stimulating environments. Retire the thought of using boring conference rooms and make innovation sessions both an event and experience. Why do we expect participants to provide creative ideas if the innovation sessions themselves are not dynamic? After all, wasn’t it stated that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results? Well, the same phrase can certainly be applied to innovation sessions. Push participants even further by removing their comfort zones and you will be amazed at the output and level of engagement you will begin to see in response.
In the first post in this series, I explored how despite the common tendency to categorize mathematics as a subject concerned with rules and complexity, it can actually provide ways to lead one to think creatively. Instead of getting lost in the specific complexity of Calculus and Differential Equations, we took a step laterally and showed how these areas manifest themselves in the creative beauty around us.
In this second part, I would like to introduce another area of study within mathematics that is commonly viewed with dread when one decides to either major or minor in the subject – mathematical logic and proofs. Many (if not all) math textbooks contain a section proving how and why different theorems work. Although ignored by many students due to their high complexity, they are the reason why the theorems work and are rather important to the field of study. So why does a course in something like mathematical logic help enhance creativity? Put simply, it forces you to think differently. In mathematics, the goal is to find truth and proofs are the explanation we use to convince ourselves and others. I am not going to now go into any further discussion on how to write mathematical proofs, but instead focus on some of the simplistic components. In writing a proof, you have a few options:
- Simply find an example of something that works
- Contrapositive – which simply means negating both sides of the statement
- Induction – try using a low number and then if it works, prove that it will work for when that number is increased by 1
There are many other ways, but I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. So knowing this, you may now wonder how it could be applied in your next innovation session. As a starting point, it is important to note that each of these techniques enhances reasoning and enables you think creatively by forcing you to look logically and break things down, analyze them, and build them back up. Therefore, you may want to try a few of the following:
- Break the challenge statement down into its components
- Ask questions assuming the opposite situation is occurring
- Use contradiction – find examples of things that didn’t work and ask why. Then add something incremental to it (e.g. a motor, magnet, sensors, etc) and ask if that works
- Examine a new product idea that really resonates with consumers. Ask why as many times as possible to get to the core as to its success
- Take something from a completely different industry and try to apply it to your challenge
Three prisoners have been sentenced to long terms in prison, but due to overcrowding, one must be released. The warden devises a scheme to determine which prisoner is to be released. He tells the prisoners that he will blindfold them and paint a red or blue line on each forehead. After this is done, he will remove the blindfolds and a prisoner should raise his hand if he sees a red line on at least one of the other two prisoners. The first prisoner to identify the color of the line on his own forehead will be released. Of course the prisoners agree to this. The warden blindfolds them and then proceeds to paint a red line on all three prisoners. He removes the blindfolds and, since each prisoner sees a red line, each prisoner raises his hand. Some time passes when one of the prisoners exclaims: “I know what color my line is! It’s red!” This prisoner is then released. Now, we must ask: How did this prisoner correctly identify the color of the line painted on his forehead?
I will let you think about that and have some fun with it. Hopefully by now in reading the two blogs about mathematics, you have some better appreciation and understanding how such a subject can indeed enhance creativity and exercise the mind.
Mathematical techniques like proofs challenge the practitioner to become adept at understanding the process by which you reach a conclusion. Having all that skill can improve innovation and creativity by allowing a person to inherently examine the truth in a problem and solution – not to just take it for granted. That level of analysis can manifest itself in recognizing new solutions or incorrect assumptions to create better innovations
Creativity, as we all know, comes in many forms and is a huge part of Mathematics. Allow me to end with the quote from well-known writer J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter novels).
“Sometimes ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.”
Are you the type of person who listens to their iPod while working? What about when you are at the gym? Is the music different depending upon what you are doing and when? It is often said that music is the soundtrack of our life, and has the ability to make us smile, cry, feel energized, or relaxed. What about color? Are there certain colors you like or dislike?
Applying this thinking to structuring an innovation session, you might want to find a way to provoke an emotional response. In this post, we will explore how incorporating (or manipulating) our sense of hearing and sight via music and color may assist in enhancing peoples creativity.
All of us have at some point studied the physiology of our eyes and ears. Different frequencies and vibrations in the air reach our eardrum and produce what we term “sound”. Light gets focused, forms an image, and the image is converted to electrical signals that tell the brain of what we “see”. Understanding each of these organs could require extensive study of Anatomy & Physiology and Physics by themselves, but putting the complexity of the human physiology aside, do these senses affect the individual psychologically?
Starting with music, there are numerous papers that examine its impact on intelligence and creativity. You may be aware of the studies regarding pregnant mothers playing classical music and the belief they will have more intelligent children. Although this is still debatable, fundamentally it stands that soothing sounds can induce creativity and increase intelligence. What exactly is defined as soothing? According to Dr. Jeffrey Thompson from the Center for Neuroacoustic Research, Delta rhythms of 0.5Hz induct meditative-like states of consciousness and “whenever there are extraordinary meditation states present, brainwave electrical activity between the right/left hemispheres tends to synchronize. This synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres seems to only happen in special circumstances of consciousness – the “aha” state, the moment when the answer to a problem occurs, creative inspiration, great insight, and moments of awareness of ones own existence.” Although a majority of us can not measure the frequency of music we listen to, it is safe to assume that sounds of the harp, Tibetan bowls, recordings of nature, and slow instrumental songs will certainly put us in this required state of mind. It has also been shown that learning how to play an instrument can improve our intelligence and abilities. In a study performed by the Association for Psychological Science, children taking music lessons scored higher on verbal memory tests than a control group without musical training. Although not explored in this blog, it is important to note that music is additionally linked to reducing pain after surgery and is strongly suspected to increase/decrease the violent tendencies of people depending upon the kind of music listened to.
There are many articles and studies explaining how color can enhance mood, productivity, physical performance, and what we purchase (to name but some of the many examples). Several ancient cultures are known to employ what we now term color psychology for healing. Although viewed with scepticism, studies have been conducted that suggest a link between different colors and the state of our mind. One such study performed by the University of British Columbia (UBC) demonstrates how brain performance can be enhanced. According to Juliet Zhu from UBC’s Saunder School of Business, researchers tracked more than 600 participants’ performance on six cognitive tasks that required detail orientation or creativity. Most experiments were conducted on computers, with a screen that was red, blue, or white. As it turns out, red boosted performance on detail oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31%. When confronted with creative tasks such as brainstorming, blue environmental cues were shown to produce twice as many outputs as compared to the other colours. According to Juliet Zhu, “Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles, and teachers red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution. The avoidance motivation or heightened state that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required.” Blue, however, encourages us to think outside the box and be creative she says. “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace, and tranquillity. The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory.” Other colors are also believed to affect the body and mind in certain ways – just do a quick Google search and you will be amazed at the abundance of information on both the positive and negative aspects assigned to each one.
For the Osmotic Innovator, this information is yet another technique to add to the growing toolbox of ways to bring out creativity in people during innovation sessions. Some examples include:
- Keep people creative and energetic by alternating between classical and dance music. Use the classical music when you need them to be focused and creative. When needed, inject energy into the room by playing something with a faster beat.
- Place the challenge statement on a blue background and hang it up so everyone can see
- Play with the emotions different colors can evoke by use of colored lighting, and/or making available colored paper, crayons, and pens. Have no “traditional” white paper available.
- Form teams and force each one to be immersed in a particular color as they innovate (have them wear that color shirt or other type of clothing and use supplies of only that color). Allow the groups to experience being immersed in different colors.
- Do the same thing as described in the previous suggestion, but with the addition of music. Maybe subject one group to Jazz, another to Classical, and another to Dance/Rock.
These are just a few examples of what could be done to improve creativity. Experiment the incorporation of music and color with your own sessions and see what happens.
We live in a corporate environment where time is scarce and employees are trying to balance their career and outside interests (e.g. family, personal hobbies, health, etc). Because of this, most people simply go to their job and don’t really want to participate in any innovation sessions or activities that may require time above and beyond what is required. They view innovation as yet another objective added to the already long list of whats expected of them in their daily work routine. One way companies address approaches to innovation, is by conducting innovation sessions. Most likely innovation sessions have participants from the company who get together and through use of a facilitator, perform different activities to generate ideas.
In a perfect world, every employee within a company would be excited to attend such a session, and would be full of ideas. However, the reality is companies tend to invite people regardless of their interest or abilities, and so as a result, we have to deal with people who are not engaged, not innovative, or have simply been invited because they funded the event. How can we then motivate those who are not engaged in the innovation session and don’t particularly care to be there?
Typically innovation sessions have reward(s) planned at certain stages when either a team or individual completes some milestone or is perceived to be a large contributor of ideas. Why? Well, many (if not all) of us at some time or another received an incentive to complete a task. Therefore, it is only logical that everyone will be motivated to be innovative if there was a reward, right?
Although there is evidence to support that rewarding certain behavior each time it is observed will increase the frequency of that behavior, this is a very general conclusion and does not take into account peoples internal thoughts about themselves, their self-perspective, and motivation to behave in a certain way. Generally, motivation can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within – doing something because you want to – while extrinsic motivations mean people are seeking a reward, such as money, a good grade in class, or a trophy at a sporting event. According to self-perception theory (SPT), replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation may actually make people enjoy the activity less or loose interest altogether. This is due to what has been termed the overjustification effect, which results when people begin to view their behavior as being caused by rewards instead of realizing the extent intrinsic motivation actually played. Psychologist Daryl Bem, developer of SPT, conducted an experiment where subjects listened to a tape of a man enthusiastically describing a tedious peg-turning task. Some of the subjects were informed the man was paid $20 for his testimonial while another group was told he was paid $1. Those who were in the group informed that the man was only paid $1 felt as though he must have thoroughly enjoyed the task. This is in contrast with the other group who felt the exact opposite.
Considering motivation from the Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology approach, it becomes something a bit complex, but at the same time provides some valuable insight into how we can motivate and engage more employees in innovation – which is the ultimate goal for the Osmotic Innovator. Maslows Hierarchy of Needs essentially states we have different levels of needs that must be sequentially fulfilled before we can reach self actualization (the desire of a person to develop their capacities to the fullest). Although this has become the most popular way to think about motivation, there has been little research performed to test this theory, and the research that has been performed is not completely supportive. There soon emerged a new approach to understand motivation and with this came Vrooms VIE Theory which was placed into a new category termed “Person-As-Godlike: The Scientist Model”. Using Maslows Hierarchy of Needs as a base, VIE (Valence, Instrumentality, Expectancy) theory provides a definition for each component. Valence identifies how psychological objects in an environment have an attracting and repelling force. For example, most would find money attracting and uninteresting work as repelling. Instrumentality deals with the relationship between performance and expected outcomes. An example provided by Frank J. Landy and Jeffrey M. Conte is that of a promotion. Usually a promotion means a higher salary and more prestige, but it may also include more responsibility and longer hours. Once a person is aware of these instrumentalities (essentially Pros and Cons), they can better decide which outcome is better. Lastly, expectancy is defined through this theory as the individuals belief that increased effort leads to successful performance.
Now that we have explored all the technical theories and provided a bit more information from Psychology, what does it mean for the Osmotic Innovator? Excluding the unexplored link between emotion and motivation, we can extrapolate the following:
- Inform employees what benefits may arise from their increased innovation. Explain how things like increased company exposure and the ability to work on their own project all may stem from an increasingly innovative environment.
- Let employees know what an expected outcome would be from an action they begin to perform. In other words, have them consider how increased thinking and participation in innovative programs may ultimately lead to things they want – directly or indirectly (e.g. bonuses, opportunities for promotion, etc)
- Provide small incremental incentives during innovation sessions to those who are perceived to be completely unmotivated. It has been shown that providing incentives to those who completely lack the intrinsic motivation for something can not hurt – it can only potentially help for the duration of the event.
- Know your audience. Begin to meet with those who seem to be lacking motivation and talk to them. You will be amazed at what information you can gain and leverage to get them motivated. Highlight how any contributions they make toward promoting a better innovative environment is valued. Maybe even make them in charge of proposing (and possibly implementing) how a more innovative and positive work environment can be accomplished.
These are just a few suggestions that can be quickly and easily tried by any organization. Remember, motivation is a complex topic and there is really no “one size fits all” approach. Even today, there are debates within the Psychology community regarding the validity of some motivational theories. Hopefully by implementing some of the suggestions above (and maybe even coming up with a few of your own), the innovative culture can begin to become infectious and slowly have a positive effect on everyone around.
Levy, Paul E. Industrial Organizational Psychology. 3rd Ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2009.
Landy, F. J. & Conte, M. Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology. 2nd Ed. Malden, Ma.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Aronson, Elliot, Timothy D. Wilson, and Robin M. Akert. Social Psychology. 7th Ed. NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.
Myers, David G. Social Psychology. 10th Ed. McGraw Hill, 2009
Aronson, Elliot. The Social Animal. 10th Ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2008.
I have a rather unique ability. I have the power to potentially alter your behaviour and perception of others by simply showing you a list of words. Impressed? Don’t be. In actuality I am simply applying a psychological technique called priming. Academically, priming is defined as “the process by which recent experiences increase the accessibility of a schema, trait, or concept.” Sounds confusing, but in reality it is very simple to understand. Imagine if I were to provide you with words like rude, intrude, and disturb to unscramble and then ask you to come get me when you were done. Upon completion of the task, you find me but notice I am having a conversation with a colleague. Would you immediately interrupt me or wait a few seconds? What if the words were patiently, appreciate, and polite? Would that alter your behaviour? Surprisingly, in a study performed by John Bargh and his associates, participants primed with aggressive and rude words overwhelmingly interrupted the conversation faster than people primed with either neutral or calmer words. This is just one example from Social Psychology that demonstrates how our actions and thinking can be skewed based on how we are primed prior to encountering an event.
If we now think about the potential application to innovation, there is something rather interesting that comes to light. In any innovation session there exists a potential struggle between Management and the Employees. Management oversees the resources needed (e.g.: funding, personnel, allotment of time) while the Employees are the ones who will do the innovating. Should we consider a negative primer to something like the phrase “This is a very difficult innovative challenge and we may not get a lot of ideas”, a positive primer would then be along the lines of “This will be a rather easy innovation challenge and we should be able to get lots of ideas”. What if we were to use the negative primer for Management and the positive one for the employees? Would that provide a better innovative atmosphere? How about changing the combination and providing management with the positive primer and employees with the negative one? If we were to map out all the possible combinations, we obtain the following diagram:
Management Positive Primed: Trying to impress Management by informing them the innovative challenge will be easy counter intuitively produces a negative outcome as there will be limited funding and personnel.
Management Negatively Primed: This produces a positive result, as Management will now think the task is rather challenging and in order to successfully complete it, will provide extra funding and personnel.
Employees Positively Primed or Negative primed produces the results we would expect. Telling Employees they have been selectively chosen for the challenge due to their skill level and creativity will obviously produce a group that is very motivated and enthusiastic to take on the challenge. As one can easily guess, the opposite will occur if Employees are told the challenge will be rather difficult, many problems will be encountered along the way, and they were randomly selected.
Clearly there appears to be a combination that is optimal for an innovative environment: more resources are provided and the employees are very enthusiastic. This lies in priming management in a negative way and priming Employees in a positive way. As mentioned, this paradoxically should result in a situation where funding and/or additional resources are provided to an eager bunch of innovative employees waiting to take on the challenge. Imagine if all your problems were approached in this way!
There is also a situation that should be avoided. If management is positively primed, and Employees are negatively primed, low levels of resource and funding will be provided and you will end up with a bunch of Employees who do not want to take on the innovative challenge.
It can be agreed upon how either of the remaining two combinations (e.g. positive primer to both Management and Employees/negative primer to both Management and Employees) is what a typical company usually faces when an innovation challenge is encountered. Either there will be excited management ready to give money, time, etc to unmotivated and overworked employees, or very excited employees who want to work on a particular challenge will be told they have very strict limitations. However, as demonstrated above, perhaps utilizing psychological priming may decrease this tendency and help to promote a more positive innovative culture.
 Bargh, J., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype priming on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.
In the growing competitive corporate environment, the demand for new innovative products that help drive growth becomes of vital importance. In Businessweek magazineIBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano was quoted as saying “The way you will thrive in this environment is by innovating – innovating in technologies, innovating in strategies, innovating in business models”. This sentiment is echoed in companies like Google, Nissan, and Apple to name a few. Therefore, to meet this demand it is rather common for most companies to conduct group innovation sessions. Considering this, the question then is how we can create an effective innovative group?
In creating this, one of the most important steps is in choosing the participants. But what kind of person are we exactly looking for? There are numerous personality type tests one can use to either screen job applicants, or better understand the people within an organization. With the demand placed on innovation it is no surprise that 80 percent of fortune 500 companies use some kind of personality test, with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator being most favoured, according to an article in Psychology Today. These tests not only have their pros and cons in the Psychology community, but they can also be expensive and most likely need a professional to administer. Therefore, I propose a more simplistic approach in modelling a group and deciding participants.
For the sake of simplicity, lets draw a line representing personality types and on the left side label it “Very Artistic” while on the right side we place the label “Very Structured”. Who might we place on the left side of our graph? Most likely “Very Artistic” conjures to mind those who are artists, dancers, improve actors, and anyone else with a talent or career that is solely dependent upon bringing to life limitless imagination. Therefore, on the opposite end of the spectrum, defining “Very Structured” becomes rather easy: Accountants, Engineers, Mathematicians, or any type of person who is either drawn to a very structured environment or has a very structured career. We can then consider the span between these two extremes as the degree to which someone is near either one – taking into consideration possible outside talents, interests, level of education, etc. In thinking of a group structure, there will be varying levels of intensity toward either end, so the use of a box will perhaps best capture this. For example, consider a company that is primarily focused on manufacturing and selling chemicals. I’m sure we can all agree that such a company would likely have a research and development group containing a large percentage of people with some kind of focused technical background. We can then pictorially represent this by placing a box near the “Very Structured” side (Figure 1)
On the other hand, consider a Theatre company employing a group of interpretive dancers. In this case, one would expect most of them to be somewhere near the “Very Artistic” side and so with a box placed there, our graph would then look a bit like Figure 2.
In looking at the differences between the two examples, it can be hypothesized that the nature of a corporation essentially preselects the members of that group and therefore makes obtaining people from different end of the spectrum rather impossible.
Therefore, with use of such a model to describe the dominant nature of a group, one can then ask: is it advantageous to select people strictly from within the group, or would it be more valuable for the company to have a sampling from different locations on the graph?
Should we primarily select within a particular segment of the spectrum, we know we would get people who share a similar educational background and interest in the field they have a career in. However, although a broad commonality is shared, each one of us is unique and brings to the table a spectrum of emotional and intellectual diversity that in of itself may be sufficient enough to tackle the challenge at hand. Ask the participants about their hobbies outside of work and somehow incorporate that into the session. Discover more about the people in the session and tap into their previous experiences and talents. Using such methods will certainly bring something different to the innovation session, but the facilitator must still be wary of how immersed they are in the challenge. Often times, even with these techniques, it is a bit difficult to get people thinking outside of what they are familiar with. This brings me to the next (and personally preferred) method: inviting people outside the group.
In contrast to selecting within the group, we can consider the option to select people from different locations along the plot that exist outside the group. In doing this, a wider array of creativity and alternate viewpoints can be introduced. Think of what would happen if someone like a magician were to attend an innovation session being conducted by an engineering firm. Would doing this successfully contribute anything? If we consider the art of Magic, there is clearly lots of innovation and creativity that goes into any small to large illusion. Therefore, one way to utilize someone like this would be to have them perform a few small tricks. After each one, the engineers would be challenged to try and think of different ways it could have been accomplished. In doing this, the engineers will essentially be solving a rather unique puzzle while getting their minds primed to think in a different way. Have the magician then reveal the trick and allow the group to discuss the different ways they approached an explanation to what they just saw. This is just one example of taking someone near what we termed “Very Artistic” and placing them into the group that may be more near the “Very Structured”. I am sure with a bit of your own creativity you can come up with other examples.
With both options discussed, is one technique better than the other? I challenge you to come to your own conclusion, but to those who think something very specific and technical is best solved by a room of PhD’s using complex equations – remember one important thing: Kekule daydreaming about a snake biting its own tail provided the structure for Benzene, which at the time revolutionized the field of Organic Chemistry.