For crazy out of the box thinkers. No idea is too crazy to be considered here. Bust the paradigms!
December 9, 2009 at 11:02 pm #86886
How do we encourage creative thinking and innovation in government?
December 10, 2009 at 12:40 am #86922
December 10, 2009 at 12:51 am #86920
I just signed up for Manor labs and took a look. Dustin, this is very impressive stuff. I’m encouraged to see this kind of engagement. Excellent application of technology.
What’s the relationship between this site and the Mayor and other local leadership?
December 10, 2009 at 1:10 am #86918
Thanks, we’re a very small town with a very limited budget and as a result innovation has been our way to get things done and come in under budget. We want to use Manor Labs to show other agencies the power of open innovation and build a platform of multi-agency collaboration through posting all of our R&D on the “Research” tab.
The Mayor and Council Members are participants on Manor Labs and love the fact that they can see public input outside of a council meeting. It also helps them have a more accurate snapshot of the inner workings of our government.
Each department head reviews any ideas that advance to the “validation” stage and help guide the ideas down the innovation path. I’ll be happy to share more about the actual process if you’re interested.
Results thus far: 46 ideas + 30 days = 2 fully implemented solutions
December 10, 2009 at 1:23 pm #86916
1) By modeling it
2) By promoting and encouraging it
3) By rewarding it, not just the successful results, but the innovation
December 10, 2009 at 2:00 pm #86914
After posting this, I read an email from Baseline Review, which had a link to 40 Fast Facts About Google. It had a few references to their ‘innovation’ policy and the results. The policy was along the lines of encouraging employees to spend 20% of their time on projects that ‘strike their fancy’.
December 10, 2009 at 3:35 pm #86912
I can think of a few specifics here. Please add to the discussion if you can think of more!
2) By promoting and encouraging it:
– Train people how to think in an innovative way.
– Encourage participation in peer (cross-agency) work groups.
– Send people to conferences to learn new ideas.
– Set aside time for innovation and brainstorming. A lot of times agencies and workers will set-aside time for training, but there never seems to be enough time for thinking through what you’ve learned and then applying back at your agency. Create an “Innovation” policy that makes it a requirement that if someone attends training, they need to say if and how practices back at the agency can be improved based on the training they received.
3) By rewarding it, not just the successful results, but the innovation
– Incorporate innovation in your worker’s goals and then performance evaluation (again, not necessarily the results, but the innovation).
December 10, 2009 at 3:40 pm #86910
Last week I setup a meeting where we’re going to discuss if and how we can implement creative and innovative ideas. As a homework assignment, I told the participants to start coming up with creative and innovative ideas to bring to the meeting.
On the way to work this morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t really told them how to do that, so this morning I shared these thoughts:
In the pressures of the day-to-day, we follow our instincts and professional judgment, and make many decisions in the blink of an eye. We decide without critical thinking. We “Blink”. And because we have good instincts and professional judgment, we get-by and move on. No doubt there’s room enough and a real need for those instincts and judgment calls. Brainstorming alternatives though is no place for Blinking because our instincts and judgment calls can be ineffective when they are influenced by likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes.
Likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes can be especially present when evaluating alternative ways of working, because no one likes to admit that they may currently be doing things in an inefficient way. There’s a bias toward the presumption that we’re already as efficient as we can be. We must be working efficiently because: why wouldn’t we? If our budgets have been slashed and our workloads have increased that supports our theory. But that bias toward the presumption of efficiency can be a roadblock to critical thinking about efficiency.
Because we Blink and because there’s a presumption of efficiency, we’re a body in motion. As circumstances force change, systems and procedures often evolve with marginal modifications and marginal changes in work practices, and we end up with a multitude of addendums and workarounds that get us quickly back on our original track.
Blinking can also prevent us from considering alternatives outside of our comfort zone. As Abraham Maslow said, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Recognize that even though you currently have a hammer, have a lot of experience with the hammer, and may even enjoy using the hammer, it may not be the right tool for every job.
To avoid Blinking, brainstorm alternatives, and evaluate alternatives based on evidence rather than instinct.
In the book Re-Think author Ric Merrifield explains that we typically focus on process: “how” we’re doing the job. And we forget about the bigger issue: “what” we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Ric encourages us to re-think by focusing on the “what” instead of the “how”.
No Silver Bullets
As we examine efficiencies and new ways of working, it’s important to go in eyes-wide-open, realizing that there are no improvements that will work for all of our customers all of the time. There aren’t even solutions that will work for a specific type of customer all of the time. Just as we provide a menu of services, we must provide a menu of options for customers to access those services, and train workers to select the best alternatives. Dismissing alternatives because they won’t work for all customers and/or all of the time, is a road that leads to nowhere, because there are no silver bullets waiting to be discovered. No silver bullets, but a real possibility of marginal improvements that taken together provide an opportunity to improve efficiencies and provide more/better/faster service.
If you think there must be an Easier Way, Follow that Instinct
When I talked about blinking, I explained that there was sometimes a need for instinct and judgment calls. A good example is when your instincts tell you there must be an easier way to do something.
Follow that instinct by gathering alternatives through:
• Critical thinking of current practices.
• Discussing practices with your coworkers.
• Discussing practices with peers.
• Describing current practices with IT.
• Describing what you do to someone who doesn’t know what you do.
When evaluating alternatives, don’t Blink.
December 10, 2009 at 3:45 pm #86908
Very impressive stuff. What strikes me the most is the fact that your “very small town with a very limited budget”. I think a lot of times in government, we’re as creative and innovative as we need to be. A small town with a limited budget needs to be very efficient, and I think those constraints (especially in this case) make for some truly innovative thinking!
I too, am from a pretty small agency with a small budget, and we use a lot of open source software, re-use resources in innovative ways, and are constantly striving to innovate under our constraints.
December 11, 2009 at 2:07 am #86906
December 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm #86904
Yes – and I meant to cite him in my comment! Thanks!
His thoughts made perfect sense to me as I see a constant cycle of “decide -> implement” or “decide -> don’t implement” and how that short-cycled thought process can be an obstacle to critical/creative thinking, and therefore an obstacle to innovation.
December 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm #86902
Rewarding innovation is excellent. What are some other ways to reward innovative behavior? How about if the innovator is showing a propensity to innovate, but hasn’t necessarily produced anything usable – yet?
December 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm #86900
It might be good to consider a yin/yang sort of approach to the Blink / Don’t Blink discussion. Take military action for example: experience often makes the difference. No time for critical thinking. Someone who has “been there” brings a whole lot to the point of decision making.
The same holds true for fire fighting, emergency medical service, parenting, carrier deck operations (though I have no experience with this one), and other similar positions that require decisiveness with little or no time for discussion or analysis.
I’ve seen a lot of innovation (and some really good decisions) in the blink of an eye & I am a believer.
I also recognize that neither approach is ideal for all situations. If seen some “blinkers” make some pretty bad decisions and/or sub-optimize a solution – maybe because their decision really is best for whatever they have experience with, but terrible for their neighbors.
Is there such a thing as a confluence?
How do we bring these two together?
December 29, 2009 at 8:45 pm #86898
This is a tough one for me to convey David, because there’s definitely a time-and-place for that “blink”/decide.
First, I can totally agree with the premise that sometimes (as in the examples you cited) this is the ONLY way to make a decision.
Also, Blinking can be a great way to make a decision that’s “good enough”. (I’m not disparaging “good enough” here by the way, I’m a big fan of “good enough“!) When the potential benefit of “the best” decision is not that different from the potential harm from “the worst” decision, almost any decision is “good enough”. It’s therefore not worth the time and effort to evaluate alternatives to make “the best” decision.
Why I recommend not blinking when trying to be innovative, is I don’t believe that trying to be innovative generally fits into those categories. That is, I don’t think there’s often a requirement for instant decision making (when trying to be innovative), and I do think in the kind of scenarios where innovation is important, there can be a great disparity between the cost of a bad decision vs. the benefits of a good one.
For every “Eureka!” or “Ah-Ha!” moment (instant, innovative, and potentially very good decisions), I’ve seen dozens of “No”, “We can’t do that”, or “We’ve always done it this way” (instant, uninnovative, and potentially very bad decisions); for all the reasons I’ve mentioned:
– There’s a bias toward the presumption that we’re already as efficient as we can be.
– We generally don’t like change, and as circumstances force change, systems and procedures often evolve with marginal modifications and marginal changes in work practices, and we end up with a multitude of addendums and workarounds that get us quickly back on our original track.
– Blinking can also prevent us from considering alternatives outside of our comfort zone.
I think innovation often requires what Kim Salkeld called “rigorous thinking” instead of Blink/Act, or maybe more often: Blink/Don’t. Logic in place of instinct. Thoughtfulness in place of knee-jerk reactions.
You said, “I’ve seen a lot of innovation (and some really good decisions) in the blink of an eye & am a believer.” Agreed. Rigorous thinking, logic, and thoughtfulness does not negate those great decisions, but validates them. It also has the added benefit of smoking out bad decisions.
December 29, 2009 at 9:38 pm #86896
In my comment above I mention that, “I don’t think there’s often a requirement for instant decision making (when trying to be innovative).” Well, no doubt sometimes there is. So, in addition to my previous advice about how to train someone to think in an innovative way, I’ll add this:
I spent 22 years in the Air National Guard, and each year we had a requirement to watch a video on Expedient Methods. In addition to the video there was field manual about expedient methods and procedures. By giving us concrete examples of innovative solutions that can be implemented instantly (fighting position dimensions of 1 M-16 x 2 M-16’s, arm-pit deep), the video and manual spurred instant/innovative thinking.
December 30, 2009 at 2:44 am #86894
Good points, Tim. I think most people would agree with you.
I’ve had the most trouble figuring out how to sync these two decision making methods up. I blog about this in a post titled “Getting it all to the Table.” I include a diagram there to show what I perceive is the biggest challenge with aligning decision cycles (represented by the blinkers) and analysis cycles (represented by the thinkers).
You mention that the manual and video spurred instant/innovative thinking. Those two things encouraged innovation, yes? Do you have any cool examples of innovation coming from those?
December 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm #86892
December 30, 2009 at 8:27 pm #86890
I read your Getting it all to the Table post before, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it outside the context of this thread.
I’ve been talking all around it, but you’ve done a better job with the terminology – strategy and tactics. In “Getting it all to the Table”, you mention, “Decision processing modifications need to help us sort out tactical decisions (ones that need to be made right away and are less likely to have long range consequences) from strategic decisions (those that don’t have to be made right away and are more likely to have long range consequences).” That’s it!
In my Focus on Efficiency blog posts, I propose a new framework (a “decision processing modification” if you will) for breaking the momentum of tactical decision making (which involves “blinking”) in order to focus on strategic decision making (which involves “rigorous thinking”). Because that’s been on my mind, I’ve also been focused here mainly innovation in strategy, rather than innovation in tactics.
I believe I see what you mean now about the yin/yang of blinking/thinking and tactics/strategy. So here’s my yin/yang: Blinking can be, and probably should be, used for tactical decision making. Thinking (or what I call “Focusing”) can be, and probably should be, used for strategic decision making. When making tactical decisions, you should always keep the overall strategy in mind and make sure your decisions support, or at least don’t run counter to, the overall strategy. This is consistent with the yin yang philosophy of complementary opposites within a greater whole.
Regarding the manual and video, these spurred tactical innovation and as such the innovations were very time-and-place dependent. There were some clever dual-purposing of resources in a force bed down plan I developed, and making due with stock on-hand parts rather than ordering specific replacement parts, that kind of thing.
June 2, 2010 at 3:03 am #86888
Maybe you’ve seen this nice blog by John Kamensky, which summarizes a recent HBR study on worker motivation. Turns out that while managers tend think rewards are most important in promoting worker engagement and the innovative things that can happen as a result, rewards may not be as important as we think. The biggest driver in the study turned out to be “creating a culture of helpfulness” where workers could get stuff done. The study uses a methodologically rigorous and elegant design where workers kept diaries over a period of weeks.
One other thing that I find interesting is just how pedestrian innovation can be. This quick reading article on using simple checklists to save lives is very powerful. I think there was a recent book that followed but all the key ideas are contained in this short piece.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.