Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: creativity

Big Leaps and Little Steps – Thoughts on Innovation and Creativity

Dr. Scott Simmerman

For dozens of years, I have worked on the edges of how organizations work, being The Man in two organizations as well as being a consultant on long-term implementation projects as well as simply standing on the outside observing and commenting. Being in each position has had its advantages and drawbacks, but one thing is clear: Lots of organizations and individuals can accomplish lots of organizational improvement in lots of ways, and there is no silver bullet or best way.

Being internal offers the advantages of being able to bring to bear the organizational resources like time and money and support and roadblock management. One can supervise a group of people to focus on an issue or opportunity and to design an intervention to solve some problem or make some improvement.

That is easy when you are in charge of customer service or computer software or some other area that is somewhat self-contained. There are a lot of things you cannot manage, like customer service if you are a software manager or software if you are a customer service manager. But overall, you have some direct control.

The consultant has no direct influence, but might have access to senior managers and is often looking for something to implement that has impact and value for the company or department. So, the approach there is to identify issues and then look for leverage. Often, it is possible to collaborate and determine some changes and improvements that have significant organizational impact or effectiveness and whose results can be measured and evaluated.

In my 30 years of experience on the edges, it is quite common to find an individual who is doing things differently from the rest and seeing the results and impacts from that difference. Occasionally, it occurs at the low end of the performance curve, but very often, it is the Top or Exemplary Performer who has discovered some innovative efficiency that enables them to perform at a very high level.

They are not doing what the average employee is doing, but they are also doing things that the average person COULD do if they were aware of it or understood it or were measured on it (with feedback – see my newsletter on Performance Feedback).

This, for me, is organizational creativity or innovation. It does NOT have to be some brand new idea for a product or service, but it can be some organizational improvement or change that has impacts on some important aspect of how things work. And, often, those new improved ideas can be the basis for some team building as those ideas are implemented across part of the organization. Change does not have to be forced on people, which commonly generates resistance, anyway. Change and improvement can be made into an attractive new goal or mission and people can be recruited to implement and share the intrinsic motivation that comes naturally from improvement in skills or performance. Improvements can be recognized peer-to-peer and thus help that group build a more cohesive spirit.

On the other hand, forcing improvements from outside the group – such as a recommendation from a glory-seeking consultant who does not share any of the credit with the hands-on people – will result in resistance or worse.

Ownership, as I have discussed before, is a critical factor in organizational improvement:

“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car”

See these blog articles for more information:

Doing the same thing the same way will mostly generate the same result. I say mostly because it is my experience that some people will NOT accept “how things work, now, badly” and will make improvements on their own. These are often the same people who will bend the rules and develop “out of bounds” types of solutions that make sense when viewed from a distance – they are working on the edges of accepted behavior in many cases. They often feel that work looks like this:

Working hard, turning corners, working hard, turning corners, working hard…

And at least they can shift some things around so that their effort has more positive impacts and makes more sense, even though they cannot change things. They will make work look more like this:

Some people will simply innovate how they do things to make it easier…

What is needed is pretty simple: time, support, and more support to actually make real changes in how things operate and how work gets done.

They need the support of the management, support of the departments that impact their results, and the support of their peers. This all leads to improved intrinsic motivation.

This stuff is NOT rocket science and we simply need to understand that ideas for innovation can come from anywhere at any time and may not flow from how things are done right now. Sometimes there are necessary and important paradigm shifts in how we think of things. And not every idea is a great one, but we do need to be careful about how we deal with it. There may be a spark of creativity that we want to build on.

Ideas will come from the edges, and everyone has ideas. Reinforce them!

My tools are useful for a wide variety of innovative or creative exploits with front line workers. They are easy to facilitate and set up a language of improvement. It is easy for hands-on people to share the things that do not work smoothly – you can generate dozens of good ideas for workplace improvement. And you can use these ideas to create a history of successful implementation that leads to easier improvement in the future.

Square Wheels and our team building games are designed to impact performance and results. Have fun with them.

On Brainstorming and workplace productivity improvement

I recently responded to a LinkedIn post on the theme of Brainstorming. And I am reminded about how some people are new at this while I have been facilitating performance improvement discussions for nearly 40 years (gee, can it really be that long?)

“Times fun when you are having flies.” (Kermit the Frog)

One of the keys to success in these kinds of activities is to generate some peer support for the ideas and “lightly” use the ground rules — but NOT to make the rules so tight that people feel that the rules are more important than the ideas. I have seen some “control freak facilitators” focus so much on the rules that people feel that NO comment can be made other than the sharing of an idea. I really feel that this serves only to limit contributions. The session CAN be a debate, if it is done with the intention of generating NEW ideas and different viewpoints.

I allow some divergent discussion, but I also will lightly use the Rule of 80 / 20, which simply says the obvious: “80% of the discussion will occur in the first 20% of the time and the remaining 20% will take 80% of the time. So, anyone can call “80/20″ and we can then move on to more ideas…” (That really works well, in my experience!)

It is MOST important, I think, that the ideas be anchored to some business improvement issue and that people have a chance to get their creativity juices flowing before the discussion gets going.

The tool I use is Square Wheels One, which is readily available on my website. One does not require a tool but this process of generating ideas through projection is certainly a solid one for creativity.

We use the Square Wheels cartoon to help generate ideas for business improvement

We use the Square Wheels cartoon to help generate ideas for business improvement

I present that as, “How most organizations really work,” so as to not make them defensive (the word “your” added in there is pretty much guaranteed to generate some resistance and defensiveness!). A KEY is to allow them, “One Minute of Silent Contemplation Time.” This enables the slower information processers to think about possibilities before getting swarmed by the faster ones. It also allows for divergent thinking to arise — different people will go off in different directions.

With tables of no more than 6 people — more will decrease collaboration and participation — you allow them to first think individually and then allow them to discuss their different issues and ideas. I let this run until the energy begins to dissipate and then move it to a group discussion. You can use easel pads for each table, dot-voting for best ideas and all sorts of other frameworks for getting everyone involved in all ideas.

THEN, you can begin to tighten the thinking and bring them closer toward focusing on key issues and ideas — we call this “funneling.”

Getting people involved helps generate better ideas as well as ownership involvement and engagement

If you build a sense of energy and involvement and peer support for ideas in your openings, and anchor the activities toward “business improvement paradigms,” I think you will find that your brainstorming will be much improved. If people feel safe in sharing their ideas about a funny wagon with obvious improvement opportunities, they are MUCH more likely to participate in the sharing of their ideas about specific business improvement concepts in the open discussions.

Everyone needs to participate, mainly because, “Nobody ever washes a rental car,” and it is not so much about ideas as it is about the IMPLEMENTATION of those ideas afterwards for most organizations.

Between the idea and the reality,
Between the motion and the act,
Falls the Shadow.

T.S. Eliot

You can see more about Square Wheels at

For the FUN of It!

(BTW, I am a certified professional facilitator by the IAF and have been facilitating and implementing ideas for workplace improvement since 1978. )

Simple thoughts on Innovation and Creativity and Change

We can find innovation difficult, especially when we are charged with helping to generate it in training or consulting initatives. To be effective, we need to balance our ideas and the ideas of others to insure that there is some shared ownership.

One of the things we can do: Step back from the Wagon to gain a more objective view about how things work and the issues and opportunities.

Creativity and Innovation are often part of a continuous continuous improvement process, combined with a bit of frustration about how things work and the belief that things can be improved.

And Perspective is another key: The view from within isn’t the same as the view from without, just like the View from the Back is not at all like the View from the Front. The past is generally strongly anchored to the present and thus we have a pre-determined future unless we start to think of things differently.

motivating performance improvement with missions and visions

The View at the Front is different than the View at the Back

As trainers and consultants, unless we help our managers and ourselves look at things from different perspectives, we will never observe those many “round wheel” things that can assist us to improve.

A few basics about how most adults learn:

• it is easier to learn in a non-judgmental environment.
• discovery is better than directives, activity-based learning is retained
and generalized than facts and general models.
• it is easier to take risks in a less-threatening environment.
• metaphors are more transferable back to the job than lecture learning.
• peer support and common, shared experiences are powerful components to
generating commitment and behavioral change
• mistakes and errors are more powerful learning paradigms for many people

And remember,
Have some FUN out there, too

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