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The Innovation Mindset & Play

In a recent search for further understanding about innovation I came across 2 articles that have made me re-think my practice.

Jun Nakamuro, Leadership Development Trainer for Organizational Reform based in the US. In his article ‘Re-Translating Lean from Its Origin’, re-examines the Kaizen methodology that informs  The Toyota Production System.

He looks at the language of Kaizen and its translation and notes how a different view focuses on Kaizen as a mindset.

Kaizen is not about making physical improvements. Kaizen is about changing one’s behaviors ‘

Mark Masuoka Director and CEO of Akron Art Museum in the US, wrote an article in 2018 discussing the requirement for our people to have imagination. With the challenge of AI potentially removing transactional work, what remains is work that requires problem solving, vision making, thinking differently and human pattern recognition analysis.

All attributes and outcomes of a creative and active imagination.

Innovation often focuses on product development and the processes that shape our roadmap to new products. And although there is no doubt that technological innovation can support our move to more sustainable economies and environments, my practice has been focused on developing and growing people.

Once at work we cease to ‘play’. Homo Ludens first published in 1944 in which Johan Huizinga defines play:

It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.’

Play does have intrinsic rules – how often do you hear a small child complaining about their pal who didn’t play by the rules? These rules are often co-created – you cannot build a fort with leaves or shoot your team mates.  An argument ensures and small children often build a consensus to change or accept that rule.

Innovation tools and techniques can re-encourage that mind set, providing space, authority and skills to apply ‘play’ to an organisational criterion.

However, it is still difficult for organisations and business, in this current economy, to see the real value in growing their people creatively when other targets take precedence.

So how do you marry the creative and pragmatic approach to drive real value for organisations?

One of the methodologies I have come across recently is Mark Browns’ total innovation management framework of the Dolphin Index.

Here he talks about the ambidextrousness of companies that succeed and the need to marry both development streams.

I am always looking to discover new ways to marry these two requirements in the programmes I develop.  Play to innovate, whether as an individual or as an organisation, can only build long term viable and desirable value for any organisation wishing to think for their future.

How do you do it – how do apply creativity in people to pragmatic outcomes in a quantifiable methodology?

In a recent conversation with Lucy Gower of Lucidity we discuss how bringing ‘play’ back into the workforce has the potential to unlock the creative thinking of its people to generate better outcome for their customers.



People are inherently creative and want to shape their own experiences.

The clash between the system and the people who use the system is, in my experience , one of the main areas  where failures occur. Until the system designers take all stakeholder perspectives into consideration in their complex and messy environments we will continue to design systems that fail. The co-creative enterprise is an example  where a design turn has been taken to the benefit of all.

In co-creation, strategy formulation involves imagining a new value chain that benefits all players in the ecosystem

‘.. a company with an Indian soul, its leaders empathized with the struggling small farmers and their fierce desire to stay independent, and wanted to help lift them out of poverty. ITC’s leaders reasoned that the best way to raise the farms’ productivity and quality was to help growers discover and implement better practices. So improving the individual farmer’s experience was a primary goal at the outset.

ITC decided to involve multiple stakeholders that shared this goal, including NGOs and the Indian government, from the start. In early workshops with farmers, the idea of holding forums that taught them how to improve yields and upgrade crop quality quickly emerged. The farmers also expressed interest in learning how to store their crops and when to sell them to maximize the price received. In response, ITC built a series of kiosks with internet access called e-choupals. (Choupal means “meeting place” in Hindi.) Each was located within walking distance (four or five kilometers) of several villages. Each provided information in the local dialect on the daily weather forecast, crop prices, and other agricultural news; advice on farming methods; an e-mail service that let farmers interact with scientists at agricultural universities, technical people at ITC, and fellow farmers who may have dealt with challenges similar to theirs; and access to land records, health and educational services, and information from NGOs on the latest developments in cattle breeding and crop seeds.’