Something I’ve been thinking about recently, based on what I’ve seen with clients, is how workshops can play a part in transforming the way a team works together. I think of it as three levels:
Level 1: workshops as an event
A group of people meets on a one-off basis to have a focused discussion. It might be a rare opportunity for people to come together, so it needs to be productive. An external facilitator is brought in to run the session, ensure collaboration and creative thinking, but also that there are concrete outcomes. With great facilitation, the group can make a lot of progress in a short space of time.
As the first head of innovation at Emerald Publishing, Bec Evans had the opportunity to shape the role to suit her and the business. What she thought would be a very product-focused role, turned out to be something completely different – about changing the culture. And workshops played a big part in discovering that.
Emerald Publishing is a global academic publisher that specialises in business and management. Although it had a very traditional business model, it became interested in bringing new techniques such as lean and agile and encouraging an intrapreneurial mindset within the company.
Emerald offered Bec Evans, who had her own startup on the side, the new head of innovation role, which she had the opportunity to shape herself. Coming from a part-time position in the product development and innovation department, Bec started off by making a call for ideas from across the company. However, she soon realised that this was the wrong approach:
Research has shown time and time again that how teams work together has more of an impact on its performance than who is on the team. A clear way to increase chances of your team’s success is to explore the habits, routines and rituals that will enable you to do better work together.
What does your typical work day look like? For many of us, it will be punctuated by meetings, emails, chats with co-workers, notifications from collaboration tools, and if we’re really honest, browsing the web and getting sucked into social media. Our days are often spent switching quickly between the items on our to-do list.
But when was the last time you were able to carve out a good chunk of time from your work day to really concentrate and focus on a task? That might feel like a distant luxury.
Enter “deep work”
What happens in these long, uninterrupted stretches of time is what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’ – “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit”. In his book of the same name, Newport argues that our tech-driven culture is making insane demands on our attention, and also reducing our ability to focus. But for those that are able to engage in frequent deep work, it’s hugely advantageous for developing expertise, increasing productivity and advancing professionally.Continue reading How to strike the balance between deep work and collaboration
This is a summary of a talk I gave at Social Fabric’s regular event series on my vision for the future of work:
The workplace will look more like a network of freelancers
For the creative industries, the “future of work” has been here for a while. Books like “The Independents” (Leadbeater & Oakley, 1999), “The Creative Eonomy” (Howkins, first published in 2001) and “The Rise of the Creative Class” (Florida, 2002) described how the creative industries were characterised by independent workers, portfolio careers, temporary teams and project-based working. Fluid, flexible working structures brought together the right expertise at the right time to drive innovation.
One of my favourite tasks is finding and designing activities for workshops that will get participants thinking and working together. The more workshops you run, the more you’ll look for inspiration from all places to create these.
You might come across a story or case study, a game or an interesting question that gives you an idea for an activity you can run with your team or client to stretch their thinking.
I’ve just started reading “Collective Genius: the art and practice of leading innovation” by Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback. I’m only a few pages in, but one of the key leadership capabilities they describe for cultivating innovation in companies is “creative abrasion” for collaboration:
“The process of innovation needs to be collaborative because innovations most arise from the interplay of ideas that occur during the interactions of people with diverse expertise, experience of points of view”
One statistic in particular, from the Intuit study on the future of work (pdf), has been making the rounds – that more than 40% of US workers will be freelancing by 2020. The number of freelancers is increasing, as is the technology that supports virtual working and communication. Online marketplaces such as Elance, Guru, and Peopleperhour are changing the face of work by enabling businesses to access creative talent on a short-term basis – saving them money and getting quick results. At the same time, these sites create opportunities for individuals to develop a freelance career and achieve a flexible working lifestyle.
Whilst this movement is helping companies to get a wide range of jobs done, they often tend to be smaller, specific tasks. By thinking on such a ‘micro’ basis, are companies missing out on the higher level of value that can be offered by freelancers? Tim Brown of IDEO offered an opinion on making the most of freelancers here and here.
Digital media has grown up. “It’s technical, aesthetic and social all at the same time”, says Karen Cham, Director of Digital Media at Kingston University. This insight led her to develop a unique postgraduate programme that brings together students to collaborate from across three faculties – science, engineering and computing; art, design and architecture; and arts and humanities.
Around 28 students come to the ‘micro studio’ from four separate Masters courses – MA Game Development Design, MSc Game Programming, MA Computer Animation and MSc User Experience Design. The aim is for students to work collaboratively on digital projects, reflecting the needs of the industry and addressing the skills gap in professional production and team working (as identified in a 2006 Skillset report).
Last week I attended Publish! New adventures in Innovation, at St Brides Foundation. The event was organised by Media Futures, who I worked with back in 2011 to help launch the Future of Publishing programme.
The aim of Publish! was to showcase cutting edge prototypes in a changing book industry. It’s well known that the publishing industry has had its struggles, and through a mixture of show-and-tells and panel discussions Publish! looked to demonstrate how digital technology can strengthen the sector and help it to be more effective in developing new platforms and models.
The day was split into three parts:
How to innovate: projects using rapid innovation and low-cost models
Future dimensions: what’s next in technology and new approaches?
Is innovation worth it? Does experimentation lead to new income streams or is it too risky?