Want to build more innovative products and services? Innovate the way that you work

Innovation is not just for products and services. The best teams also find innovative ways of working together to support them in producing game-changing work.

There are many great examples of collaboration techniques and rituals that successful companies have used to support an innovative culture – Pixar’s Braintrusts, Etsy’s Blameless Post-Mortems, Amazon’s Two Pizza Rule, Google’s secrets for effective brainstorming to name just a few. It’s tempting to want to copy these ideas, but these final versions may only be part of the story. These ways of working may have come about through a process of trying and tweaking that is specific to the company, their people and their environment. You can certainly try them, but it’s likely that they’ll need to be adapted for your context. 

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5 skills for the future of work

This is a summary of the talk I gave at Creative Summit 2017 in June.

Flexibility, self-management, project-based working, networks and collaboration. These were some of the characteristics of The Creative Economy, which was also made up of many independent, self-employed workers.

Today, these ways of working are not just for freelancers. They’re emerging in any company that has a need for creativity and innovation. These changes are also being driven by technology, as well as the desire for a more flexible working life from employees. Organisations are becoming more networked and dynamic, as people form temporary teams to get work done.

So the skills we’ll need to thrive in the future of work partly comes down to our ability to work well in these teams, ensuring that we create the conditions for people to do their best work together.

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Great workshops, great teams, great culture

Moving from workshops to workshop culture”

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.

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How workshops helped to accelerate a culture of innovation at Emerald Publishing

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:  

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Designing better teamwork

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.

This is what I covered in a 25min talk – Designing your way to better team collaboration (video) – at Mind The Product this year. I featured practical examples of teams that had created methods and processes that made a big difference to their work.

These are the areas and some examples that I shared: Continue reading Designing better teamwork

How to strike the balance between deep work and collaboration

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

Three ideas for the future of work

This is a summary of a talk I gave at Social Fabric’s regular event series on my vision for the future of work:

  1. 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.

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Thinking in opposites: a workshop idea

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.

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There’s no room for compromise in creative collaboration

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”

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Making the most of your freelancers – three ideas

Freelancing is a hot topic right now.

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.

Here are three more ideas:

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