Lisa Bodell, author and CEO of FutureThink, is an expert at fostering innovation. She’s an advocate of something she calls “Little Bigs,” and they’re pretty brilliant. They’re simple, easy to implement, and can produce big changes in a company’s creative environment. In her video for Big Think Edge, “Make Room for Innovation: ‘Little Bigs,’” she presents a trio of them. They’re clever — even a bit mischievous — and obviously worth a try.
Turning a brain squall into a full-on brainstorm
It’s easy for company brainstorming sessions to devolve into dull repetitions of the same-old same-old. We know from experience the kind of suggestions that are likely to be well-received, and, normally, we’re inclined to stick to those. Who doesn’t want to receive approval? Unfortunately, over time, this inclination squeezes out little innovative thinking, and each think session becomes an exercise more characterized by habit than inspiration.
Bodell suggests blowing this up
What she proposes is letting everyone get all their usual ideas out, and then saying, “Now I want you to give me the ideas that will get you fired.” This is more than an attention-getter. It’s a way of asking employees what they’d love to try if they could try absolutely anything without fear of reprisal. After all, maybe something that seems impossible now really isn’t, if the idea’s great it would to be worth changing the ground rules for.
Bodell says, “you’d be amazed at what people come up with” when they begin to stretch and consider the possibility of being disruptive.
Guess who’s coming to the meeting?
This one’s a bit diabolical.
It’s pretty common for different groups within a company to develop issues with each other. Often these are based on conflicting goals. Sometimes they’re just misunderstandings. In any event, feuds like this do the company no favors, especially since they typically go unresolved. Each group’s resentments are voiced only within the safety of the group, or to you, but not to their “adversaries.”
Bodell says to call a meeting of one of these groups — and then, without prior notification, have the other group join them. With the factions unexpectedly face-to-face, it’s unlikely you’ll see a lot of direct confrontation. Instead, it’s a perfect opportunity to help them work through their problems together, identify the issues keeping them at odds, and develop solutions that work for everyone including, not insignificantly, the company.
Take a break from decision-making
Bodell calls this one “engagement rules,” and it’s about helping team members feel more invested by having them make decisions on their own.
The idea goes like this. At a weekly status meeting, Bodell says you tell the group, “Listen, I want you to make two decisions this next week that you normally would’ve asked me to do, and I want you to make them without me.” They’ll be surprised, but soon realize that this is a sign of your respect for them. Meanwhile, making these two judgment calls will help them feel more in charge of their own work, and it will give them an added stake in the company by seeing what they can do when they’re not quite so dependent on you.
“So if you have a team of 20 people, they each make two decisions without you,” says Bodell, doing the math, “The next week you have 40 decisions that were made without you being involved, and people feel more empowered.” That’s a lot of decisions, but also a lot of empowerment. (You can quietly review them to make sure nothing horrible’s been decided, and discreetly correct anything disastrous.)
Little bigs, indeed
There’s arguably nothing more frustrating than having a talented team stuck on auto-pilot. What’s so great about Bodell’s strategies is how simple and doable they are, and it’s easy to see how they can quickly provide just the jolt such a team needs.