Is Creativity & Innovation being held back by your documentation?
In a recent innovation program I was running, simple table templates were provided to enable participants to gather and communicate relevant information to their team and sponsor. As people progressed through the program and used the tables provided, I found that often they were “stuck”, generally in the first row. They couldn’t get past the first question – spending more and more time perfecting their words and sentences.
It seemed that the there was an internal need to complete the table in full and in order, probably a result of how we all typically work and record things within organisations. One person said, “it had to be right” and wanted make sure that the content was perfect before showing their work to anyone. This is probably linked to the historical review process within organisations where reviewers and approvers often don’t read the document in full to get the understanding of the whole message. They tend to focus on the individual components, the correctness of the grammar and spelling mistakes and if they personally agree with a statement or take a different view.
So using the table itself as a template created a mental barrier, the formal structure affected the information that was being gathered and how the participants were progressing. As a result, we immediately redesigned the format – creating templates to collect and communicate what was important, in a more informal visual way. There was no real starting place – information could be entered in any order. The new and less structured template gave people space and enabled them to “play” with the knowledge that they had found or the knowledge that they already had as experts in the field. They felt more willing to put pen to paper, even when it wasn’t really perfect. Also, there was less space so they needed to simplify and put only the most important points down.
In business, we tend to be analytical thinkers; as Design Thinkers we challenge status quo, recording what is important – visually, as drafts, experimenting with thought. Design Thinkers know that after challenging our initial reasoning, it may change and that is OK. Change is OK – it generally means we have found new insights not there before.
Businesses today need to find the Design Thinking sweet spot – the intersection of analytical thinking and intuitive thinking – the predilection gap as described by Roger Martin in his book the Design of Business (2009). Perhaps a good start is as easy looking at the design of documents and templates used to communicate within the organisation. As critical communication elements of our business processes, are the documents we use restricting our creativity and conversations that we have?
Again, I think back to Clayton Christensen’s principles of Disruptive Innovation. Many years ago I looked to this to help me start a change project – it was all about making things simpler, more accessible, more convenient and creating greater value to more people. This can also apply to the tools and documents that we use in business. For example policies; why are policy documents so hard to read when they should be a reflection of a new way of doing things, describing behaviour not driving behaviour? Why is the information we need as businesses not captured in one or two pages – bullet points, visual sectioning, an infographic or an audio file? We should be considering the essence of what we need to communicate and the best way to inform and support conversations.
By using different forms of communication that aren’t so structured, you can create rich conversations with common understanding. That’s what we need in business. We should be focusing on the business opportunity or the customer, consumer outcome, not whether it’s a 50-page document that’s written and put on a shelf, which no-one will read anyway.
Give people something that they can look at and understand, that you can talk to and generate conversations. Through those conversations, you will also get their perspective and their input, which may even help you to reframe the problem that you’re trying to solve.
Encourage the use of unstructured documents using one or two pages maximum.
Communicate and generate conversations that are rich with meaning and understanding. Unleash creativity within – and that can be as simple as looking at your documentation and review process.