Innovation is more than just workshop theatre.

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We’ve talked about corporate innovators who don’t talk to people, and innovation crowdsourcing that leads to nowhere. This month, we’re talking about one of our favorite corporate innovation stories—one that a lot of people are writing about, and one that won’t seem to go away:

“We just need an ideation session!”

It’s amazing how often innovation is defined by the act of workshop theater and how many times companies expect to extract innovation pipelines from 1-day ideations. The truth is great innovators and great innovation are part of a bigger experience, not just one-off, single-meeting events.

We recently worked with a client who was bringing together a global team for an innovation strategy session. Initially, they only asked for all the toys and showmanship of innovation theater so the team felt that they were getting the full “innovation” experience. Since people were flying in from all over the world, there was an expectation that they would be entertained and engaged for the entire workshop, which, of course, meant Slinkies and fun markers and chocolate—all the hallmarks of a classic ideation session. 

However, as we started discussions about the structure and agenda for the workshop, the client surprised me by expanding the timeline for the work session, and by asking that we reserve almost a full day for defining and agreeing on the business problems to solve at the outset, and an additional full day after the ideation for analysis, decision making and accountability distribution at the end. He wasn’t just looking for a wall full of sticky notes. He wanted ideas, but he also wanted strategic focus and a roadmap, and was intent on getting business decisions and accountability out of the workshop. He had the right people in the room to make decisions, and he was going to make full use of their time.

It would be amazing if every innovation leader knew how to balance the props with business results, and focus on what real outcomes need to be!

Are there any “stories” you or your colleagues are telling yourself? More importantly, what could you do to change them?

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Karen Hunter is a Vice President of Strategy at 352, where her constant curiosity and drive for real-world business solutions helps our clients solve meaningful problems in transformative ways.