August 21, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

The Birthplace of Innovation

The Birthplace of Innovation

Last week I observed teams create and collaborate, saw ideas being offered without fear of rejection, and watched the implementation of the results. These teams managed their projects and tight budgets with tangible results. Every business needs the benefits of working this way. Did I mention that some of these team members will complete the third grade next month?

Business can take a lesson from the 900-plus teams at Destination ImagiNation Global Finals last week. Teams from all 50 states and around the world were demonstrating the benefits of the synergy of creativity, teamwork and problem solving skills on a timeline. Teams of up to seven students solve challenges that blend core school subjects with a focus that is theatrical, structural, improvisational, mechanical, scientific or technical – or a blend of several disciplines. The catch: Their solutions must be 100 percent team-solved and created.

What is invisible is the process these kids go through to learn how to be a viable team. To paraphrase what a dean of college admissions in Boston once told me: They work with people who they may or may not like, they work on a tight budget, learn to identify skills in others and how to leverage those skills for the team, they have to do it all themselves and are able to meet a deadline – what wouldn’t we love about having these kids in our university?

Now for my disclaimer: I have been a long-time volunteer of this not-for-profit, educational organization. This year I led their GlobalFinals.org site and social media efforts with an amazing group people.

Although there is a consensus that we need to innovate to bring our communities, businesses and ourselves into the emerging economies, we are chicken to do it. Everyone wants the latest and greatest everything, but most of us refuse to change from our comfort zone.

Bad economic times magnify this with less risk-taking by both managers and employees, both trying to keep their jobs. Stagnation results as fewer new ideas are suggested. The “safe” fall-back position of implementing what used to work becomes the norm. This will, in all likelihood, fail. This is not just an American behavior. Many companies around the world try and “tweak” programs that used to work well and expect better results. Didn’t Einstein say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?

Some companies have turned to social media as innovation, Oversimplified, social media is being where your customers are and sharing relevant conversations (in any number of different types of media).

This is an evolution in business where word-of-mouth and storytelling is growing on a massive scale. Think of it as everyone having an electronic printing press and a number of them are talking about you. If you want a seat at that table, building relationships and quickly and properly responding becomes important, but that is still just evolution, not innovation.

Innovation, according to The Delphi Group’s Thomas Koulopoulos is “Any change that causes value.” These kids understand what project-related value is – while still in elementary, middle, or high school. This concept took most of us college if not later to actually understand.

These kids know failure IS an option, and as their team building and project management skills mature, they get better at spotting and avoiding the failures, while improving the results. What they don’t lose is their desire to create and innovate.

What would you do with these employees? How would you work with them as coworkers?

If you don’t leverage their skills, they may go elsewhere. This is also true of all employees who are passionate about growing “their” company.

Sometimes to innovate you have to ignore your customers. Henry Ford knew this. “If I asked the public what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Businesses will get a new breed of employees who believe anything is possible and have the mental tools to make it happen – and already have.

Human resources and management will have to adjust to these creative innovators. Today, alumnae of the program can be found as educators, medicine, in marketing and PR, the military – everywhere. Many give their time to the program that helped them as well as their communities.

Once viewed as a “gifted” program in schools, Destination ImagiNation is rapidly becoming a “mainstream” program. Creative doesn’t just mean the arts anymore. It defines new solutions. Everyone has a level of creativity that if developed, can be used to improve lives beyond the person–just ask any fifth grader in the program.

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