One thing I love about being a father is seeing my kids' creativity in action. They conjure up impossible worlds where physics need not apply, where creatures and structures defy logic and where colour is used with reckless abandon. They exhibit pure joy in the powers of their imaginations. I smile openly when I see their explosions of "What if?" on paper and make a point of showcasing their most exceptional pieces of art where everyone in the house can see them—on the refrigerator door.
I believe that nurturing this creativity in my kids is essential to their growth, which is why I am a champion of their boundlessness, always making time to try and see through their eyes. The "fridge art" they create and that we talk about together is an important step in learning for them as they develop a perspective on the world, including the positive change they want to see—though the occasional charred landscape complete with fire breathing dragons do slip in. But we talk through it and, in that process, I try and highlight the art of the possible.
The same is true in business, where true creativity requires precisely the same sort of space and freedom to think differently. For any company that wants to compete in today's digitally evolving markets, the ability to make—and bake—fridge art is essential.
Both at home and in the office, fridge art gives new perspective on what could be, laying out potential ways of seeing the world, how we live in it, and asking what we might do tomorrow that we can't do today. Simply put, fridge art lets us pretend, just for a moment, that there aren't any rules. These acts of pure creation are among the most forward-looking steps any company can take to build enduring relevance in the market—and they must be taken if your organization is going to stand out in our new reality.
If there is a "trick" to innovation, this is it.
Put another way: in order to activate digitally, many companies need to challenge their existing go-to-market strategies, which in some cases will require a wholesale reimagining of what was once "business as usual," such as by turning the process on its head and giving their fridge art the space it needs to breathe—and in turn helping the company evolve and grow.
From fridge to market
To be sure, the need for companies to address the "How" of innovation has become table stakes since early 2020, when basically the entire world changed. This is a tremendous opportunity for firms to create new mechanisms for teams to add value to the organization by nurturing their fridge art in ways that allow for rapid problem solving and the cultivation of new strategic priorities.
But the challenge in creating effective and impactful change for any company lies in its ability to take great ideas and put them into practice. Many hours of planning and meetings spent on new ideas or services are often derailed for fear of not being "safe." This kind of dulling of the creative knife can leave teams, business units and entire service lines stagnant as their fridge art is replaced with the same-old grocery list, in the process stifling true innovation and growth.
I believe that great ideas and great people are best developed when you intentionally make the choice as a business to bring fridge art to life. This means deliberately and actively nurturing the spirit of innovation in your corporate culture, building "sandboxes" in which new processes, new capabilities, new products and new services can be developed and tested in an environment that is contained but not constrained by existing business methods.
Taking that beautiful fridge art and making something awesome in the sandbox does, however, depend on adding some structure to corporate play that should start with the following principles.
- A dedicated team to guide the process. This involves taking the fridge art from raw concept to finished castles in the sandbox. This team must monitor metrics and customer reactions during the project build phase and not hesitate to intelligently review, iterate or action immediate feedback as ideas grow. It is also dependent on an owner of growth strategy, who should be an agent of change with cross-functional access, allowing them to harness the organization's collective creativity.
- A consistent measurement framework. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, every project must be measured by the same metrics if success is to be reliably assessed. These metrics should be determined on a set of tight criteria that all stakeholders understand and that are easily repeatable across projects.
- A specified timeframe. Creativity in business can be seen as closed experimentation. These sandbox tests must have an agreed upon timeline that focuses on the delivery of the new awesome to a set number of customers by service or product.
Out of the sandbox
Nurturing innovation in any organization requires an established baseline that takes all of the "fridge art of the possible" and builds in a test-and-learn culture in which teams and their members are encouraged to push beyond the regular adventures of business as usual, put new ideas on the refrigerator door and then bring them to life.
That's how you take the status quo and make it "Status: Grow."
In my next post, I'll look at how to have digital transformation discussions with your customers.