In a recent letter home to parents from my 11-year- old’s art teacher mentioned that he was encouraging the kids to use sketchbooks. He said that,
“Sketchbooks are a place that encourages playing with ideas and skills that will ultimately lead to more refined final products.”
It got me thinking about innovation in the workplace and the “busy–ness” epidemic that abounds in so many organizations today.
Many of my executive clients are stretched on time, running from one meeting to another, and working a second shift (after dinner) to finish emails. On an average workday the thought of playing with ideas can feel indulgent, however if leadership is calling for the need to innovate, think big, and find creative solutions, that indulgence is exactly what you need. This creates a conundrum for the modern day executive. If what you need is time to play and think so that you can innovate, and time seems to be in short supply, how can you generate a space for great ideas to grow?
Great ideas and innovations are not always great to start with and when we rush them, they can end up really ugly and half-formed early on. This can lead to ideas being shot down by bosses or peers. You need to create time and space that encourages playing and skill building to ensure that your shared ideas are refined enough to win over the hearts and minds of your audience. This is not to say, they need to be fully vetted and perfect. Think, “more refined” not “finished” products. You need time to be with your idea, to let it grow, morph and evolve. What you need is a metaphorical “sketchbook” for innovation.
If you want to influence your industry, your leader or your peers with your ideas, a sketchbook isn’t the only thing you’ll need, you’ll need some time as well.
So what does a sketchbook look like in the world of work?
A Literal Notebook with pages dedicated to playing with, improving on and experimenting with your ideas over time. (Time needed: moments to minutes to jot down your thoughts as they arrive)
A Weekly Lunch Date with a fellow creative friend to talk out ideas without judgment. (Time needed: an hour that you would probably spend eating and talking anyway)
An Internal Think Tank Gallup Strength Finders Assessment measures Ideation as a strategic leadership strength. If you use this tool, find the folks in your organization who have Ideation in their top 5 strengths and create your own Think Tank. You might want to tap people with Strategic and Restorative strengths as well. (Time needed: Varies, but start with an hour at a time as needed to address new ideas and opportunities. The cool thing about pulling in people who have ideation, strategic or restorative as strengths is that they work more quickly and more effectively at ideating than folks without these strengths, so it won’t take a long time to refine ideas. Warning, they’ll be having so much fun that they may loose track of time, so be sure to assign a time keeper.)
An Online Platform for people to share and build on each other’s ideas. If you don’t have the internal technical capabilities to do this, leverage software like Slack or create a private Facebook or Linkedin group to host the conversation. (Time needed: A few minutes here and there. The good news is that people can weigh in anywhere so if they are in a long line, or waiting for a presentation to start, they can easily make comments on their phone or tablet.)
Famous inventors like Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci would sit for hours playing with ideas in their heads or sketching them out in notebooks. They ultimately produced some of the most refined final products of their time. Don’t let busy-ness kill your or your organization’s innovative spirit. Go find your sketchbook and start playing with your ideas and skills. Your final product might just be a masterpiece.
Read more: Marketing Advice from Five Famous Inventors