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    Setup for Success: Whom to involve in innovation workshops

    October 12, 2018

October 12, 2018

Setup for Success: Whom to involve in innovation workshops

Don’t you just love a great workshop? There’s nothing like it to freshen up an organization’s ideas. Participants are free to explore novel concepts together, discuss working methods, and feed off one another’s energy and contributions. But none of this happens by accident, as you will know if you organize workshops yourself.

The best workshops are painstakingly developed and organized meticulously way in advance. There has to be strict method to the madness and a great manager can harness a team’s creativity. In fact, some of the most important contributions which are made by managers involve the intelligent and considerate organization of workshops.

  • How will you do that? 
  • Whom do you involve and how to prepare yourself?
  • Does this make sense sending comprehensive notes and a detailed agenda to your attendees? 

For many years now I have helped countless workshops, drawing upon inspiration from the creative industries. ’m confident that my approach to workshops can help you to get the most from yours. In this article I’ll show you what I’ve learned to help you kick your workshops into next gear and get results that will surprise and delight you each and every time.

Why it is better to know too much

Creative limitation is a concept which suggests we can actually make ourselves more creative if we purposefully place restrictions upon ourselves in certain ways. This concept was explored brilliantly by multimedia artist Phil Hansen in his TEDx talk, “Embrace the Shake”. Your workshop needs to have some borders if you’re going to get the most from it. The organizer’s knowledge can be used in this way to guide conversations intelligently and considerately. The people who are the best at inspiring creative excellence are often the ones who are most knowledgeable about a certain topic.

It is important, though, that this guiding force is used to inspire workshop participants rather than place unnecessary restrictions upon free-flowing conversation. Your knowledge can help to steer and guide the conversation.

Think of your knowledge as the emergency net which can be used if the conversation becomes too abstract or wanders off topic.take Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese as an example. His leadership style on set is said to blend together structure and creative flexibility in order to create an atmosphere where the entire team can do their best work.

He’s happy for his talent to improvise and throw ideas around, as evidenced by tales of shooting for Raging Bull with Robert De Niro. His co-star Joe Pesci said:

“(W)e’d improvise and keep cutting down. But once we’ve got the line, Marty wants it to stay that way. He’s very structured.”

Try to foster a similar approach in your workshops by using your knowledge as a guiding method. Identify strong ideas and steer the conversation towards them, and you could have some winning takeaways on your hands.

Why it is better to know too little

In a strange twist, it’s often the participants with the shallowest levels of knowledge who regularly offer the deepest insights. Without the constraints of nitty-gritty knowledge, they’re free from the shackles of experience and can offer insights and suggestions from off-center.

Take this quote from Daniel Libeskind’s interview with the Harvard Business Review, for example. Libeskind is a renowned international figure in the world of architecture and design who, in a recent interview, spoke on the constraints that knowledge can bring: 

“I’ve noticed that when you become an expert, the question is: How do you get rid of that expertise to be creative? One way is by listening to people who have no idea what things cost.”

It’s a great principle to inject into your workshops with all types of input, even from those participants who don’t necessarily have the strongest levels of knowledge. Their novel ways of looking at old problems can offer surprising and fantastic results.

Why this is not a contradiction but essential for success

Securing diversity among workshop attendees in terms of their knowledge is essential to success. As the workshop leader it’s your job to balance these dynamics and tensions in order to get the best from every single participant.

In the creative industries, many teams do their best to cultivate an environment where a person’s rank or role doesn’t matter. I suggest that you do the same, whichever industry you work within. Democratised workshops are an excellent way to get the best ideas and offer objective evaluations of ideas. 

The way that you balance the workshop should be with a light touch, gently steering the conversation. The stronger the workshop leader’s authority, the less they will have to speak.

Remember that you should use your own knowledge in order to establish boundaries on the conversation without overloading the conversation with heavy information that will make the conversation circle around specific points.

Experience from the creative industries can tell us that innovation and creativity are achieved through a blend of extensive knowledge and limited knowledge. The connection of dots between these two camps can really lead to the discovery of new territory which people have never previously explored.

With your smart guidance, all of your workshop attendees will be able to play an important role and get the most possible from the conversation. Your results will benefit, too.