30th April 2021

We joke here that the workshops at LORIC are a bit like glorified daycare: just before lock down, we drew websites, role-played as Tom Jones (no, really!) and tried to build a house for a toy-man using an incomplete spec. A bystander looking in will frequently see people clustered around the tables, arguing where to place a sticky note, or trying to explain cost-benefit analysis using Bourbon Cream biscuits.

(Okay, fine. Nobody eats the Bourbon Creams. Not at our workshops anyway.)

Biscuits aside, it's important to acknowledge the power of play in boosting innovation and making creative ideas happen. Our Feasibility Testing Workshop is light on the teaching, but valuable in getting people to do the one thing they never let themselves do as independent researchers or business owners: spending uninterrupted time on developing their ideas.

Everything is an emergency

The moment we become project managers, in academia as well as in business, we might be tempted to micro-manage the whole endeavour. Delegation is not always possible and we don't always get the teams we want, but there's something to be said about the mindset of "everything is an emergency" that we can get into once we are handed the reins to a project. Over time, it becomes more and more difficult to separate the problems that require immediate attention from the ones that can be left to the team - and there is very little time left for us to focus on innovating or even planning a project.

Creativity needs practice

A popular myth about creativity is that "it happens when it happens" and "you can't rush genius". This is only partially true - writers like Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg do spend a lot of time in their work encouraging students to listen to their instincts. However, they emphasise more the importance of routine and perseverance. If you want to learn the piano, you have to put in the hours - talent is good, but try to get through "The Well Tempered Clavier" without any practice or muscle memory.

Put simply, we need to train our brains to write down good ideas in a systemic way, and then to put things into place that allow us to make them happen. If we want to build an app, we need to spend some time thinking about just what we want it to do. If we want to make a new product, we need to consider the financial implications and how we can make it really stand out. If we want to start a new research project, we need to evaluate our current resources to see how possible it is to put it into place.

Innovation is not self-conscious

Knowing why we spend time on an innovation is important, but not if that's all we think about. Putting pressure on a project to be The Next Big Thing is risking Death by Stagnation. Innovation is not self-conscious - innovation comes from a willingness to take measured risks, to fail, learn, and then fail some more, until you find the right path for you.

Play - whether it's through pretending you are a famous star or drawing cartoons of your customer journey or mapping out a data flow using biscuits - helps us let go of the self-consciousness. It is, by its nature, low-stakes and relaxed. We can let go of the pressure to "get it right the first time around" and focus on the actual task at hand.

And in the end, isn't that how innovation happens?