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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 12 May 2013

Innovation Tips

Open Talent, Advantaged Thinking, life coaching, Healthy Transitions, Working Assets, accreditation models  – over the last 12 years I’ve shaped a growing list of innovative ideas and programmes at the Foyer Federation.  The secrets of my approach aren’t the ones you will find in traditional innovation manuals or workshops.  Here's my top 7 tips:

1)      Don’t neglect the power of the moon. 

That old phrase, ‘the planets must be in alignment’ has some truth to it.  About 10 years ago I worked out that the period in which the full moon comes together has an intense creative energy – for me at least – so I always try to harness it as the perfect time to develop ideas or turn thinking into practice.  In Japan they call it ‘being in tune with the laws of the universe’. As much as anything else, connecting yourself with a natural energy driver gives you a psychological boost.  You can use knowledge of how your body reacts to the energy around it to accelerate the incubation process for new projects.


2)      Manifest your thinking

Creative visualisation techniques are as popular in sports psychology as they are in Buddhist philosophy. Making what you want to be real ‘manifest in reality’ focuses concentration and taps into the power of positively shaping your own existence. I think of it in terms of holding the seeds of ideas inside you that need to be nourished regularly and then directed out to root into the external world to grow.  Every good innovation I have come up with I have consciously talked about as if it already existed before I had finished it. If you keep your ideas as secrets they will wilt in shadows.  The brain is like a cinema projector, able to propel images out onto the screen of the world where they shape themselves into narratives and being. Treat a new idea as something to be honoured, something to be discovered, something that will happen because it has to, and let the abundant universe help.


3)      Trust words to lead the way

I’ve always allowed the process of writing to generate ideas.  When it comes to a new funding application, for example, my approach would be to completely ignore the application form and focus on allowing the idea to concrete first through free writing.  The application form is the box you have to tip you cake mixture into but you shouldn’t be restricting yourself to live and cook within it until you are ready. To generate ideas through writing I was given a precious tip by an artist I met when I first joined the Foyer Federation. She told me that inside us all is a locked space – so you start by trying to visualise what that space looks like on the outside, what shape it is, what colour the door is. To get to the locked space you have to go deep sea diving, using a concentrated period of writing to take you to the door and find a way inside it. Behind the door there is a room full of treasure – imagery, ideas, abundance. Once you are inside the room you discover and touch what you can, until the oxygen of words runs out and you have to return to the surface again. Then you look at what’s in your catch. The more you do it, the more you can take back with you. It’s a powerful technique.


4)      Take a walk on the wild side

Going to new places, exploring other environments, making yourself vulnerable, pushing the boundary of how you think – these are critical if you need to work on something ground breaking.  You have to trust your instinct here. Where do you need to go to find what it is you are not sure what you are looking for? I’ve made all my discoveries in the strangest of places: a New York restaurant; a train carriage at St Pancras station bound for France; a Tokyo hotel bedroom cabinet; an airplane back from Australia; the beachfront road at Thessaloniki; and a dozen other places. Only one of them comes from being in the office.  My favourite is the train carriage. I was about to go on a week trip to southern France to try to write something for the Foyer Federation that would pull it’s thinking together for the future. I had a laptop full of articles I thought might help me, but absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was about 6am and sleepily I picked up a copy of the Times left in the train and looked through the pages– and there it was, in an article on the demise of British Tennis, the idea of Open Talent leapt out.  I hadn’t even started and I already had the answer. You just have to be on the right train at the right time.


5)      Soleil Levant

In 1872, Monet took less than 30 minutes to paint a picture of sunrise over Le Havre docks in France. It was a ground breaking picture that would name and define the impressionist movement in art. Monet’s 30 minutes of inspiration was the result of years of research and experience, in particular his discovery of Japanese woodcuts, that found new definition in a single moment. Being at the right place at the right time only works if you have the right experience inside you to interact with the opportunity.  I think of this as the jam jar technique: you have to absorb as much as possible inside you, until you literally can’t hold onto any more, then look for the best place where you can explode the ideas and let them interact in whatever moment you find yourself in.  When you reach this moment, you don’t edit, you just create at rapid speed. Rather than crafting something slowly, the idea behind Soleil Levant is to allow it to grow invisibly and unconsciously, and then within the limitations of time – a sunrise in Monet’s case, 24 hours in mine – it is forced to express itself into new form.  I tend to use this technique to work on the most complex and challenging ideas or programmes, trusting in the process to produce at white heat a solution I would never have been able to craft consciously.  


6)      Listening with an open heart

The power of listening to people is a much neglected art. I often meet clever people who are too busy projecting their own ideas and organisational brand to be ‘open’ to contemplate someone else’s. Being completely empty of ego is the perfect place to listen from. I know nothing; I am nothing; everything around me is abundant. Listen to it.  Why are you here to hear it, what is its meaning?  There are so many voices to tune into each day, beyond the one in our head. The answers are all around us but we don’t bother to find them outside ourselves. If you want something, listen for it in others.  Not through scripted questions, but through the flow and interchange of people’s passions. Speaking and listening to each other is the space where we collaborate. If you exit a conversation having heard nothing but yourself repeated back to you, you have lost a chance to discover something new.


7)      Surf the waves with shin pads

If you really want to be an innovator, you must be prepared to be laughed at, seen as potentially dangerous, told that people don’t understand what you are talking about, accused of lacking patience or focus, criticised for not having a strong enough evidence base or commercial market for an idea, and dismissed as a failure developing things that can’t work. If you don’t experience any of these, then you are doing something wrong. Innovation if it is innovative is all about riding the crest of the wave of new ideas that challenge how others think and see in the present. You need to pad up to deal with the knocks and ignore them while you continue to ‘listen with an open heart’ to the reality you are making.   You also need to take some care, though, with how you shape the wave and who you allow to be part of that. Waves can easily get diverted and broken up before they have power. But if the wave does get stopped, always remember it’s still in the sea, waiting to be part of the next one.  I’ve never known a failed idea not come back even stronger.   It’s your responsibility as an innovator to ride the waves to the beach.

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