Improvisation, Creativity and Innovation

What happens when you bring two people together?

This isn’t the start of a poor joke unfortunately.

The answer is, we don’t know.

We don’t know how someone will react to us. It’s a true unknown and a true mystery.

We may have an idea based on what others tell us, based on our prejudices and biases, based on our upbringing, and based on the societal values we choose to accept. But it’s never a foregone conclusion.

Bringing two people together is always the start of something new and different. This could mean that something interesting happens, or it could mean that something destructive happens.

Bringing two people together is the genesis of creativity and innovation. Each person has no idea if the other will react well to them or be receptive to their ideas or be a good person to continue a relationship with.

That genesis is the essence of human nature. That co-creation that happened completely naturally. I say something, you respond, and we end up somewhere unexpected in most cases.

It makes me wonder about improvisation. What is improv? It’s taking what you’ve got and creating something useful or unexpected out of it. The old TV programme MacGuyver was completely based around the lead character’s ability to use the tools available to him to find a solution to his dire problem.

Conversations are improvisation at its best. I choose to partake in a dialogue. If I invest in it, it becomes wonderful. If I don’t, then nothing changes.

Change, then, is all about bringing people together and letting them find their own way to make things better.

This blog post is because of a conversation I had with Meg Peppin. She sparked an idea for me and I ran with it to write this piece.

Because we’re improvising everyday.

Because we’re innovating on a daily basis.

Because we’re being creative without realising.

So what creation, innovation or improvisation will you be doing today?


Has L&D stalled?

Today’s the start of the HRD conference and exhibition by the CIPD. I’ve so far sat through two conference sessions, one by Stephan Thoma from Google about Nurturing Creativity and Learning in the Workplace, and the second by Peter Cheese of CIPD, and Peter Bedford from Anglo American about Devleoping Leaders who are fit for the future.

They’ve been interesting in their own rights, and it’s encouraging to hear a few things.

Google get their basics right in treating staff, and having a culture that supports innovation and creativity.

Anglo American are very focused on safety at all levels which ensures they support staff and treat them well.

Google are famous for allowing staff to have 20% of their time to work on personal projects, they aren’t concerned about market share, for them it’s about their products.

Anglo American are a truly global mulit-national who have to work hard at ensuring their leaders go through a robust training programme which provides them with the skills they need to be good leaders.

It’s interesting, right?

Are you doing some variation of the above? Are you as an L&Der / OD professional pushing these same boundaried? Is your leadership programme effective and focsued on developing them?

Here’s what I’m left with so far. Innovation in L&D has stalled. There are some intriguing innovations out there with the likes of MOOCs, but really, L&D has lost its steam. There’s nothing new. There’s nothing different. We’re not being disruptive. We’re not creating a competitive advantage to the organisations we’re part of.

At least that’s the message I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is we’re doing business as usual, doing a good job of it and being very safe in that delivery.

There are a lot of people in the social space who advocate challenging and innovating their practice, but who’s actually doing it? Where are the internal practitioners who are blazing a new trail for their organisations? Where are the external practitioners who are shaking up the world of learning and development to provide something new and exciting?

Part of me says, you know what, I shouldn’t be complaining. As a profession we’re doing a good job. Some practitioners will be trying to be the trailblazers. Some won’t know what that looks like and unsure how to start. Some are on the path of doing it, but staying safe. And all of that is ok, because we all have secure jobs and income. And it’s mildly encouraging because it means we’re not missing any tricks. We’re not behind the curve. We’re not doing any worse than the likes of Google.

And if we believe that’s ok, then we’ve already lost the end game.

And I say unto thee… live.

Learning and development. It’s boring.

Presentations. They’re boring too.

HR. Yup, them too.

Finance. Incredibly so.

Business itself. Also boring.

Nothing about anything we do on a day to day basis is interesting in corporate life. Not really.

Doctors, the police, firefighters, teachers. They’re interesting. They provide a service very few of us can.

Not us lot though.

We’re boring.


Except for those of us who bring things to life.

We take the mundane and the uninteresting and we shake it up a little until it becomes interesting.

We see purpose behind things.

Those figures? They tell a story.

Those policies? Help others live.

Those models? Create new ways of thinking.

That new business model? Helps people live a fulfilled life.


What are you going to make interesting?

Becoming a Learning Organisation

You know what doesn’t work in a conference session where you want to learn about stuff? Getting a plug about how excellent the company giving the case study is. I don’t really care, because I want to hear what you’re doing. I don’t want to see frameworks, or models that you’ve created internally, not without knowing I can replicate them, which I most likely can’t.

Cue Andy Holmes from Ernst and Young. There could have been so much shared about how they are a learning organisation. Instead it was about a progression plan and a career framework. Nothing about the actual things they do to make it a learning organisation. Just broad descriptions of how a robust Learning Management System is in place for staff to take on their own learning, and there is coaching in the organisation.

They have counsellors to help staff talk through learning and career goals.

Sorry, not a lot to share from this.

Then with a sudden burst of energy, Andy Doyle from ITV, took control of the room and started us on his story of what is happening in his organisation. As the Group HR Director, it was very interesting to hear him talk as you might expect a Producer or Creative Director to talk. he described how, for ITV, he doesn’t talk in HR Speak. He talks about things in everyday business language to his team and to his peers. A nice example of this was if he said “Let’s become a learning organisation!”, the response would come back “Not with you!”. They stopped focusing on frameworks, and instead focused on performance management being an important part of the way people are managed. L&D initiatives are done with large groups of about 90, to create a sense of occasion and using brilliant facilitators to make them useful events.

The senior leadership involvement is quite impressive too. They are involved in co-delivering training where they can which brings with it a great sense of engagement. The Exec team held a series of monthly open lunch sessions where staff could come along and talk with one Exec person at a dedicated lunch. This really needs to be one of the key activities for a learning organisation to happen. If the Executive teams and Senior Leadership Teams are not making the efforts to help it be successful, then it won’t be.

The limitations of yourself

Some things over the last couple of days have really got me thinking about the mindset certain roles seem to attract. Which is bizarre as it makes no sense to think in this way. But, it almost seems gospel that if you don’t think this way, there’s something wrong with you. What am I talking about? The lack of a creative mindset.

There are individuals in abundance, and professions aplenty that can claim the are by nature creative. That is, they do things which inspire others in some form. Their creations are a thing of wonder and to be admired. Lofty words and even loftier ideals, no? No. A course we run at LBi, called Unlocking Your Creativity is delivered by our Chief Creative Officer, Chris Clarke. I’ve seen him deliver this session many a time and it never fails to inspire. But not because he’s telling people of all the wonderful creative activities and things he does, but because he gives people the understanding of what they can do to be creative themselves.

And that’s what so many individuals absolutely miss. Forget individuals, groups of people seem to accept that only those who do creative work can be creative. The normal missives are along the lines of “Oh, but they do creative work daily, so they are better than me”, “It’s not my role to be creative, so why should I be?”, “I’m too busy to be creative, I’ve got things to get done”. And that’s fine they want to think like this. They’re only limiting themselves.

But to think that those missives are fact is simply untrue. Einstein, one of the world’s most renowned scientists created a theory of relativity. He was no ‘creative’ by nature, but certainly was able to create something which had stood the test of time. Your local builder goes out everyday and builds something to look and feel right. He’s not creative in the least, but he’s doing something to inspire and make a better living for someone else. Your local baker creates cakes for you to eat and enjoy. Hardly a creative role where it’s a matter of mixing dough with other ingredients. Yet what he produces is enjoyed by so many. The local dustbin man is a wonder at keeping the streets clean. He does nothing creative. Yet he helps to create an environment in which we would all be proud to live in through his hard graft.

And then there’s the office worker. The stalwart of administration. The one who scoffs at the idea that they can be creative. The one who is quick to dismiss any new style of thinking or new possibilities. They fail to realise they also create something every day, and they have the freedom to do so much more. The reports, the updates, the emails, the work plans, are all things which others interact with. And they can all benefit from some creativity. But they just tie themselves into these neat little packages of security and don’t want to attempt something different because it’s just not the done thing.

My old boss gave us the permission to be creative, and instilled in us the seed that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to what we think has to be done. And that’s my challenge to you all. If you recognise these traits in your team, and wish for them to be better, first question yourself – have you created the right environment for creativity to happen? Not necessarily physical environment, but the team environment and atmosphere.