a walk in the park

Cool crisp morning air. Mist blanketing the river. Lush lawns and trees in full bloom. It felt great being outside, walking around in the large park, watching the world ease into the day. Soon the participants for the class I was leading on innovation would be arriving. Walking along the river I noticed how different my mood and thoughts were than when waiting for meetings and classes in conference rooms and I wondered why, why, why do we tend to always hold meetings indoors, in the same rooms, always sitting down? After all, my best thoughts usually come when I’m outside walking, running, or cycling.

The class itself was simple enough: a one-hour class once a week for six weeks based around a prepublished version of Max Mckeown’s (@maxmckeown) forthcoming The Innovation Book. It’s no secret that Max is one of my favorite business writers and I admire his ability to compress huge ideas into simple sentences and shift abstract theory into real-world practicality. So, little surprise that I jumped at the chance to build a class around his newest book.

I currently work in the banking industry and banking and innovation are almost mutually exclusive terms. Customers tend to prefer their local bank being conservative, safe, and solid, which means that those who do well at the local bank tend to be, well, conservative, safe, and solid. Yet, there is a huge need and desire for being innovative, so this class was a great chance to introduce, clarify, and play with ideas around creativity and innovation.

When I laid out the class, I simply divided it into one session for each of the book sections. I used the book as backbone for the course and then added other articles and video relevant to innovation and the banking industry to further help participants bring the ideas into their daily life. The reading served as pre-work for the class sessions and the sessions focused on discussion and practical application. Pretty straight forward.

Yet, if we were discussing innovation why not use the class itself to demonstrate creativity, experimentation, stretching comfort zones, etc.? I warned the participants from the start that the class itself was an experiment and we played heavily with format and location. That’s where it got interesting.

We did two sessions in convenient conference rooms, one in a conference room in an out of the way location, one on WebEx, one as a Twitter chat, and one in a city park. From this I learned, re-learned, and confirmed changing location changes how we think and interact.

WebEx. This was a challenge to myself. I hate webinars and most online training. My attention span is too short and I get bored and just don’t pay attention. Yet, our employees are spread out over a three-hour footprint and the logistics of simply getting people together for meetings or training can be near impossible. My previous experiences as a participant on WebEx (GoTo meetings, etc.) weren’t positive, but I wanted to see if we could make it useful. The results were mixed. Some had technical problems and it completely lost the conversational feel, yet it did save travel time. Would I do it again? Maybe.

Twitter chat. I’d never seen a class done as a Twitter chat so I was excited to try it out. Banks in general don’t do social media well and NO ONE in the class was familiar with Twitter. A few had accounts but didn’t use them. The rest were starting from scratch. I provided some basic information to get started and asked them to play with it enough to be able to participate. I emphasized that it wasn’t about loving Twitter, it was simply about trying something new. One couldn’t figure it out at all (despite being very familiar with Facebook), two had issues because their privacy settings prevented anyone from seeing their responses, and the rest had a great time. Max was even able to join in on the class. Given the technical difficulties I can’t call it a resounding success, BUT the experience created a ton of discussion in the next class about experimentation, technology, customer experience and learning curves, etc.

Outdoors. It was surprising how much my mood and thinking changed by walking around outside. I heartily encourage doing this at every opportunity, particularly when trying to brainstorm and generate new ideas. Can’t do outside? Great, find a way to walk inside, change locations, or just hold the meeting in a room you never normally use. Do something – anything – different.

Next Time

If I did the class again, I’d play even more heavily with format and location. I’m not convinced that WebEx, Twitter, or a city park are the best places to hold every class or meeting BUT location served a fantastic role in demonstrating experimentation, taking risks, failing and learning, and giving little nudges (and shoves) toward the edges of people’s comfort zones.

Which is the whole point.

(note: this was originally posted at brocedwards.com)

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