Building a Learning Plan to Support Everyday Innovation
“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” -- William Pollard
The ability to continuously generate new ideas and innovations has become an imperative as markets grow more global, open and competitive, and as customer expectations grow more diverse and demanding. Organizations are realizing they must commit to innovation as a key strategy for success and expect and support innovation from everyone. This capability has become an essential differentiator and source of competitive advantage--if not survival. However, our world demands a new perspective – a new brand – of innovation, one that is broader and more inclusive. Our world demands Everyday Innovation.
Everyday Innovation occurs when everyone in an organization is actively and continuously supported, encouraged, and contributing toward the generation and implementation of new ideas and innovations of all types, from small to transformational, to improve our organizations and our world.
The Role of Learning to Support Innovation
Asking about the role of learning in the innovation process is a little like asking about the role of water in a swimming competition. Learning is at the heart of innovation and innovation simply can’t occur without it. The two are inseparable. This includes learning about the current state—what’s going well and not going well. Learning about trends, patterns, and “happy surprises” that need to be explored and potentially exploited. Learning about the wants, needs, motivations, and the work performed by customers and potential customers. Learning what desired outcomes to create and the potential benefits, impact, and ripple effects of those outcomes. Learning what works and doesn’t work when bringing an innovation to life. Learning from mistakes, failure, and success. The bottom line is that because innovation and learning are so inextricably linked—when you commit to the strategy of Everyday Innovation you are also committing to a strategy of continuous learning. Therefore, it will be important to understand how the process of innovation works, and how learning relates to that process, in order to effectively support it.
The Process of Everyday Innovation: The ARC Model
So what does the process of innovation look like? What do innovators do? How do they see the world? How do they learn? The answer to these questions can be represented in what is called the “ARC Model.” The ARC Model is the “lens” through which innovators view the world and their work and represents the process they use to generate new ideas and innovations. ARC stands for: Acknowledge-Reframe-Connect. When innovators ARC (used as a verb) they acknowledge their current circumstances, reframe these circumstances within the context of a desired outcome, and connect to a diversity of people, data, experiences, and analogies to generate the ideas to bring the desired outcome to life. This latter element, connecting, is essentially where the rubber meets the road when it comes to learning. In short, connecting is the way innovators learn. The process of ARCing (acknowledging, reframing, and connecting) is a learnable skill and can be improved with practice, experience, and organizational support. (See the articles, “ARC Model: The Innovator’s Lens,” and “The Power of Everyday Connections,” for more information on the ARC Model.)
Everyday Innovation is a Focused Process
The process of innovation, and the learning that supports it, is rarely random or accidental. Rather, it is focused, deliberate, and purposeful (see the article “The Myths of Innovation”). For example, organizations that adopt an Everyday Innovation strategy will identify and target a few high-value knowledge areas, or “domains” where a continuous stream of new ideas and innovations are needed. Targeting specific domains brings strategic focus to innovation efforts in a way that will lead to a greater return from organizational effort, resources, and investment. Domains may begin as general topics or problem-related statements such as “New Solution Selling Techniques,” or “Young Professionals Don’t Want to Move to Our City” or “Our Complex and Overlapping Caregiving Practices are Confusing Families of our Alzheimer’s Patients.” But as you apply the ARC Model, problems will be reframed as desired outcomes. You are essentially answering the question, “what is the desired outcome I want to create?” Focusing on what you want, not what you don’t want. For example, the “Alzheimer’s-related” problem might be reframed as “Patient caregiving practices, processes, and tools for our hospitals that integrate the needs of patients and their families, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff.” As people begin to learn the skills of “ARCing,” and then apply those skills to a targeted domain, they will begin to generate new ideas to support the desired outcome. These ideas may be rough at first, but as people continue to connect, seeking input and feedback from a diversity of sources, these ideas will be improved and refined. Remember, a well stated desired outcome will allow for a continuous stream of new ideas over time.
As you apply the ARC Model, problems and challenges will be reframed as desired outcomes. You are essentially answering the question, "what is the desired outcome that I want to create?" Focusing on what you want, not what you don't want.
One of the best ways to build your team’s capabilities to effectively engage in the process of Everyday Innovation is to create an Everyday Innovation Learning Plan focused on your targeted domain. This learning plan should be designed to ensure that your team not only learns the fundamental skills of the ARC Model but also provides a diversity of ways to apply those skills by “immersing” them into the domain. In this way, they will not only build their ability to ARC, but also develop a deeper understanding of the domain—both required for strategically focused innovation. In addition, because connecting is how innovators learn, the solutions in your learning plan can be organized by the four types of connecting: (1) experiences, (2) people, (3) data, and (4) analogies (see Figure 1).
Ideally, except for some potential foundational training programs, most of the solutions in the learning plan should be available on the job in a way that can be pulled on a “just-in-time” basis. The closer the learning experiences are to the moment of need, the more relevant and effective they will be. It is also recommended that you leverage solutions, programs, and resources that already exist rather than investing in a lot of expensive new solutions. For example, many organizations already have a communities of practice program and associated tools that can be used to support connecting to people. For those that do not, there are thousands of communities and discussion groups available externally through professional organizations and professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn).
Let’s take the example of what might be included in a learning plan for the domain, “New patient caregiving practices, processes, and tools for our hospitals that integrate the needs of patients and their families, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff.” For this domain, you might provide solutions in your learning plan that support connecting to experiences by providing a cased-based training program where people learn and experience the ARC Model by applying it to various Alzheimer’s caregiving issues. For example, EiQ offers a 1-Day Workshop called, “Everyday Innovators Workshop,” that focuses on learning the basics of the ARC Model in the context of real issues faced by participants. In this workshop, participants bring a real organizational challenge, issue, or domain topic and then learn to apply ARC to generate new ideas for those areas. (More information on EiQ’s workshops can be found here.) Other connecting to experiences solutions in your plan might include providing structured visits to an Alzheimer’s facility to observe or interview Alzheimer’s caregivers, families, or patients themselves. Experiences might also include a temporary assignment in an Alzheimer’s facility doing the work of an actual caregiver.
To support connecting to people, you might provide opportunities for your team to participate in a series of in-person or virtual “Town Hall” meetings focused on the topic of Alzheimer’s caregiving practices. Experts can be brought in to facilitate discussions and activities. Or perhaps you might develop a “Collaboration Conference” where people are brought together for collaboration or create a community of practice focused on discussing Alzheimer’s issues. Perhaps people could be given access to “expert locator” tools that allow them to easily find, connect to, and collaborate with Alzheimer’s experts both inside and outside the organization.
Connecting to data might include working to gather a collection of books, articles, or other research on Alzheimer’s compiled by your team members or subject-matter experts. Your organization may already have an on-line digital library that can be made available for searching and collecting domain-related documents and data. In addition, you might already have a knowledge base or repository that you could leverage to begin populating information on Alzheimer’s disease topics. Most communities of practice programs, both external and internal, have knowledge repositories tied to them. Communities usually have a process where members can vet, tag, and organize various documents and information which can be searched and made available to others in the community.
Connecting to analogies might be the most challenging solution category because it is one of the least explored but it also provides an excellent opportunity for coming up with some very creative solutions as well! There is great power in the ability to make connections between the seemingly unrelated. You can facilitate this process in a number of ways. For example, you might create simple job aids or tools that help people more effectively make “associational connections” around other jobs, fields, topics, and areas of expertise that, although first appear unrelated, could actually provide great insights for the domain topic. These tools could provide some guidance on helping people begin to identify and explore other disciplines where “caregiving” and “service” are important, but not directly related to the support of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps there are associations to be made with those working in hospitality, the military, or in retail. In addition, you could facilitate “Associational Connecting” sessions where people are brought together to discuss possible associations and connections to various domain-related topics. Experts from unrelated fields or industries could be invited to participate to help make connections to their particular areas of expertise.
In summary, learning is a critical and inseparable aspect of innovation. When you adopt a strategy of Everyday Innovation you are, by definition, adopting a strategy of continuous learning. Your job will be to find creative ways to support this strategy. By understanding the process innovators use to generate new ideas and innovations (represented by the ARC Model), you will be well equipped to develop a strategically focused and highly effective learning plan. And remember each organization is different. Leverage the solutions and resources your organization already has in place. Also, be sure to partner with experts in your organization to identify and develop solutions for your plan. Be creative. Don’t do it all by yourself. Tap into the mind power of your team and have them help identify and create solutions for the plan. Above all, commit to a strategy of Everyday Innovation. There has never been a time in our collective history where the ability to innovate has been more important.