Incubator lab and silent retreat: two surprisingly similar ways of inspiring creativity in a team

One of the privileges of working for two very different organisations is the breadth of experiences I am exposed to. Over the last month the RSA with a consultancy called Fluxx through  Fluxx for Good program ran for some of the staff a two day incubator lab journey. The theory is for teams to work on challenges that have been crowd sourced collectively based on a brief produced by the Senior Management team, in this case reducing the time it takes for the RSA’s work to have real world impact. The idea is to push those idea forward as far as possible forward in teams within the limits of the incubator lab (in this case two days) with the aim of making a presentation to the Senior Management Team at the end requesting that they be taken forward by the business and being able to demonstrate that some of the ideas are part way through adoption.

At the same time in my work for All Saints Peckham we went on a daylong silent retreat led by at a local convent and retreat centre in Lewisham. Here the premise was for a short thought to be given by the retreat leader; followed by a sustained period of silence, before re-assembling and feeding back as a group looking for shared thoughts and inspiration. The same then occurred again after lunch during the afternoon.

At first glance these are very different activities, one drawn from the modern dot com world of pushing rapidly for new ideas that can be implemented quickly and can cause disruptive improvements within a company; the other drawing on a tradition and discipline of Ignatian contemplative spirituality and ‘sensing’ what God might be saying.

However what was interesting was although they were very different experiences, one very pressured and intense, the other almost completely the opposite, they had startlingly similar results:

  • Each gave permission and space for team members to drop non-negotiable values and ideas and challenge the status quo.
  • They shared sense that no one person has the complete final idea but that the best ones are those that are shaped collectively.
  • Created a space for fearlessness, the sense that no idea was bad or good but they all needed to be collectively sifted and worked upon and that a process could be trusted to do that.
  • Produced a sense of journey being an important part of our work; that the process is as important as the goal.
  • A strong resolve that the team were collectively empowered to take actions forward and good make real difference.

What struck me coming away from both events showed the importance of organisations finding new ways of looking at how they motivate team members; whilst very different both staff teams are highly creative with what might be described as having post-modern outlooks. There was some clear lessons how you motivate individuals in a team with a strong value of creativity:

  • Beware of using a top down direction as this inhibits creativity, both of these events proved that given a direction teams have the ability to work together on their own solutions.
  • Unlike many staff days I have been involved in my career in one form or other there was no feeling that the space was waste of time. There was a feeling at both events that the leadership genuinely wanted to create a space for new ideas, and both created a platform for that to happen with the promise of taking those ideas forward.
  • The importance of taking a team away from work from every day tasks (both physically but also in of how the event is run) as it gives the space for a team to think from new perspective. Both teams recognised the space they were being given was a gift and not something to use lightly.
  • Even in the most creative teams humans still need to be encouraged to think differently; groups of people default to tried and tested patterns; both these processes through different techniques created space for re-evaluating direction.
  • To be creative it is important to remember that everyone is important to a team, in fact in both it was the quieter and less senior colleagues who often had the most profound insight.

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