Innovation is about more than bean bags, games rooms, and hammocks

funky office

Disruption continues to be the word on the lips of the business world. With recurring headlines surrounding the innovative start-ups knocking established corporations off top business spots, it’s unsurprising that more and more people are looking to use creativity to get ahead.

The trouble is, we can be a little selective in our focus. Put a twisty slide in your office and publications will flock to share pictures and get quotes about the fun being injected into each employee’s day. The harsh reality is that slides and bean bags alone don’t amount to innovative success. If they did, the world would be drowning in basic, but well-decorated businesses. Really, these fun pieces of collateral are exactly that – collateral to the bigger picture.

Of course, many people do know that creative cultures go beyond the aesthetics of the office. Ask a seasoned business person to describe an innovative culture and they’ll talk about acceptance of mistakes, experimental freedom, connected and collaborative teams – but to truly reap the benefits of these things, they must be balanced.

If you treat all failures as equal, you’ll succeed in encouraging sloppiness and poor motivation. If you let experimentation become rife without structure or action, your workforce will lack direction. Teams should be connected and collaborative, but also capable of independent work; you must not foster a culture of co-dependence. This is a tricky tightrope to walk, and one that requires more than a funky armchair or two to be successful.

Achieve success

Failure. This must be one of the most misunderstood concepts when it comes to achieving success. From a very young age, we are conditioned to see mistakes and failure as wholly negative; which student didn’t dread getting an exam returned with a big, red ‘F’ marked on it? In recent years, there’s been a creeping cultural awareness when it comes to reframing failure; it’s something successful people have been shouting about for years – failure is not the opposite of success, but a key component of it.

Still, there remains a tendency to see things in black and white. Failure is only valuable for two key reasons: 1) it shows bravery – a refusal to be held back by fear, and 2) mistakes teach us to learn and be better. The connection between mistakes and success is much like the experience of learning to ride a bike. If you are too scared to even try riding the bike, you won’t get anywhere.

If you do try, you’ll probably fall off. Maybe you’ll even fall off multiple times, but it is during that process of getting it wrong that you discover how to balance, et voila, you’ve learnt to ride a bike!

When it comes to the business world, it’s important that not all failures are seen as equal; leaders must recognise the difference between a mistake made as a consequence of laziness and poor decisions, and a mistake born of bravery and good intentions. The two are very, very different things. Did your employee fall off their bike while trying to ride it, or while leaning on it? If you follow a mistake to its source, it shouldn’t be hard to ascertain its value.

Ask yourself these questions: has the mistake been made before? What was trying to be achieved and how valuable was the cause? Was this an avoidable error, or something that couldn’t be foreseen? When companies learn to find this balance in their approach to failure, they can instil a no-blame culture that doesn’t suffer from poor decisions, but instead encourages inspired ones.

As discussed, a collaborative team is another pillar of an innovative workplace. For teams to brainstorm and collaborate well together, they must learn to eliminate thinking errors and avoid “groupthink” (where everyone latches onto and agrees to one idea in an attempt to ‘keep the peace’). A healthy team environment is vibrant and balanced – good relationships are important, but so is candour and constructive feedback.

So, how can teams readjust their thinking to rule out existing bias? Promoting metacognition (thinking about thinking) and spreading awareness of thinking traps is a good place to start. Thinking errors typically fall into three key areas: selective thinking, reactive thinking and assumptive thinking. So, let’s dig into what these are! Selective thinking is the tendency to favour certain ideas, especially your own. Reactive thinking occurs when people react to a situation, rather than being strategic – a classic example would be letting a knee-jerk response get you into hot water. And last but not least, assumptive thinking – this is the tendency to accept the status quo, and one that’s especially dangerous amongst teams. Once individuals learn to challenge themselves and colleagues in these areas, they can begin to work together in a more productive and insightful way.

Always encourage employees to bring their own ideas to a brainstorming session to try and combat ‘groupthink’. By creating an environment where team members are not only open to feedback, but stimulated by it, innovation will naturally thrive. Afterall, in the words of Doug Flloyd – “You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.”

Though some may be sad that there aren’t any substantial reasons for ordering in a load of office hammocks – the good news is, creating an innovative environment brings out the best in people. Employees learn far more by working in a truly balanced innovative environment than they do by crashing out on some bean bags or playing ping-pong.

As cultures go, creative ones are the way of the future. While automation continues to plunder the skills of the traditional job market, it is the companies which make innovation an indispensable skill of every employee – regardless of industry – that will survive and thrive as time moves on.

So, get to work on creating an innovative culture as soon as you can – and who knows, maybe in a few years, you’ll be the next creative company to knock an archaic corporation off their top spot. All that being said, no one’s going to judge if you love a good bean bag – just make sure it’s a part of the bigger picture.

Written by Chris Griffiths with Caragh Medlicott. Chris is the bestselling author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, and founder of OpenGenius, the innovative company behind creative productivity software Ayoa