Appetite for disruption

I was recently at MOSI having another look at the 3D printing exhibition and their new exhibit called The Innovation Race, about the Manchester munitions work during the First World War. In amongst the letters and displays there is a corner set aside for children to design their own inventions based on a set of titles such as the viper-firing rifle. It is certainly true that many of the inventions used today were often first developed as part of a military effort. For example Bluetooth relies on frequency hopping technology which was originally developed to avoid wireless transmissions being jammed during WW2; and the ARPANET side of the Internet’s roots was funded by the US Department of Defence.

Times of stress and chaos can often be a boon to innovation as people start thinking about their priorities differently and an attitude of “we’ve always done it this way” becomes “oh why not, give it a go.” Obviously in a work environment this is less likely to be caused by an interdepartmental war and more likely to be caused by system failure or disruption such as building works.

Emergencies give you a new set of rules to play with, such as “try to perform at your usual high standard while missing half your staff/ trying to work with combined departments and tasks while their building is out of action/ having to do it without the shiny new system that has decided not to work this month.” It can involve going back to basics, trying to do new tasks or having to decide which processes can sit on the back-burner for now. People doing new tasks can see them in new ways and having to prioritise what is and isn’t essential can be eye-opening in itself.

The middle of actual disruption isn’t the best time to be innovating, although a few innovations usually crop up, but using pretend chaos as a possible tool in innovation sessions can be useful in sparking new ideas.

  • What would you do if you couldn’t use system A?
  • What questions and suggestions does department B come up with on hearing about department C’s procedures (and vice-versa)?
  • How many of your processes are fixed by your current location and what would you like/hate to change if you had to move elsewhere?

The Innovation Race is at MOSI till 17 April 2016 and the 3D printing exhibit is there until 20 September 2015.