“Innovation” – it’s one of today’s hottest buzzwords. However, it’s more than that. It represents the goal to which so many organizations aspire, and yet somehow fall short.

Often, a lack of innovative capability stems not from missing in-house talent, but from the wrong culture. It also comes from not supporting employees through the right learning and development initiatives. Sure, you’re probably using an LMS at this point and may have even invested in modern training collateral, such as gamified content and always-on access. However, what do you do to support employee creativity?

Creating innovation and creativity zones within your organization can foster a better ability to compete, and even to lead your industry. Of course, this is something of a new idea for many. In this post, we will discuss what these zones are and their impact on your L&D efforts.

Innovation and Creativity Zones and Their Impact on Your L&D Efforts

What Are Innovation and Creativity Zones?

In reality, creativity and innovation zones can be just about anything, but they all share a few commonalities:

  • They are “free to fail” spaces
  • They encourage unfettered innovation
  • They foster experimentation
  • They result in a tangible deliverable
  • The foster greater confidence, communication, and stronger relationships

Want a real-world example? Consider Atlassian, the Australian software developer. Once every quarter, the company sets aside time for what they call FedEx Days. This one day, the company’s developers can work on anything they want, with whomever they want, in any way that they want. The stipulation? They must have a deliverable by the next day. Whatever their project might be, it must be wrapped up by Friday.

Need another example? Look to 3M. Since the 1930s, the company has focused on developing what they call 15 Percent Culture. Here, technical employees are encouraged to take 15% of their time and use it to work on whatever project they want. Google has a similar initiative that allows their engineers to take 20% of their time and dedicate it to anything they find personally interesting or rewarding, so long as it is company-focused.

There are plenty of other examples: Twitter, Facebook, and many other companies intentionally create areas where employees can feel free to follow their interests and passions. The results have been pretty profound, as well. For instance, it was 3M’s 15 Percent Culture that gave us Post-It Notes, and most of Google’s most successful innovations have come from innovation during free time.

Is It Right for You?

While creativity and innovation zones can be highly beneficial, they may not be right for all businesses. How do you tell if this is something that you should consider pursuing? This type of arrangement is usually better suited for employees focused on achievement, as well as creative types, and those who are super passionate about the business, what it does, and its products or services.

It’s also important to note that these zones are best done collaboratively as a group. Self-directed zones are possible, but they can be more challenging, and some employees will find it difficult to manage their time effectively, while still upholding their other job-related responsibilities.

How Does This Type of Learner Benefit Employees?

It should be clear how innovation and creativity zones benefit the business – you get to take advantage of all the breakthroughs and developments that occur. How do your employees benefit, though? Actually, they do so in quite a few ways, all of which speak directly to L&D success. Some of the ways your teams will benefit include the following:

  • They can develop innovation and creativity on the job.
  • They can forge stronger bonds with other team members.
  • They can create a better company culture.
  • They learn new skills and competencies while engaged in something they find personally and professionally rewarding.
  • They become more empowered and engaged.
  • They become more committed to the organization because of the support for and freedom to create and innovate.
  • They create additional value for the business, which further empowers and engages them.

How to Create Innovation and Creativity Zones in Your Business

Creating innovation and creativity zones can be challenging, although it is well worth the time and effort. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Determine who will be the best suited for the zone(s). Will it be product designers? Software developers? Another department? Will you allow anyone who wants to participate to take part?
  • Determine the amount of time allotted to the initiative and when it will be allotted. Remember that time is the only real cost here, but it is also the largest constraint when it comes to results. You must strike a balance between too much and too little time given to pursue projects in the zone.
  • Gather support from other leaders in the organization. Work together to create an overarching strategy for your zone implementation efforts and ensure that you have key stakeholder buy-in at all stages.
  • Communicate your vision to those who will be in the zone. Clearly explain what the purpose of the zone is and why it is being implemented so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Provide the tools, supplies, and support your team members will need to be creative and innovative.
  • Take a “failure is acceptable” approach to any and all projects in the zone. The point of these zones is to experiment, innovate, and grow – that does not occur without a few failures.

Be Prepared for Some Hurdles

While creating innovation and creativity zones can be incredibly beneficial for employees and the organization as a whole, understand that there may be some hurdles to overcome. For instance, while 20% of an employee’s time might be more than enough to create a vision and begin experimenting, it is not going to be enough to take that to a finished product. You can get around this issue by creating a system that moves promising projects from ideation and prototyping into production outside the zone.

With the right strategy, an understanding of your employees’ strengths, and a dedication to helping them innovate and create new things, these zones can be incredible assets.

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