Need to Spark Some Innovation? Try This

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I had the opportunity and privilege of attending Spark Camp, a non-profit whose aim is to gather diverse groups of people from disparate industries and organizations and talk.

That’s it.


Of course, each spark camp has a theme and ours was the changing landscape of leadership. There was no itinerary and no curriculum. That is, until we,—the attendees—created it.

I know, crazy.

But Spark Camp was great for the following reasons:

Freedom to explore.

The diversity of the group generated more idea flow than normal when working within the one’s organizational silo. At Spark Camp, there were artists, engineers, philanthropists, students, journalists, and of course, your resident Navy SEAL.

Why is this important? In Ed , latest book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, for example, he talks about the concept of the Braintrust that served as a means to think and evaluate important topics and issues with candor. The Braintrust, he described, was essentially a melting pot of ideas and discussions held at Pixar Studios that served as a think and do tank (rather than just a think tank) of select company employees who assembled together to face organizational issues, conflicts, and identify not just solutions but envision pathways towards sustained success.

Freedom to innovate.

After generating the ideas for discussion topics, everyone voted on what the most interesting topics were, and then brought those ideas to fruition by making them the very topic of conversation in the upcoming breakout groups. Innovation, as Ken Robinson outlines in his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, is separate from imagination—and even creativity—in the following ways:

“Imagination, which is the process of bringing to mind things that are not present to our senses; creativity, which is the process of developing original ideas that have value, and innovation, which is the process of putting new ideas into practice.” -Robinson, Ken (2011-06-28). Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (pp. 2-3). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Freedom to explore Harvard.

Spark Camp was held at the most prestigious university (at least, in my eyes) in the US. As beautiful as Harvard is, it was somewhat of a reality check because the chances of me getting into Harvard are slim to none (just kidding—but not really).

Freedom to conclude.

As mentioned earlier, the theme of Spark Camp was Leaders, Visionaries and the changing landscape of leadership. With people from such diverse sectors from all up and down the organizational food chain, it was interesting to see the one common denominator (read challenge) that participants faced was people. After all, leadership is about people. Lots of people. Moving, coordinating, motivating, and uniting lots and lots of people and from completely opposite ends of the spectrum, sometimes.

My Takeaway

The challenge of managing and leading others is native to the organization because what works for one company may not work for another. There were  comments about how open offices simply “do not work” but I can cite myriad examples from both scholarly research and experience that they do—but, they worked because those particular companies had their own particular personalities. They had different employee profiles and therefore a different definition of “fit” that encouraged employees to work in such transparent environments. I would argue to say that if an open office culture isn’t something that works for you and you need a private office because it somehow demonstrates power, then you’re probably the wrong fit for that company.

Leadership is personal. It’s situational. There is no “right way” to lead others because everyone’s different. At the end of the day, I believe leadership comes down to this question: do people follow me because of my rank, or do they follow me despite my rank? If it’s the latter then congratulations. You made the (good) list.

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