Sticking to the script may make average actors into award winning thespians when the words of Aaron Sorkin map out an amazing screenplay for them. However, if you are the leader of a startup, a large company, or any organization seeking to chart new territory, you know that the ability to course correct quickly is the key to success. I have heard the words “experiment often, fail faster” many times in the arena of modern day business innovation techniques. By trying new things and getting to the failures quickly, businesses can develop and test a multitude of ideas without wasting time and resources on drawn out or doomed strategies. National experts like Tom Kelley of IDEO and our own local stars like Richard Sheridan of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have taught us that these words are a key component to an organization’s creativity and success.
However, many people do not take this “experiment often and fail faster” philosophy down to the most granular level: their meetings and brainstorming sessions. For some, an agenda and a defined technique to achieving meeting goals is a necessary component to any gathering, whether it be a quick Friday afternoon brainstorm or a well-planned retreat. Even for leaders who do not like set agendas, they often stick to their known playbook for achieving a pre-determined outcome. However, I have found that global philosophies on creativity, including the concept of embracing frequent experimentation, can be as equally powerful when applied to the smallest of scales, including meetings. The key to this strategy is the same. It is not the number of experiments or the likelihood of their success that matter most, but rather the reaction to them and the ability to learn from mistakes and change directions quickly that determines the best outcomes.
This may seem like an easy concept to grasp, but believe me it is much harder to implement. Inevitably, fear of change or that notion of “we have always done it this way” always creeps back in even when it is as simple as the structure of a meeting. I have found that one of the best ways to find sparks that fuel a great meeting or retreat is to try something completely new. In fact, try a lot of new things all the way from the flow of discussion to how ideas are shared. This takes a skilled leader who knows how to turn over the reigns of the meeting to those testing a new thought process. It also takes courage and understanding by the meeting participants who need to know the overall goal is what matters most. No one can get too attached to their idea or old ways of doing things.
Sometimes, going down roads we never thought we should travel, will lead to finding places we never knew existed. So, for your next meeting, ditch the script, don’t be afraid to fail, but if you do, have the courage to change course quickly and most importantly, keep trying new roads.
For help with new ideas, check out examples like those provided by Pixar founder Ed Catmull in his book Creativity, Inc.