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I’m very interested in how innovation can be made better and one category of tools is related to team performance – higher performing teams can create products that produce higher value.
One particular tool is Group Flow, which was the topic of a paper published by The International Council on Systems Engineering titled “Group Flow: the Genesis of Innovation.” Its author is Laurie Buss, who I interviewed to learn how teams can create group flow. When I discovered Laurie’s work, I felt like I found a kindred spirit based on how she describes innovation, which is, that …
Innovation is key to the continued growth of established economies, not only for the creation of new designs, products, services, and markets but also for the development and retention of top-performing employees.
She has a degree from UCLA in Aerospace Engineering and is highly regarded in the international satellite industry, working with numerous large organizations in spacecraft design and test, launch, operations, and many other aspects that require innovative thinking. She also has a new book coming out in the second quarter of 2017 with a working title of “Brainpower Redemption.”
In this interview Laurie shares concrete steps to facilitate group flow, which includes 4 elements that are easily remembered using FLOW as an acronym:
- O (for round table), and
- Work tools.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- Is innovation a group activity or the realm of the lone wolf? The group working together is almost mandatory. This is because of the complexity of the situation with many different functions involved in innovation – marketing, engineering, strategic planning, etc. Also, the younger generations of employees are motivated by working together and expect to work in teams. We can also learn from history, where innovations were developed by teams, including those of Edison, Einstein, and many others.
- “Group flow” harnesses the innovative power of groups. What is flow? Individual flow is the state you’re in when you’re doing something enjoyable, and you easily lose track of time. It is a very creative and engaging space. Applying this to groups is a way to create conditions when creativity and innovation are more likely to appear.
- How does someone create flow for themselves? There are four conditions that need to exist. First is to have a goal – something that is important to you. Second is a means to getting feedback on your progress towards the goal – how you judge how are you moving towards the goal. Third is having a skill set that is a match for the goal. If you’re doing something too hard for your skill set, you will get frustrated. You also don’t want it to be too easy, or you will get bored and not find the activity challenging. Forth is having space not to be interrupted and also having space to fail.
- What are the steps to create group flow? The acronym FLOW provides a framework for the steps. The steps are:
- Focus. Remember WTF – what’s the focus. You need a clear goal. Don’t start with too narrow of a focus – frame the problem in a more expansive manner or try changing the context
- Location. Optimally, the group should be co-located, working in a shared space. The highest performing groups are autonomous and can work in isolation from outside sources. Virtual groups can be used that require special preparation. One tool is 50 ideas – ask each virtual participant to list 50 ideas in one setting addressing the goal before the virtual group meeting.
- O for Round Table. Picture who is at the round table – who is in the group. You want to have people that can challenge each other but not overwhelm each other. Add diversity in experience, discipline, gender, age, race, etc. You want different perspectives. You also want a decision-maker that can help cast vision, summarizing group progress and provide feedback. A group of 10 to 12 people is optimal.
- Work tools. We are knowledge workers and creatives. Our work tools are creative thinking tools and collaboration tools. We need tools that help us to get out of our traditional patterns of thinking. Traditional brainstorming does not work well.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.