Innovation & Transformation Need Space!

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.“ (Archimedes)

Whether using terminology like digital disruption, the fourth industrial revolution, industry 4.0 or any other hyped buzzword, they all imply the same: Today’s challenges and pressures for fundamental social and business transformation are reaching unsurpassed levels.

Leadership teams around the world need to encourage and practice new thinking and initiate transformative processes faster and more effectively than ever before. Agility and speed of innovation and transformation are evolving into key measurements for predicting corporate survival or extinction.

Next to engaging key stakeholders from multiple business areas and geographies in the transformation process as well as inspiring their creativity for breakthrough innovation, many business leaders rightly ask themselves:

Are our current corporate workplaces, -spaces and change facilitation methodologies suited to accelerate this fundamental transformation?

Unfortunately, the answer in many cases is simply: no!

You are asking why?

Just think of the interior design and furnishing of the average brick and mortar business office building. Typically, the inside reflects the functional and divisional divide depicted in organizational charts – structures still deeply rooted in the fading mechanistic, industrial age. Often, what one finds are pale single or open-plan offices, cubicles and meeting rooms that offer only the standard minimum equipment for collaboration and creativity. Needless to say that most of these spaces or meeting rooms are anything but inviting or inspiring for initiating and co-designing change.

What follows from this insight? The initial response is obvious: modify your spaces! And sure enough, some corporations have taken the lead from the thriving co-working movement as well as the digital elite in Silicon Valley and begun to redesign and refurbish their office buildings.

However, there are limitations to the efficiency of this strategy. First, and very obviously, business transformation and innovation processes cannot be put on hold until buildings are refurbished into efficient transformation spaces. Secondly, and just as importantly, providing the right space is one thing; being able to make adequate use of it is quite another. The task of providing transformation spaces is far from being completed by simply putting managers and employees in fancy open offices. Instead, spaces need to be curated and facilitated in order to create and nourish collaboration of a new quality and ignite the creativity needed to bring about fundamentally new ideas. Thirdly, the above does not automatically guarantee full leadership sponsorship and active engagement, both critical success factors of any transformational effort.

What is the solution, then? 

We recommend to establish one or a selected number of “transformation hubs” that can be used as physical transformation spaces for cultivating a new sensing and thinking as well as serve as platforms for innovation; acting as landing fields for the future to emerge, inspiring and catalyzing business- and digital transformation throughout the organization.

“The nature of creativity is to make space for things to happen… We can drive it out with our busyness and plans.” (Iain McGilchrist)

From our experience, the path to new thinking, breakthrough innovation and fundamental transformation urgently needs these new spaces as well as new group facilitation techniques. Effectively complementing each other, they create an overall feeling of safety, foster transdisciplinary collaboration, stimulate collective sensing and empathy, unleash collective creativity and thereby catalyze all transformational efforts.

To see what these transformation hubs look like and how they differ from what most companies already have in place we have compiled the following (non-exhaustive) list of guiding principles for inspiring transformation hubs. Please note that there are external and internal principles (both influencing the “look and feel”) for setting up successful transformation hubs. The internal conditions are best described by a spirit or culture that brings the transformation hub to live, creating the momentum for transformation:

  • Leadership Sponsorship & Engagement: We believe leadership teams must act as “Chief Business Transformation Officers.” Saying this, it is obvious that they not only sponsor transformation hubs and actively engage with its growing transformation and change community, but also use hubs themselves to execute transformation related leadership and innovation workshops.
  • Space: Transformation hubs are best located in broad spaces with higher than normal ceilings and much natural light from different angles. Ideally the hub has access to existing corporate gardens or parks. As all furniture and equipment is mobile and work often includes working with different materials and gadgets, wooden floors are more practical than carpets. The overall structure of the space should invite spontaneous interactions.
  • Furniture & Equipment: All furniture and equipment is mobile (e.g. extra-large magnetic whiteboard-walls, working desks, plants, stools, sofas, technical equipment) and can be moved around the hub according to working objectives, agenda and choreography. Moveable partition walls can be used to structure larger spaces and create dedicated project rooms (Studies have found that dedicated project rooms increase the productivity of teams significantly).
  • Colors: Different psychological studies have been executed to analyze the impact of color-concepts on creativity and work productivity – they all have proven a positive correlation. As the interior design of transformation hubs is a transdisciplinary project itself, it needs to include color expertise as well.
  • Transformation Art: Art does not have to be something that hangs on a wall and is forgotten. It can provide the sort of immersive experience that dramatically alters perspectives and opens minds to new possibilities. It also has the potential to inject a human element into transformational activities, reminding us all of the essential value of human relationships. By integrating art and artists into the corporate innovation and transformation process, the transformation hub environment invites employees and managers to experiment and make mistakes. In doing this, it unlocks the talents already lurking within the organization.
  • Transdisciplinary Collaboration: The era of digitization is accompanied by an increasing trend of convergence between industries and functional disciplines. This development will lead to new forms of transdisciplinary collaboration and organizational design. To cultivate this and reap early fruits, it is key that most of the transformational work within the hub is done via transdisciplinary team composition.
  • Utilization: According to their objectives, transformation hubs create different spaces for work providing the right balance between social interaction and single working, e.g. a mixture between a larger collaboration space for plenary sessions as well as large transdisciplinary workshops; spaces for collaboration in smaller project teams, but also areas for single working and team retreats; areas for socializing and/or gaming; areas for reflection and silence; etc. It is also important to note that a certain number of employees can stay over a longer a period of time, e.g. in the context of larger transformational programs. They typically have desks assigned in the coworking area.
  • Involvement: The versatility of a transformation hub invites individuals and teams to shape and modify the space in accordance to their task driven needs. Instead of implementing a predetermined structure, it prompts involvement in creating a structure that works for the hub members.
  • Community Building: Transformation hubs are more than temporary space for collaboration and coworking. They strongly support creating and developing communities of change makers and transformation experts urgently needed in any organization. The quality of transformation hubs depends on the quality of the relationships between its members. Transformation is all about people – it is people and their ability to connect, engage, and truly collaborate that will make the difference.
  • Hub Facilitation Team: As transformation hubs should be established for a longer period of time, they require a small team of experienced transformation facilitators with the following skills and tasks (examples): designing, facilitating and following-up on transdisciplinary workshops and working sessions; designing, experimenting with and integrating new social techniques; educating and coaching of new transformation facilitators (train-the-trainer); facilitating the community of transformation & change experts within the organization; integrating transformation art and artists in workshops and sessions; etc.
  • Group Facilitation Techniques: Transformation hubs designed like above not only need excellent facilitators, but also a trend-setting blend of facilitation techniques and methodologies.

What do these complementing group facilitation techniques look like and how do they differ from what many businesses already have in place?

In what follows, we give you an overview of highly efficient techniques. Maybe you have already some of them in place, maybe not. Please be aware that all of these separately listed techniques and methodologies need to be skillfully blended, choreographed and facilitated by the transformation hub facilitation team: 

  • Preparatory Techniques: In order to successfully initiate transformational processes and activities, various preparatory techniques are used to ensure a proper design, content preparation and stakeholder engagement. Here some examples: stakeholder mapping and visualization exercises; stakeholder focus interviews; dialogue interviews; moderated focus groups; discovery and learning journeys; empathy walks; etc.
  • Systems Thinking: According to Peter M. Senge (MIT), the fundamental rationale of Systems Thinking is “…to understand how it is that the problems that we all deal with, which are the most vexing, difficult and intransigent, come about, and to give us some perspective on those problems [in order to] give us some leverage and insight as to what we might do differently.” With this rationale as core, systems thinking techniques are especially helpful to understand and resolve complex transformational issues.
  • Design Thinking: Even though design thinking has been around for quite some time, only very few organizations systematically use it in their transformational context. Design thinking is a form of solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (e.g. a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. It offers a variety of creativity and coworking methodologies, e.g.: rapid ideation sessions; hackathon sessions; rapid prototyping; etc.
  • Theory U: “Theory U proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from…” (C. Otto Scharmer). Throughout the different stages of the U process (seeing, sensing, presencing, crystallizing and prototyping), different social techniques can be applied (examples): case-clinic; shadowing; stuck-exercise; guided journaling; sensing and learning journeys; 4-D mapping; etc.
  • Mindfulness Practice: All of the above facilitation and collaboration techniques can be significantly enhanced in their depth and productivity by also integrating and applying mindfulness practice (i.e. increasing mindfulness of sensing, thinking, listening, speaking and acting). Mindfulness practices that have already proven to be effective in this context are (examples): breathing meditation; mindful walking; selected yoga exercises; moments of stillness and contemplation; etc.

Transformation & innovation need space. And the most efficient kind of space is provided by transformation hubs!

Skillfully designed and mindfully facilitated, with full support and engagement of the corporate leadership team, these transformation hubs and their growing communities have the potential to evolve into the vital heart of any corporate transformation soon after they have been established. Consequently, they will not only have a major impact on the speed and quality of innovating business and operating models, service offerings, products etc. but also positively influence corporate culture phenomena such as agility, behavior, attitudes, interaction and transdisciplinary collaboration. All of the before mentioned being critical success factors for survival and sustainable growth in a more and more digitized global economy.

“Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.” (Dee Hock)

This new age – with all of its disruptive innovations and possibilities – beckons all of us as individuals, groups, organizations, countries and societies to re-think our thinking and behavior, to collaborate and co-create in new ways, to rediscover and unleash our collective creativity for a better future.

© Radius 1 Consulting GmbH