My colleague Ian from South Africa recently wrote me a private mail in reaction to my “Help, I failed” blog post. Below some edited extracts (Ian was happy to let me share from his mail on my blog), as I wanted to share the full picture where Ian is coming from when suggesting the concept of “The Bridge”.
“Your post got me thinking of Kosta’s famous analogy of the Castle and the Sandbox and I wonder if we are missing a “bridge of common understanding and respect” between our Castle and the Sandbox. You are probably thinking by now what is Ian talking about and has he had too many good bottles of South African Red Wine :-) Well let me try explaining it in a slightly different way. I have two young kids, aged 7 & 4. We live in in a nicely sized home but it is very clear that we have very different needs in the form of what TV programs I like to watch versus what they like to watch. I like quiet space to read my books and recharge my batteries, where they like a noisy space to play their Wii and play with their friends. So we have created our own Castle and Sandbox so as to speak. The place in the house, called a playroom, for the kids to do what they need to do and a quiet study type den for me to do what I need to do. There is something additional we have in our home, which I believe is missing within the Castle and Sandbox scenario. We have a place where mutual respect prevails. It is called the dinner table. I guess you could also refer to it as a bridge between our diversified needs. We make a conscious effort to sit together during the week where we enjoy dinner together. The rules are simple. No distractions from ‘daily lives’, such as the TV on during dinner or iPods or iPhones at the table. Everyone has a chance to share something uninterrupted, they learnt or enjoyed during the day. Everyone feels included, safe to speak their mind and most importantly respected. So what I am saying is perhaps what we need is to create a ‘bridge’ between our Castle and Sandbox. I am not talking about a gating-process. We need to create a ‘bridge’ where colleagues from the Castle and the Sandbox can come together and feel mutually respected for their views and feel safe and comfortable to engage with one another. No one should feel threatened for questioning the status quo and everyone should feel proud to be a part of our great and diversified organization that makes our company what it is and what it will be irrespective of whether you are in the Castle or Sandbox. I don’t know concretely what this ‘Bridge’ looks like but it should be place for celebrating successes and failures. What do I mean by celebrating failures? We should celebrate that we were bold enough to take the risk and try something that was rebellious and unique and share confidently what we learnt along the way and to proudly say we will continue to walk the edges of corporate accepted behaviours and continue to Innovate.”
Two weeks later, Ian also had a chat with Kosta on this idea of “The Bridge” during our annual sales convention. And another two weeks later I bumped into Haydn Shaughnessy, who gave a whole new dimension to this meme.
Ian’s idea got me thinking. I was already somewhat unsatisfied by existing innovation models. Innovation has become an empty buzzword. Every company is doing open innovation in one size of form. Everybody is doing start-up competitions, VC-funds, prototypes, boot camps, sandboxes, etc. And Kosta has explained at numerous occasions what the Innotribe sandbox is all about. He even wrote a whole book about it (Amazon Associates Link)!
The advantage of the “castle and the sandbox” is that is a simple metaphor.
“The sandbox is an “incubator” – a protected place where people with ideas can “play”, or to try out their ideas, without impacting the castle. The “castle” is the metaphor for the mothership, the core of the company. The incubator is the place where you can try, experiment, fail, try again, fail again, and eventually learn and succeed.”
In our incubator sandbox approach, project teams are even located in a separate building. It was an empty platform in one of the side-wings of the campus, and as innovation team we jokingly said that we were going to highjack that space. Which in the end we more or less did ;-) With minimal budget, some paint and beanbags from IKEA, we transformed the office space in a loft-alike start-up garage, where end-to-end project teams were co-located.
With hindsight, the separate building approach may need some fine-tuning. Maybe it needs “The Bridge” that Ian was talking about. Working separately without much transparency creates tensions, suspicion and jealousy. It would probably be better to physically create the sandbox “within” the castle, like a sort of patio, so that people can look over the shoulder, feel confident that real and cool works is being done there, tempting their curiosity so they are looking to join our projects too. Then there may even not be the need for a bridge.
Another disadvantage of the castle-sandbox metaphor is that it polarizes; it creates the perception that the castle is the serious thing, and the sandbox the playground. Innovation projects are just perceived/positioned to the inside/outside world as “Oh, thàt project? Don’t worry, it’s just some experiment/research by the innovation team”.
And before you know it, the problem is becoming one of credibility. The problem is one of execution and scale.
The challenge is NOT to have ideas, or to prototype those ideas, or to incubate those ideas. The real nut to crack is: how do I get projects out of the Sandbox, back into mainstream, back into the castle? As I have already shared many times on my personal blog, this question is for me becoming an existential question. What am I really doing here, if all these great ideas are only play-worthy, but are never allowed to hit the mainstream, the mainstreet?
This is getting into purpose. Personal purpose, team purpose, and company purpose. Purpose and meaning.
“The Bridge” could be one way to tear down the virtual or perceived walls between the castle and the sandbox, and to re-create that meaning.
“The Bridge” makes me also think of “The Serendipity Machine – a disruptive business model for Society 3.0”. It is the “3rd Space”, where two worlds meet, not only in mutual respect, but also in a gift-economy lifestyle, where our expertise and knowledge becomes an asset to share between equals.
But “The Bridge” is in my opinion just the start of a much broader discussion on how we can re-invent innovation.
Haydn Shaughnessy – Forbes/HBR blogger on RE:THINKING INNOVATION, and author of “The Elastic Enterprise – the New Manifesto for Business Revolution” (Amazon Associates Link) for which I wrote a foreword a year ago – has some ideas about this.
Haydn happened to be in Brussels and invited me for a coffee, as we never met in person before/after the foreword. I shared this idea of The Bridge, and my search and ambition to re-invent innovation. It happened that Haydn was doing a research on a similar topic in preparation of a new book.
The conversation got my head buzzing, and I felt I was onto something: a menu, a mind map, and/or the ingredients of a re-invention of innovation.
- Lab explosion: the one castle and one sandbox will be replaced by many mini “labs”, at times subversive and in guerilla mode, deeply embedded in the fabric of our organizations, creating a viral effect of systematic and systemic change.
- The Bridge, or Bridges, or many 3rd Places where we can blend (see above) and respect each other.
- Integral Innovation: our organizations will require a much bigger focus on external symbiosis and innovation, where we not only suck value out of the system for our own benefit, but we give back to society as equal contributors/fellows, way beyond many master-slave relationships. Focusing only/primarily on the inside or the core will not do it anymore.
- Functional Integration: In the same realm, check out this article related to the announcement of FastCompany’s 2103 world most innovative companies. The article is titled “Death to Core Competency: Lessons from Nike, Apple and Netflix”: “In a world of rapid disruption, the idea of having a core competency–an intrinsic set of skills required to thrive in certain markets–is an outmoded principle”. It is very much related to the end of horizontal or vertical integration, and the advent of “functional integration” as wonderfully explained by R/GA CEO and founder, Bob Greenberg, and Barry Wacksman, EVP, Chief Growth Officer, discussing how to grow and thrive amid the chaos and the future of the industry and beyond, and explaining how they re-invent themselves every 9 years (click part-3 under the video stream to get right to the hart of the matter)
- People Innovation: we need a different type of person, more vulnerable and more human. With other strengths and skills. People with a creative life&work style: people who can experience and digest self-validation, risk and peer rejection, risk and peer validation, failure and triumph.
- Peer-to-Peer Innovation. P2P is changing everything. Not only technology-wise but also in the way people interact with each other without intermediaries or hierarchies. It even puts in question the need for any form of central organization to filter and dispatch ideas.
- Uber-Innovation: what if we would apply the Uber-taxi concept to innovation itself? And arm the participants in the innovation demand-and-supply chain with mobile devices, so that ideas can flow freely from the idea-generator straight into the last mile of the one who materializes the idea in a desirable product or service? Is this sort of “Uber-Innovation” just a wet dream, or is it exactly what P&G is doing with P&G-Connect+Develop ™, a first incarnation of this dream becoming reality?
“The Bridge” has also a special meaning in music. There is a whole Wikipedia page about it. I like the description for a “bridge” in a fugue:
“… a short passage at the end of the first entrance of the answer and the beginning of the second entrance of the subject. Its purpose is to modulate back to the tonic key (subject) from the answer (which is in the dominant key). “
But I am not such a classic guy ;-) I lived my youth in the 60ies, and 70ies and 80ies. I could refer to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over troubled water”, but I don’t want to go there ;-), especially with the people I invite to dance at the end of this post.
Then I prefer from far “Taking them to the Bridge” and shake the tree and the body with the famous James Brown song “Sexmachine”, here in a 1971 version with Fred Wesley.
James Brown and Fred Wesley are “taking you to the bridge” somewhere around minute 1:15. So while you are having fun and shaking your body, try also to think about the bridge and other ingredients for re-inventing innovation.
I also now just realize I made full circle to my blog post “My Boss asked me to dance!”, sharing that way my 2012 company objectives.
But this time, it’s me who is inviting Kosta and Haydn to join me in this dance, and have a collaborative, shared, and joined post on re-inventing innovation.
Let us take you to the bridge!