Ideas – here, there, everywhere!

One of the most fun things for me is to come up with new things and try them out. I not only ideate around work-related topics but also on anything or rather around everything.

Getting an idea:

Last autumn I participated in a session called “Dare to harness your intuition” in Dare to Learn 2018. At the beginning of the session, I met Riia Celen, a very intuitive Finnish artist and documentary director, for the first time. She drew pictures of the session participants; each picture reflecting her views on each of the participants, on people she had never met before. While drawing a picture of me, she told me that I have a lot of ideas – like a tree sprouting new leaves.

Wow! How did she know?!

Intuition


During the actual session, Asta Raami, a Finnish intuition lecturer, writer and researcher, mentioned that there are three places that foster creativity, the three Bs – bed, bath and bus. All these three are true for me as well. After I wake up in the morning, I love to lie in my bed and think. When taking a shower (we have no bath), I tend to think. And while driving back and forth to the office with my car (not on the bus), I use the time thinking.

According to Asta, the important factor in all these places is that our mind is more relaxed than usual, and our consciousness is in somewhat of a changed state. Asta further says that this kind of being lets our mind combine our thoughts more freely. We are also more playful, as our inner critic is not at its best state of mind. Thus during these moments of relaxation, we all – me included – come up with a lot of ideas. Sometimes these ideas come out of nowhere, without thinking of anything special, or at least that is how it feels like. Whereas sometimes, they come up as solutions for a dilemma or a challenge.

Still, not all ideas are related to the three Bs. Sometimes you get inspired by reading an article or a blog post or just by seeing an advertisement (like when I saw a toilet paper advertisement and came up with a team exercise: a team exercise.

Of course, ideas also bloom when we are working together with others. Like when walking and talking in the ancient streets of Pompeii with some like-minded colleagues and ending up forming Ericsson’s Agile Coaching Network. Or while hearing colleagues talk about an Ericsson conference held yearly at one of the sites, feeling envious, and finally touting out, ‘what if we arrange the first ever Ericsson Agile Conference?’ Or while ideating together and feeling that ‘continuous learning’ or ‘learning culture’ are not what we want to strive for and then just coming up with learning lifestyle as the thing – making learning more personal, something we all need to take ownership of.

From time to time, things evolve and become something new. For instance, we wanted to enhance the learning aspect of Hackathons and decided to offer learning sessions throughout the 28 hours of our Hackathon. In the end, it turned out that the employees participating were asked to teach others and we could not have the Hackathon at all. But, we did have our first ever internal Learnathon instead.

Occasionally things just happen without much thinking beforehand. Like when our coaches and line managers decided to participate in a Hackathon and had the first ever Non-Hackathon which made us realize afterwards that this was something new and really great.

Growing an idea

It is not enough just to come up with an idea. Ideas usually require a lot of work to become something great, like the story of our first external Learnathon shows.

I must say that I am privileged as I get to try out my ideas at work. In fact, as I have many teams, I get to try some of them out several times. This creates an ideal learning loop as no idea is perfect from the beginning. However, sometimes I feel a bit bad for a team that becomes the guinea pig, but in this way, the other teams have much better sessions.

Build the idea further

Finally, it is good to remember that not all ideas need to be brand new. You can build the existing ideas further by adding new aspects incrementally on the original idea.

Story of a recent idea

One of the challenges we have had lately is that of people feeling that they are not getting enough feedback in spite of us having worked extensively with the topic for many years (some of the ways I have shared in my earlier post.

There was a need for a new approach.

This time I was lying in my bed and thinking of different ways people give feedback, when out of nowhere came the idea of yearbooks. Aren’t they a form of giving feedback? Yearbooks are not part of the Finnish culture, therefore at this point of time, I had to wake up for real and start googling. I found instructions on what to write in a yearbook: “Write about a memorable moment you had together. Sure, there are bound to be many, but try to pick just one moment that has really stuck with you.” This is also a good starting point for giving feedback, hence I started to plan for a yearbook team exercise. The biggest thing was to make the actual books. I made somewhat team-specific versions of yearbooks with pictures of the past year on one side of the page, leaving its opposite side empty as space for feedback.

Yearbook cover 2017-2018


Still, the most important thing was not only to provide people with the possibility to give feedback as we had done previously but to also teach them the right way to give feedback. I decided to teach our people the Situation - Behavior - Impact (SBI) feedback tool:

  • When and where? Identify the situation.
  • What did you observe? Describe a behavior. Give specific description of what you observed.
  • How it affected you? Explain the impact on you. What you felt or thought in response to the situation and behavior?

Finally, it was time to try the idea out with the first team. Things went fairly well, just that I realized that next time I better add more information to the invitation so that people are able to prepare themselves: “To be able to give positive feedback during our session to each and everyone in your team, please try to come up with memorable moments you have had together with your teammates, the kind of moments you would like to compliment them about. Or come up with things you want to thank them for or with something positive you just want to highlight for the person in question and all the others.”

I also realized that leaving every other page empty was not good. People did not use the SBI feedback tool while writing their feedback to the yearbook, hence they did not practice the usage of the tool. Telling them about the right way to give feedback seemed insufficient. Therefore, I added a template to the empty pages of the yearbook.

Yearbook content


After these changes, the next session was just perfect! Feedback about this session tells it all:

  • One of the team members asked at the beginning of the session, 'why are we having a session where we are just going to give positive feedback' as he would only like to get constructive feedback. Still, in the end, he said that it was really great to hear all the feedback he received!
  • Another team member said that he hasn’t ever received this level of personal feedback in his life!

Similarly, it was really nice to read this article after having several more yearbook sessions with my teams: “Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it. By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her — by saying, ‘That! Yes, that!’— you’re offering her the chance to gain insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it. That is learning.” and “…describe what you experienced when her moment of excellence caught your attention. There’s nothing more believable and more authoritative than sharing what you saw from her and how it made you feel.” So true! We are on the right track!

Still, we cannot stop here and need to continue. Therefore I was happy to find this post which lists ten tips for finding real happiness at work. One of them is, ‘Happiness is sustained when we can step back and take a moment for appreciating ourselves.’ The post asks us to list:

  • Five achievements that I am proud of
  • My biggest strengths
  • Five compliments I would like to give myself

This got me thinking that in the next round, we will practice by giving ourselves feedback and we will use the SBI feedback tool again for the compliment part (as practice makes perfect). Then we take this one step further and give us – our team – feedback, listing the same topics together at a team level. Time will tell if we will all be happier at work after this.

Even Alfred Hitchcock had said: “Ideas come from everything.” Consequently, be ready for new ideas all the time and then do not just leave them there but try them out, improve them and build them further –  both technical and the non-technical ideas!


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Outi Vaattanen
Outi Väättänen is a senior Lean and Agile coach working in Ericsson R&D.
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