We are all keen for our teams to be more successful and innovative. This requires your team to be supremely experimental and enthused with constantly trying new approaches – probably showing significant levels of energy in doing this. But as engineering professionals, we are often also anxious about excessive risk and failure and thus try and steer our guys away from this experimental approach. All seemingly a gigantic contradiction.
Obviously, if you are dealing with highly critical safety issues, the last thing on your mind is to take risks and experiment. However, if you are developing a new product or service or looking to be innovative in your designs or approaches, you have to encourage creativity and experimentation.
A few suggestions for encouraging experimentation and innovation with your team include:
Encourage Divergent Thinking. This means suggesting a myriad of solutions to a problem. This is not necessarily directly creative but more focussed on generating heaps of different approaches to the problem at hand. For example, when you normally request one solution – ask your team for ten. As a manager or supervisor stop coming up with solutions but encourage your team to indicate what they would do. Drive them to come up with answers.
Let everyone experiment on their own. When a team member comes up with a potential solution, encourage her to go further and see if it works. Normally, if you pass the solution onto someone else to implement – it terrifies the originator who then becomes too cautious about what they are suggesting.
Make failure a mark of success. Indicate that the more failures there are, the more likely the team is successfully experimenting. Reward multiple attempts at a solution and do not penalise failure.
Thanks to Sara Critchfield at Harvard Business Review for an interesting article on How to Push Your Team to Take Risks and Experiment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson notes: All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
Yours in engineering learning