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  • Ben M. Bensaou

Eager to Innovate? Get Out from Behind Your Desk


In my last blog post, I described a simple way most organizations can jump start their capacity for innovating. It involved, first, giving everyone in your organization permission to innovate; then, creating opportunities for people to use, train, and develop their “innovating muscles.”


Specifically, I suggested inviting your team members to switch from the execution mindset to the innovating mindset by devoting 30 minutes to seeing their business from the customer’s point of view. Important insights and ideas for doing business better can arise from this simple activity.


Today, I want to offer another tip for switching on your organization’s innovating capacity. This time, the idea is to invite your team members to open their minds to entirely new perspectives.


Let me give you an example. (It's a story briefly recounted in my book, Built to Innovate.) A number of years ago, Starwood, the global hospitality company, was holding a conference in Paris with 700 frontline managers attending. Like many successful businesses, they worried that they were becoming stale, and they asked a team from INSEAD to help them seek out some new ways of thinking. The organization was eager to develop some fresh ideas that might help them stand out from the crowd in the ultra-competitive hotel industry.


The INSEAD coaching team organized for them a simple exercise—an expedition we called “The Desk is a Dangerous Place from Which to View the World.” The 700 attendees were divided into 64 teams, equipped with notebooks and cameras, and ordered to leave the conference rooms. The coaches sent them out to roam the streets of Paris, challenging them to find images, experiences, and insights that captured the eight words that described the company’s values: beauty, trust, thoughtfulness, luxury, individuality, inspiration, style, and approachability.


Three hours later, the managers came back with an amazing wealth of stories and ideas. They generated 1,700 ideas that were captured and sorted for possible use in innovation projects at Starwood. Some turned into themes for advertising and marketing campaigns. Others became the basis for whole new initiatives, including a program to create special family packages based on research into what kids want from a great hotel.


None of the 700 people who took part in this exercise was a specialist in innovation. But all of them found that simply stepping away from their daily routine and spending time exploring the world through a new set of lenses opened up floodgates of new ideas.


I remember, afterward, one participant sharing, “I didn’t know I was a creative type, but now I think I can do it.” When I heard that comment, I knew the day’s activity had been worthwhile.


A question for you: Can you recall a time when you stepped away from behind your desk and spent a few hours looking at the world through a new set of lenses? When was it, and what did you discover in the process? We’d love to hear your story, and so would the other readers of this blog.