Innovation = Brain On Fire

There are questions that all of us – individually, and within our organizations – ask every day: How do you do your best brainstorming? You probably know at least a little bit about how you work best, but how do you grow? How do you learn new ways to think and solve problems?

Perhaps you’re like me – you want to focus on facts and details, follow a consistent procedure, reason logically first and consider emotions second, and persistently question. Picture this guy. If you’re like me (and Spock), it can be challenging to work on unstructured projects, think “outside the box,” and be open to unconventional solutions.

Luckily, last week offered an amazing opportunity to learn new ways of thinking when Floricane joined our friends at Child Fund International for a rapid innovation lab. Child Fund strengthens communities and families by supporting the resources children in poverty need to succeed, from education to health to nutrition and more. Unfortunately, across the international philanthropy sector, charitable gifts are stagnant. International nonprofits, like Child Fund, must innovate and attract new, sustainable donors.

Enter the rapid innovation lab as a creative, “outside the box” problem solver! Rapid innovation labs are an active, fast-paced method for building capacity, designing solutions, and creating and testing products. Lab facilitators help participants through a series of exercises that lead people from thinking big picture to thinking about concrete plans. Participants work in small groups and as a whole to generate ideas, design prototypes that bring their ideas to life, and receive feedback.

During last week’s session, three members of Floricane gathered with community stakeholders and Child Fund employees at the James River Winery.  The variety roles represented in the group all but guaranteed a solid foundation for productive brainstorming: from new college graduates to folks with a lifetime of experience in their careers, across disciplines.

The Child Fund lab focused on identifying new types of donors and developing new ways to capture them. First, we talked about products we love, and why (everything from mascara brands to favorite airlines). We then developed a list of ideas for donor engagement that tapped in to the themes associated with why we love the products we love. When coming up with ideas, we always said, “yes, and…” so as not to stifle the brainstorming process. Then we played with pipe cleaners! I never consider myself creative, but working with your hands to draw or model an idea truly stimulates your brain in new ways. By the end of the day, participants had generated a list of dynamic donor engagement programs, and the start of action plans that the Child Fund innovation team will take back to further develop.

Honestly, at first I was nervous. I wondered if I would be able to contribute effectively to a creative process that starts by focusing on the big picture. I worried about whether we would come up with the “right” answers for Child Fund. Needless to say, it’s hard to step outside of your comfort zone! In the end, the group was swimming in fabulous ideas. You could feel the energy in the room as action plans poured out of us. I left feeling like my brain was on fire – in an amazing way – reveling in the excitement of learning something new.

I am so glad I went “outside the box” and learned how important it is for me and the organizations we serve to shake things up, adapt, and take time out to innovate and dream!