Holding the space for Innovation

There is a metaphor for the concept “holding the space”. When a Jewish woman (or modern couple) goes into labor, there is an old lady sitting in the corner of the room, doing her knitting work. During all the pain, stress and big emotions of the process she just… keeps on knitting. She shows the couple without saying a word that she has seen it all before: There is no need for panic, it’s all part of the process, and everything will be fine. If she start screaming, you can start worrying… So, what can we learn from this elderly lady for our Innovation challenge?

Teams in distress
Innovation is most effective when working in teams, and they have (almost) similar phases. Forming, storming, norming, performing, and reforming according to Tuckman. Or getting together, fighting for understanding, loving, working and breaking up according to Slump:). Especially during the fighting phase in which teams struggle for team rules, ownership and values there is someone needed who keeps calm, shows without saying that it’s a necessary part of the process and only makes process interventions in order for the team to get to the next level. This e.g. team coach holds the space  for this team process. The idea that (s)he can intervene when things go out of hand is more important than actions.


Holding the innovation game
In innovation the tension is even higher, as the outcome of the process is unknown. Innovators need a space where they can overcome their internal blockades, like “I’m not sure if this is going to work” of “I’m thinking of cows now, and I don’t know why…”, and start experimenting. with crazy new stuff.  So how do you create this space as a facilitator?

1. Find a process model as a map. This is especially important for the rational / control freaks in the group. They can’t handle the stress of not knowing where we’re going, and they are right: why reinvent the wheel? So be smart, pick or create a good one.
In Daring Innovation (DI) we make use of Design Thinking.

2. Introduce social rules that define how we interact. For instance: we always react in a “yes, and…” manner, and we stop when we hear the buzzer. Depending in the length of the process you give space for the team to make their own rules.
DI: Applied Improvisation. 

3. Create a physical space that supports the objective of of the meeting. This means on the one hand that we need the right practical tools. On the other hand should the room feel congruent with the phase of the innovation process. Are we at “Hard Rock” or “Singing Whales”.
DI: different locations from class room to Fablab. 

Whatever you do: for the participants it should all feel logical and in control – you’re holding the space. If you want to learn more please get into contact or follow the open enrollment program Daring Innovation @debaak


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