Playing at work: The key to productivity and innovation

In today’s climate of fast moving technology, heavy workloads and constant connectedness through mobile devices the vast majority of us have left play to the children and replaced it with work and responsibility.

So, we don’t have time for play anymore, it is only for kids….right? Wrong. There are umpteen studies on the benefits of play for children but now we are discovering that continued life-long play into adulthood is equally as important for our creativity, problem solving abilities, new skill development and emotional health.

Play is a doorway to innovation. Play stimulates our imaginations, helping us adapt and solve problems. Play arouses curiosity, which leads to discovery and creativity. In addition, the rewards of learning or mastering a new game teach us that perseverance is worthwhile. Perseverance is a trait necessary for innovation, and it is learned largely through play.

Play is also a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, children learn how to “play nicely” with others—to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. As adults, play continues to confer these benefits and has the ability to vastly improve working relationships.

Many of us are working longer and harder, thinking that this will solve the problem of an ever-increasing workload. But we are still falling behind, becoming chronically overwhelmed, and burning out.

Work is where we spend much of our time. That is why it is especially important for us to play during work. Without some recreation, our work suffers. Success at work doesn’t depend on the amount of time you work. It depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.

The Kingbridge Insight for this week: In short, make some time to play at work. Anything can be gamified with a little consideration – leader boards for certain activities, task timing etc. Even a short break to play a game completely unrelated to work has been proven time and time again to relieve stress and trigger creativity or allow a problem to be seen from a different perspective. Play at work may be perceived by some as ‘wasting time’ but in reality it increases overall productivity.

Advancing ‘Social’ Technology Improves Healthcare

With technology you have access to information on just about anything and you can collaborate on a myriad of projects and tasks across the globe. Yet, we have virtually no access let alone involvement in our own personal health information and management?

Doctor Leslie Saxon, Chief Cardiologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine envisions a medical system where patients and doctors become partners in health management.  As Founder of the Dallas CPR Classes and Center for Body Computing, an innovation think tank dedicated to wireless health Saxon believes that advancing digital tools in the medical industry could make tracking heart rate and blood pressure as simple as opening an app on your iPhone or checking your e-mail.

Many patients today, particularly those with cardiovascular distress, are provided implanted digital devices that track heart rate, blood pressure and sense abnormalities.  The information stored on that device however can currently only be read when the patient comes to the hospital to ‘download’.  After which all information is review by a physician and not made available to the patient.  A costly and inefficient system.  Saxon, has taken that technology one step further by partnering with medical device developers to add the ability to access the readings from implanted devices on mobile devices.  Basically, you and your doctor can get real time information anytime and anywhere.  It would be like having an office visit everyday and a complete physical every week without the considerable cost and time.  The data available could predict future injury and allow for preventative action customized to the individual.

The possibilities are endless.  Saxon is also working with BMW to develop a heart rate sensor within the cars steering wheel that will check the drivers vital signs.  Imagine, you get into the car, you are stressed and exhausted, the biometric readout in the car senses this and automatically plays calming music!

The Kingbridge Insight this week is taken from a well known principle of adult education which is that an adult learner requires engagement in both the learning process and the establishment of outcomes.  Lecturing and giving orders without providing the why is rarely effective.  Learning and development professionals have known this for decades and have made great strides in reforming organizational learning.  So why has medicine not done the same?  The doctors hold all the information and serve down dietary restrictions, exercise orders and make out prescriptions without providing adequate information to the patient as to why this is necessary and more importantly without involving the patient in the decision making process, and then are baffled as to why so many patients don’t follow these regimens they have been assigned.  That is not to say the doctors are to blame, the system is flawed.  We know this, and Einstein said it best when he so wisely described insanity as continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.



When did failure become such a bad word?

One of life’s most rudimentary lessons, ingrained in us from birth, is that we learn from our mistakes.  Why then as adults in the business world are we conditioned to look at even the smallest failure as grounds for rebuke?

Professor James Patell at Stanford Graduate School of Business has dedicated himself to challenging this mindset through a groundbreaking graduate course called Design for Extreme Affordability.  The course challenges the students to design low-cost products that can solve tough problems in the developing world. Forty students from across Stanford’s schools – engineering, medical, business and others – pair up with global partners who have concrete projects to tackle. The goal is to deliver nuts and bolts solutions, a way to implement them, and the means to sustain them over the long haul.  Over the last 10 years his students have been wildly successful at innovating some life changing products, and the key to success – encouraging failure!

Patell teaches his students the art of rapid prototyping, where the idea is to develp often and fail often thus allowing them to learn from all of the the large and small errors that occur at each stage to produce an end product that not only works but has been tested throughout its development.  Patell believes that many failures are a means to a great solution.  And the evidence suggests he is correct.  Some of the most notable innovations to come out of his students work include low cost d.light solar lanterns for villages without electricity, a childhood pneumonia treatment device (AdaptAir) that provides a custom fit for babies of all sizes to receive oxygen and the widely publicized Embrace blanket for premature infants.

So the “Kingbridge Insight” for today is a recommendation for a shift in mindset among business leaders.   Rather than measuring success as an absence of failure perhaps resilience and the ability to recognize failure as an opportunity to improve should be the true measure of business excellence.

The Collaboration Curve: Continuous Learning for Continuous Improvement

“Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value” 
~ John Hagel III, Harvard Business Review

We have all heard of the experience curve and the effects it has on reducing costs and time while increasing accuracy in product and service development- it’s logical.  However, the inherent flaw in the experience curve model for business is that once you reach a certain level of expertise the costs, time and accuracy continue to improve only marginally until a new innovation is introduced.  And it is with the collaboration curve that the innovation increases.

“We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning , rather than scaling efficiency”

The more participants you have working on a design or project and the more interactions between those participants in a carefully designed collaborative environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.  Essentially, because with continued collaboration comes continuous ideas that translate into continuous innovation.  It eradicates the lull in performance improvement that occurs in the experince curve model.

Take Apple for example.  They are experienceing a seemingly never ending cycle of expansion through the applications for their devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod etc.)  The reason of course is that they crowdsource.  Apple doesn’t think of the hundreds of application ideas and advertise them, they merely offer the platform and software neccessary for their users to develop apps based on their own ideas – and because of it the App Store is massive and Apple continues to gain revenue, reputation and offer continuously evolving product.

So I urge you to consider how you are applying the Collaboration Curve learning cycle in your organization?

Learning 2009 – Innovation with Elliott Maise

I had the pleasure and privilege recently of participating in Elliott Masie’s innovative Learning 2009 meeting in Orlando, Florida.  This was a gathering of over 1300 corporate education professionals whose job is to make sure that every employee is up to date in everything from corporate policy, new technologies, new products, regulatory requirements and the latest leadership strategies.   Given these times of exponential change and tightened budgets, these learning leaders have challenging tasks to accomplish.

And it wasn’t just corporations.  There were folks from professional societies and universities looking for new ideas.    Many government agencies from the Veterans Administration to the CIA  (The CIA has its own University) to representatives from each of the military services were present.   Like many organizations today the theme was how to do more, better, for less. 

The entire conference is loaded with innovative strategies that help participants learn faster and more productively.  Some examples:

1. During plenary sessions everyone sat at 6 or 7 person round tables.  It’s a huge room, but it is more friendly and encourages discussion.

2. Occasional 2 minute breaks were provided to encourage within-table discussions. 

3.      A Twitter feed was posted on a huge screen behind the speakers.  The MC (Elliott) periodically resteered the conversation to address a question or comment.

4.      An audience response system was employed periodically for assessing audience understanding and opinions, and occasionally to have fun.

5.      Guest speakers were interviewed by Elliott, Meet the Press style, to focus their talk on the learning aspects of whatever they do. 

6.      Guests included Capt Sully Sullenberger (who had never landed a plane on water before his experience on the Hudson), Malcolm Gladwell (talking about high performance outliers) and Betsy Meyers (COO of Obama’s election campaign). Great learning experiences.

7.      A few big names were brought in by low cost, high resolution video for a quick 5 to 10 minute interview.  That’s walking the talk on cost effectiveness.
new balance outlet
8.      The many vendors were organized in a standardized format equipped with large monitors.  The focus was content, application and learning, not hype.  Everybody is a learner.

9.      The majority of the meeting was spent in many small interactive courses run by experienced learning professionals.  This was a great example of harnessing the collective intelligence of the participants.

10. Perhaps the most interesting activity was the presence of 6 students from Champlain College’s Emergent Media Division who were given an assignment at the beginning of the meeting to develop a learning APP for the iPhone (smart phones are an increasingly valuable tool for instant and convenient e-learning.   They were told to interview at least 200 attendees, to select a group of advisors from them and to develop an APP that can be used for “On Boarding” new employees to any organization (history, policy, organization, how to do just about anything, who’s who, where everything is with maps and GPS).  They completed their task by the last day of the meeting and demonstrated it.  It was extraordinary and an incredible example of collaboration effectiveness.


I go to many different types of meetings and conferences all over the world.  Like you I want to use my time well…to learn, to be inspired, to make good new connections and have great discussions with old connections.

Elliott passed this test with flying colors.”

Innovation and Collaboration for Social Change: Dean Kamen’s Slingshot

Collaboration is often to innovation what gasoline is to a cars internal combustion engine.  Without the gas the engine is still a great technological innovation – it just won’t go anywhere.

Dean Kamen, famous for the invention of the Segway and the portable dialysis machine, makes a point of investing his time and money to create technologies that can improve the quality of people’s lives.  His latest revelation the “Slingshot” – a water purification system that can take nearly any polluted water source including urine and toxic waste and distill it into safe, clean drinking water –  could very well solve the worlds fresh water shortage and save hundreds of thousands of lives.  The power source for this dazzling distiller is perhaps even more impressive.  A modified Stirling engine it can generate energy from cow dung to grass clippings and produces enough energy every day to purify enough water for 100 people and light 70 light bulbs.  The entire Slingshot system was tested in the field for a full 6 months of operation and went off without a hitch.  With no filters, membranes and relatively simple mechanical parts it is estimated that the Slingshot could operate perpetually for 5 years without requiring any maintenance – just deliver and use!

Now for the tricky part – that’s right the 10 years spent perfecting the design was not the tricky part – finding the right collaborator to mass produce the units for distribution.  As a technology with almost exclusive benefits to the third world (for now anyway) investors perceive the production of this technology to be financially risky.  Until Kamen can find a company that can utilize parts or all of this technology for profit sales of a product in developed nations the Slingshot project is at a stand still.  There has been some interest from a small electric car producer, Tata in India to use the Stirling engine technology, however, this small investment is not enough for mass production and distribution of the Slingshot.  Evidently, turning a spectacular invention into a commodity has become the major roadblock for Kamen’s humanitarian technology.

Places and Spaces for Collaboration

Increasingly, the best ideas and creative innovations are happening through collaborations of organizations and individuals.  Which means that these innovations are not occurring at any particular organization – so where are they happening?  In the places and spaces between…………….

Satish Nambisan; social innovation researcher recently published an article entitled “Platforms for Collaboration” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that explores the importance of places for people to work together across sector and organizational boundaries to foster innovation. 

Whether virtual or physical, Nambisan’s research highlights the importance that each of these platforms be a neutral space where everyone has equal footing.  Of equal importance for any collaboration is the dedication of everyone involved to assist in cultivating a network culture – beyond their own organizational or sector boundaries to include broader perspectives.

Nambisan identifies three key platforms needed for successful collaboration and innovation; exploration platforms where the problem is jointly identified; experimentation platforms where solution ‘prototypes’ are developed and execution platforms; where the recommended solutions are first put into action. 

The infrastructure to support such platforms for collaboration is still underdeveloped and so those places and spaces that do strive to serve as platforms for collaboration such as Kingbridge, MaRS and Johnson Foundation are the pioneers of the collaboration frontier.