5 Steps to genuine Innovation in L&D

Helen Blythe Avatar

5 April 2017
Written by Helen Blythe Linked-in icon

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When you type ‘Innovation in L&D’ into Google, you’ll find pages on pages of articles about gamification, virtual reality and apps. The idea seems to be that unless you’re using masses of tech, it’s very hard for someone in L&D to innovate.

The word innovate stems from the Latin ‘innovare’ which means ‘to renew'. My experience of working with L&D professionals from some of the world’s largest companies is, if there is one thing they have to consistently do, it’s to renew. Over the last five years we’ve seen a shift towards more flexible learning and a more mobile, global workforce, for a lot of organisations. If Learning and Development wasn’t able to adapt, then they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the ever changing needs of their people. Adapting however, is different from innovating, so how can you move from being reactive to proactive and solving problems in a more creative way?

1. Become problem focussed

No, we don’t mean ‘solution focussed’. Managers for a couple of decades have been heard to say to employees ‘don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions’, but all the great innovative solutions have developed from problems without an obvious solution. By giving permission to share these hard to solve situations, and then explore them, you’re far more likely to find an innovative solution.

2. Solve the right problem

Sometimes people raise a variety of problems if you ask them. Or you might have a collection of disparate things you need to solve. It’s important to sift through them to find the root issue, or common theme between them all. Finding an innovative solution to a problem that doesn’t need to be solved takes you away from better things you could be doing.

3. Gather ideas

Innovation doesn’t have to mean collaboration, but there is something magical that can happen from people working together. An idea from one can spark a comment from another, which triggers a whole new way of looking at the situation. If you’re lucky enough to work in a team, or have access to people in the wider business, ask them for their ideas. Often a fresh perspective to a problem is the most powerful tool for prompting you to approach things differently.

4. Break the rules

You can find posters saying ‘the 7 most expensive words in business are ‘we have always done it this way’’, and I assume they sell, because it’s right. Innovation is about two things, using existing tools in a new way, or about finding a completely revolutionary way of doing something. The heart of innovation is breaking the rules, finding a new way and focussing on solving the problem. If you ask someone to create a new type of iron, they’ll still deliver something with a flat metal surface and a handle. Ask someone to design something to get the creases out of fabric, and you could have a variety of new solutions. As a lot of people say, the lightbulb wasn’t invented by continuously improving the candle. Put what exists out of your mind, and find a new way.

5. Find the solution, not the platform

People at conferences and exhibitions will often say ‘our people struggle with getting time out of the business, so we thought we would get an app for them to get the information’. While that may be the right platform, what they’ve not done is to think about the real problem and think about the solution beforehand. What are the barriers to getting time out of the business? Why don’t they see enough value from the training, to prioritise it over their current tasks? How much do managers value training and how do they see its importance vs other work? The solution may be something that can be hosted using technology, but confusing the platform with the solution can lead to spending a lot of budget and implementing a tool that is barely used.

These are the 5 steps to help you really challenge and think creatively about innovation in the L&D sector and don't forget that sometimes even the small changes may the ones that revolutionise the entire industry. You can find more on this in our "Challenging the Status Quo" course. Be sure to get in touch with any questions or comments via email, call or head to the website to chat with us.