Tracking the long-term impacts of innovation training
What are the long-term impacts on learners who have taken training in structured innovation? What do they recall? What is the long-term effectiveness of systematic creativity training with regard to building up creative confidence? Did the learning journey inspire some to pursue careers?
My colleague Dr Brian Hunt and I investigated these questions as part of my research programme on teaching and learning creativity and innovation. We will publish our complete results in a paper that I will present at the Ispim (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) Innovation Forum in Vienna in two months. Today, allow me to share some of our interesting findings here.
Background: Our new research builds on two earlier papers that introduced the course content and pedagogical design of a training programme in structured innovation, and then mapped out the learners' emotional journey through an experiential training course in business creativity (these findings were published in this column on Oct 27, 2016).
To investigate the long-term impacts of innovation training, we contacted 400 former learners via email and social media and collected 53 usable responses. The mean time that had passed since the respondents completed the course was four years, in spans varying from 1.5 to 11.5 years. The respondents were almost equally split between male and female, with ages ranging from 24 to 69 years with a mean of 33. Two of three were Thai nationals, with the rest coming from Europe (21%), the US (4%) and other Asian countries. What are some of the findings we uncovered?
Finding 1: Structured innovation training can anchor creative confidence and competence. Taking a well-designed training programme improved both creative confidence (self-belief in one's creativity) and creative competence (knowledge and skills in the fields of creativity and innovation) in the long run. Almost 80% of the former learners said they considered themselves to be more creative than their colleagues at work (confidence) and to know more about creativity and innovation than their colleagues (competence).
Many comments echoed the notion that "everyone can be creative" and that "you can systematically create creative results using methods and tools", underlining the themes of confidence and competence. One former learner said: "I now truly believe everyone is creative. I look at people around, and especially myself, very differently. I have a lot more confidence in thinking out of the box and pitching ideas. And with the belief, ideas flow."
Finding 2: Structured innovation training can inspire more creative career paths. Our data confirmed that being exposed to experiential training encouraged roughly half of the learners to pursue careers in creative industries or more creative business functions, or even to start their own creative ventures.
One former learner said: "I left the corporate world and joined startups in order to be able to create and try different approaches instead of being stuck with corporate compliance." Another said the training "helped me to launch my startup instead of working in a big company", and that the course "inspired me to pursue a career in indie game development where creativity truly thrives".
Others said the training helped them to approach their existing job responsibilities more creatively and successfully. One said the training "has given me a wider perspective and know-how in how to approach creative team building and in the brainstorming or knowledge accumulation process".
Finding 3: An enjoyable learning experience can enhance the recall and application of innovation know-how. Given that on average four years had passed since the learners were trained, we were pleasantly surprised how well they recalled innovation methods and thinking tools as well as key creative principles:
Many explicitly remembered X-IDEA, Thinkergy's innovation process method that formed the structural backbone of the programme. ("I remember all the stages of X-IDEA and their significance along with tools used in each stage, like jotting down as many ideas as possible on Post-it notes, merging them to combine ideas, etc.")
Others recalled and applied the TIPS (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) profiling method. ("My most memorable moment was when we learned about our TIPS profile and how our type relates to and interacts with others.")
A number recalled important creative principles, such as moving from idea quantity to quality, thereby transforming wild ideas into novel, original and meaningful concepts: "One main insight I gained was never to judge and kill any ideas at the beginning." Another noted that in the context of a structured creative process, "a crazy idea can become a practical one".
Finding 4: Course application and appreciation is most intensive at the upper and top management levels. Interestingly, former learners who now play leading roles in their organisations voiced the highest long-term appreciation of the training. While middle managers coordinate teams and work "in the business" with a focus on "getting things done", top-level leaders work more strategically and creatively "on the business".
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that an effective training in structured innovation with long-term impact should follow these course design tips:
Make learning fun, enjoyable and creative.
Design "sticky" activities to aid long-term knowledge recall.
Teach useful knowledge and skills with a focus on practical application.
Build up and anchor the creative confidence and creative competence of learners through realistic innovation practice cases.
Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Ltd (www.Thinkergy.com), an innovation company in Asia. He is also an assistant professor at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation-Southeast Asia (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University, and an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org