A conversation with Carl Damm, Co-founder of Strong Bright Hearts, Aarhus, Denmark
Innovation without meaning and motivation makes no sense - it might happen, but it won’t create long-lasting value!
Carl Damm and Strong Bright Hearts collaborated with Aarhus Main Public Library a couple of years ago on a project to involve and engage its users more. What he learned quickly though, is that there was an even more pressing need; for the library to engage itself. The employees needed to first create a culture where collaborative innovation was part of it, before they could invite others to do the same - or it would lead to nothing - was Carl’s argument. As is the case for most of us, we tend to focus on others before we focus on ourselves, but that is in fact a problem because how can others then count on your contribution? There is a Native American expression for this, hazro, the meaning of which is something like everyone’s responsibility to take care of his/hers own needs for the benefit of the tribe.
So through co-creation workshops where the employees changed their physical spaces, they were also being taught by example the tools and methods of involving others into projects. The rooms were changed so that they now invited more open collaboration. Some of the employees later became innovation consultants for the library themselves. What Strong Bright Hearts did was to start where the real need was and then work from there to ensure the effects would have greater chance of being anchored.
How might one sense the real need? In Carl’s perspective, it starts with a genuine interest in other people as well as the realization that people are not something to be managed and controlled. You must meet people empathetically; heart - to - heart. Really listen to them in order to be able to hear what they are actually saying thereby creating the conversations that matter. That is the case when you are working with softer, less definable things like organizational culture, but it is also the case when you are working with hands-on projects. If you are not working with the real need, the energy and motivation to carry something forward simply won’t be there.
Next is to work with the motivation to innovate and create change. As a consultant you can motivate and inspire which can somewhat feed into the whole culture. This was true for the collaboration between Strong Bright Hearts and Aarhus Main Public Library. But to create something new that will have long-lasting value, you must bring forth people’s passion. They must feel that their own sense of purpose links into the project’s. This is what Carl means by meaning-driven innovation.
Innovation is change and change happens one person at a time. To know where and with whom to intervene, and to amplify the beginning change process, you must keep the perspective of the whole system at all times. You tune the field by looking at the informal patterns, interactions and constellations among all the elements in the system. You work with where the energy is going and lead it from there. You build momentum from people’s motivation and support them when they are ready to take the leap from the known to the unknown, when they’re ready to go for something new - in other words, to innovate.
A final point is that the innovative leap is not linear. There are an infinite number of paths you could jump onto. The question then becomes which path do you have the courage and the incitement to follow. What is for certain though is that all things live and die and that a seed will always leave its shell to become a tree.