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Innovation cards are a new way to develop the habits of successful innovators. They can be used by individuals or by leaders that seek to improve team innovation or establish a culture of creativity. You play a card daily to experiment with and eventually master a proven innovation practice.
Innovation everywhere and all the time means that innovation is more than a process or special organizational program, it needs to be a matter of employee habit. Habits are ingrained and automatic ways of thinking and behaving that we learn from experience. The question is what are the habits of highly-effective innovators? And how can we help employees learn them from experience?
We know a lot about the skills and habits of successful innovators. A review of the literature (see References in Materials section for details) reveals innovators are successful because they:
- Find and are energized by an innovation calling
- Reframe thinking to find new ways of creating value
- Learn rapidly and deeply from experience
- Influence others to adopt new ideas and practices.
In short, the best innovators have a cause, think flexibly, experiment and can influence others to take action. Each of these four competencies involves specific techniques and vital behaviors that can be learned from experience and mature into habits. As far as habit formation goes, there is nothing unique or difficult about innovation habits, they are like health habits, relationship habits and other habits. This means we can use behavior change techniques that have worked in other domains to develop an innovation habit.
This is exactly what our team is doing now. We are applying a small-step behavior change technique called knowledge cards to the challenge of developing innovation habits. Knowledge cards or kCard for short work by nudging us daily to experiment with simple but vital behaviors associated with the new skills we want to master. For example, if I want to improve customer service skills I must practice smiling and explaining what I am doing. While we all understand smiling is important for a positive customer experience we do not always practice it as a matter of habit. There is a gap between our knowing and doing. Knowledge cards are 3x5 cards that include a title that promises a benefit, a motivating quote, a single thought and a single behavior to practice regularly. By breaking change into such small well-engineered steps, the gap between knowing and doing shrinks and the probability of trying something new increases dramatically.
An example kCard is shown below.
This card teaches the use of mindfulness to improve observation skills as part of learning from experience. The card’s title provides a simple description of the behavior to experiment with and the motivation for doing so. The quote is an opportunity to build energy or refer to authority to strengthen motivation for the experiment. The title and quote also clearly reflect the attitude or value that stands behind the effective use of the technique.
The THINK section of the card lays out a hypothesis to test by describing the technique and offering additional context or the supporting attitudes and values. The DO section describes exactly what to try out. There should be no doubt about what to do.
Imagine having decks of knowledge cards covering all the techniques, attitudes and behaviors needed to learn the four competencies of innovation. You could play the cards daily and quickly discover those techniques and behaviors that work best in your context. The deck accelerates the learning from experience process because it predefines most of the relevant experiments for you to try but still leaves room for individualized experimentation. The back of cards can be used to document the results from each play creating data to learn from. Having a card to carry with you during the day (or an electronic version on your phone or tablet) acts as a natural reminder to try the experiment. Each card is a nudge. Sorting through the deck to select just those cards that fit your environment and learning needs creates a personalized path which means fewer cycles and more immediate results.
In short, kCards naturally support every step in the learning from experience process. They tell us specifically what to try and provide guidance on how to observe and interpret. The choice to continue with a card or select another one can be simplified with instructions for how to use the deck. For example, you may want to play a single card until it becomes a habit or you might want to play different cards every day.
The best knowledge cards can be read in less than a minute and include vital behaviors that can be tested with a 2-3 minutes of effort. This small-step design is critical as it keeps the cognitive load of learning from experience down to a manageable level even for very busy people.
The kCard approach is grounded in the science of behavior change and has been tested and refined by over a hundred clients and graduate students in dozens of firms across multiple industries.
Our team has created a set of five knowledge card decks designed to support the innovation habit including decks to:
- Find Your Innovation Calling
- Reframe Your Thinking
- Sharpen Your Observation Skills
- Sharpen Your Interpretation Skills
- Sharpen Your Influence Skills
Taken together the decks offer 125 cards all backed by research that teach the habits of successful innovators including having a cause, thinking flexibly, experimenting and influencing others to take action. The decks script a small-steps learning experience that accumulates over time into an innovation habit.
A description of each deck along with a list of card titles can be found in Innovation Card Overview in the Materials section of this Hack. You will also find a Sample Innovation Deck that provides 25 cards so you can try them out.
We are developing an iOS application for the iPhone and iPad called NewHabits. The NewHabits app will make it easy to access, use and share not only the innovation cards but other knowledge card application as well. We expect to launch the NewHabits app later in January. Sample screen shots are shown below.
Once authored, knowledge cards can be deployed in a stand-alone fashion or embedded in training, development programs, coaching, culture management or continuous improvement programs. They work best when:
- Participants receive a brief orientation to the knowledge cards concept and understand why the organization is using them.
- The learning and habit formation occurs as participants work and interact with others at home and in the community so no off-line training time is required. But an expectation to play a card each working day and record results should be set.
- Participants are free to select the cards they play and are encouraged to write their own cards and share them with others.
- Participants working on the same deck can interact with each other (in-person and on-line) to share experiences and build community.
- A part-time facilitator is available to answer questions, teach others how to write knowledge cards and expedite group interaction.
- There are specific outcomes or behaviors that can be observed that signal progress toward the new skills and behavior changes the cards were designed to create. Formal outcome measures as well as anecdotes and impressions from participates can be used to demonstrate progress or spot problems.
Below are the use guidelines that will be published for the NewHabits app.
You can play NewHabit cards by yourself, with a partner or in groups. Use them as standalone program or to augment other training, development and coaching materials.
- Get started by picking any card that interests you
- Play a card every day or every few days
- Expect to play a card multiple times
- You can play the same card repeatedly or pick a new card
- Try each card in the deck at least once unless it is already a habit
- To master a card play it as many times as it takes to become a habit
- You don’t need to master all the cards to see big improvements
- Expect to play a deck for at least 90 days
- You should see improvements or gain insight every few days
- Jot down ideas for new cards or decks
- Share your cards
Knowledge cards produce organizational behavior change and help form new organizational competencies from the bottom up. They trigger a continuous organizational learning process that requires little infrastructure, investment or formal management.
There are three general impacts knowledge cards produce:
- Skill building and lasting behavior change in the target area
- Community among staff using a deck
- Increased individual capacity and skill for learning from experience.
Over time the innovation cards will change employee attitudes, assumptions and skills for how to solve problems and develop opportunities. The techniques involved in each of the five decks are reviewed below.
The Find Your Innovation Calling deck teaches how to find deeply compelling problems and opportunities to work on and how to persist in the face of resistance and setbacks. Techniques include:
- Problem and opportunity finding that stirs the heart, mind and soul
- Tapping the seven sources of innovation
- Developing a network and circle to test ideas and stay energized.
The Reframe Your Thinking deck teaches how to think flexibly about problems and opportunities. Techniques include:
- Lateral and divergent thinking
- Helicopter and systemic thinking
- Structured inventive thinking
- Visual sense making, appreciative intelligence and metaphors.
The Sharpen Your Observation Skills deck teaches how to use all five senses to drive the deep learning necessary for innovation. Techniques include:
- Engage sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell
- Master mindfulness or being fully in the moment
- Study surprise, special moments, emotions and intense beliefs
- Field work, immersion, questioning and recording.
The Sharpen Your Interpretation Skills deck teaches how to make sense of observations and test ideas that drive the deep learning necessary for innovation. Techniques include:
- Manage cognitive biases that lead to faulty inferences
- How to think systemically and embrace complexity
- The art of informed guessing
- Prototyping, think-aloud protocols and feature-to-value mapping
- Use social media and networking to test with divergent groups.
The Sharpen Your Influence Skills deck teaches how to persuade others to try, adopt and share your innovation. Techniques include:
- Craft and deliver compelling messages and stories to accelerate adoption
- Provide support and incentives to early adopters
- Being authentic, likeable and appreciative
- Five factors that control the rate of innovation diffusion
- Opinion leaders, expert endorsements and indirect influence.
Employees that master some of the innovation cards will have a cause and increase their capacity to think flexibly, experiment and influence others to take action. This in turn will increase the organization’s capacity to innovate everywhere and all the time.
Try these two quick experiments:
1. Ask employees to check out the NewHabits app, try a few of the cards for two weeks and then write a brief recommendation to use or lose them.
2. Ask for volunteers (10 – 100 depending on the size of your organization) interested in a 90-day experiment on improving innovation skills. Brief volunteers on the knowledge card concept and have them review all 125 innovation cards and select 10 to focus on. Review their selections and establish outcome/behavior measures for the experiment. Enlist a facilitator or the participant’s managers to set-up a baseline, 45-day and 90-day measurement. Have participants play their cards over the 90 day period keeping a journal and on the experience. Complete measurements, debrief participants and draw conclusions.
Many variations of this experiment are possible. For example, you can select participants rather than ask for volunteers or focus the experiment on specific innovation competencies – for example reframing or finding an innovation calling. Working with training, quality or continuous improvement groups can be a good place to start.
Consider this more audacious experiment:
Knowledge cards can have a bigger impact if participants write them as a group. Training participants to write effective knowledge cards is not difficult. We have done it with hundreds of people. In this experiment participants write, share and play their own innovation cards. This lets the cards reflect your organizational context and challenges upping their effectiveness. Once trained a small group of participants can quickly crowdsource a deck of knowledge cards.
Writing knowledge cards is a great way to transfer general learning from books, classrooms and training programs into immediate action and experimentation in the workplace, home or the community. Having participants write and share their own cards during training, development or coaching not only addresses the learning transfer problem, it builds a sense of community and allows the power of diversity to come through in the process.
With the group writing knowledge cards you can create large decks quickly and cheaply. The cards reflect diverse backgrounds and individual differences of participants in terms of the quotes, techniques and behaviors that are selected. Although individual, these preferences are often shared with a few others in the group. By allowing individuals easy access to the entire deck they can quickly self-select those cards written by others that reflect their style. This is how YouTube and other large user generated content sites work. While there is a lot of “junk” on the site but it is easy to find just what you like and the content with broad appeal naturally bubbles to the top.
Having a group author a deck of knowledge can create trusted relationships and common interested around the goal of improving innovation. Community members help each other by sharing cards, making suggestions on how to improve cards and sharing experiences about how they played cards and the outcomes the create.
Taking the crowdsourcing approach to creating a deck of knowledge cards is especially effective in culture change efforts and when the group is trying to learn new soft-skills such as communication, leadership and improved team work. It should be ideal for innovation.
The group should be facilitated by a knowledge card expert to insure a quality deck is created. Once the deck is created a test similar to the 90-day experiment above can be conducted.
Knowledge cards as a small-step behavior change program was developed and has been implemented numerous times by Mark Clare, Adjunct professor, Northwestern University and Founder, New Value Streams Consulting.
Hundreds of clients and graduate students at Northwestern University in the leadership and learning and organizational change programs that have authored, applied, tested and refined various knowledge cards deserve credit for advancing the concept and practice of knowledge cards.
The NewHabits App is being developed by a technical team led by Jason Becker, COO of DyKnow / RICS Software and co-founder of remember.com.
The competency model and content for all five decks of innovation cards was authored by Mark Clare. This work was inspired by the efforts mentioned above as well as the many fine published studies on the habits of successful innovators (see references in Materials section).