Flying high with great ideas… How psychological safety can help foster innovation
By John Bessant
Try this. Get hold of a group of people, mostly strangers, and have them gather at the opposite side of a large room. Now run very fast towards them and, just before you reach them, leap off the ground and let yourself fly through the air.
Sounds a crazy thing to do and one which is not too healthy if they fail to catch you — yet it is a typical warm up exercise in the world of theatre. Groups of actors gather together to try and create a theatrical experience which will be memorable, drawing an audience into a journey of imagination. And in order to innovate in this fashion they need some core skills around building a sense of support for each other as they take risks and explore new ways of delivering that experience.
Flying through the air and hoping someone will catch you is a powerful way of developing that sense of support — and it underlines a key element in our understanding of what makes for effective innovation. We need a sense of psychological safety.
Innovation isn’t a solo act, never has been. It’s a team sport, a multiplayer game in which interaction amongst members helps create value from ideas. And a lot of innovation, particularly of the more radical variety, is about making it up as you go along — improvisation.
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