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Innovation dojo: facilitation principles for a holistic way of learning innovation

How does an organisation learn to innovate?

By Johanna Rosenbusch & Christoph Lütz

What does an organisation need to be innovative? The folks from strategyzer use the categories leadership support, organisational design and innovation practice to assess a company's innovation readiness. In other words: in order to be innovative, an organisation needs people whose innovation practice is supported by their leadership, enabled by the organisation’s design and who know how to innovate. As Innovation facilitators, we specialise on the last part:

How does an organisation learn to innovate?

Chris and I have both accumulated several years of experience in co-creating cultures of innovation by introducing people to an innovation mindset, mostly in corporate cultures. Our joint work includes a format called “innovation dojo”.

A dojo is the gathering place for martial arts students. The term literally means "place of the way" in Japanese

Our intention with innovation dojo is to equip participants with basic, yet directly applicable skills for innovation. And, ultimately, to broaden their mindset. Check these articles for an overview of the training concept behind innovation dojo - and this article on our vision of expanding your organisation's innovation culture.

We know from several conversations that participants, management and facilitators alike see the innovation dojo as very successful and inspiring. We believe that this is the result of several facilitation principles that are put to practice in the dojo. Based on the feedback we’ve received, we also think that these principles can be useful for the wider innovation and facilitation community. Therefore, we decided to share our insights as well as the outline of the innovation dojo itself. Our clear wish ist for others to pick this up and use it - an innovation dojo blueprint so to speak!

In the following, you’ll find a summary of the main principles we identified so far. As always, this is work in progress - we’re curious to see where it develops, to hear your thoughts, and to go more in depth in future articles.

# Innovation needs a holistic skill set

A triangle with the base at the top, pointing downwards. In the top left corner a visual of two diamond shapes next to each other. In the top right corner a visual of a speech bubble. In the bottom a visual of an arrow forming a loop.

When talking about Innovation skills, one usually means Design Thinking, Lean Startup or similar methods. However, in our experience, to actually make Innovation happen, you need much more than just those methods. This is why in Innovation dojo, we combine Design Thinking, Moderation techniques and Agile elements. Design Thinking itself is a powerful innovation process (and toolkit). To put it to use, we need to know how to moderate the people that work together. And the agile mindset and toolkit give us a structure for our collaboration.

# Innovation thrives when diverse perspectives connect

Three speech bubbles overlapping. On the top a yellow, round speech bubble. Below on the left a blue, rectangular speech bubble. On the right in red a thought bubble (cloud shaped).

The participants of the dojo are not only there to learn - they also contribute! Their questions, their experience, their ideas… The innovation dojo creates space for all of these - because Innovation thrives when diverse perspectives connect. Therefore, we recommend training Innovation in a diverse setting - with participants coming from different professional backgrounds, seniority levels, gender, nationality, etc. - and to have them meet in changing forms of teamwork.

# A choreography makes it easy to grow from learning to doing

In blue on the left: Three people on top of a half circle and over them a thought bubble in cloud shape with the text “So this is…” then an arrow that loops from the left visual to the one on the right, changing color from blue to red. Then a visual on the right, in red, one person with a thought bubble and the text “How do I …” and three people on top of a half circle.

The innovation dojo consists of 3 modules. It’s intentionally designed that participants gradually take over the responsibility for their own learning experience. The agenda outlines a growth path, from initially very guided sessions towards sessions where they step up and directly apply their learnings. From being coached through a Design Thinking iteration to planning and hosting their own session. From participating in a retrospective to giving it a try at moderating one. From being a “participant” towards becoming a “co-creator” - at the participant’s pace of choice.

# An innovation mindset can and should be applied in everyday work

In order to truly build a culture of innovation, an innovation mindset needs to be present also in everyday work. Yet participants often struggle to transfer their experience from the training context to their daily doing. While the dojo needs to be a “safe space” for learning, it should be as close to the organisations’ reality as possible, e.g. by

  • Asking for attention and sponsorship by the management - and informing them about the skills the participants will bring back

  • Using real and relevant cases from the organisations’ reality in the training - and give participants the space to also work on cases from their own daily work

  • Holding the training over several modules - so that it becomes part of the daily routine for a while (even more seamlessly in a virtual environment)

# Innovation dojo creates a space to grow - for everyone

All in red: four persons, one arrow going from the first person beneath the second to the third person (from left to right) and one arrow going from the fourth person on the far right over the third and second person to the first one.

What you’ve read so far is part of what we call the “dojo approach”. In a dojo, martial arts students from all levels regularly train together. Everyone is teaching, everyone is learning from each other - regardless of the level of experience. We use every chance to grow - also as facilitators. Inviting Alumni of past trainings to join the facilitators’ team gives them a chance to train their skills on the next level: In a first step they can act as coaches for the teams during team work. In a second step they can take over more responsibility as co-facilitators in plenary sessions. And maybe in the future hosting innovation dojos by themselves.

We hope you enjoyed this journey along the #innovationdojo and its #facilitationprinciples with us. Do get in touch and let us know!

We want to shout out a big THANK YOU to the RBI Organisation Innovation Team, especially to Nicole Stroj & Christina Pfeiler. And to Silvia Handler & Sarina Herold of the Innovation Office at WU Wien. Without you, this format wouldn’t exist.


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