Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

How Environment Affects Innovation

February 11, 2014 by Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute

People must feel safe to exchange ideas.

Creativity is critical to an organizations health and vibrancy. Creativity, by definition, requires generating as many ideas and solutions as possible.  

However, listen to some of the reasons we hear about why potential contributors do not express their ideas:

“People might think my ideas are stupid.” “I feel Im being judged.”  “Im intimidated by the presence of certain people in the room.”  

Why does this occur? This happens because an organization has not created an environment built on trust where employees believe they can share an idea that will be considered protected without judgment, knowing that they are contributing in a safe environment – one that encourages ideation.

Here is what we have learned: Collaborative, creative processes can only succeed when high levels of trust are present, and where ideas are separate from identity. To illustrate this concept:

  • Picture a cartoon character with a thought cloud expressing his ideas. The thought cloud is usually attached visually to the character; the thought cloud appears to originate from his head.
  • Now picture someone invited to attend an idea generation session; he/she should be encouraged to think of their ideas as thought clouds that are disassociated from themselves. In other words, the cartoon character and the thought cloud are no longer connected.
  • It is important to learn to visualize all ideas generated together as a group of thought clouds representing the team’s collaboration, rather than as the thought clouds of individuals.
  • As ideas are expressed, imagine the meeting room filling with thought clouds. 
  • When it is time to evaluate the ideas, imagine that some of the thought clouds multiply, some get larger, and some fade away all together.
  • There are many ideas floating around the room and as more ideas are generated, some extend and enhance ideas already shared and then those ideas get bigger. As we have discussed before, think about using two simple words that drive creativity and innovation. Those ideas continue to flourish, and could be fully  developed at that time based on that project.

In a trusting environment, ownership of ideas is not the focus; It does not matter who first expressed the idea – the key is that the ideas get expressed! Use this framework to help your team create a safe environment where individuals now say, “I’m comfortable sharing my ideas, no matter how unconventional, because people are not judging ME or MY ideas.”


How does your organization create a safe place to share ideas?



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Posted in Business Excellence | Tagged Creativity, Innovation, Collaborative Culture, Ideation, Bruce Jones

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