Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Publishing Date: October 20, 2022
Pages: 272 (Hardcover)
If you want to change a lightbulb in the church, you have to ask the governing board to appoint a committee to form a task force to draft three proposals for the best way to change the bulb. By the time the task force has come up with their proposals, three more bulbs have gone out and the task force has to start the process all over again. This scenario might be a slight exaggeration (note: slight), but it is an example of the ways organizations have structures in place that make innovation and creativity difficult. By the time a creative or innovative idea has gone through all the red tape, the momentum has dissipated and innovators have become discouraged. In the book Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit inside Your Organization, Scott D. Anthony and friends write about the “shadow strategy” within each organizational structure that makes it difficult to keep the creative energy flowing.
Utilizing real world case studies and handy acronyms to help the reader internalize concepts, the authors of Eat, Sleep, Innovate have created a resource guide for leaders looking to prioritize innovation in their companies. The authors’ core conviction is that transformation is possible when organizations are willing to focus on their customers, when they empower people to pursue change without a fear of failure, and when a team makes innovation its primary task. This cannot be added to an already overloaded person’s work requirements, and it is not something available only to the creative few. They wrote, “While many people still believe that innovation is a mystical activity that requires God-given skill, it is in fact a discipline”1.
“When a company or organization does something different…and that different behavior creates value in some way, innovation is happening.”
Innovation is defined as “something different that creates value.” While the definition might seem broad, it was left so intentionally. Innovation is not confined to technological advances or business changes that make money. When a company or organization does something different (not even necessarily something brand new), and that different behavior creates value in some way, innovation is happening. These changes, large or small, make a positive impact on the customer and/or on the employee, which makes the whole experience better.
The authors identify five behaviors of innovators: curiosity, customer obsession, collaboration, adept in ambiguity, and empowerment. These five behaviors push people to think differently and give them space to try new things. I found these five behaviors a helpful framework–especially empowerment–as I think about creating space within my congregation for innovation. So often what stops people from trying something new is the fear of failure or the fear of making mistakes. An innovative culture empowers people to try things and celebrates the attempts, even if those attempts don’t end in success.
“An innovative culture empowers people to try things and celebrate the attempts, even if those attempts don’t end in success.”
Eat, Sleep, Innovate is replete with acronyms. I struggled to keep the acronyms sorted in my mind, which made the book a slower read for me. But, one acronym that will stick in my memory as I seek to lead my congregation is BEANs (behavior enablers, artifacts, and nudges). An organization that innovates will be full of BEANs (see what I did there?). For example, if you want your employees to have space for conversation with one another, you might take a look at the break room to see any potential barriers to personal interaction. Then, you will pursue “behavior enablers” (the BE in BEANs) to make the kind of behavior you want to see easier and more instinctive. One company created a “buddy table” for anyone who wanted to sit with someone else for lunch. The creation of the “buddy table” enabled more interaction and conversation among the staff, which helped build the collegiality the company was hoping for.
In my congregation, we have two youth groups (one for junior high students, and one for high schoolers). We wanted to form relationships between these two groups, but we struggled with how to do this. Eventually, we took a multifaceted approach. We invited both groups together for celebrations and service opportunities, and we created a shared mealtime in between the meeting times for both groups. We have watched these combined activities bring the kids closer together, but it required us to shift our thinking. We needed to create behavior enablers to make growth and relationships possible.
“ We needed to create behavior enablers to make growth and relationships possible.”
As an organization makes space for innovation, they will observe the behaviors that are taking place, and they will imagine what behaviors they would rather see in the future. This involves exploring obstacles to those desired behaviors and dreaming up behavior enablers that will help shift the culture of the organization. A session in which an organization comes up with BEANs to try out is called a BEANstorm, and while not all of these BEANs will be successful or possible, some of them may make meaningful change possible.
This book is one I would recommend as a resource guide rather than a “sit down and read it in one session” kind of book. The case studies could be explored with key leaders at weekly or monthly meetings, and an activation session could be planned using the guide in chapter 4. Eat, Sleep, Innovate didn’t teach me much that I didn’t already know, but it gave me language to describe what innovation looks like. I’m eager to use some of these tools in my congregation as we envision the future into which God is leading us. I think our next board meeting will be cloudy with a chance of BEANs.
p. 23 ↩