The Serious Business of Sandboxes
Constructing places where employees can collaborate, improvise, and watch one another work can spur creativity.
by David Clarke
Remember the concept of the Innovation Sandbox we discussed at Kellogg. This is a further refinement of it.
The best place for your business to enact his advice — to create and “make tomorrow” — is in a sandbox. Think about it. Sandboxes are venues that bring together all kinds of kids in an open but finite space that encourages exploration and interaction with little threat of harm.
I’m not suggesting that CEOs build wooden frames in the corner office and fill them with sand. Rather, the idea of a sandbox provides an apt metaphor for the type of collaboration and interaction that should take place in the open, communal office spaces, virtual meetings, management retreats, and other places where we work now. When you create successful conceptual sandboxes in the workplace, you can eliminate organizational silos, allowing your workers to better understand what their colleagues do and more fully grasp what your business is trying to achieve.
Four features every sandbox needsAs any parent knows, not everyone in a sandbox collaborates in a nice or productive manner. The benefits of group play can quickly be undermined if the chemistry isn’t right. To make the most of the experience, every sandbox needs four key features.
Connectors. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, describes connectors as individuals who know a lot of people from different professional, social, cultural, political, and economic backgrounds and have a habit of introducing them to one another. “Their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality,” he writes.In business, I think of connectors as having additional attributes. They are people who have a broad appreciation for diverse talent and an ability to work horizontally across teams
Framing. (In MDG, we used Decision Criteria to set the context) Real-world sandboxes need well-defined frames — otherwise the sand leaks out. In the business context, sandbox designers have to construct a virtual and conceptual frame by setting the proper context to solve for your business issue
Space. The biggest value sandboxes hold for organizations is that they enable employees throughout the workforce to see, feel, and operate in a collaborative state. When companies replace meetings and phone calls with an environment in which employees can actually participate in how their colleagues work, employees broaden their understanding and acceptance of different individuals’ skills
Speed. (this is different than we teach in MDG) According to PwC’s January 2016 U.S. CEO Survey, 78 percent of U.S. CEOs are somewhat or extremely concerned about the rapid pace of technological change. Although it’s true that tech waits for no one, part of their fear is rooted in simple corporate inefficiency. Too many organizations still operate under the handoff method, where different parts of the workforce are pulled into projects at different times. The beauty of the sandbox approach is that it provides a holistic vision of the product road map, allowing organizations to move at the speed of tech.The MDG Innovation Sandbox