Why Innovation Needs Chaos

Andreia Vaz, Global Senior Creative Director of the 'Creating The Magic Team' at Merlin Entertainments, shared her thoughts at #CINOLDN


We often talk about the structures that need to be in place for innovations to succeed, but is there actually more to be gained from cutting loose?

In an interview with us earlier this month, Andreia Vaz, Global Senior Creative Director of the 'Creating The Magic Team' at Merlin Entertainments, described some of the ways she encourages innovation in her team:

"Every Quarter we have a 'Creative Day Out' for the whole team, where we do random activities that push us to do things sideways. From Toy Fairs to Build Play Machines in workshops.

I take my team every month to an 'Ice Cream Day' where we normally pick one activity (be it an exhibition or an immersive event) that we experiment and we take provocations away for our work, but we also have fun - which is key to letting our brains think differently and later make connections.

We also do other things such as Thinkubators or Brain Dumps. Overall, promoting 'headspace' is key to let innovation flourish."

While this may sound like a nightmare to some managers, this freedom to think is a large part of what has made Merlin Magic the second largest amusement park corporation in the world, with more than £1.59 billion revenue in 2017.

Speaking at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, Andreia Vaz went even further in detailing her thoughts on how innovation can be improved when the process is less structured.

Let Chaos Reign

Unlike managers, Andreia explains, creative people do not think in a systematic way. They favor a chaotic approach - so there's always going to be an element of chaos when working in a creative team. A creative idea is not the endpoint of an ordered process and it will not necessarily be thought through to the bitter end. Andreia believes that there's actually something really beautiful about this and it needs to be nurtured, because it's absolutely critical for innovation to succeed.

So how do you understand and balance these two worlds? How can you combine systemic innovation and the beauty of chaos?

The 95/5 Approach

At Merlin, their approach is what Andreia calls the 'mindset formula'. This is where they focus 95% of their time, resources, and money on the 'big bets' - the thing they know will make a difference in your business. At the same time, they also believe it is vital to leave 5% of their investment on the table purely to be used for the mindset of the team, a space where they have no plan at all. A space for them to play with ideas, experiment without a purpose or a goal - to 'just let it be there'. They normally put three-quarters of their monetary investment within the 95%, leaving the rest for the unplanned innovation.

What does Andreia think she has learnt from operating with a bit more chaos? "I think for me, the most important thing is the mindset of the space and the process of loosening up strict processes. It's really important to have some ground rules otherwise no one functions without a common purpose, you need to make sure you seek the same language, but loosen up your process. Wherever you can, do it with less papers, less templates. Always think, can you do this in an easier way, a quicker way?'"

"Listen to the passion and traction of your teams. This is absolutely crucial, most things happen when people are really excited about something. If people are talking about it around you it's because it's really important."

Key takeaway

  • Plan not to plan.

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