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Stop Sprinting and Start Jamming

by Rich Nadworny
4 min read
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Learn how jamming provides huge benefits to innovation efforts.

Who wants to spend their time making mad dashes to the finish line, collapsing in exhaustion without winning? Let’s face it: you may not actually solve your wicked problems in two days. Maybe this focus on brevity and results is misguided and unrealistic. Instead of obsessing about manically sprinting, it’s time we focus on jamming instead. The Design or Innovation Jam.

Design and innovation sprints seem to get more and more popular over time. Or maybe it’s better to say that organizational leaders seem to have fallen in love with the concept of sprints. For them, it answers the question “How can we show that we are trying to solve our really difficult and complex problems in the shortest, fastest, sexiest way?” But it begs the question: Who wants to spend their time making mad dashes to the finish line, collapsing in exhaustion without winning?

girl on the track resting after sprinting

It gets worse. The original design/innovation sprint format developed and spread by Jake Knapp in his book “Sprint” — built from his experiences with Google Ventures — suggested a 5-day structure to quickly make important decisions. Five days isn’t really that long but apparently, it’s too long for most decision-makers who typically ask for four or three or two day sprints instead. It’s a sign that most leaders don’t really feel comfortable making sure that the team has the necessary time for change or innovation.

Let’s face it: you may not actually solve your wicked problems in two days. Maybe this focus on brevity and results is misguided and unrealistic. Instead of obsessing about manically sprinting, it’s time we focus on jamming instead. The Design or Innovation Jam.

I’ve been thinking about jamming lately. It’s probably because I’ve watched the new Peter Jackson TV series Get Back a couple of times and I realize I will never get tired of watching the Beatles jam and play together to help them create their timeless music.

Think about a jam in the musical sense: a group of musicians, usually playing different instruments, get together to practice old tunes, figure out new tunes, and copy others’ tunes. There is playfulness and exploration happening without the expectation that a completely recorded song will come out of the jam session. The jam session is the preparation for either a live show or a stint in the recording studio to produce something. In the jazz or Grateful Dead sense, it is a preparation for a live jam.

The reality of the jam is that it encourages experimentation and collaboration: Let me try this — What are you doing? — Does it work together? — Let me try this. After the jam and before the live session, musicians usually/sometimes will take what they’ve done in the jam sessions and even practice alone.

All of this experimental collaboration is focused on delivery: creating unforgettable or extremely enjoyable musical experiences for the audience. I think you can easily swap out that last part for “innovation” to describe what we in organizations are after.

So rather than an extremely exhausting sprint to the finish line where speed seems to have the greatest value, imagine that instead, we organized Innovation Jams — times when people of different experiences and knowledge could come together, share thoughts, ideas, and inspiration, and play with them.

Imagine that in-between jams, each of the participants “practiced” what they learned and experimented and expanded on the thinking for the next jam. After a few innovation jams, the group would be ready to perform — that is try out and test one or more of the developed compositions with the audience — aka user testing. And so on and so forth.

I think jamming instead of sprinting would have a couple of huge benefits to our innovation efforts:

  1. It would remove the unrealistic expectation that your team will solve a wicked problem in two or three or five days.
  2. It would encourage collaboration, curiosity, and experimentation rather than focusing on completing set tasks.
  3. It would critically give people time in between jams to think by themselves. We make a huge mistake in not prioritizing this but I’ll bet that no true innovation has occurred without it.
  4. It would encourage us to invite new band members into the jams. To inspire or test us.

I guess it comes down to this:

Would you rather have someone yelling “RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”?

Or would you rather have someone ask you “We’re jamming together, care to take your instrument and join us?”

This post was first published on the Hello Future website.

post authorRich Nadworny

Rich Nadworny,

Rich is an Innovation Lead at Hello Future in Sweden. Previously he was design drector and co-founder of Savvy Design Collaborative. At present, Rich works with large Swedish institutions to help build and foster cultures of design-driven innovation and human-centered ways of working.

Between 2015-2018 Rich was the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center. He trained African entrepreneurs in the YALI program through his course Design Driven Entrepreneurship.

He has a background in digital marketing and service design through his firm Digalicious and as partner, digital strategist and creative director at the brand agency Kelliher Samets Volk.

Rich teaches human-centered design at the Royal School of Technology (KTH) in Sweden.

He was a commentator on Vermont’s National Public Radio station (VPR) between 2009-2018 and blogged at Huffington Post. He has a B.A. from Dartmouth, an M.S. from Boston University and studied design/innovation at the California College of Arts.

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Ideas In Brief
  • Jamming when designing promotes experimentation and teamwork while sprinting can become misguided and unrealistic.
  • The author draws an analogy between the creative process of producing music and design and shows the number of benefits of jamming:
    • Jamming removes false expectations on the team to accomplish tasks within unrealistic deadlines.
    • Jamming promotes collaboration, curiosity, and experimentation.
    • Jamming allows people to have quiet time between jams to reflect and think by themselves; this gives rise to innovative ideas within the team.

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