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What Willy Wonka Knew: Conditions for Creativity & Innovation

March 21, 2012

“You know, they’re always telling you what to do, what not to do and it’s not conducive to a creative atmosphere!” – Willy Wonka

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas form an amazing culture, one kids dream about and corporate raiders attempt to steal. They also create an amazing product. The norms, protocols, and procedures of the Chocolate Factory are built to make the chocolate great and the work experience amazing.

The factory has something, other than Willy, going for it: Oompa Loompas, who creatively plan their work, sometimes in song, and are highly networked to ensure that everything from production to delivery to consumption is magical.

Government towns are policy factories, and that’s not meant disparagingly. They are full of “wonks” attempting to do great work. Together they form a factory that makes laws, which are delivered to states. Just like Oompa Loompas, wonks have norms, protocols, and procedures aimed to plan and create great policy that benefits citizens. But unlike Oompa Loompas, they are largely disconnected from the production and delivery systems–state officials and departments–who transform laws into action.

Unlike the highly networked policy makers, connections between state officials are weak. Geographic diversity, work culture, and history all hinder the ability of state officials to function as an efficient or effective network.

What do the Oompa Loompas have that state officials don’t?

A way to constantly communicate with each other. They have a variety of different communication tools used for collective problem solving. They also have incentives to do so. No communication, no singing and dancing, no problems solved = no great chocolate. Finally, Oompa Loompas also have the factory itself. The conditions are custom-designed to drive collective creativity, innovation, and connection.

Some organizations are trying to change the working conditions and systems that support state officials. We’ve had the privilege of working with the team behind State Refor(u)m, who is designing a new factory for connecting state officials implementing healthcare policy. State Refor(u)m provides a space in which state officials can better communicate, share resources, and understand their progress. While sadly, no tool can quite recreate the magic of the Chocolate Factory, there are tools that can accelerate collaboration and build community, providing real benefit for those who use them.

image: flicr thejcgerm

What Willy Wonka Knew: Conditions for Creativity & Innovation

Robert Q. Benedict

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