Make good use of your organisation’s talent: how trainees can drive innovation

Trainees are perfectly situated to drive innovation. Especially at the start of their traineeship, they have a fresh perspective and are not yet familiar with ‘business as usual’. Because they are new, they are capable of recognising a variety of opportunities for innovation.

However, even the most ambitious trainees won’t point out these opportunities, unless prompted. To starting trainees, everything is new. Therefore, they will likely assume that there are good reasons for any ‘illogical’ procedures and habits they encounter.

And to be fair, there usually are good reasons for seemingly absurd rules and practices. Seasoned employees can often explain perfectly why some set of rules has been introduced years ago. But while there might’ve been perfectly reasonable considerations to start working this way, that doesn’t mean all those reasons are still valid today…

The Fresh Eyes Journal

A great way to benefit from the fresh perspective of trainees and other newbies is by giving them a Fresh Eyes Journal. Ask trainees to list all the things they find curious. What do they consider strange, illogical or absolutely ridiculous? Give each trainee a notebook and some simple instructions:

  1. If you see something that seems weird to you, write it down
  2. Talk to other people: why do we do things this way? What’s our reasoning for doing this?
  3. What issues remain, even when you take into account what colleagues told you about the reasoning behind the practice?
  4. What solution(s) or alternatives do you propose? How can we fix this?

For more about the Fresh Eyes Journal, read this post.

Utilising the perspectives of newcomers with a Fresh Eyes Journal is a good start, but you could go one step further yet. Why not have trainees set up a nightmare competitor?

The Red Team

Red Teaming is a strategy that originated in the US army. The army uses this exercise to uncover weaknesses in its own strategy. A part of the team takes on the role of the enemy (the ‘red team’) and is tasked with keeping the ‘blue team’ from succeeding in a fictional mission. This way, the fictional enemy shines a light on weak spots in the planning and execution of the military’s strategy, enabling the army to fix these problems before the real mission starts.

Trainees could be your organisation’s Red Team, identifying any weak spots. While inefficient procedures in your organisation will probably have less severe consequences than military mistakes, unused opportunities can be very costly even in ‘normal’ organisations. It won’t hurt to see what your Red Team uncovers.

Ask the trainees to step into your worst competitor’s shoes. What innovation would this organisation come up with to shut you down? What weaknesses would this ruthless enemy use to strike?

By thinking like the competition, a Red Team quickly uncovers important weaknesses and risks. Use these to your benefit and take appropriate action. Pay specific attention to any opportunities that have been identified. What would happen if your own organisation acted on these, instead of a sly competitor?

A team of newcomers is great, but what makes a Red Team even more powerful is including some people who have been working in the organization for ages. After all, who better to point out all that’s wrong within an organisation than the people who have been frustrated by it for years? Together, the experienced and the new will form an unbeatable dream team.

Would you like to know more about destroying your own company (on paper)? In this article, you’ll read all about it.

Allow trainees to find their own solutions

Whatever the challenge, trainees should have the freedom to explore possible solutions. Sometimes, trainees are presented with a clear-cut problem with a fully developed solution attached. All they have to do is implement it. A waste of talent. If it’s manpower you’re looking for, don’t bother setting up a traineeship. The point of a traineeship is allowing (young) professionals to learn and discover. Therefore, don’t be too rigid about what kind of solution is acceptable. Outline the problem and indicate the desired result. Then give your trainees the freedom to use their best judgement to find a way to reach that goal. Not only will trainees learn a whole lot more, but they might also find solutions you would never have considered yourself.

Make it easy for trainees to talk to the different stakeholders. Push these stakeholders (including the problem owner!) to make time to answer any questions the trainees might have. Encourage trainees to explore the situation in which the problem surfaces. Make sure trainees aren’t ‘chained up’ working in a department where they can’t leave their desk. Give them some leeway.

Creativity is not a given

No matter how thorough your selection process is, young talent isn’t necessarily incredibly creative. Don’t count on the fresh perspective of the newcomers to miraculously save the day.

Creativity is a skill. Knowing how to use creativity in a structured way is something you’ll have to learn. As it is unlikely that your new trainees have learned much (or anything) about using creativity to solve problems, you’ll have to teach them. Make creativity and innovation a part of the traineeship’s curriculum. While recently graduated professionals won’t suffer nearly as much from fixed thinking patterns as your more experienced colleagues, even they will need some help to get going creatively. Offer young talent (and any other employees who show interest) training courses and guidance to help them solve problems creatively. Help trainees drive the innovation your desire.

Innovation Course

To help trainees fulfil their full creative potential, HatRabbits has developed an Innovation Course that fits the average traineeship ‘pool assignment’ perfectly. During the course, a group of trainees goes through all the phases of the innovation process. At the centre of this innovation journey is a challenge from within the organisation. During the course, trainees will develop a creative concept, test their assumptions and find a way to solve the central problem in a way that is supported by all major stakeholders.

The course consists of multiple training days, with practical assignments and coaching interspersed in between. At the end of the course, trainees will pitch their solution to the problem owner. It goes without saying that this problem owner will be included during the course as well.

Would you like to know more about this course and how it could fit within your organisation’s traineeship? Reach out to me at or give me a call on 0031 10 3070 534. I’ll gladly tell you more.

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