Why creativity and innovation is ‘child’s play’


By James Allingham, Head of Innovation and Growth, Health Services, Bupa ANZ.

A few weeks ago, UNICEF Australia and the Bupa Foundation brought together 150 year 10 students for the Better World Youth Summit at Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo so they could share their thoughts on how cities and neighbourhoods can support the wellbeing of children and young people.

As part of the Summit, I had the privilege of co-designing and running an innovation session alongside UNICEF Innovation Lead, Zunilka C Whitnall. The session with the students was an eye-opening experience for me.

The session

For our session we wanted to take the students out of the more structured, day-to-day ‘rote learning’ they experience at school and get them to re-embrace their innovative and creative sides. We needed to get their ideas flowing quickly and without hesitation, so we set up a “Sprint 6” session.

We split the children into groups and gave them 6 minutes to come up with 6 ideas on “the things you would change about your local area”. This quick-fire thinking was a great way to inspire creativity and quickly source ideas. A follow-up activity to have the teams showcase and cluster their ideas helped them see where they had come up with things in common. It got them out of their shells and open to sharing their ideas while receiving feedback from their peers.

Once they were in the zone, they were then given the challenge to design their future with a table of students from varying demographics they had never met before.

Early into the challenge, I noticed one group seemed to be struggling. I asked: “so, what are your big ideas for the future?”. The response was unexpected. “Kebab shops. Lots of Kebab shops!”.

The default thinking I witnessed wasn’t what we usually experience where the ideas sometimes can be too simple. It was more of a conscious emotional response that pointed to a lack of confidence. The kebab shop idea showed me that it wasn’t often enough that these students were given the trust or belief that their opinions were of value on important decisions or problems.

Unphased, and keen on kebabs myself, I started an open line of inquiry to get them on track: “where will you put the kebab shops?”

A simple prompt and a sprinkling of encouragement and interest was all this group needed. This group went on and created an amazing presentation with amazing ideas unique to the other groups.

After a lively session, some of the ideas that came out of the session across all the groups were:

1.       Religious education, not to convert, but to create an understanding and empathy to reduce discrimination.

2.       Free psychological counselling for all young people; noting that affordability is a barrier for many.

3.       More green spaces with multiple purpose-driven activations to both bring people and the community together and improve the environment.

Amazing right?!

The lesson

One of the key things that was reinforced at the session was how ready and willing young people are to innovate – it's just what they do, while adults are often stuck in their ways, beholden to the way things have always been done.

Seeing their ideas come to life reinforced why it’s so important to listen to kids when we’re creating things for the future – they see beyond the barriers put in place by a somewhat jaded society and focus on what is needed to make them happy. We just need to give them the opportunity to raise their voice and listen with an active ear.

So, what can we learn from young people to help us succeed as a society and at work?

1.       We need to engage young people more often. Provide them a safe space to express themselves, to tackle big problems and be empowered. Push past kebab shop doubt and help them find their confidence to grow into amazing people who will do amazing things. That’s why I’ll be encouraging my kids and their friends to design their ideal city of the future as part of UNICEF and the Bupa Foundations Better World competition.

2.     When the walls of industry inertia are creeping in at work, and you hear yourself saying things like “you can’t do that” or “no” more than we ought to, we should reach out to others to broaden our view and find an innovative path.  Ask your child, ask a stranger… a small conversation can lead to big and unexpected ideas.

Tap into that inner child. Transformative ideas exist all around us, we just need to give them a voice and a platform.