Invisible Innovation

Great performers become invisible on the stage. The actor becomes indistinguishable from the character.

“If you are really good the performer disappears” Nico Muhly

Design is often noticed when it’s bad, so great design is often hard to see and appreciate. Because it just works, it’s easy to miss the hard work that was necessary to make it so intuitive to use.


And good facilitation of events and workshops requires you to allow the people in the room to have the conversation they need and want to have. Not to get in the way and hog the limelight. I used to find it slightly odd, when facilitating a big workshop, that people would sometimes not realise I was the facilitator when chatting to them whilst standing in the cue for coffee at the break. However I hope it means that my facilitation was good enough that they didn’t notice me it and were more engaged in the content.

And innovation is a similarly slippery. At it’s best when invisible and it’s value is only obvious in hindsight. Rather innovation is a by-product of other things – good culture, good conversations, agile attitude – and not an end in itself that can be manufactured. Many organisations say they want to be innovative but actually make it clear that they don’t want any of the things that come with it, including risk, hard graft and disruption.

All of these things – performance, design, facilitation and innovation – are often intangible and therefore hard to justify investing time and money in. Few genuinely have the foresight to authentically foster innovation, but the more important question should be, what if you don’t?

Image credit: Takaiguchi


  1. Hi Roland I agree with your premise that a being great facilitator and or supporting the development of innovation often makes you invisible. However, the paradox is that in order to provide services within an organisation you need to be SEEN as the person to go to.

    I try and use the Cartesian Coordinates for innovation risk – What wouldn’t happen if you did / what would happen if you did / what wouldn’t happen if you didn’t/ what would happen if you did

    • Hi Esther.

      Many thanks for your comment. Yes I fully appreciate and accept the paradox you are talking about. And I like the cartesian coordinates of risk very much. It would be great to hear a bit more about how that plays out in practice for you.

      In terms of being seen, one bit of advice I had in terms of workshop facilitation is to give high status instructions in a low status way. In other words give direct instructions humbly and people find it hard to resist following them.

      For instance in workshops if I want everybody to stand up, which can be quite a disruptive thing to do, I might say something like “I’d really appreciate it if you could all just stand up for a moment” and that way people can hardly refuse. Essentially you are deliberately lowering your status to have greater impact.

      Likewise I think the same is often true with innovation. I don’t think it works to tell people they need to do it one way or another. And I don’t think you want to pass judgement too early either as that will usually demotivate. Rather, like a good facilitator, you help channel them into the most fruitful direction and make tools available for others to use.

      Of course you need to be not only seen but also appreciated by the right people at a senior level as playing an important role. And by your colleagues you want to be known for being effective and having impact. But that reputation depends on what others say about you.

      All the best

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