the beauty of small innovation

as I was scrolling through my social media feed one day, I stumbled across a news update from Dutch nursing company, Buurtzorg. they are one of those interesting businesses I like to keep an eye on from time to time (and if you have read Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, then you know why I like following this company).
to give a bit of context, Buurtzorg is one of the world’s pioneers when it comes to applying teal principles in their organizational culture, with the aim of creating a more wholesome, human working space. for example, Buurtzorg’s hundreds of nursing teams that are spread across the world don’t have a boss. they work independently in a self-organizing manner, advising and feed-backing each other, constantly learning and adapting to new situations as they go. nurses have the opportunity to pick up different roles and responsibilities within the organization (like moderating their open forum). each team has their own agreed-upon modus operandi, and they even have their own, independent education budget, adjusted to the specific needs of each team.
what is even cooler about Buurtzorg (and in my opinion, what makes them truly stand out from the crowd) is that they are actively promoting such innovative principles with full maturity and transparency in an environment that is not the niftiest, or most change-happy. on the contrary, the medical field needs to adhere to a certain order, rigor, and hierarchy, a fact that might give out the impression of stiffness or change-aversion. at least in terms of culture, compared to places that are renowned for their appraisal of agility and transformation (like the startup scene), the medical field does not come up as the top-of-mind domain for culture-related flexibility. and yet, the people at Buurtzorg are making the best out of applying the latest organizational culture insights into their daily activities, which led them to announce the following short update about their practices.   
the news Buurtzorg put out on their LinkedIn profile a few days ago talked about their latest service approach: given today’s restrictions and quarantine recommendations, Buurtzorg nurses are offering walking consultations in nature to their patients. so instead of receiving a health check in the place where you’ve probably spent more time than you thought was possible in 2020, you’d not only get the check-up, but also a nice walk in nature. doesn’t that translate into a beautiful win-win scenario?
after I read their post, I caught myself thinking: “what a brilliant, yet simple idea!” and that is when it dawned on me: this is the perfect example of the beauty behind small innovation. these tiny tweaks are energy and cost-effective, but boost the overall well-being of the people involved with the brand. they also contribute to the strengthening of a value-based inner vibe for the employees and a positive external reputation, from both nurses and customers. for the Buurtzorg staff, through this small decision, they could manifest their creative freedom by choosing to do their routine-filled job in a new, fun way. the patients, on the other hand, got delighted by this surprising option and they connected with the brand through empathy – because their real needs, either expressed consciously or subconsciously, got heard.
our collective history abounds with so many diverse accounts of small innovation. such examples include…
…inventing life-saving seatbelts
…discovering molecular medicine
…getting the wheels on cars to go inside the car body (which has a huge impact on the way we drive today)…
…creating important utensils like the stethoscope
…uncovering potato chips
you name it.
your small innovation can be helping people out with remote working, or opening up a hotline for your customers, figuring out a crowd-backed, brand-friendly initiative, or collaborating with other interesting brands to put something interesting out into the world. especially since we are all trying to push through this more critical period, there are many opportunities to find small pockets of innovation.
because that is the point. what you do, as an organization or as a person, contributes to your brand. this reality needs to sink in for more branding professionals. even beyond that, CEOs and HR managers, among others, should be aware of this new (but not oh-so-new) paradigm. in the case of Buurtzorg, their culture acts as a defining part of their core identity. this core manifests itself through actions and values that help form the brand perception of people inside and outside of the organization. at the same time, the collateral strategies, creations, and acts that take shape from within this unique culture are the brand differentiators. for example, there might be tens of healthcare organizations in the Netherlands, but because of their brand DNA, Buurtzorg catches people’s minds and hearts. they are different from the rest. this is Seth Godin’s purple cow, it’s in Steve Jobs’ design principles.
so look for your organization’s pockets of small innovation. where can you do something better? and how can you bring beauty out into the world through your brand?

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