Innovation, Reflective Walking & Links in the Chain - Richard Hale

7th December 2015


I have had the privilege of running a senior talent leadership programme with a successful motor sales organisation this year. We established two action learning projects focused on business strategies of employee engagement and product and service quality.

I had become aware of the concept of 'reflective walks' which help you to access emotions and provide insightful metaphors to support deep personal learning. So I thought I would give this a go myself and got into a routine of starting my workshop days with a reflective walk from the hotel to the client offices.

On one such walk I seemed to be tuned into noticing several old buildings of historical interest and I became curious about the industrial history of Derby (England).

A quick Google search took me to the fascinating story of the Lombe Brothers who in the early 18th Century pioneered silk production locally. John Lombe went to Italy which was famous for its silk at the time and whilst working in a silk making shop he secretly copied the machine designs over a period of two years. He brought them back to England where Thomas secured a patent for his own version based around a vision of putting England on the map as the main supplier of silks for the home and export markets as well as providing employment for many. He became very wealthy and was knighted. John was promptly poisoned and died, it is rumoured as an act of revenge for his industrial espionage by an Italian woman. I realised I was walking beside the river where the first ever 'manufactory' - factory - was built and this was the site that triggered the industrial revolution - predating the famous Arkwright cotton mills.

On 'check-in' with the car sales leaders action learning groups I realised none had heard this story but it led to some interesting discussion about the nature of leadership, ethics and vision in the here and now. I was also hoping to engender a spirit of curiosity amongst these leaders.

So for the next workshop we decided to run it at the actual Silk Mill which turned out to be less than a mile from the offices and had been turned into an industrial museum. Daniel the curator was inspirational as he told us this was the first 'open source museum' - it had been designed in collaboration with the public. Community members also learnt 'making' skills as they built the displays of original artefacts of industrial innovation ranging from Rolls Royce aircraft engines to Royal Crown Derby moulds. There are extensive workshops where the public can come and learn craft skills on a 'give and get' basis. You trade the hours that are given to you with hours you put back into museum projects. Toddlers are taught soldering skills, elderly women who have used classic embroidery skills come in and learn how to embroider using CNC machines. Even Daniel was learning how to make dovetail joints as he has to make boxes for artefacts.

Museum is the wrong word for this enterprise - it is a real 'learning organisation'. It kept challenging my assumptions. I found myself loving it.

By being curious we discovered what was under our nose - a link back to the industrial revolution, a link to the current community and a link forward to a new model of a museum. And it will inspire leadership innovation within a modern commercial business. All the corporate in vogue words seemed relevant - disruption, community of practice, innovation, engagement.


Richard Hale, Action Learning International

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