At RVi, you hear the word creativity a lot. It is listed among the firm’s values; it is why many of us chose the careers that we did; it is a trait that is celebrated and utilized every day. Up until about a year ago, we used the words creativity and innovation pretty interchangeably. As it turns out, there is an important distinction to be made between creativity and innovation – a distinction we have been exploring over the past year through education, collaboration, and a little friendly competition.

As planners and landscape architects, we tend to utilize our strengths within the context of a project, rather than as part of a broader goal or initiative. So we asked ourselves: what if, in addition to our projects, we spent a little time applying our strengths toward the growth of the firm, the betterment of some aspect of the world, and the advancement of the profession of landscape architecture? As Harvard Business School Fellow and Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan says, “Creativity is about coming up with the big idea. Innovation is about executing the idea,” (Govindarajan 2010). So we set out not only to harness our creativity, but also to figure out how to bring our big ideas to life.

We realized that creating a culture of innovation would not just happen overnight, so we brought in an expert to help guide us. Some of you know Dr. Art Markman from his weekly KUT Austin radio segment, Two Guys on Your Head, which he does in collaboration with Dr. Bob Duke. While I’ve always been a fan of the show, I was taken aback by Dr. Markman’s work on the subject of innovation and behavioral change, and its relevance to what we were trying to achieve at RVi. Here are a few takeaways that we learned from Dr. Markman:

  • You have to give people time to be innovative.
  • Embracing a culture of innovation means raising your tolerance for failure. Most innovations fail multiple times before they get it right.
  • You should punish negligence, not failure.
  • For leaders of change initiatives, there are three main things to consider: what you say, what you do, and what you reward. People are most responsive to what you reward.

With these things in mind, we formed an Innovation Committee to figure out what all this meant for RVi. After a few false starts and failed ideas (failure is okay, remember?) we decided that we would start by hosting an annual internal innovation competition, which we deemed The Auctus Project. We envisioned The Auctus Project as an opportunity for our employees to step out of the boundaries of their day-to-day projects and explore a new idea that they are passionate about and that would benefit others in some way.

Auctus participants were asked to form teams consisting of 2-3 people. Each team created a written manifesto outlining their innovative idea, how it would impact others, and a proposed schedule and budget that demonstrated how the idea could be meaningfully advanced within a year’s time. We solicited an independent panel of judges from each of our geographic markets to ensure all RVi offices were represented. Our distinguished judges included: Lee Pilz, College Professor and Marketing Consultant; Alan Hirshman – Senior Project Manager at Dannenbaum Engineering; Kevin Burke, Principal Landscape Architect at the Atlanta BeltLine; Byron Sampson, Associate Director and University Landscape Architect at Arizona State University, and former RVi employee Becky Rupel who is now a Landscape Architect at Copley Wolff Design Group in Boston.

The culmination of our first Auctus Project competition took place last weekend at our annual retreat, where our 3 finalist teams presented their ideas to the firm. The winning team blew us away with an amazing idea that may someday make urban trails safer and more accessible (that’s all we’re saying…for now!). In addition to $700 in take-home cash, the winning team will also receive a stipend of $3,000 in reimbursable expenses and 80 hours of billable time to develop their idea over the course of the next year.

Congratulations to our 1st Place 2017 Auctus Project team:
Drew Carman
Robert Ruffo
Noah Halbach

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Stay tuned over the next year as these brilliant minds work to bring their idea to fruition. And also stay tuned as our Innovation Committee continues to look for new ways foster the spirit of innovation at RVi.