• April 10, 2018
  • 3 minutes
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Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary: How to build a team of innovators

The head of MindLab on why hiring should focus on skills, not degrees

MindLab is the world’s oldest government innovation lab and has spawned imitations all over the globe. It stands at the forefront, both in theory and practice, of efforts to make government cleverer, faster and more inventive. Here, its director Thomas Prehn shares his experiences and ideas in a regular update.

Apolitical has previously interviewed Thomas here. He can be contacted on the Apolitical network here. The views expressed here are Thomas’s own and not representative of any public body. His work forms part of our feed on government innovation

How to build a team of innovators (09.April.2018)

Often I’m asked about the core educational background of the MindLab team. The truth is, I don’t know.

However, our fundamental approach will always be humility and generosity. Hence the MindLab team is composed of the most amiable people, driven by distributed ambitions and an urge to make a difference, all the way from the back of the office.

That’s because in our quest to pioneer the future of the public sector, to build a culture of innovation nurtured by a mindshift among the leadership, we must build robust relationships – and not just great projects. The projects might serve as the platform for creating relationships, but it is the relationships we leverage to change behaviour and mindsets.

“Building relationships revolves around interpersonal skills, not a masters degree”

And while we do indeed have exceptionally skilled designers and sociologists on our team, building relationships revolves around interpersonal skills, not a masters degree. In MindLab we lean self-effacingly in to the projects of our colleagues, to support them in their efforts towards success without claiming credit or seeking acknowledgment.

This lets you build relationships with mutual commitment, trust, and passion. These are the springboard from which we jointly can leap over the hurdles of the public sector’s predominant modus operandi, challenging entrenched processes and the established hierarchy. This is how we can strive towards finding the optimum outcome of a political directive, all while laying out the behavioural framework of a new, more agile and relevant MO.

Yet a question remains: is humility and generosity a sustainable strategy for an innovation unit?

(Picture credit: Unsplash/Thomas Prehn)

Thomas Prehn

Read other instalments of this series:
Thomas Prehn’s innovation diary
Design sinking
How to scale up public policy
A backlog of curiosity
Innovation is not a room
Innovation labs measure success to justify themselves—but it can’t be done
Bring me problems, not solutions


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