None of us are strangers to an idea.
We’ve had the good ones, the crazy ones and those ones we wish we could tell our 20 year old self… that’s probably not a good one.
When it comes to innovation, ideas are the foundation. Any good innovator / inventor / entrepreneur will tell you that ideas are not hard to come by. Their brains are in a constant evolution of new ideas and every once in a while they’ll have such a great idea they’ll work hard to make it a reality.
When it comes to innovation in business – whether it be process or technology – it’s not necessarily a lack of ideas that slows the innovative juices. There will be hackathons and whiteboarding sessions organised to brainstorm new ideas.
“Let’s think outside the box” they’ll say and those ideas will come flowing through.
However, what often seems to be the case, is it’s not the lack of ideas that’s the problem, it’s the lack of ability to recognise a good one.
We’ve all heard the Blockbuster and Netflix story and how the Blockbuster CEO didn’t think buying out Netflix was a good idea?
Or how Kodak researchers in 1975 developed a digital camera, but the powers that be didn’t think the idea of digital photography was an idea worth pursuing?
And what about the 12 publishers that thought the story of a boy wizard named Harry Potter was a bad idea?
There are so many tales of people passing up on ideas that turned out to be massive game changers and what it goes to show is a natural human bias to reject new ideas or creative situations when those ideas come with uncertainty. The fear of failure, for many, is an instinctive reaction; the first reaction reached for when something new is presented.
If the kneejerk reaction to a new, creative and innovative idea is to say no, then what impact does that have on innovation in the workplace?
Research activities took me down a random rabbit hole this month and I came across a paper by Jennifer S Mueller who hypothesised that “people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt and that is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty”
As part of her own research, Mueller interacted with two groups with activities to understand the participant’s stance on creative and practical subjects. She found that that those exposed to a small amount of uncertainty said they valued creativity, but actually favoured the practical settings.
In a follow-up experiment published in the same paper, participants in the uncertainty condition were even presented a prototype for an innovative product and rated it as significantly less viable than the control group.
What’s interesting is the uncertainty that our current post Covid climate brought, triggered the need to innovate, but at the same time it’s also likely triggering the human bias to reject those creative ideas.
Trouble is, the need for innovation isn’t going away, and the speed of which innovative opportunities present itself isn’t slowing down.
So how do we keep up, embrace and not kill innovation?
Understand your current state.
Knowing what is happening within your business now, understanding the impact processes and technology (or lack thereof) is having, can help you focus your energy in the right places and prioritise innovation projects.
Engage your team.
Not only is your team the most knowledgeable in what happens day to day in the business, they will often have the most brilliant ideas. They know what they need and are face to face with clients understanding their needs as well. Setting up incentivised innovation programs can go a long way to inspiring the next great idea.
Don’t get overwhelmed.
So many ideas, so little time! Remember, its not about how many ideas you can have, its about recognising the good ones and embracing them. The wheels of innovation are forever turning and when you have the right plans in place, the pathways to introducing innovative ideas will be much smoother.
Decide what’s best for your business.
Not every business is the same, and what works well for one, may not work well for another. Gaining an understanding, engaging your team and having a plan will allow you to make educated decisions that will lead you to embrace innovation and achieve positive business outcomes that suits your situation.
Ideas will always appear, technology will always evolve and uncertainty will always show up. Innovation is inevitable and while aversion to uncertainty is a human trait, there are ways to manage it to ensure that we don’t kill off innovation altogether.