The psychology of innovation
Okay, let’s roll our sleeves up, sit down and talk business. This is just between you and me so we can be honest with each other. So tell me, have you ever stopped to wonder about how so much of strategy planning seems to take place on the intellectual (move pegs around the board) level? And do you secretly wonder why it is that the strategy and implementation plans which look great on paper seemed to hit obstacles when taken into the heart of the business?
It’s okay, you’re not alone; we’ve all done it from time to time. Faced with a problem, our training, and to some extent our instinct, kicks in; we get out the whiteboard or post it notes, we commission reports, we brainstorm and we analyse. Then we develop project plans, allocate areas of responsibility or activities and if we have time, define a new mission statement and throw in a few values.
And there is nothing wrong with that, per se; but the trouble is we’ve forgotten one vital element which will make or break plans and that is people. You see, people aren’t just bodies which can be trained to carry out tasks; people are complex beings with thoughts, attitudes, values and expectations of their own. So when we talk about including the people factor in our plans we have to do so on a psychological level.
The sad thing is that there has been some fantastic work done in behavioural psychology and the way in which we can leverage our understanding of neuroscience in order to engage people in delivering great outcomes. Yet far too often in business we revert to ‘do this or do that’, even if we wrap our instructions up in some other guise.
Building a culture of innovation
Take building a culture of innovation for example. When we introduce the concept of innovation into an organisation we are in general asking people to step out of their comfort zone, to ask the ‘why’ and ‘what if’ questions, to be prepared to fail and to accept failure as a learning point. We are also asking them to collaborate, to communicate and to work together in multidisciplinary teams which may well contain individuals with very different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences and very different methods of working.
Introduced in the right way, this strong level of collaboration can produce some amazing results. In fact, in 2012 a research paper* highlighted the way in which social interactions and cooperation underlie the evolution of intelligence and helped to develop complex memory and decision-making skills. In other words, without collaboration the human race would be very different today, if it existed at all.
However, leaders cannot simply throw teams together and expect them to deliver. As we highlighted in our latest book** ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ the fight or flight response to physical danger can also be triggered by social change. Australian researcher David Rock*** described the way in which the move away response can be triggered by mishandling SCARF factors (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness) and this can create resistance to change, even when the change is designed to deliver tangible benefits.
What this means is that even if you design a great change strategy unless you have put people at the forefront of the design, of the delivery and of the execution then you may just find that the result is less than ideal. On the other hand if you start with an awareness of the people factor; if you look to listen and to communicate, to engage and to show you care then you may just be able to build a culture of innovation in which ‘intelligent collaboration’ delivers great solutions.
Originally trained as a product & industrial designer, Cris spent over a decade as a successful entrepreneur & CEO building an award-winning design group. He is now recognised globally as a thought leader on strategic innovation and creating innovative organisations.
Cris is the Founder of Innovation Thought Leadership Website...