“I’m afraid the patient doesn’t have much longer to live,” the doctor said. There is a treatment, but it has some serious adverse effects. The patient responded, “I’ll take it!” What adverse reactions can I expect?” The doctor sighed and said, “Well, primarily cultural change.” Those hierarchies and communication channels that were just so perfectly…
If you want to be innovative, you have to learn to overcome your fears. Did you know that most people consider the fear of public speaking even more severe than the fear of death? Indeed, some people would instead do almost anything else than stand in front of a group and talk. Some businesses are…
In The Langoliers by Stephen King, a plane flies through a strange wave of light and ends up landing at a deserted airport. Suddenly, strange creatures start consuming everything, including the ground. They surmise that they have somehow flown just slightly into the past, and the creatures are destroying the present. Once the Langoliers are…
Why do people run from change, even when that change is for the better?
We always seem to fall back on the familiar, even if it causes pain. We stick with what we have, whether it works or not – even in some cases it’s worse for us. Most people fear change – they fear the future – they fear doing something different.
It’s time to retire the word. For everything.
Read an article the other day in one of my favorite magazines – the New Philosopher (yes, as an innovator, you should read broadly too – just reading HBR and innovation tomes doesn’t open your mind like philosophy and great, far future sci-fi do) where a father was urging on this son to excel at chess. To keep from hurting his feelings, he never used the word “lose”, as in “Did you win or lose?” when he came back from his matches – but the phrase “Did you win, or did you learn?” Of course, there is learning in winning as well, but who can argue that we learn more than we lose. In fact, isn’t it true that we learn more when we lose because we hate feeling pain worse than love feeling pleasure?
Either way, note that the dad specifically did not say “lose” but “learn”. In the same say, can we not constantly attribute failing startups or losing market share to a solid lesson learned? If we slam our innovation initiatives every time they fail, do you think you’ll see your people continuing to take risks?
No, you’ll never get the kind of disruptive innovation that you need, you’ll get the same incremental stuff that might help a little – but won’t lead you to those unicorns you love so much.
We need to recast the concept of failure, eliminate the word as much as we can. Didn’t Thomas Edison say that he never failed, just came up with hundreds of ways that didn’t work? We need to look at risk-taking anew and realize that without risk of “finding ways things don’t work” then we rarely get to the way that does work.
If startups and projects don’t gain traction, they pivot or shut down. The lessons learned from these moves into the founders next startup or the project teams next project or company. Instead of saying “a string of failed startups” you should be thinking “a string of educational experiences”
We had a very long string of inventions, from the Renaissance to the jet engine, truly disruptive concepts which dented the human universe and changed humanity for the better. Even those concepts which were tried and didn’t fly taught us what not to do or educated us that this was the wrong time and place for this concept (so many businesses start too far ahead of the world and are unable to pivot to product/market fit).
But should we slow down, should we stop trying, just because it might cost us to learn? If you ask me it costs us more when we don’t take the risk, when we are afraid to fail.
When you are afraid to fail, then you never do, and without doers, where would we be?
The New Should Be Better Than The Old
There have been studies which indicate that there is a major difference between young minds and older minds – apparently, we are born curious, with wide open minds. We are genetically and chemically designed to be open to new experiences from the moment we are born, and as we get older, and as we get more experienced, we close ourselves off to new ideas and new experiences.
As humans, we are deep learners at our core, designed from the ground up to be able to observe, ingest and analyze our surroundings from day one. We may be physically weak little things which require physical protection (our newborn even biologically resemble their fathers at birth, so that they may recognize them as their kin, even if they look more of a blend later), but as babies and children, we are designed to seek out the new and different, and learn.
If you think about it, our ability to reason, observe and think is really the thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. So, if we are born learning, inquisitive sponges, why do we seem to lose (or simply suppress that capability) in later life?
As we get older, we tend to compare our previous experiences with our current experiences – almost like a bubble sort – where we take this current new experience, compare it to all previous experiences, and then slot it into our sorted list of experiences.
We don’t automatically give the new experience any more weight simply because it’s new because we have this constantly increasing the set of past experiences to compare it against. This is one of the reasons that we dismiss previously tried failed ideas as ones that should never be tried again, simply because they failed in that specific time and place.
However, just because they failed in that place in the past, do not mean that they will fail in the here and now. To remain innovative, disruptive and forward thinking, we must look at all new ideas which we encounter with the same kind of weight we did as children – the open-minded practice or be weighing the new as more important than the old.
As our brains actively chemically cease automatically processing “the new” as more important simply because it’s new, we must rewire our own brains to do that ourselves.
Therefore, to be and stay innovative, as we grow older, we must consciously both regard anything “new” to us as having more weight that we would normally have, and secondly, be open to the fact that while a previously tried idea may have failed at a specific time and place, there is no reason that it will fail again now.
I’m personally the object of something like that – one of my earlier startups, AdviceTrader, was too early, providing a similar service to Quora from 2000-2005. Had we started it later, or where able to raise funding, who knows where we would be. In short, we need to actively look at the new, no matter what we think of it, as more important than our collected experience to date, to remain innovative.
One of the hallmarks of ageism is that younger people accuse older ones of not being open to new ideas – we need to change that perception. So, when something new – or something that’s failed before – comes across your desk – try to look at it through a different lens.
Try to be a child again.
Anyone can bring innovation to their organization and it doesn’t take much time or investment to do it.
If you want more innovation in your company, try these 5 things:
1. Hire for creativity.
Take a look around your conference table. Everyone may (or may not) look different but to they think differently?
The World Economic Forum’s 4th Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab predicts that creativity will be the third most important job skill by the year 2020.
Why So Serious? Maybe You Are Being Too Professional
Don’t you feel that sometimes you spend your days mired in jargon-land, forced to act “professional” against your will? If I had a nickel for every time I had to sit through a jargon-laden meeting, or review yet another PowerPoint loaded with “management speak”, I’d be a rich man sitting on my own private island right now.
Do we all have to be serious and professional all the time?
Lately, there has been a mini-backlash against being “too casual” or “too colloquial”. Articles like “You’re Not Being Authentic, You’re Being Unprofessional” litter the business and personal development press.
I say, bah humbug.
One of the best books on public speaking I’ve ever read condensed it all down to two main points:
- Be Yourself
- Tell them what you are going to tell them
That’s it. No froth. No “stand like this, walk like that, hold your hands in a certain way, don’t say, “um” and “uh” (sorry Toastmasters). Just be you. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be Tony Robbins when you speak, you just must be you. People want you to be you. Nobody likes fake (well, maybe some people do). There is a downside to being “too professional.”
IMHO, most people crave authenticity. If you are too slick and polished, then people get wary.
What does this have to do with innovation? Plenty. But I have one more digression to make.
Since 2008, when Iron Man burst onto the movie scene, it’s likely that most of you have seen one of more Marvel superhero movies. You may have also seen a Batman, Superman, or other DC movie as well. If you have, then you have probably noticed the stark differences between the Marvel and DC universes. They both take their superheroes as existing and real, but one Marvel injects some fun into it, where DC is just all super serious and grim about it.
Ever feel like everything that you hear, communication-wise, within your organization is like a DC movie, super serious and professional? I heard it myself, innovation programs announced in a serious tone, asking employees to come up with billion-dollar businesses in their spare time (well, we won’t lift any of your current responsibilities so that you will have time to innovate) and you’d better innovate, otherwise…
Where is the fun? Where are the treats? Where is the engagement? Isn’t this just more work for me?
Your innovation program should be like a Marvel movie – fast moving and fun – a great diversion from your day job. A time to relax and open your mind.
Your employees should enjoy the act of innovating, feel free to come up with great ideas without the oppressive sense that they must “deliver” (like they do the rest of their jobs). Innovation time should be fun time, not just another set of tasks that they need to add onto their already voluminous list.
In fact, the best ideas will come when you aren’t even trying. This is one of the most awesome things about the human brain – its background processing capabilities are probably even more powerful than its foreground capabilities. In our sessions, we encourage play and fun, it’s one of the best ways to spark interesting new innovations.
In short, if you are interested in innovating, you need to let your people relax and be real. Innovation should be fun – make sure that you make it so.
Are Your “Telling” Your People To Innovate?
Now you may ask yourself, “Why is my company not innovative?”
You may be thinking to yourself:
Plenty of companies, like Kodak, Nokia, and Blackberry (previously known as Research in Motion or RIM) weren’t able to change fast enough when disruption came to their markets. In Kodak’s case, the disruption even came from within.
Apparently, it was a Kodak engineer who invented digital photography. He came up with a way to do photography without film. When he presented it to senior management they told him to keep it quiet, that they made too much money from selling photographic film. They told him to not let this innovation out.
Of course, what happened is that other companies came up with it and now we have cameras on every smartphone all over the world. Digital photography has basically taken over the world and hardly anybody uses film anymore.
Even though Kodak had an engineer within their ranks who invented the thing they were disrupted internally because they couldn’t change fast enough.
There seem to be a lot of companies that are seemingly unable to change when disruptive innovation comes along. It just puts them into disarray.
Even Yahoo could be considered one of those companies. We unearthed innovation within that organization. Why doesn’t Yahoo seem to able to change no matter who is in the top spot? Could it be the same reason people don’t change?
Here is a supposition: corporates are like people. So, let’s take a second and examine what makes people truly change? What must happen for people to truly change?
People are creatures of habit, inattention, and inertia. They’ll just keep doing the exact same thing over and over unless something pushes them in a different direction.
External stimuli which force people to change can either be positive or negative. When you look at the history of how people change, true, lasting change is more likely to come from a negative stimulus.
For example, let’s say somebody is an overeater and are hundreds of pounds overweight. They try to stop, thinking about a being happier, having a better quality of life, not huffing and puffing up the stairs, possibly living longer. They don’t derive any immediate pleasure by eating less (in fact it makes them feel worse). But then, they have a heart attack. A huge negative stimulus which drives change.
Corporations are very similar. They look at it from that perspective as well. Profits are coming in, they are doing well. They don’t need to change. Some massively negative impact comes in and forces them to change, but usually, it’s too little too late.
How do people force themselves to change without a black swan type major negative impact? By creating that negative stimulus themselves. By seeing themselves in that horrific future state if they don’t change their behavior. By fully realizing that if they keep doing what they are doing, a massive negative event may occur.
So how do these corporations deal with disruptive innovation before it’s too late? In the same way. They create their own internal change agent which will purposely work against the company and attempts to kill it. They need to envision those paths and follow them through to the end of their company. They need to vividly experience their end state and map out plans to stop it from happening.
Let’s go with the Kodak example. Let’s say that when the Kodak engineer who came up with the digital photography went to senior management and presented this concept to do digital photography. They, rightly, deemed that it would probably destroy their current business if it took off.
What if instead of keeping it quiet, instead of saying don’t go there, they thought that possibility through? What if they assumed that a) somebody else came up with this technology, and b) assumed that it would take off. Probably, at that moment, unthinkable to Kodak’s senior management, but what if they played it out to its logical conclusion? What if they put their impossibility filters aside?
This is one of the main tasks of the corporate futurist. They think the unthinkable, they go down that path to see what happens. If they paint a complete enough picture, it may frighten (yes, frighten) senior management enough to at least investigate the possibility of dealing with that possible future.
This is one of the possible futures of the company. Why not throw some cycles at the scenario and play it out, so that if it happens at least you can create plans to deal with it?
Kodak, BlackBerry, and Nokia failed to see the disruptive innovation since they did not have a strategist or futurist on staff who could envision it themselves internally and take it seriously enough. They may have looked a few years out, but not far enough, and not, probably, crazily enough (in the minds of the senior management).
As I’ve said before, futurists are usually right, just at the wrong time. There’s no danger in having a plan in place too early.
To stay nimble, agile, and resilient, you need to map out those crazy, disruptive futures, and at the very least, develop a plan of attack. No matter what happens, you can defeat the disruptive innovation that’s coming along or at least work with it so that you don’t end up dead.