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Why is Innovation so Hard?

August 12, 2014 — 3 Comments

Edward D. Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business provides the following research based arguments for why innovation can be so so hard:

…we are highly efficient, fast, reflexive thinkers who seek to confirm what we already know.

Laziness is built deep into our nature. As a result, we are cognitively blind to disconfirming data and challenging ideas.

Emotionally, we seek to affirm our self-image (our ego) and we use the 3Ds—deny, defend, and deflect—to ward off challenges to it and to our views of the world. Fear is one of the emotions that comes all too naturally to most of us—and makes it hard for us to engage in the messy work of innovation. Fear of failure, fear of looking bad, and fear of losing our job if we make mistakes all can lead to what Chris Argyris called “defensive reasoning”: the tendency to defend what we believe. This makes it hard to get outside of ourselves in order to “think out of the box.”

Our educational system and most work environments have taught us that good performance means avoiding failure, not making mistakes…most organizations exist to produce predictable, reliable, standardized results. In those environments, mistakes and failures are bad.

Despite all these odd against innovation it still happens all around us. What does it take to be innovative? Hess does provide some examples of exceptionally innovative companies and suggests that the best way to be innovative is to follow these companies lead I believe that he touches on but doesn’t fully explain the key solution to this challenge when he suggests that “innovative thinking requires the right kind of organizational environment.” Hess also suggest that because we are essentially confirmation machines, looking to affirm the status quo, we need to be taught how to take our normal thinking to a higher level or to think outside of the box.

This is where I think Hess misses a wonderful opportunity to point to the fact that instruction on how to be innovative will not work unless one conducts this instruction within a significant learning environment that promotes and supports innovative thinking. We are also learning from the past 25 years of research in neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, and education that fear is a powerful natural emotion that inhibits our ability to embrace the disorder that change or innovation bring about. That is why we need to structure our learning environments to be safe havens for the uncertainty and failure that are intrinsic to the innovation process.

In a previous blog post I have argued that we need to embrace uncertainty if we want to have innovation. I have also argued that you practice change by living it and this takes us back to importance of creating learning environments where people can catch the openness to change.

In a nutshell we have to be and live the change that we are hoping to see in our learning environments.

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Learning over Education

August 6, 2014 — 2 Comments

…education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself 10:08