Innovation may be the latest and hottest buzz word, but its roots are by no means new. Innovation is synonymous with Human and all you must do is look around to see the far-reaching effects of human ingenuity and innovation. From things as simple as the wheel to the high-tech gadgets that both control and assist our lives. Knowing where the innovative spirit comes from and how to extract it, could very well be the most powerful and influential skill you could develop as a leader.
So why is innovation so “hard”? Why do companies struggle to break the “glass ceiling” or find their way “out of the box”? Turns out, there is A LOT to it. Our behavioral patterns are determined by a quagmire of personal experience, driven by societal and cultural norms, mixed with the fundamental nature of humans that both propel us and control us. The combinations are infinite, and the outcomes are incredibly broad on many spectrums. The forces of good and evil, the balance of control and freedom, the perception of time gained and time lost, our innate willingness to help others, and our incredibly vast interests, abilities, and passions that are as unique as our DNA will continue to drive destruction and creation as long as humans walk the earth.
So, I’ll ask you again, why do we struggle with Innovation if it’s a part of who we are? My most vague, yet most fundamentally accurate answer is “balance.”. Balance keeps us both where we are and where we want to be. I believe we have the power to decide which side of balance we want to be on, both as individuals and as businesses. To invoke change, we must upset the balance that exists, we must make waves in the status-quo, ignite a fire in the hearts and minds of humans and it must be constant, relentless, and void of direction.
This is by no means, easy, but a conscious understanding of what “levers” to pull is certainly helpful. Here are five of some of the most fundamental and obvious tendencies of humans that we need to understand, accept, and account for when driving towards an innovative culture.
1. The path of least resistance – We humans tend to take the easy way out. We take the shortest or quickest way home, we constantly seek better, easier, and more efficient ways to work, cook, lose weight, and just about anything else we get into. You could see how this would be an asset in the struggle to innovate.
2. Creatures of habit – Counter to our need to take the path of least resistance, we’re also wired to settle into the habits that have been created for us or that we have created for ourselves. This tends to hurt our drive for innovation.
3. Action and Reaction – The fundamental basis for how humans learn can be explained with action and reaction. Our behavior and actions are altered and modified from the moment we are born. Presented with a favorable reaction, we tend to perpetuate our actions. To the contrary, we tend to reduce or hide the actions that aren’t well received from our reactive forces.
4. Fear itself– Another side effect of action and reaction is fear. If the reactions are almost always negative or have a negative social component, fear keeps us from acting. Fear is all around us in one form or another. It manipulates us into buying products and services, it suppresses our opinions, it forces us to do things we hate for a lifetime, and it keeps us from creating the lives we are meant to live. Respecting fear is necessary, but suppressing it at the right time can have powerful ramifications.
5. Narcissism lives in all of us – We all have it, some more than others, but make no mistake. “Leaders” in any organization are often the biggest offenders of letting their narcissism run wild. A false sense of power tends to amplify narcissism without people even realizing the damage they are doing to their culture. As with any of these traits, anyone interested in harnessing the power of humans must first recognize this in themselves.
We could argue that law enforcement, is reactive in nature because of the ingenuity that lives within humans who don’t conform, who don’t live in fear of consequences, who seek a different path, who seek an easier path, and who have a keen sense of action and reaction within the system in which they live. The traits, talents, perceptions and personal experience of leading-edge criminals is arguably the very thing that’s missing from the people that live within your organization. No, I’m not advocating you hire criminals, but I am almost certain that those same attributes are alive and well inside all of us. Knowing what they are, how to disrupt or incite them, and who to apply it too, is arguably the most powerful tool of any leader. But in the face of innovation, does “leader” carry the same definition?
The traditional “leader” is best identified by their ability to get people to do what needs to be done. An Innovation leader, however, must be able to get people to do things that haven’t been done before. This is a subtle but important distinction since the combinations for success are far less obvious when it comes to innovation. Being able to distinguish one’s self as a leader in innovation is a tall order and one that brings about a great deal of self-reflection, faith, and understanding to both embrace and oppose the tendencies of nature.
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Having a successful innovation program is more than just simply crowdsourcing ideas, more than a sophisticated tool to manage it, and it’s more than throwing money at something and expecting great things to happen. It’s more than process improvement and it’s more than simply trying to squeeze money out of a mature process or product. Innovation is different…It looks different, feels different, acts different, and sounds different.