A friend and colleague suggested an awesome book to me last week called Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Flaws of Thinking. Although the book focuses on limitations in our thought process, I could see how these same flaws are perfectly applicable to innovation initiatives at companies of all sizes and scope.
What follows are some of the parallels I discovered.
Flaw 1: Leaping
One of the most common human tendencies is to propose conclusive solutions without taking the needed time to understand the situation completely. Innovation often undergoes a similar fate without appropriately framing the context. “We’ve never done it this way.” Or, “We’ve always done it that way.” These are classic innovation inhibitors.
Flaw 2: Fixation
This is a generic term representing what Stanford psychologist and renowned author Carol S. Dweck calls “fixed mindset” in her bestseller Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Some sort of mental rigidity and short-term tactical thinking always cloud our judgement when faced with a complex challenge. Innovation is an ocean of constant challenges and unforeseen storms. Leaders with an open thought process demonstrating a “growth-mindset” can swiftly navigate these uncertainties. Everyone else perishes in the darkness of irrelevance.
I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.
– Benjamin R. Barber
Flaw 3: Overthinking
This is the enemy of simplicity. Many times, we spend unnecessary time overanalyzing situations and scenarios that are hardly ever going to happen in real life. This may sound like a counter example to “leaping” discussed earlier, but there’s a fine line between not-at-all-analyzing something and practically-analyzing things. In absence of any other insights, following the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule is good enough.
Flaw 4: Satisficing
A term coined by Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon in 1956, the term satisficing combines the effects of both satisfy and suffice, preventing human brains to favor “what’s easy” instead of “what’s right.” Sometimes, we get into the trap of an obvious solution and stop looking for an optimal one. Innovations powered by optimal solutions could have higher probability of remaining sustainable over longer periods of time. However, satisficing might coerce leaders to under-allocate resources for seemingly easy and obvious solutions to some of the toughest challenges.
What’s right vs. what’s easy is a perpetual battle between the human heart and the human mind.
Flaw 5: Downgrading
This is the classic human tendency to use delusion to fool oneself about achieving a goal, despite being far away from the actual goal. For example, when the initial goal appears too difficult to achieve, we reduce the goal itself instead of putting in more effort and resources. Experts call this strategy “gaming the goal.”
Anecdotally, GE leadership during Jack Welch’s time fell through this trap for a short period. In order to meet Welch’s strict requirements of maintaining No. 1 or No. 2 market positions, some GE leaders redefined and recategorized the markets to be very small to prove they were leading the market as top leaders. Downgrading hurts innovation through false satisfaction.
Flaw 6: Not Invented Here (NIH)
As one of the most poisonous attributes of corporate culture, Not-Invented-Here or NIH syndrome is another big deterrent to innovation and growth. It not only promotes repeated, wasted, and reinventing the wheel efforts, it breeds a culture of negativity around external efforts and destroys the corporate team spirit at large. Fortunately, the Open Source Software movement has brought some appreciation towards software contributed by people not even in your company. However, a similar feeling within a given corporation needs to be promoted to take innovation to the next level.
Flaw 7: Self-Censoring
As one of the deadliest flaws stifling innovation and creativity, self-censoring is a highly contagious characteristic. On the surface, it appears like “learning from your experience” or in more recent terms, “fail fast.” However, looking beyond the obvious clearly reveals its ill effects on corporate culture and employee disconnectedness.
Labeling certain innovation projects as not in line with current corporate strategy, reorganizing teams to kill any innovation attempts, not trying hard enough to retain creative employees, focusing only on short-term tactical priorities, not being open to experimentation, and countless other symptoms proliferate the deadly virus of self-censoring and dismantle the innovation fabric of a corporation.
What can you do to overcome innovation’s fatal flaws? How can we collectively promote creativity, passion, and engagement in our teams? Learn the answers in my next blog post.
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