Why innovating is so difficult …

Innovating is tough ...










Don’t get upset, but if you are like me and most people on the planet … You are not that rational.

Like it or not, we are emotional beings plagued with unconscious biases and we make our decisions based on emotional grounds. While we do this, innovating can be tough going.

We get away with this because we also have a very deceptive brain that does some fancy reverse-engineering to justify our emotional decision-making. Our responses are always based upon our own unique patterns of knowledge and past experience and these are the primary filters through which we view and react with the world. When we see the world through the same old lenses then innovating is an uphill battle.

In his book “Brain and Culture” Professor Bruce Wexler wrote something that has influenced much of my thinking. He wrote … “During the first part of life, the brain and mind are highly plastic, require sensory input to grow and develop and to shape themselves to the major recurring features of their environment. By early adulthood the mind and brain have a diminished ability to change those structures …. much of the brain’s activity is devoted to making the environment conform to the established structures”.  In other words, during early life the world shapes what we see, but from then on our brains shape what we see! It’s an astounding concept, yet one that makes perfect sense given so many have entrenched and intractable views.

There is no need to wonder why the adoption of new ideas and driving innovation is so difficult.

Our adult brain is regularly presented with views that are counter to what it knows and it is surprisingly reluctant to adjust to incorporate those views. Instead of rearranging itself to better reflect the truth, it can go to great lengths to distort, deny, forget or rationalise. (When was the last time you sought to convert a religious person to atheism or visa-versa)?  It’s little wonder that so many change initiatives fail, and even less surprising that organisational uptake to new innovative approaches is so sluggish.

I often use the well worn adage in strategy work that “You cannot tell anyone anything”. You cannot make up a person’s mind for them – they must do this themselves. So the key to successful change and the key to the acceptance of new and innovative approaches is simple. Instead of justifying the change (telling them) allow them to see (and where appropriate design) the change themselves. The contrast in doing so is stark.

If we can help others change how they perceive things, they can then change their own thinking and their behaviour.

The processes for doing this are surprisingly simple yet often routinely ignored in favor of our default problem solving approaches. Too often we generate rapid solutions based upon our past experiences and fail to stop, think and redefine the problem from multiple perspectives in order to determine the myriad other potential responses. At Think Quick we routinely apply these “Problem Definition and Re-Definition” approaches as a core part of our innovation work.

In a world where we are constantly asked to do more with less and an epidemic of busyness prevails, new perspectives and new ways of thinking are crucial. To simply continue down the current “more with less” pathway is a rapid and unsustainable death-spiral. We need to help ourselves see things from different perspectives and in doing so, temporarily over-ride our brain’s unique wiring to see and consider new and innovative ways forward.

Training in methods to assist your organisation to allow your staff and colleagues to see alternate and new ways forward.


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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.


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