Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Deep Innovation Can Be So Hard

In an article published in Forbes on August 4th, 2014, Edward Hess of the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business asked the question "Why Is Innovation So Hard?" In it, he makes several comments about innovation, ranging from the difficulty in defining it to some reasons for its rarity. Hess then makes some observations about humans, emotions and failure, mentioning our biases, need for self affirmation, how we act when we feel threatened, and the ways that hinders innovation.  (I've summarized them at the bottom of this post. - df)

Hess concludes that that innovation requires an organizational environment that encourages failures and mistakes and uses IDEO, Pixar and Intuit as examples. Then he makes two very interesting statements concerning IDEO and Intuit;

"IDEO takes it even further, characterizing failure as good because it helps people develop the humility that is necessary for empathy—a critical skill in user-centric innovation."

"Intuit spent the past eight years building a culture to better foster experimentation-driven innovation. Humility, empathy, and the devaluation of hierarchical rank were critical to making this new culture work."

In the closing paragraph Ed states: "Creating a “big new” or a “big different” for your business requires innovative thinking, and innovative thinking requires the right kind of organizational environment. That is why innovation is so hard."  But, Ed stops short of explicitly stating what kind of environment that is.

If you wrap back in the observations about IDEO and Intuit, the recipe for creativity looks like this:

Creating an innovative environment for your business requires an organization built on humility, empathy, and the devaluation of hierarchical rank.

By the way, this same message is a key element in Ed Catmull's recent book; Creativity, Inc. - Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Just to be clear on what we're talking about here;

"Humility is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one's place in context. Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions, often in contrast to narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride." - Wikipedia

Blending a twist onto C.S. Lewis;  A key component of successful creativity is thinking of your customers more than yourself.

Summary of Ed's talking points from the article:

* Hard to define because it means different things to different people. 
* Exists along a continuum, from incremental improvements to disruptive innovation. 
* Occurs "through an inefficient process of ideation, exploration, and experimentation."
* Usually arises from thinking differently than we normally think.
* Arises from learning.
* Neither innovative nor critical thinking come naturally to most people.
* Innovative ideas rarely emerge from an “aha!” moment.
* Innovation requires the willingness to fail and learn.

* People have cognitive biases
* People seek to affirm their self-image.
* People tend to rationalize information that contradicts their beliefs.
* When they feel threatened, people defend themselves and their views.

* Emotions influence and are integrally intertwined in our cognitive processing.
* Fear of failure, looking bad, or losing our job hinders the process of innovation.
* Failure is an unavoidable part of innovation experimentation.

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