Avoiding Innovation Arrogance

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I’m certainly not the first to notice that at times some of the most innovative companies can be among the most dismissive of new approaches to innovation. Established innovation consultants are sometimes slow to innovate their own approaches and processes.

Expertise in the field of innovation, like any other expertise, can frequently become a hindrance to further progress. We get comfortable with what we know, what’s worked for us in the past, secure in the knowledge that has already brought us success—along with personal status and influence and income.

There is still so much to learn about fostering innovation and yet those who have been successful innovators, or studied what has created great innovators in the past, can lock into established ideas and defend them just as fiercely as any other entrenched discipline.

Among individuals and organizations who proudly wear the label, “innovative,” it can get downright personal. For example, we’ve long recognized the importance of being in the right frame of mind to enhance our creativity. We recognize that we can all benefit from a variety of mental strategies and techniques to help us come up with great new ideas. No one considers good ideation techniques to be a “crutch.” Using them in no ways implies any personal deficit. On the contrary, we see them as legitimate research-based tools we can use to enhance our innovation skills.

But, as I noted in my last post, when the subject turns to decision making, or gaining insight or strengthening our intuitions, the unspoken barriers begin to go up:

“What do you mean we need help making decisions?”

“Are you suggesting that I’m not insightful enough?”

“You can’t teach anyone intuition; they either have it or they don’t.”

“Some characteristics we can change about ourselves, but others we can’t.”

There’s much less willingness to explore how to enhance those capabilities…which are just as crucial to successful innovation as creative ideas. Frankly, it’s the same arrogance and defensiveness we loudly decry as the enemy of innovation in any other context.

Innovation requires that we optimize virtually every cognitive capability we possess. Not just our creativity, but our powers of observation, our analytical skills, our ability to execute effectively and yes, our humility about what we still have to learn. That doesn’t mean that we have deficits to overcome; it means we have room for further improvement.

The mistake experts so often make—including innovation experts—is assuming that expertise is cumulative, that all we need to do is keep adding to it. Innovation requires a willingness to not only learn new things, but to reconsider and revise what we already know.

The surest way to halt our progress is to conclude that we’ve already arrived. The surest way to stop learning is to assume that we already have all the answers. The surest way to stop innovating is to believe that we can’t benefit from further changes.

What are you most comfortable with when you think about your own capacity to innovate? What gives you the most confidence? Is it possible that it’s creating blind spots for you?

How are you innovating the way you innovate?

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