“I want my staff to be more innovative” is a statement I hear from many leaders. And the question I always ask in response is “Is your culture risk-tolerant or risk-averse?” If you want to encourage more innovation, then your working environment needs to be tolerant of risk-taking and one that encourages and supports learning from failure. But unfortunately, the truth is that the culture in many organizations is still quite risk-averse. Yet, if you really want your people to more innovative, then they must be more comfortable taking risks and trust that failures won’t come back to haunt them. So how do you accomplish creating such an environment without opening the doors wide for high-risk decisions? Here are two ideas. Continue reading
In 1964, Dick Fosbury revolutionized the world of high-jumping by turning the sport upside down … literally! Until then, athletes used either the straddle technique (in which the jumper lifts his legs individually over the bar while facing down) or the less popular upright scissors method (in which he runs upright towards the bar and lifts his straight legs over one at a time). But Fosbury did it differently – he went over the bar, head-first and on his back, curving his body and kicking his legs up in the air at the end of the jump. The “Fosbury Flop”, as it came to be known, is why he not only took the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City but also set a new Olympic record of 7 feet 4-1/4 inches. His success silenced the initial skeptics in the high-jumping community, but the true proof came in the following years – seventy percent of the athletes in the Munich 1972 games used the Flop, and that number rose to eighty percent by 1980. Today, it is the most popular technique in the sport of high-jumping.
It’s worth noting that Fosbury was mocked and ridiculed when he first starting using his new technique; Continue reading
In his now-classic 1945 candle experiment, psychologist Karl Duncker posed the following problem – how to affix a lit candle to a cork board using only a box of thumbtacks and a book of matches. Some tried to attach the candle directly to the wall using the tacks; others attempted to glue it to the cork board using melted candle wax; but neither approach yielded results. Very few of the participants thought to empty the box of thumbtacks, use the tacks to pin the box (with the candle in it) to the cork board, and then light the candle with the match. The cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used is called functional fixedness, and is a known barrier to creativity.
Even more interesting than Duncker’s original 1945 experiment was the follow-up research conducted by Sam Glucksberg in 1962. Continue reading
So last month I took a short holiday in Hawaii and as we drove back to our hotel one evening I couldn’t help but notice the vehicle in front of me. Two travellers had turned a regular pick-up truck into their own unique convertible. By unfolding two everyday collapsible deck chairs in the bed of the pickup, they now had two seats on the back of an open-air vehicle … almost (but not quite) like driving in a sports car with the top down!
I’ll be honest … my first reaction was “Yikes, redneck!” But a few moments later, I moved to “Hmm, rather resourceful!” But it got me thinking about how people instinctively react to things that unusual or are outside the norm. Often, my first reaction (as I think it is for many others) is to immediately make a judgment about the situation or person (sort of like I did with the home-made convertible :)). But once you look more closely, perhaps the different and unusual represents ingenuity, imagination and originality. Perhaps, as leaders, instead of judging we should be encouraging our people to be inventive and innovative in the workplace.
As always, I want to know what you think? Redneck or resourceful? Safety hazard or inspired? And what are you more likely to do – judge or encourage?
I read a very interesting article in Forbes Magazine a couple of weeks ago about why Saturn, a GM company that had great promise in the early 1990’s, ultimately failed in this decade because senior GM leaders couldn’t see the benefits of new ways of doing things nor the value of a new kind of organizational culture. Just in case you didn’t know, Saturn, the 1990’s success story, stopped production in October last year, and is expected to completely shut down before 2010 is over. The Forbes’ article is authored by David Hanna, a HR consultant who worked with Saturn’s leadership team in the mid-1990’s and thus can offer some first-hand insights. The overall message lies in the article’s sub-title: a lesson at how to win at innovation in even the most traditional company – and then how to crush that innovation. Continue reading