Shift from killing to capitalising on ideas
You’re a killer and you didn’t even know it. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ve killed thousands and everyone you see around you, has killed thousands too. Luckily we’re not talking about killing people, we’re talking about the number of ideas we’ve killed. Countless ideas are killed every minute around the globe. Ideas that could be changing lives, changing industries and changing the world.
It’s time to make a stand against these senseless deaths. To get crystal clear as to why we kill so many ideas (both consciously and subconsciously). To find out how we can change this to ensure that brilliant ideas (that can make a difference to you and your livelihood) get the chance to live and bring you a profitable return and future.
Bounded by biases
You’re biased, I’m biased, everyone on this planet has biases. Many of the biases we have in our mind have evolved over thousands of years to help us survive, yet many of these biases prevent us from ideating and innovating. Our biggest obstacle to innovating is the negativity bias. Over thousands of years our limbic brain which controls our fight and flight responses has developed to be on the lookout for threats. Unfortunately, these threats can be either real or imagined. When it comes to innovating and ideas, the limbic brain imagines these as very real threats to its survival.
Your neo-cortex (the area responsible for creative problem solving and ideas) could create a game changing idea with big potential, yet your limbic brain has different ideas. Your limbic brain does an instantaneous search into the long-term memory banks stored in the the temporal lobes for any similar activity or relatable experience. Because your idea is new and different, all the mind can find in its memory banks are relatable experiences. Experiences of when you did something very different to everyone else.
Unless you have a databank full of successful innovations from your past, your mind is likely to pull up failed examples of what you did differently to other people. Remember the limbic brain is looking for a threat so it’s searching for past experiences that threatened you. Unfortunately for you, the mind recalls everything. It digs up that time you did a presentation that was different to everyone else but didn’t succeed because you didn’t have enough time to prepare it. It remembers that time that another team member tried a new initiative only to get ridiculed when it didn’t succeed. The more examples the mind finds, the more ammunition it has to kill the idea.
Memories override logic
The stronger the memory of these unsuccessful activities or events, the less logic will be able to overpower the limbic brain. The more emotional the experience or event that the memory is attached to, then the more long term and powerful the memory will be, whether it is good or bad. In short, the limbic brain gets the upper hand and suppresses the thinking of the neocortex and you go into a fight or flight response to the idea. This means you either fight with the idea or leave it and move on as quickly as you can. The same happens with other people. They come up with an idea and we process it in the same way. New idea means risk, which equals fight or flight.
New idea but old memory
You see a new idea, yet your brain sees an old memory and new ideas means new risk, so invariably you go into a fight or flight response. This is why so many people fail to take an idea further, because their memory and subconscious mind are risk averse. In many ways your conscious mind creates ideas yet your sub conscious minds kill ideas. To the subconscious mind, different equals dangerous. What’s new is different, what’s different is risky, what’s risky is what’s avoided and what’s avoided is what’s left unattended. The sad news is, what’s left unattended becomes someone else’s opportunity, which becomes someone else’s idea, and if they know how to get beyond their biases, this idea becomes their innovation and their commercial success.
Group thinking sinks innovative thinking
What’s even worse is that when we get together as a group we become even more risk averse. Research has shown that organisations overwhelmingly (close to 90%) will adopt a prevention focus motivation versus a promotion focus motivation. Prevention focused motivation is when we are looking at all the ways we can avoid mistakes happening or preventing us from losing money. Promotion focus motivation on the other hand, is all about looking at what are the gains that can be made. For example, improved sales, additional income, bonuses etc… The bigger the organisation, the bigger the bias to being risk averse and being prevention focused. ‘Start ups’ however, have a much stronger promotion focus motivation that can encourage more ideas and more innovation.
Now, you might be starting to understand that if you’re in a large organisation, even when an idea looks brilliant, unless you can create a 100% money back guarantee that it will work, the idea is likely to be killed.
The fable of an idea left on the table
How many of us have heard of that great idea that was left on the table due to there being more urgent or competing priorities? Or the idea that someone said they had tried years ago, but never actually had. What starts to happen is a collective memory of past projects and even more reasons as to why ideas should be killed. In short, most of us are hard wired to the status quo and to thinking the same way as we always have. We need to short circuit this in order to innovate. We need to overpower the fables of the past and create new stories of the future and create new emotions that can overpower those of the past. For all of us the brain is an artefact of the past. Past experiences, events and emotions. The mind is a recording machine that continually lays down tracks of past experiences, events and choices that we’ve made or others have made over the years.
Most of our thinking is redundant thinking, thinking that has been based on everything in the past. Past products, past services, past needs, past challenges, past failures, past successes, past pressures. The box of what you have been thinking in is an artefact of the past, and you have been starting your thinking in the familiar past.
The more emotionally charged a past experience or event is, the stronger the memory becomes, be that a good or bad experience. These memories in turn affect our thoughts and feelings which then create attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. These in turn lead to the behaviours and choices that we make every day.
In essence, we feel the way we think and we think the way we feel. We have a thought about innovation and we create a biochemical reaction in the brain. The brain then releases chemical signals that are transmitted to the the body. The innovative thoughts that produced the chemicals allow your body then to feel according to the thought. In this instance the thinking creates the feeling.
Addicted to not innovating
We have also become addicted to certain emotions and behaviours. The challenge we have is that too often we are addicted to neuro-chemicals such as the cortisol that comes with an urgent stressful situation. The urgency and the high emotion that is loaded with it makes it a long-term memory that will overpower other thoughts. You’ve neuro-chemically memorised the emotion that has become a part of your standard modus operandi. So, the next time a situation comes up when you could and should be innovating, your emotions prevent you from thinking greater than your feelings and starting to innovate. Instead you look for the emotion that you have become addicted to (urgency, stress etc) and decide that you’ll start innovating tomorrow.
We continually look at runaway tech business successes such as Facebook and Uber to compare them to our own organisations and reaffirm our addiction to being incapable of creating such a phenomenal success. We use entrepreneurial business geniuses such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson to reaffirm our addiction of having ‘a lack’ of opportunity or ‘lack of’ creativity. We reaffirm our addiction to criticism by avoiding any attempt to do something new and giving as much criticism to those that do come up with new ideas. We use our younger co-workers to reaffirm our addiction to judgement and criticise them for wanting to create change faster than what think should be acceptable.
If you could take your business from yesterday and place it into tomorrow and it’s exactly the same, then your business has lost its ability to innovate. It’s stuck in the box and stuck in the program, making the same choices every day, becoming predictable in business and predictable in life. The business environment is controlling and defining the business reality.
Thinking outside of the box is not only about what you think, but what you feel
Thinking ‘outside of the box’, is not just about changing your thinking, it’s about changing your emotions. To commit to innovation you need to do more than just changing your thinking. You need to make a decision with an energy that has such conviction in it that your energy is higher than the emotional addiction of the past. Right now you might be wondering, “how do I get my energy levels up behind making a decision to commit to innovate?”
To get your energy level up one of the ways we can do this is through mental and emotional rehearsal. Just as elite performers and athletes run their upcoming event scene by scene in the mind, we need to apply the same rigour to our future innovation act. Here’s a rundown on how to get your emotional energy levels up whilst mentally rehearsing your innovation activities.
Mental & emotional rehearsal activity
1. Find a space where you can take a couple of minutes without being disturbed
Take some deep breaths trying move the breath from the belly up to the chest and towards the head.
2. Imagine what it would feel like to be a creative genius. How would you feel in your body, in your heart? How exciting would it be to solve those problems that no one else has been able to solve before? Is it a feeling of surprise, excitement, curiosity? Enjoy these feelings, remember them and how they feel.
3. Imagine what it would feel like to have that ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moment when an insight comes to you that reveals something that no one else would have thought of before? Be open to receiving these feelings. Are they feelings of discovery, knowingness, satisfaction, surprise?
4. Notice in your body the feelings that would come to you as you find yourself generating killer ideas that create a solution that could really be a game changer. Would you be having fun, or feeling elated, pumped, proud, confident, humble…? Be open to these feelings, remember them and how good they feel.
5. Tune into receiving the feelings you would have to create a rapid prototype of your idea. To enable you to test an idea at minimal risk yet with maximum opportunity to learn from it to give you certainty and confidence in taking it further. Turn up the feelings whether they are feelings of discovery, curiosity, awe, confidence, fun etc..
6. Now feel what it would be like to take a proven prototype/proof of concept and develop it and launch it for market. Are you feeling clever as you weave around some of the logistical challenges, or ‘in the zone’ as you execute the steps? Intensify them, breathe them in and throughout the body. Remember these feelings and enjoy them.
7. Now imagine, your innovation project is complete and successful, what are the feelings that you are experiencing in the body. Contentment? Happiness? A sense of achievement? Pride? Whatever those feelings are intensify them and breathe them in. Remember all these feelings and emotions you have been experiencing and enjoy them knowing that you can recall them whenever you want.
8. If you’ve managed to find a couple of minutes to do this activity, congratulations you are changing your neurochemistry and laying the neural foundations for you to start innovating and overcome one of the biggest obstacles to innovating. Committing to innovate when the subconscious mind says not to.
There are a number of ways that we can physically reduce the risk of innovating, which I’ve blogged about many times including reducing the implications by testing a very small proof of concept, and reducing uncertainty by running numerous trials, prototypes and proof of concepts quickly.
Whilst running experiments and prototypes are crucial, if you can’t get buy-in from your mind you won’t even take it to the prototyping phase.
Good luck thinking ‘outside of the box’.