Opening Up to Innovation

I just finished running an innovation workshop for a world-class educational organisation. What I love about working with educators is that they manage to drop all of their high level teaching expectations in order to improve their learning.

There's something to be said about this approach. In many ways, it's simply being willing to unlearn in order to learn. What gets in the way of us learning is our previous experiences which can cloud the opportunities in front of us.

Being open to learning, whether that be listening to someone else's point of view, not judging and allowing people to communicate their messages in its entirety takes patience. but increases our learning experience.

I've got a kooky theory that I've been testing for years on a way that we can be more open to different views. Years ago, I noticed that a colleague would always have her mouth open when she was listening to someone talk to her in a conversation. When I originally started to watch her, I was fascinated. Was it because her jaw was tired? Did she like to let the air cool her mouth down? Was she waiting to say something?

For months after noticing her little quirk, I kept thinking about it. Then I started to experiment doing it myself. Did it change the way I would breathe? Would it change the way I felt or think?

The more I started experimenting, the more I realised that opening my mouth (slightly so as not to scare other people) would interrupt the way I would normally listen, and therefore process the information being shared.

I started to realise that, in fact, what was happening, was that I was less likely to make a judgment on what someone was talking about, or a judgment on the person themselves. So, with continued experimentation I would use this open mouth technique when listening to other people’s points of view and differing perspectives.

If I found myself started to judge before letting people complete, I'd realise that my mouth was closed.

Months later, I bumped in to my colleague, and not being shy of asking unusual questions, I asked her about my observation. “Did you know that when you listen. you have your mouth slightly open?” No, she wasn't aware of her quirk. As I started to share my theory with her, she could start to see some of the merits in it.

One of the interesting things about this colleague is that she is one of Australia's best business coaches. A job that requires dedicated listening without jumping to conclusions or giving opinions at the first instant.

Upon sharing the theory with my chiropractor, he described this as breaking a circuit. We all have habits and reflexes for various situations. If a reflex for making a judgment is closing the jaw and we interrupt this, then effectively we have broken the circuit that would normally be in place.

Breaking the circuit disrupts the thinking process and automatic habits you have in place. Thereby, opening yourself to new information without a previous automatic response.

Innovation is primarily about interrupting our habits. Opening the mouth can help create this disruption and open you up to new possibilities, combinations and ultimately new innovation.

Have fun trying out this open-mouth technique.


Nils Vesk

Founder of Ideas with Legs | Innovation Speaker | Consultant | Author

nils vesk