Are Your Employees Stifling Innovation Without Even Realising?

Stuart Sinclair - July 4, 2014

New research suggest that the very people entrusted with innovation might be the ones who are actually stifling creativity.

Not that it's a conscious action of course. The team at the University of San Diego suggested that even minor changes to your mindset influence your ability to assess creativity.

The study compared the reactions of two groups to a new product designed to solve a specified problem. One group was told there was only one solution to the problem, whilst the other was informed there were many potential solutions. Those who were told there was only one solution judged the solution offered to be less creative.

In the words of Natalie Burg at, "People evaluating ideas can harbor a negative bias against creativity without realizing it."

Goal-setting by another name?
For those of us brought up in our business lives on the concept of goal-setting, another finding is probably less surprising; the contrast between a 'how' and a 'why' mindset. "Those who looked at an idea while considering how it might be feasible or practical seemed to get hung up on those details and were less likely to deem an idea creative."
Goal-setting teaches us to look ‘through’ to the far side of a goal (the end result) rather than 'to' (the goal itself), where the logistics of making it happen can detract from an objective viewpoint.

A failure to innovate can hinder the success of any organisation. That’s why we  created our own innovation white paper – to help you flourish in an  ever-changing economic climate.

Changing management mindsets
The problem of course, is how to change the mindsets of executives or managers (sadly, there's that ‘how’ again). As Burg says, "Nothing makes an executive’s priorities clearer to the entire team like dedicating time and energy to facilitating innovation." Her suggested solution is a hackathon, a dedicated time slot set aside for a team to work together to turn a concept into a working demo. A hackathon takes the idea of brainstorming or blue skies thinking, and merges it with product development, whilst compressing the time frame.

The rise of the CIO
Another key indicator of a change in business attitude to innovation, suggests Berg, is the rise of the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO). Ten years ago, this job title didn't even exist. Now, companies and organisations declare their dedication and commitment to innovation by appointing an executive to turn ideas into reality (and ROI, one suspects).

Perhaps the very action of appointing an officer who champions innovation is a tacit acceptance of how some CEOs need to look through not to, and focus away from the 'how'. Assuming that the CIO they appoint has the right mindset, of course…

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