The terrifying world of innovation

In the past twelve months I have embraced and thoroughly enjoyed a shift of emphasis from knowledge and sense making over to creativity and innovation. In hindsight the transition seems perfectly natural, as once you have made sense of a situation you can begin to reveal and resolve any emerging problems.
As I move closer towards the bough of the innovation process, without doubt the greatest challenge is how to turn ideas into action and therefore deliver innovation (not just creative ideas). I have facilitated so many workshops that have ended with enthusiasm, and buy-in to the ideas that have emerged yet three, six, nine months down the line hardly any progress has been made.
What I didn’t realise was that my presence in an organisation might, quite naturally, bring on aversion and fear.

Something that caught my eye in October this year and I have been referring to repeatedly during recent workshops is an article in the Science Daily blog about two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania

Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
Certain groups of people may have an anti-creativity bias

When creative ideas were presented to certain groups they associated the ideas with negative words such as “vomit,” “poison” and “agony.”
and this, the report suggests is why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancements, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary.

Last night reading Simon Baron-Cohen’s new book ‘The Science of Evil‘ while reflecting on ‘human cruelty’  he talks about individuals who have ‘zero’ empathy and lists ten new ideas. Two of which especially cried out to me, in which he highlights how lacking empathy may have a positive, even naturally selected benefit in society, hence ‘zero-positive’.

Idea 8: Zero-Positive is the result of a mind striving to step out of time … in order to see the eternal repeating patterns in nature. Change represents the temporal dimension seeping into an otherwise perfectly predictable, systemizable world.

Idea 9: When such predictable patterns are interrupted, for example by the existence of another person who might perform an unpredictable action, the zero-positive individual can find this aversive and even terrifying. Hence, zero-positives typically resist change at all costs.

Classic autism, Baron Cohen believes, is such a case of

total resistance to change, a retreat into a perfectly systemizable, and thus predictable, world. Unpredictable step-change innovation may therefore be seen as terrifying.

Finally, spending time at an airport with a colleague recently he pointed out at the taxiing aircraft and said that

the reason air travel is such a safe travel option is because innovation in the aerospace industry is almost totally constrained by improving safety and therefore inch by inch incremental safety improvements.

Pursuing innovation in such an ecosystem is therefore a huge challenge and does not end at the list of lessons learned, intricately analysed solutions or even fully populated action plan. How do we make the most of real fear and aversion?

And that, dear reader, is the challenge for 2012.



  1. Hi Ron, and first, best wishes for the new year, I have enjoyed your posts which so often have something of interest.
    The dark night of the innovation was long recognised by Synectics, who I used to work for as an innovation consultant (now Synectics World).
    Recognising as you did the often failure to follow up I first sought refuge in TRIZ, surely the complete closure tools of TRIZ (which you know and have written about) would do the trick? No, the people working around the world with TRIZ often speak of the same poor follow through, though less so with companies like Samsung who have had such success they could do nothing else but adopt it wholesale.
    So I went back to my original profession of psychology to try to find some answers, some I found in the idea of Multiplicity, most recently expounded by Rita Carter but actually begun with the founder of psychology William James. Basically, we bring one mind to the creativity session and another the day after to ‘work’.
    Then I went into the neuroscience of decision making, leading to the idea of judgement formation, judgements being what trigger decisions, not you, or I, we don’t have that level of free will.
    But we maybe have the power to nudge direction, we have the power to choose a little in the way we value, or not, reason, and intuition, and creative thinking, and about how we can use each of these to check on the other, and themselves, I am writing about some of these thing in my blog,
    And in my books How to Invent (Almost) Anything, Judgement Day and How to Advise the President, all on Kindle.
    OK, that’s the ad. Hope that is OK.
    Keep up the good work!

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