The Challenge of the Innovation Paradox

The Challenge of the Innovation Paradox

Tara Neven, co-director and founder of neuresource group, looks at a current challenge in organisations today, the need to be more innovative but not knowing how to create the right environment for innovation to flourish. Tara also shares tips on how adapt an innovative mindset in the workplace.

neuresource group: The-Disconnect-From-the-Innovation-Mindset

With the mining boom over, Australian Prime Minster, Malcolm Turnbull, suggests its time to build a new future and states that “Innovation is a big cultural measure”. However, we are currently seeing a disconnect between making the statement that we need to be more innovative and the reality of being more innovative. Innovation is still seen as right or wrong, success or failure rather than a journey towards achievement. Many organisations and people we have worked with, struggle with why and how to build an innovative mindset in their leaders and their teams and address this challenge of the innovation paradox.  In their book, The Innovation Paradox authors, Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes argue that the innovation paradox is not about success OR failure, but success AND failure. So how do we address the challenge of this innovation paradox in our workplaces?

Recognising innovation as a whole, not a black hole!

The emerging formalised need for innovation within organisations requires a well-designed and structured innovation ecosystem, not the fragmented parts we see today where innovation is often simply left to chance.

In Australia, we are failing to build and nurture this ‘innovation ecosystem’ and recognise, license the knowledge and leverage the skills of those in our organisations with an innovative mindset. Our business leaders are not identifying and effectively communicating where innovation links into the organisational strategy.  It is then often left to others to interpret, with a hope it fits somehow. Because there is often a lack of internal clarity, there is also a poor connection to the external environment where innovative opportunities are lost or never recognised for their potential value.

Evidence suggests that there are certain correlations between leaders and teams who are immersed in, and even encouraged to build an innovation mindset and their organisations superior performance. This has been spoken of as one of the principle reasons why certain organisations have an innovation premium in the minds of customers, shareholders, investors and the community at large.

Building a corporate innovation mindset is about being open to learning about everything and anything and embedding it as part of what you do every day.

Innovation can’t be forced…

Innovation requires us to do things in different ways. This can often be a challenge because we are biologically programmed to resist change, as the brain tries to maintain the status quo and conserve energy. When change is viewed as a threat it’s often easier and feels more ‘intuitive’ to do things the way we have always done them.

We suggest that one of the key principles of innovation is being curious. If we remain curious, open to questions and acknowledge our resistance we can provide our brains with the hit of dopamine it requires to become excited and open to new possibilities and undiscovered solutions.  Understanding more about our biology is imperative in supporting the development of an innovation mindset.

To build an innovation mindset leaders need to become comfortable with fear. In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognise that distinction…we have to be careful how we handle our fear—because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.” Supporting your people to being aware of what SCAREs our brains and knowing how to regulate this can support the development of the innovation mindset.

Innovation needs emotion and attention…

We live in a world typified by a real time battle between distraction and human attention and it is creating high levels of cognitive load. High levels of cognitive load impact on our capacity to be creative, problem solve and make decisions that might mean doing something new or out of the box. Business leaders need to accept this challenge, that whilst our people are coping with cognitive overload they also need the space and time to explore new ideas with emotion and the opportunity to learn new things.

Innovation requires thinking outside of the box, but still ultimately making a decision about the way forward. Many workplaces seek innovation and innovative ideas by providing rational decision making “think tank” opportunities, often without room for emotion and debate.

Whilst our workplaces are often highly social and emotional environments, we still, in Australia check our emotions at the door so we can be rational and focus on critical thinking. However, science suggests that every innovative decision has an emotional component and as such the idea of rational thinking being separated from the emotional is not so crystal clear. One way to support people to link emotion and attention to an innovation mindset is to encourage our people to become scientists of our own experience which can simplify and enrich your organisational strategy, leading to an innovative and resilient brain-friendly business.

If you would like to support an innovation mindset, try some of these ideas.

  • Establish weekly innovation challenges as part of your working culture – this could be impromptu competitions and day starters (set small innovation challenges for the day)
  • Encourage people to take time to explore and be curious about ideas and concepts and allow time to discuss and think tank these ideas – this is important and building in reflection time is key to supporting an innovation mindset
  • Allow people to take brain breaks and encourage walking meetings. Innovation cannot be forced, it often comes at the most unusual times, when we are going for a walk or having a lunch time conversation with a colleague

If you want to foster innovative thinkers in your workplace, then providing the appropriate environment and culture to do this is an imperative.  Business leaders and CEO’s must create the connection between rhetoric at the top and the implementation of innovation frameworks that are evidence-based to address this innovation paradox.

To learn more .. catch us on our latest FREE webinar “How to foster an innovation mindset in times of disruption” on Feb 23rd from 12 noon. Click here to register

About the Author:

is the co-founder/director of neuresource group. As an entrepreneur, business strategist, facilitator, learning and development and collective leadership specialist, Tara has over 15 years experience in corporate learning and development, education, business growth and organisational development. The last 10 years of this experience has been in remote and regional areas of Australia. Tara’s primary industry experience has been in the mining and resource sector, construction, local government and medium to large organisations.

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