What is true innovation? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s, “The action or process of innovating” and “A new method, idea, product, etc.”
During my improv-world journey, I have come across so many quotes about how we should be innovating, such as: “Bad ideas are bridges to good ideas, no ideas lead to nothing,” or, “Bring a brick, don’t bring a cathedral.” The first is saying that all ideas are good, no matter how outlandish. Even though we may or may not implement the crazy idea, we should consider it and see where it takes the conversation. The second quote says that a leader should not bring a solution to the problem, challenge, or goal they are addressing (the cathedral), but rather, their role should be to solicit ideas (bricks) from the group to build a viable solution as a team.
Innovation requires the acceptance of all ideas in order to move forward and be effective. Ego-driven leaders who shoot down ideas from their team stop innovation in its tracks. True innovation is fueled by the former, not the latter, approach, because criticism during creation stifles the creative process.
There are two kinds of thinking that drive innovation: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of coming up with as many ideas as possible and not censoring yourself, criticizing, or qualifying the concept. Divergent thinking is all about quantity, not quality. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of analyzing and critiquing ideas to determine which are viable.
You may be wondering, what is wrong with criticizing an idea during the divergent thinking process? It would seem we are using our time more effectively, right? Not really. When we say, “We can’t do that,” or, “We tried last year,” or, “We don’t have the resources to pull that off,” they turn idea generation off at the source. The risk of volunteering your idea with a high probability of it being shot down makes the risk not worth taking, and a potential good idea, or something that leads to one, dies on the vine.
What’s the alternative? With the philosophy of, “Yes! And”, we are meant to accept another person’s idea and add on to it. When we do this, we are increasing our confidence to take risks and taking risks without fear generates impressive creativity! There is a name for this – it is called psychological safety. Psychological safety during divergent thinking creates a culture of accepting all ideas without criticism or punishment.
Changing our mindset takes time because we are hard-wired to criticize during the ideation process. However, there are ways to change this pattern. The best way I’ve found to begin to break this pattern is to set a timer for 10 minutes and see how many ideas you and your team can collect without any additional dialogue.
Patience and tolerance by the leader are critical for any team to begin to change their mindset in this respect. The ultimate goal is to create a culture where crazy ideas are accepted and supported with patience and encouragement.
How can you and your team change how you innovate, creating a more robust and engaging environment that encourages and rewards risk-taking, respect of others, patience, vulnerability, and giving everyone a say in the process? Start immediately and work on the process. Over time, your team’s ability to solve problems will flourish.