I studied neuroscience and discovered the number one way to strangle your business innovation. If you don’t overcome this challenge you won’t become an innovator or realise your innovation dreams.
Most people think business innovation fails because of a lack of a good idea or poor execution. While they both hurt, they are NOT the number one problem.
Today I’ll highlight the number one problem you must overcome and give you SIX ways to fix it.
The Invisible Disease Killing Your Innovation
COVID shut the world down and disrupted everyone and every business. The problem with a virus like Covid is that you can’t see it, you don’t know who has it or whether you’re getting it. Plus, it spreads really easily.
Every business suffers from ‘Innovation COVID’ – it’s a disease you can’t see, it affects every single person AND it spreads really easily. It’s strangling your innovation success and you don’t even know it.
The Neuroscience of Innovation
Gregory Berns is a neuroscientist and the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University. He wrote a great book about the neuroscience of personal innovation: Iconoclast – A Neuroscientist reveals how to think differently.
He asked the question: how do you tackle something that you haven’t done before – and succeed?
Berns proposed 3 reasons why innovation fails. This is part 3 in a 4-part series.
The Life or Death Moment of Business Innovation
Imagine you’re sitting in an important meeting. Your business is facing a new challenge. Perhaps, you have a new competitor that is winning more sales or there’s a new piece of technology, like AI, that’s changing how you do things. The conversation you’re having right now will decide the future success of your business.
An idea pops into your head. What do you do?
- Do you blurt it out?
- Do you sit there and mull it over?
- Or, do you instantly dismiss it and say nothing?
This is the life-or-death moment of business innovation. It’s the chokepoint. It’s the moment you strangle your innovation or you give it air and let it breathe.
The big question is this: When you have an idea, does it get aired or strangled?
These moments happen all the time in business. But you can’t see them because they’re silent and invisible. They’re happening inside someone’s head. You never know if someone has a great idea but doesn’t share it. And I’ll bet you’re doing it too.
Why You Have an Innovation Problem
The number one thing that strangles your business innovation is not a lack of ideas.
It’s fear. The fear that stops you from speaking up and sharing the ideas you have.
Now, you might think the easy solution is to be more courageous – just speak up and you can be successful. You’re right. That would be easy. But if it was that easy then you wouldn’t have an innovation problem.
Hardwired for the Status-quo
The challenge is that you are hard-wired for fear whenever you are faced with a new situation or a new idea. And the reason you do it is because we’re all hard-wired the same way.
The deeper problem is that fear is stressful. It doesn’t feel good so you avoid it. That’s why you don’t innovate and create things that haven’t been done before. You’re scared. And you’re stressed.
But Fear is Useful
Fear is a basic survival mechanism that aims to keep you safe. It stops you from taking any action the brain perceives as being potentially dangerous. In your modern lifestyle, your potential dangers are more likely to be emotional or social than physical. Sabretooth tigers are less of a problem than being voted off the island.
But your fear also stops you from taking action, and it stops you from becoming an innovator.
Don’t Become This Person
In the short term, fear and stress are uncomfortable,
and you can distract yourself with chocolate, wine, or social media.
However, the long-term problem with repeated stress is that it can remodel the part of your brain that controls decision-making. This means you avoid risks and become the brake that stops innovation from happening. If you keep doing this it will strangle your career and your business.
You don’t want to become the person who always tells everyone why things can’t be done. That’s not a good career move.
The Three Types of Fear that Strangles Your Innovation
If you want to be an innovator, there are three types of fear you need to be aware of.
1 Fear of Failure
What if I get this wrong? A fear of failure can stop you from taking action. Or worse, when your fear of failure gets out of control you’ll do anything to succeed – which can be dangerous for everyone.
2 Fear of the Unknown
I don’t know how to do this. Have you been struggling with uncertainty since the pandemic? Most of us have. This makes you stressed and unsettled and it impacts your performance across all of your work – and all of your life. It closes down your enjoyment of life.
3 Fear of Rejection or Social Exclusion
What will other people think? The fear of rejection causes you to pull back and hide. This is why keeping the status quo is easier than innovation. And it’s why the Innovation Curse of Group Think is so common. None of us want to be voted off the island.
Overcoming the Fear of Innovation
If feeling fear is part of the human experience, then how can you manage it so that it doesn’t strangle your business innovation?
The general solution lies in the culture of your team. You need to create a safe space for people to share their ideas.
If you want me to create a separate post/video on creative cultures then let me know in the comments below.
The more specific solution, that Gregory Berns addresses is personal innovation.
Six Ways to Become an Innovator
Here are six ways to manage your fear to help you become an innovator.
1 Find partners
Being part of a group is safe, but it also limits innovation. That’s where Groupthink happens. But being on your own is worse. Instead, find one – just one – like-minded person to partner with. Find an Innovation Buddy to share your ideas with.
An easy way to find your buddy is to share this blog post or video with a colleague and discuss it. Simply copy and paste the URL into your browser and in your message say, ‘I’d like to discuss this with you. Are you interested?’
2 Transform your Emotion
Turn your fear into something else! Your fear can easily become anger or pride and these can motivate you forward. Reframe what is happening into something productive. For instance, speaking in public may be seen as a challenge to be accepted not one to be avoided.
3 Create an Idea Market
One of the great killers of innovation programs is social influence. It’s risky to put your hand up in a meeting and say ‘I have an idea’. You don’t know how people are going to react to you or your idea. And if you do it too often you can become a social outcast where no one listens to anything you say. And that’s not good for your career.
One way around this is to create an Idea Market which allows people to submit ideas anonymously. And then others can vote on the ideas they like. It takes away the social pressure and it signals that innovation is important to your organisation.
4 Limit Exposure
Identify your fear and then look for ways to work around it. For instance, instead of speaking your idea to everyone in a meeting, share it with a single colleague afterwards to get a private opinion.
5 Change your process
Ideas are like babies. They need a parent to nurture them through to adulthood until they can stand on their own two feet.
This is a big danger for sharing ideas in meetings. It’s too easy for someone to dismiss an idea outright simply by saying – ‘That will never work’.
Your first thoughts are almost never fully fleshed out. They may have the seed of a solution but they need work to improve them. To avoid instantly rejecting potentially good ideas, create a way to rate or review ideas before they are ditched.
6 Face your fear
Your fear will dull the more you do something. Public speaking is a great example. Find ways to practise overcoming your fear of speaking up and sharing your thoughts. For instance, use baby steps. What’s the smallest idea you can suggest?
And here’s an easy way to practise overcoming your fear. Add a comment below and tell me how you manage your fear to speak up and share your ideas.
More on Overcoming the Roadblocks to Business Innovation
This is the third in a four-part series on the roadblocks to Business Innovation. To become an innovator here are three other posts you might want to read next: