Innovation psychology, innovation leadership: are there any skills more psychology based than those around innovation leadership? Very few.
Is the psychology of innovation understood? Can anyone learn the skills of creativity and innovation? Can any leader master innovation psychology and learn to lead innovation?
On the first question: Yes, the psychology of innovation is understood, certainly at an applied level.
On the second question: can anyone learn the skills of creativity and innovation? Yes, absolutely! Any mentally normal person (whatever that means) can learn to be creative and innovative.
Fortunately, we’ve moved a long way from the days of ‘lateral thinking’ and ‘brainstorming’ and ‘word-association’ and other, at best, hit-and-miss techniques of that kind.
Modern methods equip staff and leaders to generate literally hundreds of ideas a day; thousands in group workshops, systematically and reliably.
Anyone, who learns about innovation and creativity psychology and is willing to use the systematic and reliable methods, which now exist, can quickly learn to be creative, and generate vast numbers of commercially relevant ideas, in real time.
Anyone who understands applied innovation psychology, and applies the techniques, can be innovative.
Most people don’t believe it’s possible to create literally thousands of commercially relevant ideas so consistently and so quickly.
That’s not surprising; they’ve tried bizarre approaches like wearing different hats and have experienced, first-hand, how ineffective the previous generations of methods were, or rather, are.
In a live audience situation up-to-date techniques can generate several ideas a minute! Confronted with that kind of on-demand-evidence, right in front of their eyes, even the skeptics start to believe it’s possible for creativity to be systematic and reliable if people are equipped with the right tools.
What could you achieve if you mastered those tools? What could your staff deliver if they could use the modern tools of creativity and innovation with ease?
How can you train staff to be creative and innovative?
Many people have self-imposed, low expectations, of their ability to create. It’s a leadership challenge most leaders will have experienced: how can you get someone who expects not to be able to do something to even begin doing it? Good question. From the innovation psychology here is just one tried and tested answer: by helping them to generate vast numbers of ideas, quickly, in real time.
When people who previously thought ‘I can’t’ look at the large number of ideas that they have quickly created, the dis-empowered ‘I can’t’ mind-set is replaced with: ‘Wow, I really can do this!’
Having experienced self-competence, under guidance, people are naturally motivated towards acquiring independent capability. It then takes about a day, using individual and group coaching methods, for people to be able to generate vast numbers of commercially relevant ideas, as and when they wish.
Back to our question: how can you train creativity?
First, demonstrate to people that they can generate ideas, by example.
There is no better leadership tool than example, and a powerful example is provided when the person achieves real-time results by following simple steps.
Once people have proven to themselves that they can do it, they want to understand what is behind the guidance that enabled their creativity. ‘Show me how’ questions emerge, such as: ‘How did we do that? Show me how to do it myself!’
When that level of motivation is present it takes just a day for staff to learn how to produce commercially useful ideas, on demand, in huge numbers.
As a leader, if you understand the psychology of innovation, if you, yourself, have mastered the techniques well enough to generate vast numbers of ideas in real time, and, can coach others to do so, too, you can be in the position to have huge numbers of ideas to choose from.
At this point many leaders, in the privacy of an innovation coaching session, express concern: “How am I going to cope with vast numbers of ideas?”
That, too is a motivation level pointer. Leaders want to be able to constructively handle potential innovations, but fear being swamped, overloaded.
Such sweet problems are rare in the world of leadership. When one comes along, enjoy it!
More seriously, there are multiple highly effective techniques to manage a huge flow of ideas.
Whichever of the available methods you choose to lead the handling of vast numbers of ideas, there will be an idea filtering process.
Therein lie many dangers: too much filtering and you kill creativity stone-dead; too little filtering and all sorts of unrelated, unfocused and unusable ideas emerge and waste time.
Filtering correctly is as important as filtering at the right time.
When is the right time? ‘After ideas have been generated,’ you might reasonably think? Let’s explore that.
How many of the best ideas that you’ve generated, were in their final and finished form when you first created them? Very, very few, if any!
That tells us something very important about harnessing creativity: if we filter ideas at birth we will, in all probability, eliminate ideas that could have grown to be hugely lucrative and useful.
We don’t write-off babies who emerge from the womb unable to read and write and discuss the finer points of innovation psychology. We nurture, develop, and guide them to the point of full competence.
When do we filter ideas? After the ideas have been substantially developed, improved, refined and shaped: not, absolutely not, when they are born. The great news is that there are many effective techniques available to take raw ideas to the point where you can choose from the best of the best.
Many of the barriers to innovation come from the innovation psychology of leaders being less than helpful.
For example as expressed by this often made statement: “My workload is increasing, there isn’t time for creative thought.”
Without fail, the most successful organisations in the world are the most innovative. Leaders in innovation superstar organisations look at their competitors and think: “I hope they don’t realise that we only lead the field because we spend huge amounts of time generating ideas to improve, and that they could, too!”
Managers at the other end of the innovative spectrum think: “That’s OK for them; they’ve got huge budgets, and top class people.”
Part of a well adjusted innovation psychology in effective leaders is a realistic and grounded awareness that the products, services and processes of today will be obsolete tomorrow, and a liability the day after.
They understand that pushing staff to do more and more work in less and less time, to survive today, can never create the ideas needed to thrive tomorrow.
In fact, it has the opposite effect! People over-pushed today are neither capable of, nor willing to, offer the discretionary creative effort required to transform their company’s future.
Note that phrase: discretionary effort.
Staff can choose whether or not to generate ideas. Once generated, staff can choose whether or not to share them with you.
One of the psychological factors that will determine whether ideas are shared, or withheld, whether discretionary effort is made, is your organisational culture.
Creating a culture receptive to, and generative of ideas is essential.
Leaders at all levels make the difference between staff taking their brains to work, or, leaving them on the pillow.
Averagely competent leaders can get people to offer a little discretionary effort, physically.
Better managers and leaders can get staff to go beyond what is required, physically and emotionally.
The best leaders use a range of techniques to create a culture where the peak of discretionary effort is offered enthusiastically: physically, emotional and intellectually – thus nurturing ideal circumstances for creativity.
Great innovation leaders (Edison was one, Jobs another, Gates yet another) inspire their staff to create as part of their normal work culture.
It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of innovation psychology for the future of your company and humanity: ideas are the currency of all human affairs.
All revenue, innovation, growth, profit, and progress come from ideas. Effective innovation leadership has, at its core, a deep understanding of performance psychology, innovation psychology, and of how to create, shape and lead cultures that embrace, value, and generate ideas.
Culture leadership is an essential part of innovation leadership. We can cover that in another blog.
On the third question: Can any leader master innovation psychology and learn to lead innovation? Yes, but only a rare few will take the action necessary to give their company, and themselves such a powerful competitive advantage. Are you one?
If you want a sufficiently deep understanding of innovation psychology to transform the innovative fortunes of your company contact PsyPerform.
Prof Nigel MacLennan
Copyright PsyPerform 2016