In her book, Creative Change, social psychologist Jennifer Mueller asks why we resist change, and how we can embrace it.
It is a cliché that individuals and organizations must innovate to thrive in today’s environment of fast change, and yet we often reflexively resist new ideas when presented with them, to our detriment.
“The irony is that we are more likely to reject an idea because it is creative than to embrace it.”
New ideas don’t show up fully formed. They can be smothered in the crib with all kinds of objections to what may go wrong or what is not in place already to support the innovation.
Dr. Mueller offers five steps to avoiding this kind of knee-jerk reaction to novelty.
Identify whether you are evaluating familiar ideas, creative ideas, or both
Affirmative action an help when dealing with the possibility of unconscious bias, whether it’s in hiring a person or evaluating a proposal. By sorting them into separate piles, it is possible to assess creative ideas first while the team is fresh. Also, if the team finds itself consistently picking the safe bets from the familiar ideas pile, then it is an empirical warning that the team is acting too cautiously.
Prepare to self-disrupt
This reminds me of when Jerry convinced George Costanza that…
“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
Mueller’s advice is to take a break and examine your thoughts and feelings. Is that anxiety caused by fear of the unknown? Channel someone you admire. Ask yourself what Elon Musk would do, for example. Free yourself to embrace a higher degree of risk than usual.
Accept the unknowable
Unclench your mind.
If the idea is sufficiently novel, one cannot know all the effects of its implementation. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t embrace the uncertainty.
Shift from problem finding to problem solving
Avoid finding a problem for every solution. Yes, the idea proposed may have weaknesses, but your focus should be on mitigating or solving them, not proving that the new idea doesn’t have merit as a result.
Partner with your opposite
“This step will require both partners to adopt a firm problem-solving approach in order to resolve the inevitable conflicts that will arise.”
If your best efforts to play the devil’s advocate don’t feel like they are working, invite the devil’s advocate. It’s hard work partnering with somebody who will commonly look at something in a way that’s different from yours, but the effort pays off in a decision considered from all angles.
The very existence of this blog is evidence that I am an advocate for innovation, and I wholeheartedly agree that one should consciously resist the tendency to preserve the status quo.
I would add to Dr. Mueller’s list with advice from startup culture – mitigate the risk of new innovations by taking the smallest possible steps that allow the new idea to be assessed. When the cost of missteps is minimized, one can stride into the unknown with greater confidence.