Can You Be an Innovative Expert?

If you’re too fluent in a particular process, method, culture, or piece of software, can you really break out of it and innovate?

Eddie Van Halen didn’t think so. He didn’t take guitar lessons growing up. He experimented on his own and came up with his own signature sound through discovery. Had he taken lessons, he once recounted, it would have limited his thinking.

Jack White doesn’t think so. He deliberately chooses guitars that are a challenge to play, so he can’t get too comfortable with them. When I used to play saxophone, I would put the hardest reed I could find on the horn, which makes controlling the sound difficult. Why? I liked to always be up for a challenge.

This Atlantic article I recently read describes some pretty serous shade being thrown at Apple when the iPhone was first introduced. Notably, the head of RIM (now Blackberry) said it would never represent a “sort of sea change for BlackBerry”.

Do you think the CEO of the company that makes Blackberries might be a little biased? I do. How could he not? RIM was on top of the world in 2007. Times were good. They had disrupted the phone industry by making a bulletproof device that had a dedicated fan base. How does that saying go? “If it ain’t broke…”

How frequently do you hear from other leaders in your firm that an innovative idea would never work? Do you sometimes find it challenging to make progress? Perhaps you yourself have found that you’ve been overly critical of an idea, and dismissed it a little too prematurely? If so, you’re in good company.

Research into how the National Institutes of Health awards its research funding unearthed hostility toward new ideas, and a 2010 UPenn study concluded that people can dismiss new ideas because they introduce uncertainty. In evaluating the new ideas, we have to think about them, which makes us uncomfortable. In fact, we tend toward dismissiveness even when creativity is a stated goal!

How can we as innovators avoid these sort of biases – both in ourselves, and in our organizations? What strategies do you use to break yourself away from our apprehensions? Please come and share your thoughts at DTS! We look forward to a great conversation!

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