“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” — Howard Aiken
It’s not a lack of risk taking that holds innovation and change back.
Even big companies take big risks all the time.
The real barrier to innovation and change is the drag of old mental models.
People end up emotionally invested in their ideas, or they are limited by their beliefs or their world views. They can’t see what’s possible with the lens they look through, or fear and doubt hold them back. In some cases, it’s even learned helplessness.
In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel shares some great insight into what holds people and companies back from innovation and change.
Yesterday’s Heresies are Tomorrow’s Dogmas
Yesterday’s ideas that were profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted, eventually become the norm, and then eventually become a belief system that is tough to change.
“Innovators are, by nature, contrarians. Trouble is, yesterday’s heresies often become tomorrow’s dogmas, and when they do, innovation stalls and the growth curve flattens out.”
Deeply Held Beliefs are the Real Barrier to Strategic Innovation
Success turns beliefs into barriers by cementing ideas that become inflexible to change.
“… the real barrier to strategic innovation is more than denial — it’s a matrix of deeply held beliefs about the inherent superiority of a business model, beliefs that have been validated by millions of customers; beliefs that have been enshrined in physical infrastructure and operating handbooks; beliefs that have hardened into religious convictions; beliefs that are held so strongly, that nonconforming ideas seldom get considered, and when they do, rarely get more than grudging support.”
It’s Not a Lack of Risk Taking that Holds Innovation Back
Big companies take big risks every day. But the risks are scoped and constrained by old beliefs and the way things have always been done.
“Contrary to popular mythology, the thing that most impedes innovation in large companies is not a lack of risk taking. Big companies take big, and often imprudent, risks every day. The real brake on innovation is the drag of old mental models. Long-serving executives often have a big chunk of their emotional capital invested in the existing strategy. This is particularly true for company founders. While many start out as contrarians, success often turns them into cardinals who feel compelled to defend the one true faith. It’s hard for founders to credit ideas that threaten the foundations of the business models they invented. Understanding this, employees lower down self-edit their ideas, knowing that anything too far adrift from conventional thinking won’t win support from the top. As a result, the scope of innovation narrows, the risk of getting blindsided goes up, and the company’s young contrarians start looking for opportunities elsewhere.”
Legacy Beliefs are a Much Bigger Liability When It Comes to Innovation
When you want to change the world, sometimes it takes a new view, and existing world views get in the way.
“When it comes to innovation, a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. Yet in my experience, few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. Worse, it’s usually senior executives, with their doctrinaire views, who get to decide which ideas go forward and which get spiked. This must change.”
What you see, or can’t see, changes everything.