The beginning of a new year is a traditional time to do some reflection. How are we doing? What are we thankful for? What do we yet want to accomplish? Do we have habits that might be slowing us down, or even holding us back from being all we can be? Probably.
Recenlty, we ran across the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, he describes how we might move from toxic behavior patterns to those that support our creativity and move us toward our goals.
Full disclosure - we haven't read the entire book yet, but it's already inspired us to talk about a few bad habits and toxic patterns that we see getting in the way of creative thinking and innovation. Duhigg says leading thinkers tell us "Habits" make up as much as 40% of our daily behavior. So let's examine a few creativity killing habits, and see if we can break that habit loop. Then substitute some useful habits.
Top 3 Creativity Inhibiting Habits of Individuals:
1) Not looking for value before finding faults. (Solution: First search for value in all new ideas.)
2) Making excuses about no time to think creatively. (Solution: Stop telling yourself that story. In fact, you are thinking creatively all of the time. You're simply overworked. Apply your creative thinking to create a more sane schedule for yourself. Including scheduled, habitual "downtime" to follow a bit of curious bliss.)
3) Being constantly unwilling to support the "naive thinking" of others, because you are more experienced and "know better". (Solution: Start looking for opportunities to support their small experiments. Someone will learn something useful!)
Top 3 Innovation Inhibiting Habits on Teams:
1) Allowing a dynamic that causes team members to feel stupid for contributing their rough or unique ideas. (Solution: Praise first - POINt. Use it and enforce its use in your team.)
2) Focusing exclusively on why an idea won't work. (Solution: Phrase problems as questions: How to..., How might..., In what ways might..., What might be all of the ways to...)
3) Simply going along with everything the highest ranking person on the team contributes. (Solution: Use convergent tools that allow for the wisdom of the group to prevail. Let us know if you're interested in these tools, and we'll do a future blog on some good ones. firstname.lastname@example.org )
The driver of these unproductive habits are the primitive cognitive patterns that we like to call gator brain thinking. The gator brain is focused on survival and perceives newness as a threat that we need to attack, run away from, or ignore.
That's why breaking these innovation hampering habits is so challenging. It goes against our most basic survival instincts to look for what's good about an option before looking for what needs fixing. The gator brain tells us to look for the danger first. If the option survives the "danger scan" only then do we allow ourselves to talk about the good. The proverb "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water" is right. Think about that proverb more deeply. Would we dump the bath water (the bad) and then pick up the baby, injured and bruised? Or would we lift out that wonderful, tender child and nurture it? Dealing with the bath water only as a second thought. Well duh!?! And even that bath water might nurture something beginning to germinate nearby, if we dump it conscously and strategically. So it is in the habit of assuring the survival of the new, the survival of creativity, and the future birthing of innovation.
So this year, let's recognize gator brain thinking and up-shift to a higher brain function (cortex) to help ourselves override these habits.
Trust us when we say that our organization's shareholders, leaders, colleagues and customers want us to improve our creative thinking habits. So does our family and community. They all know-- at least unconsciously-- that consistent and breakthrough innovation is the driver of long-term success. Which requires that we each rise above these habits, challenging others to do the same.
We understand that some folks have people with power above them making it very challenging to believe anything other than the "it's too much of a personal risk to try to be innovative." If that's your situation, we're sorry about that. And frankly, a little angry and sad about it too. We all know life is challenging and it's not a perfect world. Let's not allow the gator thinking in others, or in social groups that we interact with, hold us down. There are creative ways to take personal responsibility for breaking at least our own personal bad habits and for helping to inspire our colleagues, families and friends to do the same. Please join us in that work!
We know, we know - it's stressful! For a little help managing your stress you can read Stress and coping strategies: How the modern innovation leader deals with primitive responses.
Oh, and, when we say "innovation leader" we are talking about you - yes, YOU.