Am I Allowed Here?

by Tim Kastelle

Here is an outstanding talk from Nilofer Merchant (and an interesting post about the background to it) – it is well worth your time:

Here are some of the key points that jump out at me in this talk:

1. New ideas should change us

One of her first points is that even though people frequently talk about being in favour of innovation, in practice many of these same people actually block it. Why? Because new ideas lead to change, and we often don’t like to change. Do we secretly resist innovation? This is a question that merits serious thought.

I was fortunate enough to talk with Nilofer face-to-face last week. We discussed a variety of things, including management books. She strongly made the point that if we’re going to write things that genuinely have an impact on people, then we should be explicit about how we want them to behave differently after reading these offerings. New ideas should change us, and we should be conscious of this whenever we create, share, or encounter new ideas. And we should be open to this in all of these situations as well.

2. The key question that you encounter about innovation is: Am I Allowed Here?

Am I Allowed Here?Are organizations serious about wanting ideas from people? In many cases, again, there is a gap between the rhetoric and the practice. This relates very strongly with the first point. Seeing the world differently drives innovation. But in many places, seeing the world differently is not welcome – and this contributes to the feeling that you’re not allowed to innovate. Giving yourself permission is often the biggest step you take in becoming innovative. If you’re a manager, supporting people who see the world differently is critical.

3. We often filter out ideas that we haven’t encountered before

Normal is good, and fitting in is good. At least, that’s what our brain tells us. One consequence of thinking this way is that if we run across an idea that is novel (at least to us), we block it out. This is a problem. A lot of our management practice is designed to reduce variation – to make things more efficient, to eliminate problems, to turn as much of our work as possible into a routine, or an algorithm. But innovation requires increasing variation.

4. Ideas grow when they are shared

The last big idea in the talk is that ideas get better when they’re built upon. In order for this to happen, we have to let them go. This again is counter-intuitive. Our great ideas are ours, right? Nope.

These are just three of the ways that we block innovation, even if we think we’re in favor of it.

How I’d Like You to Change Your Behavior After Reading This

Here are some things you can do to address these issues:

  • Give yourself permission to innovate, even if you think you’re not allowed to.
  • If you’re a manager, find ways to support people that increase the diversity of ideas in your organisation. Don’t just focus on improving efficiency.
  • Make a conscious effort to run across new ideas. Subscribe to blogs that you don’t agree with, or that make you mad, and engage with these ideas.
  • Let your next idea go. Share it, and see how it grows.

Ideas have power, and great ideas should change how we act. And remember, that’s how we act, collectively.


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Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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