Finding new product ideas and innovations to excite customers requires colossal creative effort and a certain comfort level with risk-taking. The considerable effort to take a product from idea to development to launch is both time and energy intensive. If it also demands dealing with naysayers at the table who poke holes in every idea expressed along the way, valuable momentum is lost.
It’s important to acknowledge that we all have an inherent bias against venturing into unknown territory. We’re descendants of risk averse ancestors whose self-preservation instincts served them well in a time when potential danger lurked behind every boulder or bush. But in today’s world where innovation rules the day, our survival necessitates overcoming these ingrained behavioral biases that hinder new ideas and stifle creative solutions.
Take for example Negativity Bias: We’re conditioned to allow negative impressions to form more quickly than positive ones. A seminal study has proven that, in our minds, bad is stronger than good — negative information, experiences, and even negative people have a stronger effect on us than positive ones. When Negativity Bias joins us at the table, it can stymie even the most adept thinking — like trying to run with lead shoes.
Negativity Bias often keeps us from voicing creative ideas for fear of being thought foolish, impractical, or just plain odd. Yet, early in the innovation process, ideas should be golden nuggets that expand our thinking and promote discovery. When we err on the side of caution and believe that early-stage ideas need to be fully formed and complete, we automatically lapse into judgment mode instead of discovery mode. To preempt this natural tendency, each member of the group needs to set out in the spirit of contributing half-baked, even impractical ideas, just to see where they might lead.
To get past our individual and collective Negativity Bias when the goal is to create something new, turn to these three useful practices:
1. Consciously change from “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…” language. Groups effectively kill innovative ideas with “Yes, but…” comments. Purposely using “Yes, and…” emphasizes what people are in favor of, and invites broader participation. It helps the team respond to new ideas in a way that illuminates their potential while also acknowledging that ideas don’t have to be perfect at the outset.
2. List what you’re for along with what you wish for. When you think of a new idea, make a list of the aspects that are interesting or promising about it (what you’re for), and that show its potential. Don’t worry about addressing any problems with the idea. Instead, focus on what’s good about it. Next to the for list, make a list of what you wish for with the idea. This isn’t a list of cons, but focuses on the issues within the idea that may require problem solving. Use language when you propose wish for items, such as “How might we…(reduce the cost);” or “I wish…(it could be safe).” Finally, use thewish for list and try to generate solutions. This method allows you to optimize the original idea.
3. Let humility keep you honest. No one has the complete picture, ever. Imposing idea-killing pronouncements when the group is striving for creative ideas is not only counter-productive, it smacks of arrogance. It’s possible to extract value from even the most outlandish ideas if you give them proper consideration. Let humility give you the space to become more playful in the creative process and get the most out of every idea.
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Ed Harrington is CEO at Ideas To Go and has spent twenty-five years helping a who’s who of corporate America come up with new and innovative ideas. He serves on the Yale Center for Customer Insights board of directors. Together with Adam Hansen and Beth Storz, he is co-author of the new book, Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation Approach Drives Your Company Forward (Forness Press). For more information, visit www.ideastogo.com.