What does your personality suggest about your approach to innovation?

The is the second of two blogs about innovation.  This concentrates on the connection between human personality, behaviour and innovation which, as we saw in part 1, is not only about massive, new initiatives but encompasses a broad sweep of smaller, gradual steps of improvement to processes used by an organisation, the approaches used to lead and manage its people who may no longer be working co-locatedly as they were pre-pandemic, and to product specification and service experience. Processes encompass systems, both technological ones and organisational practices. 

If you are running a SME, what can you do to learn more about your natural style? How does this aid and abet innovation or raise stumbling blocks that can slow progress and burn-up scarce resources like money, time and people’s health and well-being? 

Kurt Lewin – still strong after 75 years

A pivotal piece of psychological theory is Kurt Lewin’s environment formula. This states that behaviour is a function of personality and situation. Innovation changes the situation. If personality is relatively stable, it is necessary to learn to adapt behaviour to succeed in the new situation. It is not always obvious when making relatively small adjustments to a product line, production or distribution practices, opening hours, procurement, on-line presence, internal people and finance procedures that these represent innovation. Each changes the situation and produces a consequential need to adjust behaviour. How much innovation and change fails to reap projected benefits because the need to change behaviour receives insufficient attention? 

For instance, new low-cost software that tracks what everyone is doing is too easily seen as “Big Brother”.  In the 1990s when call recording was introduced into contact centres, it was viewed sceptically at the centre I led.  Through a bottom-up ideas scheme a suggestion to use the system to support an incentive to identify the best call of the month was implemented. The early scepticism was faded away. 

Through the pandemic, the sale of systems to monitor people’s use of time has grown considerably.  Why aren’t people being trusted to do the work they are responsible for and to do it well?  Simon Sinek, says, “We don’t trust people to follow the rules. We trust people to know when to break them.”

Knowing me, knowing you

In a previous blog https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/leader-of-leaders/self-insight/knowing-me-knowing-you-part-2/, I wrote about the three legs of the stool of personality, i.e. traits, motives and values.

Do you know what your traits are?

  • How do you prefer to think about how to overcome a problem or satisfy an opening in the market? 
  • How do you talk about your ideas? 
  • How do you respond to others’ suggestions? 
  • Do you leap before you look? 
  • Are you extrinsically motivated by money or otherwise?

Here is one framework from Glowinkowski International’s Global Predisposition Indicator (GPI™) that examines an individual’s natural approach to conceiving ideas, broadcasting them, and winning buy-in to them. This depicts someone who conceives ideas that significantly develop what exists, perhaps on occasions devising an idea that is more transformational.  The individual doesn’t naturally sing about their idea to the fullest extent to everyone they meet. Their preferred Internalise manner will see them explain some but not all of the idea to see how it lands before saying more.  The bar at the foot of the page provides an indication, a proxy, for the natural sales ability.  This data suggests that is not very strong. So, potentially, many conversations but little traction gained.

© Glowinkowski™ International Limited

Motivationally, how does power compel you to act? Are you a controlling autocrat or more collegiate and willing to seek the views of others and build consensus? Another remark from Simon Sinek simply states, “Leaders eat last!”.  Many firms have their employees sign over the intellectual rights to any ideas they make in the workplace, which strikes me as one way of stifling innovation.  If someone cares enough about their organisation to think how it can operate better, don’t they deserve some direct reward? 

Innovation – it’s all in the head, isn’t it?

My view is creativity occurs in the head, it’s a cerebral process. Innovation is far more action oriented; it demands something be done once impelled by the cognitive function of creativity.

  • What is the nature of the ideas you conceive?  Are you naturally inclined to think big, new, novel, or is your train of thought oriented more towards small improvements? Consider the six-sigma approach where the aim is to reduce defects to 3 point something per million opportunities. 
  • What is your appetite for risk?  Will you “bet the farm” by mortgaging your assets or are you unwilling to do this and prefer to fund development and innovation through free cash flow?

When I started work in 1977, the idea of highly leveraged balance sheets was frowned upon when lending to companies – they were viewed as high risk. Now high leverage is applauded, although it does sometimes cause severe issues, e.g., collapse of retailers like Debenhams. 

“Be fearless,” I’ve heard uttered quite a bit, yet is that sage advice? Is there a better way of expressing this encouragement? Being brave does not mean you lack fear, but it is having the ability to step forward despite all the fears; it’s courage. Some risk assessment is necessary, not to the extent of analysis causing paralysis but sufficient to reduce rather than entirely eliminate the likelihood of jumping into the pit of vipers.

Alongside bravery and courage, I’d place maintaining a sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness. As Robert Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are, and say why. I dream of things that never were and say why not.” However, we appear to squeeze a child’s natural inquisitiveness out of them like toothpaste from a tube in our didactic, exam-factory schools.  It is pleasing to see the work of the late Sir Ken Robinson receive fresh life through the publication of “Imagine if, creating a future for us all”, written jointly by him and his daughter Kate. 

The Change Formula

This states that the resistance to change is only overcome when the existing level of dissatisfaction times a clear vision being set for the future times evidence of first steps being taken is greater, or D x V x F > R (from Beckhard and Harris (1987) and attributed by them to David Gleicher).

As a leader, do you know how dissatisfied your people are with how your firm operates? What are you doing to develop and share a vision of an alternative, innovative approach? Can people see some attempts to realise this?

This article describes how Renault is using a community approach to overcome resistance, https://hbr.org/2022/01/inside-renaults-community-driven-approach-to-innovation?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_monthly&utm_campaign=strategy_activesubs&utm_content=signinnudge&deliveryName=DM175362

Renault’s approach portrays encouragement of “positive deviance”, which is a fresh term to me that I discovered in this article, https://www.involve.org.uk/resources/methods/positive-deviance. As a leader, what are you doing to cultivate the grit in the oyster of your organisation that will spur on a new idea and improve its existing practices or identify new approaches? How can this irritant help you navigate the Ansoff matrix of product development and customer segmentation?

Two quotes from George Bernard Shaw reflect dissatisfaction. One is, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” The second is, “The reasonable person adapts themselves to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to themself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”

This expressible disagreeability is evident in this Harvard article, https://hbr.org/2022/03/how-to-steer-clear-of-groupthink, when Ken utters the single word, “Onerous.”  Is this Ken’s predisposition influencing his behaviour, is it a learned behaviour or is his remark a coping mechanism to something he feels uncomfortable about? The more you understand about these human factors, the more likely you are to cultivate and maintain a climate in which people are more willing to innovate.

What impels or impedes innovation?

In the past two years, innovation has been a necessity to combat the impact of the pandemic.  Leaders have turned their organisations on a sixpence to upend how they deliver their products and services.  As employees were compelled to work from home, new practices and technologies were deployed some, as indicated, in less than trustful ways. 

The deftest leaders found fresh, compelling ways to engage with their staff, checking in with them not checking up.  There has been a sea-change in attitude towards mental-health and well-being. 

This article highlights how technology can increase employees’ sense of autonomy, https://hbr.org/2022/01/how-companies-are-using-tech-to-give-employees-more-autonomy.

In education, did the pandemic spur innovation to go far enough in shifting engaging pedagogy in the classroom to dry-as-sand on-line information transfer?  My friends at www.cndg.info show what is possible in their work with universities in Florida. 

Much innovation occurs by chance, from mistakes, and from trusting people to try something different in order to meet customers’ needs, https://www.businessinsider.com/these-10-inventions-were-made-by-mistake-2010-11?r=US&IR=T#do-inventions-amaze-you-learn-about-these-wacky-ideas-created-on-purpose-16.  

Objectivity helps

Many years ago, I was told the tale of a major tool manufacturer setting a goal, “to be more innovative”. The needle on the dial didn’t move. A new CEO added to this aspiration the intent of 20% of revenue coming from new products within the next three years.  It succeeded.  It remains highly regarded for its innovation. 

When considering innovation, what financial aims are you setting?  When achieved, to where does that value flow? To employees, to the customer experience, to reducing debt, to funding more innovation, to leaders’ bonuses. Innovation also relies on the “WIIFM” factor – what’s in it for me? 

This report is a few years old now, yet remains valid in setting out companies innovation objectives,  https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/zh_cn/Images/aberdeen_portfolio_mgmt_tcm78-5843.pdf. These include:

  • Balance the product development pipeline with development capacity (59%)
  • Increase the success rate of products introduced (39%)
  • Increase percent of revenue from new products (38%), i.e., the tool manufacturer.
  • Increase value of products chosen (37%)

In the passage of time since this article was published, another key priority for firms’ innovation is the environment. Many firms are paying considerable attention to the Circular Economy yet, as questions about electric cars show, there are many issues still to resolve with unequivocal evidence, see, https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/why-innovation-is-a-double-edged-sword-for-the-circular-economy/

The white heat of scientific revolution

Almost sixty years ago, Britain’s PM, Harold Wilson, gave a speech in Scarborough concluding with the memorable lines about the country’s future prosperity relying on innovation.  The same remains true today, perhaps even more so. 

Our world has jumped from the pan of the Covid pandemic into the fire of war in Ukraine. Beyond this conflagration, which hopefully will not decay into global, nuclear conflict, lies the threat of global warming arising from climate change about which I wrote in https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/general-leadership/climate-change-what-needs-to-be-done-part-1/  and https://www.tsp-uk.co.uk/general-leadership/climate-change-what-needs-to-be-done-part-2/.

How do you discuss such emotive issues tactfully, calmly, with evidential basis, rather than laced with the bile of diametrically opposed partisanship is, I suggest, one of our most significant innovation challenges. 

The science required is social ones like psychology and sociology. Harnessing them will demand fresh, invigorating leadership imbued with the strongest human values of truth, trust and tolerance.  The famous quote attributed to Voltaire but written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” carries enormous weight of importance now. This article indicates the pandemic has pushed women out from leadership roles, https://hbr.org/2022/03/when-women-leaders-leave-the-losses-multiply?registration=success. What does this for the openned and candour of discussion that will occur in a male dominated environment?

If we don’t solve our growing unwillingness and inability to communicate with each other, I fear greatly for the future into which my grandchildren will grow. 

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