How to generate more innovation every day

Sari Harrison

Head of Product at Esalen



The struggle to innovate exists because in order for an idea to make it to the light of day, people need to agree with each other. And for that to happen, the group or organization that wants (so badly, with such good intentions) to innovate, needs to know how to enter into "healthy" conflict.

Actions taken

What will lead to innovation? Collaboration. At the moment of disagreement there can be a choice to enter into collaboration instead of the more common responses. And happily, anyone in the discussion can make that choice.

I am a huge fan of design thinking, vision and strategy development, and software to manage ideas. When implemented well what they succeed in doing (in addition to what they purport doing) is to reduce the amount of disagreement through shared context. The more empathy you have for your users (the first step in design thinking), the more you will agree on what they need. If your strategy is clear and everyone gets it, it makes all critical decisions easier. If you do rapid prototypes and test them with real users, you have results that tell you which prototype is better without having to enter into conflict. Shared context is also created when you enter into collaboration. I'd even go so far as to say the definition of collaboration is when a group of people are actively creating shared context. So how can you, right now, get more collaboration and therefore innovation out of your daily life and work without any consultants or learning a new process? Start by noticing that moment of disagreement and what happens right after. Notice if it's compromise or avoidance or (yay!) collaboration.

Lessons learned

Set the intention to bring more healthy conflict and collaboration. Here are some sentences to play with: When ideas go by undiscussed (avoidance). "I noticed that Amanda expressed an idea that we didn't really talk about. Can we talk about the pros and cons of that idea before we make a final decision?". Goal: discussion about what's important thereby creating shared context. When the boss, whether actual or self-named, decides as soon as disagreement occurs (hierarchy). First off, this is often just a bad habit. Try this one on one: "In yesterday's meeting, you made a decision before we really got to talk it through. Please tell me more about your thinking so I can share it with the team." You could get shut down (which has happened to me!), but if you get an explanation, suggest that next time he share that with the team in the moment. Goal: Boss adds to the pool of shared context. When the HIPPO (highest paid person's opinion) shuts down conversation (accommodating). Very similar to the above, but in this case the boss wasn't intending to decide. People just thought she was or were afraid to disagree with her. Again, one on one, point it out. "Did you notice when you offered your opinion in the meeting yesterday, the conversation stopped? I think people might be afraid to disagree with you". Goal: Allowing more innovative ideas into the pool. If you are thinking at this point "are you crazy? I can't say that to my boss!", I realize it can feel like a CLM (career limiting move) to talk to your boss as I am recommending. By all means, don't do it if your culture is so unhealthy that you fear for your job. But if you do have that fear and your goal is to innovate, you might want to start looking around. And in my experience, most leaders are not as closed to feedback as you would think. If it's done with respect and authenticity. When the self-appointed peacemaker tries to stop the arguing with a compromise, there is almost always at least one person in the room that is so uncomfortable with unhealthy conflict that they step in and try and facilitate a compromise. Try "That sounds like a compromise and maybe it's the right one. Just to be sure though, why don't we take a step back and discuss what success looks like?" Goal: get back to creating shared context.

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Sari Harrison

Head of Product at Esalen

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