Burst of Innovation - Get from Obvious to Innovative

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When we talk about innovation, we tend to approach it as needing to get past the incremental and obvious ideas, and jumping right to innovative ideas. However, as much as you want to get to those big, revolutionary ideas, this technique often falls short. 


Whether it’s a breakthrough you and/or your team have been chasing for a while or an opportunity in the marketplace you want to capture, incremental ideas, solutions, and approaches aren’t going to produce the results you need. You need something big and bold to move the needle. So you tell yourself and your team to avoid the obvious and the incremental, and try to make a huge leap from the challenge you have in front of you to a revolutionary, innovative idea.


The thing is, this method often fails to produce innovative ideas. Why?


Why Bypassing Obvious Doesn’t Work

Going from challenge to innovation is a massive leap, and it can be scary. There are two factors at play when we attempt to make a leap that big, and we need to overcome these before we can even think about getting from challenge to innovation.


Firstly, we have to overcome our lizard brain. This part of our brain is trying to keep us and our minds efficient - it doesn't want us to expend energy. In order to do that, it blocks out anything it thinks is complex or challenging. In this case, asking your brain to get from Point A to Point Z without anything in between seems challenging to your lizard brain, and it automatically blocks it out. Your lizard brain is keeping you efficient, but that’s not conducive to innovation.


Secondly, we have to get past the Reticular Activating System (RAS). What the RAS does, is it blocks out anything that is different from your internal beliefs. The RAS seeks to validate what you already know and believe, and to only let in new information that is congruent with your past experiences. Big breakthrough ideas that are unique, different and do not correspond to the existing set of beliefs are immediately rejected by the RAS and that’s what stops us from being able to go immediately from the challenge to an innovative solution.


How to Use Obvious to Get to Innovative

It may seem counterintuitive to use the obvious ideas to get to the innovative ideas, but when faced with our lizard brain and the RAS that we need to overcome, this is a strategy that works.


What we need to do is to give people permission to explore obvious and incremental ideas. However, instead of stopping there, we need to take it a step (or a few steps) further, and use those obvious and incremental ideas as a springboard for bigger, bolder and more innovative ideas.

When we approach getting from challenge to innovation in this way, by allowing space for the obvious and incremental ideas to come through, we’re getting past our lizard brain and the RAS. With incremental ideas, we trick these two “bodyguards” into letting in other, more innovative ideas.


Brainstorming off of the obvious and the incremental is how we can get to the innovative ideas. When we push our teams to leap across a chasm from challenge to innovative solution with no help or step in between, it shuts down their innovative mind. If we give them permission to go from the challenge to the obvious and incremental ideas first, they can then push forward step-by-step to get to the truly innovative and breakthrough ideas.


Bonus: "What do I do if the team thinks the incremental ideas are good enough?" 

Incremental ideas may be good enough, depending on the problem that you are solving. The obvious and incremental ideas can also be the source of a lot of brilliant innovation, and we shouldn’t discount those tweaks and optimizations.


However, it’s really about how we frame these incremental ideas when we’re trying to get to the truly groundbreaking ideas. We as leaders need to validate the ideas and solutions that are already on the table, and recognize the effort and thinking of your team that helped them get there, and then encourage them to expand on those ideas.


So the next time you and your team are faced with a challenge and need to get to breakthrough innovative ideas, don’t just throw the obvious and incremental ideas out the window. Use them as a starting point to brainstorm and expand off of - that’s how we can get to the novel and fresh ideas that will help you move the needle and take your business where you need to go.

Watch the video to learn how to stop saying "outside the box" to your team.