Winning hearts and minds for innovation
This reaction serves as a reminder to me, and to many innovators, that winning innovation is about changing minds as well as hearts. This "hearts and minds" philosophy traces back to US and British special forces in distant places like Malaysia and Viet Nam, when the military realized that it needed support of the local population to win wars. For innovation to win over existing processes and existing cultural norms, we have to win both the hearts and minds of potential innovators.
Winning minds is what those of us who advocate innovation as a process or methodology are typically most concerned about. Innovation often seems very happenstance or mysterious, with little logical underpinning. We want to win over those skeptics and help them understand that there is a body of knowledge that support innovation, and that innovation can become a trusted and repeatable capability. Most corporate types are not won over by emotion, or passion, but by science, repeatability and logic. We win minds when we can demonstrate a process that can be learned and improved.
But there's a risk associated with simply winning minds. While we may demonstrate innovation can become a repeatable capability or process, if these tools or methods are new or unusual, there may be a fear factor associated with using them. Just as many people witness airplanes flying through the air but have a fear of flying, knowledge of the science doesn't necessarily allay fear of the unknown.
Further, we "minds" types need to be careful to recognize that innovation is not a "science". Good discovery, creativity and often disruptive innovation cannot be completely bottled and is not predictable. There are methodologies and tools and techniques and perspectives which can be taught, and which can improve innovation outcomes, but they don't create repeatable experiments with identical outcomes. Innovation will remain to some extent a combination of methods and creativity.
Others in the innovation space focus on what I'll call winning hearts. That is, making innovation and creativity fun, engaging and attractive. To do this they create fun activities, introduce interesting exercises and engage the "right" side of the brain. They are trying to inject more playfulness, discovery and open minded thinking into organizations. They spend a lot of time talking about creativity. They are interested in winning individuals and teams into an innovation perspective by enticing their interests, their passions and goals.
But the "hearts" approach neglects methods and tools to make innovation sustainable, and can create a significant amount of cynicism. If we get people too worked up, too excited about innovation and then fail to deliver tools and methods, or simply fail to engage their ideas, their attitudes will fall far below their initial engagement levels.
This isn't an either/or debate. To win at innovation, you need to convert hearts and minds. Putting a repeatable process in place for individuals who aren't fully bought in or who have no passion for novelty and change accelerates uninterested people who at best will create incremental ideas and quickly scamper back to work they care about. Engaging people and building their enthusiasm and creativity without creating a viable outlet and method to engage that enthusiasm leads to anger and disillusionment. For the best results, you need to infect your culture with the idea that innovation is exciting, engaging, creative stuff that is fun work and that leads to benefits for them and for the business, while demonstrating a method or means to harness that energy in ways that lead to better ideas and more consistent innovation.
When we talk to our clients about innovation, we are often guilty of emphasizing the minds over the hearts, and I expect that's because that's what corporations want to hear. Minds - defining innovation processes, building skills, incorporating innovation methodologies - these things can be done in the short run, on a project basis. Changing hearts - gaining greater commitment, creating energy and enthusiasm, building creativity - these actions take time and require management commitment and cultural change. Firms are seeking to create the most impact in the least amount of time, with the best possible results. Any activity that requires change to the culture is bound to take time and energy, and not necessarily produce the results expected. But lacking the ability to switch on the "hearts", a minds only campaign can only take you so far.
One question we always ask: where's the senior executive who influences the culture in the innovation activity? Where's the CEO and his or her investment? Where is the communications officer who talks and engages the organization about the changes and, yes, the fun of innovation? Where is the HR/Talent Management or whatever they call the HR function? Most innovation teams never engage HR or Talent Management, and that's probably the first mistake. We run scientific businesses built for scientific solutions based on scientific management - models handed down to us by Ford and Taylor, for a world that expects disruptive solutions, creative options and newness. We've got to learn to balance the minds aspect of innovation with the hearts component for ultimate success.