Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Free your mind

There's a line in The Matrix, the movie that gave Keanu Reeves his acting chops, that I believe is critical for innovation. In the movie, Reeves plays a person recently detached from the "matrix" who is struggling with what is, and is not, reality. Laurence Fishburne plays Morpheus, his mentor, who has rescued him from the matrix and is eager to have Reeves join his team.

Everything that Morpheus suggests to Reeves is antithetical to what his experiences and senses tell him. Morpheus can fly, can dodge bullets and do other things than seem impossible, until Reeves is forced to reconsider his reality. To help him achieve the same perspective, Morpheus says - "Free your mind".

We, too, as innovators need to free our minds. As I work with teams that are engaged in innovation work, far too frequently I see people who are still tied down to existing restrictions, existing templates, existing work rules and culture. These folks are trying to innovate, but their expectations are the same as they were under their previous work, and their goals and aspirations are far too small.

Recently I worked with a firm to reconsider and innovate a piece of furniture. We talked about a wide range of possibilities and then conducted a short brainwriting exercise. Once we were done, I asked how many of the participants had considered doing away with the core components all together, rather than simply iterating the existing components or adding one or two new features. In a team of 15, only two had even considered taking a completely new perspective. When we queried the team to discover why they had not taken a broader view, most of them suggested it simply had not occurred to them. They were tied to a specific worldview and formula, and weren't quite able to give it up.

Probably the first thing we need to do as innovators is discover if our prospective team members have the capability and flexibility to release what they know to be true. A team with too many people locked into old methods or perspectives will simply get frustrated. Then, we need some sort of sudden shock to the system to force us to free our minds and consider the problem or opportunity from a number of perspectives that aren't tied to the existing methods. Only then will you get the insights and ideas that matter.

Free your mind. Open up to a completely different set of realities. Take on a completely different perspective. In an innovation setting, this is the only way to succeed. If you can't ask "What if" in this setting, and are constantly governed by the here and now, the rules that already exist, then your team will struggle to innovate. How do you "Free your mind?" Well, if you saw the movie you know it's a choice, a red pill or a blue pill. In your organization, it's also a choice.

The chief sponsor, grand poobah or CEO who is behind the effort has to set the stage for the team to free themselves from their yokes. This has to be an intentional effort. A half-hearted suggestion that people "think differently" won't be enough for most people. Demonstrating that something new requires something different, and that difference will be embraced, not just tolerated, is what's required.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:17 AM


Anonymous Josh Gluckman said...

Nice post - other than the Keanu Reeves acting chops bit - that was Point Break! :)

Would be interesting to throw a behavioural lens over the different types of participants (e.g. Kirton Adaptation Index) - as some would advocate there really are 'different types of people' (although i've mixed feelings on this myself).

8:10 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

Of all the tools in my creative-problem-solving tool bag, I've concluded that there is one initial tool I must surely apply to maximize the chances of real innovation. And that is, for me or any another person, the opportunity to be listened to, to be allowed to authentically express, not just one's thoughts (whatever they may be - whatever!), but any and all of one's feelings. This can take half an hour, an hour, or more (for a well-functioning adult with a willing listener), depending on their state of mind. In my experience, this has been the best way to "clear the mind" for subsequent innovation. The GTD techniques to clear the mind are, IMHO, merely a subset of this need to express all the distracting thoughts (and feelings) running 'round our minds. My premise here is that verbalizing to another human is qualitatively different/better than writing down those same thoughts/feelings. Note: I think this tool does not address all the impediments to innovation, but can be a very important first step.

10:59 AM  
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8:00 AM  

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