The invention of the airplane, the telephone and the computer; the discovery of gravity, electricity and relativity – all great innovations that changed the world. But in accordance with their greatness, there was also resistance.
George Bernard Shaw famously wrote, “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” Less well known is the fact that this intolerance has often come from within the ranks of the scientific community itself. The dictum that “science progresses funeral by funeral” proves that scientists are just as much victims of the human condition as the rest of us, with all the prejudice and frailties that this entails. As Arthur Schopenhauer recognized, an important idea or truth must ‘endure a hostile reception before it is accepted’ when he said “…First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Why is this? Innovation is different and requires perhaps the most difficult action of all – breaking ranks. There is a conventional/accepted way of doing things and this is being rejected. This is especially true in the traditional corporate world where people can be afraid of breaking the mold with the innovator’s mindset and trying something new. Even though it is especially there that creativity is so crucial! This post explains why it’s so important to be open minded to new ideas, because they might end up being revolutionary. In fact many great ideas, which today are widely accepted, were violently opposed when first expressed.
Ideas Which Broke the Mold
A quasicrystal, is a structure that is ordered but not periodic. Prof. Dan Shechtman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for its discovery. But the initial response was ridicule. From the day Shechtman published his findings on quasicrystals in 1984, he experienced hostility from his peers for his non-periodic interpretation. “For a long time it was me against the world,” he said. “I was a subject of ridicule and lectures about the basics of crystallography. The leader of the opposition to his findings was two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, the idol of the American Chemical Society and one of the most famous scientists in the world. Until his last day, he fought against quasi-periodicity in crystals. Linus Pauling is noted as saying “There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.
The belief that the earth was at the center of the universe was taken as a given by most philosophers and academics until the time of Galileo. The Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was almost unanimously disdained. The Catholic Church even burnt Giordano Bruno at the stake for supporting it. It later sentenced Galileo to house arrest for the same “crime”. The greatest opposition, however, came from the scientific community. They refused to budge from the 2000 year old Aristotelian theory that the Earth was the center of everything. Today, Galileo is referred to as the father of modern science.
Louis Pasteur thought that disease was spread by germs. He made the discovery after three of his five children died from infectious diseases. When he first put forward his theory in the 1850’s, he was met with violent resistance from the medical community. Today, in large part due to his work, we know that certain bacteria are responsible for sickness, and minimizing germs is a key to promoting healthy immune function.
The fact that cigarette smoking is detrimental to health has been known for over 65 years. In 1950, the British Medical Journal published research showing a close link between smoking and lung cancer. Four years later, in 1954, the British Doctors Study, a study of some 40,000 doctors over 20 years, confirmed the suggestion, based on which the government issued advice that smoking and lung cancer rates were related. Despite all this, cigarette manufacturers disputed the evidence, as part of an orchestrated campaign to salvage cigarette sales. The campaign was not unsuccessful. As late as 1960, only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established. Today there are still some 1.22 billion smokers and in the developing world tobacco consumption is rising by 3.4%.
The Innovator’s Mindset – It’s Child Play
To open up inflexible corporate minds to new ideas requires a change in perspective. We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them. And changing perspective is hard. It often comes locked in with the problem itself.
To change perspective and get the creative juices flowing, you need to be in the right mindset. This can be challenging for many people. To children it usually comes more naturally – especially during play. Psychologists tell us that as we age, we become self-conscious in the classroom and other public settings, and quietly begin to suppress our playful tendencies for fear of being called childish or breaking with social norms. Creativity requires that we fight against this trajectory.
At the renowned international design consultancy IDEO, play is in fact an important part of innovation, acting as an intuitive form of learning. What is play for IDEO? A state of mind. It really doesn’t matter what the activity is, it’s the way you approach it that makes it play.
At IDEO they try to encourage open-ended behavior. It’s not about goals. It’s about pushing the boundaries and discovering something new. Often they try to design around a narrative — it’s less about the object and more about the experience, the story of that object. Through playing with different scenarios, through prototyping different possibilities, they get to that narrative.
The IDEO book “The Ten Faces of Innovation” even recommends talking with kids about creative challenges. In fact, some of IDEO’s best ideas and breakthroughs actually came as a result of asking a child!
Don’t Fear Failure
To take the risks necessary to innovate in a company environment, employees must also be given the freedom to try different things and that naturally leads to making mistakes. Fear of being punished or reprimanded for a failed experiment is the surest way to stifle the innovator’s mindset. While a successful radical idea might be harder to conceive, it could end up being a “game-changer” which is worth a thousand smaller, incremental innovations. Of course, if a mistake is made, it should be fixable and not serious enough to severely damage the company.
It all comes down to how one views mistakes or failures. There’s an old story about a young manager making a mistake that cost his company $10,000. When the CEO called him in to tell him what he’d done wrong, the young manager said, fearfully, “I guess that means I’m fired” “Hell, no,” roared the boss, “I just invested $10,000 in your education!” A big believer in the importance of learning from mistakes is E. Neville Isdell, CEO of Coca-Cola Co. In his view, if you analyze a failure, it can help you figure out how to succeed the next time.
But mistakes only have value if you take the time to examine them, so as not to repeat them. Figure out why a mistake occurred and use it as an opportunity to teach those involved. Mistakes often reveal inefficiencies in processes. If it is swept under the rug and forgotten, the opportunity to rise to the next level might be missed.
Mistakes and failures often lead to the most surprising and successful innovations. As Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Let’s face it, though – no one likes to fail. So how can we innovate in the most effective manner possible? Lyle Berkowitz, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Innovation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is co-author of “Innovation with Information Technologies in Healthcare”. He urges people to go ahead and explore those crazy ideas, but offers some tips about how to go about efficiently:
“A lot of times with innovation, there’s a lot of things you have to look at. You’re not sure right away which one’s going to hit it big. So fail early, fail often, fail cheap, fail fast. The word, ‘failure’ is just so scary, particularly in healthcare, and yet you have to be that person that says, It’s OK – as long as you learn and move on. Don’t tell me what you can’t do. It’s about not stopping just because something’s not working, and figuring out what others say you can’t do.”
When playing around with radical ideas, most will be too far out there to work. But that doesn’t mean they should be completely discarded. Some might give rise to a great idea that’s somewhat less extreme or a bit different. For example, somebody suggests sending free catered filet mignon dinners to the 100 best clients every month. The consensus is that it’s too expensive, but how about bringing free pizzas to a dozen clients once a month? That’s affordable and effective, so you go with that.
Sometimes collaboration is necessary to allow an idea to reach its true potential. Often solutions come from individuals from a different domain or area of expertise who are thinking about or framing the problem in a totally different way. Recombining ideas from outside the field, where those ideas may seem foreign or crazy initially is a terrific way to bring new light to a problem.
Big innovation is often right on the edge of ridiculous ideas. To create a company culture that allows for innovation you need an environment that isn’t judgmental about these ideas. Sometimes those are the ones that are close to being the most brilliant.
Studies show that once evaluation apprehension arises from criticism or screening, creativity and new idea generation declines. This is why some say it’s better to do brainstorming electronically rather than in groups and in person. People have to be permitted to get those crazy ideas out there without fear of being judged or criticized for them.
However skepticism itself should not be viewed as the enemy. It’s vital to clearly separate the idea generation phase from the screening or idea selection phase. Once the creation phase is over, we need skeptics to shoot down the vast majority of half-baked ideas, so that we spend more time on the best ones.
Qmarkets – Inspiring Innovation
To stimulate education and innovation, it’s important to have a culture which is open to new and crazy ideas, and to support this culture with a platform which allows these ideas to be submitted, shared, evaluated and stored. The Qmarkets innovation platform is ideal for all of these.
One major benefit of the system is its capacity to store all submitted ideas, categorically file them away and retrieve them later if desired. Nothing is ever deleted, so even if an idea is rejected, it can be retrieved and reworked on later if a new insight makes it workable. No great ideas are ever lost.
Another major benefit of the Qmarkets system is its ability to share ideas with people located in widely different geographic locations. Unless you’re Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, innovation rarely happens in isolation. The best environment for innovation to thrive in is a collaborative one where ideas are bouncing around and potentially inspiring other people. So this feature is also key for innovators.
In addition, Qmarkets enables people to share ideas remotely which helps reduce inhibitions and cultivate the innovator’s mindset.
All three of these benefits can be found in an example from the BBC, who used the Qmarkets platform to generate ideas for new programming. One proposal for a new sitcom was originally rejected. Another employee from another part of the country however, later read it, saw its potential and added something that made it workable. This collaboration led the idea to becoming successfully implemented.
Qmarkets helps your company create a culture of innovation – to ensure that radical ideas are considered and to avoid losing out on “crazy” ideas, which could turn out to be brilliant.
Contact Qmarkets to consult with our experts and discover how your enterprise can innovate and transform ideas into results!