When you go through the exercise of innovating, regardless of whether its a radical change to something or simply a new way of looking at an old problem, the first instinct is to propose that which you know for sure has been proven useful. And from the moment that spark of an idea forms in your brain, you’re flooded with a sense of ‘rightness’, a feeling that you’re on to something.
That feeling of rightness is comfort streaming through your Triune brain. The idea dances past the big ugly bouncer at the gates of your reptilian brain, takes an elevator up through the Limbic system where is gathers even more momentum and then struts around in your Neo-cortex, patting itself on the back for its sheer cleverness. Why? Because you’re SURE this baby’s gonna fly. This is a smart idea, a strategic idea. Hell, it’s a ‘spot on’ idea! How do you know? Well, because it’s…right!
This is the moment when you should start to get suspicious.
If the idea is really new and innovative, how is it that you’re so comfortable with it? Surely something so groundbreaking should make you a little uncomfortable – even a lot uncomfortable? But you’ve fallen victim to the classic pitfall of innovation.
The brain’s assessment function is based completely on context. It easily accepts that which it’s seen or experienced before and as easily rejects anything its facing for the first time. The brain wants that sense of rightness, that ‘tried and tested’ factor. This is one of many reasons why change of any kind can be so challenging.
So what do you do when you’re trying to create something truly unique while your brain only wants you to accept the known?
First you need to know that it’s happening. Second, you need to look at your criteria very, very carefully. If you ask the brain to come up with something that scares you, then you’re comfortable feeling scared by the idea. But if you ask it to deliver something truly strategically sound of easy to implement tomorrow, it won’t stand a chance. Remember that great ideas don’t come into the world fully formed. They will and should go through countless iterations before coming to life. But it’s these iterations that can evolve something from ‘that idea is freaking me out’ status to ‘wow – this could really work’. So ask for extreme and then accept it when you hear it. Just because you choose to play with an idea, doesn’t mean you’re going to ultimately choose it!
Be suspicious of comfort. Any idea that immediately sounds amazing to you is likely something you’ve seen, heard or experienced before. Instead, don’t try to figure out the usefulness of an idea too early. Look at whether its exciting, challenging to the space or category, game-changing, or even shit disturbing. Its the ideas that make you respond with “oh man – we could never make that happen..” you should be paying the most attention to. Because what if you could? You’ll never know unless you weight your thinking more to the new and unique than to the proven and useful. And as we all know, most dream making, rule breaking and life changing ideas started with a ‘what if’.
Here’s a tip. At your next ideation session, start with a simple technique called Smashing Assumptions. On a flip chart, make two columns; one labeled Assumption and the other labeled Smash. Then get everyone to call out the assumptions they have about the focus of the session. For example, if it’s about developing a new flavor profile for something, an assumption would be it should taste good. Another might be that it should be sweet, etc. Write a nice long list of the things that would seem obvious to focus on.
Once you’re done, smash through those assumptions one by one. Taste good? How about hurt your tongue instead? Sweet? How about sour beyond belief? You get the idea. Then, as you generate your ideas, ask participants to look to the Smash column for their inspiration instead of the usual.
Through this, you’ll be telling the brain that wrong is right and bad is good. That’s just one of many secrets to tricking it into going beyond the usual.