In a recent study, millennials were being asked what the key to happiness in life is; they answered “Money and Fame.” However, research conducted over a period of eighty years proves them wrong: The key to happiness lies in close relationships.
The basic stories we tell ourselves guide our decisions in life as well as in how we innovate ourselves.
I recently met with a senior executive at a well-known company. This company had set a goal of promoting innovation and was willing to dedicate hundreds of thousands of dollars in employee work hours to gain outcomes estimated in the millions. However, his project budget was a paltry $7,000. It sounds funny, but this is a common problem that presents itself as a gap between the goals and the price someone is willing to pay to achieve them.
For me, this non-realistic sum of money was a sign pointing to a more profound challenge. The basic narrative held by this particular executive: he did not actually believe that his company could innovate.
Most of the time, when organizational transformation and innovation efforts fail, it is the result of those narratives executives unconsciously maintain. That being said, it is hard to identify self-defeating, ingrained thought patterns which can doom an innovation process from the get-go. By merely interviewing senior managers, I often detect that they believe in a ‘story’ that is holding them back. This story centers on either a distorted perception of reality or avoidance of a real need to change themselves.
When people are stuck in this mode of thinking, they become blind to solutions that might be right in front of them. This blindness increases when there are high levels of anxiety or fear. The organization, just like a person, must first become ‘unstuck’ from the current narratives before it can move on to the next stage.
Consider another example. Despite being hailed as the most innovative company in their field, a new client approached me, as they were losing market share and their position in the marketplace to competitors. Despite the company’s innovative nature, each release version of their product became slower, arrived later and met fewer customer expectations. After an in-depth analysis, we found that their processes and ideas had been frozen in time roughly six years ago, back when the company was recognized as an innovative leader. Their success caused them to stick to the earlier tried and tested innovation formula, preventing them from challenging obsolete steps in their critical path.
Various changes were required, the first being a simple shift in mindset towards current innovative practices. At first glance, you would think it would have been obvious, but changing any person or organization’s identity narrative can be difficult. Writing or stating a thesis does not always lead to said statement’s adoption. But once we stop resting on our laurels, we are able to get up and challenge the stories that hold us back.
Try writing your personal/organizational story from somebody else’s point of view.
A small tip: When you write the new version, notice if you have any negative emotional reactions. This is most probably where your actual challenges lie. It is not easy, and some would do anything rather than look themselves in the mirror.
Collective narratives within organizations tend to follow similar patterns. Not all people can change and rewrite the basic storylines that define their perceptions of reality. Many organizations will not have the capacity to change and innovate quickly or meaningfully enough to survive the rapid disruptions occurring in their midst.
Some might say that this is the process of natural selection at its finest. Indeed, the lifespan of companies continues to shrink as those who fail to make necessary changes are beat out by the competition. And yet, one of the most effective methods of reinvention is to identify the stories that limit our progress.
The best place to start is with the assumption that your organization is short-sighted regarding innovation. If your innovation process has been the same for years, it will need to be reinvented.
Do not underestimate the power of narratives. Without them, we can derive no real meaning from our activities and relationships. As Oscar Wilde once said, “we become people who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Your innovation can be hiding a story away.
A teacher, first and foremost, I am most passionate about the fields of Interpersonal Communication, Persuasion and Influence Without Authority. I decided to dedicate my life to the study of these fields, so that I may first live a happy and productive life, and then turn to help others do the same. I am a strong believer in doing what you love while doing good in the world, and I endeavor to incorporate these ideals into every interaction I have.
I am the proud co-founder of Vayomar – The Power of Being Heard, along with my friend and partner, Gur Braslavi. Together, we strive to bring our insights, methodologies, and tools to people around the world, from young students to adults.
But we don’t forget to enjoy ourselves… I am a big believer in the “theory of fun” and love to find ways for developing myself through games. My goal is to promote a better humanity through better interpersonal communications. I invite you to join us and become part of this massive transformative effort.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.