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Innovation is Different and So Are People

| On 12, Aug 2007

Jack Hipple

When we are “innovating,” it is seldom that all the people we work with and interface with are the same as us from virtually any perspective. They have different backgrounds, experiences, motivations, and styles of behavior. These different type styles are measurable by any number of psychological assessment tools such as Myers Briggs and its spin-offs, Kirton KAI, DISC, Fyro B, and many others. Have you ever thought about this latter point in some depth? It’s hard to separate an idea from its source because ideas always come from people and innovative ideas can come from very different people. The working relationship you have with others can complicate this even more. Your role as a peer, a supervisor, indirect manager, subordinate, senior or junior in experience will all affect how you react to a new idea.

I’ll ask you to draw a four square box and label the Y axis “Do you like the person?” and the lower box is no (or you dislike) and the upper box is yes (or you do like). Now label the X axis according to the novelty of the idea presented to you. The left box is “low” or maybe just a simple invention without much impact and the right box is “high” meaning a breakthrough idea of significant magnitude.

Now, let’s consider how we react in these four different situations. What do you do in the situation in the lower left hand box (a trivial idea presented by someone you don’t care for)? Probably just ignore it, right? What if it’s a really neat idea presented by someone you really despise or are jealous of? Does sabotage come to mind? All kinds of creative ways of doing this! Now what if this same situation involves a co-worker you truly like and respect? If it’s a small idea, you’ll probably help (to the extent you can) and encourage them. Tell them where else to go for assistance. Ask them to check back with you and let you know how it’s going. And if it’s a home run of an idea, you might even ask to change jobs to help them. Maybe at least ask for some time to join their team. This is interesting isn’t it?

Should your behavior toward a new idea be affected by anything else other than the characteristics of the idea? Of course not! But that’s not the real world in which we live and work.So here are some suggestions for dealing with these situations: 1. First, no matter what, LISTEN before you talk. Then rephrase what you heard and say it back to make sure you have understood what is being said. This turns the first dialog into a technical, non-personal discussion. 2. Rephrase the novelty of the idea in your words and then ask, “Have I understood the concept correctly?” 3. Ask who this innovation impacts. Is it internal? New product? New business concept? New process idea? Product or process improvement? Make sure this is mutually agreed upon. If there’s not agreement, define where you don’t agree. That at least gets things out on the table, but doesn’t start a fight or turf war. 4. Talk through the next few steps. Who has to do what? Who has to give approval? Make it a technical discussion and not a personal and emotional one. 5. If you really don’t like this person and you suspect that they are coming to you as a “braggart,” you should still ask, “How can I help you?” If it is truly a breakthrough idea, there will be plenty of glory to be spread around and the fact that you swallowed your pride will not go unnoticed. If you attitude toward this innovator is so bad that you can’t do any of the above, at least say something like, “You know we disagree on a lot of things and have major differences in ……. But this really is a novel idea and I wish you the best”.

Sabotaging a breakthrough innovation can come back to haunt you in significant ways when your reputation is discussed in the cafeteria and restrooms and your next new idea is considered by others.What have been your experiences when encountering novel ideas from people you don’t like? What did you do? What were the results? What was the impact? What did you learn? What did they learn?